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

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-France Interparliamentary Association respecting its participation at the 38th annual meeting of the Canada-France Interparliamentary Association held in Paris, Normandy, Pays de la Loire, France, August 31 to September 7, 2011.

National Vitamin D Day Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-388, An Act to establish a National Vitamin D Day.

Mr. Speaker, abundant scientific research in the past decade has underscored the vital role of vitamin D in boosting immune response and reducing the risk of serious diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis and even viral infections such as the flu. The B.C. Cancer Agency recommends 1,500 international units to reduce the risk of cancer. A recent study suggests health care savings in the billions of dollars by increasing Canadians' levels of vitamin D.

This bill would expand the initiative by municipalities from Vancouver to St. John's. It would establish November 2 as National Vitamin D Day. Everybody ought to know.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Electro-Motive Diesel
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from several of my constituents and members of the community in regard to the lockout of Electro-Motive workers by Progress Rail, Caterpillar.

The company refuses to negotiate in good faith. It has asked the workers to take a more than 50% cut in their wages and a significant cut to their benefits. It is seeking to undermine their pensions that they have paid into all of their lives.

The workers are petitioning the Government of Canada to investigate the conditions of sale of Electro-Motive to Progress Rail, investigate the bad faith bargaining by Progress Rail, award employment insurance benefits to locked out workers and request that a constructive dismissal package be made available.

These workers have devoted their lives to making this a profitable corporation. Profitable it is; $1.14 billion in the last quarter and profits are up 60%. These workers need and demand justice.

The Environment
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from people all over Ontario who are concerned with the proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon Township in Dufferin County. If implemented, it would be the largest open pit quarry in Canada at over 2,300 acres.

The petitioners are concerned with a number of things. The proposed mega-quarry threatens the Grand and Nottawasaga river watersheds, including various freshwater fish species. The petitioners are asking that the Government of Canada conduct an environmental assessment under the authority of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act on the Highland Companies' proposed mega-quarry development

The Environment
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who have indicated their concerns about global warming. This group represents the Canadian interfaith call for leadership and action on climate change.

The petitioners recognize that we are in a serious situation in our country, that we have seen such change in our climate and that it impacts on all Canadians. They are asking that governments get involved and take this issue seriously, do what needs to be done to deal with climate change and not wait until things get worse than they already are.

On behalf of the individuals who have signed this petition, I am asking the government to take what is happening within our environment much more seriously and to put in place some kind of leadership to deal with global warming.

Immigration
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I present a petition that deals with the Minister of Immigration's super visa. Members may recall the minister announced the super visa back in November of last year. It is turning into a super disappointment.

The petitioners call upon the government to look at ways by which the super visa could be made more universal for individuals who do not have the money to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada for a visit. The health insurance requirement is unrealistic. It is adding great problems in terms of people being accepted.

The petitioners call upon the government to re-evaluate and change the super visa so that the multiple entry visa can be more affordable to all individuals who are living in Canada.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

February 2nd, 2012 / 10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

moved:

That the 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.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.

Today's motion is about seniors' poverty. The NDP has taken a clear position on the conjectures and hypotheses about old age security that the Conservative Party leader raised during his speech in Davos. We need an open, honest, transparent debate so that we can start working together right now to plan changes to old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, and all other aspects of Canadian pension plans. Our seniors need us when they retire.

I would like to give a brief overview of the pension plans and the social safety net in place for seniors in need. First, there are people who work and who have the opportunity to participate in a registered pension plan. Some people also have the opportunity to put money in an RRSP or in another fund that enables them to save for retirement. Naturally, we are pleased that they can do so.

Then there is the Canada pension plan. This plan is offered to all Canadians and provides them with income when they retire. However, this plan is not always enough to keep seniors from living in poverty. In that case, seniors have access to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. These programs help seniors live in dignity and keep them from suffering a life of poverty. That is why we are concerned about the vague remarks the Prime Minister made in Davos recently. If old age security is either cut or delayed, this would have very serious repercussions on our society.

I would now like to read an email I received from one of my constituents this week.

This constituent wrote, “Should the electoral headlines have read “[Prime Minister] to cancel OAS, CPP”, he would never be sitting in the Prime Minister's chair today. I am a self-employed worker owning a small business. I already bear the burden of constantly increasing costs and reduced profits. Five years ago my household budget for food was $700 monthly, and we are currently down to $400. We have no dental plan, no private medical insurance, no RRSPs, no company or private pension and I am 58 years old. As I age, I have fewer breaks, less services, no corporate tax cuts and now I am threatened to have no pension.“

I think what this person is trying to tell us is that he is worried because he was promised certain things, because he has worked his entire life and he is seeing cuts to programs and services. Of course, he will definitely have access to some sort of income when he retires, but he is right to worry about his retirement in a few years.

The issue of poverty among seniors should concern us all, and we cannot cuts programs arbitrarily. We need to have an open debate, which we will do here today. I look forward to hearing the intentions of all the members. For instance, if we were to push back the age for receiving old age security, this would primarily affect the most financially vulnerable seniors. What kind of impact would that have? If we look at old age security as an isolated program, there would be a number of negative effects and the most vulnerable seniors would suffer. But let us look at the overall picture.

Poverty among seniors affects many other things, for example, our health care system. Seniors who do not have enough to eat, who do not have heating and cannot pay for medication use our health care system more, which merely transfers the problem somewhere else. Here is another example. Some people can continue to work until they are 67. Good for them. Some of them want to do so. But some cannot. Remember that when we are talking about old age security, for example, we are talking about seniors who do not necessarily have RRSPs or a registered pension plan. We are talking about seniors who are the most likely to live in poverty. These seniors worked all their lives on their feet all day as cashiers; they worked in warehouses and factories. Their arms are tired and they have likely sustained a number of injuries. Perhaps they will be able to continue working at 65, but most likely they will not.

What will happen to these seniors who are unable to work longer? They will have to seek assistance elsewhere. Where? They may have to seek social assistance from the provinces, for example. What is the government doing once again? It is transferring the problem and sticking the provinces with the bill. This is not the way to find a real solution to a problem or to overcome a societal obstacle. We have to look at the bigger picture, seriously consider the issue, have a debate and listen. All parties in the House must be heard, but so must the people who work with seniors every day. We must listen to seniors who have needs. We must listen to the future generations. We have been talking a lot about these future generations since the beginning, and I am going to come back to them.

I would like to mention the choice that we, as a society, are facing today. Clearly, the government has plans to change programs that help seniors. We still do not know how. We hope that we will know soon and we hope that we will be able to participate in a discussion before the government presents us with a fait accompli. However, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are saying that this is a crisis situation. First, they are using skewed data that make the situation seem much more alarming than it actually is. They are also saying that this is a crisis situation for future generations, a situation that is not viable in the long term. They are presenting these cuts as though they are the only solution. However, such is not the case. We have a choice. It is not true that we must cut services and programs. We can do something different. We have a choice. We have resources and we have alternatives.

What the NDP is saying is that we should first start a dialogue and listen to what people and experts have to say. Then we could start improving the Canada pension plan. This would require a little more investment, but as I was saying earlier, we are not necessarily getting further ahead by cutting services or programs since we will end up paying the price in the long run and it will be a high price. Why not look at the big picture and see where we can make strategic investments in order to reduce the overall cost? There are other solutions.

What is often presented to us as an inevitability, a result of the economic crisis or the aging population, is not an inevitability. It is a choice among so many others that the government is making. It is important to address this.

I would like to say a few words about the so-called best interest of future generations. We are told at every turn that the population is aging and that we have to do something for the sake of future generations. Allow me to say that I am part of that future generation. I do not intend to retire in the next few months or the next few years. Increasing the eligibility age for old age security does not affect me in the short term, but I am still worried. I am part of the future generation and I do not want these cuts to programs and services.

I believe we have a social choice to make today. Are we going to make further cuts to social programs and social services? Are we going to widen the gap between the rich and the poor? I say no. No, because that is not the Canada I want to grow old in. As a member of these future generations, I say we should think this through and make informed decisions that will benefit everyone.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this particular NDP motion.

In his recent speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister suggested that, as a broad part of the social transformation, the Canadian retirement system should undergo significant changes. Government documents distributed to the media suggested at that time the possibility of changing the eligibility to collect OAS from 65 years to 67 years.

Following the Prime Minister's speech, which set off alarm bells across the country, the government quickly started backtracking on its own materials. Out came the almost obligatory cover statement assuring Canadian seniors that there would be no changes to the present benefits currently received by Canadian seniors. In addition, the government also repeated that the Canada pension plan was fully funded and in need of no change.

All I can say is that this is a rather classic tried and true Conservative tactic, “Don't worry, seniors, we'll never sell you out. You'll be just fine. It is your kids and your grandkids, those generations behind you, who will have to face the burden of our cuts, but don't you worry. You're okay”.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister and the government, Canadian seniors are not buying any of that. Conversations I have heard over the last few months, from government circles, from certain academia and from the mainstream media, seem to have been telling Canadians to prepare to work until 70 years of age.

These trial balloons remind me of a bully who, with a clenched fist, says that people will need to work until they are 70 years old. Then he smiles and says that they should not worry because he is just kidding. He tells them that they will only need to work until they are 67, and then, of course, people are supposed to feel relieved at that point. Somehow, Canadians are supposed to believe the government is doing them a favour. I can tell the House that the government will not do our seniors any favours when it comes to their pensions.

Instead of tearing down our cherished retirement security program, New Democrats have been working hard for three years putting together a retirement security program designed to ensure that all Canadians are able to retire with dignity. To that end, we propose the phase-in of a doubling of the CPP over an extended period of time so that generations to come will have more of a sense of a foundation on which to retire.

Part of our plan would eliminate poverty among seniors by increasing the guaranteed income supplement. New Democrats will also create a national pension insurance program to protect existing pensions paid for out of premiums from the plan's sponsors.

New Democrats want to further protect existing pensions by ensuring that pensioners are among the creditors who are paid out of a company's remaining assets when it goes bankrupt.

What do we get from the government? We get talk of forcing seniors to work longer, a pooled registered pension plan that provides no security and, worse, the PRPP would have Canadians investing their retirement savings in the very same marketplace that caused such catastrophic losses in the value of RRSPs and other pension funds.

Unlike the CPP or private savings, the OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on retirees' work history or their participation in a registered pension plan or other savings plan. OAS, along with the GIS, has, over the years, made impressive gains in lowering, although not eliminating, poverty among seniors. Full OAS is based on residency and is available to Canadians who have lived here a minimum of 40 years. Partial OAS pensions are pro-rated for Canadians who have spent less of their lives in Canada. For example, if a person has lived in Canada for only 20 years, he or she would receive half of the monthly benefits, or, if a person has lived in Canada for 10 years, he or she would receive a quarter of the monthly OAS benefits.

Unlike CPP, which is funded through equal contributions from employers and employees, OAS and GIS are paid directly from government general revenues. High income seniors must also pay back some or all of their OAS benefit. The guaranteed income supplement is entirely means-tested and available only to our poorer seniors.

I will now talk about our more vulnerable seniors for a moment. Economist, Andrew Jackson, and others have noted that raising the age of eligibility by two years would especially impact low-income older workers. Today, people whose income is in the bottom 20% of the workforce, and I hesitate at this, they tend to die earlier than those in the top 20% because of the lives they live. Half of all lower income men, on average, will collect OAS-GIS cheques for a meagre 10 years.

Raising the retirement eligibility by two years would also have a negative impact on persons aged 65 and closing in on 65 who are in poor health and have difficulty working. At what cost? The latest actuarial report on the OAS-GIS projects that the number of recipients will increase from 4.9 million today to 9.3 million in 2030. However, the increase in total cost that is projected is actually much more modest. Today's current level of 2.5% of GDP would become 3.5% in 2030. That is because our economy will continue to grow.

I would suggest that a cost of under 1% of GDP is a very small price to pay for maintaining basic retirement levels for all Canadians, especially the one in three seniors who have low incomes. Because many of these low income people are senior women who are not part of the paid labour force, the OAS and GIS are particularly important retirement instruments for them. Senior women are less likely than senior men to draw income from CPP, private pension plans, RRSPs or employment earnings. This makes universal programs like OAS-GIS particularly important to female seniors.

In 1927, when J.S. Woodsworth first envisioned OAS, he believed it was essential to have such a program to address seniors' poverty of the day. Today, we are being told by the government that the old age security program is unsustainable. Essentially, the government wants to restructure the entire Canadian retirement system because of what we see as a clearly affordable, short-run, short-term demographic change. This resulted from the gradual retirement of baby boomers, which actually started last year in 2011.

According to the government's own reports, the anticipated growth in cost is driven largely by the retirement of the baby boomers. Its own reports do not describe any longer term issues of sustainability. Therefore, in the long run, the current system is clearly affordable and will even be a smaller share of the budget than it is today following the decline in baby boomers. Simply put, in the medium run, this is a cost increase that Canadians can clearly afford.

While speaking at Davos, the Prime Minister scolded our European friends for their spending, so let us look at that for a moment. According to the OECD, total public social expenditures on pensions as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 4.7% in Canada. The equivalent average in OECD counties is more than 7%. Even crisis countries, such as Italy, pay 14%. Canada, in relation to that, pays one-third of what Italy pays. Australia, France and Greece spend roughly 12%. Germany, Poland and Portugal spend roughly 11%. Therefore, such comparisons to the troubled eurozone are simply not appropriate and are only used to create fear for our time-tested Canadian programs that they might be unsustainable.

In addition, it should also be noted that the Canadian public pensions, OAS, GIS and CPP, are not overly generous when compared to other OECD countries. In fact, a recent study ranks us 20th out of 30.

The Prime Minister's priority is to spend billions of dollars on corporate tax giveaways while cutting support to Canadian seniors, particularly women, and that is wrong. We should be taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not making it worse by slashing the eligibility to OAS. New Democrats have been meeting with seniors' groups to talk about how seniors will be affected and work on the best ways to oppose these reckless Conservative cuts. A better option for Canadians is to expand the CPP.

In closing, in response to the Prime Minister's triumphant speech, economist Jim Stanford asked, “If Canada has been so wonderfully successful, why must we take money away from Canadian pensioners?”

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, the member has been here a number of years, as I have. I know that he sometimes speaks and then does not follow through with action.

I am wondering if this particular case is going to be the same as before when the Federation of Canadian Municipalities identified $123 billion in infrastructure deficit and this Conservative government and the Prime Minister brought in $45 billion in economic stimulus and infrastructure investments across the country, and the NDP and the member in particular voted against it.

We brought in income splitting for seniors and the NDP voted against that. We brought in increased benefits of $2.3 billion per year for seniors and the NDP voted against that. We brought in the family caregiver tax credit, which the Canadian Caregiver Coalition thought was wonderful, and the NDP voted against that. We enhanced the GIS for over 680,000 seniors and the NDP voted against that.

The Prime Minister has been clear that it is not going to affect seniors, but is the member doing the same thing again?

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Speaking of diversionary tactics, Madam Speaker, the member talked about $123 billion in infrastructure. We would be thrilled if the government invested in infrastructure. We would be thrilled if it had a plan. It does not seem to.

The member talked about why we choose to vote against particular issues. When the government introduces omnibus bills and puts budgets together that are hundreds of pages in length and have many things in them that are detrimental to Canadians, the government can expect us to vote against them.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, in Manitoba over 7,000 seniors rely in part on food banks in order to sustain themselves. They are having to make difficult decisions quite often, whether to buy prescription drugs or food. At a time when one would think the government would be trying to lift seniors out of poverty and improving the quality of life for seniors, the government is saying it is committed to putting more seniors into poverty by making changes, such as increasing the age from 65 to 67.

I am wondering if the member would like to comment in terms of more seniors going into poverty because of government decisions today.

Opposition Motion—Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, that is a very important question. If the government increases the eligibility by two years, it is going to take $5,500 per year out of that income block for seniors. The people at the lower end, the people who are already on social assistance in our provinces are going to remain there two extra years. Social assistance pays far more, on average, across this country. The government would be taking $10,000 from the neediest of Canadians if it did this.