VANCOUVER — British Columbians want their politicians to work for all generations and not inflame intergenerational tension. Problem is, that’s just what the B.C. Liberal and NDP platforms are doing this election.
Take, for example, the gap that exists between what governments spend on seniors and what they spend on those younger than age 45. Federal and provincial government spending adds up to about $45,000 per retiree each year, mostly on medical care, old age security and other retirement subsidies. By contrast, we spend just $12,000 per person under age 45, including for grade school, post-secondary, medical care, tax breaks for families, employment insurance, etc.
This big spending gap doesn’t make sense any more. Since 1976, housing prices have gone up over 150 per cent in B.C. and higher housing prices mean more wealth for those who bought homes decades ago. But higher prices also make home ownership far harder for their kids and grandchildren. Even renting is harder, with wages for young British Columbians down $4 an hour compared to 1976, even though they have more post-secondary credentials (and more student debt).
So how are the B.C. Liberals and NDP proposing to narrow the gap in spending between retirees and younger generations during the current election campaign? They’re not. In fact, both will grow the gap, raising spending per retiree to around $46,000 while leaving Gens X, Y and their kids at around $12,250.
The Liberals promise to spend $1.5 billion a year more on medical care by 2015, which disproportionately benefits retirees. They also propose to add just $0.066 billion more to investments in younger generations, through post-secondary, grade school and programs in the ministry for children and family development.
The NDP propose to spend $1.6 billion more on medical care each year by 2015, compared to $0.369 billion on younger generations.
Sustaining the medical care system is important as our population ages; we all care about the health of our aging family and friends. But do you know any retirees who want investments in their health to push aside investments in their kids and grandchildren? Why do the Liberals and NDP keep pushing British Columbians to make this trade-off?
To pay for their spending increases, both parties propose tax increases. Both will raise corporate taxes as well as income taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000 a year. In short, both parties are willing to raise taxes to cover expenses for the aging population, but leave only crumbs in the government cupboard for the younger generations struggling with lower wages and far higher housing costs.
The pickings are especially slim for Gens X and Y starting families. A detailed analysis of the platforms reveals that Liberals believe families can be kept affordable by increasing the budget for the ministry of children and family development by around $22 a person under age 45, while the NDP implies that a $62 yearly increase is sufficient.
It is clear that neither party is concerned that young families lose around $15,000 in income to share a year of parental leave at home with a new baby. Or that child care services generally cost between $8,000 and $14,000 annually — more than university tuition.
Do other parties offer a better generational deal?
While the B.C. Conservatives don’t propose investing in the generation raising young kids, some individual candidates do support substantial investments in family policy for Gens X and Y.
The Greens are concerned with intergenerational equity, specifically with respect to saddling younger generations with the costs of climate change. The party also claims we need to address the difficulty that young adults face in "establishing themselves in their careers, gaining independence from their parents, and having to delay starting families and purchasing homes."
Sounds good, but the Green platform doesn’t provide sufficient detail with which to assess whether their approach will narrow the generational spending gap.
But one thing is certain. Whether British Columbians elect the Liberals or the NDP, the new government will be taxing more and spending more on retirees, with little left over for Gens X, Y and their children.
This has to change this. More Gen X and Yers need to show up at the ballot box on May 14 so that all parties know not to neglect them next time around. And more boomers and seniors have to actively voice their opposition to party platforms that pit the health of grandparents against the well-being of their kids and grandchildren.
Paul Kershaw is a UBC professor and founder of the Generation Squeeze campaign. Lynell Anderson, who collaborated on this column, is a senior researcher with gensqueeze.ca.