Cities urged to end seniors discounts

Study argues breaks on property tax and other fees are unfair to lower income people who need help more than wealthy seniors

Harry Kitchen is an economist and municipal finance expert based in Ontario.

A new study urges municipalities to eliminate breaks for seniors on property taxes and fees to use services such as public transit and fitness classes.

The report by Ontario economist and municipal finance expert Harry Kitchen was released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Kitchen argues it’s time to abandon seniors discounts because they increasingly benefit wealthy retirees who don’t need the help.

“They were established at a time when a high percentage of older residents were living in poverty, but poverty rates for seniors have decreased considerably compared with those in the rest of the population,” Kitchen said.

His findings indicate seniors actually have the smallest share of people living in poverty of any age group in Canada.

He recommends grants and special aid be targeted to all low-income people in need, regardless of age.

“Those paying a reduced price are effectively subsidized by those paying the higher price,” Kitchen says in his study.

Cheap or free services to seniors can also lead to excessive use of services and larger-than-required facilities, it says.

Extra revenue from ending blanket discounts for seniors could give cities more flexibility to reduce their reliance on property taxes, he argued.

He warns the inequity of seniors discounts will worsen as the population ages and reform will become increasingly difficult as more voters turn 65.

B.C.’s home owner grant program reduces the property tax on a principle residence by more if the owner is a senior – the tax reduction is up to $845 per year for seniors but is capped at $570 for those under 65.

TransLink charges seniors a $52 for a monthly “concession” pass that’s valid across all zones, while other regular adults are charged $170 a month for a pass that’s good for all zones, or $91 for one zone only.

BC Ferries eliminated a major freebie for seniors a year ago – free travel on non-holiday weekdays. Seniors now pay half price on their passenger fare Monday to Thursday.