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COLUMN: Mastering the ability to live within our means
Since retiring and struggling to survive on a fixed income, no words strike greater fear in my heart while contemplating my financial security than to hear federal and provincial finance ministers talking about balancing their respective budgets.
And to hear municipal treasurers telling us how wise it is to accumulate municipal surpluses in their budgets.
It seems that senior politicians can’t quite master the ability to live within their taxpayer-derived incomes.
As a result of this shortcoming, they resort to cost-cutting measures or tax increases, which are designed to make them look efficient. But it just doesn’t wash when it comes to ordinary folks living on ordinary pensions and low income earners.
Jim Flaherty, Canada’s federal finance minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, recently said Canada Pension Plan payments cannot be increased because it would hurt the economy. Oddly enough, he didn’t have much to say about the obscene pensions parliamentarians grant themselves, or the additional burden on taxpayers for the many other ridiculous benefits members of Parliament and the Senate grow fat on.
Nor did he allude to the economy draining multi-million-dollar income of top-level private and public corporate executives.
The cost-cutting measures implemented by federal and provincial governments usually mean reducing or eliminating programs that make life a little easier for those of us stuck in lower income brackets.
Of course, no finance minister wants to appear too miserly, so they usually make reference to how the tax rates are the lowest ever. But no matter how they cut the cake, life just gets tougher for too many people at the bottom of the economic pile.
Trying to keep up to the rest of the world when you’re living on Canada Pension and Old Age Security is impossible. B.C. Hydro rates are going up more than 5% a year; local municipal property taxes are set to jump by almost 4%. And those are just a few of the things over which pensioners have absolutely no control, other than to opt for starving to death in their cold and darkened homes.
I readily acknowledge that I don’t appear to be starving, but our combined household income makes it difficult to make healthier food purchases.
In case you think I’m whining needlessly, the combined total of my own CPP and OAS pensions in the past year increased by less than 1%.
Municipalities are prohibited by provincial law from running deficit budgets, but many councils, including some in the Tri-Cities, have carried it one step further by adding a built-in surplus for future infrastructure replacements.
I believe one municipal official once referred to this excess as ‘a rainy day’ account. I have a hot news flash for you folks – the rainy day is here and now.
Nowhere in the realm of federal, provincial or municipal budget discussions have I ever heard senior politicians or bureaucrats offer to take a cut in their own excessive salaries. No such hope. It seems the burden of government excesses and cost-cutting will always fall on the shoulders of those least able to afford it.
And before all you high-priced folks in government and business start pointing out the error in my thought processes, I know you all pay taxes, too, and we undeserving wretches just don’t appreciate your efforts on our behalf.
Well, you’re probably right. But I don’t feel too guilty about it. I know I don’t lose any sleep over the tough financial times I’m putting you through.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor in Maple Ridge. He is also a columnist for the Maple Ridge News.