Right in the centre - Learning from the past, looking to the future


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Iam told, or more precisely, I have read that Canada’s first public pension plan was introduced in 1927, with the passing of the Old Age Pensions Act. That legislation established a means-tested pension for men and women 70 years of age and over, who had little or no income. I remember hearing about “means tests” in my younger days, but I really don’t know when Old Age pensions became unconditional.

It’s interesting that back in 1927, it was expected that people would have to work until they were 70 before they got pension and only if they could prove they absolutely needed it. In those days, the average life expectancy was 61 for men and 63 for women, so lots of people never saw pension age.

Somewhere along the line, Canada reduced the pension age to 65 and there isn’t a means test any more. There is also a supplement.

Our whole attitude to retirement is rather strange. Was it back in the 80s that Freedom 55 came along, that deal where everybody was supposed to buy RRSPs in the stock market and retire rich at 55? Well, it’s a nice idea for a limited number of people, although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend what can be the most productive years of their lives sitting on a beach. But that’s just my opinion.

The whole Freedom 55 thing took on mythical and largely unreachable proportions. The idea was that you would borrow from the banks, let someone else play with the borrowed money and it would magically grow into a fortune. I even tried it for a couple of years and I watched my borrowed money shrink, as someone who was even more clueless than me tried to invest it in “safe” stocks and bonds. I quickly came to the conclusion that I should pay down my operating loan and do my own investing. It sure wouldn’t be in stocks and bonds. I only invest in my own communities and in things I understand, such as newspapers and real estate. I think that is more or less the approach taken by Jim Pattison and Warren Buffet and it is hard to argue with  their success.

Last week, I read a story about BC businessman Jim Pattison. He’s 90 and still works every day. He is a fascinating man who employs 45,000 people, still drives his own truck and is still married to his first wife. I guess I better stop commenting that I am 70 years old, as I have another 20 years to catch up to Mr. Pattison. It would be good to still be working at age 90, although health (and death) often get in the way of that goal.

I guess this is the message. If a person wants to retire or can afford to retire, that’s OK. If a person’s health forces retirement, then so be it. However, if a person wants to keep working and their health allows for it, that’s good too.

In every community, there are examples of each these scenarios. It’s not all that predictable but neither is life. One day at a time, but with an eye on the future is the best plan. The past is only a place to learn from, not to live.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.