THE NEW Canada Pension Plan is creating a crisis of conscience for some 2,000 Old Order and Amish Mennonites in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of southwestern Ontario. This particular Mennonite sect (there are about 40 other branches of the faith) believes pensions or any other form of insurance program are immoral and has twice appealed to Prime Minister Pearson to be excluded from the plan.
Both times Pearson has replied that there can be no exemptions under present legislation. Mennonites will have to contribute to the plan just like everybody else — although they are free to ignore the benefits when they fall due. These Mennonites, who are descendants of some of Ontario’s pioneer settlers, say they will leave the country rather than be forced to conform. Some of the families have already investigated the possibility of emigration to Barbados or the Bahamas.
The Mennonites have asked Elvin Shantz, a Kitchener Mennonite who does not share the sect’s fear of pensions, to act as their spokesman.
“The families don’t want to leave,” says Shantz. “They want to be left alone to live as they have lived for 165 years. This is the first time the government has said: ‘We’re going to do good regardless of whether it’s right or not.’ All other welfare programs up to now have been voluntary.”
Although the Mennonites don’t agree with several other government policies, including defense expenditures, they have always paid income tax. Their quarrel with the pension plan is that it’s a specific government subsidy.
The Mennonite bishops plan one last appeal to Pearson. If it’s turned down then Mennonites will neither indulge in protest marches nor go to court. They don’t believe in either recourse. In the quiet way that has become their trademark, they will — they say — simply leave Canada.
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