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

1:30 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand today to speak about this issue, particularly since seniors in my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River are suffering terribly. I am going to relate a couple of stories. I start to tear up when I even think about them, but I will talk about them in a minute.

This issue is not like finding a needle in a haystack. It is as easy as finding hay in a haystack and we can do it. What New Democrats said in their platform they have always stood for, which I will read. It states:

We will increase the annual Guaranteed Income Supplement to a sufficient level in the first budget to lift every senior in Canada out of poverty immediately.

We can do that. Retirement security has always been a priority of the New Democratic Party. It has always been a priority of parties which came before it. In 1927 was the very first pension legislation in this country, brought in by the Independent Labour Party, one of the NDP's forerunners. When New Democrats speak about this motion today, we speak from authority, from history and decades and decades of trying to ensure that seniors do not live in poverty.

What we are faced with now is about 250,000 seniors in this country living in poverty. The debate is not even so much about GIS or CPP as it is about respect and dignity. Those are two things we in the NDP want to talk about today because respect and dignity are what many of our seniors do not have.

I conducted a telephone town hall meeting before the election and there were 8,500 people on the line from my riding. Overwhelmingly, the two things people mentioned in that meeting as being most important were affordability and retirement security. I suspect that is felt right across this country in every riding, rural and urban.

In this budget the Conservatives talk about $1.64 a day for seniors. Everyone in the House will remember that the government, along with the governments of Ontario and British Columbia, conspired to charge seniors an average of $3 a day in HST. That is the average seniors pay in HST. They get $1.64 in this budget, which the government says is fabulous, and with the other hand it takes away $3, and probably much more, in HST.

The hon. member who spoke before me talked about apologizing. I think it is the government that should apologize. It is the government that should apologize for $1.64 a day and saying that is enough for seniors, for respect and for dignity. It is not.

The most vulnerable group among seniors is women. Women make up about 70% of poor seniors in this country. The poverty rate for women in this country in 2008 was double that of men. For seniors who live in poverty, almost 100% of their incomes come from the government. Therefore, $1.64 a day makes me sad.

If the government simply looked at it in economic terms and took away the human element of its decisions, lifting every senior out of poverty in this country is good for this country. It is good for the economy. Where do seniors spend their money? They spend their money in the local communities where they live and they just want an opportunity to buy a present for their grandchildren on their birthdays. That is all they want. They spend it right in their own communities. Therefore, $700 million to lift every senior out of poverty is $700 million that goes right back into local economies.

I want to speak very briefly about some of the seniors I have met in my riding. If people need health care in my riding, they have two choices: Those living in the west end of my riding can go to Winnipeg; if they live on the east side, they go to Thunder Bay. I am not sure how every province works, but Ontario has travel grants. However, people have to put the money out first.

To go from Atikokan to Thunder Bay return costs $300. We do not have trains. We have the occasional bus that goes by. It is either in a private car or a taxi. It is $160 for a one-way trip. People have to put that money out first.

I know seniors who do not go to the hospital when they are supposed to, who do not follow up on appointments because they cannot put the money out first. I know seniors who do not take their medications. They do not buy their medications because they cannot. Or, they split them. They take half every day, or use any other strategy they can to try to save money.

Let me give one example of the face of poverty in my riding. In Atikokan not too long ago, I was speaking with a senior, a man probably in his 80s. His wife had passed away. He had raised four children. They were all gone from the community. He came in to see me one day and he said he could not pay his electricity bill. I asked if he had tried some strategies to reduce the use of electricity. He told me that he uses one light bulb and every second day he unplugs the refrigerator.

The HST from the government was the turning point for that man, for his electricity. That is what seniors go through in this country. That is what seniors go through in my riding.

I know, although there may be members of Parliament here who do not agree or do not see this, it happens in every riding.

What are the other impacts in my riding? Speaking about longevity of seniors, we all go to funerals, or read in the paper about seniors dying. We think that they should not have passed away, that it was too early for them to go. For seniors who have to live below the poverty line, we are talking about malnutrition, depression and suicide.

The biggest indicator of seniors' longevity is the number of friends they have. I do not know if people here know that. How many friends a senior has determines how long that senior will live. However, I know seniors and I talk to seniors all the time who do not have many or any friends. That is because they live below the poverty line and they are embarrassed. What could they invite their friends over to their house for? What could they serve them? What could they talk about? So, gradually seniors lose their friends. It is not because their friends do not want to spend time with them, but because they are embarrassed to spend time with their friends. That is sad, because those seniors will have a whole host of health issues and die before their time.

What can we do? What are the choices? If we do not buy one F-35 jet, that would be enough to lift every senior out of poverty for two years. If we ended the corporate giveaways to big oil companies and banks, we would have more than enough money to lift every senior out of poverty in this country forever.

Opposition Motion—Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, as mentioned by my colleague earlier, we have just come through one of the largest global recessions since the Great Depression and the poverty rate for seniors has gone down from 7.9% over a decade or so ago to 5.8%. That is a credible change and it has a lot to do with the action our government has taken. I think 5.8% is too high.

In the last session our government brought legislation forward to increase the GIS, to increase funding for seniors. Each and every one of those members automatically stood and opposed every initiative that our government put forward to help seniors. I wonder if my colleague could respond to that.

Opposition Motion—Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that comment because it allows me an opportunity to say that in this country we cannot afford to have any senior living in poverty. We cannot afford to have anyone living in poverty in this country.

Government members talk about NDP members not supporting the Conservative agenda. Let me just talk about their collusion with Premier McGuinty in Ontario on the HST. If they want to know why we on this side of the House do not stand up to support them on that it is because they are costing not just every person in Ontario, but particularly seniors who live in poverty in Ontario. The Conservative government is making them poorer. Why would we stand on this side of the House and tell the government that we support what it is doing, that we support it putting seniors right across Canada back into more poverty?

Opposition Motion—Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to highlight a couple of quick points followed by a question.

New Democrats seem to be focused on dealing with the income increase, yet at the same time there are many other aspects to getting seniors out of poverty. We need to take a holistic approach. Many different factors would go a long way toward bringing seniors out of poverty.

Toward the end of his remarks my colleague made reference to the cancellation of one jet aircraft. He indicated that would cover the cost of what New Democrats are suggesting.

I have no question in terms of priorities. We in the Liberal Party believe that the government's priorities, the corporate tax breaks, the millions that are being spent on a number of fighter aircraft, are all wrong. With the wealth that Canada has, why are we not treating our seniors better than we are and attempting to lift them out of poverty?

Do the NDP numbers tell them that the cancellation of one aircraft would more than cover the cost of bringing seniors out of poverty?

Opposition Motion—Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, there actually are a number of questions in that question.

I agree with my hon. colleague that we have to take a multi-pronged approach to poverty in this country, seniors' poverty in particular. There is one thing that we can immediately do. We talk about doubling CPP over the next 7 to 10 years. We talk about a number of other strategies that would help seniors to ensure that they would have an opportunity to put a little money in their pockets so they can buy a present for their grandchild on his or her birthday. The GIS increase would provide immediate relief for seniors. I know members on the other side of the aisle agree with me.

The government said it would do something in the budget but they are always quarter measures, always tenth measures. They are not the measures that need to be taken. There is no real commitment from the government to ensure that seniors do not live in poverty in this country.

Opposition Motion—Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue as seniors are important to all of us. We all have important seniors in our lives. As a matter of fact I spent yesterday with some important seniors in my life, my grandparents, my dad's mom and dad, as well as my mom's mom. I had an opportunity to hear from them and hear their concerns with regard to what the government can do. My grandma just wants to let everybody here know that she needs her mail, If hon. members will do what they can to get that passed, I know my baba would be very appreciative that we brought that to the House today.

In terms of the debate today, we have an important discussion before us that we should be deliberating knowing a number of facts, which I will get into. The most important fact is to recognize that no two seniors are identical. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to seniors in the same way we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to child care or any other issue facing our government today.

Therefore, it is important for us to consider that there are many seniors who are in a whole host of different circumstances across this country. That is why it is important that we have a whole host of different measures that we bring forward to address concerns facing seniors today.

It is important to recognize that we have seniors who are still in the marketplace. They are still working and still contributing in paid employment. Just because they are in the workforce does not mean that they are affluent. I know many people who are in the workforce simply because they feel that they need to be.

We also know there are seniors who are facing health difficulties, challenges with regard to their health care, but there are also seniors who are very healthy. Today we have a seniors' population in this country that is growing older than any generation before and they are healthier than any other generation before.

I am pleased to stand in this House today to talk about the many ways that our government is addressing the concerns of seniors, including the $300 million top up to the guaranteed income supplement. This is an important initiative that is being brought forward.

In both budgets 2011, the budget brought forward before the election and the budget brought forward after the election, and during the election campaign our government came forward and said that it would contribute $300 million to top up the guaranteed income supplement. That is an important thing that we all need to recognize our government is committed to doing.

In my riding of Peace River, I met a many seniors who were very concerned and confused during the election campaign. On one side they had a government that brought forward a budget that had a number of measures that were very important to senior citizens. It was not just the $300 million that would be dedicated toward the GIS. There were a whole host of other things in the budget that were important to senior citizens as well. They were very confused as to how the opposition parties could justify calling an opportunistic and unnecessary election that would cost over $300 million to run in the face of the reality that we were under fiscal constraints. They knew personally that they could benefit from the measures that had been brought forward and had been stalled as a result of the opposition parties' torpedoing that budget and the budget measures that were included in that document.

Canadians are living longer and healthier lives. It is different from pretty much any other generation before. That means that our seniors are depending on their retirement income for longer periods of time.

As we work to help Canadians achieve their financial security, it is important that our government and all members in this House recognize that things are changing and seniors are living longer and, therefore, we must consider the reality of both.

The most important thing that I believe government can do, or does, is provide seniors with support through our public pension system. This system is highly effective. It is internationally regarded, and for good reason.

This year, Canadians will receive almost $70 billion in benefits through the Canadian pension plan, old age security and the GIS, or guaranteed income supplement. The GIS, which provides extra support to seniors with little or no income, has been a great success in reducing poverty among seniors.

It is important to recognize the facts, and today, during the debate, it is one that is being engaged in. We have anecdotes that are coming forward from all sides. It is important to look at the facts because if we drill down into these facts we will have some revelations that are important for all of us to consider.

It is important for Canadians and for all of us in the House to recognize that Canada has one of the lowest poverty rates among seniors in the developed world at 5.8%. Now 5.8% is still a number that is too high, because there is nobody in the House who would like to see a single senior living below the poverty line, but let us recognize that this is a significant improvement over years past. This rate is lower now than it has ever been under previous governments. It was 6.8% in 2003 and, if we look even further back, it was 7.9% in 1999.

It is important that when we recognize that Canada not only has one of the lowest rates of senior poverty in the world, we recognize a time and a place in which we are seeing this happen. We have just witnessed one of the worst economic meltdowns that we have seen in the last number of generations, the great recession, and it is in this environment that Canada is seeing one of the lowest rates of senior poverty to date.

I watch the news, as do members across the aisle, and we see that, in other countries, simply holding on to the benefits that had been allocated to seniors over past years is the gold standard. As we see governments having to strip away benefits that have been previously allocated to senior citizens, in Canada we are not only saving all of the things that have been provided to senior citizens over the last number of years, we are improving them because, not only do we have one of the lowest rates of senior poverty in history in this country today but in the world as well, we are working to improve and reduce that even further.

Our government's prudent and fiscally responsible economic approach is working. That is why Canadian seniors overwhelmingly supported our government's initiatives during the last election. The new guaranteed income supplement top up will target the poorest and the most vulnerable seniors, providing an additional annual benefit of up to $600 a year for single seniors or $840 a year for senior couples. This measure represents an investment of more than $300 million per year and will further improve the financial security and the well-being of more than 680,000 seniors across this great nation.

It will also represent the single biggest increase in the guaranteed income supplement in over 25 years, and it is affordable without raising taxes. It is an important distinction that I am bringing here. While the opposition parties have committed all kinds of plans of spending billions and billions of dollars on a whole host of different programs, they have also committed to raising taxes on Canadians and Canadian seniors as well.

Looking at what the difference is with regard to what the parties are proposing, I wonder why the opposition parties voted against budget 2011 and why they forced an unnecessary and opportunistic election on the Canadian people, sacrificing over $300 million in government spending that could have been allocated toward benefiting seniors.

I cannot complain about the results of the election but I must question the motivation of the opposition parties with regard to the forcing of the election. I have to wonder why Canadians from coast to coast elected a Conservative majority government.

After talking to people in my riding, and specifically seniors, it has become crystal clear to me that they believe in the plan this government has brought forward. They recognize that it is a prudent and fiscally responsible plan.

Our government has done a whole host of things since we were elected in 2006 and it is important to reflect on some of them. As we look at the reality of the statistics, we have seen the lowest rate of poverty levels among seniors today due to the measures our government has brought forward.

It is important to recognize that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the issues concerning seniors, which is why we brought forward a whole host of different measures. They include: an increase to the age credit by $1,000 twice, benefiting 2.2 million senior citizens; the pension income credit was doubled to $2,000; pension income splitting for senior couples was introduced; the age limit for registered retirement savings plans was increased from 69 years to 71 years of age; and, the minimum registered retirement income fund withdrawal was reduced by 25% providing over $200 million in tax relief to seniors.

Before those measures were introduced, those people were paying taxes. Today, as a result of these measures, 85,000 Canadian seniors no longer pay federal income tax. In 2011, a single senior earning around $19,000 and a senior couple earning at least $38,000 would not pay any federal income tax at all. I can say that this is greatly appreciated by seniors in my riding

When I talk to senior citizens, many of them want to continue to play an important role in the workforce. It is important that governments continue to encourage people who have reached the age of 65, or an age at which they are recognized as a senior citizen, to stay in the workforce and be allowed to do so. I think we as Canadians benefit from having senior citizens in the workforce contributing in so many unique and important ways.

Opposition Motion—Seniors' Poverty
Business of Supply
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. I must interrupt the member at this point. When the House returns to this matter, the hon. member for Peace River will have seven minutes remaining.

National Research Council
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, the National Research Council has a proud history that goes back 95 years. Some of its key accomplishments are the pacemaker, computer animation technology and the Canadarm.

It has relied on great leaders like Jack Mackenzie, Larkin Kerwin and now, John McDougall. For over 30 years, I have stood up for the NRC and its cutting-edge science.

For the past five years, in this House and elsewhere, I have promoted the establishment of the technology transfer centre to better market the intellectual property of the NRC.

That is why I am proud that this government has granted the NRC stable funding that has increased by 17% over the last five years, to fund research, help businesses and stimulate the economy.

On top of that, I was pleased to announce two years ago temporary two-year stimulus funding to the NRC under Canada's economic action plan.

As Canada's primary research agency, the NRC continues to benefit from the strong financial support of the government.

Regional Economic Development
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the voters of my riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain for placing their trust in me in the May 2 election.

I would like to point out to the hon. members that the residents of La Tuque, the birthplace of Félix Leclerc, are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of their city this year. A number of activities will be held during the summer to mark the occasion.

I would also like to highlight the efforts made by the city of Shawinigan to create new, original, dynamic industries in response to the many economic shocks that have hit the wood processing industry.

My constituents have shown courage and determination as they struggle to deal with the restructuring of the global economy. I would like to take this opportunity to let them know that they can count on my continued support in the search for viable economic solutions for the regions.

Afghanistan
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, mission accomplished. Now that Operation Athena, Canada's participation in the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, it is with great pride that I recognize the more than 8,500 CFB Petawawa-based military personnel who served in Afghanistan. It has been a long haul from when troops were put on the ground back in 2002.

Our men and women in uniform are motivated by a love of comradeship and a desire to serve our country. We will never forget those soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice for Canada.

Canadians recognize efforts to bring stability and the rule of law to Afghanistan. As a result, there has been a significant transformation in attitude in Canada as a result of our mission in Afghanistan.

A decade ago, many commentators had written off our military: no more. We have gone from being NATO's biggest freeloader to becoming a respected member of the Western Alliance.

A grateful nation says thanks.

Human Rights Walkway
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, on July 1, Canada Day, the municipality of Côte Saint-Luc, in my riding of Mount Royal, will induct Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, honorary Canadian citizen, Nobel Peace Laureate and a great heroine of our time, into the municipality's Human Rights Walkway.

Aung San Suu Kyi will join the pantheon of human rights heroes in the walkway, which include: Raoul Wallenberg, Canada's first honorary citizen; former chief justices Antonio Lamer and Gilles Deschênes of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Superior Court of Quebec, respectively; international jurists René Cassin and John Humphrey; and aboriginal heroine Mary Two-Axe Early.

I would like to commend the mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, Anthony Housefather, as well as the members of the city council, who have made the promotion and protection of human rights a priority in their work.

Canadian Heritage
Statements by Members

June 20th, 2011 / 2:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate you on your election as Speaker. Above all, I would like to warmly thank the people in the riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher who chose to express their social democratic values by giving me the mandate to represent them. It is a privilege and a responsibility that I will honour with dedication and pride.

I would also like to thank the volunteers, without whom, we all know, political life would be very difficult. Thank you to the three women in my life who supported me in this great endeavour: my daughters, Marilou and Rose, as well as their mother, Johanne. I would also like to thank a fourth woman, my mother, who is 80 and who has tirelessly supported the NDP for more than 20 years. She, too, put in time and hard work.

As the sport critic and deputy Canadian heritage critic, I will ensure, for one, that the Pointe-de-Longueuil development project benefits everyone in Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher by improving the bike path network and its access to the Longueuil metro. Above all, I will ensure that people in the riding again have natural access to the banks of the St. Lawrence.

City of Brampton
Statements by Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the city of Brampton, also known as the Flower City, and its residents on holding its immensely successful sixth Flower City Parade. The parade is a great way to start off the summer. It allows all Bramptonians the opportunity to connect with our community and its heritage, as well as enjoy the day of entertainment and fun. The event drew thousands of Bramptonians to the downtown core to watch the float and entertainers.

This year's parade had a unique theme. It was “Brampton Welcomes Bollywood”. As the International Indian Film Academy award celebrations are set to begin in the GTA this week, Brampton also welcomed numerous Bollywood stars during the parade.

The event was a tremendous success. I want to acknowledge hundreds of volunteers for the hard work that went into planning and executing such a great event for all Bramptonians to enjoy.

Birthday Wishes
Statements by Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to Mr. Alex Sim of Kamloops as he celebrates his 86th birthday today with 419 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta.

At the age of 16, Mr. Sim tried to join the RCAF during the Second World War, but was rejected because of his age. Undeterred, he joined the Canadian army and participated in the Normandy campaign and later served in the Korean War.

Although he went on to a successful career in the army, his passion has always been for flight. He served as president of the Pacific Group of the Air Force Association and as a member of the 886 (Overlander) Wing in Kamloops.

Over the years, he served as a liaison officer between 419 Squadron and 886 Wing. Last year, he was recognized for his years of service and given the honorary title of commanding officer of 419 Squadron.

Recognized by his feisty presence, commanding voice and impressive historical knowledge, please join me in wishing Mr. Sim a happy birthday and to thank him for his dedication to the armed forces and our country.

Repentigny Relay for Life
Statements by Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my constituents, the people of Repentigny, for placing their trust in me on May 2.

My riding is a great place to live. Proof of this is the fact that, even though a multinational like Electrolux is closing, even though families and seniors are getting poorer, and even though our SMEs are overtaxed, the people in my riding still managed to join forces, open their hearts, donate their time and even empty their piggy banks for a good cause: the fight against cancer. The Repentigny Relay for Life, which was held last Friday, has become one of the largest in Canada. Together they raised the unprecedented amount of a little over $500,000 and organized an unforgettable evening.

I call on this government to reconsider its budget, to scrape together what it can and to give more to the people who are our everyday heroes.