House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

The House resumed from October 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-362 today.

Canada's public pension system is generally regarded as one of the best in the world and is recognized internationally for the quality and generosity of the financial assistance available to Canadian seniors. This is something that the government takes great pride in. Canadians believe in sharing the benefits of our economic prosperity with our fellow citizens and this government shares that belief. The government recognizes the important role seniors have played and continue to play in strengthening our communities and the hard work they have done to make our country the greatest in the world.

This is why this government has, first of all, delivered more than $1 billion in tax relief to Canadian seniors and pensioners. Second, it is why we passed Bill C-36, so that seniors apply only once and do not have to reapply year after year to receive the GIS. This change is helping more than 1.5 million low income Canadian seniors every year. Third, it is why we have put in place a $1,000 increase in the age credit amount, which will provide significant tax relief to low income and modest income seniors.

This government's record speaks for itself. It is one that I would put up against the Liberal record any day.

As members of this House, we have a responsibility to maintain the quality and integrity of our country's public pension program. It is up to us to make sure the laws that govern our social programs are the right ones. That means making sure the legislation we pass in this House is prudent and that it will maintain the integrity and long term sustainability of our social programs.

The opposition has been reticent to consider the long term ramifications of many of their private members' bills during this Parliament. The opposition has not been forthcoming on the true costs of this bill and what these proposals would mean for the long term viability of the OAS program.

We have estimates that put the cost of this bill at more than $700 million per year, a cost that will rise dramatically with the changing demographics facing the Canadian population in the next 20 years.

It is the goal of this government to preserve this program for future generations, including the children and grandchildren of new Canadians.

As we have seen, bills being brought forward by members of the opposition are lacking in due diligence. Many provincial social assistance programs are tied to the OAS, yet the opposition has not spoken with any provincial governments.

This government believes in consulting with the provinces, not imposing things upon them, especially when the proposed changes will cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars per year.

Clearly the bill was proposed in the spirit of trying to win votes rather than sincerely helping the seniors of Canada. It is also surprising to hear my colleagues from across the aisle stand up today and pretend to be the protectors of seniors and new Canadians when their record speaks otherwise.

The hon. member for Brampton West said during debate at a previous stage of the bill that “to demand a residency requirement any longer than three years is unreasonable”.

It was not unreasonable when she and her party had consecutive majority governments to deal with this issue and did nothing. It was not unreasonable when her government fought and won two separate cases in court on this issue. It was not unreasonable when the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that fact.

It appears it was unreasonable only when we were elected to government and the hon. members across the way no longer had to concern themselves with the consequences of their proposed changes. The members across the way continue to say today that the current OAS program discriminates against immigrants, but when the Liberal Party was in power it fought against this in two high profile cases which proposed the very changes outlined in the bill.

I am referring to Pawar v. Canada in the Federal Court of Canada in 1999 and Shergill v. Canada in the Federal Court of Appeal in 2003. In both cases, the Liberals believed that the residence requirement to qualify for OAS did not discriminate against the applicants on the basis of national or ethnic origin. The Liberals felt that the current OAS program was fair then, and it continues to be fair today.

This hasty turnaround now that the Liberals are in opposition should cause a severe case of party-wide whiplash. We have even more instances of Liberal hypocrisy on this issue. When the issue was raised in the House during the last Parliament, it was the Liberals who voted against Bloc amendments that would rectify this so-called historical injustice that my colleague bemoans today.

That is the Liberal record. As much as the hon. member for Brampton West would like to run away from it, she simply cannot move that fast.

The opposition has been creating a lot of white noise on this issue by pretending that theirs is the party that stands up for the interests of new Canadians. As we have seen time and again, their record contradicts the Liberals' rhetoric.

For 13 years the Liberals froze settlement funding and saw the success rates of new Canadians drop to alarming levels. It was our government that within months of being elected increased settlement funds to new Canadians by $307 million. These funds will help immigrants, both old and young, adjust to a new home, learn a new language and get the help they need.

It is this government that moved on the issue of foreign credentials recognition, an issue the Liberals managed to hide under a barrel for 13 years.

The Liberals have opposed these advances for new Canadians at every turn, but they cannot have it both ways. They cannot sit on their hands for 13 years and then claim to be the ones standing up for immigrant communities. They cannot oppose the changes to the bill when in government and then support them in opposition, but this is just what they have done.

It is hypocrisy in the raw and new Canadians can see through this ruse.

In order to be eligible to receive any OAS benefits, applicants must meet the specific residency requirements, a minimum of 10 years of residence. It has nothing to do with citizenship or immigration status. All that is needed is residency. It is really quite simple. The Liberal Party recognized that when it was in government, but it appears to have forgotten this now.

However, none of this is to say that the government should not be open to making changes to seniors' benefits. In fact, the government is open to change and has already acted to get results for seniors and new Canadians alike.

The government supports change when change is needed, but Bill C-362 simply does not fly. I believe the existing OAS legislation represents a fair balance between providing a taxpayer-financed pension to our seniors and recognizing their past contribution as residents of Canadian society.

It would appear that my Liberal colleagues believe it, too, which is why they did not address this during their 13 years in power. I challenge them to stop using new Canadians as pawns in their political chess game and vote against this bill.

Speaker's Ruling
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

November 26th, 2007 / 11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform concerning the need for a royal recommendation for Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement), standing in the name of the hon. member for Brampton West.

On October 18, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader and Minister for Democratic Reform drew attention to the fact that Bill C-362 would increase old age pension security and guaranteed income supplement benefits by lowering the threshold for residency requirement from the current 10 years to three years, thus resulting in significant new expenditures for the government.

The hon. parliamentary secretary argued that precedents clearly establish that bills which create new expenditures for benefits by modifying eligibility criteria or changing the terms of a program require a royal recommendation.

In support of this view, he cited rulings on Bills C-265, C-278, C-284 and C-269 from the previous session.

I would like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader and Minister for Democratic Reform for having raised this issue.

The Chair has examined Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement), to determine whether its provisions would require a royal recommendation and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question at third reading.

As has been pointed out, Bill C-362 amends the Old Age Security Act to reduce from 10 years to three years the residency requirement for entitlements to a monthly pension.

The parallel made by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader and Minister for Democratic Reform between Bills C-362 and Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), is a pertinent one.

Although Bill C-269 contains several elements that involve new expenditures, one particular element sought, much like the provisions of Bill C-362, to reduce the qualifying period for benefits.

As the Chair pointed out on November 6, 2006, in a ruling on Bill C-269, “...all of these elements [contained in the bill] would indeed require expenditures from the EI Account which are not currently authorized”.

It went on to say, “Such increased spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation”.

By reducing from 10 years to three years the residency requirement for entitlements to a monthly pension under the old age security act, Bill C-362 would reduce the requirements currently authorized for payment of benefits. In doing so, the bill would authorize an inevitable increase in the amount of expenditure of public funds and therefore requires a royal recommendation.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received; however, the debate is currently on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Laval.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, everyone knows how much pleasure it always gives me to speak in support of our seniors. I was responsible for these issues for a while. My colleague from Repentigny is now doing a fine job dealing with them.

I believe that the bill before us is perfectly suited to the new realities we are facing in both Quebec and Canada. Many seniors have come to Canada to live with their children since the legislation was amended to allow family reunification. In amending the legislation, it must have been obvious that allowing family reunification also entailed other responsibilities. When a decision is made to allow seniors to come and live with their children, efforts have to be made to ensure that these seniors will be treated well and will have everything they need.

Unfortunately, the society in Quebec and Canada is going through some tough times in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. Numerous people are losing their jobs and many of them are immigrants. And as immigrants, they also...

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine on a point of order.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like you to recognize that my colleague's speech is extremely important, like all the speeches given here. I would therefore like you to call to order some of our colleagues, who engage in loud discussions when someone is speaking near them. This makes no sense. They have no discipline or no respect or both.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for his comment. I am certain that all the members of the House will listen attentively to the speech by the hon. member for Laval, just as I am doing.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, you usually listen carefully when we speak. That is why we appreciate that you are here when we have a speech to make. However, my colleague was quite right, and I hope the member who spoke previously and whom we listened to respectfully will also go behind the curtains. No, here he comes back again. He did not think it was important enough. I hoped that our Conservative colleague would get the message, but it would seem that some people are having a hard time understanding it.

I was saying that because of the financial difficulties people are experiencing, it is sometimes very difficult to discharge the responsibilities we thought we could discharge when we accepted them. I will give an example of a woman in my constituency, whom I will not name out of respect for her, because her situation is humiliating. Her son, who had a good job and was able to provide for her, brought her here a few years ago. When she arrived, she spoke neither English nor French, but the language of her country. She stayed home and looked after her son and daughter-in-law's children while they grew. As our Conservative colleagues are well aware, it is sometimes important to have a parent in the home to take care of the children. These people had chosen to have their mother in the home to care for their children, and they looked after her very well.

By the way, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you very much for taking action. I appreciate it.

As I was saying, the couple brought her here and were able to look after her quite adequately. Unfortunately, a few years ago, the company the man had been working for closed its doors, and that is when the horror story began. Since the employment insurance system was changed, it has become harder for people to get benefits. Moreover, even when a person aged 55 or older can collect benefits, they cannot do so for long. It is hard for older people to find new jobs because by the time they are 55, they may find it harder to adapt to new things.

So having lost his job, this person found himself in a very precarious situation. When the employment insurance benefits ran out, he had to ask for social assistance. His spouse did work a few days a week, but she did not make enough to support the family, which is why her husband was entitled to social assistance to support the family. Since he was having such a hard time supporting his family, his mother ended up being one mouth too many to feed.

If a person has three or four children plus an aging parent who is beginning to have health problems, it can get harder and harder to help that parent.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Brampton West is fair and well thought out. It takes into account people who come here to live. It is the exact opposite of what my other colleague was saying earlier about how immigrants must not be given false hope. On the contrary, we should give them every reason to hope. We should make sure that our society can meet their needs. These people are not always utterly delighted to be here. They are happy to be together with their family members, but they have left behind their history, their country, their culture, and nearly all that they have known their whole lives. Often, they feel very isolated. Clearly, things are difficult enough for them.

A few years ago, a group of women invited me, a Liberal colleague and their NDP MP to attend a seminar in Toronto. The most significant problem facing these older women was the policy whereby they were not entitled to receive any support until they had been here for 10 years—they had to be sponsored for 10 years. This makes no sense.

Of course this costs money. As my colleague said, this can cost up to $700 million, but there are surpluses of $14 billion to $16 billion. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a $13 billion surplus. The government is sending money to so-called underdeveloped countries, but often these people come from underdeveloped countries. It is okay to help them at home, but not here? What type of society is this becoming? We should start by helping those who come here to stay, those who want to contribute to building a different and better society. If we cannot help them here, how can we brag about helping them elsewhere? That is not right. Something is wrong in our way of thinking.

This way of thinking in our Conservative colleagues disappoints me a great deal. When there are no profits to be made and it is a matter of giving people dignity and respect, the Conservatives do not give this any thought. However, when it comes to reducing taxes and giving money to oil companies or big business—that already have lots of money—they do not hesitate.

Instead of doing that, why not focus on ensuring that all citizens of Quebec and Canada can live decently until the end of their days? That is what I want to know. Quite honestly, I have a hard time understanding how such a wealthy country can be so reluctant to take care of these older people, these people who choose to come here with their family. I do not know how such a wealthy country can be so reluctant to allow them to live in dignity and respect until they die. I do not understand that.

As far as we are concerned, we will definitely vote in favour of this bill. We hope our colleagues in the other parties will do the same. It is very important to take care of all seniors, but especially the least fortunate. Those we are talking about here are the least fortunate seniors.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to participate in the debate on Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement). I want to be clear that I will be supporting the bill.

It has often been said that in politics, all politics are local. While much of what we do in the House is of national importance, most of us elected to this chamber take our responsibilities seriously to give voice to the concerns expressed to us in our ridings.

That is the yardstick against which I measure my parliamentary work. I simply ask myself if I am saying in Parliament what those who sent me here as their representative would like to say themselves if they had this privileged opportunity. Therefore, every time I participate in the deliberations of the House, I reflect on what is happening back at home.

In a discussion on old age security, like the one that is before us today, I begin by noting that in Hamilton the percentage of seniors living in poverty is 24%. That is one in four seniors. It increases to 36% for women over the age of 75. Shocking as those statistics are, the risk of living in poverty is even greater for recent immigrants.

What does that tell us? In broadest terms, it says clearly that seniors do not have the income security that they need to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve.

At the very lowest end of the income scale are those seniors who live on nothing more than the OAS and GIS and, shamefully, those income supports do not suffice to lift them above the poverty line. That is a disgrace in a country that posted a budget surplus of $40 billion in the last year alone.

Instead of giving more tax cuts to the oil and gas industry, the Conservative government should have spent that money on lifting seniors out of poverty, the very seniors who built the country whose coffers are now overflowing.

Under those financial circumstances, I cannot wait to hear the government's excuse for not supporting the bill that is before us today, a bill that addresses the needs of seniors who are not even receiving the basic income support of the OAS. It is those seniors who are at the centre of the legislation that is before the House today.

When one of the NDP forefathers, Stanley Knowles, began the fight for public pensions in this very chamber, he was motivated by a sense of social justice. He was motivated by a genuine concern for the needs and welfare of Canadian citizens.

When the Old Age Security Act was finally adopted in Parliament in 1951, it reflected that motivation in the very way it was set up. It was established as a universal benefit funded out of general tax revenue. Indeed, it is the OAS's universality that gives expression to its social justice roots. When that universality is compromised, it is incumbent upon us to right that wrong. That is what the motion tabled in the House by my colleague from Surrey North is proposing and that is essentially what Bill C-362 purports to do.

When the Liberal government brought forward the Old Age Security Act, it excluded persons from receiving the benefit if they had not lived in Canada for 10 years. Although the OAS was intended to be the cornerstone of Canada's retirement income system, it forced a large number of Canadian citizens to go entirely without benefits for many years.

Contrary to its roots of ensuring universality, the residency requirement actually ended up creating two different classes of Canadian citizens: those who qualify at age 65 and those who do not because they have not lived in Canada for the requisite 10 years.

I fundamentally believe that citizenship must entail the same rights and responsibilities for all Canadians and any act that does otherwise offends that sense of social justice.

The Liberals, of course, had many opportunities to fix that problem while they were in government between 1951 and the present day. It saddens me that they failed to seize those opportunities, especially since they are now so eager to scold the Conservatives for their inaction. I am certain that the double standard will not escape the many Canadians who are watching these deliberations on television.

It makes me wonder why the Liberals did not vote with me in committee to support a Bloc motion on Bill C-36 that would have solved this problem once and for all. In fact, it would have gone even further. It would have lifted the restriction on new citizens' access to the OAS on the basis of the sponsor's obligations under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Between the votes of the Bloc, the Liberals and the NDP, we would have been able to out-vote the government and fix Bill C-36 right then and there. However, the Liberals chose not to vote with us and, as a result, while Bill C-36 has long since passed into law, tens of thousands of Canadians are still not receiving the OAS.

That is a curious position for a party whose leader was recently in Hamilton and said that poverty was his priority. I would suggest that actions speak louder than words.

Organizations that work very closely with immigrant populations have been watching our work here closely. The Seniors Network BC, the Seniors Summit, Women Elders in Action, the Alternative Planning Group, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network representing the African Canadian Social Development Council, the Chinese Canadian National Council, the Hispanic Development Council and the Council of Agencies Servicing South Asians have all been advocating for changes to the residency requirement for a very long time. They no longer want to see immigrant seniors condemned to a life poverty. They want to move beyond the patchwork quilt of policies that was the legacy of the Liberal government.

As members of the House will know, some seniors who are newcomers can qualify for old age security even if they have not met the 10-year residency requirement. That is because the Government of Canada has signed reciprocal social security agreements with about 50 countries that make the benefits portable between Canada and that other country. They normally exist because both countries provide social security plans with similar benefits.

The reason for not having secured a reciprocal agreement is because the other country is unwilling or unable to provide comparable social security. This would include some of the most impoverished nations in the world and our government is, therefore, targeting the very people who may need the OAS the most.

If we want to be serious about ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve, then we must take every opportunity to walk the talk. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-362. I hope that then collectively we will turn our minds to look once again at the larger picture. We must remember that in Canada today we still have two million seniors living in poverty.

The Liberals and Conservatives supported my seniors charter, which I had the privilege of tabling in the House on behalf of the NDP caucus last year. One of the expressed rights in that charter is the right to income security for all seniors. Just as workers deserve a living wage, so seniors must be lifted out of poverty.

We need to take a holistic approach to this issue, which is why I tabled a motion in the House to undertake a comprehensive review of senior's income security. I would remind members of what that motion says. For those members who are eager to look it up, it is Motion No. 136. It reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should guarantee to all seniors a stable and secure income by: (a) linking the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Program to standard of living levels; (b) looking forward ten years to determine the adequacy of income support programs; (c) performing reviews of all income support planning for seniors; and (d) reporting all the above annually to Parliament.

We know that a major demographic shift is just around the corner. In fact, Statistics Canada suggests that between 2006 and 2026 the number of seniors is projected to increase from 4.3 million to 8 million. Their share of the population is expected to increase from 13.2% to 21.1%. A shift of that magnitude requires planning, and both the seniors of today and the seniors of tomorrow are looking to us to take leadership.

As my motion suggests, we need to begin that planning now. If we want to continue to espouse the sense of social justice that Stanley Knowles brought to this House when he worked to ensure that no senior should live in poverty, then we need to recommit ourselves to his vision starting today.

Yes, Bill C-362 is one piece of that puzzle, and I am proud to support it with my vote, but there is so much more yet left to be done. I want to encourage all members of the House to put partisanship aside and work together to ensure that promising a senior the right to retirement with dignity and respect is more than just empty rhetoric.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Brampton West for her dedicated work on the question of a 10-year residency requirement for old age security benefits for new citizens of Canada. I know she spoken up on this topic on many occasions over the years and I am happy to speak on behalf of her private member's bill today.

Bill C-362 would amend the current Old Age Security Act so that at age 65, one is able to receive a monthly pension after being a resident of Canada for three years after the age of 18, instead of the current residency requirement of 10 years after age 18, to be eligible to receive these benefits.

Unless one has lived in Canada for periods that total at least 40 years following the age of 18, he or she is not entitled to full old age security pension but rather a partial pension. This requirement was introduced in 1977.

Partial pensions are earned at the rate of one-fortieth of the full monthly pension for each year lived in Canada after the age of 18. However, it is important to note that once a partial pension has been awarded, it cannot be increased as a result of added years of residence in Canada.

Currently, as is the case in my riding of Etobicoke North, a constituency where there is a large immigrant population, elderly new Canadians who have worked all their lives are not able to receive these benefits. With Bill C-362, this issue can now be studied and debated in Parliament.

Old age security is a monthly retirement benefit paid to the majority of Canadians aged 65 and over. This program, funded by federal government tax revenues, can cause difficulties for immigrants, which was the impetus for this private member's bill, Bill C-362. Immigrant seniors must currently wait years before receiving benefits.

These new residents have left their native countries and have journeyed to Canada in order to settle and to reunite with their families. Some are also working and paying taxes. Their livelihoods presently depend solely upon their families and communities. For many, the lack of funding means the elderly must live without some basic necessities in order to survive. Frankly, the quality of life for these residents is diminished.

I have heard the argument that these elderly immigrants should not receive these benefits until the 10 year residency requirement has elapsed because they are not contributing to the economy. I do not think, however, that this is the case. These individuals typically arrive in Canada with their life savings and thereby are directly inserting these financial resources into the Canadian economy.

In addition, it is typical for these immigrants to immigrate to Canada for the purpose of assisting their family members who have previously immigrated. For example, this might include grandparents assisting with the in home day care of their grandchildren, thus allowing more opportunities for both parents in a household to join the workforce, thereby boosting the labour market.

Since Canada does not have reciprocal agreements on income security with countries such as India, which does not currently have broad public pension coverage, a number of Indo-Canadians are not eligible for old age security benefits for a period of 10 years, since the majority of them have little or no work experience in Canada.

According to statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in 2005, permanent residents originally from Asia and the Pacific Rim accounted for 57.2% of people aged 45 to 64, and 52.7% of people aged 65 and over.

For example, with regard to India, until 1995 India had what is called a provident fund, which only covered people working in establishments that consisted of 20 or more employees. Employers or employees or both would make contributions to this obligatory savings mechanism. Then, whenever someone reached retirement age, became disabled or died, the fund would make a lump sum payment equal to the person's contributions plus any investment earnings derived from these contributions.

The fund, as it differs from a pension plan, did not pay any ongoing periodic benefit. In 1995 India partially converted its employees' provident fund into the employees' pension scheme, which is a defined benefit program paying pensions to contributors when they retire, become disabled, or die.

Of India's 450 million person workforce, as of 2005 only 7% to 8% are covered by the employees' provident fund and the employees' pension scheme. Because India's pension scheme only came into service in 1995 and because of its mediocre coverage of the workforce population, Canada and India have determined that a reciprocal social security agreement is not possible at this time.

For countries that have reciprocal agreements with Canada, these arrangements allow for periods of coverage to be added together to enable each respective country to compensate residents with benefits in accordance with its own legislation. It should be noted that when Canadian citizens who live and work outside Canada in a country without a reciprocal agreement decide to return to Canada, they are subject to the same 10 year residency requirement.

The purpose of residency requirements for the old age security program is simply to verify a person's commitment to Canada. However, immigrants have to live in the country only three years to be eligible for citizenship.

If a person is considered sufficiently committed to Canada to be granted citizenship after three years, why does it seem too unreasonable to use that same period of three years to determine whether a person is eligible for old age security benefits?

The Old Age Security Act made its debut in 1952. However, it has been amended many times over the last 55 years. The most important changes include: the reduction in the age of eligibility from 70 to 65 years; the establishment of the guaranteed income supplement; the payment of partial payments based on years of residence in Canada; and the ability for an individual to request that his or her benefits be cancelled. In addition, the minimum residence requirement was initially set at 20 years in 1952 before being reduced to 10 years in the 1960s.

Since this matter has been brought to my attention, I have worked with and consulted with various community groups within my riding to engage in a dialogue on this important issue. These groups include the South Asian Seniors of Rexdale, the Canadian Council of South Asian Seniors, Humber Community Seniors' Services, as well as many others. These organizations are very concerned that the elderly are being denied much needed benefits as they continue their lives in Canada.

I have listened to my constituents' concerns and investigated the possibility of a reciprocal social security agreement with India. Whether or not this treatment of seniors with less than 10 years' residency in Canada constitutes a breach of their rights under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms is another avenue of investigation that I have pursued.

My research findings and investigative work on this topic have been communicated to my constituents, as well as to past ministers of human resources development, citizenship and immigration, finance, and social development. I have also dialogued with the former prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, on this issue.

I now ask this new government and the members in this House to examine this issue carefully. Bill C-362 is an excellent tool for doing so.

In closing, this is a very important issue for many of the constituents in my riding, many of whom come from South Asia. I congratulate my colleague for bringing this bill to the House of Commons. It is hoped that the bill will pass at second reading and be sent to committee for further study so that Canadians can be heard on this issue.

I am going to be supporting this bill at second reading so that, as parliamentarians, we can review this policy question and consult with Canadians broadly. Because this issue has evoked strong concern and interest from my constituents, I believe it is imperative that we evaluate and discuss the current policy at the committee level.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, in case I do not have a chance to speak later on today, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Saskatchewan Roughrider organization and loyal Rider fans everywhere on being successful yesterday in winning the 95th Grey Cup. My wife and my family took to the streets. The Batters family certainly celebrated late into the evening and the Lesiuk family did the same. They joined throngs of people on Albert Street in Regina in celebrating a great win yesterday.

I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-362 and address the proposals put forward in this bill to amend the Old Age Security Act. I appreciate the hon. member's intentions in proposing a reduction in the residence requirement from 10 years down to three to receive OAS. However, there are several reasons why this is not a sound course of action.

First, let us look at the issues of fairness and equality. Length of residence in Canada has been this program's central eligibility requirement since its inception in 1952. The purpose of the 10 year requirement then, as now, is meant to be a measure of partial income security in recognition of a person's attachment and contribution to Canadian society, our economy and our communities.

It is a perfectly reasonable expectation that people live in this country for a minimum period of time before being granted the right to a lifelong public benefit, since this public benefit is paid entirely from general tax revenue and does not require any direct contribution from its recipients.

The Old Age Security Act has withstood the test of time, even over the course of several Liberal governments. Why do the members opposite pretend to care so much about this issue now? In fact, the sponsor of the bill has even admitted that the previous Liberal government fought seniors groups in court until they ran out of money because the Liberal government believed so strongly in the current program.

The current Old Age Security Act does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens as the sponsor would have us believe. It is based solely on length of residence and not, as some critics have suggested, on citizenship. In fact, the residence requirement makes no distinction between immigrants who have just arrived in Canada and other Canadians who are returning to Canada after being away. In both cases, applicants must meet the same 10 year requirement.

In my mind, the present system of requiring 10 years of residence is the most fair and equitable criterion for receiving OAS. I am certainly not alone in this belief. Twice, the previous Liberal government defended this issue of fairness in court. Twice, the previous Liberal government's view was upheld when the courts found that the current requirements do not discriminate against applicants on the grounds of national or ethnic origin and do not conflict with the charter.

The old age security system is fair and sound. It provides more than four million seniors in Canada with a retirement income. Its benefits are universally allotted. Yet, it is only one program in Canada's social safety net. There are built-in safeguards for those who do not qualify for OAS through many federal and provincial assistance programs.

Within the public pension system itself, many low income seniors also receive the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, designated to help Canada's poorest seniors. Here, too, citizenship is not a requirement, only a minimum 10 years' residency and an income below a specific threshold.

Under the current system, every senior has the potential to receive OAS and GIS. This is true even if they arrive in Canada at the age of 60 and never work. By the age of 70, they can begin receiving benefits.

Right now, we have a sustainable and robust pension system. Obviously it is in the interest of all Canadians to ensure that our pension system remains healthy. We know that the requirement for pensions will only grow as our senior population continues to expand. In fact, 25 years from now, nearly one-quarter of Canada's population will be 65 years of age or older. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the polices that we enact today protect our pension plans in the future.

The Liberals believed these same things a few years ago, but now they appear to have changed their minds. Relaxing the OAS eligibility requirements from 10 to 3 years would have significant fiscal implications for Canada. It is estimated that the consequent costs would be more than $700 million annually in combined OAS and GIS benefits, with approximately $600 million of this amount due to an increase in GIS payments. We cannot in good conscience place this financial strain on our pension system.

As well as our domestic concerns, we must almost consider the effect Bill C-362 would have on the international agreements we now have in place and for those we will be negotiating in the coming years. Fifty countries have established agreements with Canada based on the current 10 year residency requirement. Lowering this requirement by seven years could create a disincentive for other countries considering reciprocal agreements with Canada.

Clearly, there are sound reasons for maintaining the current OAS system. It is fair and equitable. It recognizes the contributions seniors have made to our country. OAS pension benefits are based on residence rather than citizenship or national origin. Also, the OAS program is financially sound. Under the current system, OAS is sustainable. It is our duty as our constituents' representatives to ensure that OAS is there for them when they need it.

I can assure this House and all Canadians that this Conservative government intends to take every measure possible to protect our seniors today and in the future.

We have demonstrated our intentions through such measures as those contained in Bill C-36, which simplify and streamline the OAS and GIS application process.

We have also introduced a number of initiatives, such as the National Seniors Council, aimed at improving the lives of seniors. We have introduced a range of measures to reduce the tax burden on seniors.

We will continue to act to protect seniors and Canada's old age security system. I urge my hon. colleagues to vote against the proposals contained in this bill, just as the Liberals did when they were in power.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss Bill C-362 and its proposed amendments to the old age security program.

All Canadians can be proud of our country's retirement income system. Simply put, it is recognized as one of the best in the world and is emulated by countries looking to set up an effective, long term public pension system.

The old age security program, along with the Canada pension plan, provides all Canadians with a solid foundation upon which to build their retirement income. Together, Canada's public pension delivers about $54 billion in benefits to Canadians every year.

Bill C-362 proposes reducing the minimum residence requirement for OAS benefits from 10 years to 3 years. However, I must respectfully disagree with the hon. member for Brampton West on the premise of the bill.

From a public policy perspective, the old age security program is fair and sound. It is the first tier of Canada's retirement income system, serving over four million Canadian seniors every year.

The OAS pension is designed as a measure of income security for seniors. It recognizes their valuable contribution to Canadian society, our economy and their community over a lifetime. Unlike pension plans in most other countries, Canada offers, as part of a public pension system, a tier that is fully funded by general tax revenues instead of contributions.

Most countries have pension schemes that require years of contributions to qualify for benefits. For example, Japan's seniors must contribute for 25 years to be eligible for a pension. From this standpoint, we can see that Canada's pension plan is exceptionally generous.

In Canada there are none of the restrictions about citizenship or nationality often found in other countries. To gain the right to a lifelong pension, we only ask that seniors make a reasonable contribution of 10 years to Canadian society.

A number of governments have examined the current OAS residence requirement since it was established in 1977 and have kept it intact. In fact, during the last Parliament, the Liberal Party voted against Bloc amendments that would have instituted these very changes. For the Liberals, it has only become an issue of fairness or respect for new Canadians when they no longer are in government and they no longer have to worry about the consequences of their actions.

I believe the 10 year residence requirement is sound and reasonable. It makes no distinction between immigrants who have just arrived in Canada or Canadians who return to Canada after living abroad.

Under current rules, a person must live in Canada, after reaching the age of 18, for a total of 40 years to receive a full pension. A person must live in Canada for a minimum of 10 years to receive a partial pension.

Many seniors who qualify for OAS and who have low incomes also receive a guaranteed income supplement, designed to help Canada's poorest seniors. Once again, the 10 year rule is a reasonable compromise. It strikes a good balance between an individual's contribution to Canadian society and his or her right to receive a lifelong public pension.

This policy is a result of a long-standing dynamic conversation with Canadians. Since 1977, the residence requirement for OAS has served countless new Canadians. This program has been there for generations of immigrants who have built a new life for themselves and their children in Canada, and this government will ensure that it remains that way. Many of these immigrants came from countries that have signed social security agreements with us.

On the world stage, Canada is a leader among countries that have signed social security agreements. To date, 50 agreements have been signed between Canada and foreign countries. Because of these reciprocal agreements, many newcomers to Canada are able to meet the 10 year residence requirement to receive the OAS pension by using years of residence or contribution in both countries. This means that these seniors are able to receive benefits from both Canada and their countries of origin.

In a nutshell, it means that people who have lived or worked abroad can meet the 10 year residence rule by adding these periods to their Canadian residence. These agreements recognize the contributions that people made to their previous country of residence and allows them to qualify for benefits in which they may not otherwise have been entitled.

Canada is continuing to negotiate agreements with countries that share comparable pension plans so we can improve the access of our growing immigrant communities to pension benefits.

The courts have also considered the residency issue that the bill raises. In two landmark cases, they upheld the issue of fairness of our residence provisions for the OAS pension.

One of these legal challenges made it all the way to the Federal Court of Appeal. The 2003 ruling confirmed what most Canadians knew. The 10 year residence rule does not in any way discriminate against Canadians on the grounds of national or ethnic origin, as my hon. colleague across the aisle would have us believe.

I find it interesting that it was the former Liberal government that fought this case in court, yet today the Liberals are claiming the opposite. Only today it has become an issue of discrimination, as far as they are concerned. As my hon. friend from Palliser pointed out a few moments ago, it was the sponsor of the bill who openly admitted that her government believed so strongly in the current model of the bill that it fought seniors' groups in the court until they ran out of money to protect this system and the changes that they now propose. The hypocrisy abounds.

It is no secret that seniors constitute the fastest growing segment in the Canadian population. With baby boomers poised to retire in record numbers, our pension costs will skyrocket in the coming years. In the next 25 years, nearly one in four Canadians will be a senior. With our rapidly aging population, relaxing the residence rule for OAS would have significant fiscal implications for Canada and the public pension program.

In fact, it is now estimated that reducing the 10 year rule for OAS to three years would cost Canadians over $700 million in combined OAS and GIS benefits in the first few years alone. In the long run, these costs would surely rise exponentially.

The government is taking the responsibility to ensure that this program remains for the generations of Canadians to come, including the children and the grandchildren of new Canadians. Canada's retirement income system is a robust, sustainable program, one that is envied around the world. It is hailed for its impact in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors and in preventing a drop in living standards after retirement.

I urge my hon. colleagues to consider these things and vote against the bill.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 12:01 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Second Reading
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.