House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was border.

Topics

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

October 24th, 2005 / 11 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

moved that Bill C-301, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (monthly guaranteed income supplement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Before beginning today’s private members’ business, I have a statement to make concerning the provisions of Bill C-301, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (monthly guaranteed income supplement).

As with all private members’ bills, the Chair examines the contents of the bill to determine whether its provisions would infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question to a vote at third reading. This is consistent with the duties and responsibilities assigned to the Chair. It has been the practice for such concerns to be raised at the commencement of debate on second reading.

Bill C-301 standing in the name of the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain proposes to alter the process by which compensation is awarded to old age security recipients in the manner that retroactivity is handled.

Clauses 2, 3 and 4 remove the requirement that the recipient must make an application before they can receive a payment. Henceforth, payments would be based simply on entitlement. This changes the conditions of the compensation process and creates new or additional spending. Arguably, it could also affect the minister’s discretionary authority; however, this is not entirely clear.

Clause 6 awards full retroactivity. Currently, retroactivity is limited by the date upon which the application was made. Late applicants may only be eligible for the period dating from the application. It would appear then that this modification authorizes increased spending which would require a royal recommendation.

Therefore, in its present form, I will decline to put the question on third reading of Bill C-301 unless a royal recommendation is received.

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

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to initiate debate on Bill C-301, although what you have just said does not augur well for the process. It is not that I wish to contest your ruling, but when it is said that the bill involves money, we need to know whose money it is. In my opinion, it already belongs to seniors, and we are not asking the government to spend any new money. The bill is merely asking it to return to senior citizens who have been deprived of the guaranteed income supplement the money to which they are entitled.

The public did not call for royal recommendation to deprive them of their due. The period of retroactivity has been reduced to 11 months since 1995; before that it was 5 years. They were not asked to consent to being deprived of their rights and the money coming to them.

I find it immoral that we cannot now call upon the government to show some conscience and provide the least advantaged of seniors with what they are entitled to, after it has used every means possible to deprive them of it.

I sat on the committee that examined the GIS question in 2001. We came to realize that 270,000 seniors among Canada's least advantaged—since those who are entitled to the supplement certainly do not have money in tax havens—have been deprived of the GIS, including 68,000 Quebeckers. The government is sitting on $3.2 billion that does not belong to it; this money belongs to seniors.

While I do not challenge the Speaker's ruling, I will never accept being told that a bill like this one cannot be voted on, on the pretext that it would deprive the government of money. That is wrong. The money in question is not the government's money but money owing to the most disadvantaged of seniors.

If you do the math, you will see that in Quebec alone since 1995 those who already have the least have been deprived of some $1 billion. Some people aged 72, 75 or 80 are having to live on $6,000 a year because they do not get the GIS, not having been properly informed about their entitlement to it. Disadvantaged seniors often live in conditions that keep them from getting the necessary information. They are not the ones responsible; the government is responsible for depriving these seniors of what they are entitled to by making the situation so complicated.

I find it totally immoral that an issue like this one can only be discussed, and not voted on. As I said at the beginning of my speech, no royal recommendation was required to deprive seniors of what they were owed.

I have toured Quebec with my colleagues from the Bloc. We have held 43 meetings across the province with seniors who were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement. The meeting in Sherbrooke comes to mind, as I was particularly struck. It was held in a church basement on a Monday afternoon, and so many people showed up that extra chairs had to be added. Three hundred and fifty people attended that meeting.

We learned that, among those present, perhaps 10 or 20 were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement. I met the daughter of an 88 year old woman who has since passed. This woman did not contribute much to society: only 10 or so children. That is already something. As Yvon Deschamps would say, she never really found time to work; she had too much to do at home. In her later years, she had to live on $6,000 a year and, after she passed, the government was left with $90,000 that belonged to her.

If a royal recommendation is required to go after that money, let us get it immediately. It makes no sense that more justice cannot be restored. It makes no sense that, while there is so much talk about all kinds of violence, we can be so violent here. No doubt about it, it was violence against this woman.

I can provide names of people this has happened to in Quebec. In my riding, there is a couple in their 70s, who thanked me because as a result of my efforts they now get $4,000 more a year. They each got $2,000 more. I asked them when this started. They told me they got only 11 months of retroactive payments. However, $4,000 a year for five years equals $20,000. The government therefore took $16,000 belonging to that couple. This is happening everywhere.

I went to Vancouver where I met with some of these people. The government brags about being good administrators. It is scandalous. They say they are good administrators, but they take money from those who are less fortunate. They can pay down the debt that way, but it is nothing to be proud of.

They say they are good administrators, but they take money from the unemployed. Again, that is nothing to be proud of. The members opposite who are bragging about achieving zero deficit on the backs of seniors, the unemployed, the sick and the provinces, certainly have no reason to claim to be good administrators. I would never admit such a thing.

My bill asks only one thing and that is to re-establish the most basic justices. Seniors are absolutely not responsible for being inadequately informed about what they are entitled to receive. Why not treat them the way we would want to be treated.

If we stop paying our taxes for five or six years, does that mean we owe the government only 11 months of back taxes? I doubt it. When we owe money to the government, it has the right to go into our wallets and take what it wants. It will even impose penalities and interest.

My bill simply asks the government to be honest. It has $3 billion that does not belong to it. There is a lack of honesty. I am sorry, but there is a lack—

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. I would remind the hon. member to address his comments through the Chair.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am told to obey the rules, but we should obey them too and give people what is owing to them but was stolen from them. That is how one obeys the rules. I will never accept being unable to say that this money is in the government coffers, $3.2 billion, of which $800 million is for Quebec. And this amount is constantly increasing. During my travels around Quebec, I learned that about 30,000 people had not received what was owing to them. There are still about 40,000 who are not receiving their due. As I meet them, I tell them that they are entitled to more. People call me every day in my office to check their files. And we see that they have not received what is owing to them.

Eleven months retroactivity here is unacceptable. It is unfair and dishonest. Regardless of the rules that I am supposed to obey, when something is dishonest, it is dishonest. It has to be possible in this House to speak the truth. In my view, the senior who died at 88 years of age had $90,000 stolen from her. Do not tell me that she was not robbed, because she was. Why did she not get what was owing to her? It was simply because things had been made complicated. The information was not getting through. She had to call in order to receive what was owing to her. But at the other end of the line was an answering machine. Sometimes people had to wait two hours on the telephone to get an answer. When people got the form to make their application, it was so complicated that I myself, who have spent my life filling out forms, was exhausted just looking at it. It was unbelievable. An expert was needed to fill it out. So just imagine what that means for older people who are often ill.

I knew someone who had had a stroke. He lived alone and could not figure all this out. So he just threw the form in the garbage. He said to himself: “If they do not want to give me the money, let them have it. I am fed up having to fight to get what is owing to me. At this time in my life, I should be able to get it.”

We should have a government that is honest enough to ensure that these people receive their due. I know that this bill requires royal assent. However, it pains me to learn that we will not be able to vote on so honest and logical a bill and say that the 11 months retroactivity makes no sense. If a senior realizes that he has been owed money for five years, why grant him only 11 months retroactivity? Yet if a citizen has owed money to the government for five years, the government is going to go after its five years of retroactivity.

I find it painful to think of these citizens. They are of inestimable value. Seniors have made sacrifices. They have built this society of ours. They have had to toil and struggle to earn their living. They have raised large families and worked up to 20 hours a day. That has been the lot of mothers. In fact, most of those who have been deprived of the guaranteed income supplement are our mothers. It is curious that the poorest of the seniors in our society are women, mothers. For example, there is one mother in Sherbrooke who raised her family. After providing society with eight or ten children, her reward was to be allowed to be poor in her old age, even though some of her money was in the government’s coffers.

When we see waste such as the sponsorship scandal, we can talk about it. Money flows like water here. We only need look at what is happening. Consider the past president of Canada Post, for example, and you will see that when some people retire, they don’t retire poor. That is the case in other fields as well. Money flows here as if it were nothing. But when it comes to giving it to the most vulnerable in our society, that is apparently too much to ask.

That requires money from the government. As a result, it will be difficult to get royal recommendation. Allow me at least to say that much. This is not to come down against your decision, but I find this painful.

I hope that one day we will be honest enough to reimburse the money we owe to the most vulnerable people in our society. These people have earned this money; they have not stolen it. So we will continue to fight until they obtain their due.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Before going to question and comment period, I would like to say a few words. The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain mentioned that he has been asked to obey the rules. I assume that he was not referring to my reminder to him to address the Chair and that he is not challenging the authority and decision of the Chair.

The parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Social Development has the floor.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you, first, for having reminded the member of the rules because no one on this side of the House is dishonest—neither in our department nor in the government. I do not think that the truth lies only on the other side of the House and not with all the members. We are here to respect this.

In addition, I would like to thank the Speaker for having agreed with the committee that raised this matter as well as with the government that raised the matter of the royal recommendation regarding bills. There are often bills in the House that do not comply with the rules.

I have a question and a comment. All the members who have dealt with this problem have gone and met with seniors in their ridings. I still meet with these seniors, just as I suppose all the members of the House do. I am the one who has raised this matter, and so far, I must say that it has not caused any problems.

I have checked with my Liberal colleagues. Thanks to all the efforts that this government and this department have made, we have now managed to contact 98% of the people. Maybe there are some people whom we have not managed to contact, but there are reasons for this. For example, the homeless. It is obviously impossible for us to contact them in the same way as we contacted seniors. But we have made great efforts—and I will have an opportunity to speak about this again during my address—working together with non-governmental organizations—

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

We show respect on both sides of the House.

Of course efforts have been made.

I would like to address my comments to the hon. member who introduced this bill. Much has been done, and I will speak about this in my address. If the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain knows any seniors who do not get the guaranteed income supplement, he can inform the minister. The minister has already said in this House that if someone knew of such people, he or she should let him know. We would then ensure of course that they receive what is due to them. I agree that it belongs to them.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Before giving the floor to the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, I would like to issue a caution. I would like to point out that since 1958—so this is nothing new, no invention of mine—certain expressions or certain words have been considered unparliamentary. Among such words, I note “dishonest”, “dishonest intent”, “theft” and “steal”.

I would therefore ask the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, who now has the floor, to be prudent in his use of certain words.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure you of my respect for the Chair. I have myself held such a position on committees in the Government of Quebec. I also liked to be respected. Therefore I have great respect for the decisions you make. However it is not the decision I am criticizing, but the fact.

Here in the House, certain words are banned, for example, saying that someone is lying. As we know, the French language revises its vocabulary from time to time. It might be a good idea to adjust it. Adjust it, for example, to reflect the fact that if there is one word that should not be banned, it is “lie”. However that may be, we do not have the right to call someone a liar. However, is the truth being spoken here, on certain occasions? Sometimes one might doubt it.

To respond to the question of the hon. member opposite, indeed, there are still people who are forgotten. Of course, there has been an improvement. In that regard I must pay tribute to Ms. Jane Stewart. My colleagues and I have gone on tours. I hope that others have done so as well, although I know that when I went to Vancouver, I was the first to speak about this. In short, in the wake of the work that we have done, Ms. Stewart has improved things immensely. For example, now a person answers the telephone. Furthermore, the application form has been simplified and its length reduced. On the other hand, in a letter, she told me that there is just one thing she could not change: retroactivity. But that is what has to be done. That money has to be returned to the people it belongs to.

I do not want to call anyone a thief. I know that is not permitted. But I have certain suspicions. When money that belongs to me turns up in my neighbour’s pocket and he keeps it, I suspect his intentions.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, it probably is 10%, and I realize the number is coming down, but it could be upward to 25% of those eligible for GIS and some of the other supplements?

How does the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain square the fact that the government may not allow us to vote on this considering that we need royal assent and considering that Bill C-66 leads us to believe the government is concerned about this group?

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is indeed correct. On the one hand, they say they are concerned about it. We have had an announcement of the upcoming speech. They are concerned about it, but it is rather curious. They will say these people will be given $2.7 billion by 2010. But these people have been deprived of $3.2 billion over the last 10 years. In the meantime, 15 years will have gone by. The people who have been denied this money will not receive it, because they will be gone. I am afraid they are banking on the disappearance of the clientele. One day, these people will be granted their rightful retroactivity, but perhaps someone is waiting for the clientele to decrease in numbers. I find that appalling.

I cannot but applaud the increase to the guaranteed income supplement and pensions. Of course I do. Over the last 10 years, these people's purchasing power has fallen by 10%. So we should start by giving their due to the people who have been denied their due.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, this bill by the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain would enable seniors eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement to receive it without applying for it, and would also abolish the current restrictions on retroactivity.

Before addressing the specifics of the bill's proposal, I would like to highlight how Social Development Canada is responding to the needs of seniors at all income levels and the tools and programs that the department offers them.

Seniors make up the fast growing population in Canadian society. We know that in the next 30 years, one in four Canadians will be a senior. Today's seniors are healthier, better educated, better off financially than seniors of previous generations and they are also enjoying longer lives.

Our government recognizes and has always recognized that we must prepare for the diverse and rapidly growing seniors population of the future. At the same time we are committed to addressing the needs of the four million seniors in Canada today and to ensure we respect and benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience.

We have a very practical model for attaining those objectives, one which defines the issues and immediately comes up with possible solutions. That model is the detailed report, “Creating A National Seniors Agenda”, tabled in 2004 by the Prime Minister's Task Force on Active Living and Dignity for Seniors, under the auspices of the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, Minister of State (Families and Caregivers).

Even before the Bloc Québécois's tour, a former colleague, Yolande Thibeault, struck a committee which undertook a cross-country tour precisely in order to determine the needs of seniors. This issue was raised and noted, and steps were taken as a result. As the hon. member has said, Ms. Thibeault's report enabled the former minister to introduce all the measures possible. Today, thanks to the report by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, improvements to the program continue to be made.

The report by the second group informed us that Canadians wanted policies, programs and services for seniors that met their needs more effectively.

So far our consultations and meetings with other governments and stakeholders have allowed us to define common challenges and possibilities for seniors, including financial security, health and well-being, social involvement and participation, housing and public safety.

Currently, the Government of Canada spends roughly $67 billion a year on programs for seniors. According to the estimates, seniors receive a substantial part of the allocated funds, or some $54.5 billion for 2005-06, as direct income support under the government pension programs administered by Social Development Canada.The other $17 billion is used for tax credits, health care, housing and support for veterans.

Our retirement income system is definitely a success. The current $52 billion in pension payments is only part of a broader system that includes tax assisted personal savings and private pensions. Canada's public pensions are on solid ground, thanks to the government, and are projected to remain that way in the future. That is why today we are in that position, because of the actions the government took 10 years ago.

We are proud of the fact that in less than 20 years the system has dramatically reduced the number of seniors who live in poverty. Whereas in 1980 over 20% of the senior population lived on low incomes, today that proportion is less than 7%. It is nothing to be proud of, by the way. We are working to make it 0%. That is our goal and our commitment to seniors.

We also know that older women are especially vulnerable to poverty. Many are not aware of what benefits they are entitled to. It could be a question of language or it could be a question, as I said, of homelessness. There are a number of factors. That is why we are spreading the word through Quebec's women's centres. This is an example of where we have not gone only to the government. We have actually gone on the ground.

With 55 locations in and around Montreal, the women's centres have a strong presence in the region and proven experience working with disadvantaged and abused women. With this promising partnership, Outreach teams in the regions have had the chance to meet about 400 women. We are now gaining a foothold in women's centres throughout the province.

Our goal is to help more women in Quebec help themselves. As an elected member from Quebec, I am pleased to see such success, including the success of all my colleagues on this side of the House who are taking this type of approach to provide information to people who are not familiar with the various government programs.

The government is also looking for ways to promote active living and social participation for seniors, which are essential to their well-being and that of our society.

That is why we included the New Horizons program in our 2005 budget; to encourage older Canadians to use their skills, knowledge and experience as volunteers, mentors and community leaders.

The measures we are taking to improve life for seniors today and to prepare for the next demographic shift shows our determination to help the most vulnerable in our society, especially low-income seniors.

Despite these wide-ranging programs, we know there are still Canadian seniors on low incomes who are vulnerable, particularly single seniors in urban areas and single senior women.

Our government recognizes the need for action to improve the situation for Canada's poorest seniors. By 2007, the guaranteed income supplement will be increased by $36 a month for single seniors and $58 for couples. This increase will benefit over 1.6 million seniors. We will do better because we do have that surplus. That is exactly what we said and exactly what we have done.

We also recognize the need to provide a federal focal point for the collaborative efforts behind the movement to address seniors' issues. In the February budget, we responded by creating the Seniors' Secretariat within Social Development Canada. The new secretariat's mandate will be to collaborate will all levels of government, stakeholders, experts and the public to provide a focal point for senior's issues.

I can proudly say that our public pension system is working.

Therefore, I cannot support Bill C-301, even if it will not be put to a vote. I completely agree with the government's position that this bill, if passed, would unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially. There is nothing dishonest about that. No one stole any money. Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse.

In addition, we would not have enough information to determine entitlement for seniors who, for instance, do no file tax returns. This would also substantially increase the risk of errors within the system.

According to the Public Affairs Branch at Social Development Canada, individuals who do not file income tax returns include seniors from vulnerable communities, such as the homeless, aboriginal people, seniors living in remote areas and seniors who speak neither English nor French.

As parliamentary secretary, I can assure the House and all colleagues that Social Development Canada has outreach activities in all regions of the country to increase seniors' awareness of, confidence in and take up of Canada's retirement income system.

We are reaching out indirectly to vulnerable communities through our aboriginal governments, cultural communities and homelessness advocates to notify non-tax filers and other potential recipients who are missing out on their GIS entitlement.

Activities in the regions include such things as information booths, mailings, newspaper articles and presentations. As I said earlier, I and other MPs have gone out and done their own outreach. To date, 350,000 letters and personalized application forms have gone to seniors across the country identified for CRA income tax information. This campaign complements the initiative taken in 1999 to automatically renew approximately 1.3 million GIS recipients whose tax returns confirm continued entitlement automatically.

Through our efforts, we now have approximately 200,000 new recipients of the guaranteed income supplement and spousal allowance. In Quebec, more than 75,000 letters and personalized application forms were sent to seniors, informing them that the guaranteed income supplement was available. As a result, the number of recipients has grown by another 50,000.

We have made and will continue to make every effort. Our government, on this side of the House, wants to reach everyone who is entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.

All the efforts by Social Development Canada will continue. Our entire support program will also continue. If the hon. members across the way know of any seniors, this government is committed to reaching out to them and ensuring that they at least have access to what they are entitled to.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-301, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act in regard to the monthly guaranteed income supplement. This bill would amend the Old Age Security Act to allow eligible pensioners to receive a monthly guaranteed income supplement without having to make application. It also would repeal the restrictions respecting retroactivity.

I applaud the intent of Bill C-301. Although there are a few technical details that need to be reviewed, I am quite prepared to support this legislation in principle and I look forward to seeing it discussed in committee.

Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure that eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is, quite simply, an issue of fairness. All too often we see the Liberal government doing whatever it can to squeeze every last dime out of Canadian taxpayers regardless of their ability to pay.

The freeze on income trusts and the resulting uncertainty for investors, especially seniors, is a perfect example. This government's problem with existing income trusts is that investors get to keep more of their own money, a unique concept that is foreign to this government. Many of these investors are seniors who rely on income trusts for financial security in their retirement years.

A recent letter to the Minister of Finance from CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, stated that Canadian “seniors are actually enraged, frightened and panicked” in relation to this government's indecisiveness on income trusts. They are not supportive, as the minister would suggest, showing once again that this government really does not understand and is out of touch with the Canadian public.

One senior writes to the government that:

Retirees are beyond the saving stage in their lives and spend almost all of their income. This benefits the Canadian economy. Your actions are happening at a time when retirees are facing some very major increases such as energy costs. This is a time for government to be compassionate and fair with retirees who have helped to make Canada the great country that it is.

Another senior writes:

Many seniors have been hurt by the uncertainty caused by the government's insensitive handling of the income trust situation.

Yet another senior is on record as saying:

The government has taken the solid platform from under our feet and replaced it with an open shaft.

Canadian seniors are continually facing the effects of a shrinking dollar: increasing energy costs that directly affect the ability of seniors to heat their homes and put gasoline in their cars; property taxes that continue to escalate, making it difficult for them to stay in their own homes; and indeed, the rising costs related to the basic necessities of life such as food. All of these continue to make it difficult for seniors to survive.

Not only is this government not providing seniors with the financial assistance they really need, the government is actually penalizing many seniors through a system that all too often utilizes clawbacks.

If the government deems it appropriate to cast a cloud of apprehension onto seniors when it reviews income trusts and to make it almost impossible for most seniors who really need financial assistance to obtain it, then it would be quite hypocritical for Liberal MPs to shut down further study in ensuring that GIS payments reaches their intended recipients.

Even if there are existing questions about implementation of costs, Canadian seniors deserve to see this bill pass second reading and go forward for further study. Indeed, if the government truly believes that Bill C-66 can be effective in helping those most in need of assistance with high energy costs, I do not see how the Liberals can vote against ensuring that seniors receive their due.

We all know that Bill C-66 sets out a specific eligibility criterion for seniors to receive the proposed energy rebate payment. Single seniors must be receiving the GIS in order to get their $125 in assistance. Of course, the Liberal government's generous offer of assistance with high energy costs becomes nothing more than a hollow promise when in fact hundreds of thousands of seniors miss out because they fail to fill out a form.

Again, while this government never misses an opportunity to collect money from Canadians, it just is not as enthusiastic about ensuring that Canadians get to keep what is rightfully theirs. This bill is an opportunity to make some amends.

However, I find it ironic that the particular assistance for those pensioners in need, those whom we are talking about today, is called a “guaranteed income supplement”. The National Advisory Council on Aging recently released a report entitled “Seniors on the Margins, Aging in Poverty in Canada”. In this report, the council states that there are more than 50,000 seniors who are eligible for the old age security pension but have not applied and more than 300,000 seniors who are eligible for the supplement but are not receiving it.

In 2001 a Toronto food bank raised the alarm when people aged 60 and over accounted for 10% of its users and only a minority of these individuals knew about and were receiving GIS and allowance benefits. They were living under very difficult circumstances. Once the rent was paid, the median amount remaining per week for all other expenses was a mere $34.65, yet the estimated average cost of food for one week in Toronto is over $40.

Forty per cent of those individuals were having difficulty paying for their medication every month and 27% were not taking their medication for lack of money.

That same year, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities issued a report to this House which concluded that there were more than 380,000 Canadian seniors who were eligible for this supplement but were not receiving it.

Incidentally, the title of the report was “The Guaranteed Income Supplement: The Duty to Reach All”. That was four years ago. I think I am being more than reasonable in suggesting that it is time for the government to start taking some action. Otherwise, the guaranteed income supplement is not really much of a guarantee, is it?

Eligible seniors must apply every single year to receive the supplement and we know there are many reasons why this application is not filled out. These reasons include not understanding the eligibility requirements or tax returns and educational pamphlets due to language barriers, functional illiteracy and failing eyesight or, quite simply, because of a lack of awareness that the GIS must be applied for on an annual basis.

The one common factor is that these seniors have very little money during their retirement years and are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Instead of enjoying their retirement in dignity and comfort, too many Canadian seniors are struggling for the basic necessities of life.

We have a duty to help—not neglect—the seniors who helped build this country. By ignoring the eligible seniors who are losing out on the financial assistance they have been guaranteed, we are also stripping away other rights and privileges they deserve. Many provinces have programs such as prescription drug plans, other income supplements, heating oil subsidies and home care assistance programs that are available only for those individuals receiving GIS. When an eligible Canadian senior does not receive his or her guaranteed income supplement, for whatever reason, he or she also loses out on other services that are essential to their quality of life.

Allowing eligible pensioners to receive their monthly GIS without having to make a yearly application is a measure that I support, not only out of compassion but also because it is simply the right thing to do for those in need. Bill C-301 would enable automatic processing of the guaranteed income supplement based on information from the Ministry of National Revenue, and let us face it, if we owe any money to the tax department, we know that they make sure they let us know in a big hurry.

I believe further attention must be paid to details to ensure that the GIS does in fact reach everyone to whom it is applicable. The retroactivity aspect of this bill also requires more research and definition. Who qualifies for retroactive payments? How far back should it apply? How will it be implemented? What, if any, restrictions will be in place? These are all important questions that deserve detailed scrutiny. I would very much like to see this bill go to committee so that it can be carefully examined and given the details it needs.

Giving the ministry authority to automatically provide GIS to those who deserve it does not necessarily provide the ministry with the capability to do the same. I am certain that this legislation can be reinforced and strengthened for the benefit of our seniors.

The need is unquestionable. As the Conservative critic for seniors' issues, I have consulted with seniors across Canada and I can say that unarguably there is a broad consensus from coast to coast to coast that seniors need to automatically receive any and all benefits as they become eligible.

Here are a few of the facts. OAS and CPP are the main sources of income for over two-thirds of seniors, and on average, 29% of the total income for seniors is derived from private employers' pensions and RRSPs, 27% from OAS, including GIS, and 20% from CPP and QPP. CPP benefits replace approximately 25% of income earned, for which a worker contributed to CPP and QPP, and 35% of seniors receive GIS.

As we can readily see, many seniors count on every dollar just to survive. Let us not deny seniors their rights. If the Liberals are truly concerned, as they have led us to believe, then let them as the government give us a royal recommendation and give us an opportunity to vote on Bill C-301. Let us put this to the House for a free vote. If the government truly cares about seniors, it will give seniors not lip service but action.

I ask that we as their elected representatives do what is right and necessary to ensure that those individuals who helped build our nation receive what is rightfully theirs.