Canada was a proud nation at the end of the 1960s. The economy was booming and unemployment was low. Expo 1967, Canada's World's Fair which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Confederation, had just ended and had attracted 50 million visitors to Montreal from around the world.
The next two decades would be marked by a number of social changes: the "flower power" generation; the sexual revolution; the declining influence of the church on individuals; computerization; the greater acceptance of divorce, single-parent families, and gay rights; and women's liberation. Many of these changes had an impact on federal, provincial and municipal law-makers.
One of the most noteworthy developments saw women join the paid workforce in great numbers with pronounced effects on their traditional roles as homemakers and child-rearers. This changed the makeup of the conventional family unit and contributed in part to the decline of the national birth rate and the increase in unemployment.
The growth of Canada's retirement income system from the early 20th century gradually helped senior citizens to achieve a previously unknown level of financial independence.
The introduction of the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan in 1966 greatly increased the scope of Canada's public pension system. As a result, the importance of public pensions grew in comparison to private pension plans offered by employers to their employees. In 1971, the Guaranteed Income Supplement had become a permanent program. By 1975, the Spouse's Allowance had been introduced, and by that time, Canadian senior citizens relied on public programs for close to half of their income. The rest came from employer pension plans and private savings and investments.
Inflation was severe in the 1970s and 1980s, caused at first by the Oil Crisis of 1973 and then by several waves of economic recession. However, unlike the period of high inflation following the Second World War when Old Age Pension benefits remained fixed at $40 per month, public pension benefits were now keeping pace with the cost of living.
A significant administrative change was also initiated in this period. In 1988, the introduction of direct deposit - the electronic deposit of benefit payments directly into recipients' bank accounts - was proposed to reduce administrative costs and to make the process of receiving benefits easier for less-mobile people. Direct deposit for Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits was introduced in November 1990, and in 1994 an agreement was made with the American Bankers Association to provide direct deposit for people receiving their benefits in the United States. Today approximately 85 per cent of pension recipients use direct deposit.
The importance of public pensions to seniors contributed to a changing understanding of old age in Canadian society. The universal nature of Old Age Security and the large amount of attention paid to public pensions over the years helped remove any sense of shame associated with receiving pension benefits. At the same time, vast improvements in the health of Canada's older people enabled them to live longer and more fulfilling lives.
As the federal government attempted to reduce the cost of the public pension programs in the 1980s, the strength of seniors' organizations was revealed. In 1985 seniors successfully opposed a plan to limit inflation protection of Old Age Security after a protest on Parliament Hill received significant media coverage. Such persuasiveness became a hallmark of a new wave of activist seniors' organizations, and these groups (which have collectively come to be known as the "Grey Power" movement) continued to grow in influence as the proportion of seniors in Canadian society grew consistently larger.
It was not only senior citizens who became better organized and more outspoken in this period. As the recession of the early 1970s ended the very rapid economic growth that had characterized Canadian society since the end of the Second World War, many Canadians began to question their society's values.
Women's groups such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal groups such as the Assembly of First Nations were among the many socially marginalized groups that began to fight for greater attention to their needs. Their claims were strengthened on April 17, 1982 when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted, officially asserting the rights of Canadians to live free of discrimination.
This new social activism helped bring the problems faced by marginalized people into mainstream social and political debates. This in turn encouraged the improvements in public pension policy, made over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, which affected these groups.