House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the remarks of the minister and I can appreciate that this is perhaps not the best day for him. Prior to last night's Senate debacle, there were probably enough votes to have this carry cleanly so we could talk about it.

The fact is the bill would not have changed one bit the undemocratic dynamic of last evening, where the Senate, for the first time I believe in decades, stopped cold a bill that was initiated and passed by a majority vote by the elected House of Commons of Canada. How would that change if those senators—

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

An hon. member

I can't hear you.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Who is the member who cannot hear me? What is his riding? I will get him. Perhaps I could get the floor, Madam Speaker, and not be interrupted by those folks, or give me time to deal with them too.

My question for the minister is very simple. Why and how does the minister of the Crown think for one minute that he can do to that bill and to the majority rights of the House with impunity and not expect that there will be some kind of retaliation? This is his retaliation.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Madam Speaker, I hope Hansard got the member's last word and that was “retaliation”. Retaliation for what he did not say specifically, but retaliation none the less.

This is not what Canadians expect. Canadians expect that people will work together when possible to discuss these issues.

The member talked about the Senate blocking legislation. Actually the Senate has blocked legislation, our criminal justice legislation, in the past and that has been very frustrating.

What we are trying to do is improve the Senate, to make it consistent with 21st century values. The bill would do that. What the NDP has done out of spite, or anger, or viciousness or visceral cynicism is very disappointing and is not consistent with Canadian values.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. minister. He will have two minutes left when the debate resumes.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private member's business as listed on today's order paper.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

moved that Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to open the debate today on an issue that is particularly important to a growing segment of our society: seniors. Although they are often silent, seniors have needs we must address with flexible, progressive measures.

Today, I present a solution to the problem of public transit, which is an important factor in promoting seniors' independence and overcoming the isolation our senior friends and relatives too often experience.

The bill I introduced would make public transit free for seniors, anywhere in Canada, during off-peak hours.

There are many reasons for this bill, which seeks to encourage seniors to lead active social lives, to make it easier for them to get around and to improve access to public transit.

I would like to start by describing some of the social characteristics of Canada's seniors.

Seniors are generally defined as people 65 and over. However, three different groups can be identified within this segment of the population: people 65 to 74, those 75 to 84 and those over 85. Each of these subsegments has different needs that call for specific, progressive solutions.

There are also many prejudices again about seniors, regardless of their age. The concept of an aging population has been the subject of a number of consultations and studies.

On the Hill, a special Senate committee on aging was formed. The committee tabled its report entitled, “Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity”, in April 2009.

Other governments have also looked at the aging population, and the Conseil des aînés du Québec released its own report in March 2010. Although the report has to do with ageism, I feel it is relevant to the issue of aging. In addition, although the report covers Quebec, the population and its characteristics are representative of Canada as a whole.

Returning to ageism, age is often the source of prejudice and beliefs that lead to discrimination. These perceptions affect seniors primarily, regardless of their exact age group. Ageism is also evident in various sectors such as employment, health and transportation. Seniors are seen as a social and financial burden.

I would like to help change our society's perception of seniors. But how can we change that perception when we are bombarded with images that equate happiness with youth and beauty?

I am one of those people who believes in accomplishing big things by taking small steps. Bill C-449 would give seniors greater mobility and perhaps change perceptions by showing that seniors are active and independent.

Let us look at the current situation of seniors, as described by Statistics Canada in its 2006 report entitled “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. I would just like to mention the Conservative government's decision to abolish the long form census. The Liberal Party put forward a motion in the House that was adopted, and we will do everything we can to restore the census so that vital economic and demographic data continue to be available.

We can refer to statistics from the 2006 census that give an accurate, reliable portrait of Canadian society. The report says:

The aging of the population will accelerate over the next three decades, particularly as individuals from the Baby Boom years of 1946 to 1965 begin turning age 65. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036....

If this trend continues, here are Statistics Canada's projections:

...the number of 65 to 74 years olds is projected to increase to 4.8 million by 2031, accounting for 12.4% of the total population at that time.

...by 2021 the absolute number of 75 to 84 year olds is expected to reach 2 million.

Between 2005 and 2021, the absolute number of people aged 85 or older is projected to increase to 800,000, although their share of the total population will remain around 2%.

Most of Canada's population—approximately 62%—resides in Ontario and Quebec. About seven of every ten seniors in Canada lived in an urban centre with at least 50,000 residents. Seniors have long been less likely than people in younger age groups to change residences. Thus, we can conclude that most Canadian seniors are sedentary and live in urban areas of central Canada.

A task force that reports to the Quebec family minister described the home environment of seniors as follows:

Most seniors, i.e., nearly 88%, live in a natural environment and this is where they wish to remain as long as possible. They must therefore be able to find services such as places of worship, supermarkets, banks, health services, etc., near their home.

Women accounted for 52% of persons aged 65 to 69, a figure that jumps to 75% for persons aged 90 or older. I would like to focus for a moment on this segment of the population.

According to Statistics Canada, the guaranteed income supplement and the survivor allowance accounted for the bulk of senior women's income in 2003 at 31.7%. Although the number of low-income seniors has declined slightly, it is still high for senior women living alone, with the highest figures in British Columbia and Quebec.

In 2007, FADOQ, Mouvement des Aînés du Québec, submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on Status of Women regarding the economic security of senior women. The organization expressed great concern about the financial insecurity of women. Too often widows are heavily burdened financially, and the organization made a series of recommendations to rectify this situation.

It is true that women take care of elderly loved ones and are penalized for this choice, which benefits all of society.

FADOQ called on the government to recognize the role of natural caregivers, which the Liberal Party of Canada did.

The Liberal Party supports Canadian families. It will help natural caregivers cover the cost of caring for sick or elderly family members in their homes.

I will now address the issue of transportation for seniors. In about 15 years, one in five Canadians will be over the age of 65. What impact will the needs of this population have on transportation services in Canada? How can we provide transportation for our seniors when they are no longer able to drive safely? How can we provide affordable transportation for low-income seniors, and particularly senior women? How can we provide accessible transportation for seniors to essential services such as health care and social services? How can we provide transportation that will enable them to continue socializing, to maintain their independence and to avoid becoming isolated?

We have to ask those questions and find solutions for Canadians. It is a complex problem and will require more than one solution.

Today, I would like to present a solution that I hope the House will adopt.

Mobility is critical to seniors' independence, and for decades the automobile has been the preferred mode of transportation for most Canadians. However, when it comes time to take away a senior's driver's licence or to convince them to voluntarily stop driving their vehicles, they go through a period of mourning. Their independence has been taken away.

“Seniors’ access to transportation” is a Statistics Canada report. The data and analysis give an excellent overview of the issue. Here are some excerpts.

The great majority of adults and seniors have access to private or public transport

In 2005, 98% of men aged 65 to 74 and 95% of women the same age had access either to a vehicle owned by someone in their household or to public transit. These percentages declined among people in older age groups. Nevertheless, even among seniors aged 85 and over, 86% had access either to a household vehicle or to mass transit.

However, that percentage drops once seniors reach the age of 85; only 86% had access to a household vehicle or to mass transit. Only 80% of seniors had access to a household vehicle, compared with 91% of 55- to 74-year-olds.

More specifically, 71% of people aged 65 and over had access to a household vehicle and had a driver's licence. Of that percentage, 86% were men and only 58% were women. And that gap grew with age: among those 85 and older, 66% of men had that same access and only 33% of women did.

The author asked the following question:

Is better access to transport linked to a more active life?

He said:

...a senior who owns a car and a driver’s licence, or who has the financial means to use a taxi to run his errands, can travel about much more easily than an older person who must rely on her son or daughter to take her shopping.

In this case, mobility refers to a person's ability to get up and go where they want when they want.

A statistical model showed that if a person has limited access to transportation, the probability that they would stay at home was 46%. The probability that those with a valid licence and a vehicle would stay home was 19%.

Women and people over the age of 85 living in rural areas are particularly likely to have limited outings. They are less mobile.

In the same study, the author reveals that people who live in rural areas and do not have access to a vehicle or to public transit leave their homes less frequently and do less volunteering. The study states:

According to some authors, this situation would suggest that older persons living in rural areas without a car are particularly at risk for social isolation, as well as difficulty in accessing community and medical services.

We therefore need to find a solution to the problem of transportation in rural areas and I would like to propose the beginnings of a solution. I read that in an area near the Outaouais region, in the Lièvre valley, seniors are mobilizing to organize their activities such as going to the doctor or simply getting groceries. However—and this is the recurring problem—they still need transportation. The lack of transportation represents a clear obstacle to seniors' activities, whether those activities are for survival, related to health, or simply social and recreational.

The task force established by the Quebec Minister of Families, which I previously mentioned, made this recommendation regarding transportation in the context of a policy on aging:

For those who live outside the areas well served by public transit systems, the possibility of travelling is essential to participate in the life of the community. The participants of several semi-urban regions mentioned difficulties with this. The transportation question must also be examined in the cities served by public transit to make sure that they meet all needs adequately.

With regard to transportation, seniors are a special case and should be treated as such. Such positive discrimination is not only justified, it is necessary.

I would add that we are already starting to see free services. Here in Ottawa, the nation's capital, public transit is free every Wednesday. What is more, seniors generally use public transit during off-peak hours and therefore this would not disrupt the existing service very much.

Public transit systems are already in place in most urban centres. Nevertheless, rural areas, as we have already seen, have fewer services or none at all. Special attention should be paid in order to provide free transit service adapted to rural needs. Seniors living in rural areas or outside major urban centres have the same needs as those living in urban areas that already have public transit.

In closing, allow me to emphasize two points. First, although transit comes under provincial jurisdiction, the need for resources should lead the various governments and territories to work together in order to meet the transit needs of Canadian seniors.

Second, the bill could be accompanied by a royal recommendation. In order to facilitate passage of Bill C-449, I will propose the following amendment at committee stage: to substitute, at lines 1 to 4 on page 2, the following:

The Minister of Finance shall study the ways in which a trust could be established to facilitate free local public transit for seniors, anywhere in Canada

In closing, I invite my colleagues to support Bill C-449 and refer it to committee. Ensuring free public transit for seniors anywhere in Canada during off-peak hours, addresses the specific needs of seniors and gives them—

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Questions and comments.

The hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, as senior member of the Liberal Party and the chief opposition whip, I wonder if the member could talk to his proposal and answer a few questions regarding costs.

I must say that I live in a rural community where there is no transportation. The people in my community would be paying for this and I think they would be very concerned.

How much would providing free public transit to seniors in both rural and urban Canada actually cost? Who has reviewed and validated the cost estimate? As this would be considerable new spending, has the Liberal Party identified the source of funds to pay for it? What taxes would it raise? What programs would it cut?

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I had addressed the situation that in rural areas it might be somewhat difficult, although we need to recognize that seniors are living not only in rural Canada but also in urban centres.

As far as the costs are concerned, this would be done on a voluntary and discretionary basis by the Minister of Finance to allow for a fund to be built from which municipalities, regional municipalities, cities or towns could seek money to help them finance this transportation.

As far as how much it would cost, is a good question. We are still looking at figures. We know that some transportation commissions have a certain clientele within seniors but most seniors are using these services at rush hour either to go to a part-time job or to visit relatives. In this case, we would be offering the transportation service to seniors in off-peak hours. Maybe these services could be offered from 10 o'clock in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. From what we have studied, there would be no additional cost to the transportation commissions, except maybe in rural areas where some additional transportation facilities would need to be implemented.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, if this trust fund is to be on a voluntary basis, the way the bill is drafted is that the municipalities or the transit authorities would pay first and then apply for funding.

My understanding is that many transit authorities in different municipalities would have difficulty paying for it upfront. Why not define the trust fund to say that it could be accessed prior to offering the service? If not, then we are setting up the municipalities and the seniors who may want the service but the service may not be provided if the municipalities do not have the financial capacity to do so.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my hon. colleague for making the suggestion.

As I said in the French part of my statement, because this bill will probably need a royal recommendation I will be presenting an amendment. Instead of saying that the minister will create a discretionary fund, it would say that the Minister of Finance shall study the ways in which a trust could be established for the purposes of facilitating the financing of these activities. Of course, it would be much easier if municipalities could seek this money prior to establishing the service and thus help our seniors.

I am sure that my colleague, who comes from a large city, will be very helpful in getting this bill passed through the House in order to help the seniors in her riding.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak, and I must emphasize strongly, against this fiscally irresponsible Liberal proposal.

If Canadians want to know the difference between our Conservative government and the Liberal opposition when it comes to the economy and respecting taxpayers, this Liberal proposal sums it up. This pie in the sky Liberal proposal is to allegedly provide absolutely free--and free in this context would be taxpayer funded, so I cannot exactly say it is free--public government transportation to every senior throughout Canada. This is fiscally reckless and would cost untold billions of dollars to implement. I say untold billions because the Liberals did not even bother to cost it. In fact, we just heard moments ago when the mover of the bill was asked what the cost would be, he did not have a clue what the cost would be.

In fact, Conservative MPs had to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost it because the Liberals refused to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer for a costing.

I am at a loss why a senior member of the Liberal Party, in fact the chief opposition whip, would introduce such a fiscally irresponsible proposal.

In his speech I heard him talk about discrimination. His concern about discrimination would be lost because every constituent in my riding would be discriminated against. They would have to contribute to public transit and would not have access to it. If that is not discrimination, someone please tell me what is.

With regard to costs, earlier this year the leader of the Liberal Party publicly proclaimed:

One of the issues we have to confront is, how do we pay for this? We can't be a credible party until we have an answer for that question.

We did not hear this either.

...We have to be courageous and we have to be clear on this subject. We will not identify any new spending unless we can clearly identify a source of funds....

Likewise, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has pleaded that politicians “who make announcements of future spending must tell Canadians how much those plans cost and where the money will come from”.

However, the Liberals have no such answers for this proposal. They have identified absolutely no way to pay for it.

Accordingly, following the Liberal leader's own logic, and in his own words, the Liberal Party, with uncosted proposals like today's, has no credibility.

However, on matters of fiscal responsibility, the Liberal leader himself has questionable credibility, as he also earlier this year publicly proclaimed:

I am not going to allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice.

I ask, is absolutely free public transportation to every single senior social justice? If so, it is only one item on a laundry list of similar uncosted and unaffordable social justice commitments the Liberals have made over the past few years. The growing Liberal laundry list of unfunded spending commitments has included billions of dollars for everything including: a national government-run daycare scheme; a 45-day work year; a slew of new national strategies supported by permanent large bureaucracies; a supplementary Canada pension plan that in fact provincial governments disagree with, liberal provincial governments; subsidized overseas voyages for young Canadians; something called a secretariat of peace, order and good government; and the list goes on. They are all costly and reckless spending policies that carry hefty price tags that would send Canada into spiralling large and permanent deficits, erasing Canada's economic advantage.

What is more, the Liberals clearly have no way to pay for the vast majority of their growing laundry list of commitments, merely pointing to the same limited funding source repeatedly, that being hiking taxes on job creators. That does not cut it.

Even the Globe and Mail has caught on, remarking that the Liberals “cannot recycle their promise to cancel the tax cuts as a way to pay for other new social programs they may like to promise”.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay for those freewheeling Liberal spending plans. Make no mistake that someone is going to have to and that would be hard-working Canadian taxpayers.

Already the Liberals happily admit that Canadian job creators would have to foot the bill for the first wave of their endless laundry list. What will the Liberal attack on job creators mean for Canada's economy and the everyday Canadian? A weaker economy and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.

According to the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, the Liberals would endanger $49 billion in capital investment, equivalent to 233,000 Canadian jobs, with their irresponsible tax hike plan.

Already the Liberals' demonizing and targeting job creators with tax grabs is starting to harm Canada's fragile recovery. If the Liberals do not believe me, they should listen to the words of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters:

Canadian business investment needed to sustain an economic recovery is threatened by [the] Liberal Party Leader's pledge to scrap planned corporate tax cuts because companies may find it difficult to plan.... Right now, frankly, I don't think we can afford the...uncertainty if you want companies to make big investments in Canada.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce represents 192,000 companies that employ millions throughout the country. When speaking of the Liberal tax hike plan, it remarked, “Business is going to hold back making investments” and that it is “very damaging”.

What about the rest of the Liberal laundry list included in this proposal? Who will pay for the big tax-and-spend Liberal government? We all know the answer, and I repeat, hard-working everyday Canadian taxpayers. The Liberal leader would reach deeper and deeper into their pockets and wreck their family budgets to bankroll excessively costly proposals like this one. In the words of the Liberal leader himself, “federal taxes must go up” and “we will have to raise taxes”. What taxes in particular? To again quote the Liberal leader, “I'm not going to take a GST tax hike off the table”.

Earlier this year, an Infometrica study revealed that such a Liberal GST hike would cost Canada another 162,000 jobs.

The growing laundry list of Liberal proposals like the one here today is not grounded in fiscal reality and would saddle Canada with permanent deficit spending.

On the other hand, our Conservative government has taken affordable and sustainable action to actually benefit Canadians, especially our seniors. First and foremost, since 2006, the Conservative government has cut the tax bill for seniors and pensioners by nearly $2 billion annually. For instance, we increased the age credit amount by $2,000, doubled the pension income credit to $2,000 and introduced landmark pension income splitting.

Second, our Conservative government has already made public transit more affordable for seniors, and all Canadians in fact, with the public transit tax credit. This important tax relief allows individuals to claim a non-refundable tax credit for the cost of monthly or ongoing weekly public transit passes. This has proved to be an exceedingly popular measure.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association said:

The government's tax credit for transit pass users is a strong signal that the government is committed to promoting transit use. It rewards transit customers for making smart travel choices.

Shockingly, the Liberal Party voted against the public transit tax credit and against helping seniors and other riders of public transit.

Finally, let me note that public transit is primarily a provincial and municipal jurisdictional responsibility. It is not one where federal spending power should unilaterally dictate their decisions.

Clearly, the Conservative government has brought forward fiscally responsible support for seniors and public transit users alike. Disappointingly, the Liberals want to force Canadian taxpayers and businesses to pick up the bill for their costly laundry list of proposals, like the one we are dealing with here today.

This is not a credible plan. Instead, it would damage family budgets and job creation across Canada. I strongly urge all members to vote against this flawed and costly proposal.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

November 17th, 2010 / 6 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors. I would like the member for Hull—Aylmer to know that it is an excellent initiative and a recognition of the role of seniors. However, the Bloc Québécois believes that his bill meddles in a provincial jurisdiction. The member is a fellow Quebecker. Like the members of the Bloc Québécois, he appreciates that the federal government must respect provincial jurisdictions.

This bill would establish a trust that would make payments to municipalities or the provinces, in accordance with the terms established by the federal government. I began by complimenting my colleague for Hull—Aylmer, but now comes the criticism. This bill interferes in two areas that are exclusively Quebec's responsibility—public transit and social policy.

I am disappointed in the member for Hull—Aylmer. Had the bill been introduced by a member from Saskatchewan or British Columbia, we might have said that they were not as familiar with the exclusive jurisdictions of the provinces. Municipalities in other Canadian provinces, as we saw with the infrastructure program, speak freely and directly with the federal government. However, in Quebec, infrastructure money must pass through the Government of Quebec so that Quebec's municipal affairs department is responsible.

For these reasons the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill. I am asking everyone in the House to not play politics with this. I am convinced that my Liberal colleague from Hull—Aylmer knows that the Conservatives generally play that card when we oppose the law and order bills they propose time and again without respecting certain individual rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I am sure that my colleague from Hull—Aylmer is able to recognize that the Conservatives are being blithely demagogic. And I am sure that when my colleague from Hull—Aylmer comments, he will say that although the Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle, it is against this double intrusion and cannot support the bill for that reason.

Municipalities and cities are under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. What is more, social policy, which covers services provided directly to seniors, is under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Under no circumstances does the federal government have the right to interfere in those areas of jurisdiction and impose conditions on fund allocation and the Government of Quebec's right to set its own priorities. We have always opposed that.

The Bloc Québécois agrees that the federal government should transfer funds, as long as they are provided to the Quebec government without any conditions because only the Government of Quebec knows and understands Quebeckers' priorities.

The federal government should not be barging in or imposing its Canada-wide or coast-to-coast-to-coast standards. That is something new; they added another “coast”. Here in Ottawa they realized that Nunavut—formerly known as the Northwest Territories—borders on the Arctic Ocean. That is why our anglophone colleagues so often use the phrase “coast to coast to coast”.

The Bloc Québécois does not think that the federal government should impose conditions because that money belongs to Quebeckers. My colleagues surely know that Quebeckers pay about $57 billion in taxes to Ottawa every year. I hope that no one here in the House or watching at home thinks that the federal government is doing us a favour when it invests money in Quebec. It is not a favour since it is our money.

Until we hear otherwise, and until we are a sovereign people, Quebeckers will continue to pay taxes to Ottawa. When the federal government invests money in Quebec, it is simply returning a portion of the taxes we have paid. That is why the Bloc Québécois thinks that the federal government cannot impose conditions. Imposing conditions means that the government will transfer the money on the condition that Quebec respect Canada-wide principles. That is why the Bloc Québécois cannot support the bill introduced by the member for Hull—Aylmer. Quebec is the only authority that can determine which priority projects would be most beneficial for Quebeckers.

The Bloc Québécois continues to denounce the practice of imposing conditions on federal transfers to Quebec. That said, if the federal government truly wants to help our poorest seniors, the Bloc Québécois thinks that there are other possibilities within its own areas of jurisdiction.

People of my generation are doing as well as they are today because our seniors worked hard and suffered through poverty. They raised large families on modest incomes, and the men worked hard outside the home. That was the way of life in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in Quebec. The men worked outside the home and the women worked inside the home. The couple worked together. Members may recall a monologue by Yvon Deschamps, in which he said that his mother did not have a job because she had too much work to do. We know that women worked very hard.

The Bloc Québécois suggested two measures. First of all, a tax credit for public transit users, which it had been calling for since 2001 and obtained in 2006. The government will go ahead with this measure. Also, if the federal government really wants to help seniors, especially those most vulnerable, those who receive the guaranteed income supplement, it must increase the GIS. The Bloc Québécois is calling for a monthly increase of $110. It must increase GIS benefits. Seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement are those most vulnerable, those who must ask themselves if they should buy their medication or bread and butter to feed themselves.

That is the kind of dilemma facing our seniors. Yes, some seniors are living very comfortably. Some seniors are getting along just fine. However, by far, most seniors in Quebec are living below the poverty line.

In closing, I want to make sure that our position is clear: we are not against seniors. On the contrary, we fully support seniors.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, after working for more than 40 years, Canadians who are older require a break.

Some seniors, as they age, can no longer drive, so they are totally dependent upon public transit. But since the federal government has not substantially increased old age security or the guaranteed income supplement, tens of thousands of Canadian seniors are living in poverty. Some of them even have to rely on food banks. That means they have to make a decision every day. Can they actually go to the library or to the community centre or visit their grandchildren, or are they going to have trouble paying rent because they are taking steps to leave their homes and take public transit?

Isolation is a very difficult situation and seniors should not be subjected to having to make that kind of choice, to remain in isolation and stay home because they cannot afford public transit or to skip some meals or find some ways to turn down the heat because they cannot afford the heating bill. That is just not fair for the seniors who have served this country for such a long time and served us well.

That is why New Democrats would support Bill C-449, which would allow the minister to set up a trust fund for other levels of government so that seniors can take public transit free of charge during off-peak hours.

New Democrats believe that the federal government should fund the operation of public transit so that all Canadians will have access to better service at lower cost. Canada is the only G8 country that does not have the operating costs of public transit shared by the federal government. That is why we have negative consequences on the environment and on our pocketbooks. Canada needs a national transit strategy. We know that public transit is the backbone of our urban economies and the lack of proper funding for transit is costing our cities billions of dollars in lost productivity.

A recent OECD study found that traffic congestion costs the Toronto region $3.3 billion per year in lost productivity. A recent issue paper by the Canadian Urban Transit Association on the economic benefits of public transit shows that the economic benefit of Canada's existing transit system is at least $10 billion annually.

The transit industry directly employs 45,000 Canadians and indirectly creates 24,000 jobs. Transit reduces vehicle operating costs for Canadian households by $5 billion a year. We know also that transit reduces the economic costs of traffic collisions by almost $2.5 billion a year. Transit reduces annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tonnes, valued at $110 million. Transit also saves about $115 million in annual health care costs related to respiratory illness.

Investing in public transit, whether it is to have lower-cost senior passes, which some municipalities already have, or to allow seniors or unemployed people to take public transit at a much lower cost during off-peak periods, is good for our pocketbooks, good for the environment, and good for the economy.

For the Conservatives to say that investing in public transit will somehow bankrupt Canada is absurd. It is totally absurd.

We know that public transit is not only good for our pocketbooks, but it also helps improve quality of life by contributing to giving travellers a choice, keeping downtowns healthy, containing urban sprawl, improving air quality and our health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, bringing opportunity to disadvantaged persons and improving business access to the labour force.

In short, public transit is good for our economy, good for our environment, and good for our cities. That is why we need a national transit strategy. We need to make a serious investment in public transit across this country.

CUTA further said that $53.5 billion is required over four years in order to keep our public transit system in good repair.

Canada also needs $40.5 billion in public transit capital expansion so that seniors can actually get on public transit. Of that, $17 billion needs to come from external funding. That is why the federal government needs to commit dedicated funding to our cities so they can operate and expand public transit, whether it is for seniors, low-income people, or ordinary Canadians.

We need to transfer an extra 1¢ of the existing gas tax to municipalities to fund public transit. This would generate half a billion dollars in new transit funding. Maybe a portion of that could help seniors to travel on public transit at a lower cost. A portion of the existing gas tax should be transferred to cities and municipalities, and this should be based on transit ridership, not per capita.

We also need to introduce a cap and trade plan that would limit greenhouse gas emissions and make polluters pay. After the polluters pay their share, a portion of this revenue could be used for public transit. Those funds would come directly from polluters and go toward public transit. That would result in much cleaner air in big urban centres and small municipalities. It would also allow smaller transit authorities to buy extra buses and offer their services at a lower cost during off-peak periods.

That is why we must have a national transit strategy with a strict made in Canada policy requiring trains and buses to be built in Canada. That would revitalize our manufacturing sector, create well-paying green jobs, and make Canada a world leader in the green energy economy. At the same time, since we would have more buses, street cars, and subways, seniors would be able to pay less for public transit during off-peak periods.

That would give seniors the mobility they desire. It would not force them to make the terrible choice between paying rent and paying for heat or food, or being locked up in their homes because they cannot afford public transit to take them to the local library, to visit their friends, to visit community centres, or to take part in physical exercise. This is important for our seniors.

The more seniors are able to connect with their communities, the healthier they are. Seniors have time to volunteer. They have a lot to contribute. Our communities will lose if a senior cannot afford to take a bus to volunteer at a local community centre, a local school, or a child care centre. Our young people will lose because they will not experience the joy that seniors bring when they are included in the life of a community. Thousands of volunteer hours would be lost, because seniors have a lot to contribute. Strong neighbourhoods cannot be built if seniors cannot afford to get to the places where they volunteer.

That is why New Democrats support Bill C-449, which would allow the minister to set up a trust fund so seniors can take public transit free of charge.

Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to lend my support to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors.

The bill has been put on the table by my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer. I want to extend my congratulations to him. I know he cares very much about this issue. In particular, he is constantly raising issues involving seniors, and I appreciate his commitment to this.

As all members will know, any serious private member's bill demands a tremendous amount of time, research and energy on behalf of the sponsor as well as the staff and the House to prepare that bill.

Bill C-449 seeks to fill an important niche and is clearly no exception to this rule.

Before I continue, I should clarify why I believe seniors issues are, in general terms, so important to the future of the country and its long term prosperity.

Statistics Canada estimates that Canada's population over the age of 65 could reach an unprecedented 10.9 million by 2036. With this, as the Canadian population continues to age, new financial and logistical challenges will emerge for them as well as for our country. That is only 26 years away. If we fail to address these future realities today, we are only setting ourselves up for a crisis in the future, a crisis that is easily avoidable.

Bill C-449 is an out of the box way of starting to address these many factors one step at a time. Put another way, with this change, this proposal is what I would call enabling legislation. It could kick off the debate and give the Crown new and innovative options to really address issues such as transportation costs, isolation, public transportation and seniors quality of life.

The issues around quality of life for seniors is something about which all of us in the House care very much. We want people to look forward to retirement as a time of enjoyment for them. Things like free transit would offer opportunities for seniors to get out in those hours between, let us say, 11 o'clock and two o'clock, whatever the slowest period of time would be. Buses are going down those streets empty. Why not allow seniors to go on the bus at that time, or whatever mode of transit is in their communities? This would provide them the opportunity to be out mixing and socializing with other people.

Canadians are also known globally as a compassionate and caring people. Despite this, though, the reality is there still remains poverty in a country as rich as ours, particularly in the population over the age of 65.

We already know that poverty is a major problem for many seniors. We know that over 200,000 seniors still live well below any respectable poverty line, something that most Canadians find to be utterly unacceptable. I think all of us in the House continue to work toward reducing that so no senior lives below the poverty line. As a goal, I expect that many of us, certainly as Liberals, want to see that issue eliminated, so we could have a level of income that all people would receive.

By addressing transportation costs and public availability, we will have taken a small step down a very important road toward improving the lives and overall health of seniors. It seems so simple and, in many respects, it can be simple.

It is also worth mentioning that Statistics Canada data shows that seniors with access to regular and reliable transportation tend to get involved with charitable and community causes at a far greater rate than do their counterparts without that access. Again, we are talking about access to many avenues, access to wellness programs, access to community centres, where seniors can go and spend an afternoon with their friends playing cards, or bingo or whatever. It gets them out. It helps them to avoid depression. It improves their health immensely.

This means that in addition to fighting seniors isolation, increasing access to reliable transportation would have a very positive impact on a community. Service groups need volunteers and volunteers are the lifeblood of most of our communities. If we can do it, why would we not help seniors who help us?

In the same line of thinking, we also know that reduced mobility in seniors is generally linked to a lower household income. Again, I have great concerns with the notion that poverty continues to be a major factor in seniors' health.

My colleague who spoke earlier raised the issue of poverty among seniors and so on umpteen times in her comments. If I were to buy in to everything that my colleague said earlier, I would believe that we have an enormous amount of poverty in our country. We do not have an enormous amount of poverty but more than is acceptable. Those are the kinds of things that we need to be changing. Initiatives like this are the kinds of things that would help people who are living below an achievable amount.

I am greatly concerned by the notion that poverty is a major factor, as I said earlier. We need to start looking at the issues holistically if we are ever going to resolve them. Bill C-449 may seem minor, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Also, given that the passage of Bill C-449 would prompt the minister to start addressing the serious problem of transportation deficiencies, we may also start making inroads on other related matters. For example, because of health or mobility limitations, many seniors are forced into a life of isolation. Studies show that loneliness, deterioration of mental and physical health, and the general worsening of one's quality of life, are all byproducts of isolation provoked by factors such as transportation deficiency for seniors.

As I have already said, Bill C-449 does not outright devise a solution, but clearly thrusts the issue onto the national table for debate. As my party's critic for seniors and pensions, I am certainly supportive of having this debate sooner rather than later.

I would also be remiss if I failed to address the financial consideration of the legislation. As I have already said, Bill C-449 would require an expenditure of public resources but it would only underscore a public policy shortcoming and encourage a resolution to the same.

I believe one of the strengths associated with Bill C-449 is the fact that it would permit the minister to establish a phased-in, multi-faceted approach to this very real problem. It would permit the need for a responsible fiscal framework to be a guiding factor in the government's response, but it would require a response.

For the past several years, the government has opted to ignore these problems, but that is unacceptable and must stop. Bill C-449 is key to this.