Stephen Harper: ‘Major’ changes coming to Canada’s pension system, PM says in Davos speech
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signalled his government will bring forward “major transformations” to the country in the coming months — in areas such as the retirement pension system, immigration, science and technology investment and the energy sector.
Of those reforms, Harper said, getting a grip on slowing the rising costs of the country’s pension system is particularly critical.
In the wake of Harper’s speech, it now appears that the Conservative government could be poised to gradually change the Old Age Security system so that the age of eligibility is raised to 67 from 65.
Harper made the revelations in a major keynote speech Thursday at the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of the world’s political and business elite.
As expected, the prime minister was critical of Europe and the United States for not adequately dealing with the economic problems that have gripped them in recent months and years.
Harper said Canada, one of only 13 states that still retain a top credit rating after a series of eurozone countries were downgraded, was alarmed by the financial crisis but its policies had prevented it from becoming a casualty.
“We have established these policies because our number one priority is prosperity — that is economic growth and job creation,” he told the Davos forum in Switzerland.
“As I look around the world, particularly the developed world, I worry if the creation of prosperity is the number one priority. Have too many become complacent about prosperity, taken it as a given?”
“Is it a coincidence that as the veil falls on financial crisis it reveals not just too much bank debt but too much sovereign debt?”
Harper said Canada had more people in work than before the downturn as it had refused to “reduce immigration or give in to protectionism”.
But it was Harper’s assessment of the major changes that lie ahead for Canada that stood out in the speech.
“In the months to come, our government will undertake major transformations to position Canada for growth over the next generation,” said Harper.
The Conservative government will table a budget in the coming weeks that is expected to set the stage for years of deficit-slashing and government reform.
“Under our government, Canada will make the transformations necessary to sustain economic growth, job creation and prosperity now and for the next generation,” said Harper.
He said that means two things: “Making better economic choices now. And preparing ourselves now for the demographic pressures the Canadian economy faces.”
Harper said the country’s aging population has become a backdrop for his concern about how to keep the country strong over the long term.
“If not addressed promptly, this has the capacity to undermine Canada’s economic position and, for that matter, that of all western nations well beyond the current economic crises.”
Indeed, Harper said the country’s demographics — an aging populating and a dwindling workforce — constitute “a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish.”
For that reason, he said his government will “be taking measures in the coming months.”
Harper did not specify what those measures will be, but he said they are necessary — not just to bring the government’s finances back to a balanced budget in the medium term, “but also to ensure the sustainability of our social programs and fiscal position over the next generation.”