House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to this amazing budget. Budget 2012, yet again, builds on the foundation that the government has worked to create over the last number of years to create a country that is the envy of most of the industrialized nations around the world. In fact, not only do we have some of the strongest growth and some of the best employment indicators, we are the envy in terms of our banking system.

We have the opportunity to build a budget of the future. We obviously have had great success under previous budgets in creating jobs, as has been indicated by many of my colleagues. Almost 700,000 net new jobs have been created. Leaders around the world are looking to Canada and wishing they had put in place those kinds of budgets for their countries, the kinds of budgets that have put Canadians in a really good position financially, securing their futures.

Of course, the opposition members have voted against those budgets time and time again. One would think that after making that many mistakes, they would not buy the same stock a fifth time. Therefore, we encourage the NDP members to look at the budget as the next step in Canada's prosperity.

The budget has more investments for science and technology and innovation that will create the positive job opportunities of the future. We have already done a great job creating jobs right now, as we can tell.

I know the NDP members voted against it. We are trying to encourage them to change their ways and understand the positive nature of creating, not only jobs today, but the good quality, high-paying jobs of tomorrow as well. That is what the budget is about.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member. He will have eight minutes left when the debate resumes, and of course, five minutes of questions and answers.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 26 consideration of the motion.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to debate on M-307. It is a subject that is very important to my constituents. Judging from the correspondence my office has been receiving from people in Halifax West, it is an issue that is very much on the minds of Canadians.

Let me begin by thanking the hon. member for Charlottetown for introducing M-307, and the hon. member for York West, the Liberal Party critic on pensions and a champion for thousands of Canadians on this very important file.

I am reminded that M-307 is the result of a petition signed by tens of thousands of Canadians who believe the neo-Conservative government is trying to disenfranchise them. Many Canadians believe their country is now in the hands of a mean-spirited government intent on punishing the very seniors who spent their lives building this country.

I am sure many Conservative backbenchers feel the same way but they are afraid to voice their true feelings for fear of invoking the wrath of the minions over at the PMO. I do not know what lines Conservative members are feeding the folks back home, but I do know what my office has been hearing from Canadians. Let me share a few of the heartfelt sentiments I have heard. I hope the hon. members will listen carefully and take seriously these comments from real people who are going to experience real impacts of this budget.

One says, “Moving the age to 67 would have a real impact on my mom. She's a single woman and a low-income earner.” There is a real Canadian with a real concern. Another one says, “I became a widow at the age of 40. I'm on disability and do not have much money in RRSPs. I find it difficult to pay my bills now. I don't know how I'll manage with a two-year interruption of income.” This is a very scary situation. That is a real problem. Some people express confusion and anxiety over the OAS changes. One of them says, “There is a concern because I'm currently on Canadian pension disability. I need to know if that will continue until I am 67.”

Perhaps in this debate, if Conservative members are going to claim they have a response to this, let them tell the House if they can point to a section in the bill that deals with this in some fashion, or a section that deals with the people who are currently on social assistance or provincial programs. Which section will provide provincial governments with the funds they will need to provide that kind of assistance for two more years, when they are already hard-pressed in terms of finances?

Another person notes, “I have spent my entire working life paying into CPP, only to hear at this point in my life that my retirement goals are not aligned to the Conservative government's fiscal agenda? I am fortunate enough to hold a good job, and I will work harder to prepare, but I can only imagine the panic of individuals who are not employed or minimally employed. What will these Canadians do, and how many more impoverished seniors does there need to be for the Prime Minister to get the message? Shame.”

This is a very important point about people who are not employed or are minimally employed, who are relying on a variety of social programs. I think of people who have work that is very physical or difficult. I think of women who have worked their whole lives, 35 years perhaps, in fish plants, standing on concrete floors, their hands in cold water all day long. The government feels it is no problem for them to work two more years after they are 65.

Is that not a problem? Is there nothing to worry about? Should we not be concerned about those kinds of people? Is that really a government that considers the reality of people living in this country every day, especially people who are older in our society?

I am reminded of the old adage that a society should always be judged on how it treats its weakest members. History will indeed judge the government and the Prime Minister appropriately, as a government that was always there to assist its rich and powerful friends and contributors, but told the rest of the people, bootstrappers, to fend for themselves, a government that said, “They can look after themselves”.

The Prime Minister, a year ago, made the following promise, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase in transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one ”. Those are not my words. That is the line the Conservative leader fed Canadians in the last election campaign.

That was the election campaign in which he also said he had a contract to buy F-35 attack jets and they would only cost $16 billion. That is what he told Canadians. This is the same Prime Minister who also promised seniors he would never tax income trusts and quickly broke his word. He broke faith with Canadian seniors and imposed a tax on income trusts, totally contrary to what he had promised. This is a Prime Minister who was hanging out with his rich, elite pals in Switzerland when he decided to drop a bombshell on seniors and wipe out the dreams of thousands.

One of my constituents, describing the chaos and confusion that the initial OAS announcement caused, said the following in an email to my office, “We struggle with trying to understand how we are in this state of confusion over the OAS. We struggle to find a balance in our day to day lives despite...the chaos....All this information came to us via...the media with minimal reassurance from...the Prime Minister, who started all this fuss while grandstanding in a foreign country.”

Those are not my words. That is a person in my riding who wrote to me concerned, worried, frustrated and confused, asking why on earth a prime minister of Canada would make an announcement about pensions for Canadian seniors in Switzerland, at a meeting with the richest and most powerful people in the world. What was that about? Was he trying to show off and say, “Look at what we are doing. You are going to love this one”? Was that it?

Madam Speaker, you can see why I appreciate having a few minutes today to talk about the old age security program. I urge all members to look into their hearts, do the right thing and support this motion. They should tell the government that it should (a) recognize the contributions that the baby boomer generation has made in building Canada, (b) affirm their support for the old age security program, (c) commit to maintaining the 65-year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act and (d) recognize that the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs, both designed to help low-income seniors, are inextricably linked and ensure they continue to have identical ages of eligibility. That is what Liberals are asking with this motion. Those are reasonable requests if we think about the future of the country and are concerned about the future of our seniors, especially low-income seniors.

Fifty per cent of the people who receive OAS earn less than $25,000 a year and 40% earn less than $20,000. That is who we are talking about. Those are the people, not making big money, not in easy jobs often, who are being asked by the government to work two more years, to wait two more years, to do without for two more years. What kind of a government is that?

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight to speak to the motion.

Let me make our position clear. We could have been in favour of Motion No. 307, as we agree with many of the points in the motion. However, we cannot agree with the text that calls for the age of eligibility for OAS to remain at 65, as such a move would threaten the sustainability of the program.

Our government attempted to reach a compromise with the member opposite to amend the motion, but the member expressed no interest in negotiating with us on this matter.

Unfortunately, the opposition continues to play political games with this most serious of matters. Our government will not be so irresponsible. We have introduced changes to the OAS program that would gradually increase the age of OAS eligibility from 65 to 67 years of age, starting in 2023.

We have witnessed the spectacle of the opposition members trying to scare current OAS recipients into believing their benefits will be affected. I can assure all current OAS recipients and all Canadians over the age of 54 that as of March 31 of this year their benefits would not be affected and they would see no change to their OAS eligibility.

The opposition seems to still, after many hours of debate on this topic, not understand the facts of the situation or choose not to understand the facts.

The OAS program is the single largest problem the Government of Canada has. It was established in 1952, at a time that was quite different from the one we now face. All of this needs to be reviewed, viewed and looked at in this context.

In the 1970s there were seven working age Canadians for every senior. Currently, there are four working age Canadians per retired senior. In 20 years there will only be two working age Canadians for every senior. It would seem obvious that some action and something needs to be done.

How does the member opposite believe his program is sustainable on its current path? Is it fair to Canadian workers 20 years from now, who would see serious job-killing increases in taxes, to pay for the short-sightedness of previous generations, or would that future worker see other government services cut to the bone to pay for an ever-increasing expense of OAS? What kind of legacy do we want to leave to those who come after us?

In 1970 the average 65-year-old could expect to live to 81. Today, that has increased by four years. With people living longer, they are collecting OAS benefits for an increasing number of years. Put them all together, and the cost of the OAS program, if left unchanged, would go from approximately $38 billion in 2011 to $108 billion in 2030.

Therefore, something had to be done to ensure that the OAS would be sustainable in the face of demographic realities. A responsible government does not shirk from its duty in the face of such a challenge. Even if it is difficult or uncomfortable, the responsibility is there to act.

A responsible government acts in the best interests of Canadians, including those who will come after us. That is why we have announced specific steps in our last budget.

The age of eligibility for old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement would be gradually raised from age 65 to 67, starting in April 2023, with full implementation by January 2029.

Given that life expectancy has been increasing, even with the increase in the OAS eligibility age to 67, people who turn 65 in 2030 can expect to receive OAS benefits for about the same number of years over their lifetime as seniors who turn 65 today.

The economic action plan will ensure that the OAS program will be on a sustainable path to ensure that it will be there for future generations.

Our government will also ensure that certain federal programs, including those provided by Veterans Affairs Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, currently providing income support benefits until age 65 will be aligned with changes in the OAS program.

Our government will discuss the impact of the changes to the OAS program on CPP disability and survivor benefits with provinces and territories, which are joint stewards of the CPP, during the next tri-annual review of the CPP. We will also compensate the provinces for the net additional costs they may face resulting from increasing the age of eligibility for OAS benefits.

Starting on July 1, 2013, we will give people the flexibility to voluntarily defer receiving their OAS pension for up to five years in exchange for a higher actuarially adjusted pension. This will give Canadians a choice of taking up their OAS pension at a later time if they decide it is better for their individual retirement plans.

We have taken steps to make these changes gradually to OAS. The increase in the age of eligibility of OAS and GIS benefits will not affect anyone who is 54 years of age or older as of March 31, 2012. The increase in the age of eligibility of allowance for survivor benefits will not affect anyone who is 49 years of age or older as of March 31, 2012. The 11-year notification and the subsequent 6 year phase-in period will allow those affected by these changes ample time to make adjustments to their retirement plans.

As members can see, we are allowing Canadians the time needed to plan for their retirement.

Many other countries have recently increased or announced plans to increase the eligibility ages of their public pension plans. These include Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea.

As David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada and deputy minister of finance, said recently in an interview, “we're at least 15 years late in getting started in raising the age of entitlement for...OAS. We can't wait any longer to make these changes. Inaction is not an option in this situation”.

He makes a good point that is shared by many.

The cost of the OAS program is poised to soar as the baby boomer generation retires. In fact, the first of the baby boomers started to turn 65 in 2011.

In summary, it is the responsibility of the federal government to think of the future and to act in the long-term interests of Canadians. Sadly, the opposition has refused to acknowledge the realities of our aging population in order to play political games. Private sector economists, financial institutions and former Bank of Canada governors have confirmed that we must act now to make the OAS program sustainable.

Our goal is to strengthen the financial security of Canadian workers and families over the next few years and over the next generation. The OAS program was a great step forward in 1952. We now need to take another step forward and bring it into the 21st century. We want to position Canada as one of the world's advanced economies, a country that looks after its own and builds towards its future.

That is why I am asking the member for Charlottetown to co-operate with us, and all members of the House, to ensure the sustainability of the old age security program.

I hope the opposition members, particularly the member for Charlottetown, have been persuaded by these arguments. I would therefore give them another opportunity to do the right thing and work with our government in the interest of future generations.

I move the following: That this motion be amended by substituting the words in sub-point (c) with the words, “commit to maintaining the sustainability of the OAS program”, instead of the original wording of, “commit to maintaining the sixty-five year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act”.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Does the hon. member have the consent the member for Charlottetown to move this motion?

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, no.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, this matter has been before the House, motions by the official opposition, on at least two other occasions since we had this announcement from the government, post-election announcement I would point out, that—

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member. I would like some order in the House. The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh has the floor.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, as I said, the NDP official opposition has already forced two votes on this motion in the House. My colleague who just finished his speech said that it was sad that we opposed this. I want to be very clear that on behalf of our party, we are very proud of the fact that we have fought against this change, that we will fight against this change and that, when we take government after the next federal election, we will reverse this decision by the federal government.

When I first heard that the Prime Minister had been in Davos with his rich buddies trying to satisfy the international monetary community with this kind of an endeavour, it reminded me of a battle we fought within the labour movement through the 1960s and 1970s to try to lower the age when people in the auto manufacturing centres would be able to receive pensions at an earlier age than 65. There was a caption for it, “30-and-out”. No matter what age they started, after 30 years of work they would have a pension that was quite substantive enough for individuals to finish raising their families and live in significant dignity.

The push for that was this fact. Up until that point, people had to be 65 before they received any pension benefits from the auto manufacturers. The analysis the economists for the labour movement had done at that time was that the average labourers retiring in the auto sector at age 65 received pension for just slightly more than 12 months before they died. That image struck me very hard when again I heard the Prime Minister, outside the country, announcing this decision. That is still a factor we have to consider in raising the age of retirement.

It is National Nursing Week. Nurses work very hard from a physical labour standpoint. Yet we are saying to them that they will to have to wait two more years to receive this benefit, one that they have contributed to very clearly by the tax dollars they paid all of their careers. We have to recognize the forestry worker, the farmer, the fisher and all those people who work very hard lives, very difficult, back-bending, back-breaking labour for a great deal of their lives.

I hear this from the Jack Mintzes of the world and the economists. They have a picture of people perhaps like me. I have been a lawyer all my professional career and then a politician. I have not done that heavy labour work. However, that is the image the Conservative Party has, that it is not a big deal, that they can work a couple more years, and that is probably true. I think of me and most of the members of the House.

However, there are a lot of Canadians for whom that does not apply. Think of the waitress who spent her whole career working, slugging heavy trays. We can just go down the list of people. The majority of Canadians still work a physically demanding heavy workload and we are saying to them that they have to do it for two more years.

We can say they could have planned better and saved more, but we know that is not the reality of the Canadian economy.

We know that private pension plans have been a gross failure in terms of providing sufficient incomes for people to retire. If Canadians are to retire above the poverty line, they will need the OAS and a better CPP. We need massive reforms with respect to CPP. Again, my party has been the leader in pushing that issue in the country.

The previous speaker talked about how all these other countries have done it. If the government had done any kind of analysis, it would seen that in the vast majority of cases, those countries have also provided for alternative plans for people who cannot continue to work or who are at very marginal levels.

What is also interesting is that pension benefits in the vast majority of those other countries are substantially better than they are in Canada. The member was right when he said that we are 15 years behind, but not about raising the age; we are 15 years behind in providing pension benefits from public sources, not from private sources, that are adequate for the average Canadian to retire in dignity. We are way behind the rest of the developed world.

We are quite happy to support this kind of motion, even though it is coming from one of the other opposition parties. We are proud to continue this battle.

I see that I still have a couple more minutes. Let me go to the other reforms that we need to make.

We fought the government in advance of the last election. We had very concrete proposals as to how much we needed to increase the guaranteed income supplement. When the government implemented the measure, both before the election and subsequently, it did so at a level that was less than half of what was required to move people above the poverty line, or at least up to the poverty line. These were primarily elderly women, 65 years of age and older, who did not have any other pension benefits. In a lot of cases they did not qualify for the CPP. They only had the OAS and the GIS.

The government made this one increase, and of course the Conservatives tout it constantly all over the country and in the House, but the reality is that people who are only eligible for the OAS and GIS are living below the poverty line today in this country and will continue to do so as long as the figures remain at that level. There has to be a significant increase made by this country to honour our elderly citizens when they retire, to make sure that they can live above or at least at the poverty line.

Similarly, with respect to the proposal the Conservatives have coming with regard to this pooled pension fund, the RRSP has been a colossal failure in terms of providing personal private pensions to people who have adequate incomes. It simply has not worked. We can go through the figures of how few people have used it or used it to its maximum. Now they are talking about a collective one. The RRSP has failed in that regard, and a pooled pension plan will not do any better; in fact, it will probably do more poorly.

Reforms to our public pension plans are needed quite badly and are needed fairly soon. However, increasing the age of eligibility is simply a mechanism used by the government to continue to give tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, the big financial institutions and the very wealthy in this country. Increasing OAS non-payment by two years is taking money out of the hands and pockets of those who are really poor in this country and putting that burden on their backs.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to join in the debate today and to support the motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Charlottetown. It is a very important motion and one that has really seized many from my own riding and across the country.

Canada enjoys one of the lowest seniors poverty rates in the world. A large part of this success was the introduction of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement and Canada pension plan by Liberal governments in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Conservative government's plan to increase the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67 is a regressive move at a time when the number of low-income seniors in Canada is on the rise. In fact, the numbers have doubled between 2007 and 2009. This move will force thousands of poor, vulnerable seniors, including women and disabled people who depend on OAS and GIS to keep them out of poverty, to wait two more years and forgo over $30,000 in payments. Seniors groups, poverty groups and disability groups have all taken issue with the OAS change and how it will adversely affect the poor people they represent.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities points out that Canadians with disabilities disproportionately live in poverty. Between 45% and 60% of those living on provincial social assistance programs are persons with disabilities. Increasing the entitlement age for OAS and GIS will keep these people living in poverty for two years longer than necessary.

Women also will be disproportionately affected. They receive fewer Canada pension benefits than men, leaving them with less income at 65. Statistics Canada reports that 18% of women living alone over the age of 65 are indeed living in poverty. A 2009 report prepared by the human resources department was very clear in stating that over 35% of women between 65 and 69 would fall below the poverty line without OAS or GIS.

These facts should be telling the government that we have to do more, not less, to assist low-income seniors.

Maybe the government will silence its critics and release a national poverty strategy that would ensure low-income seniors, such as women and the disabled, do not fall between the cracks with the change in this eligibility. Could it be that the government would finally implement some strategies and recommendations made by a number of reports on poverty in the last few years, including the Senate's report, “In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness”, or the House's own report, “The Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working In Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”? These are both very well-respected reports. Maybe it could be the National Council on Welfare's own report, “The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty”?

Sadly, I have to say no. The government's response to these reports is to disregard, discredit and then dismiss them. In the case of the National Council on Welfare, the government just did away with the organization completely.

The Conservative government has used nothing but false and misleading claims for its reason to change the eligibility. It says the program is unsustainable, but does not say what is sustainable. It says it needs to increase the age of eligibility to save OAS, but will not say how much the move will save. There is no information and no debate on an issue that will affect every Canadian that will be born from this day forward and every Canadian under the age of 54. Does this sound reasonable? Is this what one would expect from a government that claims to be open and accountable for its actions? From a reasonable government, yes; from the Conservative government, no. Killing debate, silencing opponents, shredding the truth and using propaganda to create fact from fiction are just par for the course, and it is no different with the OAS than it is with the F-35 scandal.

The government declares a crisis and paints an apocalyptic picture of OAS bankrupting the country if something is not done. One would expect, therefore, that it would introduce the age change immediately. In the face of this supposed impending crisis, this financial apocalypse, the government is going to wait 18 whole years before fully implementing the change. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has said:

What we're going to do is make sure that people...have time to still prepare for our own retirement.

This may sound reasonable and sensible, but I would argue it is neither. The OAS crisis, the government argues, exists because the baby boomer generation will be a bulge that will cost the system progressively between now and 2030; however, what does not make sense is that the peak of this bulge is predicted to be, ironically, in 2031, at almost the same time the OAS change will take full effect. By that time, the cost train will have already left the station. The relative cost of OAS will actually start to decline soon after. In fact, the cost of OAS to GDP is projected to be lower by 2060 than it is today, so the measure will be largely ineffective. There is no crisis, just politics and fearmongering.

The delay in full implementation is also completely unreasonable to low-income people, who the Conservatives are basically saying need to save more for their own retirement or go on provincial welfare when they reach age 65. How insulting to the over half million working Canadians who live below the poverty line. How do the Conservatives expect these people who barely get by week to week to save an additional $30,000? For people who are poor, knowing that they need to save and having the ability to save are two completely different things.

The Conservatives cite the fact that Canadians are living longer, but what they fail to realize is that the human body can only work at physically demanding jobs for so long. It is not that people working in these jobs do not want to work past 65, but that many people will not be able to do it physically.

As well, in 2006 the government's Chief Actuary found that the average life expectancy at 65 of people receiving GIS is much shorter than the life expectancy of those too rich to receive OAS. He found that for men, poorer seniors are dying four and a half years earlier than the rich. For women, the difference is three and a half years. Reducing effective retirement years by two will be far more punishing on the poor than the rich.

Although the government has not produced any evidence that OAS is not sustainable, independent experts have studied the issue and have reported that it is. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, in his report earlier this year, said that the federal fiscal structure “...now has sufficient room to absorb the cost pressures arising from the impact of population aging on the federal elderly benefits program.”

A recent report prepared by OECD states:

The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes.

It goes on to say:

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

The Conservatives say other countries are raising their retirement, so we must do the same, a sort of monkey see, monkey do approach. They cite many countries that have raised their retirement age. What they fail to mention is that several of these countries are increasing their retirement age to below or equal to Canada's current age. For example, France is increasing minimum age from 60 to 62. As well, some of these countries allow for early retirement at reduced benefits. The United States allows early retirement at 62.

Finally—and I think this is critical—although countries like the United States and the U.K. have a higher retirement age, their public pension systems cost relatively more now than Canada's system will ever cost over the next 50 years. According to a 2011 OECD report on pensions, the U.S. system in 2007 cost 6% of their GDP and the UK system cost 5.9%; ours is 2.34%.

This is just another attack on those most vulnerable in our society, those most vulnerable Canadians. I very much support the motion put forward by my colleague from Charlottetown and I will be voting in favour of the motion.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I find it unfortunate that the member for Charlottetown did not see fit to work co-operatively with the government to ensure the sustainability of the old age security program. Given the clear facts regarding the demographic realities our country is facing, I had hoped that the opposition would be interested in a more than short-sighted political rhetoric but, apparently, this is not the case.

It is particularly hypocritical, as it was the Liberals in the mid-nineties who first floated the idea of addressing the sustainability issues facing the old age security program. It was their then finance minister, Paul Martin, who attempted to bring forward necessary changes to the old age security program.

Unfortunately, the Liberals lacked the principle to do the right thing at that time. I am hopeful that they will see that the time is now to correct that inaction and join with us in making these common sense and reasonable changes.

I will be clear on the government's proposed changes to the old age security program. Current recipients of OAS and those aged 54 and older as of March 31 of this year will not be affected by these changes.

Starting in 2023, which is 11 years away, we will gradually raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. We are making these changes to the OAS because we want it to be there, not only for the baby boomers who are mentioned in the motion, but the generations to follow, people just like me.

Since we announced an increase in the age of eligibility, we have been very straightforward in telling Canadians why we are making this change. This government is taking action now to ensure that the OAS will be there for future generations before it is too late, and we are doing this without impacting current or near seniors and without putting an undue tax burden on younger generations.

We agree with this motion in recognizing the contributions of the baby boom generation and the positive impact that they have made in building Canada. The opposition, by using the term “baby boom generation”, implies that it knows something about demographics, which is why it continues to amaze me that the opposition does not accept the reality that demographics will challenge the sustainability of this program.

I will put this in perspective. In the 10 years from 1946 to 1956, the population of Canada increased by an unprecedented 20%. The baby boomers were economic drivers from the time of their birth. During the good times that followed, baby boomers themselves contributed to building a country that enjoys one of the healthiest economies in the world, as well as freedom and democracy. That is something for which we should be grateful proud.

Today, the boomers form our largest demographic group and the first of them started turning 65 in 2011. This has significant implications for our country. Canadians are living longer and healthier lives. In 1970, the average 65-year-old could expect to live to 81. Today, that has increased by four years. At the same time, Canada's birth rate is much lower than during the immediate post-war era. This shift has had an impact on our labour market.

In the 1970s there were seven working age Canadians for every person over the age of 65. In 20 years there will only be two working age Canadians for every senior. This means there will be fewer workers to take the place of baby boomers when they retire. Over the next 20 years, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will jump from 4.7 million to 9.3 million. This will staggering increase in a relatively short period of time and it will come with a high price tag. The annual cost of the OAS program is expected to triple between 2010 and 2030, from $36 billion to $108.

At the same time as our seniors' population rises, the ratio of workers to retirees will be falling.

Unlike the Canada pension plan, the OAS is financed entirely from tax revenue that workers pay that year. Canada is changing rapidly and the old age security program must change with it to remain affordable. That is why we announced that the age of eligibility for OAS and the GIS will gradually increase from 65 to 67 starting in April 2023. These changes will be fully implemented by January 2029. The changes to the eligibility age for the OAS pension and the GIS will not affect anyone who was 54 or older as of March 31. For the allowance and the allowance of the survivor, anyone who was 49 years of age or older as of March 31 will be unaffected.

I will put this into perspective. People are living longer and, therefore, collecting OAS benefits longer. A 65-year-old today can expect to receive OAS benefits for 20 years compared with 16 years in 1970. By 2030, people who start receiving OAS benefits at 67 would also receive them for about 20 years.

Many OECD member countries have recently planned or announced increases to the age of eligibility for their public pension programs, including the United States.

The increase in the age of eligibility to the OAS will not affect current seniors. The 11 year advance notification and the subsequent 6 year phase-in period would give those who are affected ample time to make adjustments to their retirement plans. All Canadians can find a wealth of information on the Service Canada website regarding planning for retirement.

It is about ensuring a program that has served Canadians for generations will be there for generations to come.

We owe a lot to our seniors. They built our country and they deserve a secure and dignified retirement. Our government is determined to take responsible, fair and prudent action to ensure that the OAS program remains sustainable. It is the responsibility of the federal government to think of the future and to act in the long-term interests of all Canadians.

Sadly, the opposition has refused to acknowledge the realities of our aging population. The opposition parties have chosen the low road. Their baseless fear-mongering and wilful ignorance of the need for change does not serve the interest of Canadians. We will not follow the opposition approach of sticking our head in the sand and pretending we are oblivious to the coming challenges.

I ask all members of this House to consider our duty to our constituents and to this great nation, to rise above petty partisanship, to reflect on the actions that need to be taken and to ensure the fiscal sustainability of our cherished social programs. As such, I ask all members of this House to reject the opposition motion and support the actions our government is taking.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to talk about such an important issue and, as my party has outlined, a motion that we in the NDP will be supporting.

This issue has been at the forefront of our attention for some months but it really hit home last week when I was in my office in one of the communities I represent in The Pas. I was meeting a man in his 50s who is disabled. He is a leader when it comes to fighting for disability services for people living with disabilities in his community in the north where many challenges still remain. He was talking about his own personal challenges of being able to make do with the little money he received as a result of his disability payments.

As he started to tell me what everyday was like for him and the kind of financial decisions he made he said, “I can't wait until I can start collecting OAS”. When I asked him when his birthday was, we found out that he was just under the cut off. This man, who gives all the energy he has to making life better for people in his community who live with immense challenges, including himself, does not have a federal government to turn to, a federal government that has been there to work with Canadians to ensure that at the age of 65 and upward they can live with the dignity that they deserve.

That is the story of what the government is doing. I find it pretty rich that government members say that we should calm down because this is not coming about until 2023. How does that change anything? The changes will be destructive when it comes to the standard of living that seniors in Canada deserve. The worst part is that the Conservatives have created the argument that changes are needed based on a s message of crisis and fear-mongering, a message that they know how to deliver very well and a message completely void of fact.

Just a few months ago, in February, the Parliamentary Budget Officer noted in his report that the cost of the OAS was manageable and that there was no fiscal reason to raise OAS. Mr. Page's findings were similar to another report prepared for Finance Canada in 2009 that found Canada's retirement obligations were sustainable and that there was no pressing need to raise the retirement age and yet here we are.

What I would like to specifically note is that the impact of changing the age in terms of the OAS will have a disproportionate impact on women as well. OAS and GIS are the only source of income for many women in Canada where they are guaranteed to receive the same amount as men regardless of their labour force history. For women between the ages of 65 and 69, OAS and GIS make up about 38% of their total income. For men of the same age, it is 26%. For women between the ages of 65 and 69, OAS and GIS reduce poverty by 21%. For men of the same age, it is a 15% drop. It is clear that rolling back the age of OAS is not gender neutral and will impact even larger numbers of senior women who already live in poverty.

Perhaps even more egregious is how this legislation brought forward by the Conservative government would have a disproportionate impact on my generation. We heard a long and extensive speech about baby boomers and how great things are and so on. However, the reality is that things are not great for my generation. There was an article recently that talked about the lower standard of living that my generation now has compared to our parents at the same age.

What could be more basic than the ability to have a pension, retirement security, to count on? Unfortunately, that is something the Conservative government is taking away from Canada's young people. I believe that is the greatest shame.

This follows a pattern, whether it is cuts to environmental regulations, Canada's failure to stand up and protect the environment; whether it is a lack of investment in education and training while we see costs for getting an education increase; whether it is a refusal to enforce a national housing strategy that would allow young people to afford a home, something their parents could do in a much bigger way when one looks back in Canada's recent history; whether it is the way that rights for women, half of the Canadian population, have been rolled back, or the challenges that young Canadian women will now have.

It is the story of a government that fails to look to the future, and most importantly, fails to look out for future generations. That is why I am proud to be part of a party that has always been at the forefront of fighting for pensions, dignified retirement and proper security for seniors. In saying so, we also fight for young people and the future.

I am proud to stand up and not just support this motion but also oppose the government's measures every step of the way.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, I am happy to close the debate today on my motion to protect old age security.

I first want to thank my colleagues from Halifax West and Cape Breton—Canso for their speeches today, and also my NDP colleagues from Churchill and Windsor—Tecumseh. I know they care about protecting old age security.

Now I would like to address a couple of the points that were raised by the government members who spoke here today. One of the points raised by the members of the Conservative Party is that there are other countries that are raising the age of eligibility for old age security. What they have not said is that right now in Canada we spend 2.5% of GDP on old age security and GIS. At the height of the bubble, it will be 3.18%.

We heard a lot about what OECD countries are spending. The average for old age security in OECD countries is 7%, yet at the height of the bubble we will spend 3.18%. Quite frankly, the international comparisons do not hold water.

What I also heard tonight is that the member for Charlottetown is being unco-operative in not going along with the government in its efforts to ensure the sustainability of old age security. That is simply not true. In fact, when my motion was initially presented back in March, I received a letter from the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development proposing the very amendment that was presented here tonight. That amendment essentially removed any reference to the increase in the age. Therefore, to suggest that I am not being co-operative because I will not agree to have my motion gutted is quite simply fallacious.

I am sorry to have to say this, but the Conservative government is not telling the truth on the matter of old age security. In fact, old age security is not in crisis, yet the contrary has been repeated and repeated by obedient Conservative backbenchers. The old adage is that if one repeats a lie often enough it takes on a character of truth.

A little over a year ago, during the election, the Prime Minister made a solemn promise. He stated:

We're not going to cut the rate of increase in transfers for healthcare, education and pensions. That is job number one...

However, about four months ago the Prime Minister announced, in Switzerland of all places, as we are fond of saying, from his Alpine perch, that he intended to institute massive changes to old age security in Canada.

Members should think about this. About a year ago, during an election, the Prime Minister told Canadians he would not touch pensions. Four months later he announced wholesale changes to old age security, predicated on a falsehood. The Conservatives know there is no crisis, but the facts do not matter. All that matters is blind, mindless loyalty to the leader.

There is no OAS crisis. Experts on pensions have said that there is no need to make changes. We heard in debate earlier tonight the view of Edward Whitehouse of the OECD. Jack Mintz, the government's own research director for the working group on retirement income, said this past January:

The overall view that was taken about our pension system in total, when you look at Old Age Security, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, as well as Canada Pension Plan, was that it is relatively financially sustainable...

It is simply not true for the Conservatives to stand in the House and say there is a crisis in old age security and, because there is a crisis, we need to fix it. There is no crisis; there is nothing to fix, and the Conservatives know it.

I hope that next week at least some of the Conservatives will escape the whip and do what is right, vote to protect pensions.

Old Age Security
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?