Madam Speaker, I am thankful for being allowed to add my voice to this debate on Motion No. 300. This motion, of course, proposes that the government introduce legislation to amend the Old Age Security Act respecting the guaranteed income supplement.
We all share the aim of doing what we can to help our country's seniors enjoy a better quality of life. Despite some of the protestations we hear from across the way, I believe there is a common underlying element within the House that wants to support seniors. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for all their contributions to building, and in many cases, safeguarding our country.
Indeed, Canada already has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the industrialized world and is recognized as a global leader in that regard. A big part of this success is due to the guaranteed income supplement, which is the focus of our debate today.
As recently as 1980, more than 21% of older Canadians lived below the poverty line. By 2006, that figure was less than 6%. Since then, our government has taken numerous additional measures to further assist low-income seniors.
I remind the House that, since taking office, our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement by 7% over and above the regular indexing for inflation. As many of our seniors continue to work, we have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500. That is a whopping 600% increase.
Not only have we increased the guaranteed income supplement benefits and left more money in the pockets of Canadian seniors, we have made it easier for low-income seniors to access these benefits. As a result of our government passing Bill C-36 in the last Parliament, seniors now only have to apply for the GIS once and will continue to receive benefits as long as they are eligible and file income tax returns.
To help seniors who may not be aware that they qualify for the GIS, we also send out applications to low-income seniors who do not currently receive the supplement. This measure taken by our government has put these benefits in the hands of an additional 328,000 low-income seniors.
That is not all. We have created a minister of state for seniors and appointed Senator Marjory LeBreton to fill that position. She is doing excellent work to promote the interests and protect the well-being of older Canadians.
We have also set up the National Seniors Council to advise us on seniors issues of national importance. By tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of our older citizens, we ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the changing needs of Canada's aging population.
It was also our Conservative government that, in budget 2008, announced an investment of $13 million over three years to increase awareness of elder abuse. As we know, that is a significant problem in our society today. What we have done is provide seniors with assistance in dealing with abuse.
The Minister of State for Seniors recently announced 16 new projects across the country to combat elder abuse, from physical abuse to financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under our new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative.
Since its beginning, the new horizons program has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada, helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities. Indeed, my own riding of Abbotsford has been and continues to be a beneficiary of this unprecedented funding for new horizons.
Perhaps most notable is the fact that our government has also provided more than $1 billion, not million, in tax relief to Canadian seniors each year by allowing pension income splitting and increasing the seniors' age and pension income credits.
However, I can assure hon. colleagues in the House that we are not finished yet. As Canada's economic action plan made clear, we are taking additional steps to protect seniors during these challenging economic times. We are adding over $300 million to the $1.6 billion in targeted tax relief that our government already provides to seniors for the 2009 tax year.
This includes $200 million in tax relief by reducing the required minimum withdrawal amount for 2008 from RRIFs. This change recognizes the impact of deteriorating market conditions and that impact on seniors in our country.
As well, we are increasing the seniors' age credit by another $1,000 per year for 2009 and beyond, further increasing the amount of money that stays in seniors' pockets.
The increase in the age credit builds on our government's previous tax relief for seniors and for pensioners. For example, we doubled the amount of the pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000, and we had already earlier increased the age credit by $1,000 in our 2006 budget.
We are getting things done for seniors, and recognizing that many older Canadians want to continue to work and recognizing that Canada needs their experience and their talents, we are also investing an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers. We also changed the program criteria so that smaller cities with populations of less than 250,000 can also participate.
Before I conclude, I would like to take a moment to comment on the specific proposals contained in today's motion. It is important to note that GIS benefits can already be paid retroactively for up to one year. This reflects what is being done in many other jurisdictions, and in fact, exceeds jurisdictions such as Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and even Australia and New Zealand.
So we are getting the job done for seniors. We are being fair with how we deal with their financial needs.
It is always interesting to note the duplicity of the Liberals in the House. Members may recall that the previous Liberal government, over 13 long years, opposed the motion before us, as we do today. Yet today they are standing up in the House to support it.
Only three and a half years ago, on November 18, 2005, during debate on a similar bill, the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said:
...I cannot support Bill C-301.
If passed into law, the bill would bog down Canada's retirement income system in reams of red tape. It would create an undue burden on the system, from both a fiscal and technical perspective. And without the checks and balances found in the current application process, it would lead to increased fraud and abuse.
That was back in 2005. Today her colleagues, the Liberal members in the House, are actually getting up and saying that they now support it, because they are no longer in government, so they do not have to be accountable. They do not have to place this motion within the context of an economic action plan.
Here is what the former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the social development minister said, again during debate on Bill C-301:
I completely agree...that this bill, if passed, would unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially. There is nothing dishonest about that...Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse.
Again, that is the Liberals speaking three years ago and today saying something quite different. Today the Liberals have flip-flopped. Suddenly something they were never prepared to do before when in government becomes perfectly okay when they are no longer in government. That is duplicity.
In closing, let me make a couple of points. The costs of this motion are incredibly high to the taxpayers of this country. The estimated price tag for this motion is $6 billion. Yet the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc have pulled this out of thin air and said that they want us to implement it. Who will suffer? It is the hard-working taxpayers and families of this country. These proposals, while perhaps well intentioned, really do not reflect the fiscal and economic reality in Canada today.
Our government has taken and will continue to take significant, meaningful and realistic steps to help low-income seniors and to improve their quality of life. We have made huge gains in assisting our seniors to improve their quality of life, and I encourage members opposite, first, to put aside all their partisanship and their game-playing and to join us in actually doing the work of our government and supporting seniors who need it the most.