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

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech.

We have noticed, since the debates have resumed, that the Conservatives do not listen to anyone, not the opposition members, experts or organizations, and even less so our seniors. I want to point out here that just when seniors need our help the most, this government wants to abdicate its responsibility. Poverty is on the rise among seniors, and among women in particular.

Can my colleague explain the harmful impact that increasing the retirement age will have on our seniors?

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government keeps saying that this will not have any impact on current seniors. Maybe it will, maybe it will not. However, everyone becomes a senior at some point and there will be a definite impact. It will mean, as I said in my speech, that almost every pension system in this country will have to move to keep in lock step with this. I am fearful that this will just be the first step in a series of reductions in our social safety net, and this first one attacks seniors first.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I find difficult to understand is that in response to all of the great new things we as a government have done for seniors, the increase in the GIS, income splitting, other pension supports, and millions of dollars more for the new horizons for seniors program, the NDP has voted against every one of those measures. How can the NDP members stand up in the House today with any credibility and talk about seniors when they voted against every investment this Parliament has made in seniors?

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, as usual we are faced with the rhetoric of “We voted against this, we voted against that”. What we voted against was $6 billion in corporate tax cuts, cuts that made the government unable to take seniors out of poverty. We are opposed to the $19 billion cost of extra prisons because of a crime agenda for crime that is not happening. We are opposed to the direction in which the government is taking us, which is what caused us to vote against the entire budget.

We are of course in favour of raising seniors out of poverty, but the Conservatives have not done that.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak for a few moments in support of the motion. I thank my colleague for bringing it forward and the member for York South—Weston for some of the valid and very interesting points he has made. One thing he talked about persuasively was the cascading effect this potential change will have on benefits that have been negotiated by Canadians based on a retirement age of 65. That is extremely important for the government to consider.

I have been noting the government members' responses to the concerns raised on this side. They have suggested on most occasions that it is the official opposition that is scaring seniors and raising fears about things the government is purportedly going to do. Yet it was the Prime Minister, when he was hobnobbing with that august body in Switzerland, the World Economic Forum, who pontificated about the significant social transformation he would bring about in this country, a transformation in which the retirement income system would play a major part.

It is interesting that the Prime Minister, the leader of the Conservative Party, and none of the members opposite talked about that just a few short months ago when running in the election. None of them said to Canadians, including Canadian seniors, to vote for them to bring about a major social transformation, including cutting pensions to senior citizens. Whether now or in the future, it is all about cutting resources to seniors. They did not say anything about that. But here we are less than a year later and the government is starting to drop the hammer on seniors. Rightly so, my constituents are calling and asking what is going on. They are concerned about this.

The Prime Minister and members of the government benches are talking about changing the OAS, changing a system that often keeps people from the breadlines because of their insufficient income and who live below or very near the poverty line, seniors who as a result of health concerns and of being downsized or outplaced lost their jobs at age 62 or 63 and are trying to hang tough until age 65 when they will get a bit of a return from the contribution they have made to society. Now they are being told that the government is proposing to change that system, without it providing any details, without it having any discussion and without any consultation. They have a right to be concerned because we do not know for sure what the government is going to do.

My responsibility as the MP for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and as my colleagues have been doing today and over the last couple of days, is to ask the government pertinent questions about why it is heading in this direction. It does not matter whether the Conservatives say they are not going to touch the system or seniors now but somewhere down the road, because a senior today and a senior tomorrow is still a senior. It is still about a person trying to make ends meet, who has contributed to our society, to our country, and made sacrifices and raised families and made this country into what it is. It is those people who are being asked by the government to carry the burden. Frankly, I do not think that is right and my colleagues agree with me.

I will talk about a couple of things the government mentions. Here, I am shocked at the way some commentators have jumped on the bandwagon to say that the system is not sustainable, that the demographics of our aging population are such that we are just not going to be able to afford it. They say this when talking about OAS, which makes up 2.7% of the gross domestic product now, a mere fraction of total economic activity in this country. The huge increase they are talking about is from 2.7% to 3.1% of GDP by the year 2031. That is the impact it is going to have relative to gross domestic product.

Some commentators have been using dollar figures, without taking into consideration inflation and the overall budget and overall revenues of the government in 2031, when suggesting this is a burden we cannot afford. That is bogus. Economists have said we need to make the comparisons on the basis of the percentage, as it relates to overall expenditures and the ability of the government to pay its bills.

It is the same with the deficit and debt, which are reviewed by rating agencies on a per capita basis and what we are able to handle on that basis. Are we able, as an economy, to pay our debts? That is the equation, and that should be the equation here. I say shame on those who are suggesting that we cannot afford to pay seniors the princely sum of $509 a month. Frankly, it is shocking.

The OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, has indicated that total public social expenditures on pensions as a percentage of GDP are estimated to be 4.7% in Canada. The average in other OECD countries is more than 7%. It has been suggested that we should look at what has happened in Europe and in the United States, where the sky is said to be falling. There is no question that some of those countries have been experiencing some significant economic pressures as a result of problems in the financial sector. However, in some of those countries, such as Italy, Germany, and Poland, social expenditures on pensions as a percentage of GDP are more like 11% to 12% or, in some cases, as high as 14%, compared to 4.7% in Canada.

Therefore, let us make relevant comparisons and not scare people. Let us actually recognize what we are facing.

The other fact is that none of these changes were indicated to Canadians on May 2 as coming down the pike. No one talked about there being a democratic crisis and that these changes would need to be made. Anyway, this government did not, back on May 2.

I understand there are things that need to be done to ensure that we pay our bills. I say that we should ensure that profitable corporations in this country start paying their fair share. We recognize that the money we are proposing to spend on F-35s can be better spent on seniors, that the money we are going to spend, the billions of dollars, to lock more Canadians up in prisons can be better spent looking after seniors today, tomorrow and into the future. That is the kind of choice this party, this opposition, is making. It is time the government recognized that it has a commitment to seniors and that it had better start living up to it.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the member's remarks. I think he would agree that the bottom line comes down to the fact that, although we are hearing different stories from a number of ministers, the Prime Minister is gouging seniors' pensions in order to try to cover the deficit that he created.

It is not just a matter of the government having its priorities wrong. I see the minister for ACOA. The government has been featherbedding ACOA, putting in place defeated Conservative candidates, friends of the Minister of National Defence, and paying them big salaries. The Conservatives have the biggest cabinet in Canadian history, all with well-paid staff. There is a bloated Prime Minister's office with 1,500 communications people. There will be an increase in the House of Commons by some 30 members, and both the other parties agreed to that.

Is it not simply a matter of the government having its priorities wrong and gouging seniors' pensions to try to cover the misplaced spending of the Government of Canada?

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any question that it is always about choices and where we will spend our money.

We do not need to talk to seniors about what it is like to make choices. There are many seniors whom I speak to in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour who make choices about whether they will be able to put enough food on the table, whether they will be able to afford to pay for their prescription drugs, and whether they will be able to obtain affordable and safe accommodation. Those are the kinds of choices seniors are making.

The government is giving a thumbs up to prisons, a thumbs up to F-35s, a thumbs up to profitable corporations, and a thumbs down to seniors, to people on unemployment, to people who are looking for services from this country. Those are not my priorities, nor are they the priorities of the Canadians I talk to.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his speech my colleague said that he is getting a lot of phone calls from seniors in his constituency.

I would like to have his opinion on having seniors call the closest Conservative MP to their riding. Would it be effective if more seniors were to call Conservative MPs and tell them how unhappy they are with what the government is doing?

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is a good point. I talked to representatives of seniors' groups last week. We had a prebudget discussion in my riding. This was an issue that was raised by many people who are concerned. I told them that they could count on me as their MP to stand up when I have the opportunity, and I will take every opportunity to do this, to speak out about these issues and raise their concerns.

I told them that what we have seen from the government is absolute disrespect and contempt of democracy and Parliament. The government wants to shut down debate at every opportunity. I told them they themselves need to speak to the Conservatives. They need to make sure the government understands just how concerned they are about their future.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that this debate has gotten a bit out of hand. The motion talks about rejecting calls to balance the budget on the backs of seniors, and especially on the backs of the most financially vulnerable seniors. This motion also talks about taking immediate action to deal with seniors living in poverty. Last summer, if I recall correctly, this government adopted a similar motion, so I do not understand the disconnect here.

What do the seniors in my colleague's riding think about this situation? The opposition is being accused of fearmongering. What I am hearing is that seniors are not afraid of what we are saying. They are afraid of the situation they are currently living in and they fear that it will only get worse with the announced cuts to programs and services.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

2 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, let me say what a great job the member is doing in bringing such an important resolution to the floor of the House. I thank her for doing that.

I can tell her and all members of the House that seniors in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour are not concerned about what their MP is saying. They are concerned about what the government is doing.

This morning I had long chat with a young man; he sounded young, younger than I am anyway. He was worried about his dad who is 63 and is no longer working. He wanted to know what is going to happen to his dad if the government pushes the age forward to 67. As important, he wanted to know what would happen to him if he is in the same situation as his dad when he is 63.

I told him that I would bring that point to the floor of this House today and that I would continue to raise those issues so that government members recognize the kind of stress and strain they are putting on seniors and their families from one end of the country to the other.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, last month I had the opportunity to join with the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the national chief, as well as hundreds of first nations leaders from across the country at the crown-first nations gathering here in Ottawa. The gathering was a historic opportunity for all involved to chart the course forward toward a more prosperous and brighter future for first nations people.

During the day I met with inspirational first nations leaders who had endorsed policies of accountability and transparency that had transformed the governance of their communities. These leaders had helped to develop stronger local economies and opportunities for their residents.

While we often hear news stories of communities facing challenges, we as parliamentarians need to know that there is a generation of first nations leaders who are meeting the challenges of the past and paving the way forward to more hope, opportunity and prosperity.

I am proud to be part of a team that is committed to partnering with first nations people to build a future of economic sustainability, hope and opportunity.

Pensions
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the phone has been ringing off the hook in my riding since the Prime Minister announced in Davos that the Canadian retirement system would undergo significant changes.

John Wallace, a 90-year-old World War II veteran in my riding, braved the snow last Saturday to come out to my town hall meeting and express his opposition to this proposal. He does not want to see the benefits he fought so hard to secure taken away from his children. Another constituent of mine, Alan, will turn 65 this year. He called my office at 9 a.m. on Monday to ask if he would be eligible to retire in November.

The government should be taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty in this country. This proposal attacks the most vulnerable. People who have paid their taxes and built this country are worried about their retirement security.

On behalf of my constituents, I call on the government to stop misleading Canadians and stop these reckless cuts.

Canada-China Relations
Statements By Members

February 2nd, 2012 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's upcoming work in China illustrates our government's success in diversifying our economic markets. His trip also acknowledges the significance to Canada of our Asian Canadian heritage.

That heritage was showcased last weekend in the riding I represent, where almost 100 volunteers hosted over 1,000 people in a joyous celebration of the year of the dragon. The event held in West Vancouver featured traditional Chinese and Korean arts and foods. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism was on hand, along with members of the diplomatic community. I thank the volunteer leaders who, with me, worked for months to stage the event. They include Jessica Li, Nellie Cheng, Audra Chuang, Esther Chu and Yun Kang.

The great success of this event is just one of many reasons that Canadians of all backgrounds watch with interest as our Prime Minister heads back to China where he will repeat the message that Canada is open for business, investment, tourism, and students who want to enrol in our schools and universities.

Happy Asian new year. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Sealing Industry
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the sealing industry and challenge the federal government to take on misguided activists whose actions hurt the industry. After thousands of years, the seal hunt remains an important part of our culture and contributes to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador and all of Atlantic Canada, as well as communities in Quebec and the north.

In addition to jobs and food for Canadians, the world can benefit from seal products. The meat is rich in protein and iron. Growing demand for omega-3 has seen a demand for seal oil. Uniqueness has made seal fur a high-demand material. The seal population has exploded from two million harp seals to nearly 10 million, and from 30,000 grey seals to more than 350,000. Scientists say this could be a factor in the decline of our fish stocks, which threatens our rural communities.

The Liberal Party is committed to a commercial sealing industry. This federal government must do more to promote it and help ensure its sustainability.

It is time for all parties to stand up for the seal hunt and for those who make a living from it.