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

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Poverty of Seniors
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Richmond
B.C.

Conservative

Alice Wong Minister of State (Seniors)

Mr. Speaker, I will address the issue raised by the hon. member of London—Fanshawe in regard to ending seniors' poverty.

As the hon. Minister of State for seniors, I am pleased to say that we have already taken action to address this serious issue in budget 2011. That is why we will support this motion today.

The hon. member suggests that we increase the guaranteed income supplement. We have increased the guaranteed income supplement in budget 2011, which we tabled earlier this month.

I would also like to correct the member on some other facts.

With the strong mandate the Canadians have given us, we are using the next phase of the economic action plan to not only enhance the GIS but also the new horizons for seniors program.

We are also working for seniors to ensure the strength of the retirement income system by introducing a new family caregiver tax credit. In fact, when asked about these measures, CARP's vice-president of advocacy said that its members were, "happy" and "thrilled that these issues--are being mentioned" in the budget.

I would like to go back and discuss the issue, which, in my opinion, is the most important news for seniors in budget 2011, the boost to the guaranteed income supplement. This increase will directly help those seniors who rely exclusively or almost exclusively on federal benefits. This includes many senior women and singles with inadequate incomes.

Budget 2011 measures will provide a new annual top-up benefit of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This will improve the financial security of more than 680,000 seniors across Canada. It will help the most vulnerable seniors. This is a significant investment into our seniors population despite the government's tight fiscal situation that will see us balance our budget by fiscal year 2014-15.

However, do not take my word for it. Let us hear what some key stakeholders have to say about our 2011 budget commitments following the initial tabling of the budget.

The C.D. Howe Institute said:

...the new Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) top-up benefit for low-income seniors, would bring a meaningful increase in benefits too low-income seniors.

Both the Service Employees International Union and the Canadian Labour Congress stated in press releases that the guaranteed income supplement increase "is a win for every senior living in poverty in Canada".

We are providing the largest GIS increase in a quarter century to the lowest income seniors who need it most. This makes sense.

However, the GIS increase is only one of the many ways our government is helping seniors preserve their standards of living.

Canada's seniors have worked hard to build a better country and our government believes they deserve a secure and dignified retirement.

Furthermore, Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than people in past generations. Therefore, helping Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years is a priority of our government.

It goes back to the very beginning of our mandate when we created the portfolio of minister for seniors so that older people could have a stronger voice at the cabinet table.

Since 2007, our government has made life better for Canadian seniors through a number of programs and initiatives. In fact, it was our government who introduced pension income splitting and doubled the pension income credit. We have lowered taxes and removed 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls completely. We also raised the GIS exemption, putting more money in the pockets of 1.6 million more seniors.

What did the opposition do? It voted against all of those measures. If the opposition truly intends to help seniors, it would have voted for our budget.

Speaking of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, we will do even more.

As minister for seniors, I am happy to say that budget 2011 has good news for older Canadians. In budget 2011, we introduced new measures to improve the financial security of Canada's seniors, to expand their opportunities and to enhance their quality of life.

I have already mentioned that Canadians are living longer than people in past generations and they are naturally concerned about financial security after they retire.

It is important to point out that we have a strong public pension system. This year, Canadian's will receive $70 billion in benefits through the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, or what we call GIS. Over the years, GIS has been a major factor in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors but it is not the only factor and it is not the only area where we are making things better.

Our government also wants to improve federally regulated private pension plans. We are now working with the provinces to introduce new private pension options, such as the pooled registered pension plan. These plans would benefit millions of Canadians who have not had access to this kind of coverage before, such as employees of small and medium-sized businesses and self-employed workers.

We are helping seniors hang on to more of their hard-earned money. As a result of measures introduced by this government, seniors and pensioners will receive about $2.3 billion in targeted tax relief in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

There are many seniors who are not quite ready to draw a pension. The National Seniors Council has found that many seniors are staying on the job where they continue to share their wealth of knowledge and experience. For those seniors who want to keep working, we are changing the rules to eliminate the mandatory retirement age for most federally regulated employees.

We are also extending the targeted initiative for older workers for another two years. This initiative helps older workers who have been laid off from their jobs to retrain for new careers.

All of those measures are helping seniors financially. They are all anti-poverty measures. In fact, the incidence of poverty among seniors in Canada has dropped from a rate of 21% in 1980 to less than 6% in 2008. That is one of the lowest rates in the world.

That is not all. The next phase of Canada's economic action plan builds on commitments to seniors made in previous budgets. These commitments include $13 million over three years in budget 2008 to help combat elder abuse, of which the most prevalent form is financial abuse. By helping seniors protect themselves from financial abuse, we are protecting their incomes and savings, and that is an anti-poverty measure.

In a previous budget, we also committed $400 million over two years for the construction of new housing units for low income seniors, and that is an anti-poverty measure because it allows older people to find decent homes at a rent they can afford.

We are also introducing general measures to help Canadian families financially that will also benefit seniors.

Caring for an infirm dependent relative can be really expensive. That is why we are introducing a new family caregiver tax credit. In addition, we are removing the limit on the amount of eligible expenses that caregivers can claim under the medical expense tax credit in regard to their financially dependent relatives. For the first time, the definition of caregiver has been expanded to include spouses and common-law partners. Many seniors are acting as caregivers and these measures will relieve some of their burden.

Seniors are also major beneficiaries of the broad-based tax relief measures that our government has introduced and other financial measures, such as the tax free savings account.

Again I would like to point out to members of the House that these measures are directly or indirectly anti-poverty measures.

The interests of older Canadians are becoming more important as seniors make up an increasingly larger proportion of our population.

Financial security is obviously important to seniors, as it is to all Canadians. It is essential to meeting the challenges and enjoying the opportunities that come with getting older. Our government will continue to do its part to ensure that security.

Opposition Motion—Poverty of Seniors
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in some of the things my colleague said, so I have two questions.

First, if the budget of the government is so tight, if it is so concerned about measures to reduce spending, why is it still giving corporate tax cuts to profitable corporations? Why is there $840 million for the banks and $35 billion for jets built in the United States, but only $1.65 a day for a single senior?

Second, if she thinks that expanded pensions are so good, that this private pooled pension is so great, then why not expand the CPP and make it adequate so people can have a decent and dignified retirement?

Opposition Motion—Poverty of Seniors
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the most important thing is to speak to the seniors directly and also speak to the major stakeholders.

I am happy to report to the House that I have already spoken to the vice-president of CARP and had a meaningful conversation. In fact, I will be meeting her soon in Toronto, face to face, to listen to her client's voices.

I am also very proud to report to the House that I have already met seniors face to face. I have spoken to the stakeholders in B.C. over the past few days. I look forward to meeting the president of the National Seniors Council later this week. As well, I look forward to meeting the ministers from the provinces and territories for seniors. We will definitely come to very good solutions to better improve the lives of seniors.

Opposition Motion—Poverty of Seniors
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, there was a very serious issue that affected senior's income not long ago. For those senior citizens who decide to withdraw their registered retirement income funds to respond to a housing crisis, emergency home repairs, emergency medical assistance, or anything else, the government decided on May 17, 2010 that they would lose their GIS benefits. Consequentially, they would also lose their drug cards and other provincial benefits tied to the GIS.

When this was brought to the floor of the House, the government said that it would amend its decision and prevent that from happening. This required a change to the Old Age Security Act.

Will the minister of state commit today that her government will immediately bring in amendments to the Old Age Security Act to ensure that senior citizens, should they withdraw their RRIFs, would not lose their GIS benefits as a result of a loss of optioning?

Opposition Motion—Poverty of Seniors
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Revenue has already addressed the issue, so I will not comment further on it.

However, I will be meeting the provincial and territorial ministers at the end of this month. We will be discussing a lot of issues that will be related directly to the territories and provinces.

Opposition Motion—Poverty of Seniors
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 6:15 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and the recorded division is deemed to have been demanded and deferred until Tuesday, June 21, 2011, at the end of government orders.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask the Conservative government to be true to its word. The Conservatives claim to care about a stable government with stable policies, and as somebody who has worked a lot with small businesses, I understand that. Small businesses and individuals are worried about stable business conditions because they are worried about liquidity.

I am rising today to ask the Conservative government to help itself, to accept the suggestion from this side of the House from a couple of Liberal Party MPs to provide stability in a particular program, the eco-energy retrofit program for homes.

I will talk a bit about the eco-energy retrofit program. It encourages homeowners to do energy audits of their homes. These energy audits are done by trained professionals. The result of these energy audits give the homeowners information about how to invest a dollar in energy retrofits and how to get the most benefit from each dollar invested. For example, it will tell homeowners that they should invest in insulation in their houses first, or that they really need to fix particular windows and that will give them great value for their money. It helps homeowners save dollars in their homes at the same time as they save energy and also usually reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

I am speaking today on behalf of businesses, small businesses which are, for example, energy auditors, renewable energy companies, businesses that will come and insulate, or seal homes or provide heating and air conditioning. These businesses have been affected by the Conservative government's policies with respect to the eco-energy retrofit program for homes.

This program was killed in 2006 when the Conservatives took power. It was restarted about a year later and then it was allowed to run out last year. It was reinstated in budget 2011, but only for one year. The problem is a small business owner cannot run that small business when the policy changes. It is cancelled and brought back, cancelled and brought back.

I have had personal experience working with some of these small businesses, which were reeling from this change in policies. The government, the members opposite, recognize that this is a good program. It helps people save money and it saves energy. The best way to save money is to reduce waste. I know the government is in favour of reducing waste. This program helps reduce the wastage of energy.

Members of the Liberal Party ask the government to commit to a stable five year eco-energy retrofit program for homes. This is good for small businesses, good for homeowners and good for the environment.

Will the government be true to its words and support stability, stable policies and commit to a five year eco-energy retrofit program for homes?

6:15 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, it is a delight to be here addressing this issue one more time. This program has been very successful and well used by Canadians. I should run through a more complete history than the member opposite did.

This program was announced in January of 2007 and $160 million was put toward it. In March of 2009, under the economic action plan, we provided another $300 million to help an additional estimated 200,000 homeowners with the eco-energy retrofit homes program. Then again, in December 2009, the program received an additional $200 million and in 2010 another $80 million. This year, we have again provided $400 million for the 2011-12 retrofit homes program.

I want to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for inquiring about our government's eco-energy retrofit homes program. Canadians have certainly utilized this program. It is a pleasure for me to discuss just how popular this energy efficiency program continues to be.

Thousands more homeowners, because of the $400 million we put in this year, will be provided financial help to make their homes more energy efficient and reduce their energy costs. The popularity of this program is remarkable. It has been highly significant for the environment and local economies right across Canada.

Since it was launched about five years ago, over 500,000 Canadian homeowners have applied to the program. They have received grants up to $5,000 each. I believe the average has been about $1,400 or $1,500 on those grants. They cover a wide range of improvements, things like home insulation, more efficient heating, energy-saving windows and doors, those kinds of things.

On average, when they are done, homeowners are saving approximately 20% per year on their energy bills. It is clear the program is helping to clean up our environment and it is saving Canadian homeowners money at the same time. Communities across Canada are obviously benefiting from this as well. It has provided much needed business stimuli and job creation as people upgrade their homes.

It is estimated that this program has generated more than $7.5 billion in economic activity since it began. As one of our government's clean energy initiatives, the program is part of a comprehensive approach to improve Canada's competitiveness and to ensure that we continue to be a leader in green job creation.

I should point out that since 2006 our government has committed more than $10 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build a more sustainable environment through investments in green infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy technologies, and the production of cleaner energy and fuels.

For these reasons, the eco-energy retrofit homes program continues and we are pleased that the program has been extended to the end of this fiscal year.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree very much with what my hon. colleague has said. It is a great program. I like it. I have worked with companies that love it. However, imagine that I am a small business and I see that this program is going to be extended for just a year. I am going to have trouble hiring good people because I might be able to hire them for only a year due to not knowing whether this program is going to last more than a year. It has a history of being cancelled and brought back.

My real question is this. Why does the government not help itself by helping small business? He would really be helping his own government and the reputation of its stability by providing the benefits that come with stability and simply guaranteeing that this program lasts a number of years instead of just one. The member opposite would be helping his own party by making that commitment.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have certainly helped Canadians and we will continue to do that in a variety of ways. Another way we do that, as the member opposite mentioned, is reducing waste. It is incumbent upon us to ensure efficiencies in the programs and that we review them from time to time. We did that with this program and brought it back for this year.

We set some very aggressive targets, such as the greenhouse gas emissions target. We want to reduce them by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. We are doing this through a variety of ways, through a new clean energy industry. Natural Resources Canada of course is playing a key role in those efforts and that includes delivering several of these eco-energy initiatives, among them the home retrofit program.

I should point out that we are doing much more than that under the economic action plan. We are supporting a number of other things. We have invested $87 million in research and development, and demonstrations of clean energy, $86 million for clean energy regulatory actions, and another $40 million over two years for sustainable development technology. We are doing our part to change the environment in this country.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak once again to the closure of the maritime sub-centre in St. John's and of course the centre as well in Quebec City. At this point in time, my concern is that we cannot seem to get across to the Government of Canada how important that sub-centre is to the lives of people who spend much of their time at sea, whether we are talking about sailors, fishers, or people who just use the sea for pleasure, or oil workers, for instance.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have a very risky environment for anyone who goes to sea. We have been trying to tell the minister responsible for fisheries and oceans and the Prime Minister and anyone else who will listen that to continue down the path of closing that sub-centre is going to mean much more harm to people. We have said time and again that the people working in the sub-centre really need to know Newfoundland and Labrador. They really need to know the island portion of our province in particular and be familiar with all of that part of our country in order to do justice to serve the needs of people who use the sea for travelling or for whatever purpose.

I know that many fishers and many oil workers who go to sea to earn a living cannot even imagine not being able to access a safety centre that is within their own area, within St. John's. Remember that the 12 people who work in that centre have worked there for quite some time and know only too well all of the area around Newfoundland and Labrador. The minute people call in an SOS, or the minute people say they are in danger, all they have to do is say where. The 12 individuals who work in that centre know exactly where they are, exactly how to reach them and they know the best thing to do.

Just as an example, a call came in this past Saturday. Three fishermen were stranded on a rock ledge in Labrador, their small boat swallowed by rough seas. The people in the centre did not have to spend time looking at nautical charts because they knew exactly when the call came in where these people were stranded and knew exactly what to do.

Another example of what has happened at sea that I would think would make the government think twice about its decision, was the crash of the Cougar helicopter where we lost 17 lives. The Wells inquiry was undertaken at that time and one of its recommendations was to enhance safety, not diminish it.

So, here we are after all of that has taken place and now we see safety being diminished because once we move the responsibility for safety from that centre to Halifax, or to Nova Scotia, or to Trenton, Ontario, we are going to end up with people who are less knowledgeable about the area and less knowledgeable about the risky environment in which people work from day-to-day. That is a serious issue for those of us who are familiar with the centre itself and with the 12 individuals who work there.

Apart from the safety aspect, which is crucial, we are also talking about the loss of jobs. We are talking about the loss of very capable individuals who can do the best service that needs to be done in protecting those who spend their time at sea.

6:25 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the issue raised by my colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's regarding the consolidation of the St. John's sub-centre with the joint rescue coordination centre in Halifax.

Let me begin by reassuring my colleague and indeed all Canadians that when it comes to Canadian Coast Guard and search and rescue activities, safety is our number one priority. We would not put this measure in place unless we were confident it could be implemented seamlessly and safely. As the coast guard motto says “Safety First, Service Always”.

The main point I wanted to make is that the decision to consolidate was a careful decision made on the recommendation of the Canadian Coast Guard and it will not compromise the on-water response time.

There are three joint rescue coordination centres across the country, in Halifax, Trenton and Victoria. They handle all search and rescue tasking for both the Canadian Forces and Coast Guard. In addition to the three joint centres, 35 years ago two sub-centres were established in Quebec City and St. John's.

At the time the sub-centres served an important purpose in their day, before the advent of new technology. In fact, as Canadian Forces Lieutenant-Colonel John Blakeley has stated:

We’ve just reached a point where technology allows us to do everything out of the three main joint rescue communication centres.

By transferring resources to the joint centres, it will make it easier for the Coast Guard to work more closely with its Canadian Forces partners by locating all maritime and air search and rescue coordinators in the same centres.

The Coast Guard's maritime search and rescue coordinators will continue to organize rescues by gathering all information available about the persons in distress, as well as the positions of potential assisting resources in the area of an incident.

It goes without saying that the rescue centres will continue to be operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and staffed by Canadian Forces and Canadian Coast Guard personnel who are thoroughly trained to evaluate various situations and send the most effective resources to deal with a particular incident.

We will continue to ensure that local knowledge and expertise are embedded in the tools and training of the crews, mariners and Coast Guard employees. Let me say again that the response on the water will not change. The officers, helicopters and vessels, including the two heavy icebreakers that were recently moved to the St. John's area, will remain in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Our government received a strong mandate from Canadians last month to govern responsibly and to respect taxpayers' dollars. As part of a routine review, the Coast Guard identified this duplication of service as an area of inefficiency. It is the government's responsibility to ensure that the money Canadians entrust to us is spent well and wisely. It is our government's responsibility to ensure that our economy recovers from the economic downturn.

The move to consolidate our search and rescue operations out of the three existing joint centres is sound, both operationally and fiscally. Aeronautical and marine search and rescue services will continue to be performed in the excellent way Canadians have come to expect. In fact, as already stated, as we facilitate coordination by working more closely with our Canadian Forces partners within one joint centre, services may actually be improved and at the same time we are saving money for Canadians.

Let me conclude by reaffirming the commitment of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to ensuring the safety of the maritime community in Newfoundland and Labrador and in the rest of Canada.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I have to respond with disbelief at some of the commentary just made by my hon. colleague, to suggest that this is a way of saving dollars and of becoming much more efficient.

This is about safety. If the government wants to save dollars, it should look at cabinet, look at the size of cabinet and the fact that it has increased. An increase in the size of cabinet means an increase in the expenditures.

If the government wants to save money, it should not, for heaven's sake, look at safety issues. It is the same issue as when the government wanted to de-staff the lighthouses. The government said it was going to automate lighthouses and was going to get rid of the people who were there.

It was the wrong decision and the government, in its wisdom, after some outcry and some representation on behalf of those who travel on the sea who made the point that it cannot be done because it is not the same as having a set of eyes, having a human there versus having an automated lighthouse.

I am going to ask the government once again to reconsider this decision, just the way it did with the manned lighthouses.