Free Public Transit for Seniors Act

An Act regarding free public transit for seniors

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Marcel Proulx  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Introduced, as of Sept. 30, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment allows the Minister of Finance to make direct payments to a trust established to help provinces, territories and municipalities to offer seniors free local public transit, anywhere in Canada, during off-peak hours.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • March 2, 2011 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Royal Recommendation--Speaker's Ruling
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on November 17, 2010, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, standing in the name of the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this issue as well as the member for Hull—Aylmer for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to the bill, the parliamentary secretary noted that the operative clause of the bill contained an authorization to spend for a specific purpose, which, in his view, infringed upon the financial prerogative of the Crown. His main contention was that the bill, because it empowers the Minister of Finance to make direct payments to a trust established to help provinces, territories and municipalities to offer seniors free local public transport, is equivalent to the creation of a new fund outside the consolidated revenue fund.

The Chair notes that the member for Hull—Aylmer, at the conclusion of his opening remarks during the debate at second reading, acknowledged that the bill might require a royal recommendation but that he expressed optimism that a specific modification could be made during the committee stage to address the issue.

It is clear to the Chair that Bill C-449 in clause 3 would authorize the minister to make direct payments to be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund to a trust, which in turn would be used to make payments to a province, a territory or a municipality to fund free local transit for seniors anywhere in Canada during off-peak hours. Such a transfer would clearly create a new appropriation and, for this reason, a Royal recommendation is required in respect of clause 3 of the bill.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

On debate, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I hear the heckling from the other side.

The hon. member asks what do I have against seniors. Let me note on this point that I have a 94-year-old grandmother who I very well know would oppose this because, like many other people in rural Saskatchewan, she lived through the Great Depression and understands that there is no such thing as government money. All money is taxpayers' money and all money needs to be spent wisely and prudently. It is one of those things that we need to be aware of whenever we describe something from the government as “free”.

Indeed, the wording of today's proposal, without a doubt, shows how the Liberals respect Canadian taxpayers. Listen to how they describe it as “free” local public transport. Of all people in Canada, our seniors know there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly when a politician is making the promise.

The hard-earned money that Canadian taxpayers send to Ottawa is not free money. It is their tax dollars resulting from their personal work and sacrifice. Canadians work hard for their money and watch their money; it is their money after all. Our Conservative government understands that. We do not call it “government money” but taxpayers' money. Every single penny spent in the House is taxpayers' money. We do not raise taxes; we cut taxes.

Indeed, since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has helped families by putting $3,000 back into their pockets where it belongs. It is their money after all. It is not the government's money and it is definitely not free money. It is money they entrust to their government to spend wisely and not recklessly.

What are the Liberals suggested that we do with taxpayers' money? They are suggesting that we spend more of it. They want to create more and new government programs. They want more and massive new government bureaucracies. Let us be clear that today's example is one of those suggestions of reckless spending the Liberal Party and its leader have engaged in during the last few months.

Moreover, the sponsor of the bill has not presented or prepared a valid cost estimate for today's proposal, as he has requested on other issues. Conservative MPs had the proposal costed through a request to the Parliamentary Budget Office.

This bill reminds me of the Liberal promise of everything under the sun, the 45-day work year, and a national daycare plan, a promise that has been repeated in many election campaigns.

Without a doubt, the Liberals' runaway spending commitments are a recipe for massive and permanent deficits in Canada. Permanent deficits would mean that Canadian families and businesses would have to pay higher taxes permanently, as the Liberal leader digs deeper into their wallets with new tax hikes that kill jobs, and perhaps even reverse our GST cut with a GST increase.

It is little wonder that when the Liberal leader was asked about Canada returning to balanced budgets earlier this year, he replied, “It's not my problem”. Luckily for Canadians, it is not their problem to have the Liberals in government. If the Liberals continue to promise spending the taxpayer's money without any forethought, they will not have an opportunity to be in government any time soon.

What Canadians need and are getting from our Conservative government is leadership in finding real and fiscally responsible solutions to benefit all Canadians, especially seniors. Our Conservative government has taken steps since 2006 to recognize the outstanding contributions of seniors in building our country.

We are providing Canadians with almost $70 billion annually through the public pension system. We are providing $400 million over two years to the affordable housing initiative for the construction of housing units for low income seniors. We are increasing funding for the new horizons for seniors program to $40 million annually to help seniors bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit communities across Canada. We have also appointed a minister of state for seniors to bring the concerns of older Canadians to the cabinet table and to stand up on their behalf. We are creating a national seniors day for all Canadians to honour and celebrate our seniors.

We have done so much more.

We also understand the importance of a secure and dignified retirement for seniors who have spent their lives building a better Canada through their hard work. In fact, we have dramatically lowered the federal tax bill for seniors and pensioners since forming government in 2006, with more than $2 billion in tax cuts, including increasing the age credit amount by $2,000; increasing the age limit for maturing pensions and registered retirement savings plans to 71 from 69; doubling the amount of income eligible for pension income credit; and, probably, most importantly, pension income splitting, something that the noted financial commentator Jamie Golombek declared was probably one of the biggest tax changes in decades in the amount of tax savings it generated for pensioners.

We also introduced the tax free savings accounts, which is particularly beneficial to seniors. As Jonathan Chevreau, the noted financial commentator, declared:

—the TFSA is also a welcome tax shelter for Canadian seniors—

Our Conservative government is also bringing forward fiscally responsible solutions to improve public transportation in Canada in measured ways.

Before continuing, I would like to clarify that public transit is primarily a provincial and municipal jurisdictional responsibility. It would be questionable for the federal government to unilaterally use the federal spending power to dictate decisions in an area under provincial jurisdiction. It is my understanding that it is one of the reasons that one of the opposition parties will be opposing this legislation.

Nevertheless, our Conservative government has worked constructively and co-operatively through the provincial and municipal governments. We have done this through the gas tax fund, valued at $2 billion annually, which many municipalities across this country use to fund their public transit capital needs.

We have also funded many public transit projects using broad-based programs, such as the building Canada fund, as well as through one-time initiatives in the 2006 and 2008 budgets. In total, about $2.6 billion has been allocated for public transit under the building Canada fund and Canada's economic action plan.

Additionally, because our Conservative government believes that cutting taxes is the right thing to do, we have also introduced the public transit tax credit. Not only is this popular non-refundable tax credit helping cover the costs of public transit, but it has also increased public transit use, including buses, subways, commuter trains and ferries, which have in turn helped to ease traffic congestion.

Indeed, my own mayor, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison, has applauded it as:

—a tremendous idea.... I think that's a great way to encourage the public to use mass transit—

The Liberal Party opposed helping seniors and other riders of public transit by voting against the public transit tax credit.

Unmistakably, our Conservative government is helping seniors and public transit users in smart and fiscally responsible ways. This is in stark contrast to the Liberals, who are promising free money from the taxpayers' wallet. Canadians and Canadian seniors know that Canadian taxpayers and businesses will be forced to pick up the tab for this free lunch. It is a tab that we cannot afford.

All taxpayers' money belongs to taxpayers. We as government should be very careful and prudent in how we use it.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-449 would allow the minister to set up a trust fund for other levels of government so that seniors can take public transit free of charge during off-peak hours. This is a laudable goal. Anything that encourages people to take public transit more frequently is a great idea. It is a more active form of transportation, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and it keeps our communities vibrant.

The bill is such a tease. We could be talking about a bill that completely re-imagines public transit in this country. Our current approach to transportation is unsustainable. We need to make a transition to a more sustainable form of transport, including public transportation. Improving transit is about setting a legacy, both economic and environmental. We need better, more efficient public transport because it improves access to community services and it improves participation in the community. Poor access to transport causes isolation for individuals and pockets of our communities, particularly in low-income areas, as well as rural communities.

Improving public transportation is an excellent way to combat poverty because it allows the economic engagement in all areas of the city by people who live in all areas. It improves the exchange of money and ideas and allows people to access educational opportunities and services that are outside of their neighbourhoods. It provides individuals and families with the opportunity escape the cycle of poverty. Free transit would greatly increase the quality of life by removing the terrible choice between rent, food, or heat and bus tickets.

Canada is the only G8 country that does not fund public transit and it has negative consequences on the environment and on our pocketbooks. Canada does not have a national transit strategy either.

Seniors are some of our most vulnerable citizens, both economically and socially. Better transport for seniors is an important issue to tackle, particularly with respect to increasing a person's ability to live independently. As seniors age, some can no longer drive and as their mobility becomes limited they may become more isolated if they cannot afford public transit or have access to public transit.

There is a public transit route in Halifax called the Manors. Recently it was announced that it would be cancelled by the Halifax regional municipality. The Manors went to all the seniors' manors on the peninsula. It was a circuitous route and it might not have made much sense to me trying to get from point A to point B, but it made a lot of sense to the community it served; a community of seniors around the city.

It allowed seniors at Joe Howe Manor or Samuel Prince Manor to take the number 3 and get to where they needed to go, such as the grocery store, their doctor's office, the bank, or the shopping mall.

The announcement to cancel the Manors route was made because it was said the bus route did not pay for itself and it had to be cancelled. Seniors from Samuel Prince Manor rallied to fight that decision. They came together with other residents of the other manors and after many petitions, phone calls and letters, they realized their victory. They had worked together to mobilize their community and they saved this vital service. It was an incredible victory for our community.

One may think that this is a municipal issue. Why would it be relevant for an MP to raise this in the House of Commons?

I believe that there is a federal role for transit. I believe there is a necessary federal leadership role for transit. It is too important a service not to have a national strategy. In fact, it is not just a service, it is a necessity.

I am proud that my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, introduced such a bill recently. She introduced the national public transit strategy act and it would coordinate between all levels of government to maintain and expand public transit across the country.

The public transit act, a first of its kind, would decrease the burden on cities and communities. The bill outlines a strategy for the federal government to provide a permanent investment plan to support public transit, to establish federal funding mechanisms for public transit, to work together with all levels of government to provide sustainable, predictable, long-term and adequate funding, and it would work to establish accountability measures to ensure that all governments work together to increase access to public transit.

Better public transit means sustainable economic growth and cleaner, more productive cities. It means a better Canada and a better Halifax.

The story of the Manors is a story from a city, but there are rural examples in my riding as well. When I speak of Halifax in the chamber, I am speaking of the riding of Halifax. The name of the riding can sometimes be misleading because I do not represent the entire city, but I also do not represent only the city. I represent the peninsula, which includes the south end, downtown, the north end, the west end and Westmount, but the riding extends beyond the Armdale Rotary and includes Fairview, Jollymore, Purcell's Cove, Duncan's Cove, Ketch Harbour, Sambro, Harrietsfield and Williamswood. It is much bigger and more diverse than people think.

When I first rose in the House to give my inaugural speech in 2008 after being elected, I talked about some of these communities, which are located in what is affectionately known as the loop because the highway goes around in a loop. Many members of these communities did not have access to bus service at all.

When I first rose to speak in the House, no one could catch a bus in Sambro. People could not get on a bus to go to the grocery store, to go to the peninsula, to go to a doctor or to see friends. Then a pilot project was announced. There was a bus route and then it was reduced. Now there is no service during peak hours.

Another thing to point out about these communities is if people live in Harrietsfield or Williamswood, they have to go grocery shopping in Spryfield. They have to go to another community to access a grocery store. It is absolutely vital that there is public transit in all communities across Canada, as well as across the riding of Halifax.

As a result, the community has come together to try to get increased bus service and increase public transit presence in these communities. There is actually a blog called the Sambro Loop Community Bus Transit blog. People go online, give information about what is going on and try to figure out how to mobilize bus service. There is also a Facebook group. In checking out the Facebook group today, people were posting car shares so people could get a ride with somebody else. They were posting pictures of bus stops that are poles with no signs and talking about how they can rely on each other to get into town or to the grocery store.

While it is wonderful that this community has come together and is organizing ride share programs, they need a bus system. Why is there no service? There is no service because HRM does not have the money to provide this kind of service or is choosing not to find the money.

How can we help these communities at a federal level? The NDP has a solution that has to do with the federal gas tax transfer. The gas tax transfer to the municipality was established, but with very few strings attached with respect to its use. The intention was for improvements to public transit and while many cities have used this transfer for its intended purposes by making service enhancements to their public transportation systems, there are a number of cities that have not. It shows one of the problems with not having strings attached with respect to use.

The federal government can give municipalities stable, long-term funding by transferring an extra cent of the gas tax, making sure that it is dedicated to public transit. This is the NDP's solution. It is a solution that makes sense to me when I look at my own community and realize that not everyone can access a public transportation system. I think about how we can change that at a federal level. This is where good public policy comes from. Good public policy comes from the ideas from communities. We bring them to Ottawa and to the chamber and say, “Here is a solution that would help my community”.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, which was introduced by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer. I would like to begin by thanking and congratulating the member for bringing the matter of transportation for seniors before the House.

Why is this debate so important? Because it seeks to find a solution, one of many initiatives that, when combined, will help make seniors independent. This solution seeks to counter the isolation of seniors who, all too often, do not leave their homes because they do not have the means to do so. They too should have the opportunity to enjoy the activities offered in their community.

I recently read the 2006 Statistics Canada report entitled, “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. Two items caught my attention. The first is that 62% of the Canadian population lives in Ontario and Quebec. The second, is that seven out of ten seniors live in urban areas, in centres with at least 50,000 residents. As most municipalities of this size have a public transit system, providing free public transit to seniors in off-peak hours is a timely issue.

I was also interested in the percentage of women who are seniors. I will explain. Women account for 52% of the population between the ages of 65 and 69. This percentage increases with age and reaches 75%. In addition, we know that older women who live alone often have a lower income, especially in Quebec and British Columbia. The Mouvement des aînés du Québec is very concerned about the financial insecurity of women.

In the section that discusses seniors' access to transportation, the Statistics Canada study also shows that the gap between senior men and women is quite significant in older age groups. For example, among seniors between the ages of 75 and 84, 83% of men drove a vehicle to which they had access, compared to only 45% of women. Among men 85 years and older, twice as many men drove a vehicle in their household to which they had access, or 66% of men compared to 33% of women. These differences between men and women are not really surprising because senior men are much more likely to have a valid driver's licence than women. A lower proportion of men than women have never driven a vehicle in their life.

Thus, transportation is becoming increasingly and proportionally important as our population ages. The proposal made by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer is laudable, realistic and achievable. Seniors already face many challenges that would not even occur to younger people. However, one day we will all face the problem of being unable to access basic social services. I am talking about attending doctors appointments, going to the pharmacy, getting around to do volunteer work in the community, getting groceries and so on. We take our ability to do these day-to-day activities for granted until we are forced to deal with the reality of aging.

This reality can have even more profound consequences when it comes to family and friends. How can seniors remain socially active and maintain their independence if they cannot leave home because they do not have access to public transportation? Not all seniors can afford to take a taxi every time they need to go somewhere. Few seniors have the luxury of a family member or friend who is available all the time to drive them around.

Access to public transportation becomes a major issue, especially for seniors who no longer have their driver's licence. Not only do they feel disadvantaged, but they also feel dependent and isolated. Transportation for seniors presents special challenges and is an issue that requires urgent attention. Our colleague's proposal deserves further study.

I realize this issue might overlap on provincial jurisdictions, as our colleagues from the Bloc did not hesitate to point out. However, I think the problem transcends the issue of jurisdictions.

The needs of our seniors are real and are not going away. On the contrary, their needs are growing as the population ages.

I know that the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer is open to amending Bill C-449 in order to have the Minister of Finance look at ways to establish a trust to help make public transit free for seniors.

Our Liberal critic for seniors has also made the following observations: people are living much longer and families are living much further apart because the children often have to leave their home region in order to find work. These new realities present challenges that we must face.

It is not by building mega-prisons, purchasing F-35s, or cutting taxes for wealthy corporations that we will be helping our seniors in Canada.

Not only must we focus our efforts on our country's economic growth, but we must respond to the real challenges of Canadians, the needs of families.

I support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer because it addresses a real problem for a growing segment of our society and because it proposes a solution that is worth looking at in committee.

I am calling for the support of this House to send Bill C-449 to committee.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-449 would make it possible to provide free public transportation to seniors during off-peak hours. What is the purpose of this bill? The purpose is to encourage seniors to have an active social life and to reduce the isolation that far too many of them experience. Canada's population is aging; we cannot deny that. We certainly cannot ignore it, as the Conservatives would like to do.

Aging has it own set of problems and we must address those problems with realistic and practical solutions. As I explained in my earlier speech, transportation for seniors is extremely important because they need it to get to social and medical services.

Not everyone can afford to take taxis or has a son or daughter available to provide transportation, as my colleague from LaSalle—Émard said. Furthermore, many seniors, especially women, are on a low income, which restricts their mobility. We must take a look at this issue to avoid having our seniors become isolated.

Isolation is the enemy of seniors. I believe that free public transit must be part of the strategy and action to help prevent isolation and give seniors the tools needed to have a good quality of life. We all hope for that one day.

I would like to thank my colleagues from York West and LaSalle—Émard. Their support for Bill C-449 shows their empathy for Canada's seniors and their eagerness to solve the mobility problems that affect so many seniors, in both urban and rural areas.

I would also like to thank the hon. members for Trinity—Spadina and Halifax. Their support for public transit is only matched by their interest in Canada's seniors. The Bloc agrees that Bill C-449 is an excellent initiative and a recognition of the role seniors play but I have been told that they are reluctant to vote yes.

This is why they should vote yes. It is simple: in order to let the committee look at the question of mobility for seniors and free access to public transit, where it exists, in off-peak hours. This is an important issue for seniors from coast to coast to coast.

I am seeking the support of the House to study the issue of mobility for seniors in committee. The members opposite are hiding behind a procedural smokescreen. They did not even bother talking about the substance of Bill C-449. They did nothing more than reject its form. I think by refusing to take part in this debate on seniors, the members opposite are shirking their responsibilities. They are abdicating the leadership role the government must play.

This government is unaware of the needs of families and seniors. What are the ill-advised priorities of the Conservatives? Spending billions of dollars for the untendered procurement of fighter jets, the construction of mega-prisons, and corporate tax breaks. We, the Liberals, are listening to the concerns of the Canadian public and their priorities: pensions, education, health care, family care and seniors. Bill C-449 falls in line with those priorities.

I want to clarify something. Not that I want to speak for the members of the Standing Committee on Finance, but I will be proposing an amendment in committee to have the Minister of Finance look at ways to establish a trust to help make public transit free for seniors during off-peak hours. This amendment would also eliminate the need for the minister to spend money from the consolidated revenue fund.

In closing, I ask for the support of all members in this House to pass Bill C-449, for further review in the Standing Committee on Finance.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

moved that Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to open the debate today on an issue that is particularly important to a growing segment of our society: seniors. Although they are often silent, seniors have needs we must address with flexible, progressive measures.

Today, I present a solution to the problem of public transit, which is an important factor in promoting seniors' independence and overcoming the isolation our senior friends and relatives too often experience.

The bill I introduced would make public transit free for seniors, anywhere in Canada, during off-peak hours.

There are many reasons for this bill, which seeks to encourage seniors to lead active social lives, to make it easier for them to get around and to improve access to public transit.

I would like to start by describing some of the social characteristics of Canada's seniors.

Seniors are generally defined as people 65 and over. However, three different groups can be identified within this segment of the population: people 65 to 74, those 75 to 84 and those over 85. Each of these subsegments has different needs that call for specific, progressive solutions.

There are also many prejudices again about seniors, regardless of their age. The concept of an aging population has been the subject of a number of consultations and studies.

On the Hill, a special Senate committee on aging was formed. The committee tabled its report entitled, “Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity”, in April 2009.

Other governments have also looked at the aging population, and the Conseil des aînés du Québec released its own report in March 2010. Although the report has to do with ageism, I feel it is relevant to the issue of aging. In addition, although the report covers Quebec, the population and its characteristics are representative of Canada as a whole.

Returning to ageism, age is often the source of prejudice and beliefs that lead to discrimination. These perceptions affect seniors primarily, regardless of their exact age group. Ageism is also evident in various sectors such as employment, health and transportation. Seniors are seen as a social and financial burden.

I would like to help change our society's perception of seniors. But how can we change that perception when we are bombarded with images that equate happiness with youth and beauty?

I am one of those people who believes in accomplishing big things by taking small steps. Bill C-449 would give seniors greater mobility and perhaps change perceptions by showing that seniors are active and independent.

Let us look at the current situation of seniors, as described by Statistics Canada in its 2006 report entitled “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. I would just like to mention the Conservative government's decision to abolish the long form census. The Liberal Party put forward a motion in the House that was adopted, and we will do everything we can to restore the census so that vital economic and demographic data continue to be available.

We can refer to statistics from the 2006 census that give an accurate, reliable portrait of Canadian society. The report says:

The aging of the population will accelerate over the next three decades, particularly as individuals from the Baby Boom years of 1946 to 1965 begin turning age 65. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036....

If this trend continues, here are Statistics Canada's projections:

...the number of 65 to 74 years olds is projected to increase to 4.8 million by 2031, accounting for 12.4% of the total population at that time.

...by 2021 the absolute number of 75 to 84 year olds is expected to reach 2 million.

Between 2005 and 2021, the absolute number of people aged 85 or older is projected to increase to 800,000, although their share of the total population will remain around 2%.

Most of Canada's population—approximately 62%—resides in Ontario and Quebec. About seven of every ten seniors in Canada lived in an urban centre with at least 50,000 residents. Seniors have long been less likely than people in younger age groups to change residences. Thus, we can conclude that most Canadian seniors are sedentary and live in urban areas of central Canada.

A task force that reports to the Quebec family minister described the home environment of seniors as follows:

Most seniors, i.e., nearly 88%, live in a natural environment and this is where they wish to remain as long as possible. They must therefore be able to find services such as places of worship, supermarkets, banks, health services, etc., near their home.

Women accounted for 52% of persons aged 65 to 69, a figure that jumps to 75% for persons aged 90 or older. I would like to focus for a moment on this segment of the population.

According to Statistics Canada, the guaranteed income supplement and the survivor allowance accounted for the bulk of senior women's income in 2003 at 31.7%. Although the number of low-income seniors has declined slightly, it is still high for senior women living alone, with the highest figures in British Columbia and Quebec.

In 2007, FADOQ, Mouvement des Aînés du Québec, submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on Status of Women regarding the economic security of senior women. The organization expressed great concern about the financial insecurity of women. Too often widows are heavily burdened financially, and the organization made a series of recommendations to rectify this situation.

It is true that women take care of elderly loved ones and are penalized for this choice, which benefits all of society.

FADOQ called on the government to recognize the role of natural caregivers, which the Liberal Party of Canada did.

The Liberal Party supports Canadian families. It will help natural caregivers cover the cost of caring for sick or elderly family members in their homes.

I will now address the issue of transportation for seniors. In about 15 years, one in five Canadians will be over the age of 65. What impact will the needs of this population have on transportation services in Canada? How can we provide transportation for our seniors when they are no longer able to drive safely? How can we provide affordable transportation for low-income seniors, and particularly senior women? How can we provide accessible transportation for seniors to essential services such as health care and social services? How can we provide transportation that will enable them to continue socializing, to maintain their independence and to avoid becoming isolated?

We have to ask those questions and find solutions for Canadians. It is a complex problem and will require more than one solution.

Today, I would like to present a solution that I hope the House will adopt.

Mobility is critical to seniors' independence, and for decades the automobile has been the preferred mode of transportation for most Canadians. However, when it comes time to take away a senior's driver's licence or to convince them to voluntarily stop driving their vehicles, they go through a period of mourning. Their independence has been taken away.

“Seniors’ access to transportation” is a Statistics Canada report. The data and analysis give an excellent overview of the issue. Here are some excerpts.

The great majority of adults and seniors have access to private or public transport

In 2005, 98% of men aged 65 to 74 and 95% of women the same age had access either to a vehicle owned by someone in their household or to public transit. These percentages declined among people in older age groups. Nevertheless, even among seniors aged 85 and over, 86% had access either to a household vehicle or to mass transit.

However, that percentage drops once seniors reach the age of 85; only 86% had access to a household vehicle or to mass transit. Only 80% of seniors had access to a household vehicle, compared with 91% of 55- to 74-year-olds.

More specifically, 71% of people aged 65 and over had access to a household vehicle and had a driver's licence. Of that percentage, 86% were men and only 58% were women. And that gap grew with age: among those 85 and older, 66% of men had that same access and only 33% of women did.

The author asked the following question:

Is better access to transport linked to a more active life?

He said:

...a senior who owns a car and a driver’s licence, or who has the financial means to use a taxi to run his errands, can travel about much more easily than an older person who must rely on her son or daughter to take her shopping.

In this case, mobility refers to a person's ability to get up and go where they want when they want.

A statistical model showed that if a person has limited access to transportation, the probability that they would stay at home was 46%. The probability that those with a valid licence and a vehicle would stay home was 19%.

Women and people over the age of 85 living in rural areas are particularly likely to have limited outings. They are less mobile.

In the same study, the author reveals that people who live in rural areas and do not have access to a vehicle or to public transit leave their homes less frequently and do less volunteering. The study states:

According to some authors, this situation would suggest that older persons living in rural areas without a car are particularly at risk for social isolation, as well as difficulty in accessing community and medical services.

We therefore need to find a solution to the problem of transportation in rural areas and I would like to propose the beginnings of a solution. I read that in an area near the Outaouais region, in the Lièvre valley, seniors are mobilizing to organize their activities such as going to the doctor or simply getting groceries. However—and this is the recurring problem—they still need transportation. The lack of transportation represents a clear obstacle to seniors' activities, whether those activities are for survival, related to health, or simply social and recreational.

The task force established by the Quebec Minister of Families, which I previously mentioned, made this recommendation regarding transportation in the context of a policy on aging:

For those who live outside the areas well served by public transit systems, the possibility of travelling is essential to participate in the life of the community. The participants of several semi-urban regions mentioned difficulties with this. The transportation question must also be examined in the cities served by public transit to make sure that they meet all needs adequately.

With regard to transportation, seniors are a special case and should be treated as such. Such positive discrimination is not only justified, it is necessary.

I would add that we are already starting to see free services. Here in Ottawa, the nation's capital, public transit is free every Wednesday. What is more, seniors generally use public transit during off-peak hours and therefore this would not disrupt the existing service very much.

Public transit systems are already in place in most urban centres. Nevertheless, rural areas, as we have already seen, have fewer services or none at all. Special attention should be paid in order to provide free transit service adapted to rural needs. Seniors living in rural areas or outside major urban centres have the same needs as those living in urban areas that already have public transit.

In closing, allow me to emphasize two points. First, although transit comes under provincial jurisdiction, the need for resources should lead the various governments and territories to work together in order to meet the transit needs of Canadian seniors.

Second, the bill could be accompanied by a royal recommendation. In order to facilitate passage of Bill C-449, I will propose the following amendment at committee stage: to substitute, at lines 1 to 4 on page 2, the following:

The Minister of Finance shall study the ways in which a trust could be established to facilitate free local public transit for seniors, anywhere in Canada

In closing, I invite my colleagues to support Bill C-449 and refer it to committee. Ensuring free public transit for seniors anywhere in Canada during off-peak hours, addresses the specific needs of seniors and gives them—

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, as senior member of the Liberal Party and the chief opposition whip, I wonder if the member could talk to his proposal and answer a few questions regarding costs.

I must say that I live in a rural community where there is no transportation. The people in my community would be paying for this and I think they would be very concerned.

How much would providing free public transit to seniors in both rural and urban Canada actually cost? Who has reviewed and validated the cost estimate? As this would be considerable new spending, has the Liberal Party identified the source of funds to pay for it? What taxes would it raise? What programs would it cut?

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I had addressed the situation that in rural areas it might be somewhat difficult, although we need to recognize that seniors are living not only in rural Canada but also in urban centres.

As far as the costs are concerned, this would be done on a voluntary and discretionary basis by the Minister of Finance to allow for a fund to be built from which municipalities, regional municipalities, cities or towns could seek money to help them finance this transportation.

As far as how much it would cost, is a good question. We are still looking at figures. We know that some transportation commissions have a certain clientele within seniors but most seniors are using these services at rush hour either to go to a part-time job or to visit relatives. In this case, we would be offering the transportation service to seniors in off-peak hours. Maybe these services could be offered from 10 o'clock in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. From what we have studied, there would be no additional cost to the transportation commissions, except maybe in rural areas where some additional transportation facilities would need to be implemented.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, if this trust fund is to be on a voluntary basis, the way the bill is drafted is that the municipalities or the transit authorities would pay first and then apply for funding.

My understanding is that many transit authorities in different municipalities would have difficulty paying for it upfront. Why not define the trust fund to say that it could be accessed prior to offering the service? If not, then we are setting up the municipalities and the seniors who may want the service but the service may not be provided if the municipalities do not have the financial capacity to do so.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my hon. colleague for making the suggestion.

As I said in the French part of my statement, because this bill will probably need a royal recommendation I will be presenting an amendment. Instead of saying that the minister will create a discretionary fund, it would say that the Minister of Finance shall study the ways in which a trust could be established for the purposes of facilitating the financing of these activities. Of course, it would be much easier if municipalities could seek this money prior to establishing the service and thus help our seniors.

I am sure that my colleague, who comes from a large city, will be very helpful in getting this bill passed through the House in order to help the seniors in her riding.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak, and I must emphasize strongly, against this fiscally irresponsible Liberal proposal.

If Canadians want to know the difference between our Conservative government and the Liberal opposition when it comes to the economy and respecting taxpayers, this Liberal proposal sums it up. This pie in the sky Liberal proposal is to allegedly provide absolutely free--and free in this context would be taxpayer funded, so I cannot exactly say it is free--public government transportation to every senior throughout Canada. This is fiscally reckless and would cost untold billions of dollars to implement. I say untold billions because the Liberals did not even bother to cost it. In fact, we just heard moments ago when the mover of the bill was asked what the cost would be, he did not have a clue what the cost would be.

In fact, Conservative MPs had to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost it because the Liberals refused to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer for a costing.

I am at a loss why a senior member of the Liberal Party, in fact the chief opposition whip, would introduce such a fiscally irresponsible proposal.

In his speech I heard him talk about discrimination. His concern about discrimination would be lost because every constituent in my riding would be discriminated against. They would have to contribute to public transit and would not have access to it. If that is not discrimination, someone please tell me what is.

With regard to costs, earlier this year the leader of the Liberal Party publicly proclaimed:

One of the issues we have to confront is, how do we pay for this? We can't be a credible party until we have an answer for that question.

We did not hear this either.

...We have to be courageous and we have to be clear on this subject. We will not identify any new spending unless we can clearly identify a source of funds....

Likewise, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has pleaded that politicians “who make announcements of future spending must tell Canadians how much those plans cost and where the money will come from”.

However, the Liberals have no such answers for this proposal. They have identified absolutely no way to pay for it.

Accordingly, following the Liberal leader's own logic, and in his own words, the Liberal Party, with uncosted proposals like today's, has no credibility.

However, on matters of fiscal responsibility, the Liberal leader himself has questionable credibility, as he also earlier this year publicly proclaimed:

I am not going to allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice.

I ask, is absolutely free public transportation to every single senior social justice? If so, it is only one item on a laundry list of similar uncosted and unaffordable social justice commitments the Liberals have made over the past few years. The growing Liberal laundry list of unfunded spending commitments has included billions of dollars for everything including: a national government-run daycare scheme; a 45-day work year; a slew of new national strategies supported by permanent large bureaucracies; a supplementary Canada pension plan that in fact provincial governments disagree with, liberal provincial governments; subsidized overseas voyages for young Canadians; something called a secretariat of peace, order and good government; and the list goes on. They are all costly and reckless spending policies that carry hefty price tags that would send Canada into spiralling large and permanent deficits, erasing Canada's economic advantage.

What is more, the Liberals clearly have no way to pay for the vast majority of their growing laundry list of commitments, merely pointing to the same limited funding source repeatedly, that being hiking taxes on job creators. That does not cut it.

Even the Globe and Mail has caught on, remarking that the Liberals “cannot recycle their promise to cancel the tax cuts as a way to pay for other new social programs they may like to promise”.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay for those freewheeling Liberal spending plans. Make no mistake that someone is going to have to and that would be hard-working Canadian taxpayers.

Already the Liberals happily admit that Canadian job creators would have to foot the bill for the first wave of their endless laundry list. What will the Liberal attack on job creators mean for Canada's economy and the everyday Canadian? A weaker economy and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.

According to the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, the Liberals would endanger $49 billion in capital investment, equivalent to 233,000 Canadian jobs, with their irresponsible tax hike plan.

Already the Liberals' demonizing and targeting job creators with tax grabs is starting to harm Canada's fragile recovery. If the Liberals do not believe me, they should listen to the words of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters:

Canadian business investment needed to sustain an economic recovery is threatened by [the] Liberal Party Leader's pledge to scrap planned corporate tax cuts because companies may find it difficult to plan.... Right now, frankly, I don't think we can afford the...uncertainty if you want companies to make big investments in Canada.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce represents 192,000 companies that employ millions throughout the country. When speaking of the Liberal tax hike plan, it remarked, “Business is going to hold back making investments” and that it is “very damaging”.

What about the rest of the Liberal laundry list included in this proposal? Who will pay for the big tax-and-spend Liberal government? We all know the answer, and I repeat, hard-working everyday Canadian taxpayers. The Liberal leader would reach deeper and deeper into their pockets and wreck their family budgets to bankroll excessively costly proposals like this one. In the words of the Liberal leader himself, “federal taxes must go up” and “we will have to raise taxes”. What taxes in particular? To again quote the Liberal leader, “I'm not going to take a GST tax hike off the table”.

Earlier this year, an Infometrica study revealed that such a Liberal GST hike would cost Canada another 162,000 jobs.

The growing laundry list of Liberal proposals like the one here today is not grounded in fiscal reality and would saddle Canada with permanent deficit spending.

On the other hand, our Conservative government has taken affordable and sustainable action to actually benefit Canadians, especially our seniors. First and foremost, since 2006, the Conservative government has cut the tax bill for seniors and pensioners by nearly $2 billion annually. For instance, we increased the age credit amount by $2,000, doubled the pension income credit to $2,000 and introduced landmark pension income splitting.

Second, our Conservative government has already made public transit more affordable for seniors, and all Canadians in fact, with the public transit tax credit. This important tax relief allows individuals to claim a non-refundable tax credit for the cost of monthly or ongoing weekly public transit passes. This has proved to be an exceedingly popular measure.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association said:

The government's tax credit for transit pass users is a strong signal that the government is committed to promoting transit use. It rewards transit customers for making smart travel choices.

Shockingly, the Liberal Party voted against the public transit tax credit and against helping seniors and other riders of public transit.

Finally, let me note that public transit is primarily a provincial and municipal jurisdictional responsibility. It is not one where federal spending power should unilaterally dictate their decisions.

Clearly, the Conservative government has brought forward fiscally responsible support for seniors and public transit users alike. Disappointingly, the Liberals want to force Canadian taxpayers and businesses to pick up the bill for their costly laundry list of proposals, like the one we are dealing with here today.

This is not a credible plan. Instead, it would damage family budgets and job creation across Canada. I strongly urge all members to vote against this flawed and costly proposal.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors. I would like the member for Hull—Aylmer to know that it is an excellent initiative and a recognition of the role of seniors. However, the Bloc Québécois believes that his bill meddles in a provincial jurisdiction. The member is a fellow Quebecker. Like the members of the Bloc Québécois, he appreciates that the federal government must respect provincial jurisdictions.

This bill would establish a trust that would make payments to municipalities or the provinces, in accordance with the terms established by the federal government. I began by complimenting my colleague for Hull—Aylmer, but now comes the criticism. This bill interferes in two areas that are exclusively Quebec's responsibility—public transit and social policy.

I am disappointed in the member for Hull—Aylmer. Had the bill been introduced by a member from Saskatchewan or British Columbia, we might have said that they were not as familiar with the exclusive jurisdictions of the provinces. Municipalities in other Canadian provinces, as we saw with the infrastructure program, speak freely and directly with the federal government. However, in Quebec, infrastructure money must pass through the Government of Quebec so that Quebec's municipal affairs department is responsible.

For these reasons the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill. I am asking everyone in the House to not play politics with this. I am convinced that my Liberal colleague from Hull—Aylmer knows that the Conservatives generally play that card when we oppose the law and order bills they propose time and again without respecting certain individual rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I am sure that my colleague from Hull—Aylmer is able to recognize that the Conservatives are being blithely demagogic. And I am sure that when my colleague from Hull—Aylmer comments, he will say that although the Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle, it is against this double intrusion and cannot support the bill for that reason.

Municipalities and cities are under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. What is more, social policy, which covers services provided directly to seniors, is under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Under no circumstances does the federal government have the right to interfere in those areas of jurisdiction and impose conditions on fund allocation and the Government of Quebec's right to set its own priorities. We have always opposed that.

The Bloc Québécois agrees that the federal government should transfer funds, as long as they are provided to the Quebec government without any conditions because only the Government of Quebec knows and understands Quebeckers' priorities.

The federal government should not be barging in or imposing its Canada-wide or coast-to-coast-to-coast standards. That is something new; they added another “coast”. Here in Ottawa they realized that Nunavut—formerly known as the Northwest Territories—borders on the Arctic Ocean. That is why our anglophone colleagues so often use the phrase “coast to coast to coast”.

The Bloc Québécois does not think that the federal government should impose conditions because that money belongs to Quebeckers. My colleagues surely know that Quebeckers pay about $57 billion in taxes to Ottawa every year. I hope that no one here in the House or watching at home thinks that the federal government is doing us a favour when it invests money in Quebec. It is not a favour since it is our money.

Until we hear otherwise, and until we are a sovereign people, Quebeckers will continue to pay taxes to Ottawa. When the federal government invests money in Quebec, it is simply returning a portion of the taxes we have paid. That is why the Bloc Québécois thinks that the federal government cannot impose conditions. Imposing conditions means that the government will transfer the money on the condition that Quebec respect Canada-wide principles. That is why the Bloc Québécois cannot support the bill introduced by the member for Hull—Aylmer. Quebec is the only authority that can determine which priority projects would be most beneficial for Quebeckers.

The Bloc Québécois continues to denounce the practice of imposing conditions on federal transfers to Quebec. That said, if the federal government truly wants to help our poorest seniors, the Bloc Québécois thinks that there are other possibilities within its own areas of jurisdiction.

People of my generation are doing as well as they are today because our seniors worked hard and suffered through poverty. They raised large families on modest incomes, and the men worked hard outside the home. That was the way of life in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in Quebec. The men worked outside the home and the women worked inside the home. The couple worked together. Members may recall a monologue by Yvon Deschamps, in which he said that his mother did not have a job because she had too much work to do. We know that women worked very hard.

The Bloc Québécois suggested two measures. First of all, a tax credit for public transit users, which it had been calling for since 2001 and obtained in 2006. The government will go ahead with this measure. Also, if the federal government really wants to help seniors, especially those most vulnerable, those who receive the guaranteed income supplement, it must increase the GIS. The Bloc Québécois is calling for a monthly increase of $110. It must increase GIS benefits. Seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement are those most vulnerable, those who must ask themselves if they should buy their medication or bread and butter to feed themselves.

That is the kind of dilemma facing our seniors. Yes, some seniors are living very comfortably. Some seniors are getting along just fine. However, by far, most seniors in Quebec are living below the poverty line.

In closing, I want to make sure that our position is clear: we are not against seniors. On the contrary, we fully support seniors.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, after working for more than 40 years, Canadians who are older require a break.

Some seniors, as they age, can no longer drive, so they are totally dependent upon public transit. But since the federal government has not substantially increased old age security or the guaranteed income supplement, tens of thousands of Canadian seniors are living in poverty. Some of them even have to rely on food banks. That means they have to make a decision every day. Can they actually go to the library or to the community centre or visit their grandchildren, or are they going to have trouble paying rent because they are taking steps to leave their homes and take public transit?

Isolation is a very difficult situation and seniors should not be subjected to having to make that kind of choice, to remain in isolation and stay home because they cannot afford public transit or to skip some meals or find some ways to turn down the heat because they cannot afford the heating bill. That is just not fair for the seniors who have served this country for such a long time and served us well.

That is why New Democrats would support Bill C-449, which would allow the minister to set up a trust fund for other levels of government so that seniors can take public transit free of charge during off-peak hours.

New Democrats believe that the federal government should fund the operation of public transit so that all Canadians will have access to better service at lower cost. Canada is the only G8 country that does not have the operating costs of public transit shared by the federal government. That is why we have negative consequences on the environment and on our pocketbooks. Canada needs a national transit strategy. We know that public transit is the backbone of our urban economies and the lack of proper funding for transit is costing our cities billions of dollars in lost productivity.

A recent OECD study found that traffic congestion costs the Toronto region $3.3 billion per year in lost productivity. A recent issue paper by the Canadian Urban Transit Association on the economic benefits of public transit shows that the economic benefit of Canada's existing transit system is at least $10 billion annually.

The transit industry directly employs 45,000 Canadians and indirectly creates 24,000 jobs. Transit reduces vehicle operating costs for Canadian households by $5 billion a year. We know also that transit reduces the economic costs of traffic collisions by almost $2.5 billion a year. Transit reduces annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tonnes, valued at $110 million. Transit also saves about $115 million in annual health care costs related to respiratory illness.

Investing in public transit, whether it is to have lower-cost senior passes, which some municipalities already have, or to allow seniors or unemployed people to take public transit at a much lower cost during off-peak periods, is good for our pocketbooks, good for the environment, and good for the economy.

For the Conservatives to say that investing in public transit will somehow bankrupt Canada is absurd. It is totally absurd.

We know that public transit is not only good for our pocketbooks, but it also helps improve quality of life by contributing to giving travellers a choice, keeping downtowns healthy, containing urban sprawl, improving air quality and our health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, bringing opportunity to disadvantaged persons and improving business access to the labour force.

In short, public transit is good for our economy, good for our environment, and good for our cities. That is why we need a national transit strategy. We need to make a serious investment in public transit across this country.

CUTA further said that $53.5 billion is required over four years in order to keep our public transit system in good repair.

Canada also needs $40.5 billion in public transit capital expansion so that seniors can actually get on public transit. Of that, $17 billion needs to come from external funding. That is why the federal government needs to commit dedicated funding to our cities so they can operate and expand public transit, whether it is for seniors, low-income people, or ordinary Canadians.

We need to transfer an extra 1¢ of the existing gas tax to municipalities to fund public transit. This would generate half a billion dollars in new transit funding. Maybe a portion of that could help seniors to travel on public transit at a lower cost. A portion of the existing gas tax should be transferred to cities and municipalities, and this should be based on transit ridership, not per capita.

We also need to introduce a cap and trade plan that would limit greenhouse gas emissions and make polluters pay. After the polluters pay their share, a portion of this revenue could be used for public transit. Those funds would come directly from polluters and go toward public transit. That would result in much cleaner air in big urban centres and small municipalities. It would also allow smaller transit authorities to buy extra buses and offer their services at a lower cost during off-peak periods.

That is why we must have a national transit strategy with a strict made in Canada policy requiring trains and buses to be built in Canada. That would revitalize our manufacturing sector, create well-paying green jobs, and make Canada a world leader in the green energy economy. At the same time, since we would have more buses, street cars, and subways, seniors would be able to pay less for public transit during off-peak periods.

That would give seniors the mobility they desire. It would not force them to make the terrible choice between paying rent and paying for heat or food, or being locked up in their homes because they cannot afford public transit to take them to the local library, to visit their friends, to visit community centres, or to take part in physical exercise. This is important for our seniors.

The more seniors are able to connect with their communities, the healthier they are. Seniors have time to volunteer. They have a lot to contribute. Our communities will lose if a senior cannot afford to take a bus to volunteer at a local community centre, a local school, or a child care centre. Our young people will lose because they will not experience the joy that seniors bring when they are included in the life of a community. Thousands of volunteer hours would be lost, because seniors have a lot to contribute. Strong neighbourhoods cannot be built if seniors cannot afford to get to the places where they volunteer.

That is why New Democrats support Bill C-449, which would allow the minister to set up a trust fund so seniors can take public transit free of charge.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to lend my support to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors.

The bill has been put on the table by my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer. I want to extend my congratulations to him. I know he cares very much about this issue. In particular, he is constantly raising issues involving seniors, and I appreciate his commitment to this.

As all members will know, any serious private member's bill demands a tremendous amount of time, research and energy on behalf of the sponsor as well as the staff and the House to prepare that bill.

Bill C-449 seeks to fill an important niche and is clearly no exception to this rule.

Before I continue, I should clarify why I believe seniors issues are, in general terms, so important to the future of the country and its long term prosperity.

Statistics Canada estimates that Canada's population over the age of 65 could reach an unprecedented 10.9 million by 2036. With this, as the Canadian population continues to age, new financial and logistical challenges will emerge for them as well as for our country. That is only 26 years away. If we fail to address these future realities today, we are only setting ourselves up for a crisis in the future, a crisis that is easily avoidable.

Bill C-449 is an out of the box way of starting to address these many factors one step at a time. Put another way, with this change, this proposal is what I would call enabling legislation. It could kick off the debate and give the Crown new and innovative options to really address issues such as transportation costs, isolation, public transportation and seniors quality of life.

The issues around quality of life for seniors is something about which all of us in the House care very much. We want people to look forward to retirement as a time of enjoyment for them. Things like free transit would offer opportunities for seniors to get out in those hours between, let us say, 11 o'clock and two o'clock, whatever the slowest period of time would be. Buses are going down those streets empty. Why not allow seniors to go on the bus at that time, or whatever mode of transit is in their communities? This would provide them the opportunity to be out mixing and socializing with other people.

Canadians are also known globally as a compassionate and caring people. Despite this, though, the reality is there still remains poverty in a country as rich as ours, particularly in the population over the age of 65.

We already know that poverty is a major problem for many seniors. We know that over 200,000 seniors still live well below any respectable poverty line, something that most Canadians find to be utterly unacceptable. I think all of us in the House continue to work toward reducing that so no senior lives below the poverty line. As a goal, I expect that many of us, certainly as Liberals, want to see that issue eliminated, so we could have a level of income that all people would receive.

By addressing transportation costs and public availability, we will have taken a small step down a very important road toward improving the lives and overall health of seniors. It seems so simple and, in many respects, it can be simple.

It is also worth mentioning that Statistics Canada data shows that seniors with access to regular and reliable transportation tend to get involved with charitable and community causes at a far greater rate than do their counterparts without that access. Again, we are talking about access to many avenues, access to wellness programs, access to community centres, where seniors can go and spend an afternoon with their friends playing cards, or bingo or whatever. It gets them out. It helps them to avoid depression. It improves their health immensely.

This means that in addition to fighting seniors isolation, increasing access to reliable transportation would have a very positive impact on a community. Service groups need volunteers and volunteers are the lifeblood of most of our communities. If we can do it, why would we not help seniors who help us?

In the same line of thinking, we also know that reduced mobility in seniors is generally linked to a lower household income. Again, I have great concerns with the notion that poverty continues to be a major factor in seniors' health.

My colleague who spoke earlier raised the issue of poverty among seniors and so on umpteen times in her comments. If I were to buy in to everything that my colleague said earlier, I would believe that we have an enormous amount of poverty in our country. We do not have an enormous amount of poverty but more than is acceptable. Those are the kinds of things that we need to be changing. Initiatives like this are the kinds of things that would help people who are living below an achievable amount.

I am greatly concerned by the notion that poverty is a major factor, as I said earlier. We need to start looking at the issues holistically if we are ever going to resolve them. Bill C-449 may seem minor, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Also, given that the passage of Bill C-449 would prompt the minister to start addressing the serious problem of transportation deficiencies, we may also start making inroads on other related matters. For example, because of health or mobility limitations, many seniors are forced into a life of isolation. Studies show that loneliness, deterioration of mental and physical health, and the general worsening of one's quality of life, are all byproducts of isolation provoked by factors such as transportation deficiency for seniors.

As I have already said, Bill C-449 does not outright devise a solution, but clearly thrusts the issue onto the national table for debate. As my party's critic for seniors and pensions, I am certainly supportive of having this debate sooner rather than later.

I would also be remiss if I failed to address the financial consideration of the legislation. As I have already said, Bill C-449 would require an expenditure of public resources but it would only underscore a public policy shortcoming and encourage a resolution to the same.

I believe one of the strengths associated with Bill C-449 is the fact that it would permit the minister to establish a phased-in, multi-faceted approach to this very real problem. It would permit the need for a responsible fiscal framework to be a guiding factor in the government's response, but it would require a response.

For the past several years, the government has opted to ignore these problems, but that is unacceptable and must stop. Bill C-449 is key to this.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Routine Proceedings

September 30th, 2009 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors.

Mr. Speaker, today I am tabling a bill that would help seniors across Canada break free from their isolation. We know it is good to encourage seniors to live active social lives, and for them to break out of the isolation they may experience. We also know that it is difficult for many seniors in Canada to get around, and often public transportation is their only option.

I am tabling a bill to allow the Minister of Finance to make direct payments to a fund established to help the provinces, territories and municipalities offer seniors across Canada free local public transportation, outside peak hours.

I am calling on all the members of the House to support this bill and to ensure it is passed as quickly as possible.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)