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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today seeking your leave to move the adjournment of the House to debate the issue outlined in the application presented to you this morning, about which I will now speak. It is a matter that demands urgent attention by the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board.

The minister has consistently called for the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board. We have learned through his answers in question period that the minister will, in the next session of Parliament, attempt to do so without holding a plebiscite of the wheat board membership, which is a sound democratic right bestowed on western wheat and barley farmers through section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

The wheat board is a fundamentally important institution to many tens of thousands of western farmers and their families, whose livelihoods are protected by its crucial work. They deserve to have the act followed and to have their opinions respected in a democratic vote with a clear question, whatever the outcome.

This request for an emergency debate needs to be granted because Canadians, through their representatives, have a right to know why the minister plans to violate section 47.1 of the act, and to know how he will restructure the wheat board if in fact he does not obey section 47.1 and to know how his restructuring will be implemented.

Standing Order 52 explains that the House can adjourn to hear an emergency debate if the Speaker, in his discretion, concludes that the issue of the debate is: (a) within the scope of the government's administrative responsibilities and within the scope of ministerial action; (b) will not be brought before the House in reasonable time by other means; and (c) relates to a matter of genuine emergency requiring immediate and urgent consideration.

It is clear that the conditions set out in (a) above are met, because section 47.1 of the act makes it clear that the wheat board falls not only within the administrative responsibilities of the government but also that any action dealing with the wheat board's mandate will be determined by the minister and it is, therefore, within his scope.

This matter is a genuine emergency requiring immediate consideration as set out in (c) above for the very reason that causes this issue to comply with (b) above.

The minister has telegraphed his intentions to change the mandate of the wheat board, but he has not told Canadians how he is planning to do so and he has therefore comprised the ability of the wheat board to function effectively and has created confusion, uncertainty and alarm among western Canadian grain producers.

It is imperative that this debate be held today, because there is no reasonable expectation that this issue will be brought before the House in a reasonable time or prior to the House's summer recess.

There is also no expectation that the required vote set out in section 47.1(b) of the act will occur within a reasonable time before the minister's legislation is brought forward in the fall, if at all.

The debate I propose will focus on clearly determining if the minister is willing to abide by section 47.1 of the act. If he will not abide by it, we will seek to determine for western farmers how he plans to restructure the wheat board and how the restructuring will be implemented.

I respectfully submit, therefore, that the issues are within the scope of the government's administrative responsibilities, will not be brought before the House in a reasonable time by other means, and relate to a matter of genuine urgency requiring immediate attention.

It is with this in mind that I appeal to you to hold an emergency debate to determine if the minister will skirt section 47.1 of the act, and to determine how the board will change under the minister's undisclosed legislation.

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. No doubt it is of concern to him and some of his colleagues. I find, however, that it does not meet the tests for an emergency debate and, therefore, I would decline the request at this time.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North is rising on a point of order?

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Yes, Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, I wonder if it would possible to ask for unanimous consent of the House to allow a debate of this nature to occur, given the very impact on western Canada. Could we canvas the House to see if there would be support for that?

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am not sure what kind of unanimous consent the member is seeking. Is to have some kind of debate later today?

I do not get the sense there is consensus on that, so we will move on to orders of the day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

When question period started, the hon. member for Peace River had seven minutes left to conclude his remarks.

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

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to speak many times in the House since I was re-elected, but now while you were in the chair. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election as Speaker in the House. Already we are finding that we made the right choice, that in fact you are doing an excellent job as Speaker, and we look forward to your responsibilities being carried out over the next four years and will be well served.

Before question period, I was in the middle of my speech on the government's response to the issue of seniors' poverty in this country. I was undertaking to reveal some facts. In this debate different stories have been brought to the floor, but it is important for us as legislators to always look back to the facts. It is important that we review those facts, and one of them is that we live in a country that has one of the lowest rates of seniors' poverty in the world.

Currently, 5.8% of seniors live under the poverty line. We obviously do not want any seniors under the poverty line, but we have to recognize that this is one of the lowest rates in the world, and one of the lowest rates in Canadian history as well.

If we look back over the last number of years to 2003, the rate was higher at 6.8%. If we look even further back to 1999, the rate of senior poverty was nearly 8%. At 5.8% we know that we are making some significant improvements. Many of the initiatives that our government has brought forward in the last budget, as well as many of the things we have promised, will only improve that reality.

It is also important to reflect upon the fact that the GIS increase our government is proposing in the budget is the single largest increase Canadian seniors will have seen in the last 25 years. My opposition colleagues today have often suggested that if only they were in power, they would do things differently. However, under the Liberal government, even when it brought forward an NDP budget, this provision was not included and was not on its radar screen at all. It was 25 years ago that we last saw an increase of this magnitude. I think it is important for us to reflect on those facts.

Just before question period, I also remarked on the fact that our government had undertaken a whole host of different initiatives to bring tax relief to Canadian senior citizens. As a matter of fact, with the provisions that our government has brought forward since 2006, over 85,000 senior citizens are completely off the tax rolls. This means that 85,000 seniors who were paying federal income tax in 2005 and 2006 no longer pay it to the federal government at all. This obviously is a significant change and why the rate of poverty among senior citizens continues to drop.

Our government has done a whole host of other things that do not necessarily have to do with tax relief. In addition to the things we have done on the tax side, there is a whole host of other things we have done to continue focusing on senior citizens. Any time we make a change in any other department, we have initiatives that always take into consideration how they will impact senior citizens.

That is why our government and the Prime Minister appointed a minister of state for seniors. I want to acknowledge that we have an exceptional Minister of State for Seniors today, but this post has been held by two other extremely competent and remarkable female cabinet ministers since it was created. I want to thank the members who held this position previously because, due to their work, seniors' issues continue to be brought to the forefront at the cabinet table.

We have also created the National Seniors Council to advise the government on all things related to the well-being of senior citizens.

In addition, we have raised the income earned exemption under the guaranteed income supplement from $500 to $3,500. This is benefiting over 1.6 million seniors across this country.

We have also introduced an automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement, so that eligible seniors who file a tax return no longer need to reapply for this benefit year after year. This is one of our government's initiatives to ensure that senior citizens do not fall through the cracks and will not lose the GIS benefit if they do not produce the paperwork on time. Our government has worked across the board to reduce red tape for Canadian citizens generally, but we are also focusing that effort to protect the interests of senior citizens.

We have also implemented changes to the Canada pension plan so that seniors have the freedom to choose to keep working and contributing to their pension fund. This is important because, as we all know, the demographics of Canada are shifting. We know that the baby boomers are aging and that we face a demographic challenge in our country. However, we also recognize the absolutely remarkable and important contribution that senior citizens can make in their workplace even after they reach the age of 65, through mentorship programs and a whole host of other things. As a matter of fact, I know of senior citizens who made their biggest and most important contributions to the workplace after they were into their 60s and 70s. Even in this House, we have members who are making a contribution long after they are 65. So we know the importance of and believe in the freedom of senior citizens to continue to contribute in the workforce after they reach the age of 65, and to be able to contribute to their pension funds after that.

We are also very concerned about the well-being of senior citizens and that is why we have invested over $13 million in a campaign to raise awareness about and to combat elder abuse. We are also bringing forward a whole host of criminal justice reforms that are applauded by senior citizens, because they know the importance of safety and security and living in their own homes into their retirements.

Mr. Speaker, you are going to cut me off, but I do appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important issue.

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

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the course of my hon. colleague's deliberations, the member for Peace River asked why Canadians and perhaps people on this side of the House were opposed to the Conservative budgetary and other policies.

Well, I have a partial list. How about $60 billion in tax cuts to profitable corporations? How about cuts to organizations like KAIROS because they criticized the government for its environmental policy? How about the abuse of our veterans, with clawbacks of their pensions? How about $857 million for summits, fake lakes, gazebos, photo ops and partisan ads? How about their providing in the budget less than half of what was needed to lift all seniors out of poverty? What about the cuts to organizations that worked for women's equality? How about a government that used the Senate to stop NDP bills like the one for generic drugs for those living with HIV-AIDS and sufferers of TB and malaria in Africa, not to mention how it used the summit to undermine our environmental bill?

Why on earth would the government invest $35 billion in jets and not in seniors when it obviously has the resources? Will the member support this motion to lift seniors out of poverty?

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

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do thank the hon. member for bringing forward the motion, but in the question she does not get to the crux of the matter.

What are we going to do for seniors to ensure they can stay in their homes longer, that they can make choices that actually improve their own well-being? Our government is focused on that with a feasible, cost-effective plan to ensure that seniors will have more money in their pocket so they can remain in their homes and continue to live well into their senior years. This plan includes a whole host of different measures.

The hon. member was part of a party that did not even read this budget or the last number of budgets. Her party actually told the Canadian people that it was proud it had not read the budgets. The hon. member has voted against successive budgets brought forward by the Conservative government with the many measures that I have described today that have reduced seniors' poverty in this country, including a $300 million investment in seniors through the GIS increase, the largest in 25 years. So even when the NDP was talking with the Liberals about a so-called NDP budget, it included no reflections on this as a priority. Clearly, that is why--

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

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

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

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member talks about issues such as independent living.

I agree that we need to look at independent living and allow seniors the ability to afford to continue to live in an independent way. One of the ways in which that can be done is through the provision of the necessary funds so they can pay for the pharmaceutical costs, which are going up, and some of the home care services that are becoming higher in need as people age.

Yet, at the same time, the public sees these huge increases in tax benefits to corporations and government expenditures that are questionable such as the purchase of the jets.

People wonder why the government is not recognizing the value of the seniors and ensuring that seniors who want to live independently are able to access those drugs. It is becoming more difficult because the cost of drugs is going up.

For the fiscal years of 2012-13, does the member see another increase to the GIS? Is this just a one-time hit?

Many, including myself and the Liberal Party, would argue that what we are giving in terms of an increase today is not enough. Does the member anticipate more increases to the GIS in 2012-13?

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

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the remarks made by my colleague from Winnipeg North.

On the health care front, our government has made it very clear that we will continue to contribute to the health transfers and we will see increases, as we have over the last number of years. There are no cutbacks. During the 1990s the Liberal government slashed those transfers, but our government is committed to not doing that. We are going to continue to invest in health care across the country.

We have had a whole host of budgets, but let us focus on this last budget, the one that was brought forward before the election. The Liberal members, with the New Democratic members and the Bloc Québécois, voted down a budget that would see the largest increase to the GIS in over 25 years. They voted against that to cause an unnecessary and costly election. Talk about misplaced priorities.

Canadians, and especially senior citizens, recognize that this was a misplaced priority. That is why my hon. colleague across the way is now part of the third party in the House rather than the official opposition.