House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Edmonton East for bringing forth this motion. I want to read it at the beginning so people watching will have an idea of what the motion is about. It reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

I would expect that the motion will in fact pass. It comes out of a number of initiatives the government has taken in support of older workers and retraining in the workforce.

I want to note that the member for Edmonton East, when he made his presentation on October 4, 2010, gave some statistics that I found rather interesting in his speech. He indicated that in 1900, over a century ago, Canadian men had a life expectancy of only 47 years, while women could expect to live just under 3 years longer.

When the first old age pension was brought in by the federal government in 1927, payments began at the age of 70. On that basis, most Canadians would not live long enough to collect the pension as the average life expectancy was, by that time, 59 years for men and age 62 for women.

As indicated, under the Canadian pension plan, the pension was introduced in 1927. I want to make some observations about that, because after World War I, there was increased urbanization in Canada and industrialization. It led to an increase in demand for old age pensions. I had statistics on pensions in other countries. There were a number of countries had pensions in place before 1935.

The member for Winnipeg North will be pleased to hear that in 1916, Manitoba, our home province, was the first province to pass a Mothers' Pension Act to provide a small but assured income to widows and divorced or deserted wives with children to support, deemed the worthy poor.

Within five years, all provinces from Ontario west had similar legislation called public assistance. This help was based on a means test and constituted a modern version of the English poor law.

This will show how things really have not changed over the years. In 1919, the federal Liberal Party pledged to pass legislation on health insurance, contributory old age pensions and unemployment insurance, but alas, none of these promises were kept. At that point, the British North America Act was cited as the main impediment. The reality is that business interests which funded the two major parties at the time were a hindrance.

It was 1927 before the old age pension did in fact become law. It came about during the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, but the introduction was based on a promise to the two Labour MPs at the time, J.S. Woodsworth and A.A. Heaps. It provided a maximum, by the way, of $20 a month, and it was subject to a means test.

I have a copy of the letter which was sent to Mackenzie King in January 1926. I spent some time early this morning reading Hansard from 1927. It was a very interesting experience.

The letter was sent to both the Liberal leader, Mr. King but also, as an equal opportunity group I gather, it was decided to let the Conservatives have a chance at it too. It reads as follows:

Dear Mr. King:

As representatives of Labour in the House of Commons, may we ask whether it is your intention to introduce at this session legislation with regard to (a) Provision for the unemployed; (b) Old Age Pensions. We are venturing to send a similar inquiry to the leader of the opposition.

We must remember that it was a minority government and the leader of the opposition was Arthur Meighen. The Conservative leader was unwilling, even if it meant getting his hands on the government, to support either proposal at the time. Woodsworth and Heaps, the two labour representatives, accepted Mackenzie King's offer to pursue old age pensions and gave him their support. When his government finally won a majority in 1926, Mackenzie King followed up on his promise to Woodsworth and Heaps by introducing legislation that became the Old Age Pensions Act in 1927.

The battle for old age pensions goes back many years, from the time the act was originally discussed, passed and implemented in other jurisdictions. It took a minority government situation to force the Liberals to promise to bring in the--

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member has run out of time.

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I certainly hear the history lesson from the hon. member.

We are here talking about older workers and I would like the House to know that I fully support the motion and would like to thank my colleague from Edmonton for proposing it, who I understand will also be speaking to it as well.

Our Conservative government recognizes the high value and potential that older workers bring to the workforce. Their knowledge and invaluable capacity for mentoring younger, less experienced workers is incredibly valuable to our economy, especially at this time.

The motion is also timely as it speaks to our Conservative government's focus on providing appropriate labour market programs and policies so that older workers can continue contributing to our economy by their skills and experience. Their experience, knowledge and talents are key factors in our full economic recovery and Canada's continuing international competitiveness.

The motion also recognizes a shift in work patterns and in retirement planning. Given that Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than in the past, more workers are choosing to extend their careers through their late 60s and into their 70s. Today Canadians expect to live about 30 years longer on average than we did a century ago. They know they can continue to contribute and still have time for a well-earned retirement and leisure period when they are a little older.

Mandatory retirement for the most part is a thing of the past as older workers in good health want to continue contributing to society. This is an important development and one that will not only become more important in the short and medium term, but well into the future. Our population is aging and our workforce is not growing as quickly as it did in years past. Given our demographic challenges and a slower growth in our workforce, Canada needs as many workers as possible to be active and contributing in the coming years.

In a very short time, our labour market will again begin to experience serious labour shortages. Our task is to remove as many of the disincentives as we can that face workers who want to and who are able to continue working. We need to be active. We need to promote activity in the workforce. We certainly cannot be passive. Failing to act in this way will only serve to reduce our prosperity in the future.

For older workers who do not want to retire and are healthy enough to continue working, I ask why not? Why not utilize their wealth of knowledge, skills and enterprise? This is certainly good for the economy. If Canadians choose to continue working we should facilitate their wishes.

Our Conservative government agrees and we are taking action to encourage older people to be engaged in worthwhile endeavours of their own choosing. We named a Minister of State for Seniors who is tasked with supporting our aging population, whether it be working to combat elder abuse or supporting volunteer initiatives through the new horizons for seniors program which we expended in the last budget.

Another initiative to address a larger issue of an aging society was our government's creation of a National Seniors Council in 2007 to advise the government on all matters related to seniors' well-being and quality of life. To date, the council reported on elder abuse, low income issues among seniors, volunteering among seniors, and positive and active aging. We are working with the provinces and have increased funding under the targeted initiative for older workers program to assist unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to retrain and gain new skills.

More than 14,000 unemployed older workers have been assisted through more than 200 projects that have been approved to date. This is concrete help that is good for the workers as individuals and good for Canada as a whole.

As one participant said, “This has strengthened my belief that I can and will re-enter the workforce.”

Under labour market development agreements, older workers can also receive assistance. They are part of the unemployed workforce that is being helped with a $1.95 billion fund provided to the provinces and territories. Under these agreements, the workers receive programming to help them get back to work.

In Canada's economic action plan, funding was increased by $1 billion over two years. More than 100,000 workers over the age of 50 participate in these programs each year.

For workers not eligible for unemployment insurance we have labour market agreements that help unemployed workers, including older Canadians, return to work.

As well, our Conservative government appointed an expert panel on older workers in January 2007. The panel examined the long-term issues facing older workers, including any barriers or disincentives to their continued participation in the labour market. The report recommended an employability approach and advocated removing all systemic barriers.

This motion and our Conservative government's actions are in agreement with the report's findings. Our government is interested in working closely with all the provinces and territories. We recognize there are regional differences in their approach and regional needs. Our labour market development agreements and labour market agreements are flexible enough to take that into account.

Through our actions, we have shown that we welcome the chance for older workers to contribute their skills and experience to our labour market. In doing so, they are increasing their prosperity and the prosperity of all of Canada. We have faith in older workers and we have demonstrated that faith through our actions.

Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes we see an astonishing lack of faith for some of the members of the opposition, especially members of the Bloc Québécois. While they say that they support older workers, they have consistently voted against all help for older workers that we have put forward. The proof is in their voting record.

The Bloc Québécois members have voted against the targeted initiative for older worker program. They have voted against our Conservative government's extension and improvements to the work training program, which has helped to protect the jobs of over 265,000 Canadians through over 9,000 agreements. They have voted against our legislation to provide extra weeks of employment insurance benefits to long-tenured workers. They have voted against tax reductions for seniors.

However, the Bloc members continue to call for the reintroduction of failed passive income support programs, which were proven to be costly and ineffective and would serve as large disincentives to work and labour force participation. Therefore, they appear to be in favour of those things which are harmful to our economy and harmful to the prosperity of workers that simply do not work and have been proven to be so. I am not sure what they have against older workers. However, they need to stand up and support the older people. They should stop attempting to resurrect failed programs that do nothing to help older workers, but in fact do them harm.

Our Conservative government will continue to stand up for older workers. We will continue to have faith in older workers and to value and encourage their participation in the workforce.

I hope all members of the House of Commons will support not only this motion, but support our government's positive efforts for older Canadians.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, in preparation, I have drawn upon the excellent work done by the member for Saint-Lambert, our critic for older workers.

I would like to tell the Conservative member who just spoke that the Bloc Québécois will support motion M-515. However, we maintain that an assistance program for older workers would be one of the best tools for helping workers aged 55 and older who have lost their jobs. Such a program would help them to find other employment and would provide them with income that could cover the difference between the wages they were earning and the wages of their new job, as was the case when such a program existed.

The Conservatives think that when people lose their jobs, they simply need to retrain and find new ones. With this retraining program, all of our forestry workers will end up being computer experts. That is how the Conservatives work, but the trees continue to grow. Forestry operations must continue. We should be ensuring, instead, that we hold onto these workers who have lost their jobs so that they can be put to work again when the economy is doing better. That is why the program for older worker adjustment, which was abolished, was so important. It was abolished for two reasons. At the time, the economy was doing better and the Liberals had a lot of trouble with their own spending and never saw fit to get it back on track. The Conservatives are heading in the same direction, which is sad.

Motion M-515, regarding older workers, states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

We will support this motion, even though it seems incomplete. We agree that older workers actively contribute to the economy. In moving this motion, my colleague is surely making reference to the targeted initiative for older workers, or TIOW. This program was designed to improve the employability of participants from 55 to 64 years of age, and assist them through activities such as prior learning assessment, skills upgrading and experience in new fields of work. But this measure is in no way an income support measure for older workers who are unable to find a new job. As I said in the beginning, this is far from being the program for older worker adjustment we once knew.

In fact, this Conservative government continues to ignore the needs of older workers who are the victims of mass layoffs or plant closures. The Bloc Québécois has been fighting in the House for years to give these older workers an income support measure to help them through the transition until they receive their pension benefits.

In fact, the Bloc has been defending this position since 1997. We must remember that in 1997, the Liberal government at the time eliminated POWA, the older worker adjustment program. In the same way it misappropriated employment insurance funds to pay down the deficit on the backs of the unemployed, that same Liberal government eliminated POWA to pay down the deficit on the backs of older workers.

Since that time, the Bloc Québécois has not relented in calling for a support program for older workers who cannot be retrained.

In 2005 we even convinced the House to unanimously adopt a motion asking the government to implement a strategy to help older workers who were losing their jobs due to factory closures in the wake of globalization. This strategy was to include income support measures. Let us remember that the Conservatives, who were in opposition at that time, supported this motion. As for the Liberals, they did not reinstate the program they had eliminated in 1997.

In April 2006, the House unanimously adopted the Bloc's subamendment to the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne. This subamendment once again called for a strategy to help older workers who were losing their jobs. Again, this strategy was to include income support measures. And, just like the Liberals, the Conservatives did nothing to help these workers. They continue to refuse to implement this type of program, saying that it does not help older workers return to the workforce. However, workforce reintegration measures and income support measures are not mutually exclusive.

We agree that these workers should have access to assistance programs in order to reposition themselves on the labour market. However, we also need to provide income support measures for those who cannot retrain. Age does present a certain challenge after losing one's job, because employers are more reluctant to hire older workers. Moreover, although people aged 55 and over are less affected by unemployment than younger people who are unemployed, it is usually for a much longer period than the average.

An income support measure like the one we are proposing would stop these workers who cannot retrain from having to dip into their hard-earned retirement savings. Such a measure would give them some income support after their employment insurance benefits end and before their retirement pension begins. It would serve as a bridge for them while they are waiting for another job or for their pension. It is simply a matter of social justice and that is precisely what the Conservatives do not understand. A perfect example is the member for Jonquière—Alma. In the December 2, 2007, issue of the weekly newspaper Le Réveil, in response to urgent calls to restore the POWA, the member suggested that workers should move to Alberta. He said:

—in Alberta, there is a labour shortage and they do not know what to do to find workers. In the meantime, we cannot pay people between the ages of 50 and 55 to stay home.

On October 28, 2009, the House adopted Motion M-285 moved by my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, which read:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should as quickly as possible implement a genuine income support program for older workers who lost their job in order to ease their transition from active employment to pension benefits.

Again, the Conservatives have not lifted a finger. They prefer to ignore the requests of workers and unions. As the Minister of Natural Resources and member for Mégantic—L'Érable put so well recently:

I am the spokesperson for, the voice of th2is true of all my colleagues. That is the big, big difference.

Indeed it is different, and that is precisely the problem. As it is for my colleagues in the Bloc, it is an honour for me to represent the concerns of my voters, of Quebeckers. We are the voice of our constituents in Ottawa, not the other way around, like the Conservatives.

That is why, election after election, Quebeckers elect a majority of Bloc Québécois members. They want their voice to be heard in Ottawa, they want their concerns conveyed to Ottawa. It is also for that reason that the Bloc Québécois continues to defend older workers in Ottawa.

The crisis in the manufacturing sector and the economic crisis have led to the closure of businesses, which in turn has hit older workers hard. Providing them with access to training is one thing; however, those who are unable to find a new job are left to fend for themselves. If they are still unemployed after exhausting their employment insurance benefits, they are forced to turn to social assistance. To access social assistance they must deplete their assets. The Conservatives remain insensitive to these situations and prefer to deliver Ottawa's message: income support does not provide an incentive to work. But establishing an income support program is a matter of social justice, dignity and respect for these workers who helped build the Quebec we know today.

We will support motion M-515 but we are still calling for an assistance program for older workers. These people have made major contributions to our economy. I am thinking particularly of the forestry sector, which accounted for 45% of Quebec's economy. Now, it amounts to approximately 22% of the Canadian economy. These people have lost their employment for economic reasons. We cannot simply tell them that they need to retrain. At age 55 or over, it is not easy for people to find a job and to retrain because of their age and because of employers' restrictions. An assistance program for older workers would enable these people to receive a decent income after their employment insurance benefits end and until they retire.

That is why the Bloc Québécois will fight every day for older workers. We will support motion M-515 but the Conservative government must understand that, if it had $10 billion to help the automotive industry, it should be able to help older workers. It has the resources. The Bloc Québécois will continue to work toward this goal.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate concerning Motion No. 515 which states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

This is a pretty innocuous motion. Of course, I support it. Anybody would be foolish not to, I think. However, I am left with the question, what will this motion do?

I know that for private members' bills and motions, in order for one to be effected by government, they cannot trigger a royal recommendation, so they cannot be money bills so to speak. Private members' bills and motions are somewhat constrained in how they are drafted, but there is still a lot of room to draft motions and bills that actually have substance. We are sent here to be legislators, after all.

Recognizing and supporting older workers is not only laudable, it is actually essential. The problem is that the rhetoric of the motion does not even take a baby step toward that goal. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain spoke to this motion earlier in the debate. She said, “It is as inoffensive as it is ineffective”.

I would like to use my time in the House to move beyond the empty words in this motion and actually address what needs to happen if we want to do more than talk the talk, if we want to actually walk the walk. I want to use my time to discuss the real issues facing older workers in Canada.

Older workers will not be workers forever, obviously, and we need to consider life after work. A new survey confirms what the NDP has been saying for a long time that improving the Canada pension plan is the best way to secure a comfortable retirement for all Canadians. The survey found a whopping 76% of Canadians want the government to increase CPP benefits. However, that flies in the face of the Prime Minister's recent decision to ignore the CPP in favour of a private sector retirement plan.

The survey also reinforces the New Democrat retirement security plan. Our plan proposes a phased-in doubling of CPP benefits to $1,868 a month. A full 93% of Canadians are already members of the CPP. It is low cost, secure, and inflation protected. That really makes it the best retirement option out there. Canadians know it, the New Democrats know it, but the Conservative government still does not have a clue.

Canada is facing a retirement crisis. The recession exposed deep flaws in the way we prepare for retirement. Families have lost their savings and they simply do not have enough to support themselves. That is why the NDP wants to take a lead on pension reform. In addition to raising CPP, we want to protect workplace pensions from corporate creditors and raise the GIS to lift seniors out of poverty. While the Prime Minister is ignoring the crisis, we are taking leadership and actually proposing practical solutions to make Canadians' lives better.

As I said, the recession revealed deep cracks in Canada's retirement security plan because years of savings suddenly vanished, leaving millions of Canadians unprepared for the future. We did take the lead on calling for comprehensive reform to the Canada pension plan, like proposing doubling of the maximum monthly payout over time to ensure that all Canadians could retire comfortably.

The Conservative government seemed on board, hinting for nearly a year that it would improve the CPP. Then, the Conservatives abruptly changed their mind. In December, the finance minister announced that the government would ignore the CPP, choosing instead to introduce a private sector plan administered by financial institutions.

Pension advocates and most provincial leaders, including the provincial leader and the minister of finance in Nova Scotia, expressed shock and disappointment. They asked, why would the government abandon the CPP, which is secure, portable, and low cost? Why would they turn over retirement savings to the very financial institutions whose outrageous management fees could wipe out up to 50% of a person's pension contributions over a lifetime?

The Conservative government's plan just does not make sense for older workers and when older workers move into retirement.

Canada is in a pension crisis and that is why the NDP will continue to push for practical reforms to CPP; ones that benefit Canadians and not the big banks.

Older workers are disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed. This is true across Canada, but it is especially true across the industrial heartland of our country.

These companies were institutions in our communities. They were unionized workplaces where seniority mattered and where companies had the benefit of the skills, experience, and expertise of their long-tenured workers. A senior workforce also means that when a plant closes or downsizes, 60% to 70% of the newly unemployed are older workers.

One would think that successive governments might have assumed some responsibility for addressing the unique issues confronting older workers in Canada. Despite often lauding our incredibly skilled older workforce, they did nothing to ensure that these workers would remain a vital force in our economy.

To this day we do not have a manufacturing sector strategy for our economy. To this day we do not have an auto sector strategy. To this day we do not have a green industry strategy and we also do not have an industrial strategy. Instead, we allow foreign companies like U.S. Steel, Xstrata and Vale to buy up Canadian companies without an ounce of a guarantee that they will protect Canadian jobs. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Compounding the problem is the fact that this is the very government that did nothing to protect these jobs in the first place. It is the same government that is doing nothing to protect displaced older workers.

These unemployed Canadians need to keep working. They need a few more years of income before they can retire. They cannot cash in their retirement savings because that would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Surely, we cannot expect them to sell their homes or take out a new mortgage. These older Canadians have worked hard all their lives. They played by the rules and now, through no fault of their own, they have become incapable of building a secure future for themselves and for their families.

It is time for the government to step up to the plate and offer real assistance to these displaced workers. Unfortunately, instead of setting up effective programs for worker adjustment, the Conservatives have been setting up barriers to re-employment instead.

In the time I have left, I would like to talk about the health of older workers.

To support our senior workers, we need to support their health and the health of their families. In addition to protecting seniors financial security through our pension proposals and increasing GIS, we need to look seriously and critically at the issue of health for older workers and retirees.

First and foremost, we need to tackle the issue of social determinants of health. People cannot be healthy unless they have a home to live in. We need an affordable housing strategy for this country. I am very proud that Bill C-304, our bill for a national housing strategy, is actually at committee and hopefully coming back for third reading soon.

We need something like a pharmacare strategy to ensure that older workers, their families, and all Canadians have access to the prescription medications they need to stay healthy. We hear time and time again from pharmacists who tell us that every single day at least one person, often more, will come to the counter, put in their order for prescription medication, but when they get the package and look at the bill, they walk away and leave it behind. That happens every day.

In my old job as a community legal worker, I had clients who would often cut their pills in half or take their pills every second day. They simply could not afford the cost of the prescription to take their medication as prescribed.

A universal pharmacare plan for all Canadians to access the drugs they need to stay healthy would be a definite support to older workers and their families. We can do it if we work with the provinces and territories to establish a Canada-wide prescription drug program.

Further, once older workers have finished working, we need to look at a system of home care and long-term care. It is much less expensive than acute care in a hospital and it makes good financial sense for supporting retired workers.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Edmonton East, for his right of reply.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. members on both sides of the House, the hon. parliamentary secretary from Souris—Moose Mountain for his generous support, and recognizing this very important issue.

For the record, I will repeat the motion. It states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

An important aspect of this is the recognition that people of my age have been in the workplace since the early 1960s and have contributed to the prosperity of this country, leading it to be the economically-envied country of the world of today. Many of us are quite capable of continuing to work for some years ahead.

As has already been stated, many Canadians are choosing to stay in the workforce past what used to be considered the traditional retirement age. The reasons for this decision are as varied as each worker involved, but the one they have in common is the need for support from the Government of Canada.

Of note, some 110 years ago, just a little over a century ago, Canadian men had a life expectancy of 47. Today, that life expectancy is in the region of 78 years, considerably higher than it used to be a short 100 years ago. With that in mind, our government has already shown its commitment to older workers in Canada through programs such as the targeted initiative for older workers and the labour market development agreements we have signed with the provinces to provide assistance to older workers.

Canadians know that with our government's strong leadership, Canada has weathered the recession better than any other G8 country. However, the economic recovery is not yet complete. We need to encourage all Canadian workers who are contributing to the economy.

Older workers have, as the motion states, skills and experience that are essential to allow Canada to compete effectively in the global economy. They are also frequently, with the majority of their family responsibility commitments behind them, more flexible than younger workers in their scheduling hours and availability for overtime, if necessary. It makes sense that governments would offer support to these older workers to allow them to continue to contribute to the economy and the well-being of their families as long as they wish to do so.

It has been noted that honouring seniors is a tradition that is fading from some parts of our society. That is certainly one of the reasons that elder abuse has risen in recent years, particularly elder financial abuse. Our government is aware of that increase in elder abuse and working to combat it through a combination of education and criminal enforcement.

As someone who would be considered to be an older worker, I suppose in a way I speak for all older persons who can contribute and want to continue to contribute to society, to their family's financial well-being, and who want to be reminded that there is still true value for this contribution.

I urge all members to support this motion. Older workers are an important part of our economy and the House should stand with them, reaffirming their value, and offering support where necessary.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

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

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Older Workers
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

It being 2:20 p.m., this House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:10 p.m.)