universal pensions in Canada

From 1927, Canada had a system of means-tested pensions in effect for British subjects 70 and older who met residence requirements. Not until 1952 was this superseded by a universal pension. Beginning in 1965 the age of eligibility for a universal pension was gradually lowered, reaching 65 years in 1970.

Surprisingly (to me) only a minority of voters initially supported elimination of means-tests. As can be seen in the table below, as late as November 1946 only about a third of the public favoured universal pensions, when fewer than half of all Canadians 70 years of age and older were receiving an old age pension. Public opinion changed when Members of Parliament (MPs), a majority of whom wanted to eliminate means tests, began to draft legislation known as the Old Age Security Act. Canada’s move to universal pensions, in short, appears to have been a top-down rather than a bottom-up process.

[A] majority of the public was seen to support universal pensions in the autumn of 1950, following the Report of the Joint Committee [of the Senate and the House of Commons] on Old Age Security, but overwhelming public support was not forthcoming until after the Old Age Security bill had been introduced into Parliament on 25 October 1951. …

[I]t should be noted that old age security benefits are not really universally available at a uniform amount. Given that payments made to pensioners are taxable income, a modest portion is recovered by the federal treasury through income taxes. A 1984 National Council of Welfare report on pensions has estimated that only about 6% of the old age security program

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