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 age.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the language used as to what this means, I started off my speech by saying “hosed”. The member is saying “grand theft”. We could use all kinds of colourful language to describe it, but the fact is that in two years, going from age 65 to 67, Canadians are going to lose $30,000 if they rely on OAS and GIS, because the gateway to GIS is through OAS. If the age for OAS is raised from 65 to 67 years, as a consequence, Canadians will not be able to access GIS until they are 67 years old.

Yes, it certainly impacts Canadians under the age of 54. I have to say that just because people are under the age of 54 now does not mean that when they are about to retire at 65 years, after having worked at a tough labour-intensive job they are going to be any better off or somehow better able to cope with that and work for two years longer.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, according to top economists, the OAS and GIS are easily sustainable and are actually projected to decrease in cost. What we should be doing is taking practical affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not by slashing OAS.

Does the member agree with me that the changes proposed by the government will not make one iota of difference to poverty for seniors and particularly women seniors?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a surprise, I will disagree with my colleague because it will impact people, but it will impact them negatively. It will certainly not improve the poverty situation. It is not going to mean that there will be fewer seniors who need to access food banks in order to fill their bellies. It is not going to make any improvements in terms of the affordability of prescription medication or deal with inflation over time. It will have a significant negative impact on seniors down the road.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to speak to the opposition motion moved by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe. I want to express my gratitude to the official opposition for putting it forward and my intention to vote for this motion.

My question goes to one of the points the member made. We have not seen any credible evidence to this point regarding changing the eligibility age for old age security to age 67 that is buttressed by empirical evidence. Would a future government put it back to age 65? That is the age at which Canadians for so long have expected it and when people really need it, particularly, as he mentioned, if people have been doing hard physical labour and are really ready to retire.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member to the debate and accept, on behalf of the member for London—Fanshawe, her thanks.

It is going to have a tremendous negative impact. The crux of this motion is to call on the government to roll the age back to 65 years. There has been no empirical evidence or studies from economists to show that our system is in crisis, but of course, that has never stopped the government from putting something forward in the past.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Service Canada; the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, Health; the hon. member for Beaches—East York, National Defence.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

April 26th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased not just to be able to follow the excellent speech by my colleague from Scarborough Southwest, but also to speak to the opposition motion, because this matter has been a serious concern for several months, since we unfortunately heard the news being announced abroad.

Since we began working on this file and talking to our constituents about it, I have had the pleasure of having a visit from two members of our caucus— the members for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin and Pierrefonds—Dollard—who have done an excellent job on this matter. They visited my riding to attend a town hall I organized on old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and raising the retirement age.

The government is claiming that the opposition is fearmongering. But our constituents are bringing their concerns to us and we want to voice them in the House.

In raising their concerns, our constituents made many very pertinent points that contradict the government's illogical arguments.

I will use this opportunity to share some of these points. As I represent these people, it is very important that I express their opinions.

I would first like to talk about the guaranteed income supplement, which is also affected. Very little has been said about it. However, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 affects not only old age security but the guaranteed income supplement as well. Although the GIS is an important tool for seniors, it is not adequately funded. According to the comments we received, many seniors live below the poverty line. As our late leader, Jack Layton, said so well during the last election campaign, it would cost very little to raise seniors' income above the poverty line by increasing the guaranteed income supplement. We have to bear this in mind.

There are several aspects to the guaranteed income supplement, but when my two colleagues and I met with Canadians in the beautiful city of Beloeil, they specifically spoke about the steps required to obtain the guaranteed income supplement. You do not receive it automatically. Paperwork must be completed. It is funny, because the government always says that it wants to cut back on paperwork. Yet, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out. You have to make sure that you check the right box and do not make a mistake, otherwise the process becomes very complicated. In some cases, constituents have to seek the help of their member.

What the people present highlighted may seem separate from the issue of raising the eligibility age, but on the contrary, it is very much related. The reason for this is simple: any discussion about the complications involved in accessing the guaranteed income supplement makes you realize that raising the eligibility age only adds to the problem. That is the message people were trying to get across. The situation is already not ideal for these people, and the NDP has for some time wanted to address a number of problems with the pension system. There are already a lot of problems, and the government simply wants to add more complications and more problems. My colleagues' and my constituents find that unacceptable.

Since the beginning of this debate, my colleagues have quite eloquently discussed the idea of a private pension plan. This issue was also raised at the forum. For example, it is perfectly commendable to invest in an RRSP. I congratulate those people who are able to do so, and I encourage them. However, it must be acknowledged that there are also people for whom this is impossible.

I would like to see my colleagues opposite tell the former employees of Nortel to invest in an RRSP. We saw what came of the situation and we know the losses that these employees suffered. I would like to see the Minister of Transport tell the former employees of Aveos to invest in an RRSP. They no longer have jobs. They lost their jobs, and we have seen this government's contempt for their plight. All of this is interrelated. This issue is very much relevant. This is what our constituents told us.

The government wants to raise the age of eligibility. It wants to make it harder for people to get old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, and at the same time, it is not helping people who need jobs invest in other ways that would enable them to retire.

I have other examples that people shared during the town hall, and if I have time, I will share them here. I would like to talk about another very important subject though. As a young MP, I feel that this is a very important issue.

There has been a lot of talk about people over the age of 50, and I would like to thank my colleague who made that point earlier today. Many people under the age of 54 will be affected by the government's policy, people who are now 53 or 54 and who are nearing retirement.

People who work as labourers—work than can be very physically demanding—cannot really remain in the workforce beyond the age of 65, if they even remain in the workforce that long to begin with. I do not want to reiterate all of the points my colleagues made because, as I said, they explained their points very well. However, some jobs are so hard on people's bodies that they have to retire earlier.

Other situations could force someone to retire at or before age 65, for example, certain family situations. Accordingly, further raising the age at which people can take advantage of the services they have paid for is a bad idea.

This is another important point. I do not wish to make too many asides, but this is an important aspect that some people pointed out to us. People have paid for this system, whether it be young people, people close to retirement or people who have already retired. They have invested in the system and are entitled to receive their fair share.

To come back to what I was saying, we are talking about people who are not in a position to invest in private pension plans for all kinds of reasons. As I said, it is great if people can, but that is not the case for everyone. The Government of Canada, however, should govern for everyone and take everyone's needs into account.

I did not hear any ideas about educating young people about investing in their retirement. They already have debt when they are in school. Students with debt are not thinking about investing in their retirement. They are thinking about completing their studies, finding a job and paying back their debt. Of course, those three things unfortunately take priority over investing in their retirement. These are things that the government should be taking into account, but unfortunately, it is not.

Some young people do not even have a job and are unable to do post-secondary studies. We have reiterated that a number of times in this House in our questions to the government, our speeches and our contributions to the debates. The youth unemployment rate is astronomical compared to that of the general population. If memory serves me correctly, the youth unemployment rate is twice as high, at roughly 14%. At that rate, it is safe to say retirement investment is not the priority for young people. Their priority is to find a job in order to have the means to invest in their future.

Even if they manage to find a job, there is a good chance that it will be part-time and pay minimum wage. I am not disparaging those jobs. They have their place. People have to try to find a job, but at the same time—we cannot deny it—when people work part-time, for minimum wage or both, they are not really thinking about how to invest in RRSPs. They are not really capable of doing so.

Even if they meet with a financial advisor at a bank, financial advisors do not accept clients who earn less than a certain amount. In that case, young people are unable to find the necessary help, help that the government is not willing to give them.

I am running out of time. I would just like to reiterate that I am very pleased to have been able to share what I was told at a town hall we organized on this issue in my riding of Chambly—Borduas. It was a very useful exercise. I am very pleased to have been able to share these concerns and those of future generations who will be extremely adversely affected by this ill-conceived policy of the government.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

London North Centre
Ontario

Conservative

Susan Truppe Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite mentioned that this vow concerned them. It concerns us as well, which is why we need and must do something to protect OAS.

My constituents in London North Centre understand that we must do something now in to ensure that Canadians will be able to collect in future years.

“The fact of the matter is Canadians are getting older. Demands on the system are getting greater. The costs are going up”. That is from Patricia Croft, economist, The Bottom Line, CBC The National. She also said, “Just about every other G20 country has raised the retirement age. Why should we be any different?”

Could the member opposite indicate why he refuses to look at simple demographics and understand what is going on?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to experts like the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Before the members on the other side express their contempt, I would like to point out that very recently, in another matter, we saw that his calculations were not all that bad. They even support the calculations done by the Office of the Auditor General, which is highly respected. It was one of those officials who told us the system was sustainable. Actuarial calculations have also shown this.

If the system is sustainable, I am wondering why these changes need to be made. Certainly there is demographic change coming, but the experts said this system was still sustainable. I am sure those experts are educated and intelligent enough to take that demographic change into consideration. I therefore support my party’s position, which is the right position for our fellow Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Chambly—Borduas on his speech. It was very important. In particular, he has highlighted a serious problem of disparity between generations, which, as he pointed out very clearly, does not erase the problems associated with certain occupational groups.

Before I became a member of Parliament, I had the pleasure and honour of being a warehouse labourer for many years. I saw some of my fellow workers develop major physical problems. It was very easy to predict that some of my co-workers would be unable to keep going to the age of 60 or 65 if they continued doing the work they were doing.

Given that some of our young people are also going to be facing health problems that will prevent them from working until they are 60 or 65 or even 67 years old, I would like my colleague to talk a little more about this unfairness to certain generations, in spite of the fact that it has been widely shown that the system could have been sustainable.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

In fact, when we talk about health, the same thing applies to both young people and people closer to retirement.

It has been said, but I am going to say it again, because it is a very important point: when someone does physical labour, work that is physically very demanding, they are not always able to do it, if I refer to the things I heard said at the town hall held in my riding, which I mentioned earlier. I had the opportunity to speak with one of my constituents who had in fact worked at a job that was very demanding physically and who was no longer able to work and had to retire.

Just before retiring, he lost his job. Now he is looking for another job so he will be able to retire. The only jobs available to him are jobs that are also very demanding physically. I am not denigrating those jobs, as I said, and it is very important to point this out, but when someone over the age of 50 loses their job, is no longer able to make an adequate living, and is also approaching retirement age, it is absolutely appalling for the government to bring in a policy that is going to do them even more harm.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

I have the privilege of representing a wonderful riding, the riding of Etobicoke North, the community where I was born and raised. We are proudly one of the most multicultural ridings in the country and I invite everyone to experience our diversity, gifts and richness. Sadly, we also have our challenges. Recent statistics show that almost 20% of our residents are not yet citizens. Our families face family reunification challenges and language and job barriers. Almost 25% of our families are headed by single parents who work two and three jobs just to put food on the table. Almost 20% of our riding is engaged in manufacturing, the second highest percentage for the entire country.

I am sharing this because we need real investment in our families and in our community, particularly during tough economic times. What we do not need are broken promises.

The Prime Minister campaigned in the last election, saying that Conservatives would not cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions, and that was job number one. It is time for the Prime Minister to practice what he preaches and demonstrate to Canadians that he is committed to protecting their pensions.

Since being elected, no other issue, a move that would cost our seniors tens of thousands of dollars in support and impose additional financial burdens on the provinces, has caused such outrage in my community. Single moms ask how the Prime Minister can do this, that he promised not to touch pensions. They have children and have to work. How will they pay for their children's education? They have no money to put away for retirement. What will happen to them?

Humber College students are saying that once they graduate they will have no job, that it is not fair. They ask how the government came up with the number, that is just arbitrary. They ask why they are being treated differently by their country. Grandparents come in wanting to know why their grandchildren are being targeted by the Government of Canada.

It is not just my community. Canadians from coast to coast to coast are outraged and demand that the government take its hands off their pensions. Results of a poll for Global News indicated that 74% opposed reforming old age security and an astounding 81% of women were against the idea of raising the age of eligibility. Another survey showed 70% of Canadians felt that our country's social programs and seniors' benefits were not overly generous and 68% disagreed with increasing the retirement age.

Since the government is refusing to listen to the voices of Canadians, perhaps it will listen to a recent poll by CARP, which regularly asks its members how they would vote if an election were held tomorrow. The day after the Prime Minister's speech about pensions, support for the government dropped 10%.

I want to be very clear. The government raising the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 years of age is not necessary and it is not needed to maintain the sustainability of the old age pension. Let me explain.

Experts from the OECD, leading universities and the government itself have all said that our OAS program does not face major challenges and there is no pressing need for change.

Moreover, Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that the OAS is sustainable beyond the year 2082. Payments today cost 2.4% of our national GDP. When the baby boomers max out in 2031, that percentage will climb to 3.1%, but then drop off again. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's findings show, contrary to what the government has been saying, that there is no coming OAS crisis.

It has been said, “They're trying to create an artificial crisis when the figures clearly show the pension system is sustainable. I think the government lacks credibility”.

The reality is that Canada's pension system is in far better shape than the European's and there is no need to raise the retirement age. Edward Whitehouse who researches pension policy on behalf of the OECD and the World Bank found, “The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes”, and “there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pensions in the foreseeable future”.

Thomas Klassen, a York University political professor, who co-authored a 2010 report on Canada's pension system, said:

I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised...when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis...I think there’s got to be a lot more evidence that there’s a problem, and I don’t see that evidence.

Kevin Milligan, a University of British Columbia economics professor, is also of the view that there is no OAS crisis.

The House of Commons finance committee studied the pension issue in 2010. Mr. Whitehouse appeared as a witness and discussed his research. He said:

—Canada's pension system is looking good on the measures of adequacy. It is also looking good on measures of financial sustainability....Canada does not face the same financial sustainability problems as many other OECD member countries do, particularly in Europe and among the east Asian countries, Japan and Korea, whose populations are aging most rapidly.

At the end of its study, the committee's final report did not recommend raising the age of eligibility for OAS or reducing benefits.

In stark contrast to this evidence, the Prime Minister continues to repeat that Canada's aging population threatens social programs. Specifically he has said:

—everybody understands that there are demographic realities that do threaten the viability of these programs over the longer term. We will ensure that these programs are funded and viable for the future generations that will need them.

Yet again, research and evidence is being overshadowed. This is part of a growing theme with the government. Instead of listening to non-partisan experts, the government will do everything to shut down the facts that contradict ideology. The truth is that the Conservatives are trying to balance their books on the backs of Canadians and to pay for their extreme ideological agenda.

Professor Klassen said that he suspects the federal government has concluded that reducing OAS costs is an easy way to save money over the longer term because it can be done without negotiation with public sector unions.

Canadian workers have paid taxes their entire careers, expecting that these benefits will be available to them when they turn 65. Raising the age for OAS will mean that some seniors will have to stay longer in the workforce, whether they are physically up to it or not. More than half of old age pensions go out to seniors earning less than $25,000 a year. Seniors poverty rates could rise by one-third. That is just not right, not in a successful country like Canada.

Expert evidence is that OAS will not cause the federal budget to crash. Instead of pushing through something during this session of Parliament, the government should publish a white paper that lays out a problem that needs to be solved, along with a range of possible solutions that Canadians can consider.

My constituents in Etobicoke North want real options for improving their pension outlook for the next several decades. Only people who depend on OAS to stay out of poverty will have to put off retiring. Higher income earners, those whose OAS is already clawed back through their taxes will not be affected. I wonder if the government members really think this is a fair and equitable solution.

I am absolutely opposed to the idea of raising the OAS eligibility and find the unnecessary changes reprehensible. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has made it clear that the economy is strong and that this is a false crisis. Canadian voters were misled since the Conservatives never mentioned they would make cuts in the last election campaign.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the obligations we have in this chamber is to be factual in the statements we make. In my colleague's speech, she said that this initiative would cost our seniors tens of thousands of dollars of support. Nothing could be further from the truth. She knows that.

This initiative will not impact one senior by 1¢. This initiative is not even beginning to be implemented until 2023 and will not be fully implemented until 2029, 17 years to be able to plan adequately for future retirement.

I cannot understand, quite frankly, how the Liberals can support this NDP motion. Everybody knows that sooner or later other people's money runs out. There is just not enough to go around.

How long will the member ignore the reality that today we have four workers for every OAS recipient and by 2030, we will only have two? How can this possibly be sustainable for the long term?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am always factual. I always depend upon the evidence. I have stuck to the evidence from the OECD, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and some of our top university professors, who all say there is no crisis in this country. Let me give members some more evidence.

The well-respected Don Drummond, a former senior federal finance department official who is now advising the Ontario government, has said Ottawa will have to give Canadians “a hell of a lot of notice” before changing the eligibility year for OAS. He suggested a 20-year time period, if not 25 years. He said:

If you’re 47 years old today, your life cycle of earnings is kind of set right now by what you’ve already done. It’s not giving you a heck of a lot of time.

That is evidence.

This is about our future, our children and our grandchildren. The government is changing the rules.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I couldn't believe it when I heard the member from Kitchener tell seniors that at some point they are going to run out of spending other people's money, as though they were living off the taxpayer, that is, of course, unless one is the Minister of International Cooperation.

I would like to make a comparison. Her joyride in a limo at the Junos cost $5,000, which is more than many seniors get in the guaranteed income supplement. It is a sense of entitlement that a minister like that can hit taxpayers for $5,000 for one night at the Junos to pretend she is Eddie Van Halen. Meanwhile the Conservatives are telling seniors, “You know what? We're tired of you having other people's money.” What an insult to the seniors who paid into that system their whole lives.

I would like to hear my hon. colleague explain what she thinks of the Conservatives' sense of entitlement.