She had lived in a high-rise near Yonge and Eglinton for close to 50 years.
Never married, Ellen had been what she referred to as a “business girl,” part of a long-standing group of business and professional women having worked for large downtown law firms for over 40 years. It wasn’t her choice not to be married.
It just didn’t happen.
She blamed that on the fact that after World War II there were simply fewer men than women in Toronto and she didn’t move quickly enough!
Frugal in nature and conservative by background, Ellen had saved well, never spent extravagantly and lived fairly well on her small law firm pension, Old Age Security, Canada Pension and her investments. Her savings allowed her to do special things: the odd trip south, visits to see family.
Over the last years, though, her fixed income had to be stretched to meet higher and higher rent, electricity, telephone and cable bills. The drastic downturn in the market a couple of years ago stopped those special events – to the point where she told me she wouldn’t be going to the funeral of a friend in Etobicoke because of the cost of the taxi.
Ellen died recently and, as her Member of Parliament, I have been thinking how we could have helped her to live with more dignity and greater security into her old age. We let her down.
More and more Canadians are facing uncertainty as their retirement either looms or is being postponed due to financial worries. Many older citizens, who thought they were well-prepared, find themselves in a precarious financial situation.
Younger working Canadians will never have the opportunity to be part of a defined benefit pension plan or even a defined contribution plan. Government needs to take these problems seriously.
All Canadians have the right to contribute to a safe and adequate retirement plan, and to be provided with up-to-date, unbiased and conflict-free information on their retirement savings.
We need to ensure that our future seniors have better retirement income security through a system that gives every person a better way to accumulate retirement savings, promotes good governance and administration of retirement income plans, and ensures that pension fund members receive good, plain-language information about their plan.
This summer, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff focused on seniors and pensions. He announced several proposals to reform our pension system. These included the creation of a Supplementary Canada Pension Plan that people could choose to contribute to while they are working, or even if they are not, a “stranded person” agency to give employees whose companies have gone bankrupt the option of growing their assets through the Canada Pension Plan, and changing the Bankruptcy Act to give long-term disability plans better protection.
We must provide more options to Canadians who do not have adequate private pension plans. A supplementary CPP program will help the three-quarters of private sector workers who have no registered retirement savings.
This plan will make a significant difference for middle class families planning for their retirement.
More than 200,000 Canadian seniors are living below the poverty line. These problems can be solved. It’s time for our governments to act.
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