Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Harper not in step with Canadians on OAS

This is not a well chosen headline for the report that was written: "Harper's OAS reforms in step with public opinion: poll." This one was a little better but still off: "Harper's OAS reforms move in step with public opinion, government polling shows." What the polling cited in the headlines shows is that Canadians are concerned about aging demographics and their impact on the health care system and pension sustainability. Expressing concern for those things does not translate, however, into Canadians being in step with Harper's particular OAS reforms. Here's what the report gives us in terms of how Canadians reacted to the Privy Council Office's poll:
Polling and focus-group testing for the Privy Council Office point to an overriding concern about aging, and about whether the federal government's policies were sufficient.

"Across the country participants touched on a series of concerns that revolve around the aging of Canada's population, and the government's ability to address the challenges associated with this reality," says the report by Walker Consulting Group, based on public-opinion research done last August.

In open-ended questions, many respondents told the pollsters that the government needed to pay special attention to pension sustainability and the ability of future generations to support growing numbers of retirees.

In responses from across the county, participants said repeatedly they were concerned about the ability of the health-care system to handle the growing burden that comes with an aging population.

"Whether in B.C., Ontario, or Quebec, the issue of how the health-care system will absorb the increased volume of needs and the nature of those needs from the increasing number of elderly Canadians was the most notable concern across the country," the report says.
Who isn't concerned with those things? That's not a big surprise. It's a big leap, however, to say that the fact that those concerns are being expressed means that Canadians support how the government will go about meeting those concerns. When it comes to making choices about how we go about sustaining our health care system and pensions and what kind of system we want, that's where diverging views can occur.

So yes, Harper has reacted to the concerns articulated in the poll by seeking to reform OAS. But he's chosen to respond to those concerns by floating an increase in the OAS age eligibility. Canadians have, elsewhere, in at least one other poll, expressed a heavily negative reaction to that possibility: "Three-quarters of Canadians – or 74 per cent – say they oppose reforming old-age security in this way with half of the population insisting they “strongly oppose” the contentious measure, according to an Ipsos Reid study for Global News and Postmedia News."

For anyone to suggest, at this stage, that Harper's OAS reforms are in step with Canadian public opinion seems misguided. You could read the Privy Council's poll, the limited part we read anyway, as having a very opposite meaning. That is, as suggesting Canadians are concerned about the pension and health care systems and want to preserve or strengthen them, not see them reduced.

Very interesting to see the results of Privy Council focus groups and polls being made available now to create such headlines. Harper is clearly back and on the job. Trying to fill the void of rationalization for OAS changes after the PBO and others have questioned the government's plans.

One last thing, here's a worthwhile overview of where we are on the OAS issue with Bob Rae and Susan Eng of CARP.