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

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives puts it a shade over $1 billion. Other groups, certainly labour groups, have put it at about $750 million. Either number is nowhere near the $2 billion that I am hearing from the other side. Therefore, I will stick to my original intent which is to say that I will take $700 million over $300 million any day.

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

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from Sudbury.

The primary role of Canada's retirement income system is to provide older Canadians with adequate and stable income in retirement. All of us together in this House cannot absolutely abandon our seniors who worked hard to build this country, so I am urging everyone to support this motion.

Ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible and the government can take immediate steps to increase the GIS sufficiently to achieve that goal. It is feasible for the government to lift every single Canadian out of poverty. It just requires a will to do so.

One senior living in poverty is one too many, yet we have hundreds of thousands of seniors struggling to make ends meet. The low-income rate is considerably higher, as we have heard from other members, for unattached seniors. Single seniors are more likely to experience low-income, and senior women living on their own are more likely than their male counterparts to live in poverty. As members all know, women also tend to live longer so we spend a longer time in poverty.

The average before tax income for seniors living in poverty ranges from $14,700 to $22,000. For singles, the average before tax income ranges from $11,550 to $16,900. I would challenge every member in this House to build a budget that would cover rent, utilities, food, and transportation, and then see if there is one penny left over to visit friends for a cup of coffee.

Of those who fall into the poverty bracket, seniors are the least likely of all age groups to move back out of it. Once in the poverty frame, they tend to spend the rest of their lives in that frame. And let me say that even if they go to work at Tim Hortons or anywhere else where they can get a few hours of work, they are still living in poverty.

Being in a low-income bracket on a continuous and ongoing basis has negative implications that go way beyond not being able to make ends meet. It has implications on one's health. It has implications on how long one will live. It has implications on one's quality of life. And we know that it has an effect on how seniors begin to view themselves. It lowers their self-esteem.

Our seniors are victims of systemic poverty and that systemic poverty can only be addressed by people sitting in this esteemed House. I would urge all of us to do so.

From 2003 to 2007, one in six seniors, which is 16%, was in the persistently low-income group over the whole period. Shame on us. The most vulnerable in the group, of course, are senior women. Women make up about 70% of poor seniors. This motion will directly help senior women living in poverty, and in particular some of the most vulnerable in our society, our aboriginal women.

Poverty among seniors has a crippling effect on visible minorities as well. In 2010, based on the census, 65% of single visible minority seniors were considered low-income seniors compared to 39% of single seniors who were not a visible minority. We have to and we can address this. Among couples, the low-income rate was 15.7% for visible minorities. Once again, shame on us.

My riding of Newton—North Delta is a wonderfully culturally diverse one and these figures are particularly concerning to the aging people in our community. We have seniors who, even though they qualified to become Canadian citizens, do not qualify to receive pensions because they happen to come from particular countries. Those seniors are living well below the poverty line, totally dependent on their children. One can imagine how those seniors feel, at 75 or 80 years of age, having to live like that.

The OECD reported that OAS plus GIS bring households to about 90% of the poverty thresholds they have calculated for Canada. The government can raise the GIS to the after tax low-income cutoff and it has the budget to do so. It just needs the will. I urge colleagues sitting across the way that as they go to sleep tonight, they find the will to do so.

The budget provides for a federal policy framework for the aerospace industry, billions of dollars, but not a comprehensive approach to poverty. Even the increase to the guaranteed income supplement is only $50 to $70 extra a month for our poorest seniors. It is just not enough.

Activity limitations are among the most important factors affecting a person's quality of life and the possibility of full participation in our society. We all value our independence. It is an important concern for seniors. It implies the ability to perform daily activities for oneself. Research has shown a strong positive relationship between self-perceived health and the potential to carry out daily activities without limitation or dependence on others. When I talk about dependency and independence, I am talking about financial independence as well because financial dependence can be just as crippling as physical dependence on someone else.

There are indeed indications that dependence on others actually reduces the quality of life and there is research to support that. Canadian seniors deserve independence. I know that is what I would want for myself and if I want that for me, my parents and grandparents, then every single Canadian deserves the same.

Our seniors are not asking for a lot. Countless times, as I canvassed door-to-door, seniors told me their heart-rending stories. One of them actually said to me, “All I want to be able to do is pay my bills and just have a little left over so I can buy a small gift for my grandson”. That story made me cry and I thought what a terrible state we had forced our seniors citizens into.

While visiting a seniors' home in my riding, an elderly gentleman said that after he had paid for his assisted living, he did not even have enough money left to go out for a cup of coffee. Another senior couple told me that they have a beautiful car sitting in the driveway, that they can now no longer afford to fill it with gas to visit their members and friends, and they are feeling lonelier and more isolated every day. We can do this.

Armine Yalnizyan from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated:

In a nation as affluent as ours, seniors’ poverty doesn’t have to exist at all. Based on what seniors already get out of public policy, we can afford to help. We don’t have to spend more. We just have to spend it differently.

She went on to say we have to take money from one part of the budget and reallocate it.

The motion put forward by the member for London—Fanshawe targets the most vulnerable seniors in our country. If the budget passes as is, the additional money will not bring seniors out of poverty. The government measures will not lift even half of the seniors out of poverty. There are hundreds and thousands of seniors living in poverty and we need to help them today.

This motion is about dignity. This motion is about independence. This motion is about quality of life. If we can lift every Canadian senior out of poverty, let us do it. My appeal is to colleagues in the House, every single one of us. Let us not abandon our seniors. Let us work together now and lift seniors out of poverty. Together we can do it. They need us and are counting on us. Let us make sure we deliver.

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

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, this government is not insensitive to seniors. As a brand new member of Parliament, I want to assure everyone that when I campaigned, seniors' issues were first and foremost.

As a result of actions by the Conservative government since 2006, seniors and pensioners will receive about $2.3 billion in additional targeted tax relief in 2011-12. This includes increasing the age credit by $1,000 twice, benefiting 2.2 million seniors, doubling the pension income credit to $2,000, introducing pension income splitting, and increasing the age limit for the registered retirement savings plan from 69 to 71 years of age.

I would ask the member opposite, why have none of these initiatives been supported by her party?.

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

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is not about a litany of things we have done. This is about what our seniors need today. I could say he did this, she did that or they did that. I do not want to go there. We are giving billions of dollars to banks and big corporations in tax breaks, which have already had lots of those, and yet we do not say that we do not have the money to do that. We are giving billions of dollars to oil companies, which made the biggest profits last year, and we are not saying that we do not have the money. Yet when it comes to our most vulnerable citizens, the ones who built this country, we are bringing up history books.

Colleagues, let us turn our heads to what really matters. These are citizens who are struggling and who are counting on us. Do not turn your back on our own parents and grandparents, their friends and others like them who built this country. Vote yes and vote for our seniors citizens.

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

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before we continue to the next question or comment, just a subtle reminder to members to address their comments to the Chair, to the Speaker. That keeps our discussions in a good vein.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

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

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member, because I like the juxtaposition between the two elements here, the corporate tax breaks and the GIS. I did not bring it up in my speech because I felt that it had probably been used way too much, but I think the member pointed me in the right direction. Maybe we should talk about it, because when it comes to corporate tax cuts, it has always seemingly been a race to the bottom: Who can deliver the lowest tax cut in a particular jurisdiction. I believe Ireland had the same of attitude, and we know how that worked out.

I want the hon. member to comment on that, because I want her to discuss how priorities are what are at stake here and not the exact numbers. That is what that $700 million means: It is a priority investment in the impoverished.

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

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it absolutely is about priorities. That is why we are here.

Canadians elect us as parliamentarians because they trust us to come here and look after their interests. If we do not pay attention to priorities and to what Canadians value, then we betray that trust.

Right now we are betraying hundreds and thousands of seniors who built this province. My mother is close to 84. I see other senior citizens who are struggling. At the same time they are struggling to put food on their tables and pay their bills, we continue to race to the bottom, to give the most money to the biggest corporations, the biggest banks and biggest oil companies, that are making the biggest profits in our history. Why? Because it is about priorities.

I often hear my esteemed colleagues across the aisle talk about the value of families. Well, our seniors are members of our families. If they are members of our families and Canadians are a family, then we have to look after our senior citizens.

Please, I urge all hon. members to vote yes and let us say we are about families and mean it.

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

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and speak in the House. I hope the Speaker will indulge me for one minute, as this is my first speech in the House, although I have been up many times to ask questions since the House resumed.

I would just like to take a minute to say thanks to the folks in my great riding of Sudbury. I like to round numbers up, so that even if it was 49.9% of the vote that I received, I will say that 50% of the electorate saw fit to put me back in this fantastic place and to be their voice. I want to thank them for that, but ultimately and truly I have to thank my family: my wife Yolanda; my daughter Trinity who is seven; and my daughter Thea who is three. Both of them were great billboards for me during the last election. Also, I would like to thank my father. He is 97 years old. He was 56 when I was born, and so seniors' issues have always been near and dear to my heart. Also, I do have to mention my mother. Although she passed away a year and a half ago, she is always in my heart and reminds me of issues that we need to talk about in this House.

With that, I would like to reflect on what we are talking about today. I look at the motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.

I think the important word there is sufficiently”. We need to ensure that when we are talking about ending seniors' poverty, we are not talking about a little off here and a little off there. What is needed right now is $700 million to take every single senior in our country out of poverty, and it can be done. It truly can be done. If we are looking at the priorities the government is bringing forward right now, we could easily find $700 million to ensure every single senior gets out of poverty.

The first one that comes to mind for me is the corporate tax cuts. My colleague talked earlier about how we have talked about this ad nauseam at some points. However, when the banks made $20 billion in profits last year and we are giving them $840 million in tax breaks, we could take every single senior out of poverty with the latter and have $140 million left to look at other issues of poverty. We need to start putting our priorities in the right place. Canadians and Canadian seniors should be at the top of our priority list. Right now, if we are looking at gaps, we can see that poverty among seniors particularly affects minorities and women.

In 2000, based on the census, 65% of single visible-minority seniors were considered to have low incomes compared to 39% of single seniors who were not. Among couples, the low-income rate was 15.7% for visible minorities and only 5.6% for the rest. The rate of poverty among female seniors is double the rate of male poverty.

Unfortunately, I can think of too many times when I was going door to door this last election and over the two and a half years prior to that when I had single female seniors coming into my office or talking to me at the door about how proud they were that they were able to work and to do something for their children and grandchildren, but that over the last six months to a year life had become completely unaffordable for them. That is when the tears started to well up in their eyes.

I know every single one of us, no matter what colour our tie is, no matter what party we come from, has had those conversations with seniors. Each and every one of us wants to do what is right for these seniors. What is right is ensuring we can find that $700 million to take every single senior out of poverty. There is no reason that a senior citizen has to choose between eating and rent, between paying a bill and having a home to live in. If that is the kind of country we are letting our seniors face, it is absolutely shameful.

As I mentioned earlier, my father is 97 years old. I come from a different background in terms of family heritage, because I have seen the work my family has done in building our great country and contributing to the economy. That goes right across our country.

What does that say about where we are going, if we overlook and deny seniors the right to live and retire in dignity? If they are having to contemplate buying dog or cat food to get protein, that is not retiring in dignity. We need to ensure that seniors are living above the poverty line. We parliamentarians can do that.

One of the files I have been working on over the last two and a half years is credit card interest rates and credit card debt. Seniors, unfortunately, are falling into that cycle, because they do not have enough to survive on right now. They are taking from Peter to give to Paul. Hopefully, I have not offended any Peters or Pauls in making that statement.

What these seniors are doing is that they are actually taking money they do not necessarily have, using it put food on their table or to pay a bill, and then make a minimum payment so they can get through that month. That is sad because slowly the credit card companies are inching their way and starting to take away what little income they have.

I have had thousands of emails from families and seniors, people right across the country, about what these credit card companies are doing. Let me just reiterate, if a senior makes $18,000 a year in pension, he or she should not qualify for a credit card with a $30,000 limit. That is what the credit card companies are giving to some of these seniors. If the seniors say no to them, then they lose the right to have that access.

What ends up happening is that seniors use the credit cards to survive or to buy their grandchildren a gift or, but most of the time it is to put food on their table. The credit card companies are now coming in and taking away property, taking away things, because these seniors have had to use credit cards to survive. That is shameful.

Once again, let us establish a system to ensure that no senior lives below the poverty line.

One of the things that seniors actually have to spend their money on is medications. What we as New Democrats have been talking about for a long time is the creation of a national pharmacare program. If we establish this to lower the costs of medication and to equalize the availability of prescription drugs for seniors across the country, they would have more money in their pocket. More money in their pocket would allow them to actually buy the gifts, put food on their table, whatever they needed to do with their money.

Right now we are not seeing that. We are not even seeing the government contemplating such a program. We would like to encourage the government to look at that, because such a system would actually save Canadians billions of dollars on an annual basis, as the strains on our hospital system and family doctors created by the lack of access to affordable prescriptions would be alleviated.

What we are seeing right now are the priorities of the government. We talked about the corporate tax cuts and seniors struggling to get by. I think seniors see this as more insult to injury.

We have heard about the billions being spent on unnecessary fighter jets. We do not even know the full cost of each yet. I think two or three of those fighter jets would absolutely take every single senior in this country out of poverty. It goes right back to what our priorities are.

A $700 million investment, I think, would be the first investment, the first step that we need to make to ensure that seniors are out of poverty or above the poverty line. It would go a long way toward ensuring that we as parliamentarians recognized and respected the work that our seniors have done for our country.

I do not think any one of us will ever forget our seniors and the great work they do.

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

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech. I appreciate his feeling of gratitude, which he expressed so well. It is good for all Parliamentarians to hear.

I have a question arising from the member's speech and the preceding one. Many times we have heard from the opposition benches about the tax breaks we are giving corporations, those job-creators that have propelled us to the number one place in the western world in terms of economic recovery.

I would like the members to make the distinction between giving money to job-creators and not taking away money by increasing taxes. It is the low tax regime that has attracted many of these investors and allowed us to create some 570,000 or more jobs since July 2009. There is a difference.

I would like the member opposite to acknowledge that difference, if he will.

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

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I helped the member's economy this past weekend because I visited West Vancouver when I was at the convention.

In relation to the member's question about corporate tax cuts, I think my hon. colleague missed the fact that we are talking about priorities here and our priorities are ensuring that Canadian seniors do not live in poverty.

We can put it any way we like. We can say it is giving, it is a decision or it is an implementation but at the end of the day the big banks paid $840 million less. They made $20 billion in profits. What we are saying is that the banks should not be given corporate tax breaks. Seniors should be give $700 million to get them out of poverty. Let us move on with solving poverty right across the country.

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

5:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was very moved by the speech by the hon. member for Sudbury.

The member spoke about pharmaceutical drugs and their prices. Has the official opposition looked at the efficacy and the inadequacies of registration for prescription drugs. Recently it was drawn to my attention, through a therapeutics intiative in British Columbia, that 150,000 North Americans die every year using prescription drugs as prescribed, that we are not using enough of an evidence-based approach and that we should be concerned about seniors being overmedicated.

I wonder if the hon. member has a view on this.

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

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, in relation to the specifics, it would be best to defer that to the critic for health in our party.

However, in relation to overmedication of seniors and some of the problems that we are seeing when it relates to seniors, I believe one of our colleagues from the Conservative bench wrote a book about the subject. I have also had the opportunity of working in the field of supporting individuals with developmental handicaps who were also seniors. What we have seen in many instances is overmedication and the over-medication results in them going to the hospital.

I spoke earlier about those costs and the implication that those costs have on our health care system. If we actually had a national pharmacare program, those dollars could be saved so that we could ensure that seniors have more money in their pockets, because that is the motion that we are speaking to today.

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

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Sudbury also comes from a city where often the people in his community are reliant upon a resource-based industry. In my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, forestry is an important part of our economy, or it has been up until the last few years.

I wonder if he would comment on the fact that we see many of these private sector pensions being under attack as companies go into bankruptcy and what he sees as the important role for government on that.

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

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, in Sudbury, we had one of the most devastating strikes in, I think, our country's history where we had Vale and Local 6500 on strike for a year, most of it over defined benefits and defined pensions.

It is one of those things that we need to start prioritizing. We keep using that word on this side of the House but prioritizing to ensure that our seniors have the opportunity to retire in dignity . There are too many seniors right now actually having to go back to work underground because their pensions are inadequate. That is shameful.

Maritime Helicopters
Points of Order
Government Orders

June 20th, 2011 / 6 p.m.

Edmonton—Spruce Grove
Alberta

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Earlier today, I noted that Sikorsky had confirmed that it is on track to deliver 28 fully functional maritime helicopters on schedule starting in June this year.

To be clear, Sikorsky has confirmed that it is on track to deliver the 28 fully functional maritime helicopters on schedule starting in June 2012.