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 crime.

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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 fo