Evidence of meeting #68 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was oas.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Arthur Sweetman  Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual
  • Michael Wolfson  Professor, As an Individual
  • Vangelis Nikias  Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities
  • Frank Zinatelli  Vice-President, General Counsel, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc.
  • Keith Ambachtsheer  Director, Rotman International Centre for Pension Management

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

It is disappointing. We had the Parliamentary Budget Officer saying that we have an unacceptable lack of transparency. He's also saying that we cannot make decisions regarding the information or the lack of information that we have right now. When we talk about OAS, for instance, and we talk about the modelling, there are a lot of questions that were asked for which we didn't get answers from the officials. Also, if you look at the budget, it's not as clear in terms of all the impacts, especially the economic impact, from that budget. So we don't have all the information that we should have as parliamentarians who have to make decisions regarding the implications of the policies. For instance, when we talk about people with disabilities, we have now learned that those impacts will be there.

Just very briefly, how much compensation do you think that the provincial governments will receive according to this budget, with all of the implications?

9:55 a.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Michael Wolfson

The short answer is that I don't know because it's a projection.

But just back on the business about information, I'm afraid, folks, that the government is behaving in a way that seems to imply that it doesn't care as much about evidence. It knows what it wants to do.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you.

Mr. Albas, please.

June 1st, 2012 / 9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I appreciate the witnesses being here today. This is a very important topic to me. I'd actually like to discuss something that so far I haven't heard a lot of discussion about today, so I'm going to be directing my questions, Mr. Chair, to Mr. Sweetman.

There's been a lot discussion in this country on the need for introducing long overdue reforms to the immigration system, which we all know faces significant challenges. Researchers, commentators and—obviously here—elected officials, in particular, have noted the need to make admissions and decisions more quickly and that improving economic outcomes for new immigrants will be better for prospective immigrants and for Canada. I should say that this, Mr. Chair, is exactly what the government is striving to do. I'd like to ask Mr. Sweetman if he can explain to the committee the benefits of a more responsive, flexible, and economically focused immigration system.

9:55 a.m.

Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Sweetman

Clearly, our immigration system is in need of reform and the minister has announced an amazingly large and detailed series of reforms over the past couple of months, most of which are not part of this budget. The elements that are in this budget are primarily to give the minister more responsibility to be able to make ministerial instructions—that is to make short-term changes—and also to affect the queue of people applying to Canada, the so-called inventory or backlog. Reducing the inventory or backlog is really very important since it increases the flexibility for the system to make it responsive, which has great advantages for Canada if you're going to be filling niches, if you're looking for people who are complements to current Canadians in production.

Someone, though, is going to have to bear some pain associated with that policy. At the moment, what the budget seems to be doing is putting a large percentage of that pain not onto the Canadian population, but onto the people who are in the queue waiting to apply to become Canadians. There is definitely a need for reform, and there's going to be some pain associated with that reform. One of the questions that this budget is dealing with is: who's bearing that pain?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you. I appreciate hearing that.

Switching to a different subject. Two economists from Hamilton's McMaster University—Byron Spencer and Frank Denton—released a report earlier this year, and they argued quite convincingly that the eligibility age for senior's benefits should be raised, because of longer lifespans and a crunch in public money. According to their statistical predictions, by 2035 there will be two workers for every one person over the age of 65. Today, the ratio is more four to one.

Do you agree with your McMaster colleagues about the inevitable consequence of an aging population, for example, reforming social programs, and how would modifications to old age security in today's act help address some of these long-term challenges facing Ottawa and our ability to pay?

9:55 a.m.

Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Sweetman

I am 100% in accord with my colleagues in their projections. I think they are simple numbers; it's a question of what we do in response. I think that the elements in this budget are a good first step, but they're not a comprehensive response.

One of the things we might want to think about, which hasn't been discussed so far, is the need to give Canadians incentives to stay in the labour market longer. If we think about 1976, 66% of Canadian males between 60 and 64 were part of the labour force. That declined until 1996 when it was 44%, and it subsequently bounced back to 58%. We need to remove barriers and add positive incentives, to help Canadians who are in that age range stay in the labour market longer.

Earlier we talked about support for people who are not working. What we need is encouragement so people will work. I think some of the elements of this budget move in that direction, even if they're not comprehensive yet.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you.

Just with regard to that, programs like ThirdQuarter are being offered to try to encourage more people to get back into the labour force as they come to the third quarter of their lives, but earlier we also mentioned the deferral program for old age security.

In my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla, we have quite a high number of seniors in proportion to other age groups, and a lot of people enjoy the flexibility of this particular measure.

What other programs would you suggest we look at to incentivize people to stay in the workforce longer?

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Just a brief response, Dr. Sweetman, please.

10 a.m.

Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Sweetman

I think we want to think about the whole package: RRSPs, CPPs, the whole range of government public policies. I think that the voluntary deferral provisions in the budget are extremely good, and we want to think about that type of thing writ large across the retirement system.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you.

First, I want to thank our witnesses and ask if they can stay another 10 minutes.

Colleagues, I have another couple of rounds. I know some of you have House duty. I will not be entertaining any motions, so if you do have to get to the House, please feel free to do so.

I'll go now to Mr. Jean, please.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have some questions for Mr. Nikias. I introduced myself to him earlier, and I've found his testimony very interesting.

Some of the information I discovered was that in Europe approximately 15% of people are disabled; Greece has a proportion of over 10%. When I started to break down the statistics, I discovered it's about 15% in Canada, but of that, 56% of people over 75 are disabled, and 33% of people between 65 and 74 are disabled. So it appears to me that a large proportion of Canada's population of the disabled are elderly. So the more we can do for the elderly in this country, such as some of the things we have done—income splitting and things like that—seems to indicate from my perspective that it would be better to remove more people from the category of disabled, or at least to help them with their daily lives. Would that be fair?

10 a.m.

Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Vangelis Nikias

First, let me congratulate you on giving me your Braille card, it's highly appreciated.

The question of defining disability is a very complex one. I think what is important to understand is that, with the aging of the population, impairments are increased, but that is linked very closely to the question of barriers people face—and that is a question of disability.

So impairments with environmental problems are leading to disability. So what we can do in Canada is by improving our disability support systems, by improving accessibility, by all those things, while we have higher rates of impairment, we can maintain or reduce our levels of barriers, in other words, disability. So the question I think you raised is, should we support seniors with disabilities? The answer, of course, is absolutely, yes.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you. I think you're right. Removing those barriers—communication, such as business cards, things like that—help to bring these communities together with people who don't have disabilities.

Mr. Sweetman, I was very interested in your testimony. I'm from Fort McMurray. I know Mr. Caron, who asked you questions earlier, was talking about seasonal workers. I want to let you know that I have 50,000 to 60,000 people, from all over the country, currently living in work camps in Fort McMurray. They're three weeks in, and they usually get one week off.

Is this something the government can concentrate on, the mobility of workers from one part of the country to another, to help seasonal workers, wherever they may be, find employment during the off-season?

10:05 a.m.

Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Sweetman

Certainly mobility assistance for seasonal work could be very valuable.

If we look at the employment rates in Alberta, it is the one jurisdiction in Canada that basically has no seasonality anymore. It used to, 20 years ago, but it doesn't anymore. Whereas, in other parts of Canada seasonality has increased quite substantially.

Anything we can do to avoid part-year seasonal work and encourage people to be productive all year round is beneficial.