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

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

It seems that the member has addressed the particular concern.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse
Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, because the member for Timmins—James Bay seems to be playing word games and not simply apologizing, I would like to draw this fact to your attention: whether we are speaking in English or French, sexist comments are unacceptable in this House, period. We may use colourful expressions and have strong opinions, but there is no place in the House for sexism.

The expression “keep this woman in line” is very sexist and a patriarchal attitude implying that it is the role of men—

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I heard the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay address the issue at hand. He indicated to the House that if he had used the word that caused offence, he would withdraw it and replace it with the word “minister”. I do not see the need to continue discussing it.

The hon. member for Toronto Centre has a further intervention on the question of privilege.

National Defence
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to reply to the comments made by the government House leader with respect to the question of the incompatibility between the government saying that it accepted the findings of the Auditor General and accepted his conclusions and the unwillingness of the government to accept any degree of ministerial accountability and any degree of responsibility for providing disinformation, misinformation, inadequate information over a year and a half with respect to the most important procurement that the Government of Canada has ever made, most important in terms of the sums of money involved.

It is a classic case where the government House leader again adopts the same line that was used during the break by the Minister of National Defence, saying that all we have here is a difference of accounting techniques between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General and the Government of Canada, that this is simply an accounting issue and has nothing to do at all with respect to ministerial accountability or ministerial responsibility.

To quote the comments that were made by the government House leader:

As we can see, this issue boils down not to whether Parliament was deliberately misled about the costs of the F-35, as the leader of the third party might like us to believe, but to the best way to account for the costs of purchasing replacement equipment.

This is a false statement by the government House leader. It is not what the issue is about. It does not describe the problem. It does not recognize the findings and the conclusions of the Auditor General. It does not in fact refer to the answers that the House has been given since the summer of 2010 with respect to this question of the purchase of the F-35s.

It is a fact that it was a finding of contempt by the House with respect to the refusal to provide adequate information to the finance committee and to the House of Commons that led to the contempt motion which led to the election.

The evidence is overwhelming, and it is overwhelming even today as the government responds to our questions, that in fact the contempt continues. This is a contempt that has still not stopped. The government is still not prepared to come clean. The government is still not prepared to provide us with adequate information. The government is still not prepared to accept responsibility for what has taken place. That is the basis of the question of privilege.

The privilege is very clear. Ministers systematically, since 2010, gave the House information which has proven to be incorrect, inadequate, partial and, in some cases, untrue.

As I am being heckled by members opposite, Mr. Speaker, let me simply refer you, Sir, and the House, once again, to the comments of the Auditor General of Canada, because these comments are very clear and it is very clear that we are not dealing here with an accounting question. We are dealing here with information that has simply not been provided to the House and with this absurd situation where the government says, “We accept the conclusions of the Auditor General”, and I can read out the conclusions of the Auditor General, but then nothing happens as a result.

No minister is held to account. Nobody is responsible for misinformation or disinformation being given to the committees of the House of Commons. No one is held accountable for the fact that Parliament was supposed to get information on this issue, but did not receive information on this issue. The government, to this day, continues to show not just disdain for the questions that are posed and refuses to give answers, but contempt for the House and, indeed, contempt for the entire process in simply not giving us the information which it has, which the Auditor General says its has and which it is not prepared to provide.

Let me refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the report of the Auditor General.

On page 28, paragraph 2.71 states:

We have a number of observations regarding the life-cycle costing for the F-35. First, costs have not been fully presented in relation to the life of the aircraft. The estimated life expectancy of the F-35 is about 8,000 flying hours, or about 36 years based on predicted usage. National Defence plans to operate the fleet for at least that long. It is able to estimate costs over 36 years.

Further on in that paragraph, it is stated:

However, in presenting costs to government decision makers and to Parliament, National Defence estimated life-cycle costs over 20 years. This practice understates operating, personnel, and sustainment costs, as well as some capital costs, because the time period is shorter than the aircraft’s estimated life expectancy. The Joint Strategic Fighter Program Office—

--the office in the United States--

—provided National Defence with projected sustainment costs over 36 years.

That clearly implies that the Minister of National Defence knew what those 36-year costs were. The entire time the House was debating this issue, he refused to come forward.

Paragraph 2.72 states:

Second, the following expected costs were not accounted for:

Replacement aircraft. National Defence considers 65 aircraft the minimum number needed to meet its training and operational requirements. Based on past experience, National Defence expects to lose aircraft in the course of normal usage. Based on National Defence’s assumed attrition rate, in order to maintain the fleet of 65 aircraft, Canada may need to purchase up to 14 additional aircraft over the next 36 years. National Defence did inform the government of the need to consider the requirement for attrition aircraft at a later date. The cost of replacement aircraft is not included in the life-cycle estimate for this project and will be treated as a separate project in the future.

In other words, all of the costs which were presented by the Government of Canada to the Parliament of Canada with respect to this issue did not include the question of replacement costs. In other words, this House was misled. We were not given the full information to which we were entitled. We were given answers by the Minister of National Defence which did not in fact respond to the need for life cycle all-in costs. We repeatedly asked the minister for all-in costs and he repeatedly told us they were $9 billion plus $7 billion, a total of $16 billion. That was the number he gave us. That is a false number. It is an inaccurate number. It is an incorrect number. It does not in any way add up to what the real costs of this are.

In paragraph 2.72, the Auditor General states:

Upgrades. It is expected that over the life of the aircraft, Canada will need to invest in various upgrades to the F-35 fleet, both in software and hardware. These costs were not known when the 2008 and 2010 budgets were established, but have since been estimated to be more than CAN$1.2 billion over 20 years.

We have not been provided with that information.

The Auditor General went on to say in paragraph 2.76 on page 30:

We also have significant concerns about the completeness of cost information provided to parliamentarians. In March 2011, National Defence responded publicly to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report. This response did not include estimated operating, personnel, or ongoing training costs.... Also, we observed that National Defence told parliamentarians that cost data provided by US authorities had been validated by US experts and partner countries, which was not accurate at the time.

Let me repeat that:

Also, we observed that National Defence told parliamentarians that cost data provided by US authorities had been validated by US experts and partner countries, which was not accurate at the time.

In other words, inaccurate information was given to the committee that was studying this question. It is further stated in that paragraph:

At the time of its response, National Defence knew the costs were likely to increase but did not so inform parliamentarians.

I say to my colleagues who are sitting patiently on the other side of the House that if they were sitting on this side of the House, they would be up on their feet asking, “Where is the accountability?” They are the ones who brought in the Federal Accountability Act. They are the ones who asked, “Where is the accountability?” We are asking a simple question. When Parliament is misled, when Parliament is given inaccurate information, when Parliament is provided with information that the government knew perfectly well was not correct, where are we supposed to go, except to this place and say that a government which persistently gives us inaccurate information is a government that has been in contempt of Parliament.

I do not see how you have any other conclusion to draw, Mr. Speaker, except that the information provided to Parliament was inaccurate. All you have to do is compare the Auditor General's report to the answers that have been given in this House by the Prime Minister of Canada, by the Minister of National Defence, by the Associate Minister of National Defence, and then ask how the answers given compare and compute with the report of the Auditor General of Canada. The answer is that they do not. They do not compare and they do not compute. It is really striking to me that even today the Auditor General said that he got letters from the officials, the deputy ministers in the departments which he was criticizing for their lack of due diligence, saying that they objected to the conclusions in the report.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has said there is a difference between what the deputy ministers say and what the Government of Canada says. That is news to me. That is a novel doctrine of constitutional law. It is a novel doctrine of administrative practice. The Prime Minister says it is normal practice for deputy ministers to object. Do they object to something without the approval of the Prime Minister? Do they object to something without the Prime Minister's Office knowing they are objecting? It is inconceivable.

We are in a ridiculous Alice in Wonderland situation. We have deputy ministers who do not agree with the Auditor General because he finds them and their departments responsible for what has gone wrong. We find a Prime Minister who says that he accepts the conclusions but that there are no processes of accountability for what has happened in the past. It is the worst abnegation of ministerial responsibility we have seen. The government and the Prime Minister are refusing to take responsibility for what has taken place. What has taken place is that the government is refusing to admit that it provided to Parliament information which was inaccurate, inadequate and did not in fact deal with the seriousness of the situation.

Hence, the contempt that was found in March 2011 continues today. There is no way we can accept the conclusion of the government and the excuse it has given. Conservatives have gone on talk shows and elsewhere and said that this is simply an accounting issue, that it has to do with other things.

There are so many examples in the Auditor General's report. He refers very explicitly to the fact that the estimates provided by the government with respect to maintenance are based on the notion that somehow the same maintenance costs will be there for the stealth fighter as were there for the CF-18, which is like saying that the maintenance costs for a Maserati will be exactly the same as the maintenance costs for a Ford Fairlane. I say to my friend, the Associate Minister of National Defence, he knows that is not true. I am not suggesting he has a Maserati or a Ford Fairlane. I am just suggesting that the government has to come to grips with telling the truth to Parliament.

The Conservatives have not told the truth to Parliament and they cannot simply turn the page and say, “Oh well, that was then and this is now. We're not going to take any responsibility for what has taken place in the past, we are simply going to talk about the future”. This is a place of reckoning.

The House of Commons is the place where people have to speak the truth. If we cannot believe what ministers, deputy ministers or prime ministers say, if we cannot believe them, the trust that exists in the House will be completely lost.

That is the situation we find ourselves in today. This is why we raised a question of privilege: we do not have truth and accountability. This is the problem, this is the situation, and that is my response to the replies from the government House leader.

National Defence
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for his further comments on this question.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There are four minutes left for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Beauséjour.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

I would like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot on her speech. I share many of her concerns about the government’s policies. I would like to ask my colleague two simple questions.

Does she agree with me that the fiscal and financial reasons put forward by this government to justify this ideological increase do not stand up? Does she agree with me that the government must not create a false financial crisis to justify an ideological decision?

I definitely share my colleague’s concerns about these measures and the implications they will have for people who do physical labour, like the people who work in the fish plants in my region, in Acadia, for example, or others who do physical work. I think the idea of just staying in the labour market for two more years is completely unreasonable.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I am going to answer his first question—he had two questions.

The government has decided to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67. That is a completely unjustified decision on its part, given that we have concrete evidence that the system is sustainable.

On the question of physical labour, as I said earlier in my speech before question period, working two more years is completely unthinkable for many people who do physical labour, in agriculture or industry, for example, because of health and physical condition issues. We have to consider those workers and people who have paid into the system for their whole lives and who are simply entitled to take their well-deserved retirement at the age of 65.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her speech and the answers she provided. On this side of the House, we believe, as all the experts do, that the system is sustainable.

Could the hon. member perhaps elaborate on the fact that experts have said that our system is sustainable?

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier during my speech, many experts agree that the system is sustainable.

Yes, it will be used more in the coming years since the baby boomers will be retiring, but this does not come as a surprise. We knew this was going to happen. We planned for it. Use of the system will then drop and return to normal, as all the experts predicted.

As I also said earlier during my speech, we were aware that many baby boomers would be retiring. We have been aware of it since 1988. That is almost 25 years. We saw it coming. People should be allowed to retire at 65. It is that simple.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.

I welcome this opportunity to reply to the motion as presented by the member for London—Fanshawe on the government's proposed changes to ensure the sustainability of the old age security program.

The OAS is an important feature of our social security system. Together, with the guaranteed income supplement, it helps alleviate poverty among seniors by providing a modest base upon which they can build their retirement income.

Our changes will ensure that OAS is put on a sustainable path so that it is there when Canadians need it most.

Younger generations expect us to ensure that the system is sustainable so they, too, can count on this program. That is a responsibility this government takes very seriously.

Demographic changes are putting pressure on our retirement income system and on many other programs the government supplies. This has been clearly documented by a number of experts. The number of OAS pension beneficiaries is expected to almost double, from 4.7 million in 2010 to 9.3 million by 2030. As a result, the costs of the OAS program are projected to rise dramatically, from approximately $38 billion now to $108 billion by 2030.

On February 27 of this year, on CBC's The National, economist, Patricia Croft, said:

The fact of the matter is Canadians are getting older, the demands on the system are getting greater, and the costs are going up.

We will not turn a blind eye to the numbers that could present a looming crisis. Instead, the government will take action. We are not a crisis-management government but a government that has the prudent foresight to plan and avoid issues before they become crisis issues.

The OAS is the largest single program of the Government of Canada and is funded 100% by annual tax revenues. The benefits paid each year from our system to deserving seniors come exclusively from taxpayers through the taxes collected each year. That is why the ratio of workers to retirees is critical to understand why we must act to ensure the sustainability of the program.

In 1990, the ratio of working age Canadians compared to the number of retired Canadians was roughly 5:1. Today, the ratio is 4:1. By 2030, it will be reduced to only 2:1.

If we do not make these changes to the OAS program, there are only two alternatives to address rising costs: either by raising taxes or by diverting funds from other government programs and services. We will not remain complacent when facing today's emerging problems that threaten to become crises in the future.

We have a proven track record in helping the most vulnerable seniors, including the GIS top-up announced in budget 2011 for which, I might add, both the Liberals and the NDP voted against. We are committed to ensuring that social programs remain sustainable for future Canadians.

The issue of the demographic shift is one that is well-known to world leaders. Thankfully, Canada has the foresight to explore changes now, well in advance of any future crisis.

In less than two decades, close to one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65, a jump from one in seven today. By the year 2030, every fourth person we see will be over the age of 65. This is a reality we are moving toward in Canada. It is inevitable that Canada is becoming much greyer. However, the choices we make today mean that our future does not have to look grey.

Meanwhile, the number of Canadians below the age of 65 will almost remain flat. By 2030, the picture this paints is a country with the same number of workers but twice as many seniors.

The annual cost of the old age security program is projected to increase from about $36 billion in 2010 to $108 billion in 2030. Today, 13¢ of every federal tax dollar is spent on old age security. If no changes are made, in about 20 years that will grow to 21¢ or one-fifth of all federal tax dollars spent.

The total cost of benefits will become increasingly difficult to afford for tomorrow's workers and taxpayers. Today, there are four working age Canadians for every senior. By 2030, the ratio will be 2:1. Is that the legacy we want to pass on to future generations? Can we burden them with that tax load?

Our government is committed to undertaking the transformation needed to position Canada for long-term growth and prosperity over the next generation, and yes, we are committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure the sustainability of old age security.

As members know, there is no reserve fund for OAS. The numbers speak for themselves. Today, OAS is the largest statutory program and by 2030 it will represent almost 20% of all federal government spending. This is not a short-term problem. It will affect many generations to come. As a government, it is our responsibility to future generations to ensure that we take responsible action.

This is what the economic action plan proposes. Starting April 1, 2023, the age of eligibility for the OAS pension will be gradually increased from 65 to 67 with full implementation by January 2029. That means that younger Canadians have been given substantial notice with a reasonable adjustment period.

The second date I mentioned is also important. The change in the age of eligibility will not be fully implemented until January 2029. That means that the change will be phased in gradually over a period of six years. We believe this will prevent any hardship to Canadians.

I want to reassure all Canadians that despite the opposition's fear-mongering and over-the-top rhetoric, there will be no reduction to seniors' pensions with this legislation. This is an important point to make. The people who are close to retirement, those aged 54 and over as of March 31 of this year, will not be affected by this policy change.

We have made a clear commitment to the people of Canada and we intend to keep it. We are strengthening the long-term sustainability of the OAS system as a whole.

I encourage the members across the way, particularly those of the Liberal Party who were in fear in the nineties when Paul Martin was finance minister, to summon the courage to do the right thing. They may have missed the chance in the nineties to ensure the long-term sustainability of the OAS but they now have the opportunity to make it right.

I encourage the members of the NDP to listen to the words of the member for London—Fanshawe in a press release on December 5 of last year when she stated:

Issues facing seniors are only going to intensify as more Canadians reach their senior years. Action now is critical -- we need a plan in place, we need the structures in place to deal with this dramatic shift in our country’s demographics.

I encourage NDP members to heed their colleague's advice and support our government's common sense approach by voting against this motion. I will be voting against this motion.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member said that it will affect many generations to come, that the government's goal is to prevent hardship, that there will be no reductions to pensions, among many other things.

I would like the member to explain, perhaps, how making people who work tough manual labour jobs work for two more years is preventing hardship. I would say that is inflicting hardship on them.

No reductions to the pension while making them work for two years longer means they will get two years less pension. How is that not a reduction or a cut? That will be a cut of $12,000 per year with close to $30,000 in actual cuts.

For many generations to come, yes, but if we look at the actuarial tables, they do reach a height at 2013, but then they actually goes down. We will have less seniors retiring after that and the cost will go down. Maybe the member could explain why the government does not take that into account.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is looking at the downside of things. The upside is that, fortunately, because of modern health, we are healthier and live longer. I would like to work into my late sixties just because I am a healthier person. That is a fact with all seniors in Canada. We need to look at how this program will be sustainable for the seniors who are living longer.

When we look at the figures the member just mentioned, the experts are saying that because of the fact that we are healthier and living longer, it is just not sustainable at the current age for eligibility.

Opposition Motion—Pensions
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, in fact, the experts are not saying that at all. They are saying that it is sustainable.

Is my colleague aware of three studies that have been done? One study by the Chief Actuary and one study by the PBO showed that the cost of the OAS will only increase by 1% between now and 2030 and then it will go down. The OECD study about Canada concluded, “There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future”.

Is my colleague aware of these studies? If not, will he commit to read them? If he does, will he let us know what he thinks about them?