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

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, what I voted against was a bad budget.

That is what we are looking at as we look at a package of priorities throughout the budget, and that is what I did not support. This budget does not serve Canadians; in fact, the Conservatives' priorities are to spend billions of dollars on corporate tax giveaways while slashing services that families rely on in Canada. That is what I voted against, and that is what I see happening here in terms of the change to OAS eligibility from age 65 to age 67. That is what Canadians are speaking to me about through letters, through emails and through talking to me. That is what their concerns are. This is a question of priorities. This is a question that Canadians feel the Conservatives have not got right.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

April 26th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala Honoré-Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, we are talking about seniors, which is a good thing. However, the government is attacking future generations instead. Our youth are already paying more for their education and housing and to provide for their families, and now their future is being jeopardized.

Young people have been taken hostage by this government. They see how the government is destroying Canadians' social safety net little by little and ensuring that those who have enjoyed benefits that have been in place for decades will be the last to do so. The fair Canada we have known is no more. The message is clear.

I would ask my hon. colleague what we can say to our youth, who will have to work longer to pay for this slashing of the social safety net.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague raises two questions there. Besides the message, it is also the consultation.

The government has not consulted with Canadians. It has definitely not listened. Experts commissioned by the government to review the OAS told the Conservatives that there is no crisis with the current public pension and that it is sustainable, but the Conservatives now are planning to slash the OAS. It is a very unfortunate message that we will have to tell Canadians: they are now going to have to work longer and continue to work harder before they get the pension that they have worked for and contributed into all their lives. This is now going to be a less affordable situation for very many Canadians. As the Canadians who wrote into me are saying, they may have to choose between health care and the medications or food they need just to survive.

That is a very unfortunate message, and it is not the right message that we should be delivering to seniors, the people who built Canada.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I do not doubt that the member is getting calls and contacts from people about this concern. We hear again that we are talking about seniors. In fact, we are not talking about seniors today, but about future generations. Do members not see that it is our responsibility to encourage them and help them understand that we are planning for their future? This is not ideological; it is protecting their future.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, this is affecting people 54 years of age and under, who are heading into retirement very soon. This is something governments knew was coming. This is not happening today; we have known about the demographic shift for decades.

The real issue is priorities. It is a question of priorities. Many Canadians are telling me that the Conservative government does not have the same set of priorities that they feel strongly about. That is what they want to see in their pension plan, in budgets and in the priorities of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take a quick second to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam for his exquisite pronunciation of my riding's name.

I rise today in this House to defend the rights of my citizens in Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel—and I did say rights—because, on this side of the House, we insist that retiring with dignity is a right. The consequences of the Conservatives' attacks on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement will seriously harm my constituents' ability to enjoy this right.

This House represents a vast country. We have many rural ridings that are feeling the effects of a struggling economy. A large number of jobs are disappearing from rural areas and so are our young people, because of the lack of professional jobs. These ridings often include isolated places where it is difficult to access health services and the population is aging fast.

As MPs, we should not be reducing the deficit by stealing Canadians' pensions. In my riding, the average annual net income is $17,000, and it continues to decrease because of the recent economic problems in Canada and abroad.

Thus, my constituents would benefit the most from old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Furthermore, we owe it to them. Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are the cornerstones of our public pension system because they provide guaranteed measures to combat poverty.

Not only are the Conservatives stealing two years of future pension from Canadians but they are also targeting the most vulnerable. What is more, they are doing it for reasons that do not make any sense. Canada's old age security program is not experiencing a financial crisis. The latest actuarial report from the government indicates that the OAS and GIS represented 2.37% of the GDP in 2011. This percentage will experience a minimal increase to 3.16% in 2030 but will then drop below the current level to 2.35% of the GDP in 2060, which shows that there is no long-term viability problem for those affected by these changes.

It has been strongly established that the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs are effective and economically sound. Clearly, the government's statements are unfounded. Its position is not supported by any statistics or serious research. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are making cuts to the government agencies that could provide a solid basis for decision making.

It is true that the population of Quebec and Canada is aging. As I said before, this phenomenon is even more apparent in my riding. In my riding, in the Argenteuil and Papineau regions for example, right now, the median age is 10 years higher than in the rest of Quebec. What is more, this statistic is expected to continue to increase until 2026. Yet, growing older is not a crime. The people who will be retiring soon have worked just as hard as those in previous generations. They deserve a decent retirement at the very least.

The fact that the population is aging does not make the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs unsustainable. The government is fearmongering despite the fact that there is no causal link between the two factors. The facts tell us two things: first, the cost of the old age security program and the guaranteed income supplement is expected to drop in the long term; and second, the cost of poverty among seniors is astronomical, from both an economic and social perspective.

Like many of this government's austerity measures, this attack on the most vulnerable Canadians is despicable. In fact, this budget cut is attacking those who are most vulnerable for a number of reasons: age, illness, poverty and disability.

The middle class and the less fortunate will be hit hardest by this because they are the ones having trouble making ends meet. They cannot afford to save more money.

They work at physically demanding jobs, and because their jobs are so difficult, they are unlikely to work until they are 67. Quebeckers and Canadians with chronic illness or disabilities will also suffer because they cannot always work past normal retirement age.

The median income in Papineau and Argenteuil is 10% to 20% lower than in the rest of Quebec, but household size is about the same. Goodies for big business and cuts to economic development services will not help my constituents. They are farmers and small business people who dedicate their lives to their work, help create jobs and diversify my region's economy. Old age security is the least we owe them.

I do not understand how the Conservatives can play at sorcerer's apprentice with social programs that work. Reputable economists across Canada agree that OAS and the GIS go a long way toward helping seniors escape poverty, but that more should be done.

We also know that people living below the poverty line are more likely to be victimized. All of the evidence shows that poverty makes people more vulnerable to violence, abuse and neglect. The government claims that it takes crime against seniors seriously. But its actions on this issue suggest otherwise.

The modest income guaranteed by the public system is a more effective defence against abuse than the expensive punitive measures that the government wants to introduce. Having to wait two more years for a public pension means two more years of uncertainty and risk for these vulnerable seniors.

In closing, I would like to congratulate my colleague from London—Fanshawe and my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard for their work on this file. I would also like to thank my colleague from London—Fanshawe for moving today's motion. She is a heroic defender of Canada's seniors, and I truly appreciate her work.

I urge all members of the House to realize that we are on the brink of doing irreparable damage to the financial security of seniors in Quebec and Canada. I truly hope that all members will support this motion on behalf of their constituents who depend on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement in their later years.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, in her speech, my hon. colleague mentioned that these changes will affect the most vulnerable Canadians. Would she comment on how these changes will impact those vulnerable Canadians and how Canada's New Democrats would approach this situation in terms of a strong pension plan?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question gives me the opportunity to say that if elected to government in 2015, New Democrats would return the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS to 65 years. Instead of cutting services and spending billions on corporate giveaways, New Democrats would use practical affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not making it more restrictive. The NDP has long argued that a better option for Canadians is to expand the CPP.

My colleague also asked about who would be affected, who are the most vulnerable. I spoke about my constituents in general, those who are hard workers, those who are disabled, those who live in poverty, but also specifically, we are talking about women. OAS and GIS are important sources of income for female seniors. More than half of the income for 1.2 million seniors, or 28% of seniors, comes from OAS and GIS, but for female seniors it is 38%. That is because women are not necessarily in the workforce as long as men are. Some mothers stay home to take care of their children. As a result, this affects the benefits women receive. They also live longer. They will be experiencing greater poverty as a result.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the debate all morning. Some New Democrat MPs have quoted from letters and so on from Canadians across the country.

The question I had as I was listening to them was whether they are correcting the record and actually telling people the whole story. Some people have some misconceptions. Some of them are 65 or 67 years of age right now. Those people would not lose any benefits and yet they were of the understanding that this would affect them.

Do New Democrats actually tell people the whole story, that we are actually protecting the system for young people who will be looking to it for some security?

The Institute for Public Sector Accountability stated:

The problem remains, and may get worse as the demographics of the country change.

For those in the workforce and coming into the plan, they too must understand the new realities and make greater financial sacrifices today for their long term retirement benefits.

We have to do the responsible thing. There is an obligation on the part of members on the opposite side to tell Canadians the whole truth.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my colleague noticed, but I am a young Canadian. I am part of the generation that is supposedly being helped by these changes.

I have news for the Conservatives. They claim that these changes are necessary to ensure the pension system is viable for future generations, such as myself. However, it is quite to the contrary. It will hurt my generation.

Young Canadians today not only are facing record high levels of unemployment, which tends to reduce income levels later in life as well, but they are also facing extremely high levels of student debt and rising housing costs. This is eating up most of their savings which means they cannot put away extra money for their retirement.

I would also point out that it is the Conservatives who are misleading Canadians, because they are saying that it is not sustainable over the long term. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer indicated that OAS and GIS are entirely sustainable in their current forms.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Richmond
B.C.

Conservative

Alice Wong Minister of State (Seniors)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nepean—Carleton.

I rise today to respond to the motion put forth by the member for London—Fanshawe. We oppose this motion.

It is imperative to reiterate some facts and be clear about them.

No current recipients of old age security will see any reduction in their benefits because of these proposed changes. These changes will gradually increase the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67 years starting in 2023 with full implementation by 2029. This means our government is giving Canadians up to 17 years to plan and adjust accordingly.

Unfortunately, it appears that members opposite continue to take a head in the sand approach to the whole issue of OAS sustainability.

Our Conservative government is acting now to ensure the sustainability of OAS for future generations, for our children and our grandchildren. That is why we have come up with a reasonable plan to ensure all Canadians can continue to count on OAS for a more secure retirement future.

I do not believe anyone can dispute that our government is committed to ensuring seniors have the highest possible quality of life. I am proud of the work we have done to strengthen Canada's retirement income system, and more broadly to help address issues that matter to seniors.

As a result of actions taken by our government, seniors and pensioners will receive $2.5 billion in additional targeted tax relief this fiscal year. We have introduced pension income splitting and have increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs. As a result of these actions, 380,000 seniors have been removed completely from the tax rolls. What does this really mean to the seniors I have met across this country? It means that more money will go directly into their own pockets to spend or save as they see fit.

Sadly, if it were up to the opposition parties, they would have raised taxes on all seniors, not reduced them. Whether it was a job-killing carbon tax, an increase in the GST or any number of other tax increase proposals put forward by the opposition parties, one thing is clear: if either the NDP or the Liberal Party were in power, the cost of living for Canada's seniors would be higher.

Enough of pointing out the obvious, negative, damaging effects the opposition would inflict on Canada's seniors if they were in power; rather, I would like to continue the discussion on how our government has delivered, and will continue to deliver, for seniors.

We have strengthened the support of the retirement income system and invested in a GIS top-up benefit for Canada's most vulnerable seniors. In fact, it was the single largest increase to the GIS in over 25 years. What did the opposition do? Once again both parties voted against it. In total, this top-up provided additional annual benefits for more than 680,000 low income seniors.

Going back a little further, in budget 2008 we increased the amount that can be earned before the GIS is reduced to $3,500, so that recipients can keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in GIS benefits. Once again, as they have been known to do, almost as if they were in a coalition, both parties voted against this measure.

The CPP was modernized in 2009 to make it more flexible for those transitioning out of the workforce and to better reflect the way Canadians currently live, work and retire.

We built a better framework for federally regulated registered pension plans, including ensuring that an employer fully funds benefits, even if the pension plan is terminated. We expanded pension options with the introduction of pooled registered pension plans for millions of Canadians who have not previously had access to a large-scale, low-cost, professionally administered company pension plan.

Shifting gears for a moment, I would also like to discuss what many consider to be the greatest policy innovation in a generation to help Canadians save for their retirement, the tax-free savings account, TFSA, which we introduced in budget 2008. I do not think I need to tell members which way the NDP voted, but I will anyway. That is right. Again, the NDP voted against it. That is shameful because the TFSA is particularly beneficial to Canada's seniors, as withdrawals from a TFSA do not affect income supports such as the age credit or OAS and GIS benefits. The TFSA also benefits seniors by giving them a savings vehicle to meet their ongoing savings needs.

As well, there have been several other initiatives that have demonstrated our support for seniors. We have eliminated the mandatory retirement age for federally regulated workers unless there is a bona fide occupational requirement. This allows the choice for Canadians to decide how long they wish to remain active in the workforce. We have also provided $400 million over two years for the construction of new housing units for low-income seniors. Since 2006, we have provided $220 million into the targeted initiative for older workers. This program is a federal-provincial-territorial employment program that provides a range of employment services for unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities. I am proud to report that about 75% of older workers who participate in the TIOW go on to find new employment. That is something we can be proud of.

I have just listed the unprecedented support our government has given to seniors since 2006. Let me highlight some other positive changes that were announced in our most recent budget. We announced our government will be working with a third-quarter project to assist seniors who are looking for jobs. For example, our government has for the first time introduced proactive enrolment for OAS benefits. These changes, which will start in 2013, will reduce the obligation of many seniors to apply for benefits and help ensure seniors receive the benefits they deserve.

Unfortunately, we have heard the same fearmongering and misinformation from the opposition about the sustainability of the OAS. Whether it be through misleading and confusing op-eds sent to local newspapers or partisan mail-outs and petitions that misrepresent the facts, the opposition parties have engaged in a reckless campaign of misinformation aimed at scoring cheap political points. We have heard a lot of questions about the savings associated with the proposal. Such questions miss the point entirely. We are taking these actions to ensure the survival of this benefit for future generations. We are implementing these measures to give predictability and certainty to those preparing for their retirement.

It is particularly hypocritical of the Liberal Party to be grandstanding on such an issue. This was the same matter that Paul Martin attempted to change in the mid-1990s to ensure the sustainability of this benefit. Unfortunately, the Liberals lacked the conviction to show real leadership and decided to pass the buck to a future generation and a future government to make the tough choices in the long-term interests of our nation. It is no surprise that Canadians elected a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government.

I would ask my hon. colleagues across the way to put aside their partisan blinders and to think of the long-term sustainability of this program. There is a greater interest than their perceived short-term political gain in considering this issue.

We need to act now to provide Canadians the certainty they need to plan for their retirements. We have heard from many private sector economists and the chief actuary, as well as pension and financial experts alike. They agree that the increased demand of a rapidly aging population is going to threaten the sustainability of the old age security program.

I would ask opposition parties to get their heads out of the sand and to stop their wilful ignorance of the very real challenges that face our nation because of an aging population and to join with the government in voting against the motion.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just have one question. Did the government consult the provinces before changing the age to 67? We all know that the provinces will have to cope with the two years that seniors are not going to receive money.

For now, the economic burden will be downloaded onto the provinces and they will have to deal with it. The money that this government refuses to invest for seniors will have to be invested by the provinces.

Why is this government not assuming its responsibilities, instead of chucking them onto the provinces?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is exactly what the government has done. We have already made it clear in our budget that any net loss that might incur to provinces and territories because of the changes will be compensated by our government.

There are 11 years to discuss this. We will keep working on this in the next provincial and federal government meetings.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has suggested that she has solid information and knowledge of the government's intentions with regard to the old age security program and the GIS program. She has suggested there will be no changes to any current recipient.

I would like to ask the honourable member this, since she has personal and intimate knowledge of the government's intentions. The current policy of allowing the optioning of registered retirement income funds for the purposes of the calculation of GIS has currently been deemed illegal by the Tax Court of Canada. It has said that within the Old Age Security Act there are no provisions to allow for the optioning of RRIF income, yet the government continues to do so. It has suggested that if the government were to ban this practice, according to policy, it would be negatively impacting current recipients of old age security and GIS benefits.

Is it the intention of the Government of Canada to amend the Old Age Security Act to allow what it is currently doing under policy to occur statutorily by an amendment to the Old Age Security Act to allow the optioning of RRIF income for the purposes of the calculation of eligibility to the GIS program?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question we are debating right now is whether we should extend the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. That is what we are debating right now.

Let us listen to what some of our economists have said.

“What is less reasonable is the quasi-hysterical and downright demagogic reactions from opposition critics to what was a fairly modest proposal”. That was from the Montreal Gazette.

Here is another quote. “Without any changes, Canada will be hard-pressed to provide any social or institutional programs beyond seniors' income supplements and health care.” That was in a Star Phoenix editorial.

Another quote says, “opposition parties' efforts to panic Canadians that the...government is targeting seniors are as disingenuous as they are dangerous”. That was in a Star Phoenix editorial.

Another quote says, “The fact of the matter is Canadians are getting older, the demands on the system are getting greater, and the costs are going up”. That was said by Patricia Croft, economist, The Bottom Line, CBC The National.

All these quotes just confirm that our move is in the right direction.