NEW YORK — Next week’s federal budget will restore the eligibility for old-age security to 65 as promised, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday, committing to undo one of his predecessor’s policies.
It was part of a wide-ranging discussion where he shared some of his intentions for the budget, specifically, and for longer-term economic policy before a New York audience.
Trudeau noted the irony of the setting. It was also in a public forum abroad, hosted by a foreign news organization, where Stephen Harper announced the policy the Liberals are undoing — the plan to raise the retirement age two years to 67.
“There’s a nice parallel here,” Trudeau told a moderator at Bloomberg.
“We will confirm that we are keeping the old retirement age at 65 — not raising it to 67. Because how we care for our most vulnerable in society is really important.”
The moderator pressed him on the soundness of his economics. He noted that numerous countries are raising the age, in order to protect the solvency of their pension systems amid the twin pressures of an aging population and longer lifespans.
But Trudeau suggested the system could be designed with flexibility. He called Harper’s two-year extension a simplistic solution, amid numerous other policies that could entice people to work longer.
“There needs to be a little bit of sophistication,” the prime minister replied.
“Obviously for someone who’s worked as an investment banker or as a lawyer all their life, 65 is not necessarily an age where they need to retire…. Anyone who has worked with their hands as a labourer… and has been in a much more physical job, once you reach 65… there are real challenges…
“A nuanced and responsible discussion around that is what we’re waiting for.”
The Conservatives announced in 2012 that they would raise the eligibility age beginning in 2023, arguing the system was not sustainable. The Liberals pledged during the campaign to reverse that.
Trudeau also downplayed expectations of an immediate gusher of stimulus spending. He said the Canadian economy doesn’t need to be jolted to life as it did with the 2008 crisis.
He said he is focused on a longer-term infrastructure spending program introduced over 10 years, with investments in projects that will lead to economic benefits for the country.
But the program will start with more modest ambitions. Trudeau said the government will spend the first two years focusing on what he called “unsexy” things — maintenance, upgrades, recapitalization. He mentioned fixing subway signals as an example.
“Things (where) you don’t get to cut a ribbon and announce a shiny new building,” he said.
“(Things) that don’t get the flash but are desperately needed. That’s what we’re really focusing on in the coming couple of years, and then we get into the bigger, longer-term things once we’ve been able to plan them.”
As for deficit-spending, he said he’d be responsible. However, he did credit his promise to run a deficit with helping him get elected. He shared a story about the day he made the big-spending pledge.
The Liberals were in third place.
But when he saw the NDP aligning itself with the zero-deficit policy of the Harper Tories, he said: “I got home to my wife (that night) and I said, ‘I’m pretty sure we just won the election.’
“And of course the next morning (Sophie) opened up the newspaper and she said, ‘Well, it doesn’t say anything about that — that you just won the election.’ And I said, ‘It’s going to take a while for people to figure it out.”‘
Trudeau got a warm introduction to the Bloomberg interview.
Former New York mayor and company founder Michael Bloomberg walked him into the building, after having written a glowing op-ed for the prime minister headlined: “Canada’s New Hope.”