Bill C-36 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Diane Finley Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
November 23rd, 2010 / 8:30 p.m.
Diane Ablonczy Minister of State (Seniors)
Madam Chair, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with the House actions taken by the government to help ensure that older Canadians have the supports they need to enjoy a good quality of life and a secure sense of well-being.
Our government recognizes the important contributions seniors have made and continue to make to both the economic and social fabrics of our nation. Seniors are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Recently, David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, issued his report, “Growing Older—Adding Life to Years”. The report highlights the state of Canadian seniors' physical and mental health, as well as their economic and social well-being.
The good news is that Dr. Butler-Jones came away from the study with an overall positive outlook on Canada's aging population. He noted that people, by and large, are actually aging well. He says aging is a vibrant time and while sometimes there are infirmities along the way, people live life well, are engaged in their communities and contribute to society. It has never been better, says Dr. Butler-Jones.
This very encouraging observation is met with the reality, he says, that as Canada faces a larger older population, efforts made toward healthy aging need to be managed in more effective and meaningful ways. This is precisely what the federal government, in collaboration with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, intends to do.
The federal government also intends to ensure that older Canadians have necessary financial supports. We understand that financial security largely contributes to a secure sense of well-being. That is why, since 2006, this government has implemented several key measures to reduce the tax burden on seniors.
To date, our government has provided more than $2 billion in annual tax relief for seniors. That is more than $2 billion each and every year. Some of these measures include implementing pension income splitting; increasing the age credit twice, first in 2006 and then again in 2009, benefiting more than two million seniors; doubling the maximum amount of pension income that may be claimed under the pension income tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, which removed 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls completely; increasing the allowable earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500; allowing registered retirement income fund annuitants to reduce the minimum amount required to be withdrawn for the 2008 tax year by 25%; and increasing the age limit for registered retirement savings plans from 69 to 71 years of age, allowing more flexible, phased retirement arrangements.
As we can see from that long list, we have been working hard to deliver real financial benefits for Canadian seniors, but our actions have not stopped there. Our government introduced the tax-free savings account, which is especially useful for seniors as withdrawals from it are GIS exempt. Today, over 90% of seniors are receiving support from the GIS and OAS, which provides over $33 billion in assistance to seniors each year.
As well as increasing supports, we have improved service delivery to better ensure that seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. The application processes for the Canada pension plan and old age security have been simplified and updated, allowing seniors easier access to these important supports.
Furthermore, by introducing automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement under Bill C-36 in 2007, eligible seniors no longer have to reapply for this benefit every year. While these financial supports and the delivery of these benefits are important, we have made significant progress in a number of other ways.
In 2007, our government created the role of Minister of State for Seniors to be a voice for older adults at the cabinet level. That same year we established the first ever National Seniors Council, which provides advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors. This fall the council held round tables across the country to gain perspective from Canadians on retirement and labour force participation among seniors and on intergenerational relations. The council will produce a report and recommendations on these topics in the spring.
One of the NSC's past studies was on elder abuse, an issue that this government takes very seriously. In budget 2008, we committed $13 million over three years to the federal elder abuse initiative to help educate all Canadians to recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse. With an aging population, it is important that Canadians be aware of this type of mistreatment and be empowered to stand up and to speak out.
Through this initiative, we are working with the provinces and territories as well as professional organizations and community support groups to take measures to help prevent the exploitation of older Canadians. One way that community groups are helping to get this message out is through funding from the new horizons for seniors program, a program so successful and in such high demand that we increased its annual funding to $40 million in budget 2010, so that seniors can continue to be provided with opportunities to be active and engaged in their communities. The new horizons for seniors program also assists seniors to be active leaders and mentors in their communities. They are best able to achieve this through programs that foster inclusion, good nutrition and physical activity.
Bill C-40, which creates National Seniors Day on October 1 of each year, received royal assent just last week. This day will give Canadians an opportunity to collectively celebrate the continued contributions of older Canadians.
I would like to commend my colleague, the Minister of Finance, who has been working hard with his provincial and territorial counterparts to help ensure that older Canadians continue to enjoy a sound, reliable retirement income system. I can assure members that this federal government wants seniors to continue to help create a vibrant and successful Canada. We want our policies, programs and services to encourage and support seniors to remain active, healthy and engaged in their families, workplaces and communities.
We remain committed to ensuring that older Canadians receive the benefits to which they are entitled, that they stay financially secure in retirement and that they remain free from abuse and hardship. We also remain committed to ensuring that Canada is prepared to deal with the demographic shift that is upon us. Right now one in seven Canadians is a senior. In the year 2031, it will be one in four. The so-called boomer apocalypse will have profound impacts on the social and economic fabrics of our nation.
We need to be honest with ourselves and each other as leaders, policy makers, policy influencers, advocates and Canadians that the choices we make today will not only affect the baby boomer bubble but also our children, grandchildren and their children. It is our responsibility to ensure that we leave them a Canada that is just as strong and vibrant as the one we have enjoyed.
Our government will lead in preparing for the future with the well-being of seniors and of all Canadians as our goal.
Guaranteed Income Supplement
Private Members' Business
May 13th, 2009 / 6:50 p.m.
Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC
Madam Speaker, I am thankful for being allowed to add my voice to this debate on Motion No. 300. This motion, of course, proposes that the government introduce legislation to amend the Old Age Security Act respecting the guaranteed income supplement.
We all share the aim of doing what we can to help our country's seniors enjoy a better quality of life. Despite some of the protestations we hear from across the way, I believe there is a common underlying element within the House that wants to support seniors. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for all their contributions to building, and in many cases, safeguarding our country.
Indeed, Canada already has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the industrialized world and is recognized as a global leader in that regard. A big part of this success is due to the guaranteed income supplement, which is the focus of our debate today.
As recently as 1980, more than 21% of older Canadians lived below the poverty line. By 2006, that figure was less than 6%. Since then, our government has taken numerous additional measures to further assist low-income seniors.
I remind the House that, since taking office, our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement by 7% over and above the regular indexing for inflation. As many of our seniors continue to work, we have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500. That is a whopping 600% increase.
Not only have we increased the guaranteed income supplement benefits and left more money in the pockets of Canadian seniors, we have made it easier for low-income seniors to access these benefits. As a result of our government passing Bill C-36 in the last Parliament, seniors now only have to apply for the GIS once and will continue to receive benefits as long as they are eligible and file income tax returns.
To help seniors who may not be aware that they qualify for the GIS, we also send out applications to low-income seniors who do not currently receive the supplement. This measure taken by our government has put these benefits in the hands of an additional 328,000 low-income seniors.
That is not all. We have created a minister of state for seniors and appointed Senator Marjory LeBreton to fill that position. She is doing excellent work to promote the interests and protect the well-being of older Canadians.
We have also set up the National Seniors Council to advise us on seniors issues of national importance. By tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of our older citizens, we ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the changing needs of Canada's aging population.
It was also our Conservative government that, in budget 2008, announced an investment of $13 million over three years to increase awareness of elder abuse. As we know, that is a significant problem in our society today. What we have done is provide seniors with assistance in dealing with abuse.
The Minister of State for Seniors recently announced 16 new projects across the country to combat elder abuse, from physical abuse to financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under our new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative.
Since its beginning, the new horizons program has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada, helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities. Indeed, my own riding of Abbotsford has been and continues to be a beneficiary of this unprecedented funding for new horizons.
Perhaps most notable is the fact that our government has also provided more than $1 billion, not million, in tax relief to Canadian seniors each year by allowing pension income splitting and increasing the seniors' age and pension income credits.
However, I can assure hon. colleagues in the House that we are not finished yet. As Canada's economic action plan made clear, we are taking additional steps to protect seniors during these challenging economic times. We are adding over $300 million to the $1.6 billion in targeted tax relief that our government already provides to seniors for the 2009 tax year.
This includes $200 million in tax relief by reducing the required minimum withdrawal amount for 2008 from RRIFs. This change recognizes the impact of deteriorating market conditions and that impact on seniors in our country.
As well, we are increasing the seniors' age credit by another $1,000 per year for 2009 and beyond, further increasing the amount of money that stays in seniors' pockets.
The increase in the age credit builds on our government's previous tax relief for seniors and for pensioners. For example, we doubled the amount of the pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000, and we had already earlier increased the age credit by $1,000 in our 2006 budget.
We are getting things done for seniors, and recognizing that many older Canadians want to continue to work and recognizing that Canada needs their experience and their talents, we are also investing an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers. We also changed the program criteria so that smaller cities with populations of less than 250,000 can also participate.
Before I conclude, I would like to take a moment to comment on the specific proposals contained in today's motion. It is important to note that GIS benefits can already be paid retroactively for up to one year. This reflects what is being done in many other jurisdictions, and in fact, exceeds jurisdictions such as Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and even Australia and New Zealand.
So we are getting the job done for seniors. We are being fair with how we deal with their financial needs.
It is always interesting to note the duplicity of the Liberals in the House. Members may recall that the previous Liberal government, over 13 long years, opposed the motion before us, as we do today. Yet today they are standing up in the House to support it.
Only three and a half years ago, on November 18, 2005, during debate on a similar bill, the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said:
...I cannot support Bill C-301.
If passed into law, the bill would bog down Canada's retirement income system in reams of red tape. It would create an undue burden on the system, from both a fiscal and technical perspective. And without the checks and balances found in the current application process, it would lead to increased fraud and abuse.
That was back in 2005. Today her colleagues, the Liberal members in the House, are actually getting up and saying that they now support it, because they are no longer in government, so they do not have to be accountable. They do not have to place this motion within the context of an economic action plan.
Here is what the former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the social development minister said, again during debate on Bill C-301:
I completely agree...that this bill, if passed, would unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially. There is nothing dishonest about that...Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse.
Again, that is the Liberals speaking three years ago and today saying something quite different. Today the Liberals have flip-flopped. Suddenly something they were never prepared to do before when in government becomes perfectly okay when they are no longer in government. That is duplicity.
In closing, let me make a couple of points. The costs of this motion are incredibly high to the taxpayers of this country. The estimated price tag for this motion is $6 billion. Yet the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc have pulled this out of thin air and said that they want us to implement it. Who will suffer? It is the hard-working taxpayers and families of this country. These proposals, while perhaps well intentioned, really do not reflect the fiscal and economic reality in Canada today.
Our government has taken and will continue to take significant, meaningful and realistic steps to help low-income seniors and to improve their quality of life. We have made huge gains in assisting our seniors to improve their quality of life, and I encourage members opposite, first, to put aside all their partisanship and their game-playing and to join us in actually doing the work of our government and supporting seniors who need it the most.
April 29th, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.
Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour
Mr. Speaker, I can certainly understand the enthusiasm and passion that the member for Québec has on this issue. What I cannot understand is why the member and members of her party voted against a number of initiatives that we put forward to help seniors in significant ways.
I would like to highlight the government's commitment to all older workers and seniors in Canada. Canada has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the world, lower than the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden.
The percentage of low-income seniors in Canada has declined sharply from more than 21% in 1980 to less than 6% in 2006, and those are clearly significant steps of progress. It is good news but, of course, we will not stop working to bring that number down even lower. That is why, since coming to office, this government has been taking action to improve the well-being and quality of life of our seniors.
I remind the House that since taking office our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement, referred to as the GIS, by 7% over and above regular indexation to compensate for increases in the average wage. In fact, the average income for seniors in that time has doubled. We have increased the GIS earning exemption for working seniors from $500 to $3,500. As a result, pensioners eligible for the GIS can now keep up to another $1,500 in benefits. That is a significant amount.
We also passed Bill C-36, legislation that makes it much easier for seniors to apply for and receive their GIS payments. This change allows seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it year over year as long as they are eligible, provided they file annual tax returns. To help encourage seniors to apply for GIS benefits that they may be entitled to, we sent out application forms to low income seniors identified through the tax system. These efforts alone have helped to put benefits in the hands of more than 328,000 additional seniors.
Canada's economic action plan also clearly underscored our government's commitment to seniors. Among other things in our economic action plan, we invested an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers and we have expanded the program to include a number of additional eligible communities. The age credit was also increased by $1,000, allowing low and middle income seniors to receive up to an additional $150 in annual tax savings.
Furthermore, we have allocated $400 million over two years through the affordable housing initiative to construct housing units for low income seniors,. However, our support for seniors goes much further. In 2007, our government created a National Seniors Council to advise on issues of concern to seniors. Our creation of the position of Minister of State for Seniors speaks volumes about our determination to promote the interests and protect the well-being of Canadians.
We have instituted a number of projects across with regard to combatting elder abuse in all its forms, physical abuse, financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under the new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative that has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities.
I have had the opportunity to deliver some of the funding to communities across my constituency and the funds were very well received and put to very good use. It is a great way of respecting our seniors, what they have done for us and our country and how they have built our country through the many years of their hard contributions. We can only pay that back by investing in them.
Guaranteed Income Supplement
Private Members' Business
March 10th, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the member speak for and against a subject that would help seniors and older workers in a number of ways that I and the hon. member have listed. It is certainly something that would have been worthy of support, but she is focused on her particular motion and I would like to speak to that.
I would speak in support of our public pension programs and the good work the Conservative government has been doing for some time to help seniors. Since its first day in office, our government has been absolutely committed to improving the lives of seniors. We have done that by making seniors' issues a priority and by sticking to improved programs such as the GIS the member referred to, so we can do an even better job of serving Canadians.
A great deal has already been done to translate this commitment into reality. For example, since taking office we have increased the GIS by $36 per month for unattached seniors and $58 per month for couples in January 2006 and January 2007. These monthly increases to the GIS amount to a 7% increase over and above regular indexation to compensate for the increase in the average wage. The total cost of this measure alone is $2.7 billion over five years.
We have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500, so that many working pensioners can now keep up to an additional $1,500 in GIS benefits.
We also passed Bill C-36, legislation that makes it much easier for seniors to apply for and receive their GIS payments. This change allows seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it year over year as long as they are eligible, provided they file annual tax returns.
To help encourage seniors to apply for GIS benefits which they may be entitled to, we send out application forms to low-income seniors identified through the tax system. These efforts have helped to put benefits in the hands of more than 328,000 additional seniors.
For seniors who do not file income tax returns, we have undertaken aggressive targeted outreach efforts to reach seniors who may be eligible for GIS. These efforts range from setting up information booths at events to working closely with the volunteer sector and first point of contact service providers. Targeted groups include newcomers, persons with disabilities, aboriginals and the homeless.
Our support for seniors has not stopped there. We have also provided more than $1 billion in tax relief each year to Canadian seniors through pension income splitting and enhancements to the age and pension income credits. This amounts to a significant amount of dollars.
More recently, through our economic action plan, we have introduced measures that will also help seniors in many additional ways. For example, we are increasing the age credit by $1,000 for 2009 and beyond to allow eligible seniors to receive up to an additional $150 in annual tax savings.
We are investing an additional $60 million over three years in the targeted initiative for older workers program. We are expanding the number of potentially eligible communities to include older workers in small cities.
We are providing $400 million over two years through the affordable housing initiative for the construction of housing units for low-income seniors.
Canada can be proud that the poverty rate among Canadian seniors has declined dramatically over the last 25 years. In fact, the average income for seniors in that time has doubled.
Canadians can also be proud that we already have one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world, at around 5%. It is quite a remarkable figure. This makes us the envy of many other nations, including Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.
That being said, there is always room for improvement. Our government will continue to work to ensure that the needs of all seniors, including low-income seniors, are adequately met.
Let me turn to the motion before us today. Given the size and complexity of the GIS program, upon which many of our most vulnerable citizens depend, it is vital that each and every change being considered be examined thoroughly. Careful consideration must be given to impact and cost.
With that in mind, I would like to take a few moments to examine the proposals contained in today's motion and how they might affect the GIS program and the people it benefits.
To begin with, there is a proposal to increase monthly benefits by $110, a move which could cost as much as $2 billion a year. The motion also calls for unlimited GIS retroactivity which, by some estimates, could cost as much as $3 billion. These two measures alone would cost several billions of dollars. We are talking about huge sums of money, especially given the economic times we are living in right now.
It is important to note that GIS benefits are already paid retroactively for up to one year. The current one year retroactivity provision is at least on par with, and in some cases superior to, retroactivity provisions for similar programs in other Canadian and international jurisdictions. For example, retroactivity provisions for the Alberta seniors benefit, British Columbia's senior's supplement, and Ontario's guaranteed annual income system allow for a one year retroactivity limit. This is also the case for the Canada pension plan.
The current one year retroactivity provision contained in the OAS act is even more generous than similar programs in other countries. For example, Australia's age pension, New Zealand's superannuation and Sweden's guaranteed old age pension provision provide for no retroactivity. Social assistance programs such as Alberta works, Nova Scotia's income assistance program and Ontario works also have no retroactivity provisions.
In this regard, I would like to point out that the previous Liberal government was in agreement with this particular point. Here is what the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, on November 18, 2005, had to say on this issue:
With respect to retroactivity, I think it is more important that this program be totally consistent with existing provincial income supplementation programs. On the issue of retroactivity for one year, there is no discrepancy between this program and the provincial programs, which are income supplementation, security or support programs.
It is also very important to note that full retroactivity could also mean increased costs to the provinces and territories whose income supplement programs are based on eligibility for the GIS.
All that said, we must keep in mind that there are already two exceptions when retroactive payments can be made beyond one year: first, when the applicant would have been incapable of expressing the intent to apply for benefits; and second, when an administrative error has occurred or erroneous advice was given.
This motion also proposes paying six months of a deceased person's pension to the survivor. While this proposal seems reasonable at first glance, it is important to note that the GIS is already adjusted for changes in family status following the death of a partner since many low income seniors become eligible for GIS or an increase in that supplement due to the fact that they are now single income individuals. Furthermore, both the Canada and Quebec pension plans contain survivor benefit provisions that help seniors in such situations.
Last but not least, this motion proposes eliminating the requirement to apply for GIS benefits, which is also difficult since the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is often insufficient to determine eligibility. In this regard, the former Liberal member for Ahuntsic and former parliamentary secretary to the minister of social development said that doing away with the application process would:
--unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially...Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse. In addition, we would not have enough information to determine entitlement for seniors who, for instance, do no file tax returns. This would also substantially increase the risk of errors within the system.
Those words are from a Liberal predecessor of mine on this very topic. These comments were made in this House on October 24, 2005.
The onus for making an application must continue to rest with the applicant. Thankfully, as I have mentioned, due to the actions of this government, our seniors now only have to apply once for the GIS benefit.
For the reasons I have outlined, we cannot support this motion. While the proposals are well intentioned and we cannot disagree with the intent of the motion, the reality is that implementing these measures would require enormous financial investments and would have widespread ramifications and implications for other government programs, both at the federal and provincial levels.
As such, I would urge all members of this House to work with the government as we continue to ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the needs of Canada's seniors in a responsible manner. We will continue to do that and we will continue to look at ways to enhance their benefits. It must be at a progressive rate and at a time that the government decides.
Therefore, I would ask members not to support this motion.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 2nd, 2008 / 11 a.m.
Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add my comments on Bill C-490. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about our government's record on seniors' issues, because we actually have a record worth talking about.
That is why we have taken measures to ensure that OAS and GIS continue to meet the needs of seniors. This government was elected to take responsible, measured actions to support Canadians, and we have to look to the future when considering changes like the ones outlined in the bill.
Our government is very much aware of the significance and the importance of a program such as old age security. The program is an integral part of our social safety net. It is important for all Canadians and must be accessible by all Canadians for years to come.
It is also the responsibility of this government to manage these programs so they will continue to exist in the future. This is a responsibility that I think members of the Bloc in some respects have set aside, although maybe as members of the opposition they do not have the same concerns as Canadian taxpayers.
I would like to touch on three areas around OAS and the GIS. First, there is the increase in the monthly GIS payment. The bill proposes to increase the monthly GIS payment by $110 per month.
I commend the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan for his compassion in wishing to find ways to alleviate poverty among seniors, but the proposals outlined in the bill will not meet those objectives. In fact, quite the opposite may happen. This would bankrupt the program so that it would no longer exist for future generations of Canadian seniors.
Although it has been said in the House on many occasions, it is worth saying again that Canadian seniors have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Their income has more than doubled over the past two decades.
It is also important to remember that Canada now has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world. It has dropped from 21% in 1980 to less than 6% today.
We have lower poverty rates than our G-8 partners. Our social safety net is already the envy of the world. This is something the government will protect for future generations.
Certainly it is not time to stop working to reduce seniors' poverty further, because even one senior living in poverty, as we often say, is one too many. That is why this government acted when we were elected to increase the GIS by 7%. We did this again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the GIS with an additional $430 per year and $700 more per couple per year.
These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.
This government heard from thousands of seniors from across the country in the lead-up to budget 2008 and we heard that more and more of them want to remain in the workforce. They want to do it to stay active in their communities, to make a little extra cash to have some fun or to spend it on children, grandchildren or family, or just to do something for themselves.
Seniors' groups also told us that their members would love to continue working, but under the previous Liberal regime they could not do it without having their hard-earned benefits clawed back. There was little incentive or initiative to go out to earn a little extra for the things they wanted or, quite honestly, just to keep active and be involved. That is why this government increased the earned income exemption to $3,500 from the previous Liberal system, which allowed only $500 in earnings before benefits were withheld.
This important change will allow GIS recipients to keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in their GIS benefits: $3,000 more before benefits are withheld. I note that the Bloc actually opposed this in the last budget.
The second issue I want to talk about is the unlimited retroactivity. My colleague across the aisle also proposes that we bring in unlimited retroactive payments of the OAS-GIS for eligible beneficiaries. I would remind the House that currently these benefits are payable retroactive for up to one year from the month of application.
This period of retroactivity is not unusual. In fact, it is consistent with the retroactivity provisions of most other international jurisdictions. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs, not to compensate them for past needs.
Yet the government does make exemptions to the basic one year limit to ensure seniors are treated fairly. If the person was incapable of applying, was given bad advice, or if the mistake is an administrative error, the government will ensure that people get the benefits they are entitled to.
I would ask the House to consider the long term ramifications of this bill. In fact, this government and this House need to be very concerned regarding the ramifications of this bill. The costs of the retroactivity provisions alone could be in excess of $6 billion per year. This government cannot and will not take a risk like that with such an important program for seniors.
This government makes significant efforts to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. GIS applications are sent to low income seniors who do not receive OAS and GIS benefits.
Our efforts have resulted in an additional 325,000 low income seniors receiving the benefit who were not getting it before. With the GIS increase, as I mentioned before, for 50,000 new eligible seniors, plus the 325,000 who now get benefits under the Conservative government, that is significant.
Through Bill C-36, we have also enabled seniors to make a one time application for the GIS and receive it whenever they become eligible as long as they file a tax return.
These are reasonable actions which will ensure that OAS and GIS programs exist well into the future.
Last is the issue of the elimination of the requirement to apply for GIS benefits. The proposal to eliminate the requirement to apply for GIS benefits is unfortunately not workable. Formal application is needed since the information available from Canada Revenue is sometimes insufficient to determine eligibility. For example, not available in income tax returns could be information such as updated marital status and also residency in Canada.
The onus remains on the individual to make the initial application, but with the single lifetime application that this government introduced in Bill C-36, the process has become much easier and friendlier for Canadian seniors.
We can all applaud the stated goal of the bill and certainly the member for Alfred-Pellan for his desire around Bill C-490, but unfortunately it will not meet the goal and will put the future of this necessary program on the line.
For that reason, I cannot support it. I can assure this House, however, that we will continue to work hard and provide a bright future for all Canadian seniors.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
May 8th, 2008 / 6:05 p.m.
Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the discussion on Bill C-490, concerning the cornerstone of Canada's retirement income system, the Old Age Security Act. I appreciate the opportunity to rise to speak about the government's record on seniors' issues because we have a record worth talking about.
Unlike the Bloc Québécois members who can only sit in the House and complain, the government has taken real action to support Canadian seniors. We recognize the contributions seniors have made and continue to make to our nation. That is why we have taken measures to ensure that the OAS and the GIS continue to meet the needs of seniors. Unlike the Bloc, we must concern ourselves with the consequences of our actions. We do not have the room for hypocrisy that members opposite have, knowing they will never form the government and never need to worry about the future of a program as important as old age security.
OAS is one of the most important programs in our social safety net. It is important for all Canadians, those who are seniors now and the Canadians who will be seniors in the future. It is the responsibility of the government to manage these programs so they will continue to exist in the future.
Bill C-490 proposes to increase the monthly GIS payment by $110 per month. I commend the hon. member for trying to find ways to alleviate poverty among seniors. I believe, however, this proposal would not achieve the results the hon. member desires. It would instead have the opposite effect. It would bankrupt the program.
We have spoken about this important issue in the House several times. I point out for my colleague that income for Canadian seniors has risen dramatically over the past 25 years. According to Statistics Canada, the income of Canadian seniors has more than doubled over the past 25 years and the rate of poverty among seniors has been cut from 21% in 1980 to less than 6% today. Canada now has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors in any country in the industrialized world.
Certainly it is not time to stop working to reduce poverty further because even one senior living in poverty is one too many. That is why the government acted when we elected to increase the GIS by 7%. We did this again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the GIS with an additional $430 per year and $700 more per year for a couple.
These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal governments.
The government heard from thousands of seniors across the country in the lead up to budget 2008. We heard that more and more of them wanted to remain in the workforce. They want to continue working, but under the previous Liberal regime they could not do it without having their hard earned benefits clawed back. That is why the government proposed in budget 2008 an increase in the earned income exemption to $3,500, up from the previous Liberal system that only allowed $500 in earnings before benefits were withheld.
My colleague across the aisle also proposes that we bring in unlimited retroactive payments of the OAS/GIS for eligible beneficiaries. I remind the House that currently these benefits are payable retroactively for up to a year from the month of application. This period of retroactivity is consistent with retroactivity provisions of most other international jurisdictions.
Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs, not to compensate them for past needs. Yet, the government does make exceptions to the basic one year limit to ensure that seniors are treated fairly. If the person is incapable of applying, or is given bad advice or if the mistake is an administrative error of the government, we will ensure that people get the benefits that they are entitled to.
I would ask the House to consider the financial implications of adopting the proposed measure. It is estimated that there would be an initial lump sum payout to clients amounting to $300 million for each additional year of retroactivity. And where would it stop? A new five year limit could entail a payout of $1.5 billion, a 10 year limit would be more than $3 billion and unlimited retroactivity could be as high as $6 billion in initial lump sum payments.
The government takes significant efforts to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. GIS applications are sent to low income seniors who do not receive OAS and GIS. Our efforts have resulted in an additional 325,000 low income seniors receiving the benefits that they were not getting before.
Through Bill C-36, we have also enabled seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it whenever they become eligible, as long as they file a tax return.
These are reasonable actions that will ensure the OAS and GIS programs exist well into the future.
Speaking of the survivor's pension payment, the bill also proposes to pay six months of the deceased person's pension to the survivor. While we are all sympathetic to those who lose their life partners, it would be patently unfair to other single seniors living on single incomes. The GIS already makes adjustments for changes in family status because low income seniors may become eligible for the GIS or an increase in that supplement owing to their now single income status.
We should also remember that the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan contain survivor benefit provisions.
Finally, the proposal to eliminate the requirement to apply for GIS benefits is, unfortunately, not workable. Formal application is needed since the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is sometimes insufficient to determine eligibility. As well, some persons choose not to receive the GIS for personal reasons and it is incumbent upon us to respect their wishes.
The onus remains on the individual to make the initial application, but with the single lifetime application, most of the necessary information can be captured at the time the client first contacts Service Canada prior to their 65th birthday.
We can applaud the sentiments behind Bill C-490, but for the reasons I have outlined, we cannot support it. I can assure the House, however, that the Government of Canada will continue to ensure that its policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of Canada's senior population.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
May 8th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
John Maloney Welland, ON
Mr. Speaker, once among the poorest members of society, Canada's seniors now have access to a public pension plan and supplementary benefits for those most in need, but it is not all peaches and cream.
The critical issue for many marginal income seniors is that it is still not enough to keep them above the poverty line.
A succession of Liberal governments over the years were instrumental in providing support for Canadian seniors. Liberal governments were responsible for establishing a social safety net for our seniors.
In 1952, the Old Age Security Act established a universal old age security pension at 65 years of age. In 1966, the Canada pension and Quebec pension plans created a pension scheme where working Canadians contributed to a government pension plan to be drawn on upon reaching the retirement age of 65, while some time later amending the scheme to provide for an early retirement at age 60 subject to reduced benefits.
In 1967, the guaranteed income supplement for very low income seniors was instituted to top up our old age security benefits. In 1998, a restructured Canada pension plan was instituted to ensure its sustainability.
Government action to financially secure the public pension system meant that Canada was the only country in the G-7 with a fully balanced public pension plan system assessed by actuarial experts to have long term sustainability.
The Canada pension plan and the old age security are indexed quarterly based on the consumer price index which allows for modest increases in accordance with a comparable increase of the consumer price index. In reality, however, the value of such increases for an individual is literally small change.
In 2005, the guaranteed income supplement benefits for low income seniors was increased by $2.7 billion over two years. This was the first non-cost of living increase since 1984. As a result, the maximum GI supplement was increased to more than $400 per year for a single senior and by almost $700 for a couple.
Successive governments have tried to assist our needy seniors in other ways as well. For instance, Liberal budget 2005 doubled to $10,000 the maximum amount of medical and disability related expenses that caregivers could claim on behalf of their dependants, and further, approximately 240,000 seniors were removed from the tax rolls in 2005 when the basic personal exemption was raised to $10,000.
Under the Conservatives, the government signed into law Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, which made it easier for the long term contributors to the Canada pension plan to qualify for disability benefits and simplified the application process for the GIS.
In budget 2006, an estimated 85,000 pensioners no longer had to pay income tax as the maximum eligible amount for the pension income rose from $1,000 to $2,000 starting in the 2006 tax year. At the same time, other measures, such as the refundable medical expenses supplement, rose from $760 to $1,000.
Under budget 2007, the Conservatives increased the age limit to 71 from 69 for RRSPs and registered pensions and also permitted pension income splitting for eligible pensioners. The age credit was increased by $1,000, which meant approximately $150 in tax relief for low and modest income seniors. It also permitted phased in retirement, which allowed an employer to simultaneously pay a partial pension to an employee and provide further pension benefits accruals to the employee.
In budget 2008, the current guaranteed income supplement earned income exemption was raised to $3,500 from its maximum level of $500.
Those measure confirmed the concern that our successive governments and all political parties have for our aging citizens and also was a recognition of the financial difficulties many seniors face.
All that being said, however, today in Canada 242,000 seniors still live in poverty, a situation that should be an embarrassment to all members in the House. Behind these numbers and behind these statistics lies a huge human tragedy.
Men and women who made this country what it is today, men and women who built this country all too often sit down to a dinner of tea and toast or go hungry. Many live in substandard housing because they do not have the financial resources to lift themselves out of hovels. Others do not have the financial resources to repair old family residences that have fallen into disrepair, which leads to further disrepair as conditions continue to deteriorate.
In carrying out our responsibilities as members of Parliament, we interact on a frequent basis with our constituents, many of them seniors. I would venture to say that all members of the House have been approached by seniors at one time or another who inquire whether the government could increase their pension benefits a reasonable amount because they just cannot make ends meet anymore.
Seniors' household expenses are rising, including the municipal taxes for those who own their own homes or lease payments for those who rent, energy costs, food costs, even the basic loaf of bread has increased appreciably as the cost of grain and rice have skyrocketed. For those who can afford an aging car, the cost of gas has gone out of sight, while public transportation tickets also escalate. What is worse, our economic predictors suggest that these galloping costs will only continue to increase.
Many of our seniors are faced with such rising costs in their attempt to eke out a meagre existence that far exceeds their pension incomes. The reality is that rising housing costs and living expenses are pushing more seniors back into the workforce. Some have returned to work doing anything that frail bodies will allow until these same frail bodies simply give out.
A Statistics Canada report last year showed that more than two million Canadians aged 55 to 64 were employed or looking for work in 2006, up from one million in 1976. The callous will say that they should have better prepared for their retirement.
What about their employment pensions? Many stay at home parents never had a chance to pay into the Canada pension plan or make modest contributions from part time income. Many of today's seniors never had an employment pension. After 30 or 40 years of service, they walked out the door with their lunch pail. Some may have had pensions but they were not indexed and now, after many years, these pensions bear no relation whatsoever to what it costs to live. Some paid into employee pension plans but these companies have gone bankrupt leaving severely underfunded pension plans or nothing at all.
What are these poor seniors to do? Some will be forced to avail themselves of food banks. Some are taken in by family, if they have one. Some will turn their furnace thermostats down just enough to keep their water pipes from freezing. Sure, they throw on more clothes to keep warm or huddle under a blanket to try to stay healthy, but it is not enough. Some seniors develop colds, respiratory problems or flu, which leads to increased health care costs.
I recall an elderly lady calling my office in tears saying that she could not afford to pay her monthly charges on a heating contract and was seeking our assistance to get out of the contract. I attended her residence on a December day to find a lady in her nineties bundled in sweaters, with the heat turned down, living in a few rooms of her residence with the other parts of the house closed off.
I recall speaking with the president of a seniors club who briefed me on the financial plight of some members. I asked if he could provide me with an anonymous record of some of these seniors' income and expense summaries and was shocked, no, appalled, on how little money they had to cover their expenses. It was not enough to do so. He pleaded with me for our government to do something.
He also told me of a situation where a senior who suffered from incontinence was known to wash out paper diapers because that person could not afford to use these products regularly when needed. These are the actions of an individual in desperate straits.
Bill C-490 would help to respond to the pleas of the president of the seniors club, albeit in a small way. The bill would remove the necessity for an individual, who would otherwise qualify for a supplement, to make an application and would place the responsibility on the minister to provide guaranteed income supplement when income levels indicate a qualification point. The bill would also allow for retroactive payments of supplements. Many times low income seniors are not aware that they may be entitled to benefits and do not apply. Others forget to reapply for supplements. This provision would address this deficiency.
Another situation where a senior couple had retired on their combined CPP and OAS incomes, the death of one of these individuals and the loss of a deceased's pension income can present a severe financial crisis for the survivor at a time when he or she is also trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. The bill would provide interim relief for a transition period of six months for the surviving spouse or common law partner to receive the pension that would have been payable to the deceased spouse or common law partner. This is a humanitarian approach that would not incur huge sums for the Canadian taxpayer but substantial human benefits to a low income senior. The suggested increase of $110 a month would barely raise the threshold to the poverty line.
Bill C-490 is an attempt to address an unfair situation that we as parliamentarians face in our constituency offices on a regular basis. We were elected as advocates for our constituents. The bill is an example of a fulfillment of this responsibility. The bill should be supported by all members of the House.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
May 8th, 2008 / 5:25 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development
Since taking office, our government has acted decisively on its commitment to protect the security of Canadian seniors. This government cares deeply about the many contributions that today's seniors have made and continue to make to our society. These seniors raised families, they helped to build up our national economy and they made vital contributions to our health, safety, education and culture. Furthermore, many Canadian seniors are veterans who risked their lives to preserve our freedom.
For these reasons and many more, our government will continue to do its utmost to ensure that Canadian seniors are treated with dignity. We will ensure that they receive the full respect they deserve.
All Canadians can be proud that the guaranteed income supplement, or the GIS, has played an important role in reducing the incidence of poverty among seniors. As my colleague pointed out a few minutes ago, the poverty rate among seniors has declined dramatically over the past 25 years. The average income for seniors in that time has doubled.
Bill C-490 proposes that the monthly GIS payment be increased by $110 to reduce poverty among low income seniors. In fact, Canada already has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world. This makes us the envy of many other nations, including Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, when this government was elected, we raised the GIS by 3.5% and we did it again in January 2007. This amounts to an additional $36 per month for single seniors and $58 per month for couples. These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years. It will benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.
By proposing a $110 per month increase for all GIS recipients, Bill C-490 would not be focusing on seniors who are most in need, and this is not the responsible thing to do.
In addition, the bill proposes unlimited retroactivity for the GIS. The cost of such a measure would be enormous. It would be as high as $6 billion. We are confident that the current one year retroactivity provision of old age security and GIS benefits reasonably accommodates delays or oversights for applying for the benefits. I also want to clarify that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs. They are not there to address past needs.
We make every effort to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled just as soon as possible. This includes sending out GIS applications to low income seniors identified through the tax system as not currently receiving the supplement. This measure has put GIS benefits in the hands of an additional 325,000 low income seniors. As well, we work with community and seniors' organizations to reach the vulnerable seniors who are not on the tax roles.
Furthermore, as a result of Bill C-36, seniors now only have to apply once for the GIS. They will then automatically receive the benefit in any year they are eligible, as long as they file a tax return.
All these measures reduce the likelihood of eligible seniors missing out on GIS benefits to which they are entitled as well as the need for retroactive payments.
I would also like to respond to the proposal in Bill C-490 that a surviving spouse be allowed to receive his or her deceased spouse's pension payment for six months. Such a measure would raise a major equity issue. Newly widowed persons would temporarily receive higher benefits than other single seniors living on single incomes.
Finally, Bill C-490 proposes that the requirement for seniors to apply for GIS benefits be eliminated altogether. We require a formal application because the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is not always sufficient to determine a person's eligibility. As well, some Canadian seniors choose not to receive the GIS for personal reasons. That is a decision that we must respect.
We also recognize and respect the choice of many of today's seniors to continue working. To assist low income seniors who choose to work, budget 2008 proposes to invest $60 million per year to increase the GIS earnings exemption. This important measure would exempt fully the first $3,500 of earnings and the average earnings of working seniors who receive the GIS. Low income seniors who want to remain in the workforce would, therefore, be able to keep more of their GIS benefits. Nearly 100,000 low income seniors will benefit.
The budget also proposes to extend the targeted initiative for older workers until 2012. It would add $90 million to the federal-provincial employment program for unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to help them stay active in the workforce.
Budget 2008 made crucial investments on behalf of seniors by addressing the problem of elder abuse in all its ugly forms. Over three years, our government will invest $13 million to help seniors and others recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and to provide information on available support.
I believe our government's creation last year of the position of Secretary of State for Seniors speaks directly to our promise to ensure the continued well-being of all Canadians aged 65 and up. We also established the National Seniors Council to advise us on seniors' issues of national importance. It will help to ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of Canada's aging population.
In February 2008, after its consultations on elder abuse, the council began a Canada-wide series of round tables. They were designed to better understand the challenges of seniors living on low incomes, particularly senior women. My remarks clearly show that our government takes the needs of Canadian seniors very seriously.
Since taking office, we have responded to those needs decisively. This includes the monthly increases to the GIS in 2006-07, as I have mentioned before. Our policies and programs are working and they are working in a very concrete and concerted way to support Canadian seniors' well-being and financial security.
The proposals contained in Bill C-490, on the other hand, would require enormous financial investments that would not be targeted to those most in need.
For those crucial reasons, and they are crucial, our government cannot support Bill C-490.
March 31st, 2008 / 6:50 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for raising the question this evening. It allows me the opportunity to discuss all of the great things that this government has done for seniors in the past and over the past two years.
I know that the hon. member cares deeply about these issues and I want to assure her that this government does as well.
Unfortunately, under the watch of the previous Liberal government, Statistics Canada did make a small error in the calculation of the consumer price index. This is a tool that measures inflation and calculates pension benefits for seniors. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada corrected this error and the consumer price index continues to serve as Canada's best and most accurate tool to measure inflation.
Like all western countries, Canada does not retroactively adjust the consumer price index. Retroactive adjustments to the consumer price index would result in administrative chaos. It would affect private and public pension plans, labour force agreements and many other agreements that use the CPI.
We know that the members of the NDP do not have to worry about the long term effects of their words because they will never form the government. However, we must worry about these effects.
If my hon. friend and her colleagues will not take the word of the government on this issue, perhaps they would like to listen to the International Labour Organization which confirmed that long term ramifications of retroactively changing the CPI would have a devastating effect on countless social programs that Canadians rely on.
I am sure the member knows that when it comes to honouring the contributions that Canadian seniors have made to their communities, the economy and the country, no government in history has done a better job than the one under this Prime Minister. Seniors know that actions speak louder than words. This is why this government acted quickly to support seniors issues. It is why within months of being elected this government introduced Bill C-36 to strengthen the CPP and OAS programs for all seniors.
We have simplified the application process and changed the rules so that seniors do not have to apply year after year for the benefits that they deserve. These are changes which the previous Liberal government never made during its 13 years in power.
We have brought in two separate 3.5% increases to the GIS. These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and will benefit more than 1.6 million guaranteed income supplement recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.
This is a record of action of which this government is very proud.
March 4th, 2008 / 6:35 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development
Mr. Speaker, my remarks are going to be very brief because I spoke to this issue just last week during the debate on the hon. member's Motion No. 383.
I want to point out again that the federal government proactively contacts millions of Canadian seniors to inform them of the benefits to which they are entitled.
I have to point out to the member that we have done a lot for seniors. We have given seniors their own secretariat and their own voice at the cabinet table. We have acted very quickly to support seniors issues.
Within months after being elected, we introduced Bill C-36 which strengthened the CPP and the old age security programs. We simplified that application process. We had many changes. We reduced the number of seniors living in poverty. The government has overseen two increases in the guaranteed income supplement.
Effective January 2006, we raised the GIS by 3.5% and raised it again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the guaranteed income supplement with an additional $430 per year and $700 per couple.
These increases will raise the total guaranteed income supplement by more than $2.7 billion in the next five years. These increases will benefit 1.6 million guaranteed income supplement recipients. This is more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.
In closing, I want to thank the hon. member across the way for her question, but I want to assure the member that Canadian seniors have finally found a government that really is interested in their issues and is responding.