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Tories and NDP vie for BC's grey vote

A day after focusing much of their attention on parents with young children, federal party leaders shifted their efforts to Canada’s aging population on Thursday.

One British Columbian in seven is 65 or older, meaning seniors could play a decisive role in a number of the province’s tight races.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who angered many older Canadians by deciding in 2006 to tax income trusts despite campaign promises to the contrary, pledged more than $400 million annually in tax exemptions for lower income seniors.

"This new measure is part of our long-term economic plan,” he said from a seniors’ residence in Quebec. “It's modest, but it's affordable and responsible and credible."

Those are not the words Vancouver East MP and Deputy NDP Leader Libby Davies used to describe the Conservative plan, arguing the prime minister has the wrong priorities.

“You look in a community like this – Strathcona, the Downtown Eastside, East Vancouver generally –, there are lots seniors living on a very low and fixed income. They live on the lowest pension. So a tax break isn’t going to do those people any good,” she said, standing outside the Downtown Eastside Seniors Centre.

She lauded the newly announced NDP plan aimed at providing home care for an additional 100,000 seniors nationwide and praised groups like the Vancouver Second Mile Society for offering community support to the elderly.

In addition to running the Downtown Eastside Seniors Centre, the society also helps older people living in single room occupancy hotels in the neighbourhood and promotes social activities.

Executive Director Steve Chan would like the government to help out more with housing and programs for seniors to stay active “so they don’t get old.” But he isn’t exactly turning his nose up at the prospect of federal tax credits either.

“Every little bit helps,” he said.

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