Local senior citizens were called to be more politically active in protecting their pensions and improving health care at a rally held Wednesday at Windsor’s City Hall Square.

A crowd of 100 or so attended the afternoon event held in recognition of the United Nations International Day of Older Persons.

“I came to see what’s going on in the country and I want to keep my pension,” said Windsor’s Jackie Reaume, a retired welder with 30 years of service at Fabco.

They were entertained by the Life After 50 Club choir and engaged by a lineup of 10 guest speakers, including former CAW national president Ken Lewenza and former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley.

A modified United Nations International Day of Older Persons flag bearing an imposed Maple Leaf was raised.

“We can only stop the social decline with political activity,” Lewenza said. “We could be the most vulnerable tomorrow. We have an aging population in Windsor and the young people are leaving the city to find jobs.”

Pawley noted that in 2006, one in seven Canadians were 65 years or older and by 2031 that ratio will be one in four.

“Ontario is home to 40 per cent of (Canadian) seniors,” Pawley said. “It is at a crucial juncture. This is a challenge for policy makers, for families and for seniors themselves who have inadequate or no pensions. Workers dependent on pensions from companies must be protected and they are not protected today.”

Herb John, president of the National Pensioners Federation and a retired autoworker from Ford’s Essex Engine plant, warned of the growing number of seniors living in poverty.

He said the poverty rate for seniors in 1995 was 3.9 per cent according to Statistics Canada. In 2005, it hit double digits at 10.2 per cent and the most recent stats from 2010 have it at 12.3 per cent.

“We no longer have an economy that supports all the people in it,” said John who now lives on Walpole Island.

He warned of the federal government’s plan for Target Benefit Pensions which would allow pensions from the federally regulated private sector or Crown Corporations to fluctuate.

“Your pension cheque would no longer be guaranteed,” John said. “When the stock market goes down they can tell us we have to take less. They’ve already done it in New Brunswick. Everybody should be in an uproar over this. People are afraid if they rock the boat they’ll lose what little they have left but if we all rock the boat together we can make a lot of waves.”

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