Automation of GIS should extend to all seniors

The government has some work to do if it wants to convince Canadians they share the same concerns most people have about pensions.  In the last year they allowed the Sears pension plan to remain underfunded as that company liquidated assets and closed for good, and also introduced legislation that will lead to more Canadians working under defined contribution pensions.  Now they have undertaken a policy of automatic registration for Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) that will leave some who are already eligible on the outs until they figure it out for themselves. 

This has prompted critics to raise concerns over what is perceived to be a fairness gap between those who are set to become eligible for the supplement and those who already are.  By not retroactively enrolling eligible seniors, it ensures some will continue to struggle more than they would if they were receiving the assistance they meet the criteria for.

New Democrats have made seniors’ poverty a key component of policy discussions for more than a decade.  They share the belief, along with many Canadians, that seniors deserve to retire in dignity and should not have to struggle to make ends meet.  Party critics are telling the government that, in the spirit of fairness and compassion, it’s imperative that seniors get all the benefits they are entitled to.

The latest development stems from the government’s decision to start the process of automatically enrolling seniors for the GIS when they turn 65.  While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the automatic enrollment will only apply to new registrations. That means seniors who are already eligible for the benefit won’t be receiving the same attention and assistance from the government to get the help they could surely use.

Advocates and critics point out that this is a problem that could easily be addressed and should be since too many low-income seniors are not even aware they qualify for the GIS program.  An example of that can be found in Quebec where the Fédération de l’âge d’or  claim that more than 444,000 low-income seniors who are currently eligible for the GIS are not enrolled.  It’s easy to imagine the numbers across Canada occur at a similar rate which would amount to more than 1.5 million seniors who could be eligible for a benefit they are not receiving.

New Democrats have long called for automatic enrollment in the GIS for all eligible seniors for just that reason.  No matter what the tally might be, the work of adding those who haven’t enrolled would not be out of the reach of the government by any measure.  It is just a matter of ensuring that seniors who are already enrolled for Old Age Security are also enrolled in the GIS.  Those who don’t qualify won’t receive the benefit, those who do will get assistance they deserve.

There is no reason for the government not to pursue this automation retroactively. Instead of leaving seniors out in the cold, Canada could be ensuring those who have already made their contribution to the country don’t have to struggle in retirement. That’s why New Democrats will continue to work with seniors and stakeholders to ensure our seniors get the support they need to retire with dignity.