Ruby Dhalla, a Liberal member of parliament, has introduced a private member's bill to reduce the number of years new immigrants must live in Canada before they can qualify for Old Age Security from 10 years to 3.
This has created a storm of opposition. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has said: "We are committed to fighting this every step of the way." Liberal party leadership has distanced itself from the bill.
Those opposed say it is unfair for people who have not paid Canadian taxes all their lives to benefit so soon from the system. I think these people need to take a step back and think about where the real unfairness lies.
First, let's be a bit clearer about the bill. This is a private member's bill from an opposition MP, and has almost no chance of becoming law anyway. But what is actually being proposed?
Under the bill, a senior could only qualify for a partial OAS payment estimated at $38.77 a month after 3 years of residence, while a senior who has lived here more than 40 years could get up to $516.77 under this program.
Dhalla presents her bill as a measure for fighting poverty. She points out that immigrants who sponsor elderly relatives to join them are required to support them, but that these arrangements sometimes break down for various reasons, including death of the sponsor for example.
Seniors can get stranded in poverty without even a way to get back where they came from. $38.77 a month will not help much, but it would augment other minimal support that is available.
These are people who may not have paid Canadian taxes all their lives, but who have worked as hard as any Canadian, often in a much poorer country, where jobs like those available to Canadians just do not exist.
Often, they have sacrificed and saved while working at a menial, low-paying job to give their children a brighter future. Canada is benefiting from the efforts of many such people, which led to the training of so many of our doctors, engineers, and other productive people.
Why is it that so many countries still cannot provide good jobs for their citizens? I would argue that the basic reason is the tendency of economic activity to cluster together.
You can easily observe this phenomenon. It is quite obvious that businesses which provide good jobs tend to locate in cities where there are lots of other businesses, and I bet that if you try, you can think of quite a number of reasons for this in a few minutes.
I would argue further that poor countries are simply countries that got left out when these clusters of activity formed.
That is why they cannot provide good jobs. The poverty is not caused by a lack of effort, but by a lack of opportunity. Our world economy is grotesquely unfair to the people unfortunate enough to be born in these countries.
Ruby Dhalla's bill does not do much to address this unfairness, but it would be a tiny step in the right direction.
Those complaining that the bill is unfair to Canadians who have paid taxes all their lives need to think a bit about where the real unfairness lies.
Think a bit about what your life would have been like if you had been born the child of a subsistence farmer in Africa. Would you have been able to find or create a good job there and save for your retirement? Do you really think that whatever success you have had in life was all your own doing?
A world economic system that leaves so many people out is the real unfairness. Ruby Dhalla's bill would just go a little way toward giving some old age dignity and comfort to people who never had the chances those of us born in Canada had.
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