House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I have worked with the member on issues relating to seniors and pensions over the last number of years. She knows the file fairly well.

One of the things that occurs in this place quite regularly is members on the government side talk about all the things they have done for seniors. They list a number of things they have done, but most of those things seem to apply to the more affluent seniors, the seniors who already have full pensions or some resources saved over the years.

It seems to me the Conservatives have missed the mark, that they are not taking care of the lower income seniors to any degree at all. I would like to hear the member's comments on that.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I have yet to see the government do much for those who are at the lower end of the spectrum, whether they be seniors or families in general.

Clearly, it is the more affluent Canadians, the more affluent seniors for whom the government is much more in tune to doing things. It leaves a whole segment out of the picture. Almost 50% of Canadian seniors live on less than $25,000 a year. That gives me grave concern, as I know it does many of our colleagues.

On the issues of elder abuse and poverty, it takes away the pride in our country when we find out how many seniors are suffering and are living on $12,000 to $14,000 a year. Maybe in the future things will be different, but clearly forcing people to work until the age of 67 before they get their pension is not an issue of sustainability, it is an issue of choice.

When a party is in government, it makes all the choices it wants, and it will have to stand before the electorate and justify those choices.

I will be able to stand with our party in saying that we believe people should get their pensions at age 65. If people want to work, God bless them, they should be able to work as many years as they want, but that should be their choice. We will continue to support people getting the pension at age 65, and given the opportunity to form government, we will make sure it stays at 65.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, what does my hon. colleague think about the NDP's proposal to increase the guaranteed income supplement so that no seniors should have to live in poverty?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, the guaranteed income supplement, the OAS, the CPP and the spouse's allowance were all initiatives introduced by Liberal governments. I can only say thank goodness for all of that. Thank goodness for the foresight of Liberal governments and Liberal prime ministers that brought in the kind of programs that would reduce the number people in poverty.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, after the last comment, I cannot help but interject at this point. Yes, the Liberals did bring in OAS but OAS was proposed by J.S. Woodsworth in 1926. Yes, they did bring in the Canada pension plan but that was suggested by Stanley Knowles in this place. That is just an example of how we have worked together over the years on these files. However, for the Liberals to take exclusive credit for it, I find that quite interesting.

The NDP supports the bill but with reservations. There are changes that will do some things to protect seniors but there is so much more. How do we define supporting and protecting seniors? There is a lot more to it than laying charges.

We made proposals during the 2000 election campaign in reference to seniors, and further on in my remarks I will speak to that a little more.

My generation looked for the good in people, and in those days we found it. However, to some extent I think the same people of that generation are now failing seniors, their parents. Oftentimes we find that because of the aging process, the number of illnesses seniors have and, in some cases, even the outcome of medications, these have caused them to slow down in their thinking process and, to some degree, even act a little like children. Members may recall, with their parents, as with mine, and others as we were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, that our parents were very patient with us. They listened to us, helped us to develop and they protected us. Now it is our turn because some of our parents are very much like the children we once were and we owe them that return of patience that is lacking in this fast paced society.

The government can legislate some things and put in punitive laws that will punish people for the mistakes they make but as a society we need to look into this matter even further.

In my role as a parliamentarian, I often try to bring to this place some of the life experiences I have or family members or friends have because we need to bring the discussion down to the place where it is actually happening. We have a forum here where we discuss things and oftentimes the rhetoric or debate gets heated and there are a variety of things that impede us from telling the true stories of Canadians. In this case, I will tell a bit of the story of my own mother.

My mother, through a series of illnesses and needing prescriptions with fairly strong chemicals in them, as she aged we could see her mental capacity start to diminish. For a variety of reasons, I had not seen her in a number of years. She was on the east coast. In fact, I had been estranged from her from the age of 12 to the age of about 40. Just prior to my reconnecting with her, she had been in a nursing home in New Brunswick, which we found out had her sleeping in the laundry room in the basement and there was some evidence that perhaps she had been chained to a laundry tub. Fortunately, I had cousins back east who discovered this and moved her to a much finer place in Saint John, New Brunswick. I commend the New Brunswick government of the day because at that time there were processes in place that when she got into the newer facility its prices were fairly high and she did not have the resources to cover it all and that government provided assistance. Therefore, the remaining about 10 years of her life were lived out in relative comfort and in the hands of provincial workers in that registered nursing home who gave her the kind of support and care that we should be giving to all parents.

When I go from consideration of what happened to my own mother in this instance, I start looking at what happens to other seniors. Elder abuse takes lots of forms.

I was just recently assigned a new critic area but I previously was the critic for pensions and seniors and I held 47 meetings on pensions in my community over a three year period. My travel has taken me to a variety of places. I was in Elliot Lake where I spoke with a 75-year-old woman who was trying to get by in her own apartment on her own means. She was making $1,160 a month if I remember correctly. She took me aside because she did not want her neighbours and friends to know that she was worried about how the HST in Ontario would affect her. She had a hydro bill of approximately $2,000 a year and was looking at paying roughly $150 more a year. While that appears to be a small number to most of us, it was a huge amount for her. How can we not call that elder abuse?

Three hundred thousand seniors across this country live below the poverty line of $22,000 a year. I have heard the figure $25,000 a year but most seniors are making in the area of just over $15,000 a year. If people are making $1,100 a month, they need to pause in terms of where they are living, how they are living and what choices they are making.

The New Democratic Party repeatedly questions the government about the choices it makes. We as parliamentarians need to back up and really give serious consideration to the choices that our seniors have to make when they are living in poverty.

I was standing in line at a pharmacy waiting for a prescription a while back and there was a young man ahead of me. The young man was living in poverty and he had to make a choice. He had serious back pain and needed a muscle relaxant and something to address the pain itself but he could not afford both prescriptions. He had to make a choice. Seniors are like that except that their choices are far more fundamental. They must choose between eating or buying a prescription. A lot of things in the province of Ontario happen to be covered but not every senior in every place in this country has that kind of protection. Some seniors have to make choices as to how to dress.

Over the years I have gone into the homes of family and friends whose elderly parents have passed away and they are starting to distribute their parents goods, perhaps to some poorer people in the community. However, when they open the closets they find one or two dresses or a coat not fitting for Canada's weather. They wonder how they missed that? How as a society did we miss that?

We need to back up and look at choices. The government has made a necessary choice with this legislation and part of that necessary choice is to ensure that there is acknowledgement of and punishment for people who abuse. However, we need to stop and think about this for a moment. We need to think about seniors who are dependent on a child or a friend to take care of them. My wife goes regularly to London from Hamilton to take an aunt to a grocery store or to medical appointments. However, we need to think about those seniors who are dependent on someone who abuses them. They have another choice to make. What do they do or say if they lose the only support they have in the community?

In the last election campaign, the NDP members talked about things that we could do within our communities to help seniors stay in their homes, such as pharmacare, and to ensure they are protected. We talked about things that would make the choices for seniors somewhat easier. We talked about a $700 million boost to the guaranteed income supplement, which would have equated to about $200 a month for people in the worst case situation, 75% of whom were women who stayed at home to raise their families and never managed to get into the Canada pension plan. All they had was OAS-GIS of roughly $1,100 a month.

When we said that the GIS should be increased by $200, the response from the government was an increase of the $50 that I referred to before. Yes, it was something. We hear the litany of things that have been done. I mentioned earlier that some of the things that have happened here seem to address the so-called needs of more well-to-do seniors. However, we need to bring the focus back to where it belongs. We need to take care of our most vulnerable first. However, in Canada today, sadly, our seniors are among the most vulnerable.

During the election campaign, the New Democrats made a number of proposals. We talked about an elder abuse hotline. Can seniors talk about the abuse that is happening to them without naming names? Is there some way of getting mitigation between the fact that if they report that family member or that friend specifically, that family member or friend could face some kind of charge and, thus, they would be very reluctant to do it? Or, is there some way to manage this thing or to help them through a hotline that they could call? We also talked about an elder abuse consultant. The Government of Manitoba has worked with this type of initiative and I understand it has been very successful.

However, we also, like the government, and it is not often I compare us with the government, talked about changes to the Criminal Code of Canada to ensure there were appropriate sentences for the perpetrators of this elder abuse. Contrary to the thinking of the government, the NDP does agree that we need to put consequences into place for seniors' abusers, which is why we are supporting this legislation from the government.

I would like to reference a report from the ad hoc parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care. It indicates that between 4% and 10% of seniors experience some kind of elder abuse in their lifetime.

We often talk, and rightly so, about battered women and how one in four is battered. We have statistics here that are very close to that. This is almost like a silent situation that has been there for years. I guess most of us do not want to believe that somebody could actually strike a senior. However, beyond the physical, there is the mental abuse. I guess I would have to commend the government. I do not like the expense it has incurred for the TV ads that show elder abuse because I think the money could have been more appropriately used. However, we do see in those ads the mental anguish caused by the browbeating of a senior just by the use of words.

When I was a younger person, before I grew up in many ways, I used to actually shout people down. I did not realize I was doing it. I never thought about the damage I was doing. When I reached about 18 years of age, I kind of grew out of that and went on. However, I look back at my own personal shortcomings from to time to remind myself that seniors can sometimes try our patience because they cannot communicate their feelings well or they get frustrated because they do not understand things, which takes me to another place just for a moment or two.

I have referred to the times I have travelled across the country to hold 47 town hall meetings on old age security. Can members imagine what the last seven were like that took place after the OAS announcement? There was about a two and a half week period where nobody knew what the government was going to do. Day in and day out, members of the NDP would ask the government whether it was going to increase the age. Our former interim leader would ask repeatedly whether it was a yes or a no but there was no response. There was just evasiveness.

Seniors were saying that they heard their Prime Minister give a speech in Davos, Switzerland. In fairness to the Prime Minister, he did not say in that speech that he would change OAS eligibility. However, the PMO's speaking notes to reporters did, which caused consternation.

In the House we would ask about it and there would be no response. At my meetings, people would come up and ask me what was going to happen. I would reference the fact that in 2009 we had looked at OAS and at CPP, that we had Don Drummond from TD Bank at the time, Mike McCracken and other people like that who all said that CPP was funded for 75 years and that OAS looked perfectly sustainable.

My response to them was that we did not know what the government had in mind at this point in time, but we realized there would be an interim period. It would not affect people today and we agreed with the government on that. However, a lot of the people still did not quite comprehend. They were fearful. They were frightened by the mismanagement and ineptitude of how this was handled. It took two full weeks before there was a fairly definite statement by the finance minister in a scrum. He said that the government may change it in 2020 or maybe 2025. The shift that occurred in the meetings was that people aged 45 to 55 said okay, but the ones within the window wondered if it would affect them.

A great concern, though, going back to seniors, is why the government allowed for that two-week window of fear for seniors, which was totally unnecessary. If it had a plan, I thought we would have heard about it in the election, but we did not. If the Prime Minister had a plan in Davos, he should have said so and he should have been definite. Then seniors would have known and we would not have had that problem.

When I held the seven meetings, the first words out of my mouth to seniors were that they did not have to worry about OAS, that they were safe. Sixty to seventy per cent of the people in the room were seniors already on pension and that gave them a sense of relief, but it took too long to do that.

The report I referenced before the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care had a number of other recommendations or highlights in its report. It said that any senior could become a victim of elder abuse regardless of gender, race, income or education. We have learned that about abuse over time, whether it is child abuse or spousal abuse. Oftentimes, it has to do with the status of people's income or sense of well-being because there might be a risk of the so-called breadwinner being laid off. There is a variety of things.

My generation was called the sandwich generation. My kids are in their 40s. Sometimes kids leave home and come back. Parents are pleased to help them, but on the side they have their mother or father or the spouse's mother or father and they are squeezed. That kind of pressure is added to any family, whether it is budgetary or just plain emotional. People are dealing with a level of fear.

Seniors have issues of their own. They are fearful of life out in the community because, as they age and become more fragile, fear develops. There are the young people who have to move back home because of economic circumstances. Then people have their own lives with which they are trying to deal. When we put all that together, sadly, in some instances, there is a response that leads to elder abuse.

Seniors, as I have come to learn over the years, are a very proud group of people. They have worked very hard for their country, they have done anything right and they have come to this place in their lives. If somebody abuses them, they feel shame. Victims often do. That is why victims oftentimes will not report it. They feel shame that perhaps their sons or daughters have done something to them that no son or daughter should ever even consider doing. That stops the victims from responding. I referenced earlier the suggestion from the NDP of having a hotline to deal with such things.

There is another word that does not get used too often, which is the love of the abusers, their children or someone close them. I also referenced earlier the kinds of impairments some seniors have that interfere.

The other area we need to look at, which I referenced with the situation with my mother, is how the so-called caregivers deal with the various cutbacks in services, mainly at the provincial level to be fair to the government. A senior perhaps living alone used to have many hours of care available. I know one senior in the Hamilton area, a friend of mine, had one bath a week by a caregiver. I think the maximum was two. Those caregivers are dashing from home to home. It is not like they do one job and then relax. They are stressed and, sadly, their response to that stress is negative to elderly persons.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I know he cares and is passionate about these issues.

My constituency has one of the largest number of seniors in the country, people over the age of 65. In fact, we have 9% or 10% more women in my constituency than men, and that is primarily made up of widows, women seniors above the age of 65 and a huge number of women above the age of 85.

Income support is a huge challenge. For that generation, it is a particular challenge because years ago many did not work outside of the home. These seniors lack CPP or any private pension, and often were widowed with very little additional support.

It is a challenge to our governments at all levels to respond to these needs. We increased, which I fought quite hard for this in last year's budget, the guaranteed income supplement. I know many would have preferred more. I think there was an acknowledgement that it was pretty tough economically for these women.

We have also taken substantial measures on health care. When I go door-knocking at many seniors' residences, the number one concern for people when it comes to the services they get from the government is quality health care. That is why we have sought to balance the budget, to take some difficult decisions and at the same time to honour our commitment to increase by 6% our transfers to the provinces. I know the member opposite remembers a time when it was different, when there are cutbacks and not increases.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I know the riding the member represents, not to the degree he would, but it is in the national capital region. A lot of the folks in the national capital region have been here for a number of years and have had families. Their spouses or they have worked in the public sector and have had the benefit of good public service pensions to help them.

I would suggest that it has some of the problems that are in other ridings, but I think it is to a lesser degree. I will use my community of Hamilton as an example where we have a more than 20% poverty rate, and much of that is seniors.

I commend the minister if he pressured his government friends on the increase to the GIS. I just wish it had been a little more effective and been more. Again, it is a matter of choices. When the government brought in the budget that gave a $50 a month increase, it had a choice. Corporate tax rates were being changed at the time, to the tune of billions of dollars.

The government made the choice to proceed with those tax breaks that went to corporations that were profitable. It was not even helping the corporations in trouble. Our estimates of the cost to give $200 a month to those 300,000 people was approximately $700 million. Axe a corporate break at that time and it could have been done.

I am not using this as a measurement of someone's commitment to his community or to the elders in his community. I am pleased the minister is paying attention to it. However, those choices have to be made in a different fashion.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the government side, but I want to emphasize what I think are three very important issues that seniors face today.

If we were to canvass our constituents, we would find that health care is the number one issue. One of the greatest expenditures for seniors is in the whole pharmaceutical area. It is a huge concern. They feel that the government has really dropped the ball or that it has not listened as those costs skyrocket. We have too many seniors trying to decide if they should be buying the food they require or sacrificing their diet in order to get their pharmaceuticals. This is something the Liberal Party has been bringing to the government's attention for a number of years, and we will continue to do so.

We could talk about the whole issue of personal safety, which includes elder abuse. It is of critical importance. Not only do seniors want to feel safe with their family members, but in the community as a whole. Seniors want to feel they can walk outside. They want feel comfortable with the health care workers who visit their homes and so forth. The vast majority of the time that is the case. Seniors want to feel comfortable, knowing that their future income needs are going to be taken care of. That is one of the reasons why the Liberal Party has come out so squarely against the increase in age from 65 to 67.

My question is very specific. I believe we underestimate the amount of elder abuse in Canadian society today. Would the member agree that this is an issue that has to be given much more attention?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree with many of the aspects that the member said, but in point of fact elder abuse has been something that we have been silent on as a society.

One of the points the member mentioned was that of seniors feeling safe in the community when they are out and about. I mentioned how when they become fragile, seniors are more concerned about the things that could happen to them.

We have a government that has come in with mandatory minimums and a variety of provisions to change the laws of our country to protect seniors or to put people away for a variety of crimes. On the other hand, in the prisons we are taking away those services that are provided to prisoners to help them modify and change their lives and points of view so when they come back out of that facility, they have the ability to correct their behaviours.

We have to put moneys into those areas in advance where there is a better understanding of the needs of our communities so people are less inclined to go ahead with the kinds of abuses that we see.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my understanding is that in this bill, the goal is to provide more severe punishment for those who abuse seniors, especially when they are particularly vulnerable, and I agree with that.

On the other hand, I am having some trouble understanding another aspect. In my view, for such unfortunate situations, the first thing should be to try and prevent them. This bill contains nothing about prevention. I believe that everything possible should be done so that seniors never have to suffer such violence in the first place.

For example, might it not have been possible to introduce measures to prevent informal caregivers from becoming exhausted? The fact is that violence is often inflicted by someone close. Should help be provided to informal caregivers to combat that? Can more be done to combat poverty?

Does my colleague believe that this bill needs a section on prevention?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, a number of speakers to the bill have pointed out the fact that the title is almost as long as the provisions of the bill. When we look at the total lifestyle and environment around seniors, from their source of income to whatever support services they receive, or how they are treated within their own family and the areas where the breakdowns occur, there are so many areas that the government could have addressed along with the punitive measures that are put into law.

We have to look at the situation that our seniors find themselves in today from a holistic point of how to address in the community a greater respect for seniors from those who do not have it. People who are vulnerable in our society, either because of drug abuse, substance abuse, or whatever reason, turn to crime and often their victims are elderly.

There are a variety of places that need addressing, those areas which cause the problems for people who ultimately take it out on the seniors. There are direct measures for seniors that need to be put in place around their prescription drugs, support services, palliative care, the stresses in which the families live. There is a whole place that we could have gone with this.

To some extent, how we treat our seniors is representative of our entire view of how we treat our community. By fixing areas of the community, we will fix some of the circumstances for seniors, even if it is not as direct.

This bill, in its very narrow focus, fails the elderly.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, we are basically going to speak about a transition—the transition from the prevention of and sentencing for mistreatment to proper treatment. We are going to ensure that people are entitled to decent, respectable service.

The New Democratic Party is not against this bill, quite the contrary. It can see the first steps—but only the first steps—of a policy to protect our seniors. What specifically does this bill propose? It recommends a hotline for abused seniors, which is a very good thing. The problem is that we do not want to force people to telephone, and we cannot compel them to blow the whistle about their abuse. That is the major problem with this service: the fact that people have to make use of it.

Unfortunately, all too often, the people who abuse seniors are their close relatives or people on whom they depend. They depend on them to do their shopping or housework or to take care of them. It is not easy to report someone who is so badly needed. That person is very often the only one they know. So, the service is viable as long as people call and as long as the people who call have access to some other resource to replace the person who is abusing them.

Creating positions of consultants who are specialists in elder abuse is another option. There is already a project in Manitoba that has had good results. In fact it is not enough just to report someone; the situation has to be improved. Specialists in elder abuse can refer the person to the appropriate service. They can ensure that the person finds the services that are available in the community.

Very often, a number of volunteer services are free of charge. Demand for these services is high. But for them to be effective, the first step has to be taken. These consultant services will be a necessary resource and that is great.

The Criminal Code must also be amended so that elder abuse is considered an aggravating circumstance and leads to sentencing for a crime. Showing contempt for a senior, insulting a senior and being impatient with a senior is not a crime, but it is abuse. Treating seniors like children and considering them intellectual rejects, depriving them of their freedom of choice in making decisions about their finances, the way they dress or some other matter is not a crime. On the other hand, to the person who is going through this, to the person who is insulted, belittled and despised, this is abuse. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code will not change anything. It cannot fix offensive behaviour. The Criminal Code is not meant to do that.

You understand all the limitations of this legislation. It is a first step, a very small first step. We support it, but we note and stress the fact that it does not go far enough.

In my riding, there is the CLAVA, the Laval committee on abuse and violence against seniors. This service encourages seniors to stand up for their rights. It accompanies them during court proceedings and provides training on what elder abuse is. These people tell us that every senior may become a victim of abuse, regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, income or level of education.

These things are not relevant. It is how isolated seniors are that determines the extent to which they are victimized. That is the key issue.

There are meals on wheels services in Laval, Sainte-Thérèse, Rosemère, Bois-des-Filion and Lorraine. Often, the meals on wheels staff provide not only meals, but also a welcome change from the isolation. These seniors are visited once a week by a person who looks at them, listens to them, checks to see whether their home is well maintained, whether they are eating well, whether they have medication and are taking it. Of course, care is also taken to listen to the seniors to determine whether they have been mistreated, beaten, or stolen from. The volunteers take note of all this information. They break the isolation. This is probably a much more precious gift than the food they bring. It is essential.

Often, the people that use this service really appreciate being visited by someone who sits with them over a cup of tea or coffee, who is approachable and who makes them feel listened to. It is so important that the isolation be broken. It is also an opportunity for the seniors to share information that they would not share over the telephone. Seniors will talk with someone who visits them once a week, but they will not tell a policeman or someone from a helpline that their child is disrespectful, that the landlord is stealing from them, or that their electricity has been cut off. Only someone who has an intimate relationship with the elderly person can get this kind of information.

It is important to understand that there are things that can be done to prevent abuse. Isolation may also be linked to poverty. Seniors who do not have the money to go out to dinner with friends once a week feel isolated. That is economic isolation. It is called social exclusion and is the result of not having enough money.

There is also the matter of housing. When an elderly person lives on the third floor and has arthritis, it is understandable that they avoid going up and down the stairs as much as possible. Housing can be a form of isolation. If a person’s home is not adapted to their deteriorating physical health, they may feel isolated.

Pharmacare is a major issue when it comes to poverty. Serious consideration should be given to establishing a national pharmacare plan. It would save a lot of seniors from having to make choices: between housing and drugs, food and drugs, clothing and drugs. It would save them from having to choose to restrict the use of a certain drug or from needing to chose, for example, their arthritis drugs at the expense of their diabetes drugs. Canadians should not have to make these choices. That is something else to consider.

We support the notion of a helpline. It is a first step and a worthwhile initiative. It would be a mistake, however, to set up a helpline and then cut back on meals on wheels services. That would not make sense.

Any investment in the prevention of elder abuse must not be about doing away with the services that currently exist and replacing them with lesser ones. The helplines must be additional services; they must not replace services that already work well.

We support the consultant positions, particularly since these consultants can direct seniors to services in the voluntary sector. That can sometimes also result in people becoming volunteers themselves. They can be active if they have help to break out of isolation, to break out of poverty.

We want to facilitate access to adapted social housing and prescription drugs for seniors. We also want to eliminate poverty and isolation, because they are what make it easy for seniors to become victims. Obviously, raising pensions is one part of that. What needs to be done is not cutting pensions in future, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 and saving $10 billion, and then saying the government is going to invest $25 million in telephone lines. That makes no sense. Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement combined have to provide an income that, at a minimum, is equal to the poverty line.

It makes no sense for seniors who have only these two sources of income to end up below the poverty line. That is encouraging poverty. It means accepting that people should have to go to food banks. It means making them limit the drugs they decide to buy, make do with substandard housing and move out of a home that suited them for something smaller and not as comfortable. That is unacceptable.

The combination of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement must at a minimum be equal to the poverty line. Anything else is quite simply accepting poverty and giving up on fighting it.

Long-term home care is also important. They are going to raise the cost of health care. The population is aging, and the older people are, the more health care they are going to need. Limiting health transfers to 2.5% is not the way to solve this problem. At some point, we are going to have to accept that if people in fact need medically necessary services, we have to give them to them. This is not the time to start scrimping. That is unfortunately how it looks to us.

We are going to keep saying that right now, taking away people’s drugs and their safe housing because of the economic restrictions imposed by the government is a form of abuse. Accepting that we have seniors living in poverty is abuse.

Trying to combat abuse by putting in a phone line while cutting the things that are essential to people is a form of abuse. Cutting $200 million from social housing for seniors, cutting growth in the health insurance plan, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 and limiting growth in the guaranteed income supplement—if that is not abuse, it is knowingly and intentionally agreeing to an increase in poverty, and that is a form of abuse.

We are also going to have to face an economic challenge. It is necessary to provide the services and have the means to pay for them. It is possible. It can even be easily achieved. There is a lot of volunteer activity. It has to be encouraged. It does not cost very much and it contributes a great deal, particularly in terms of human kindness. It provides human contact. People do not just want a public servant providing the service. They want to meet people they trust, people they like, and people they want to talk to. Socializing, talking to someone from time to time, not being stuck in front of a television—all this is useful in the fight against abuse.

Social housing co-operatives can also be a big help and are not necessarily that expensive. The construction of co-operative housing also lets seniors know that they will be paying part of the cost of that social housing.

The advantage of co-operatives is the enormous stock of housing available once the building has been paid for, once it has been built with a minimum down payment from the federal government, because the people will have paid their rent and paid the mortgage. Not only will this housing be available at a very affordable price, but it can be adapted to the seniors’ situation, giving them the ability to move around the rooms in their wheelchair, with an accessible bathroom, door handles that are not round but simply replaced with hooks, and space to allow a wheelchair to fit under the kitchen sink. These ergonomic changes are essential for people with diminishing independence. And we will be able to build it.

Of course, when $200 million in funding for social housing is cut, a lot of harm is done. The government cannot claim to be fighting poverty among seniors and then turn around and take away $200 million. And saving $600 million by making cuts to the guaranteed income supplement is also not particularly useful in the fight against poverty.

The government is not even talking about a prescription drug plan. The only thing it is willing to talk about is curbing the rate of growth in health insurance transfer payments.

I am sorry, but on one hand the government is sending a message saying that it is going to fight elder abuse, and on the other, it refusing to take responsibility for something that could lead to increased poverty among seniors. The government needs to be consistent. There is no consistency here.

We are going to support this bill, but I can guarantee that we will not be supporting the budget. We will support this bill as a first step in showing Parliament's collective will to fight poverty and reduce violence. As I have said, nothing in the Criminal Code punishes bad manners.

We are willing to fight something, but it must be understood that, for seniors, being insulted by one of their children hurts as much as being beaten. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code will not be able to do anything to prevent that. It will be necessary to collectively ensure that seniors are not always left on their own, that they still have an active life, and that they still have the means necessary to have an active life, from a financial point of view, as well as in terms of medical support and access to drugs and health care.

We will have to make sure that seniors are able to receive family members and friends in decent living quarters where they feel totally at home and comfortably sheltered. People want to be able to live independently; they do not want to live in a dormitory or hospital room where people can come and go as they please. They want to live at home. They want to live in their own home as long as possible. Everyone agrees that seniors have an attachment to their home.

We need to take steps to ensure that they can enjoy this home. We need to do it without necessarily overhauling the whole budget. We are not talking about billions of dollars, but simply a number of societal choices.

I am now ready to answer any questions my colleagues may have.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his compassionate speech.

I would like to address two issues that increase the risk of elder abuse: namely poverty and health issues, particularly limited functional capacity. I am absolutely against raising the age of OAS eligibility and find that unnecessary change is reprehensible. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has made it clear that the economy is strong and that this is a false crisis. Senior poverty could increase by one-third with the government's changes.

The second issue is health. The World Health Organization's report, Dementia: A Public Health Priority, and the Alzheimer Society of Canada's Rising Tide report are wake-up calls for us to develop a national plan for dementia. Today in Canada, one person is diagnosed with dementia every five minutes. There is a terrible human cost and the economic cost is $15 billion. In 30 years, we are looking at a person being diagnosed once every two minutes and the cost to be $153 billion.

Five of the G7 countries have nationwide plans. Why is Canada lagging behind?

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, on the matter of raising the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67, the only argument that the government has put forward is a demographic one. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, this was already suggested by Brian Mulroney. He said that it was horrible to have seven people working to support one retired person, and that in the 2010s, the ratio was going to be four to one. He said that in 2010, the country would be bankrupt.

Well, here we are in 2012, and we can see that the demographic argument put forward by Brian Mulroney is not true. The same could be said of the current government's measure that would increase the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. The important thing is whether the government’s finances are healthy. Are they? Yes. Can the government rely on a significant revenue base? Yes, Canada is rich. Finally, Canada has the ability to collect its taxes, which is often not the case in certain European countries.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I had an interesting incident in my constituency office a number of months ago. A senior talked to me about a problem he had with his son taking advantage of him with his low-cost housing. He was afraid that he would end up in trouble with the housing authority. I told him to simply ask his son to leave, but he said that his granddaughter was there as well.

When we talk about elder abuse and raising the bar on penalties, in many cases they would be inflicted on the relatives of the elder and those most closely connected. I think we have to be very careful with this. I would like my colleague to comment.

Are we going to find that in some cases elders do not report abuse because they are worried about the kinds of penalties that would come down on those who are closest to them who may be engaged in the abuse? If the penalty is too high, would elders be inclined not to bring that forward? It is a very important question because it will play out over and over again in our society.