House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugee.

Topics

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

March 26th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

moved:

Motion No. 307

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the contributions that the baby boom generation has made in building Canada; (b) affirm its support for the Old Age Security program; (c) commit to maintaining the sixty-five year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act; and (d) recognize that Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a program designed to help low income seniors, are inextricably linked and ensure that they continue to have identical ages of eligibility.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the matter of old age security. I would like to acknowledge the very hard and determined work of the hon. member for York West, the Liberal Party critic for pensions. My motion is a direct response to a petition signed by tens of thousands of Canadians who are troubled by the decision of the Prime Minister to change the age of eligibility for old age security.

I will outline a number of facts today.

A little under a year ago, someone made a promise. He made that promise during the last election. Here is what he said, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one.

It was the Prime Minister who made that promise. It is important to note when the Prime Minister made that promise. Was it when he called Canada a northern welfare state? Was it when he said that Atlantic Canadians suffer from a culture of defeat? Was it when he said that he would not touch income trusts? Was it when he advocated for a two tier health care system? Did he say it when, as part of his firewall plan, he called for Alberta to set up its own pension plan and, in doing so, rejected the very notion of a national system of pensions? Or, was it when he said, “providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility”? No, the Prime Minister made the promise not to touch pensions on April 11, 2011, just three weeks before election day.

Two months ago, the Prime Minister announced in Switzerland that he intended to institute massive changes to old age security and, in consequence, mandate massive changes to the guaranteed income supplement as well. In less than 10 months, after getting his majority government, he broke his promise to seniors and future generations of pensioners.

Here is another fact. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, almost 4.4 million Canadians are in receipt of old age security. The vast majority of those seniors live pension cheque to pension cheque. Those of us here, I would suggest, will not need to worry about our retirement. We will not be living pension cheque to pension cheque. None of us here in this chamber will depend on the old age security to maintain a decent level of living when we retire. However, for millions of Canadians, the old age security and guaranteed income supplement provides them with a pension to live, not in comfort, but to meet the basic needs of food, heating oil and medication.

The Prime Minister gave his word and then broke his promise and it will be most vulnerable who will suffer. It will not be members here, but women, low income seniors and persons with disabilities.

Here is another fact. A report issued by the Prime Minister's own government tells us that current seniors whose income is less than $20,000 rely heavily on old age security as well as the guaranteed income supplement. The two are linked. The government will change the age for old age security to age 67 or higher. What will happen to the guaranteed income supplement? Changing the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 or beyond also means that the GIS will be affected as people cannot obtain the GIS unless they are in receipt of old age security.

On Friday afternoon I received a frantic letter from the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, sent on an urgent basis, asking me to consider an amendment to remove any reference to the age of 65 in the motion before the House. Of course, the minister's suggestion is completely unacceptable. The Liberal Party will not accept any change that will raise the age of eligibility for old age security, period.

The present pension system works, it is not broken and any suggestion otherwise is simply not true. The current pension system provides all Canadians access to old age security and further provides those seniors who have little or no income beyond old age security the guaranteed income supplement.

I know many seniors whose entire income is based on the present system. To suggest, as the Prime Minister has, that future seniors already living week to week can now suddenly invest that extra $10 they might have into a RRSP or some other private investment plan is, to be generous, a joke. However, it is not a laughing matter. It is very offensive.

We also know that women disproportionately rely on the guaranteed income supplement more than men. Twenty-four per cent of all women who are senior citizens qualify for and rely on the GIS.

A change of two, three or four years in eligibility may seem insignificant to us but to people who continue to live in a cycle of poverty waiting an extra two to four years is a lifetime. Yet, the government is spending billions on prisons, billions on fighter jets, adding new members of Parliament to the House, all the while unravelling our pension system.

However, this all makes sense when we read what the Prime Minister once said, “providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility”.

Furthermore, the argument presented by the Prime Minister to justify this broken promise is anchored in the idea that old age security is suddenly unsustainable. When did he first come to that revelation? Did he think that pensions were unsustainable last April when he promised not to touch them? We must remember what he said. He said, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one”.

Edward Whitehouse of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and an international expert on retirement and pensions said, “There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pensions ages in the foreseeable future”.

Jack Mintz, the government's own research director for the working group on retirement income, said this past January:

The overall view that was taken about our pension system in total, when you look at Old Age Security, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, as well as Canada Pension Plan, was that it is relatively financially sustainable.

Last April, the Prime Minister promised to leave pensions alone and now he is suggesting that old age security is unsustainable. We know that is not true. We now know that assertion is blatantly false.

The man he appointed as Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, told the truth when he said that the OAS was in fact sustainable. Jack Mintz told the truth when he said that old age security was sustainable. Edward Whitehouse of the OECD told the truth when he said that there was no pressing need to increase the age for obtaining the OAS pension. Who is not telling the truth and for what reason?

The OAS is sustainable and will be sustainable into the future. Last April, the Prime Minister believed old age security was sustainable too. We know this because he told Canadians, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one”. It really is disgraceful to give one's word and then break it and to do so based on manufacturing a crisis.

The Conservatives like to go on about its strong, stable, majority government but they did not seek a mandate to tear asunder a critical element of our social safety net. They did not seek a mandate to change the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67 or maybe 69 or more.

The Prime Minister told Canadians last April that he would not touch their pensions but this coming Thursday, budget day, he will officially break that promise and fundamentally alter the covenant made decades ago to support Canadian seniors.

I am aware that I am not permitted to suggest that the government lied or that it acted dishonestly for those comments are unparliamentary. However, when a prime minister makes a promise during an election, a promise to seniors and to future pensioners, to leave those pensions as they are and then announces after the election that he will make massive changes to old age security, then one must simply leave it to Canadians to figure out the value of his word.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, for this very important motion today and I would ask him what his understanding is in regard to this change.

It seems to me that it is a significant change to suggest that the retirement age be increased to age 67 from age 65 because we know that those who live on provincial benefits, those with health problems who are living with the challenges of disability, will lose those benefits at age 65. That means those same people will be without any income from age 65 to 67.

I wonder if the member for Charlottetown has heard any indication that the government consulted with the provinces, talked to them or even the private insurers about this very significant change.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, there has been absolutely no indication that there has been consultation with the provinces or with the business community with respect to this proposed change. This appeared to be some sort of a pronouncement from an alpine perch. It will, undoubtedly, result in either another download to the provinces or a huge gap for people who are presently supported by welfare systems in the various provinces to the age of 65, until the age of 67, where there will be absolutely no social safety net.

The other thing I would point out is that, for those people who are fortunate enough to be working as seniors at advanced age, this will have significant effect with respect to private disability plans as well. To the best of my knowledge, there is absolutely no indication that industry or the provinces were consulted with respect to this and it appears inevitable that they will likely be the ones forced to bear the costs.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the motion that has been brought forward by the member. The member is doing a great service for all Canadians from coast to coast who recognize that this is one of those issues that is fundamentally important. We are talking about retirement. At the end of the day there will be more seniors put into poverty as a direct result of what the government is doing.

Could the member highlight the impact this will have on seniors and poverty if the government is successful in raising the age from 65 to 67?

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, there are many seniors in the country who are dependent on provincial welfare payments for their basic needs. However, when they hit age 65, the federal system is more generous than many of the provincial systems with respect to old age security and guaranteed income supplement. Therefore, many seniors presently living in poverty look forward to the day that they turn 65 years of age.

This change will have a debilitating effect on society's most vulnerable. For those people who are presently living in poverty and who look forward to the day of hitting the age of 65, they will either be left completely without an income, if the gap is allowed to occur, or remain on the provincial rolls for an additional two years.

The change will have a devastating effect disproportionately on low income women and on those living with disabilities. Those in our society who are now the most vulnerable, those who are now living in poverty, they will be the ones who will bear the cost of this change.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 307 moved by the hon. member for Charlottetown regarding the importance of the old age security program and recognizing the value that seniors and those nearing retirement represent to our country.

It is my understanding that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has communicated directly with the member for Charlottetown indicating her general support for the motion should her request for an amendment be accepted.

As a government, we are committed to protecting the retirement income of Canadians for future generations, and we recognize that change is required to ensure the sustainability of the OAS program. As such, our amendment to the motion requests that the wording regarding a commitment to maintain 65 as the qualifying age for OAS be adjusted to state our commitment to maintaining the sustainability and affordability of the OAS program.

What more can we say to help our colleagues understand the urgency of taking action to cope with the changes posed by the demographic pressures our country is facing?

Our arguments are based on real facts. Canada's largest generation, the baby boomers, is getting older and is starting to retire. The life expectancy of a 65 year old has increased by five years since 1966, which means that the OAS recipients are collecting benefits longer. As the baby boomers continue to retire over the next decade and a half, the number of seniors in this country will grow dramatically. By 2030, for the first time in Canadian history, there will be more people over the age of 65 than young people under the age of 20. This will also cause the workforce to gradually get older.

Today there are four Canadians of working age for every retired person. In 2030 the ratio will be down to 2:1. In essence, the same number of workers as today will be supporting twice as many seniors by 2030. This is a global trend and it is even more marked in the developed countries like Canada. By now many other countries have already taken steps to ensure the security of retirement income for future generations.

The Canada pension plan has been adjusted to ensure it remains viable over the long term. The latest Chief Actuary's report confirms that it is actually sound for the next 75 years.

However, no such changes have been made to the OAS, which is 100% funded by the tax dollar. Without taking responsible action now, the program will be at risk for future generations and our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price.

It is a question of fairness. The old age security program relies on the taxes paid in a given year to fund the benefits paid out that year. That is why the ratio of workers to seniors is critical to the fiscal sustainability of the program. One does not have to be an expert to understand that the lower the ratio of workers to seniors, the less tax revenue there is for government programs and services.

The global economic crisis has taught us that we cannot take anything for granted and that we are affected by the financial situation outside of Canada. Thanks to the strong economic leadership of our Prime Minister and our Minister of Finance, Canada has solid fundamentals, and we have emerged from the global recession better than other countries in the G7. However, as has been stated many times by our Prime Minister, we are not immune to shocks in the world markets and we cannot rest on our laurels.

We know about the problems our neighbours to the south are having, as well as our trading partners in the European Union. We do not want to make the same mistakes when it comes to deficit spending and shifting an ever-increasing burden to the next generation. Under these circumstances, we need to be prudent and accept our responsibilities.

That being said, we know that everything that pertains to public pensions has a profound influence on the important decisions that citizens need to take during their working life with regard to their level of savings and the year they plan to retire. That is why any changes we make to the OAS will not affect anyone who is currently collecting benefits, nor will it affect anyone nearing retirement.

As for the younger generations, those who are starting their working life and those who still have many years to work, they will have time to plan and adapt. We are telling younger workers about this now, not to pit one generation against another, but because they have a right to know what to expect. We are telling them that this is what the country is going to look like in eight, ten, twenty years from now. This is the reality and to pretend otherwise would be foolish.

After the Second World War the troops came home and started families. They were confident that the future was full of promise. Those children became the baby boomer generation. Canada's wealth and economic productivity expanded enormously as both men and women of that generation brought their values, knowledge, skills and energy to the labour market. Baby boomers have helped make Canada the strong country it is today. Many of us in this House are baby boomers. We can all agree that the baby boomers are responsible for much of the growth and prosperity we have seen in the last few decades.

There is no argument about recognizing the great contributions of that generation. However, demographics do not lie. Because of the unusual size of that generation, baby boomers are now beginning to retire in great numbers, and this will bring risks to the long-term growth of our economy.

Therefore, we are proposing to make changes now so that future generations can have the same financial security when they retire as their parents and grandparents did. These changes will not arrive tomorrow. We will give Canadians time to prepare for them, but we are not going to tell fairy tales. This story will not have a happy ending unless we do something now. If we do not act now in a responsible way, future generations will have much more difficult decisions in front of them.

If we stick our heads in the sand and fail to address this issue which we have all known for quite some time requires action, then future generations will pay the price. This would be a dangerous and reckless route to take.

We are a nation that is aging, and we know that this trend will continue to accelerate. We also know that the efforts the country can make to ensure financial security for its seniors depends on the number of workers relative to the number retired. The number of workers relative to the number of retired people will drop by half in fewer than 20 years. As we see it, these factors leave no doubt that it is vital to act now.

We have said many times that we will not touch the Canada pension plan, which is a contributory plan paid into by employers and employees. The CPP is solid and sustainable. However, the aging population will put long-term pressure on the OAS program.

The facts are clear. OAS expenditures, which are the largest single transfer paid to individual Canadians, are projected to rise from $36.5 billion in 2010 to $108 billion in 2030.

Since the OAS program is entirely financed by general tax revenues, this huge increase would raise the OAS portion from 13¢ of every tax dollar spent today to 21¢ of every tax dollar spent in 2030-31, placing this undue tax burden on younger generations of Canadians.

This also means that less funds would be available for children, families, health care, public safety and other programs. It is a program that would cost three times as much as it does now with the same number of workers to support it. Will it be sustainable if we do nothing? Yes, if we are willing to impose an excessive burden on future generations, raise taxes and rack up even greater debt.

For us, choices like these are irresponsible. That is why I am asking the member for Charlottetown and all members of the House for their co-operation to ensure the sustainability of the old age security program.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Charlottetown for bringing this important issue to the House of Commons. Old age security is a vital tool in the fight to prevent poverty among seniors. The suggestion by the Prime Minister to raise the age of qualification for OAS to 67 years would have a direct impact not on the wealthy but on the poorest seniors. That reality has not been lost on current seniors nor the seniors of the future. In essence, the government is saying that it wants the poor to pay for the financial mismanagement of the Conservatives. Not only is this unacceptable, but it is absolutely unfathomable.

Let us not forget that the House has passed unanimously several NDP opposition day motions all in support of seniors' financial security, yet the government threatens changes to the OAS in blatant disregard of the will of the House and in contempt of the seniors who built our nation. For the life of me I do not understand why the government is trying to create more challenges for seniors, who deserve our respect.

As the NDP seniors critic, over the last couple of months I have had the chance to talk to people. I also have received many emails and letters from seniors across Canada, all reacting to the Prime Minister's suggestion that there may be changes to old age security. People are outraged, insulted and scared, and rightly so. Canadians have carefully planned for retirement at age 65. They cannot manage the difficult struggle that would be required for them to wait until age 67.

If the government really cared about seniors and retirement security, it would make substantive changes to the GIS right now that would have a significant impact on the lives of retirees. Instead of giving less than half of what is needed to increase the GIS, the government would have listened to New Democrats and made the full GIS contribution increase needed to lift every senior out of poverty.

Now the government suggests that changes will not affect current seniors or those approaching retirement. The Conservatives have said that those affected will have time to plan. No mention was made of those still paying mortgages, the cost of post-secondary education for their kids, and the real cost of increases to the cost of living.

What Conservatives do not say is that the poorest seniors are the ones who will be affected. The truth is that many low-paying jobs require substantial physical labour. That makes it far more difficult to work past age 65. Unfortunately, I do not expect the government will be sensitive to that reality. The same hard-working Canadians, the ones who rely on the OAS, are for the most part people who have struggled their entire lives. The reason they have not saved is that there is no money to save. As I have already said, every penny was spent on the necessities of life.

The scramble which the Prime Minister incited after his announcement at Davos about the suggested changes that would occur a few years down the road was a calculated tactic to divide future and current seniors. The government is pitting today's young people who are struggling to find work against seniors relieved that their retirement is secure.

We know that young people today are struggling to find work. They are forced to enter into the workforce later in life than their parents and grandparents did. Taking inflation into account, the truth of the situation is that people are earning less now than in the past. Too many young people cannot find work to their full potential and consequently are going to be forced to work longer and retire later than their parents did. Apparently, that will be at age 67. All of this is because the Conservative government wants to build new prisons, give huge tax breaks to profitable corporations and purchase expensive fighter jets.

I have been travelling across the country listening to what seniors have to say. What I have been hearing is that seniors are not buying the government line. They are worried about their children and grandchildren. They want the best for them. They want to make sure they are well looked after and refuse to accept anything less than what they want for themselves.

Seniors are very wise. They know a bait and switch when they see one. They also know that the OAS is an investment, not just for themselves, but for all of our society. Seniors on OAS spend all of their money in their neighbourhoods. That money is reinvested in our economy, in local businesses and in community jobs. OAS is not a burden on the economy. It is an investment. Our seniors make an investment. They are not pulling down our economy.

From a crass monetary perspective, it is significantly cheaper to keep people out of poverty than to deal with the ramifications of poverty, including an increased burden on our medical and judicial systems.

I want to be very clear. The money we invest in OAS is readily available. We have the money to lift seniors out of poverty in the present and to address the additional expenses that the government will face in the future. We have heard from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the money is there now and in the future. We have heard it from the OECD. Right now, it costs about 2.3% of GDP to provide services and pensions for seniors. By 2030, it will be about 3.2% of GDP. Thereafter, it will fall rapidly to 1.4%.

However, instead of investing in Canada and in our social safety net, the Conservatives have chosen to saddle the treasury and Canadians with corporate tax giveaways that do not guarantee a single new job. No one knows better than Londoners, who remember what happened to the Electro-Motive Diesel workers.

Seniors represent one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from about 4.2 million in 2005 to 9.8 million in 2036. Many more seniors will be retiring in the years to come. Therefore, we need to have a social safety net in place to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty.

It is about intelligent, thoughtful planning, which is something that we have not seen from the government. In fact, the Conservatives are clearly making the wrong decisions on how to care for the increased number of seniors by 2036. They have failed the plan and they have fallen short of what is really needed: investment in home care, investment in long-term care, investment in pharmacare and increased access to resources. All of these will save us money in the long run.

We also need appropriate, affordable housing and investment in geriatric studies and in our communities. That is what is important. Tragically, the Conservatives do not seem to know that. They do not know how to be government.

The concerns of the future are very real. Today, only 38.5% of Canadian workers have workplace pensions. Nearly one-third have no retirement savings at all. More than 3.5 million Canadians are not saving enough in RRSPs for what used to be called their “golden years” and 75% of workers are not even participating in a registered pension plan. Clearly, the notion that retirement savings can be adequately accounted for through purchases of RRSPs does not work.

Urgent government action is needed. Pension reform is needed.

It should further be noted that private retirement savings are concentrated in a small percentage of families. According to Statistics Canada, 25% of families hold 84% of those pension assets, while 3 out of 10 families have no private pension at all.

Seniors have worked hard all their lives. They have played by the rules. Now, they simply want access to the programs and services that their hard-earned tax dollars helped to make. One soon-to-be senior told me, “I made the sacrifices. I raised honest, responsible children. Now I want to rest, to retire and to enjoy the contributions I've made to my community. I earned a secure retirement. Please don't allow anyone to steal it from me. I will not be cheated of the retirement that I deserve.”

New Democrats will not allow the government to cheat the seniors of the present, nor the seniors of the future. They deserve that security.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to have an opportunity to speak to Motion No. 307 today. I will read it for anyone who may have just tuned in and is not aware of the full context of my colleague's motion.

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the contributions that the baby boom generation has made in building Canada; (b) affirm its support for the Old Age Security program; (c) commit to maintaining the sixty-five year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act; and (d) recognize that Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a program designed to help low income seniors, are inextricably linked and ensure that they continue to have identical ages of eligibility.

My colleague has introduced this motion to again showcase how important age 65 is to all of us as Canadians. It is not something that the government should be looking at easily tinkering with. I also want to thank him for his kind words and for his ongoing support and leadership in protecting OAS, GIS and seniors in general. This member was first elected just over a year ago. He has spent a good portion of that time fighting for seniors and baby boomers in Prince Edward Island and throughout Canada. I wish that the government would show the same kind of sensitivity.

We are going to give it one more chance with another motion that we are hoping will, somehow, somewhere, get to the government's ear. We are asking the government to back off from the move it is making. I think it is reckless. There is absolutely no reason for it. We have found no one who can substantiate the need for it, especially given the fact that the Prime Minister made a commitment.

It is no wonder people are cynical. Politicians make all kinds of commitments that they are not going to change things, such as income trusts and pensions. Then when they get into office, they completely ignore those commitments. I think it is bad for all of us, and politics in general, when that happens.

Today will serve as the government's final warning on the subject. Seniors from all parts of Canada have spoken loudly through myself and all of us as elected officials, including government members. They are demanding that the Conservatives stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and baby boomers.

Despite a belief that the OAS benefits, such as the basic monthly pension, the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance, were secure and well beyond the opportunistic reach of government, we know these systems are vulnerable to any mean-spirited government. This is exactly what we are about to see on Thursday.

Slashing the OAS has been tried before. Conservative icon Brian Mulroney set his sights on seniors before abandoning the move in the face of overwhelming public pressure. That was his Charlie Brown moment, as it is often referred to. Knowing this, most Canadians were surprised when this Prime Minister, during his January 26 lecture to the World Economic Forum in Davos, signalled that he was considering major transformation to the OAS and GIS. Too bad he did not have the courage to tell people that last April when he reaffirmed his commitment to seeing that they would stay on.

I was very surprised, as many of us were, considering this particular Prime Minister campaigned, saying that Conservatives would not cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions, and that was job number one. Again, it just adds to the cynicism out there. I guess he hopes Canadians are not paying attention as he sticks his hands deep into the pockets of our seniors.

Canadians are paying attention. Earlier today Mr. Kessey wrote to my office. He said:

In my view, the politicians who want benefits to be moved to 67 years should try to vacate their office jobs and assume the duties of hard-working citizens such as construction workers, etc.

I agree with Mr. Kessey. I suspect most of us in the House do. As someone whose household made its living from construction for more than 40 years, perhaps I could lend the Prime Minister a set of work boots and gloves. I assume he does not have his own. He would find out what it is really like to go out and work in these hard jobs. Once people get to 65, their bodies are clearly paying the price for that. Never mind having to wait until 67.

Initially the government suggested that the OAS system was not economically sustainable when confronted by the economics presented by an aging population.

This is no surprise. We have known for years that we were going to have an aging population and we know the demographics.This is no surprise where the Prime Minister suddenly had a report on his desk to say, “Oh my goodness, we're heading for a disaster”. That is not the case at all.

It was further suggested by government that increasing the OAS qualifying age from 65 to 67 would reduce costs in the immediate term, allowing the system to withstand the increasing number of boomers in retirement. The government's already weak argument was then augmented with claims of intergenerational inequity. In the simplest terms possible, let me put it this way. The Conservatives were claiming that the costs of the OAS system would outpace the government's ability to pay and, even if it could afford the projected increases, the increased cost of supporting a growing pension system would be unfair to younger workers. This seems pretty rich given the fact that the Conservatives gave $6 billion to our large corporations, $30 billion or $35 billion is still being bantered around for untendered jets and another $1 billion went for fake lakes and glow sticks. Now the PM is demanding that Canada's lowest-income seniors tighten their belts. Setting aside the fact that the Cons promised not to cut the OAS and ignoring the fact that the Cons have spent money with little regard for prudence, their sustainability argument is nonsense.

Last month, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that the OAS is sustainable in the long term, even if enhanced. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed by the Prime Minister not by a Liberal government, in which case the Conservatives would have said there was something wrong with the individual. This Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed by the Prime Minister himself. He should have faith in his numbers. Instead, he cast them aside and said that his numbers are ridiculous and so is he. The Parliamentary Budget Officer also said the OAS is respectful of the concept of fairness and intergenerational equity. So it would appear as though the Conservatives are proposing to cut seniors' benefits not because they have to but because they want to. It is shameful. Fortunately, Bill C-307, if it passes the House, would help to prevent this from happening.

As a reminder of where all these wonderful programs came from, the OAS was first created by Liberal prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1927, because poverty in certain sectors of Canada's seniors' population had become rampant. Again in 1952, another Liberal prime minister, Louis St. Laurent, expanded the program because he felt it was unfair that the provinces were being saddled with the lion's share of the cost of combatting seniors' poverty. In 1967, Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson created the guaranteed income supplement, again to reduce the instances of extreme poverty among our seniors. None of us believe that Canadian seniors should be living in poverty. The Liberal governments have worked for many years to ensure it does not happen. The steps that are about to be taken on Thursday would unravel that and start to put people back into poverty. Rather than being so proud of our Canadians and how we lead the way in so many social programs, we are clearly going backwards.

In 1975, again a Liberal prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, created the spousal benefit, always with the intent that we would not have women and seniors living in poverty. So for 90 years, successive Liberal governments have worked to build and maintain an old age security pension that would ensure seniors could live with dignity; ensure the provinces did not have to deal with these issues alone which is again what we are doing, downloading more and more pressures onto the provinces; and show the world that Canada has a heart. Now I am getting letters from overseas asking what happened to Canada, saying that it has lost its heart and its moral compass on so many issues.

Past Liberals have always understood the need to help vulnerable people to be fiscally responsible. We have always done that. There is no reason whatsoever to do this, other than having a Prime Minister who clearly believes that the government's role is not to help people but to let them fend for themselves. That is not my Canada.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak to the motion. I understand that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has communicated her request for an amendment to the motion directly to the member for Charlottetown. I am hopeful we can move forward in a spirit of compromise and work toward ensuring the sustainability of the old age security program for future generations. The amendment the government has put forward would change sub-point c to say we “commit to maintaining the sustainability and affordability of the OAS program”.

Generally, we are in agreement with many of the points in the motion. Certainly, we can all agree that the baby boomer generation can be credited for much of the economic growth of our country. I know we are all in support of the old age security system. That is why our government plans to make changes to the OAS to ensure the sustainability of this program for future generations.

The old age security system needs to be changed. It was designed in the 1950s and the world of 2012 is a very different place. It is currently not sustainable. What I do not understand, having paid close attention to the debate on this topic in the public, is why the opposition parties would resist making the necessary changes to keep the OAS system sustainable. We will all retire some day. Do we not want an OAS program on which we can rely? More important, do we not want OAS to be available for our children and our grandchildren?

The Prime Minister and the Minister of HRSDC have presented the facts on demographic changes to the House many times. These are not new numbers. When it comes to an aging population, no one has been able to refute the statistics, yet the opposition still maintains that the Government of Canada should ignore the reality of an aging population and do nothing to modernize the OAS system.

We believe in ensuring the sustainability of the OAS system, and our amendment reflects that commitment. To put it bluntly, under the current rules, and without changes, OAS costs will triple over the coming decades without similar revenue growth to support that cost. Inaction is not an option, unless we want to force future generations to make much more difficult decisions. We cannot afford to let that happen. We need to act now.

We are dealing with an unprecedented situation. Some time in the next eight years we will reach a population milestone. We will have more senior citizens in the Canadian population than people under the age of 20.

We have talked about the decreasing worker to retiree ratio. If opposition members have some magical way of creating more workers and taxpayers to improve that ratio, I would like to hear about it. However, their previous plans to raise taxes will not work. We have seen the disastrous results in Europe of high taxes and massive deficits. Before anyone says immigration is the answer, I would like to point out that even the most optimistic projections realize that newcomers cannot fill the looming labour shortages in our economy. Besides, many of the countries that could provide us with immigrants are aging themselves, albeit at a slower rate.

This is a worldwide trend and before long there will be critical labour shortages worldwide. With more retired people and fewer taxpayers there is obviously more financial pressure on the social programs, especially retirement income programs. Other industrial countries have reviewed their retirement income programs and made changes to keep them sustainable into the future. In some cases, yes, that meant raising the age of eligibility of a pension.

Canada is more fortunate than some countries in a sense that we have a solid financial footing, which gives us more time to plan and to implement changes. Some other nations have been forced by financial crisis to take action. We have the strong economic leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to thank for Canada's G7 leading economic performance. Because of our strong economy, we have more fiscal room to manoeuvre. We could introduce changes gradually.

As we have said many times, anyone currently collecting OAS will not be affected by these changes in any way. They have nothing to be concerned about and they will not lose a single penny. People who are close to retirement do not have to worry that the rules will change tomorrow.

Change has to come, otherwise Canadians who are in their twenties and thirties now will be at a disadvantage. If we postpone reforms to the OAS, we will simply defer the costs, not eliminate them. Our children and grandchildren will not thank us for saddling them with our debts.

Inscribed on the western arch of the Peace Tower is “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. That is taken from Proverbs 29:18. Unless we have a vision for our OAS program, it will not be there.

As parliamentarians, we have to think of our nation's future. We need to look beyond the short-sighted politics that too often stop us from making needed changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of our most cherished programs. What kind of legacy do we want to leave to those who come after us?

We have had a terrible warning from the recent experiences of other countries. Are we going to learn from that warning and change course while we can, or keep going, full steam ahead, into an iceberg? We may feel safe now, but we cannot take anything for granted. Now is the time for prudence and foresight.

Our government is encouraging Canadians to prepare for their retirement well in advance, and we want to help them make those wise financial decisions. We can hardly expect them to do that unless we set a good example of fiscal responsibility ourselves. Canadians should be heartened and reassured to know that their government is looking and acting as a good steward of public funds.

The Canada pension plan is rock solid. The latest actuarial reports indicate it is fully sustainable for the next 75 years. However, the OAS program is facing grave challenges. Without reform, the cost of the program will have tripled by 2030. Where is the $108 billion going to come from?

Some people say that we will be able to absorb that cost because of increased economic productivity. What kind of economic productivity do they believe we will have given the massive tax burden the economy will be required to absorb just to pay for this program?

Canadians are naturally concerned about their pensions, but no one's interest is served by stirring up emotions and evoking suspicion and fear-mongering. We need to have a rational conversation about reforms to the OAS, without pointing fingers and making wild accusations.

What can we do to ensure that all Canadians can have income security in their retirement? Let us talk about the practicalities. Let us talk about what works and does not work in other countries.

The motion proposed by the hon. member for Charlottetown does recognize the contributions of our seniors and those nearing retirement, with which we agree. However, it also appears to maintain the status quo, which in the long run will not save or protect anything for those seniors and for future generations. It would only tie our hands and push this problem onto tomorrow's legislators and tomorrow's taxpayers.

We will not follow the opposition's lead in sticking our heads in the sand and pretending we are oblivious to the obvious problems an aging society present to Canada. That is why ask my colleagues in the House to work collaboratively with the government on our amendment to Motion No. 307.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, for Canadians watching today, the New Democrats say that OAS is sustainable. There is no crisis in OAS except the one created by the Conservatives. We have all heard repeatedly in this place of the report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer who confirms what economists and pension experts have said, and that is OAS is easily sustainable. In fact, that report indicated that there was room for growth. Therefore, I will keep repeating the same mantra that OAS is secure and it is affordable.

I have gone to 46 town hall meetings across the country since 2009 and 6 in the last few weeks. Everybody is very fearful because of how this has been delivered by the Conservatives. I want to read a recent review of Canada's retirement income system by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pension team, which has said:

—Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes....Long-term projections show that public retirement-income provision is financially sustainable.

Earlier we had people from the government side speaking to the cost. We agree that currently it costs 2.4% of GDP to fund OAS. We also agree that it is going to go to 3.16% of GDP. However, one of the things that is missing in the government's assumptions that we keep hearing about, as it talks about the increase in the number of people, the percentage difference, which is less than 1% of GDP that we certainly believe should be invested in our seniors, is the growth projections for that period of time in GDP. Are we not hearing it because the Conservatives do not believe their policy is going to give us growth in GDP? I doubt very much we would ever hear a comment from them on that at all.

During the May election, New Democrats were very clear on pensions. In fact, the very first platform issue we raised, and the member for London—Fanshawe continually speaks about in this place and I thank her for her work on this file, was addressing seniors' poverty by increasing the guaranteed income supplement. However, the Prime Minister did not even mention changing OAS during that election campaign. One would think that if a party was planning to come in to make such a substantial change, which amounts to off-loading a lot of the costs of the federal government onto the provinces and municipalities, that it would at least tell Canadians. Could it be that the Conservatives did not tell Canadians because they might have lost a couple of votes? From the round tables and town halls I have held, about 30% of the people who come into those rooms are former Conservative supporters, and they are the ones using the word “former”. It is very troubling that a party would make these kinds of changes.

Let us talk about the cost for moment. We would take approximately $6,000 a year for each of those two years. For example, in the province of Ontario, if a person is on a disability pension that at 65 is expected to transfer to OAS and GIS, that would not happen for two years. The province of Ontario and other provinces would have to carry the burden of that cost for two years. Also in Ontario, for example, for those 60 years old who have lost their jobs because of plant closures, who are not employable and are on social assistance hoping to get on OAS and GIS by the age of 65, it would be two more years the province would have to raise property taxes in order pay for that. Therefore, part of what is happening is the off-loading of many of the costs for the federal government.

When I went from town hall to town hall, people were talking about being very offended that the Prime Minister made pronouncements about retirement security in Davos, a foreign country. I want to be clear that we are not saying the Prime Minister at that time said 65 to 67, but the PMO notes said it to the media and thus the storm started.

Instead of tearing down our cherished programs, we New Democrats have been working hard for three years putting together a retirement security program. We propose phasing in a doubling of CPP, as we have spoken about endlessly in the House for three years, so that generations to come would have a more secure foundation on which to retire. We will eliminate poverty by significantly increasing the GIS.

New Democrats would also create a national pension insurance plan funded by the plan holders. The premiums would be paid by them.

We also want to change legislation, the BIA and CCAA, so that when companies go under, the pension funds and the pensioners will be part of the group that can access resources in the remainder of a company to furnish their pensions going forward.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I must interrupt the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek at this point. He will have four minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

The House resumed from March 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the chance to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, a bill that would improve the immigration system in Canada in a number of ways.

As the debate has unfolded in the House, I have had the opportunity to hear many differing, yet informed and thoughtful opinions from hon. colleagues on this bill and on the broader issues touching Canada's immigration system. It would be disingenuous of me to claim there is anything approaching unanimous agreement in the House on this issue. As with all legislation we consider here, hon. members make their arguments with conviction and, hopefully, with respect for one another's views. However, in the end, we are still having a debate with more than a single point of view on offer.

That being said, it speaks to the strength of this country that although we may disagree on some of the specific measures in this bill, there is a general consensus among Canada's parliamentarians on the need for a strong, fair and effective immigration system. We should not take this for granted. There are not a lot of other nations in the world where legislators from different parts of the political spectrum, from different corners of the country, from different generations with different personal backgrounds all agree that immigration is a net benefit to the country and vital to our economy, society and national interest.

We are lucky to be living in such a country. We are lucky to be having a respectful debate about how to make our immigration system better rather than having a wrenching, existential dispute about whether to even have immigration at all, as is currently happening in many other countries around the world. That is important to keep in mind as we continue this important debate.

As far as the specific legislation is concerned, I am a strong supporter of Bill C-31. I believe the measures in the bill would bring improvements to an immigration system that we all agree is central to Canada's interests. Many of my hon. colleagues who have already spoken about those measures have done a good job in delineating exactly how they would bring these improvements.

In the spirit of consensus I have alluded to in my remarks so far, I would like to take a bit of time to talk about some of the things this bill upholds, on which I hope all hon. members, no matter where they sit in the House, can agree. I hope that by highlighting these aspects of this bill, I will be putting some of the debate about its measures into a larger perspective.

First, it must be acknowledged that Canada's refugee system is among the most generous in the world. We welcome more refugees per capita than any other G20 country. There is nothing in this bill that would change that fact. Indeed, by helping legitimate refugee claimants get through the claims process faster, it would arguably make the system even more generous. If Bill C-31 passes, Canada's refugee system would continue to be one of the most generous in the world, reflecting the great humanitarian tradition of this country.

In many ways, the operation of our refugee system is also a model for the world. One of the reasons for that is that every eligible asylum claimant is entitled to a full and fair hearing before the refugee protection division at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. As an independent quasi-judicial body, the IRB decides each claim on a case-by-case basis, on its individual merits. It is worth noting that the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees requires that all refugees receive a fair hearing, but it does not require that claims be decided by an independent quasi-judicial tribunal. We go that extra step in Canada because it is an international best practice.

Also, as an added protection for all claimants, should the IRB reject their claims, they may still apply for judicial review at the Federal Court. These processes help ensure the fairness and integrity of our refugee system and they would continue to do so if Bill C-31 is passed. In fact, most claimants would have access to a new appeals process with the coming introduction of a new independent body, the refugee appeal division, into the refugee system. The refugee appeal division would allow most claimants access to an appeal that included the ability to provide new evidence not reasonably available at the time of the initial claim. The establishment of the RAD is another example of Canada's going above and beyond its international commitments.

I just alluded to Canada's refugee policies being affected not only by the laws we pass in Parliament but also being a reflection of our international obligations. Canada is party to many international agreements and treaties that guide our policies in this area. Bill C-31 upholds them all. For example, all refugee claimants, no matter which country they are from or whether or not they are ultimately found to be deserving of Canada's protection, will have access to our court system. This is part of our obligations under a 1951 UN convention, and it will not change with this legislation.

Another example of an international commitment that will be upheld by Bill C-31 is Canada's core international protection obligation of non-refoulement. Refoulement means the return of persons to situations of persecution, risk of torture, or risk to life. It is prohibited by both the 1951 refugee convention and the 1984 convention against torture. Again, Bill C-31 upholds this international obligation. Indeed, there is nothing in the bill that would affect our international commitments in any way.

The fact is that for a long time Canada's immigration system has been abused by people who do not want to play by the rules and want to jump the queue. Recent waves of bogus refugee asylum claims from the democratic and humans-rights-protecting European Union have made it clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system are needed urgently.

Our government is acting responsibly and in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers by introducing reforms to address the increasing number of bogus refugee claimants. These bogus claimants, many of whom withdraw or abandon their own claims, seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system and receive generous social benefits like welfare and health care, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Bill C-31 would make our immigration system not only faster but also fairer. It would put a stop to bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system, and at the same time this bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need. What is more, once Bill C-31 is passed, Canada would continue to have the most generous immigration system in the world, and we would continue not only to meet but also to exceed our domestic and international obligations.

I hope that all hon. members will agree with me on these points. I urge all of my colleagues in this House to support Bill C-31 and ensure its speedy passage.

Finally, in my riding I have a community called Brooks, Alberta, which has at least hundred different nationalities. I have spoken with people there who have either been refugees or have come to Canada as immigrants. They all support Bill C-31. They have had many opportunities to tell me how disappointed they are by some of the issues that have come forward, particularly the attempted queue jumping in our refugee system.

I look for support from all parties on this issue.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague concluded his speech by saying that he is looking for support from all political parties. It is important to note that, during the previous Parliament, all political parties reached an agreement after the Conservatives made a number of amendments to the bill to ensure unanimous support. Because the Conservatives had a minority at the time, refusing to negotiate was not really an option. Now they know that they have a majority, so the first thing they did with the bill before us today was take out all of the changes and amendments that the other parties asked for. And now they want our support.

If the government wants support from all parties, can the member tell us why it is refusing to include the amendments we proposed, which it included before? Why did the government decide to use its majority to get a bill passed without negotiating with the parties?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the refugee system, there has been a lot of queue jumping. People from countries in the European Union whose rights are protected have put in bogus claims. It has cost us hundreds of millions of dollars.

The reason we need to move forward with this legislation is to ensure the safety of our citizens. We need to ensure we do not have these bogus claims. We also need to ensure that when people come here they are actually refugees and ensure we save millions of dollars with respect to our social programs.