02/07/2012 08:39 EST | Updated 04/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Harper's Misplaced Targets: Criminals and the Poor

Rather than social programs to help the poor and vulnerable, to help seniors, there is an emphasis on fulfilling a right-wing agenda in areas such as crime. This reflects the lack of fact-based policy which is needed in a government that promotes economic growth.

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We need a government which prioritizes helping the poor and middle class, which promotes strong social programs while also emphasizing economic prosperity and job creation. We need a government which bases its decisions not on pre-set notions driven by ideological assumptions, but bases its decisions on facts, evidence and research.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the modern conservative approach to government.

The Harper government has cited Old Age Security (OAS) as being unsustainable in its current form because of a growing senior population of aging baby-boomers. Thus cutting back the program, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 is openly being considered.

However, expert research shows that OAS in Canada is sustainable, that cuts such as raising the retirement age are not needed. Edward Whitehouse, a researcher on pension policy with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank, has stated that, "Canada does not face major challenges of financial stability with its public pension schemes" and that "there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future."

Canada's spending on pensions is already significantly lower than the OECD average and factors such as higher levels of immigration, and the fact that Canadians have more independent savings (RRSPs and workplace pensions) than Europeans also debunks the notion that OAS is unsustainable.

In addition, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) are important factors for many seniors in keeping them out of poverty. According to research by Informetrica Ltd., without OAS or the GIS, one third of women and more than one fourth of men in their 60s would fall below the poverty line. Raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 would create financial difficulties for seniors unable to find alternate sources of income for this period in their lives.

The fact that the Harper government is targeting OAS -- which is not under financial pressure and which is important to keeping many seniors out of poverty -- is especially appalling as this government has been increasing spending in areas we do not need -- building unneeded prisons as part of the Conservative "tough on crime" approach and spending on fighter jets we also do not need.

Spending on military equipment and prisons does seem more in keeping with a right-wing approach than spending on social programs such as pensions -- however, it reflects a lack of proper priorities on the part of the Harper government.

In New Brunswick, the Tory government of David Alward is not as ideologically driven as the Harper Conservatives. However, there are strong right-wing tendencies in its policy-making, including an aversion it seems to spending on social programs that defies a fact-based policy approach.

Premier Alward has openly supported the federal "tough on crime" bill. Estimates from the Department of Public Safety peg the cost of this bill to the province at $2 million per year. However, there is widespread criticism that the actual costs are much greater.

Liberal MLA Chris Collins has raised concerns about this, stating that the amount does not include the costs of policing, transportation, courts, and legal aid (thus making the actual cost much greater). Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at Saint Thomas University in Fredericton, also cited costs of policing and courts as adding to this $2 million amount.

Meanwhile, the Tories are rolling back the last government's anti-poverty program -- a program that provided needed help to the poor and vulnerable, and which was designed to enable those living in poverty to join the workforce to contribute to the province's social and economic life.

The Alward government has cancelled planned minimum wage increases and raised the possibility of a two-tiered minimum wage for tip earners. It has also doubled the co-payment amount on prescriptions for low-income seniors, not implemented a planned vision and dental care plan for low-income children, and has not moved on a prescription drug plan for uninsured New Brunswickers.

In protest against these actions, there was a high profile resignation by Dr. Pam Coates from the province's Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation (ESIC).

With items such a building prisons and implementing unneeded "tough on crime" legislation, while cutting pensions and rolling back anti-poverty, both the federal Conservatives in Ottawa and provincial Tories in New Brunswick are showing a misplaced set of priorities.

Rather than social programs to help the poor and vulnerable, to help seniors, there is an emphasis on fulfilling a rightwing agenda in areas such as crime. This reflects the lack of fact-based policy which is needed to have a government that emphasizes priorities such as helping the poor and vulnerable, and promoting economic growth.