House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, I would like to repeat that these changes are absolutely reprehensible.

I recently attended an inaugural CARP meeting in Etobicoke. Over 300 people came out. They were worried about the cuts to OAS. They were worried about their children and their grandchildren. They were also worried about their health.

I have a question I would like to pose to the government, which inherited a legacy of balanced budgets, but took us into deficit before the recession ever hit and now is trying to pay off the deficit on the backs of Canadians. If the government really believes our aging population is a problem, why does it not recognize, for example, that dementia is one of our greatest health and economic threats? Currently it costs $15 billion a year and in 30 years it will cost $153 billion. Some 1.1 million Canadians will be affected. The World Health Organization is asking for every country to develop a nationwide dementia strategy. The government is not taking action because it is a cost. You are trying to make savings on the backs of Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before I resume debate, I just want to remind all hon. members that their comments ought to be directed at the Chair rather than at their colleagues in the House.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the most unpleasant traits of the Conservative government is its refusal to have an intelligent debate about the impact of its policies on Canadians. Instead of responding to objections, it carries on as though there were none. I will use the example of pensions, which is the subject we are discussing today. The Liberals will support the NDP motion.

The government says that because of the aging population, Canadians will no longer be able to afford the old age security program unless eligibility is gradually increased from 65 to 67. We should remember that this program provides $540 a month in benefits to recipients with an annual income of no more than $70,000. The Conservative government says that Canadian taxpayers are not rich enough to guarantee a monthly income of $540 to seniors who are 65 and 66. This is a very serious decision that the government is making. Forcing sick, tired or disadvantaged Canadians to work two more years for a government cheque of $540 a month is cruel, unless there are legitimate reasons for doing so.

The following is a series of questions that the government has not tried to answer today any more than it has previously. First question: why another broken promise? Aging is a well-known phenomenon. All the relevant information was available during the last election campaign. Why did the Conservatives and the Prime Minister hide their intentions? Can we have an answer?

Has someone in the government read the studies by the Chief Actuary, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and the OECD, which show that despite an aging Canadian population, funding for the old age security program is sustainable today and in the future? If a minister has read these studies, what does he or she think of them? What does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development think of them? And what about the finance minister? And the Prime Minister? Why does he refuse to ever answer this question? Canadians are entitled to an answer.

The government is always bandying about the same figures. The annual cost of old age security should increase from $36.5 billion to $108 billion by 2030. How much does the government hope to save by pushing the retirement age back to 67? According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the cost in 2031 will be $98 billion, regardless. If we accept the government's twisted logic, the retirement age would have to be pushed back not to 67 but to 70, even 75, to keep the cost of the program at around $40 billion. This logic is twisted because the government is not taking into account the growth of the economy. The government's figures need to be considered in relation to the size of the economy, which is also going to grow over the next two decades.

The Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada estimates that the cost of federal benefits for seniors, in terms of the gross domestic product, the GDP—which is currently at 2.2%—will peak at 3.1% of GDP in 2030, before dropping.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer essentially came up with the same figures: the cost of federal benefits for seniors will reach 3.2% in 2036, before dropping.

Does the government agree with those figures? If the cost of old age security is not expected to go up by more than a percentage point over the next 20 years relative to the size of our economy, then the program is sustainable in the long term.

The government keeps saying that other OECD countries have raised or plan to raise the retirement age and that Canada should therefore do the same. However, the government is ignoring the following argument: those countries have been more generous than Canada toward their seniors and have not engaged in the same kind of careful management and had the same foresight as we have. That is why those countries can no longer fund their public pension programs.

In Canada, the Liberal government had foresight and engaged in careful management. That is why the pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement will remain viable for years and decades to come.

In an oft-cited report entitled “Canada's retirement-income provision: An international perspective”, the OECD estimates that public spending on Canada's pensions amounts to 4.5% of GDP, which is much lower than the OECD average of 7.4% of GDP.

The OECD forecasts that in 2060, public spending on Canada's pensions will represent 6.2% of GDP. In relative terms, 50 years from now, benefits for seniors will cost Canadian taxpayers less than they cost the average OECD taxpayer now.

The OECD concludes that pension plan viability is not a major concern for Canada. It adds that no foreseeable financial pressure justifies raising the pension eligibility age:

--there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.

Are the Office of the Chief Actuary, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the OECD all wrong? If the government thinks so, then it should say so and prove it. Let the government stop evading the question. I challenge my Conservative colleagues to show that I am wrong about these studies, which they probably have not read. I invite them to read those studies.

We would like some answers, please. Canadians are entitled to some answers. Otherwise, Canadians will have to assume that the government knows it is wrong and wants to penalize Canadians by making them work two extra years in the future for no good reason.

The Liberal opposition is committed to taking a responsible approach and maintaining the OAS eligibility age at 65 through the sound governance and foresight that have characterized Liberal governments of the past and will characterize Liberal governments of the future.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the interesting thing about this debate is it concerns the demographics of the baby boom. The baby boom in Canada did not sneak up on us. We have seen it coming for decades. Knowing that the population is aging and will peak with people who were born in 1964, one of the first things the Conservative government did when it took office is it cut the GST by two percentage points. Each point took $6 billion of revenue out of the federal coffers. That is $12 billion of federal revenue gone. It then cut corporate income tax, which took another $10 billion a year at least. There were approximately $22 billion taken out of the $280 billion annual budget. The Conservatives did this knowing that we have, according to them, a looming demographic challenge.

In addition, last fall I challenged the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to increase the number of people we let into Canada every year from the current 250,000 to approximately 300,000 to deal with the demographics that we are facing, in that we will need more people to support older people. The government said no.

Knowing that there is a demographic challenge coming, why would the government refuse to increase the number of immigrants coming to our country to support retirees? Why would it cut federal revenues at a time when we need that money to support old age security? I would ask my hon. colleague to comment on whether he thinks that is an example of prudent fiscal management and sound government planning.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, even with the mismanagement of the Conservative government, the experts, the OECD, the PBO and the Chief Actuary, conclude that the OAS is sustainable for the coming decades. We do not need to editorialize very much about the bad management of the Conservatives. The OAS remains sustainable, thanks to the sound and prudent management of the Liberals. That is what we did. We made sure that the OAS would remain sustainable for the future for Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the comments from the opposition today. I have a quote from David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada. He said:

--we’re at least 15 years late in getting started in raising that age of entitlement for CPP, OAS and the normal expectation as to how long people would work in the private sector with private-sector pension plans. That’s absolutely clear....

He also said:

I would just hope that not everybody on the opposition side of the House is crazy. There’s lots of people there that understand full well that there’s a big problem here.

My question for the member opposite is, is he crazy or is he saying that the former governor of the Bank of Canada is wrong?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

What is very sad, Mr. Speaker, is that we have had a daylong debate and the Conservatives quoted only one expert. It is always the same quote.

They are parroting the same quote.

This quote is not substantiated by a study. It is the opinion of somebody we all respect but it is only an opinion.

Is the Conservative government telling Canadians that it will penalize their future on the basis of one quote by one expert when my Liberal colleagues, my NDP colleagues and even the Green Party have an avalanche of studies? Everybody has quoted a lot of experts and studies but the Conservatives have only one quote and they repeat it again and again.

I would ask my colleague to read the OECD study and--

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order because I cannot let this pass. We have been quoting experts all afternoon, not just one.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

That is a point of debate rather than a point of order.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I challenge my colleague to quote these studies and table them in the House.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East.

I will begin by acknowledging the good work that the member for London—Fanshawe has done in bringing this matter before the House for a very serious and timely debate. The motion we are debating today reads:

That this House reject the government's plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years even though the current system is financially sustainable.

I believe it is very important for us to talk about this and to raise the issue with all Canadians about where the government is taking the future of our country. The government says that current seniors will not be affected but it fails to mention that seniors in 2023 will absolutely be affected.

I will focus on my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, which is a very beautiful place to live. It is also a very attractive place for seniors because in parts of my riding housing has been affordable up until this point and many good services are available to seniors. We have a higher than provincial average of seniors living in Nanaimo—Cowichan. Because of that, over the last several weeks I have held a series of round tables and panel discussions. I want to read into the record some of the comments that seniors had from one end of my riding to the other.

Before I do that, one of the things that was raised by seniors in the discussions was that the government had the wrong focus in wanting to raise the age of eligibility to collect old age security and guaranteed income supplement from 65 to 67. They say that the government should instead be focusing on other priorities. For example, the fact that today the maximum allowable amount of old age security and GIS combined is $15,270. In many parts of the country, and in my riding in particular, it is very difficult to actually live on that amount of money given the rising costs of fuel, food and all the other expenses.

I want to take members on a tour through my riding. In February, we had a round table in Lake Cowichan and many seniors, caregivers, family members and business people attended. I will read just a couple of the comments that came out of this.

With regard to pensions, seniors said that many seniors were asset rich and cash poor, meaning that they often had a house and property but very little income. In fact, what income they had was eaten up by the fact that they had to pay for maintenance and taxes and often were forced to sell their homes.

They also said that communities needed increased accessibility for those with mobility challenges. There could be joint co-operation between all levels of government to put into place adequate sidewalk ramps and automatic doors to businesses. For example, they had suggestions, not just criticisms. They suggested a retrofit tax credit or grant to business owners to continue to keep businesses accessible to seniors and their families.

They also reminded us that seniors are actually the boomerang generation in this day and age. Children are coming back to live with their parents because they cannot get adequate jobs. Of course, the NDP has a long history of calling on a job strategy that creates liveable wage jobs in our country.

The people of Lake Cowichan also said that it was no surprise that demographics were changing. Everyone in this House has known that the baby boomers are aging but all levels of government have not adequately planned for supporting a growing senior population.

We had another round table in Chemainus in February where the seniors pointed out that overlapping federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions leads to complications in providing health care for seniors. Although health districts do coincide with regional district boundaries, they do not match up with federal government boundaries. Seniors often access health care services from a number of different communities that are not connected. This leads to breakdowns in communications and unnecessary confusion and delays. That is a very important issue because by the time seniors reach out for help they are often facing a crisis. We need to coordinate those services that are available and the information that is available for seniors.

In my riding in British Columbia, we had a serious flood a couple of years back and one of the things the seniors pointed out was that our emergency infrastructure, as it relates to seniors, was inadequate. There are few mechanisms in place to help seniors in the case of a natural disaster or even extreme weather conditions. A number of years ago, we ended up with 48 inches of snow over a couple of days and seniors were trapped in their homes.

In Chemainus, seniors pointed out that we needed to look at existing infrastructure and volunteer resources in the community and consider how we could build on this work to better serve the needs of seniors. It may be easier to build it within existing organizations but pointed out the ongoing cuts that the federal government has made to organizations that support volunteer organizations.

In Ladysmith in March, we had a lively discussion around transportation. However, the seniors there pointed out that, although the government touts that there are tax credits available, many seniors do not pay taxes because they do not have enough income. They suggested that perhaps the government might want to look at the livability, the amount of old age security, GIS, CPP to which people have access. They also pointed out that it becomes a challenge for a couple with regard to housing when one of them has to move in to long-term care and the other individual is left to maintain the home, because a large percentage of the couple's income may be used to pay for long-term care.

Mill Bay Shawnigan Lake is another very beautiful part of the south end of my community. Seniors there pointed out that seniors' poverty was on the rise and was expected to continue on an upward trend. They said that OAS rates have not kept pace with the cost of living. Many seniors do not have private pensions but rather rely on our public retirement system for their retirement security, which is inadequate.

One problem they identified and which others have spoken about is that the federal government does not have a standard measure of poverty. Depending on which day of the week it is, we will have a different discussion, whether it is low income cut-off or some other measure. So it allows us not to have a consistent conversation.

They also say that many seniors are forced to retire due to health problems or disabilities without adequate financial support. This also contributes to their concerns about raising the old age security age from 65 to 67.

They also say that old age security and GIS payments are spent in the community in which they are paid. If people live in Shawnigan Lake Mill Bay, the odds are they are shopping in the local grocery stores with their old age security and GIS because they do not have transportation to go to any other part of the community.

In Gabriola, another beautiful part, they point out that there is no public transportation and that seniors are at the mercy of their neighbours and friends to drive them around. They often have to go off-island to get services. They also point out that it is very difficult on the money they get to afford medical expenses like glasses, food and dental care. They say that any potential changes to old age security not only affects seniors but also young people in terms of finding employment because older workers will be forced to continue to work longer even though their health may be an impediment to that. They also say that the gap between the rich and poor is a fundamental issue, which is exacerbated by government policies. It is up to people to hold their governments accountable and seniors should not be expected to move away from their communities, where they have often lived their entire adult lives, in order to access services.

In Duncan in March, we had another round table where we talked about the fact that rental housing affordability was a very serious problem for many seniors. In parts of my riding, very little rental housing has been built for a number of years.

They also pointed out that 80% of elder care was provided by families and friends. It is estimated that $25 billion worth of care is provided by families. However, there is a real cost to this. It is not just these volunteer hours. The fact that people are doing caregiving duties also means that sometimes they need to reduce their own work hours, which will ultimately affect their pension. This is a loss of income for poorer families. There is increasing pressure on families to do this elder care because there are not other resources available. Sixty-one percent of family caregivers say that they experience stress as a result of their caregiving duties and stress has been linked to a number of other health problems.

In Nanaimo, we talk a lot about the fact that respite care, residential care and other services are not available, as well as transportation.

There are recurring themes throughout this. However, the government's response to dealing with our aging population is to change the age of when we can collect pensions, instead of dealing with things like health care, housing, adequate pension incomes and with all of the other issues that are facing seniors and their families.

I did not have time to talk about the fact that seniors are often the caregivers of their grandchildren because their families are in dire financial straits.

If the government is serious about doing something for seniors, it needs to address some of these serious issues that seniors across this country and in Nanaimo—Cowichan are talking about.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I noted that the NDP opposition motion today conveniently left out the fact that the proposed changes to the OAS will not be implemented until 2023, in the initial stage, and not fully implemented until 2029.

I heard my colleague indicate that she conducted a number of round tables throughout her riding to hear from seniors. I ask if she was careful to point out to those seniors that these projected changes to the OAS will not affect any current seniors or anyone who is approaching that, presently 54 years of age or older. Has she taken the time to point out that these changes will not affect the seniors who she was meeting with at that time?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely did point that out to my constituents, and I mentioned it in my speech. What the seniors said is that the government is penalizing young people because seniors would have to stay in the workforce two additional years, from age 65 to age 67, before they retire. That would mean younger people cannot move into some of those other positions.

Seniors have also pointed out the fact that this is a downloading to the provinces. What they see happening is that it would put an increasing tax burden on the province's workers because they will have to pick up the costs. What happens to those seniors who at age 65 cannot work any longer and have to go onto the income assistance system? That is an extra cost to the province. The young people who are working in the province of British Columbia will have to contribute to those costs.

Of course I brought it up. That is the responsible thing to do.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech and the way she mapped out the realities for seniors in Canada today.

Sometimes I wonder if the members opposite live in a pleasantville world where seniors have all sorts of disposable cash to shoot around and therefore we can bump up the eligibility for OAS.

We have a serious issue in Canada around affordability, but we also have a serious issue with the current government, which cannot seem to get its fiscal issues together.

My hon. colleague has mapped out and provided economic reasons as to why this plan absolutely does not make sense. For a modest increase in premiums, we could double CPP.

Could my hon. colleague could give us a sense of some alternatives to what has been proposed here?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government will often talk about the need to increase productivity in this country. We would absolutely agree. If it is interested in increasing productivity, one of the measures it might want to look at is the kind of support it provides to caregiver families, because families who are having to look after aging parents are having to take time off work when mom or dad needs to go into the hospital or get to a medical appointment. They are reducing their work hours because they simply do not have the funds or resources available to utilize services such as respite care. We know it is far more productive and efficient to keep seniors in their homes longer. Providing home support to seniors actually affects the acute care system because there are many seniors taking up acute care beds because they cannot stay in their own homes. Therefore, we could actually improve economic productivity by looking after the caregivers. We could reduce health care costs by taking seniors out of the acute care beds.

There are a lot of answers out there if the government would only pay attention to the seniors who brought forth some very good suggestions as solutions.