Evidence of meeting #30 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was seniors.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Because it's our last round, I just want to say thank you so much for your passion. I know you've been an inspiration to so many seniors across the country. And as someone who has put forward a private member's bill requesting that this government apologize for the Komagata Maru, I say that what's happening here with our seniors is an injustice, and I hope that all of us can put aside partisan politics.

You know, when the Liberals were in power, there were certain things that were promised when the Conservatives were in opposition, and now they are in government. Their deputy leader at that time stated that discrimination existed. We need to put partisanship aside, do the right thing, and correct this inequality to ensure that all seniors, regardless of where they come from, are treated with equality and fairness in this country.

Thank you so much.

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Thank you, Ms. Dhalla.

There is an issue here. Mr. Woldemichael had expected to speak. Ms. Dhalla had four minutes, and I'm going down to four-minute rounds, but I'm going to give Mr. Woldemichael two minutes to speak, since he did make the effort to come here.

10:45 a.m.

Kifleyesus Woldemichael Member, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I was ready to speak a little more, but am only allowed to speak for two minutes. I want to give some enlightenment on three issues that were raised here before.

First is the issue of the Supreme Court's decision. I was a judge on the supreme court of my country, Ethiopia, for 30 years. I know the division of power between the court and the legislative bodies. The court said that while the law was not discriminatory, it must be amended or discussed by Parliament. They did not close it completely.

Second, this was the right decision, because the law or issue was on the wrong track. They said, no, the right track would be for the law to be amended by Parliament, by the government. That is why we came here: this law must be amended. We are asking for an amendment of the law. So there is no issue to challenge this bill raising the decision of the Supreme Court.

Third, I heard of a similar case that was rejected by a party in power before. We don't care about what has been done before. When it happened, we were in a great poverty, and we asked for a solution to our suffering. The decision that was made before by one party when it was in power does not bar our issue; it does not have a complete connection with it.

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Be very quick, please, because we are going to lose this room.

10:45 a.m.

Member, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network

Kifleyesus Woldemichael

Yes, I'll be very quick.

To the question to Ms. Beaumier on whether there is evidence to support this bill, this case is based on the poverty matters of immigrant seniors. Their poverty matters can be certified by us. What kind of evidence shall she produce for this Parliament? She said that this poverty, which is apparent to the immigrant seniors, must be solved. That is the right thing.

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Sir, I have to cut you off there. I appreciate that.

Monsieur Lessard, for three minutes and twenty seconds.

May 13th, 2008 / 10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First, I want to thank you for being here with us. I'll try to be brief. I very much enjoyed each of your speeches, particularly the last, which is really revealing. Poverty can be seen among seniors. It's obvious; we see it. Even if we say we set partisanship aside, you have to recognize one thing. Mr. Woldemichael mentioned this: there is a division of powers, and we stand before political power. This may not be a partisan operation, but the decision that we must make is not based on technical elements. Do we have the political will to act, yes or no?

It's on that subject that I would like to hear what you have to say. The Bloc Québécois agrees. Ms. Beaumier was very honest with us. She said that part of her caucus was in agreement. She cannot answer for her caucus as a whole. We know that the Conservatives are opposed to this measure. Even though they tell us there are technical matters and they may not be able to support it, it's a matter of political will. Do we want it or not?

Earlier my colleague Mr. Gravel recalled that yesterday they allocated $30 billion for defence. They weren't concerned as to whether there were any technical problems; they announced their political will.

What are your arguments to convince our colleagues who still aren't convinced that Bill C-362 is right? Those arguments should be brief.

10:50 a.m.

Secretary, Old Age Benefits Forum - Vancouver

Balwinder Singh Chahal

I will try to approach it.

My comments are, first, particularly directed towards honourable members of the ruling branch. You're asking the Liberals today why they didn't do it in their own time. Will the future not ask you that question also? Be mindful of that. That's simply asking. They didn't do it. I think the honourable Colleen Beaumier accepted it. I'm open to saying that the Liberals promised us that they would look into it right up to, I'll say, the prime ministerial level. But they didn't do it. Probably they did not have the political will at the time to do it.

Now show that will. We implore you to look at the changed times. It is the social and political thought of the Canadian system that has grown. We are looking into that. Let's not compartmentalize and narrow the events of where we were.

I have the exact words that our earlier Prime Minister said at a university in China. Whenever we go on the stage as politicians, from the Prime Minister to members of Parliament, we talk about equality. Equality is the first word. We talk about respect and dignity.

This is what we have come to let you know to make your job easier. We have not come to ask for anything from you. I will say that honourable members of Parliament should be thankful to us for bringing this issue to you and for giving you an opportunity to further refine the culture and laws of the country. We are trying to help you, to assist you. We are not here to ask for anything.

That's my submission to you.

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Thank you, sir.

Thank you, Monsieur Lessard.

We'll go to Ms. Charlton.

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you to all of you for your presentations. It's a shame that we're running out of time.

I don't know if you're aware, but two years ago I had the privilege of introducing what we called the “Seniors Charter” on behalf of the NDP. One of the items we enumerated in that charter was the right to income security, and we didn't say income security for some seniors; we said the right to income security. That charter passed in this House and was unanimously supported by all the Conservative members in the House, as well as the Liberal members. I think this really is a test of what we meant when we voted that way. I really appreciate these presentations in that context.

I think it's important for us to be clear on what we're doing here. This bill is not going to make any senior rich. In fact, if seniors are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, then by definition they're the neediest seniors in our community, so what we're really talking about here is alleviating poverty among some of the neediest seniors in our community.

I really appreciated the comments made by all of you in one way or another about the important contribution of seniors. You know, often we characterize seniors as feeble and fragile and don't appreciate the intergenerational learning, the contributions to stable family life, and the very vibrant contribution that seniors still make in our communities. I think it's in that context that we have to look at this bill.

Right now in Canada we've got a quarter of a million seniors living in poverty. Other than saying that I agree with you all and that I am proud to support this bill, my only question is to Mr. Chahal. I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify, because when you held up your citizenship card, I think you may have left the impression with some members of this committee that this bill would only apply to newcomers who are now citizens, and that's not my understanding of the bill; I think this bill applies to anyone who has landed immigrant status or who would otherwise be eligible for the OAS. If I'm right, I think it would be helpful if you would clarify that point for us.

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

I'll give you one minute for an answer.

Go ahead, Mr. Chahal.

10:55 a.m.

Secretary, Old Age Benefits Forum - Vancouver

Balwinder Singh Chahal

Thank you.

As you rightly pointed out, the present OAS act does not draw any distinction between an immigrant and a citizen. My only thought at that time was that even if I am a citizen, from an immigrant I have become a citizen, and that differential treatment--I will not use the word “discriminatory”--still continues in the face of it. That's what needs to be rectified.

One thing I would like to read in 30 seconds is the motion from the City of Vancouver. Their council adopted this motion after the presentation. They clearly say--they are writing to the Prime Minister of the country--the following:

That Vancouver City Council request the Federal Government to ensure pension equality for all Canadian senior citizens, regardless of their country of origin and whether or not that country has a social services contract with Canada; further that this motion be forwarded to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for support.

That is the consideration going beyond the party line. We again beseech, implore, the ruling party to come up, because this bill will not proceed further unless it has royal assent, because it's a money matter. We know that. This is the opportunity for you to grab. If you want to make some amendments to it, bring them to her; Colleen will be open to hearing them. We'll be open to hearing them, but try to embrace it.

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Thank you very much.

Our last speaker is Monsieur Gourde--which is good, because he can talk fast.

Go ahead, Monsieur Gourde.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Out of respect for Mr. Woldemichael, who didn't have a chance to speak long enough, I would like to give him the last word, if he wants to add something, of course.

10:55 a.m.

Member, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network

Kifleyesus Woldemichael

Thank you very much.

Bill C-362, identified by the House, is the most important document to cure the chronic poverty problem of the immigrant senior. This bill we consider as a cure for our chronic problems of poverty because we are living in the poverty conditions of the 1952 act, which requires 10 years' residence to be entitled to income benefits. This falls on us, and we fall into poverty conditions.

What is poverty? It is hunger, and hunger is the source of illness and disease. Physicians say this begins from the hunger of your stomach. Why? If you are hungry every disease caused by stress will come.

This law was enacted in 1952. From 1952 up to now, a lot of rapid changes have happened. When this rapid change happens, the law must be amended. It must not wait until we submit application to the government. In our opinion, the minister responsible for this act must himself consider it and amend it.