Monday, April 28, 2008

Seniors grill senator over finance issues

Cornwall Standard Freeholder

Posted By Greg Peerenboom

April 27, 2008

The country's senior citizens minister endured some grilling by a near capacity crowd Friday.

Senator Marjory LeBreton was sympathetic but stood her ground with several members of the Seaway Seniors Citizens Club, especially on financial issues.

At one point, one man had to be shouted down by a club executive, Frank Cash, after he persisted on blasting the Conservatives' decision to tax income trusts.

Local MP ,, who had invited LeBreton, strode forward and cautioned the meeting was "not a debate."

LeBreton had just finished telling the approximately 80 Seaway members about the progress made for seniors under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Another senior, Robert Gordon, continued to criticize the government for wiping out a significant part of retirement income from the trusts, which he reminded LeBreton, Harper had promised not to tax.

"It was a hard decision," admitted LeBreton.

But the alternative would have been worse, she said.

LeBreton said more corporations were intending to pay less taxes by converting their businesses into trust funds.

As a result, there would have been less money for programs to help seniors, which LeBreton highlighted earlier in the meeting.

Lauzon said the impact on investment portfolios would be minimal as the average percentage of trust shares was around 10 per cent.

That amount was disputed by another member.

"If he said it should be 10 per cent he shouldn't be a stock broker," said the man.

Gordon also faulted the government for an "uneven playing field" single seniors are grappling with when it allowed couples to split their incomes for tax purposes.

LeBreton said she hopes her ministry will rectify that problem once her National Seniors Council completes a review of the situation.

Another concern was the skyrocketing price of gas on Canadians' pocketbooks and maybe it was time for the federal government to reduce gas taxes.

Lauzon advised cutting down on driving as the demand is helping to drive up costs.

As for the increased gas revenue the government collects, Lauzon said millions are being funnelled back into improving transportation infrastructure.

Earlier, LeBreton shared how her government was putting more money back in seniors' pockets through a variety of methods, including raising the tax credit and the age limit for RRSPs, as well as lowering the GST to five per cent and splitting incomes.

But she said the government is also addressing social problems such as elder abuse.

One Seaway member made a point saying today's seniors "have access to many more programs" than her parents 20 or more years ago.

LeBreton, as the Senate government leader, said she is in position to relay the seniors' concerns to the prime minister.