TORONTO – Justin Trudeau pledged billions for low-income seniors on Monday while accusing Conservative Leader Stephen Harper of creating a surprise $1.9 billion surplus on the backs of vulnerable Canadians to bolster his election campaign.
The Liberal leader told a Canadian Association of Retired Persons town hall that his party would boost the guaranteed income supplement for single, lower-income seniors by $3 billion over four years, giving them an extra $920 a year.
He said the Liberals would also bring in a seniors price index to ensure old age security keeps pace with inflation which would cost $530 million over four years.
WATCH: Trudeau accuses Stephen Harper of making billions of dollars in cuts last year so he could have a balanced budget in time for the election
In-Depth: Federal Election 2015
The party can keep these promises because it is not bent on balancing the books immediately, Trudeau said.
“(Conservatives) are now worried about their own pensions, not yours. Stephen Harper won’t help,” Trudeau told the crowd in the riding of Spadina-Fort York where Liberal incumbent Adam Vaughan is in a tight race with NDP candidate and former MP Olivia Chow.
“(NDP Leader) Tom Mulcair can’t help because he’s made a foolish and irresponsible promise to eliminate Stephen Harper’s deficit in year one, no matter the cost to Canadians.”
That kind of thinking has resulted in underspending and cuts to veterans, First Nations and seniors, creating a surprise surplus in time for the election, Trudeau said.
Finance Department numbers for 2014-15 show Ottawa posted a $1.9-billion surplus, bringing the books into the black a year earlier than expected. A shortfall of $2 billion had been forecast.
The Conservatives say the government posted a surplus while increasing spending. They point to figures which show spending on aboriginal affairs has gone up almost $2 billion between 2014 and 2015 while spending in veteran’s affairs has increased by $121 million.
The Liberals say Trudeau’s accusation was based on Monday’s fiscal report which said program spending was down, in part because of a “higher-than-expected lapse of departmental spending authorities.”
A Liberal government would stick with its plan to run deficits for the first three years in office, making investments in infrastructure and seniors despite the surplus, Trudeau said.
Trudeau told the mostly partisan audience that the Liberals would begin talks with the provinces on how to improve the Canada Pension Plan system within three months of taking office. He wouldn’t say exactly what changes the Liberals would like to see to the current system.
Anthony Quinn, community development director at CARP, welcomed the proposal but was careful not to endorse the Liberal plan or that of any other party.
“We have been calling for many years to have a national enhancement to the CPP and we’re looking to hear that from all the leaders,” he said. “We want seniors’ issues to be front and centre for all the candidates.”
The Conservatives say they have helped seniors by lowering taxes while accusing the Liberals of wanting to hike taxes and spend money the country doesn’t have. Mulcair courted seniors on Sunday, unveiling a plan to spend $1.8 billion over four years to help the provinces bolster health care for seniors if his party forms government.
Lena Badhwar, 75 from downtown Toronto, said she was offended on Sunday when Mulcair characterized former prime minister Jean Chretien’s presence on the campaign trail as the “golden oldies tour.”
Seniors are not one-dimensional and only interested about pension-related promises, she said.
“What I would love to have is a minister of urban affairs,” she said. “Canada is not a rural area anymore.”