Should the age of CPP/OAS eligibility be raised?

Results from the 2016 census show that there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20% since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five percent growth experienced by the population as a whole. This rapid pace of aging carries profound implications for everything from pension plans to health care, the labour market and social services.

“The reason is basically that the population has been aging in Canada for a number of years now and the fertility level is fairly low, below replacement levels,” Andre Lebel, a demographer with Statistics Canada told Global News. Lebel also projects that because over the next 16 years, the rest of the baby boom will become senior citizens, the proportion of seniors will rise to 23 per cent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute proposes that the age of eligibility (AOE) for CPP/QPP, Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits should be re-visited. The AOE is the earliest age at which an individual is permitted to receive a full (unreduced) pension from the government.

Other countries with aging populations are raising the AOE for social security benefits. These include Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 2012, then Prime Minister Steven Harper announced plans to increase the AOE for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. However, Trudeau reversed this very unpopular legislation (leaving the AOE at 65) in the 2016 budget.

In their report Greener Pastures: Resetting the age of eligibility for Social Security based on actuarial science, authors Robert Brown and Shantel Aris say their goal is to introduce an “evidence-based” analysis that can be used impartially to adjust the AOE for Canada’s social security system based on actuarial logic, not political whims.

However, they do not argue that current systems and reform plans are unsustainable. In fact, increasing life expectancy and increasing aged-dependency ratios are consistent with the assumptions behind CPP/QPP actuarial valuations. However, they suggest that if there are relatively painless ways to manage increasing costs to the programs, then they are worthy of public debate.

Their calculations assume that Canadians will spend up to 34% of their life in retirement, resulting in recommendations for a new AOE of 66 (phased-in beginning in 2013 and achieved by 2025) that would then be constant until 2048 when the AOE would shift to age 67 over two years.

Brown and Avis believe these shifts would soften the rate of increase in the Old Age Dependency Ratio, bring lower OAS/GIS costs and lower required contribution rates for the CPP (both in tier 1 and the new tier 2). This, in turn, would result in equity in financing retirement across generations and a higher probability of sustainability of these systems.

However they do acknowledge that there are some important issues that would arise if the proposed AOE framework is adopted. One of these issues is the fact that raising the AOE is regressive. For example, if your life expectancy at retirement is five years, and the AOE is raised by one year, then that is a 20% loss in benefits. If your life expectancy at retirement is 20 years, then the one year shift in the AOE is only a five percent benefit reduction.

People with higher income and wealth tend to live longer, so the impact of raising the AOE will be greater on lower-income workers than on higher-income workers. Access to social assistance benefits would be needed to mitigate this loss. The study suggests that it would be easy to mitigate the small regressive element in the shift of AOS by reforming the OAS/GIS clawback as the AOE starts to rise.

The report concludes that having partial immunization of the OAS/GIS and CPP/QPP from increases in life expectancy is  and logical and would help Canada to achieve five attractive goals with respect to our social security system:

  • Increase the probability of it’s sustainability.
  • Increase the credibility of this sustainability with the Canadian public.
  • Enhance inter-generational equity.
  • Lower the overall costs of social security; and
  • Create a nudge for workers to stay in the labour force for a little longer .

It remains to be seen if or when the C.D. Howe proposals regarding changes to the AOE for public pension plans will make it on to the “To Do” list of the current or future federal governments.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

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