House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

February 2nd, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is asking Canadians to once again trust bankers, trust stock markets, and to pad the wallets of stock brokers. It is asking Canadians to gamble their futures once again.

The Conservatives are peddling the PRPP pension dog food, and maybe they would like to sample some themselves. Therefore, I would like to ask the member for Kings--Hants if he would join me in suggesting that the Conservative MPs give up their guaranteed MP pension and trade it in for a pension traded on the open market. I will, if they will.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' plan with the PRPP can help some of the people who can afford to pay into a PRPP, but it is not as big a step forward as I think the Conservatives are representing.

My biggest concern with the PRPP is that the fees are going to continue to be higher than they ought to be. The fees for the industry in Canada are way too high and the reality is that a better alternative is to have a voluntary supplemental CPP.

The NDP would like to make it compulsory. My concern about that in the short term is that with high unemployment, we should be very careful not to increase payroll taxes or premiums at this time. However, I think its intention of having a strong, long-term public pension alternative for Canadians is well founded.

The reality is that having a voluntary supplemental CPP, with its very low fee structure, would actually help keep the PRPP fees lower because it would provide some competition. Therefore, we could actually make the PRPPs more cost effective by offering another alternative, and that is a voluntary supplemental CPP.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Kings—Hants spoke at length about the Prime Minister's strategy to manufacture a pension crisis to find a way to pay for how the Prime Minister has deteriorated the tax revenue base of the country.

What is the Prime Minister's long-term game plan? In a letter to Premier Ralph Klein in 2001 he mentioned that the province should do the following:

Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan offering the same benefits at lower cost while giving Alberta control over the investment fund.

That was the Prime Minister's view at the time. He added:

Pensions are a provincial responsibility under section 94A of the Constitution Act. 1867; and the legislation setting up the Canada Pension Plan permits a province to run its own plan—

What does the member for Kings—Hants really think the long-term of the Prime Minister is? We know what he is doing on health care where he has frozen the funding. He sent his Minister of Finance to do that.

Is there another game plan of the Prime Minister that we have not yet seen?

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Malpeque is quite right that the Prime Minister's agenda is a laissez-faire, hands-off one, with a smaller, meaner, leaner federal government that lets the provinces fend for themselves. That is fine if one is in a rich province, but if we look at the way the Canadian economy is working right now, the gap between have provinces and have-not provinces has never been greater. We are seeing that on an ongoing basis.

Our current recovery, whatever recovery there is, is being driven by natural resources, by oil, gas, minerals. If provinces have those it is fine. If they do not and the dollar goes up, it crowds out other value-added stuff that could fill the gap. Never before has it been as important that we have a federal government that recognizes the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder with all Canadians regardless of the region they live in.

This is the most dangerous time to have a government led by a prime minister who believes in that winner takes all, and to heck with the rest of them, approach. We have to watch this every step of the way, in representing a province like Nova Scotia or Atlantic Canada. We are going to defend our people.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am always shocked to hear the Liberals and the Conservatives alike defend pension plans that are administered by the private sector. At the beginning of the week, I read the comments of one analyst who said that, at this time, private pension funds are being suffocated by current conditions and the low interest rate, and by the fact that it is very difficult to get decent returns from the stock market.

So, how can my colleague support a solution that would exacerbate the problem, rather than advocating, as we do, a solution that relies on a safe, public, proven and strong system, as even the government recognizes?

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I partially agree with my colleague, because the public pension system does have a role to play and we support that system.

When the Liberals were in power, we brought in some changes to guarantee public pensions in the long term. That was a priority for our government. At the same time, however, we recognize the role of the private sector. We have no problem with people investing in the stock market, since this is a market economy.

I think my colleague is looking for a reason to disagree with me when, in fact, we agree to some extent, because we fully support the need to strengthen our public pension system, particularly for people with low incomes, more vulnerable people, women, people who live in rural areas and in the Atlantic provinces. We must work together.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to this important motion. I will be splitting my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.

I want to acknowledge in particular the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for her very good work in bringing this motion forward. I also want to mention two other colleagues, the member for London—Fanshawe, the NDP seniors critic, and the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, the NDP critic for pensions. New Democrats have been raising the issues around pensions and seniors for the many years I have been in the House and we will continue to do so.

For the interest of people who may be just tuning in, I want to read the motion that we are debating. It states:

That this House reject calls by the Prime Minister to balance the Conservative deficit on the backs of Canada's seniors by means such as raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and call on the government to make the reduction and eventual elimination of seniors' poverty a cornerstone of the next budget.

I am going to focus on a couple of aspects of this motion. As the NDP critic for poverty in the House, I have a number of things I want to include in my speech today.

One of the things we have heard from the members opposite is that the country simply cannot afford to look after seniors as they age. The Canadian Labour Congress has done some analysis of the projected figures, which I quote:

As a share of GDP, the program cost is forecast to increase from 2.36% in 2011, to a peak of 3.14% in 2030, after which year the cost will fall. In other words, the cost of the program as a share of national income will increase by 33% from 2011 to 2030, even though the number of seniors will increase by 90%.

Many other analyses have been done on the affordability of the program as it currently exists, and the numbers simply fly in the face of the Conservatives telling us that we cannot afford to look after seniors.

Why should we be concerned? I mentioned at the outset that I wanted to talk about poverty. There is a direct link between poverty and the state of health of Canadians, whether they are seniors, young people or middle-aged people, and there is a tremendous amount of work being done on the social determinants of health. Although I do not have time to go into all of the determinants, I want to quote from an article on this:

The primary factors that shape the health of Canadians are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices but rather the living conditions they experience. These conditions have come to be known as the social determinants of health....

Canadians are largely unaware that our health is shaped by how income and wealth is distributed, whether or not we are employed and if so, the working conditions we experience. Our health is also determined by the health and social services we receive, and our ability to obtain quality education, food and housing, among other factors.

And contrary to the assumption that Canadians have personal control over these factors, in most cases these living conditions are--for better or worse--imposed upon us by the quality of the communities, housing situations, work settings, health and social service agencies, and educational institutions with which we interact.

This article talks about 14 different social determinants of health, and they include the following, which are a direct link to seniors as well: income and income distribution; unemployment and job security; early childhood development, which I will discuss later; food insecurity; housing and the social safety network.

Therefore, when we talk about the income that seniors receive, we are also talking about their health and well-being. That is why it is really important that we not delay income for seniors by two years, as the trial balloon that was floated by the Prime Minister would.

When it comes to income, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has also prepared a brief. It talks about the adequacy of benefits as they currently exist without any tinkering by the Conservatives. It indicates:

—the maximum annual income a single individual could receive from OAS and GIS combined in the July-September 2009 quarter is about $14,000. However, Statistics Canada’s 2008 after-tax low-income cut-off for a single individual in a major urban area with a population of 500,000 or over was $18,373. Even for smaller urban areas in 2008, the after-tax LICO [low-income cut-off] was above $14,000—

Just based on those figures alone, we can see that seniors who are just getting old age security and GIS are already living below the low-income cutoff.

If they start pushing those numbers up, what are those seniors between the ages of 65 and 67 going to do? These are seniors who qualify and many of them are at the low end.

If the Conservatives are serious about supporting seniors and future generations, what is needed is a real plan to address poverty reduction. I call on the government to support the NDP Bill C-233, the poverty elimination act, which would directly take on some of these issues.

The Canadian Labour Congress has done an analysis on poverty and ill health. In its paper, “Implications of Raising the Age of Eligibility for Old Age Security”, it states:

Raising the age of eligibility for OAS/GIS from 65 to 67 would likely result in a very significant increase in poverty for persons aged 65 to 67, unless they were able to find an alternative source of income. That is possible for some, but many older workers in their 60s are in ill health or are engaged in providing care for others.

I know many members in their sixties have parents who are in their eighties. We often talk about the sandwich generation, people who are caring for children or perhaps grandchildren. Many seniors are caring for their grandchildren. They could also be caring for their elderly and aging parents who often are in ill health by the time they are in their nineties.

It continues:

Raising the age of eligibility for OAS/GIS would mean that non-working, low income seniors on provincial social assistance and disability programs would have to wait to transition to OAS/GIS, raising social assistance costs for provincial governments. Costs of providing drugs and essential services to low income seniors unable to pay on their own would also increase.

We have seen the government's track record of downloading to the provincial governments. This is another way it would download to the provincial governments that are already struggling to meet some of their demands, whether it has to do with infrastructure, housing or drug costs.

The paper goes on to say that not everyone can work longer. Part of the argument we hear is that we have a labour shortage and we need to push the retirement age up to 67 so we can address that labour shortage. If the government is talking about addressing the labour shortage, it should invest in training and apprenticeships. It should look at immigration if it wants to deal with some of those labour shortages. The labour shortages are no surprise. We have known for 15 or 20 years that we were going to have critical skill shortages in some of the apprenticed trades. Where is the government's plan to address that? It is absent, missing in action. We are hearing that from all kinds of people. Whether it is pulp mills, other parts of the forestry sector or mining companies, there were all kinds of predictions of skill shortages.

Why are we not training, for example, first nations, Métis and Inuit to address some of those skill shortages? The money simply is not there.

The paper further states:

It is argued that eligibility for OAS/GIS discourages older Canadians from remaining in the workforce, and that we need to keep them working to avoid labour shortages.

In point of fact, the reality is that Canadians are already staying in the workforce much longer than was the case even a decade ago.... [O]ne in four (24%) persons, aged 65 to 70, is already still working, up from 11% in 2000. That rate has been trending sharply upward for a number of reasons. Some are working longer because they want to, and they find work interesting. This is most often the case for higher income workers. Others are working longer due to inadequate retirement savings. The trend to working well past age 65 will likely continue.

There is sufficient information to counter the government's argument that we cannot maintain the current old age security and GIS system to ensure that seniors can retire with dignity, and with an income that is already inadequate, we do not want to make it worse for them.

I would encourage all members to support this very important motion that was brought forward by the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard and to actually support seniors in their retirement.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the record in this House that it is the Conservative government that has increased extraordinary amounts of transfers to our provinces to ensure that they have the money they need to work. I would like to read some quotes into the record. This one is from May 4, 2000:

I do not need to remind anyone in the House that the Liberal government devastated health care in Canada by making draconian slashes to health care, by reducing health care funding and by putting health care in a crisis in every province....

Who said that? It was the member for Kings—Hants.

As well, there is this statement:

Shifting the burden to provinces for these services was the easy but cowardly way to accelerate deficit reduction....The Chrétien—

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I do not think it is relevant or fair to this debate that the member is trying to read in comments about what someone said earlier today. If she has a problem with what was said earlier today, she should have asked a question then. Her question should be on this speech. She should focus her issues on what she heard in this debate.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair would encourage all members to keep their comments related to the matter before the House and to proceed in that fashion.

The hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, it absolutely is relevant because the opposition is fear-mongering to Canadian seniors today that this government is going to be taking money out of their pockets. That is absolutely not going to happen. We have been very clear about that.

However, it is the member for Kings—Hants in 2002 who said that they did cut the transfers to--

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. The time for the member for Newmarket—Aurora has expired.

The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of points.

Whether the government has increased provincial transfers or not, the fact is that the government is continuing to download other services and programs to the provinces. The government is simply not coming clean about how much it will cost the provinces for prisons and how much it will cost if the government changes the retirement age. The provinces need to be at the table on those things and negotiating with the federal government.

The members opposite keep talking about fear-mongering. I need to remind them that it was the Prime Minister who raised the issue about contemplating changing the age of retirement from 65 to 67. We did not come up with that number; the Prime Minister came up with it.

The Conservatives need to come clean on if they are going to do it, when they are going to do it, and which people who are approaching retirement are going to be affected. Will it be people who are currently 50, 55, 60, or 63? Who is going to be affected? Just tell us.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the opposition parties are being accused of fear-mongering because of this discussion around pensions. For anybody who has watched this Parliament and paid attention since there has been a majority Conservative government, I think they would have seen time and again that when the Conservatives want to do something, they just go ahead and do it. They have invoked closure a record number of times. They say there is nothing on the books yet about increasing the age to 67, but we know that when they decide to do it, it will be rammed through.

The important aspect of this debate today is to make Canadians aware of what is going on here. We need to make Canadians aware of the Prime Minister's long-standing agenda.

Does the member concur with the train of thought that we have to ready the Canadian public for what is coming down the pike from the Prime Minister?

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have seen closure on debate 13 times in this House and we are barely into a sitting. We only had an election in May, but closure has been invoked 13 times already.

In committees, matters that have been traditionally spoken about in public are being done behind closed doors, in camera. The public cannot hear what members are saying. They cannot see how members are voting. They cannot see the outcome of a debate that all Canadians should be concerned with. Canadians should be very concerned.

The Prime Minister floated this number in Switzerland with no consultation with the provinces, with no discussion with members of this House, with no consideration for the kind of impact it would have on seniors who are looking at retiring and not knowing now what the future holds.

The Prime Minister has a responsibility to let Canadians know very clearly and unequivocally what the government is planning to do.