House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I liked the comments made by my colleague, who really emphasized the importance of seniors within our communities and our country, Canada. I would like to ask him the following question.

One of the extraordinary improvements in this budget that deals directly with seniors is the caregiver tax credit. It is something that allows people to stay at home and take care of a loved one and receive a direct monetary incentive for doing so, something we have never seen before in Canada.

I would just like to hear what the member opposite has to say about that great advance.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the government has certainly been very adept at helping people who earn enough money. They can afford a tax credit if they are earning enough income.

We are talking about seniors who do not have enough money, who are living on an annual income below $15,000 a year. We need to understand what that means. It means people who cannot afford to pay for desperately needed drugs, people who cannot afford to put food on their table or have a safe and comfortable place to live. A tax credit does not help those people. The government must understand that.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to the NDP motion. In essence, we are talking about the issue of seniors, which is extremely important to all of us.

Canada's seniors have worked hard to build a better country for future generations. Therefore, it is very important during this time that we all work together to ensure that seniors get the benefits they are entitled to and that they do not fall through the cracks.

Since our government came into power in 2006, we have brought in various initiatives to help seniors, giving about $2.3 billion in targeted tax relief in 2011-12. As well, since this government came into power and addressed the needs of seniors, we now have the lowest rate in the world for seniors in poverty. That is a huge achievement since the time we took over as government when the rates were higher.

In 1999, the rate was 7.9% and today the rate has fallen to 5.8%. However, that does not mean that we do not have much to do. Indeed, we have a lot of things to do. We need to continue working to ensure that no senior lives in poverty.

One of the members who served in the last Parliament said that the opposition did not act on the budget but defeated this government on a vote of confidence. Let me say very clearly that that was a political move by the opposition when it had the numbers. It wanted to play political games and brought in a motion of non-confidence. It was absolutely wrong for the member to say that the Speaker ruled that there was contempt of Parliament. The Speaker said that there was a possibility. However, the opposition played politics and at the end of the day that sent us into an election.

Everybody has said that they went to the homes of seniors. I have many seniors in my constituency too. When I visited them, they wanted to know why we were having an election and why we were wasting $300 million for an unnecessary election.

The Canadian public spoke and those who were on this side, more specifically the Liberal Party which was pushing for this so-called vote of confidence and contempt of Parliament, is today sitting at the far end of the House because Canadians have spoken and they gave this government a strong mandate for the next four and a half years to put things in order. That is what those guys forget. It was not what they said in this Parliament. It was what Canadians said through the ballot box. Now they can answer why they wasted $300 million of taxpayer money.

Some low-income seniors get the guaranteed income supplement and some get CPP. At the end of the day, if the economy is fragile and it is not moving forward, we will not be in a position to help seniors. To help seniors best, we need a strong economy in which they can have a lot of advantages, including the guaranteed income supplement and additional resources. We must not forget that this is in conjunction with our provincial counterparts, which also have programs to ensure that seniors are looked after.

The one thing that is absolutely clear when members speak in Parliament is that we all recognize that seniors have played a very important role in building this country and that it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that they are taken care of.

However, we just cannot have tunnel vision to take care of them. We need to have vast programs because there are many seniors out there with a lot of different needs. For that, the Government of Canada has brought in a lot of programs. Pension splitting is one program to ensure that seniors keep more money at home. On tax relief, we have freed more than 85,000 seniors from paying taxes. All of these measures go in a small way to help out seniors, to ensure they have more tax-free money in their pockets, to have the freedom to have a lifestyle that they want and deserve.

Of course, at a certain stage in life, there were those who did not contribute to the pension plan in the past, who did not have any other pension available to them. For that, we brought in the OAS and the GIS. In the last budget this government introduced a special supplement to be given to those who are below the poverty line and could not meet their needs, by giving them an additional $600 per single and $800-plus for a couple. This was to help them out because that is what we have learned. What did the NDP do? It played a part in the politics that defeated the budget here in the last Parliament.

I am very happy to say that Canadians sent us back and we have re-introduced those measures that could go a long way to help seniors.

All my colleagues say they go to seniors' homes. We all go to seniors' homes to sit and listen. They vote. Let me say in no uncertain terms that seniors are very intelligent people because they have lessons of life behind them. They know how to make sound decisions. Therefore, it is clearly important that we listen to them, we hear them and we take that in. For that reason, this government introduced a special position of minister of state for seniors. That is very critical, specifically a minister responsible for ensuring that the voices of seniors are heard, and through her at this current time, that reaches the cabinet table and into the government decision-making process. Henceforth, that is a very key element.

I have been here for 14 years and we have been hearing all of those things. However, this government has a clear record of helping seniors, first of course to see that nobody falls down, and those who have fallen down to pick them up and off they go. There is a lot of work to do. I am very proud to say that we have at this time the lowest rate of seniors' poverty in the world. Why do I say that? As parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs I get opportunities to travel around the world representing Canada. As I do, I can say that the situation in other parts of the world is really horrendous for seniors and it is due to a culmination of reasons such as bad economy, bad governance, no social programs and seniors are left to fend for themselves. This is a terrible situation in other parts of the world. However, here, we are fortunate enough in our country that this government worked very hard through listening to seniors and that we have created programs that will ensure that most seniors will get their needs and the things they want.

I am speaking also from experience because my mother is a senior. She receives a lot of the benefits and she tells me without question that if she does not get something, she will wring my head off. It is as simple as ABC. She is my mother and she has all the right to wring my head off. Naturally, I listen to what my mother has to say. She stays in a seniors' home and she is surrounded by seniors. She gets input from seniors as to what kind of programs and what kind of things the government is doing.

As I said, there is a provincial government role as well. So it is important for us that both the provinces and the federal government work together to ensure that the seniors receive the benefits they need.

In many places I have heard about situations where a partner dies and the woman is unable to pay for her house. So she may have to move out of her house. Some of the suggestions are that seniors should have property tax freedom, that they should not be paying property taxes. These are all issues that the provinces and municipalities have to address.

From the point of view of the Government of Canada, the key issue to ensure for seniors is of course the OAS and the GIS. That remains key.

We must also be cognizant that we do not put all of our resources into one area, but that it covers a wider scale of things, to more seniors so that we do not have seniors slipping down as well. That is what the government has done.

Our economy is improving thanks to the excellent management by this government when the world economy was shaken. Because of that we have been able to address many of the concerns.

We are still in a fragile economic recovery. As we heard the Minister of Finance say today, the housing market in the U.S.A is still shaky. The debt crisis in Greece and in the European Union will have a negative impact on this country. If it has a negative impact on this country, of course that means a recession here which means less money to give out to programs.

This is nonsense rhetoric which we saw on the weekend with the NDP trying to decide whether the members want to be socialist or they do not want to be socialist. I am a little surprised that the debate even took place.

The business about our giving tax cuts to corporations or that corporations should not get tax cuts, it does not work that way.

It works in a way to ensure that there the economic conditions develop for businesses to thrive, for a robust economy which would help government coffers, which in turn would help pay for the services that the NDP is talking about and what its motion is about.

Somehow the NDP thinks money is grown on trees, among other things. Remember what the current Liberal who was the former NDP premier of Ontario did to his economy, also in British Columbia and other provinces.

The fact still remains that a robust economy will allow Canada to address the issues that the seniors need to have addressed and to say quite clearly that the government, through sound management, has managed to reduce poverty levels to the lowest one in the whole world.

There is still work to be done and this government will continue doing that work through our Minister of State for Seniors and through ensuring there is a sound economic management of this country which will enable us to meet the needs of the seniors.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member's eloquent speech.

A couple of things really strike me and I wanted to bring them up. The government talks a lot about the economy improving and yet seniors cannot seem to reap any of the benefits of this economic expansion. In fact, more and more seniors in my riding of Davenport are living in poverty.

It is nice to hear the government is finally adopting some of the NDP's messaging around seniors. It now says it wants to lift every senior out of poverty. If the government wants to lift every senior out of poverty, then what does it say to seniors in Davenport and right across the country who, in the last election, were asking the question about why the government was giving seniors $1.65 in its plan and giving the bankers billions?

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for listening very carefully to my speech. He is a new member and was listening very carefully, so I thank him very much.

Being a new member, he is saying that we have not done anything for seniors, but I can tell him for the record what this government has done since coming to power in 2006 until now, giving $2.3 billion in targeted relief to seniors.

As well, and let me just say it one more time, we have the lowest rate of inflation in the world. We have brought it down. This government brought it down. That is quite a significant achievement.

The member should support this budget because there is an increase in this budget for those seniors living on the poverty line of $600 for single seniors and $800 for couples. Therefore, I would ask that the member please support this budget so that they can get that money.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is always such a pleasure to listen to the member for Calgary East when he addresses the House.

The increase in the GIS initiative undertaken by the government is a half measure. We had this debate on another topic last week. It is a small gesture but will it really play a role? I think that is what we are debating here today.

The member is aware of the study that was undertaken and tabled in the House in November of last year by the Standing Committee on HRSD. During one of the presentations there was much discussion and a number of interventions talking about the guaranteed income supplement, knowing that it is a good tool to use to help those in poverty. Could he comment on what the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives had put forward? The minimum increase that it sought was $1.2 billion per year, which would increase each GIS by about $100 per month.

There is a significant gap between what the government did and what was being called for at the time. Does he see that this is a half measure on the part of his government?

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always welcome questions from my friend on the other side.

It is quite interesting when he talks about the small measures, yet when he was the government opposition, Liberal members voted against every measure that would have helped seniors. One minute they were against it, now he says it is a half measure. That is why Canadians gave us a majority as a strong mandate to ensure that we will do what we have promised to do.

To answer his question, I would ask the member to please support the budget because there is an increase for seniors in this budget, $600 for a single senior and $800 for couples.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo
B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Calgary East for talking so clearly to the measures that we have taken for seniors and also how important it is.

There are two issues I want to ask him about. I will try to squeeze them into one question.

We hear the opposition talk about corporate tax cuts. I am hoping he can talk about why having a competitive economy is very important for us to be able to do the things we need to do. Also, in the last economic action plan, how much was actually spent in support of housing? In my riding we almost doubled support for housing for seniors.

Again, we need to have a strong economy to have that money to do what we need to do. Perhaps he could talk about those issues.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker,my hon. colleague talked about the economy and how if we have a competitive economy the government has the ability to provide the services that are needed.

At the current time, the crisis in Greece very clearly indicates that if we have irresponsible economic policies like those that the NDP is proposing, look at what would happen to our economy. Because the government of Greece cannot provide services to its citizens any longer there are riots in the streets in Greece. Had it exercised sound management policies for its economy, it would have had the money to provide the services that were necessary to help its seniors and everyone else and there would not be rioting in the streets.

This is why we say we need a sound economic management for this country. That is what this government will provide.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, we must consider the fact that, in 2010, in urban centres, the maximum payment for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement was less than $5,039 a year. The increase provided in the budget will only benefit single seniors whose additional income is less than $2,000 a year, so that makes a total of about $7,039 a year. I would like my hon. colleague to tell me how a paltry $50 a month will affect the life of a senior living alone and below the poverty line. Can he tell me how this meagre amount will help them get out of poverty, especially since the 85,000 seniors my colleague mentioned do not pay taxes and therefore cannot benefit from these tax credits? Personally, I do not see how this measly $50 will help get these seniors out of poverty.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I said, when it comes to giving relief, we need to look at the larger picture to ensure all seniors benefit from this, not just look at the smaller picture.

This government provided $400 million in affordable housing for low income seniors, aside from providing income splitting and topping up of the GIS. All of this was designed to help seniors stay out of poverty.

We reduced the poverty level from 7.9% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2008. We will continue. The budget provides extra income for that. As our economy produces, we will continue listening to seniors and we will continue to provide relief to them. This government stands on its record, which is a record of doing it and producing it.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the new member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge River.

The member just said that the government would be listening to seniors for sure. Sure it will. It will be listening to the growl in their stomachs as they are sitting there in hunger.

I want to take a moment to recognize the member for London—Fanshawe who has taken over as the critic for seniors. I had the seniors and pensions over the last couple of years, in fact, since 2009, and I am very proud that we are going to have this dynamic woman taking on this challenge. I am looking forward to see the work that will come out of her in the next little while.

The NDP and retirement security is nothing new. In 1927, the labour party of the day forced the Mackenzie King government to bring in old age security because we had Canadians starving across the country. In 1966, NDP Stanley Knowles, again with a Liberal minority, went to the Liberals and said that we needed to have something broader, something in order for every Canadian to have a pension plan. That was the Canada pension plan. It was something that was put forward and passed.

However, we find ourselves today in a crisis. The crisis is the fact that the Canada pension plan going forward will not be effective enough.

However, a more urgent crisis that we have today is that between 250,000 and 300,000 seniors are living clearly below the poverty line. They are living on approximately $1,162 a month when we combine GIS and OAS. Part of the real tragedy is that most of these people are women, women who had the menial jobs or perhaps never got the chance to line up and get into CPP with the rest of us. It is very troubling.

I have been the critic since 2009, as I said, and I have a number of stories to tell. I had to consider what to talk about here today. I think there is a myth, for lack of a better word. Members will recall that in the recent election plan we were talking about what the NDP thought would be the appropriate thing to do. That was not new at all.

In June 2009, in this House, we passed an opposition day motion unanimously. Everyone voted for it. The number one piece in that motion at the time was $700 million to raise 250,000 seniors out of poverty.

When we paused to take a look at the half measure, or I would say half of a half measure, because $700 million over 250,000 to 300,000 people is approximately a $230 a month increase. The measure we are getting across here is $50, or $1.65 a day. In the provinces of Ontario and B.C. that is already eaten up by the HST.

I would have loved to have had the Conservatives listen to us. They voted with us. They gave the impression that they had listened to us. The NDP went across the country. We hear about the solid mandate they have. Guess which caucus tripled in the last election? It is because seniors and Canadians were listening to us. They knew that the number one proposal in our election plan was to increase the GIS to an adequate level for seniors to get them above the poverty line.

I am not going to take any lessons from the member for Calgary West at all on this one.

The opposition day motion that we have put into place has a double purpose. It obviously addresses the short term, the immediacy of the situation of GIS, but the next thing it does is it looks to our future.

We have heard repeatedly in this House that 63% of working Canadians today do not have a pension and do not have savings. Where are we going to be in 35 years? There will be a wall that these people will strike.

It is crucial that this House starts working together to do something to increase the Canada pension plan. We have put forward a proposal that if the employee puts in 2.5% and the employer puts in 2.5%, in 35 years the worker will have a double Canada pension plan.

We have had two disputes in the labour movement just recently, one with Air Canada and the other with Canada Post. In both those instances, they are trying to destroy the defined benefit pension plans. Some of those people have worked for 35 years at those companies. I received an email from one person who was planning to retire in two months from Air Canada with a $1,600 pension. Had that proposal gone through, he would only have had $800 to retire, thus he could not retire.

All these stories are coming from the government that seniors will be allowed to work longer. The idea always was that seniors would move to retirement where they could live in dignity and enjoy some time with their spouses from whom they have been away all of their years.

When this attack comes, it will be the responsibility of the government of the day to look to the future. We need to look to the future with an investment. Workers are willing to pay part of that investment. Increasing the Canada pension plan or doubling Canada pension plan will not cost the government one penny. Canadians have always been prepared to pay their way and this is one more time.

We have heard proposals in different places about voluntary types of programs. If workers had money in the bank now, they would have set up their own plans. The reality is that we need to help Canadians focus themselves. I did not look to my future until I was in my fifties, which is a long time ago now, come to think of it, but the reality is that most young people do not. They have these items out there that sparkle so brightly, such as iPads, iPhones or whatever. They invest their time and energy in those. We need to help them as a government. We need to show leadership in this place.

The other thing about the Canada pension plan is that it is totally portable in this country. If there is a downturn in one area, workers are free to move to another area and take that pension plan with them. I really want to stress that today.

I want to come back a little bit, and, Mr. Speaker, you may need to correct me, because I have a tendency to turn to talk to the other side when I know I am supposed to speak through the Speaker, but I cannot help myself because I know there are good people sitting over there. We try to appeal to them with the various stories and things that have happened.

I spent two summers as the critic going to seniors meetings. I attended 40 community meetings, 20 each summer for the last two summers. There are heartrending stories that we hear at those times. I have repeated them before but they still bear repeating today.

In St. Thomas, a woman had retired, but her husband was two years short of retirement when he had a stroke. He was getting medication. We have all kinds of buzzwords and one of them in the world today is “delisting”. The woman's husband had a $90 a month prescription that just go delisted by the province of Ontario. She wondered where she could find the $90, and that was before HST.

Speaking of HST, a woman in Elliott Lake, who I will never forget, said to me, and it is interesting that people like her always take us outside because this is very personal for them, “My hydro bill is $2,100 a year. They are talking about HST. Where will I find the $160?” God help that woman. The price of hydro has gone up, plus the HST.

I want to stress the importance of putting aside rhetoric. It is a fact that banks in this country made $22 billion in profit last year. The fact is that the banks gave $11 billion in bonuses to their executives. It is shameful. The people on that side of the House can so something about this. They can take moneys like that simply by postponing the tax cuts and they can genuinely work to raise seniors above poverty. I believe that is what this House could do. I look forward to the future of this debate because I know it will be going on for some time.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the last couple of years, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek was the seniors critic and I was fortunate enough to have him come to my riding.

I want to ask him a question specifically about something in my riding. My riding has been a resourced-based riding. The forestry has taken a huge hit. I met with pensioners who were in their seventies and eighties and they had worked for our forestry company for a number of years. All of a sudden it looked like that particular company was teetering on the brink of some severe financial difficulties. The workers were very concerned about the health of their pension. These were men and women in their seventies and eighties. There was no hope for them to go back to work. We saw that happen with Nortel in Ottawa.

I wonder if the member could comment on what he sees is the importance of doubling CPP, as he so ably outlined, and what it would mean to the men and women in our country when the pension plans that they paid into through their employer are suddenly under threat.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for that question because it is a very important situation that it is happening across the country, in every sector. We have had the things happening with Nortel, we have had problems with the steel workers, and problems in a number of places in this country.

The reality is that workers can wake up one morning and have no pension. Some of the forestry companies forgot the fact that this is workers' money. This money is from deferred wages. This money came as a result of workers saying, “We will forego that next raise if you will start giving us $1 an hour or whatever toward a pension plan so we can retire in dignity”. Instead, as in the case of Nortel, the company had $6 billion in assets and $4 billion in cash, and they did not pay long-term disability to people who were disabled. Their pension plan wound up with a loss of 37%. In my riding there was a man and a woman who were both in their eighties and both had worked for Nortel. In one day they each lost 37% of their pension.

Things must be done beyond what we are talking about today. There has to be pension insurance and there are a number of things we can do.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my honourable colleague for his very kind words and his important contribution to this debate.

He made reference to the fact that the government is working diligently to undercut the pensions of people in the public sector, the Air Canada employees in the private sector, and certainly Canada Post workers. He made reference to defined benefits and defined contributions. Could he explain to people the difference between those two kinds of plans?