An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (monthly guaranteed income supplement)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Marcel Gagnon  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 23, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

May 13th, 2009 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

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.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

March 10th, 2009 / 6 p.m.
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Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should as soon as possible introduce a bill providing: a 110 dollar monthly increase in the guaranteed income supplement paid to pensioners; the continuation of the payment, for a period of six months, of the old age security pension and supplement to a person whose spouse or common-law partner has died; automatic registration for people 65 entitled to the guaranteed income supplement; full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors who have been short-changed.

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time since the voters of my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot first elected me in 2007 that I have had the privilege to present a motion as a member of Parliament.

The motion I have chosen to sponsor is a good example of my interest in creating bridges between the generations. I am also very pleased to have the cooperation of my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, the Bloc Québécois critic for seniors.

Motion M-300 proposes some more specific amendments to the guaranteed income supplement. It is a reintroduction of Bills C-301 and C-490 introduced during past sessions by the Bloc Québécois. Its intention is to help our needy seniors and demonstrate our desire to improve their situation. This motion is intended as an answer to their wishes.

I cannot help but be delighted by the support of my motion by the hon. member for Laval, the Bloc Québécois critic for the status of women. We are well aware that many women are affected by the current unfairness in the guaranteed income supplement program.

This motion therefore proposes four different items: automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement; a $110 per month increase for recipients of the guaranteed income supplement; full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors who have been short-changed; and a compensatory continuation of benefits to recipients of the guaranteed income supplement when a partner has died.

The tour undertaken by my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois to consult seniors and seniors' organizations in all parts of Quebec cast light on the poverty of seniors. They asked us to pay attention to their needs, because many of them live in real poverty. The rise in the cost of living is more likely to affect seniors as they have to pay more for drugs, essential services and housing.

Do I really need to convince my colleagues that this money will be going to the neediest of our seniors?

Our elders deserve more than the Conservatives want to give them at this time. Tax credits are all very fine, but a person has to pay income tax to be able to benefit from them.

For those most in need, the support measures proposed in my motion are essential, because these people cannot meet their basic needs. This is a form of isolation and social exclusion that can lead to other problems such as bad health, depression and dysfunction. There is no doubt that poverty can quickly strip people of their confidence, dignity and hope.

It is not uncommon to see recipients unable to fully retire, because they need to earn some additional income just to survive.

I am using the term survive, because this is indeed what it is all about.

By being unfair to them, the government is choking our seniors and keeping them in extreme poverty.

Honouring our elders is a fundamental value in our society. We must respect these people, who worked so hard for the well-being of future generations. This is a matter of dignity, social justice, respect and, above all, rights for our elderly. Personally, I believe that this dignity begins first and foremost with financial security.

For years the Bloc Québécois has been criticizing the irregularities in the federal guaranteed income supplement program, which provides supplementary income to low income seniors.

Over the past few years, an extensive operation carried out by the Bloc Québécois has helped track down some 42,000 of these people in Quebec. However, there are still about 135,000 seniors who are being shortchanged, including 40,000 in Quebec alone.

The reason why so many seniors are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement is simply the Liberals' inaction, which is now being imitated by the Conservatives.

The government says that seniors only have to register once to get this supplement. This shows the government's ignorance of the situation and of the needs of our elderly.

The 135,000 people who are not getting this money are precisely those who are not aware of the existence of that program, who do not understand the application form or who cannot fill it out properly.

The government has an obligation to track down all those seniors who were forgotten. It must immediately set up an automatic registration system. It has the means to do so, since the exchange of information with the Canada Revenue Agency is now allowed.

The $110 monthly increase in the guaranteed income supplement is essential and would help our seniors improve their living conditions. Right now, the guaranteed income supplement paid to low-income pensioners does not even allow them to reach the low income cutoff. Increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $110 would help these people to at least have a revenue equivalent to the low income cutoff.

In 2006, the guaranteed income supplement was increased by $18, then by $18 again in 2007 and by $16 in 2008, for a total of $52 over three years. We are definitely not talking about exceptional generosity. Do hon. members really believe that such measures will not trigger a reaction from our seniors?

There is another problem: the Bloc Québécois found 42,000 people in Quebec who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but they will receive only 11 months' retroactivity from the federal government. When a Canadian taxpayer ends up owing money to Revenue Canada after an audit of past tax years, the government does not settle for 11 months' retroactivity; it wants every penny it is due.

I myself handled files for seniors who were being told to pay back overpayments from the department. The department has occasionally used pretty ruthless measures to recover such overpayments. But the government does not settle for 11 months' retroactivity; it collects every penny of the overpayment. That is a striking example of how the government takes advantage of the most vulnerable.

I should add that full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement would cost some $12 billion. We know that the government has recorded surpluses in the neighbourhood of $10 billion over the past few years. It might have been nice for some of that money to go to our seniors, who are becoming both more numerous and poorer.

It is just disgusting to see so much money spent on the military—$17.1 billion for the purchase of helicopters, planes and other equipment—on top of the billions Ottawa has given to “poor” oil companies. The Conservatives should be ashamed of their plan to reduce taxes on oil companies to 15% over the next five years, while reducing the tax rate to 22% for SMEs that have been hit hard by the economic crisis. Thanks to the government, oil companies will get $2 billion worth of tax breaks in 2009. But they do not see this as scandalous.

Why does the government not want to invest a little more in our seniors? Seniors' associations have also asked that guaranteed income supplement co-beneficiaries be allowed to continue collecting benefits for six months after a spouse's death. Currently, surviving spouses receive just one month of benefits after their spouse's death, which is a heavy penalty.

I want to make it clear that this compassionate payout will last for just six months. It is not permanent. The goal is to enable seniors going through a grieving process to create a more stable situation for themselves.

An individual who loses his or her spouse has to think about whether or not they will move or how they will maintain or keep the family home. These questions have to be asked. This compassionate measure shows a bit of humanity in dealing with our seniors. I am also convinced that my colleagues from all parties recognize our responsibility towards those who made us what we are and who expect our appreciation.

When in opposition, the Conservatives supported Bill C-301, which was introduced by the Bloc Québécois before the 2005 election was called. All Conservative members in this House voted for the bill. In order to demonstrate their sincerity, and thus honour the position taken previously, I urge them to support my motion now that they are in government.

The government can count on Quebec, which it has recognized as a nation. Members of the Bloc Québécois have known for a long time that our role is to defend the most disadvantaged. Rest assured that in a sovereign Quebec our seniors would not be penalized. The National Assembly of Quebec has adopted a unanimous motion in support of seniors who do not receive the guaranteed income supplement to which they are entitled. More than ever I will promote an independent Quebec that will respect our seniors. The guaranteed income supplement is intended for the most vulnerable. Our seniors wish to live with dignity. It is a question of social justice, rights and what is due to our seniors.

Our seniors built the Quebec of today and my generation will build the Quebec of tomorrow. These are intergenerational bridges.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
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Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the short time I have left, I would like to set the record straight regarding certain arguments I heard during the two hours of debate on the bill I introduced on December 5, 2007, Bill C-490 concerning the Old Age Security Act and specifically the guaranteed income supplement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development lavishly congratulated her government for increasing the GIS by $18 a month in 2006 and 2007. I would remind her, once again, that people who receive it are still $110 below the low-income cutoff. That is what is important in this bill.

According to the parliamentary secretary, the increase of $110 for GIS recipients would not go to the seniors who need it most. What a ridiculous argument. It seems that no other response could be found.

How can a government be so insensitive and deliberately force our seniors to continue living in poverty? If she were to meet with seniors, they would tell her just how difficult things are for them and that they do not understand how the government can let them live in such conditions.

With respect to the full retroactivity called for by the bill, the parliamentary secretary referred to the very high cost involved, which could go up to $6 billion. I would like her to provide the details of that estimate, because the Bloc Québécois, which has a much better reputation when it comes to predicting budgetary surpluses, estimates the cost at $3.1 billion.

I think it is shameful that the parliamentary secretary should use such an argument against disadvantaged people who have had their money taken from them. Yet her government recently spent $17 billion on military equipment, plans another $96 billion in military spending and offers hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts to rich oil companies by granting them accelerated capital cost allowance for the oil sands. Even worse, the government had a surplus of $11.6 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008. It therefore could have allocated the money needed to implement this bill, as the Bloc Québécois was calling for.

During the debate on Bill C-301 on full retroactivity, in October 2005, my former colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain alluded to the work the committee had done on the GIS in 2001, when it was said that 270,000 people, including 68,000 Quebeckers, were not receiving the GIS. The government was being criticized for not paying them their due after they registered. On what grounds did the government appropriate that money?

I read with interest the speeches that were made at the time and still apply to the current bill. I could restate the same arguments the hon. Conservative member for Niagara West—Glanbrook did, but I will quote just a few passages. “Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure that eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is, quite simply, an issue of fairness,” he said, and later, “We have a duty to help—not neglect—the seniors who helped build this country.”

I remind the House that all the Conservative members voted in favour of that bill, including the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, as well as the Conservative member for Leeds—Grenville, who has spoken out against the current bill. It should be noted that all political parties voted unanimously in favour the bill at second reading.

I am calling on all hon. members to support the bill before us today. As it did in 2005, this matter concerns us all, regardless the political party we belong to. Any MP who pays attention to the public is well aware of the difficult situation many seniors find themselves in. The government, which provides help and support when the need arises on the international stage, must not neglect its own seniors.

No one can reasonably oppose the principle of this bill. I therefore invite all my colleagues to support it during the vote at second reading. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities will then have the opportunity to further investigate the four themes of the bill and make any necessary refinements.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2008 / 11:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important debate. I would like to begin by saying that I think this bill to amend the Old Age Security Act, specifically the guaranteed income supplement, deserves not only to be debated here in supreme good faith, but also to be adopted unanimously.

Before diving into the debate, I want to thank two members of the House for their work. First, I would like to thank my colleague from Alfred-Pellan, the sponsor of the bill, which he has spoken for with great enthusiasm and conviction. I would also like to highlight the extraordinary work of our colleague from Repentigny, who is right here with me this morning.

This bill started out with broad consultations conducted by my colleague from Repentigny. As such, this bill is a response to the real difficulties facing seniors and to their desire to escape the situation in which the Canadian government has placed them. The Canadian government is indeed responsible because it is in charge of redistributing revenue to share the wealth and ensuring that social programs help society's most vulnerable.

I also want to thank organizations in my riding that are dedicated to the wellbeing of seniors, such as the seniors' clubs in Richelieu, Otterburn Park, Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville—which has two—Marieville, Maria-Goretti, McMasterville, Saint-Mathias and Beloeil, of course, as well as the Saint-Basile-le-Grand club, La Gerbe Dorée, the Amis de la Vallée-du-Richelieu and the Bassin de Chambly seniors' foundation.

Organizations in my riding all agree. I am using my riding as an example because this applies to all other ridings. Seniors' organizations and the community groups that exist to help them all agree that this injustice cannot go on.

Just this morning, the Trois-Rivières Le Nouvelliste reported that the Trois-Rivières branch of FADOQ, the Quebec seniors' association, is asking all parliamentarians to con, excuse me, consent—though seniors have been, quite literally, conned—to give their unanimous consent to this bill.

This morning, my two colleagues and I went to the Prime Minister's office. I had to leave a little early to rush over here to give this speech—my colleagues have just returned. We went to his office to present 1,000 more postcards from seniors who are calling for the guaranteed income supplement, under the changes made by Bill C-490. These 1,000 postcards are in addition to the 10,000 others sent to the Prime Minister's office by the Bloc in February, by the member for Repentigny, the member for Alfred-Pellan and myself. In total, that makes 11,000 postcards that have been delivered directly to the Prime Minister's office, in addition to all the others sent through the mail.

Furthermore, this morning we gave the Prime Minister a few hundred resolutions from organizations that represent tens of thousands of seniors in Quebec, concerning positions, recommendations and motions adopted by these organizations. Why has this become such a movement? Because there is a serious injustice.

Rarely does a bill mobilize so many and affect so many. This goes beyond just seniors, since when seniors experience difficulties, others around them often suffer as well.

As I was saying, I could not stay the whole time, but my two colleagues were welcomed in English. French, the second official language, is being ignored, just as the rights of seniors are being ignored. My colleagues opposite voted against a Bloc motion to ensure official languages are respected in Quebec for workers under federal jurisdiction. It is not surprising that these workers' rights are being ignored; our rights are being ignored right here in Parliament.

I shared that little aside because it shows the contempt that exists towards rights that have been recognized by laws or regulations. These rights are not respected by this government, and were not by the previous one either.

I will briefly go over the content of the bill, because I would like to have time to talk about the positions of the two main federal parties.

First, this bill seeks to correct a huge injustice: the poorest seniors in our society have been deprived of their basic right to receive an income supplement when they do not have sufficient income to live decently. I am talking about a bare minimum.

Many seniors live in isolation. Sometimes, they have no choice, because they cannot read or they live in remote areas or they lack the means to communicate or they have not been informed of their rights.

In 2002, there were 83,000 such seniors in Quebec and some 200,000 in Canada. In 2003-04, the Bloc was able to reach quite a number of people, but today, 42,000 people in Quebec and 123,000 in Canada are still not receiving the guaranteed income supplement. These are not insignificant numbers. However, the supplement could at least be paid to people who file income tax returns. All the government would have to do is use the returns to have the guaranteed income supplement paid automatically to these people.

By not doing so, the government has been able to liberate—not to use a more forceful and accurate word—$3.3 billion from these people's pockets to date. This is extremely serious. We are talking about the poorest members of our society.

Bill C-490 corrects this injustice, but also adds $110 a month to the guaranteed income supplement. This is not much, but it can at least bring a person's income up to a decent level that allows him or her to live.

The bill also provides that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can receive the deceased person's benefit for six months, while the surviving spouse puts his or her affairs in order.

The bill also provides that the guaranteed income supplement be paid automatically, as I said earlier. I believe this is essential.

One of our main roles here is to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable people in our society. We are seeing members letting party politics get in the way and opposing seniors' rights. When we steal from seniors—this is their money—we are committing a serious crime that affects their pocketbooks. Yet, there seems to be no problem investing in military equipment, oil companies or nuclear power.

I see that I have only one minute left. I would like to conclude with this. In 2005, Bill C-301 was unanimously passed at second reading. We asked that Bill C-301 be fast-tracked in the same way that the bill about veterans' income had been. It was the Liberal Party that stood in the way.

Given that the Liberals are singing the same tune today as they were in 2005, I would ask them to be consistent until the end and vote as we will. I also ask the Conservative party, which is saying that the country will be driven to bankruptcy with—

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2008 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

moved that Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak today at second reading of Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), and more specifically, concerning the guaranteed income supplement.

This bill, which I introduced on December 5, 2007, proposes the four following themes: automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement; full retroactivity for unpaid pension amounts; increase in the monthly payment of the guaranteed income supplement; and payment of the pension and supplement to a person whose spouse or common-law partner has died.

This is the first time since the voters in Alfred-Pellan elected me in 2004 and in 2006 as a member of Parliament that I have had the privilege of introducing a bill, a bill to allow our seniors to improve their living conditions.

My colleague from Repentigny went on tour during the summer and fall of 2007 to investigate the situation of seniors. His encounters with seniors and seniors' groups and associations throughout Quebec shed light on how impoverished seniors have become over the past decade or so.

Although pensions and the guaranteed income supplement have increased in line with the consumer price index, this does not reflect the real situation for pensioners and recipients of the supplement. The cost of living for seniors tends to be affected more by the cost of drugs, health care services and housing.

For years the Bloc Québécois has been criticizing the irregularities in the federal guaranteed income supplement program, which provides supplementary income to low income seniors. The Canadian government's mismanagement was such that in 2001, more than 800,000 seniors in Quebec were still not receiving the supplement to which they were entitled and which they truly needed. A poll conducted in 2001 showed that only 15% of seniors who were using food banks were receiving the guaranteed income supplement, even though almost all of them were entitled to receive it.

For several years, the Bloc Québécois has carried out an extensive operation to track down some 42,000 of these people in Quebec. In 2007, quite recently, about 135,000 people were shortchanged by the guaranteed income supplement, 40,000 of them in Quebec alone. Many seniors are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement because they must submit a written application each year.

After meeting with ten or so seniors' associations in my riding, I realized that it is not easy for most seniors to fill out the application form. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development does not seem to realize that this program is geared towards seniors, who have difficulties reading the small print on the form and who cannot always answer the questions because they do not understand what the letters CPP, QPP or RRIF mean.

The government's recent announcement that seniors would only have to fill out an initial application to receive the guaranteed income supplement shows that it does not understand the situation facing seniors or their needs. The 135,000 people who do not receive the guaranteed income supplement are the ones who do not know it exists or are not able to understand and properly fill out the application form.

The government has an obligation to track down all the seniors who have been forgotten over the years by the machinery of government. It must create a system that enrols them automatically, since it is now allowed to exchange information with the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Privacy Commissioner told the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that “—Section 241 of the Income Tax Act specifically authorizes CCRA to disclose taxpayer information for the purposes of administering the Old Age Security Act”.

More ridiculous still is the fact that the 42,000 people that the Bloc Québécois tracked down in Quebec who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement will receive a maximum of 11 months' retroactive payments from the federal government. As far as I know, when a taxpayer owes taxes after an audit of returns from previous years, the government is not limited to 11 months' retroactivity. The government demands every retroactive penny owing. This is a striking example of the federal government's abuse of its power over the poor.

I visited a housing cooperative in my riding, and I remember an elderly lady who told me, “You know, seniors are afraid to speak up”. I truly believe that the federal government is taking advantage of seniors' fear of speaking up. Yet, before the 2005 election, when the Conservatives were in opposition, they supported the Bloc Québécois' Bill C-301. We must also remember that all of the Conservative members in the House voted in favour of that bill. Now that they are in government, the Conservatives have an opportunity to prove that they were sincere back then by supporting my bill now and seeing to it that it receives a royal recommendation.

The government can be sure that it will have the support of Quebec, which it recognized as a nation. Indeed, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion in support of seniors who have not received the guaranteed income supplement that low-income people are entitled to.

Income is one of the most important health determinants and the basis of an individual's ability to access appropriate housing and transportation required to maintain independence. Housing, transportation and food account for more than two thirds of the expenses of senior households. According to the National Council of Welfare, “poverty is not just a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion. When people cannot meet their basic needs, they cannot afford even simple activities, such as inviting family or friends to dinner occasionally or buying gifts for a child or grandchild. Poverty leads to isolation and social exclusion, which in turn lead to other problems, such as poor health, depression and dysfunction. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope.”

The guaranteed income supplement for low-income pensioners does not even bring them up to the low income cutoff, formerly known as the poverty line. What message do we want to send to our seniors? That they are poor and that we are willing to help them, provided they remain poor.

The guaranteed income supplement must be increased by $110 a month to bring recipients up to the low income cutoff.

Seniors' associations have also asked that where couples are receiving the guaranteed income supplement, the surviving spouse be entitled to receive the deceased spouse's benefit for six months.

Currently, the surviving spouse receives a benefit as a single person, beginning in the month following his or her spouse's death, which heavily penalizes the survivor.

My bill therefore provides that, from now on, the spouse or common-law partner of a deceased recipient can continue to receive the deceased person's benefits for six months following his or her death.

Jean Cocteau said, “The older I get, the more I realize that what does not fade is dreams.” Since December, I have explained my bill to hundreds of seniors in my riding. I can confirm that they are very happy we are looking after them. They appreciate that we are helping them and want to give them better lives. I finally understand that our seniors have only one dream: to be able to live in dignity.

I am certain that my colleagues in all parties recognize that we all have a duty to the people whom we have to thank for what we are today and who are now waiting for our recognition. On their behalf, I thank my colleagues.

Royal Recommendation--Bill C-445 and Bill C-490Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

April 8th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I want to speak to the question of the need for a royal recommendation on two private members' bills.

On March 11, 2008, you noted that the spending provisions in two private members' bills appear to infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown. You invited members to make arguments on whether those bills require a royal recommendation. That is what I intend to do at this time.

The two bills are Bill C-445, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), and Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments).

Let me begin with Bill C-445. This bill would create a new refundable tax credit for the loss of retirement income.

Refundable credits are direct benefits paid to individuals regardless of whether tax is owed or not and are paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. As a result, any legislative proposal to create a refundable tax credit requires a royal recommendation.

I would draw to the attention of the House two recent rulings wherein the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate concluded that creating or increasing a refundable tax credit requires a royal recommendation.

On June 4, 2007, there was a Speaker's ruling that a proposed amendment to Bill C-52 to create a refundable tax credit could not be selected for report stage because the amendment required a royal recommendation.

On May 11, 2006, the Speaker of the Senate ruled that Bill S-212 was out of order because it would have increased a refundable tax credit. The Speaker of the Senate stated:

--bills proposing to alter refundable tax credits need a Royal Recommendation.

This is because the payouts that will be made to taxpayers, who are entitled to claim them, must be authorized. This authorization is the Royal Recommendation. These payments can only be made from the Consolidated Revenue Fund; they are expenditures of public money.

Since Bill C-445 would create a refundable tax credit, it needs to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Now, in regard to Bill C-490, this bill proposes a number of changes to the old age security program which would result in increased spending and would therefore require a royal recommendation.

Clause 1 of Bill C-490 would apply to a person who ceases to have a spouse or common law partner because of the spouse's or common law partner's death and would provide that person with the old age security pension that would have been payable to the person's spouse or common law partner, for a period of six months. This extension of benefits would be a new program requirement, which would result in additional spending.

On December 8, 2004, a Speaker's ruling in the case of Bill C-278 concluded that a similar extension of benefits for the employment insurance program constituted a new and additional requirement for spending, and therefore required a royal recommendation.

Clause 2 of Bill C-490 would eliminate the requirement to make an application for a supplement for old age security benefits. Formal application is needed since the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is sometimes insufficient to determine eligibility. This change would result in benefits under the old age security program being provided to persons who otherwise would not be eligible to receive them. This would be a new program requirement that would require additional spending.

On October 24, 2005, a Speaker's ruling with respect to a provision in Bill C-301, dealing with other proposed retroactive payments under the old age security program, concluded that:

Bill C-301...proposes to alter the process by which compensation is awarded to old age security recipients in the manner that retroactivity is handled.

Clauses 2, 3 and 4 remove the requirement that the recipient must make an application before they can receive a payment...This changes the conditions of the compensation process and creates new or additional spending.

Clause 3 of Bill C-490 would increase the guaranteed income supplement monthly benefit by $110. The Department of Human Resources and Social Development estimates that this change could cost up to $2 billion a year. This would constitute additional spending for a new and distinct purpose and would therefore require a royal recommendation.

Clause 6 of Bill C-490 would provide for retroactive payments where a person has not received a supplement, or a portion of a supplement, to which that person would have been entitled under the act.

On October 24, 2005, a Speaker's ruling on the retroactivity of payments in the case of Bill C-301, respecting the monthly guaranteed income supplement under the Old Age Security Act, concluded that:

--retroactivity is limited by the date upon which the application was made. Late applicants may only be eligible for the period dating from the application. It would appear then that this modification authorizes increased spending which would require a royal recommendation.

The Department of Human Resources and Social Development estimates that Bill C-490's provision of unlimited retroactivity for guaranteed income supplement monthly benefits could represent an initial lump sum payment to beneficiaries of up to $6 billion.

In conclusion, Bill C-490 would result in increased spending for the old age security program in the new and distinct ways I have just outlined. The bill therefore requires a royal recommendation.

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

November 22nd, 2007 / 2:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the following statement: “Bill C-301—would have also repealed the restrictions concerning retroactive monthly payments of income supplements and benefits, thus allowing for retroactive payment in full.” Anyone who disagrees with this is being called a hypocrite when it comes to seniors.

Will the minister pay back seniors the money that is owing to them, by ensuring full retroactivity for the guaranteed income supplement?

Guaranteed Income SupplementStatements by Members

November 24th, 2006 / 11:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, a year ago today, the House of Commons unanimously passed Bill C-301 at second reading, thereby entitling eligible pensioners to full retroactivity for the guaranteed income supplement.

One year ago, all of the Conservatives voted for this bill.

One year ago, pensioners were given reason to hope that the government would give back the $3.2 billion it owes them.

Yet one year later, neither the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development nor the Minister of Finance has made an announcement. The Conservatives' silence belies their November 23, 2005, vote and abandons seniors.

One year ago, the Conservatives engaged in electioneering to get seniors' votes. It was all a sham. Once again, we have proof that the Conservative members from Quebec are not standing up for Quebec seniors. They have betrayed their trust, and we will not forget that.

Telecommunications ActGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2005 / 10:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37 before the House at this time has gone through all the stages here in the House. Its primary intent is to allow people to request not to receive unsolicited telephone calls. A number of surveys, as well as the general perception of our constituents, have in fact indicated that there has been a growth in unsolicited calls. I myself have received calls trying to sell me something at all hours, weekdays and weekends. If I do not want to be called by these telemarketers, it is quite logical for there to be a way to avoid it. That is the objective of this bill.

The bill has gone through all the stages in the House of Commons. We tried to strike as satisfactory a balance as possible by allowing a number of exclusions. Moreover, the Bloc Québécois focussed particularly on exclusions for not-for-profit organizations which need to carry out campaigns by phone. We wanted to be sure that a bill so filled with good intentions did not have the terrible consequence of stopping not-for-profit organizations from soliciting donations, when they depend on this type of campaign.

We proposed amendments to deal with that. In committee we also considered other types of amendments and exemptions needed with respect to business relations, for health professionals, for instance. Under the government's initial plan, health professionals would have been unable to contact their patients again. After a number of discussions, we all agreed that the best solution was to add them to the list of exemptions in the bill.

The bill has now come back to us after being examined by the Senate, as per procedure. We know how much the Senate, a chamber of unelected representatives, in a way fills a role that has become obsolete. When it was created a long time ago, some felt there were educational inadequacies among the elected members in the House of Commons. That is why they wanted a chamber of sober second thought. These days this is no longer the case, but the Senate remains an integral part of the system nonetheless.

Two amendments proposed by the Senate have been submitted for approval by the House. After they are considered, if we accept them, we will allow the bill to come into effect.

The purpose of the first amendment proposed by the Senate is to ensure that a report is submitted to both Houses of Parliament, according to the legislation review process. In reality, this bill concerns a new domain, a sector in which there is little expertise in the world. Similar legislation came into effect in the United States just a few years ago.

Accordingly, the Canadian law will be re-evaluated after three years. To do so, an annual report will be tabled in both the House of Commons and in the Senate, at its request. When a bill is re-evaluated, both the House and the Senate will have all the information at their disposal.

We can understand the logic behind this argument in terms of the system we use and the way it works. This method will also help in examining this bill and in revising it in a more logical and rational manner. We will not have to repeat in the Senate all the explanations about the annual report when the recommendations are received. The Senate committees addressing the issue will already have the information. Furthermore, we could thus avoid undue delays during the legislative review.

In my opinion, the second amendment weakens the bill somewhat, even though this will not make us vote against it. We had established the need to prohibit unsolicited calls and to impose a penalty on those who did not comply with these provisions. We had set the amount of the fine at $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations. I think that a $1,500 fine is a significant amount. Therefore, imposing a stiff enough penalty would dissuade people from breaking the law.

The Senate thought that these penalties may have been too stiff. Now it proposes maximum amounts of $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations, which could lead to some debate.

Whenever a fine is imposed, if the basis for imposing that fine is challenged, the amount of the fine could be challenged as well, which could create some problems.

At the same time, the size of the corporations or the financial situation of the individuals involved will be taken into account.

In this sense, I think it is worth giving this a try, especially since a review of the act will take place after three years. We will then be able to determine if these and other provisions are appropriate.

These are the two reasons why the bill is before us today. The Senate has proposed these two amendments. We must examine them and decide whether or not we should adopt them. We can do that by looking at the bill as a whole and see if these two amendments are indeed acceptable and if they are in keeping with the general thrust of the bill.

Let us remember that this legislation seeks, obviously, to avoid unwanted telephone calls. It also seeks to allow the CRTC to administer databases for the purposes of its power. A section of the act sets out this power to prohibit or regulate the use by any person of the telecommunications facilities of a Canadian carrier for the provision of unsolicited telecommunications to the extent that the CRTC considers it necessary to prevent undue inconvenience or nuisance.

We are talking, here, about telephone calls. In all likelihood, we will need to examine what will happen with regard to the growing use of the Internet. As a result, we have had to consider when the do not call list should not apply.

We have the right to not receive unwanted telephone calls and to put our names on the do not call list. However, we also want to ensure that this legislation does not apply to some people—meaning some organizations and individuals. It is important to strike the right balance here.

Under subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act, registered charities are, for example, excluded. So, we are talking about people who truly need to hold fundraising campaigns, meaning they need to solicit funds to ensure the survival of their organization.

We are talking about charitable organizations. We know that there is great pressure and many such phone calls. At the same time, these people fulfill an essential role in our society. If charities did not do this work, the government would be responsible for picking up the tab. I think that this exemption is something that all of the committee members consider reasonable and fair.

This is also true for business relationships. I said it earlier, this is particularly true for health care professionals.

Then there are political telecommunications. In order to be able to ensure a democratic quality of life in our society, it is essential, in our opinion, that such communications be allowed. Without such an exemption, political telecommunications during election campaigns, including the one we expect shortly, would not be allowed. Many voters would have found this quite interesting. However, overall, this would have led to other actions or illegal actions. I think however that legislation must reflect our reality.

As regards the quality of the democratic debate, those who run for office must make themselves known, present their views and have an idea of how they are perceived by voters. It seemed perfectly normal to us that this should be the case. The same goes for opinion polls.

An amendment was also made to exclude the media, so that they can still contribute to the quality of our democratic life.

According to the data provided by the Canadian Marketing Association, the telemarketing industry employs 270,000 people and has a sales figure of some $16 billion. The interesting thing about this legislation is that those who work in the telemarketing industry find it relevant. It would be useful to them because, right now, when they approach all the consumers, some of them are already on that list and do not want to receive calls.

These consumers already object to receiving calls. In fact, the calls made to these people are neither interesting nor profitable for telemarketing companies. There is a will to ensure that the list works properly so that, ultimately, companies end up dealing with people who do want to get such calls. We understand that this will was expressed by the companies themselves. We would then kill two birds with one stone, because we would exclude those who do not want to receive calls, while ensuring that telemarketing companies contact only those people who could be potential clients and who are open to listening to them.

The bill was put forward after the public expressed a will to have this industry legislated. This measure will allow us to deal with a situation that has developed over the last few decades and has now become somewhat anarchic. This industry is not yet regulated, but the situation will soon improve with this bill.

In fact, a recent Environics Research survey shows that 79% of those surveyed would support a national do not call list, and 66% likely would sign up for the service. This goes to show that there is popular support for this kind of legislation.

This bill came to be, not necessarily on the initiative of the department, but much more because the public wanted it. In that respect, in 2002, a member from the Canadian Alliance put forward Bill C-301, which died on the order paper, but paved the way for this bill. The member described the purpose of his bill as providing, and I quote:

A means for anyone who does not wish to receive telemarketing calls or faxes to place their telephone number on a list maintained by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

So, the will already existed, and the government jumped on the bandwagon. I think that the work done in committee reflects the will of all members of Parliament to legislate in that area. Furthermore, this bill was adopted in this House at various stages. The Senate amendments, however, clarify aspects which are not fundamental elements that affect the bill. As I said earlier, these amendments will be subject to review after three years, like the rest of the bill. They will not necessarily create problems.

Allow me to digress briefly to say that parliamentarians can agree on some things. But on some others, it is not possible. My colleague suggested earlier that this might be a sign that the House of Commons should keep on working. There is a consensus about the matter before us. What is at issue with respect to the motion of non-confidence is something completely different.

It is a normal thing in our society for things to be done this way. Everyone can express his or her point of view, and then today all opposition parties can judge that the government no longer has the confidence of the House. This is a reality that a minority government has to face, and this is the outcome we expect to see early next week. We cannot assume that this desire to debate subjects on which opinions differ does not at the same time allow discussion when there is consensus. That is what has happened in the case of this bill.

The mechanics of how this will be done are rather complex. Basically, however, it can be summarized as follows. There will indeed be a do not call registry, a list people can get themselves put on so that they will have the satisfaction of no longer receiving unsolicited calls.

The system will be set up so that there will, of course, be no cost to the consumer. There are economic advantages for telemarketers and also for our fellow citizens. The goal is to make people's lives easier and improve quality of life.

There is, however, one important component of telemarketing that was not addressed in the bill: telemarketing scams. This will need to be addressed at some point. There have been charges laid on this. This can be a broad-scale operation, often all over North America. Unfortunately, some of these boiler rooms are located in Canada. This is an aspect that is not addressed by the bill, possibly because it comes more under the Criminal Code. The legislators do need to do something about this, however.

What is a telemarketing scam? It is a fraudulent solicitation of certain groups of society using telecommunications or misleading advertising. The term “fraudulent” is used in this case because the victims have been persuaded to send in money in exchange for something worth more. Often this kind of scam targets more vulnerable clienteles, people who are perhaps less well informed and more easily persuaded.

We are told that all telemarketing schemes require that the victims send money in the form of a certified cheque or money order to receive a prize. Anyone receiving a phone call asking for that kind of payment should be very cautious. Indeed once the money is sent, it is very difficult to get it back. These operations can be moved very quickly and are not easy to trace after they have changed location.

We are also told that criminal organizations involved in this type of fraud are usually structured according to very specific roles. They have a chief financial officer, a manager, front-end staff, back-end staff and a mail clerk. These operations using front-end and back-end workers are also known as boiler rooms. They operate as long as the fraud continues to work. When things get too hot, they fold. This aspect has not been dealt with in the bill and should be dealt with eventually.

We have come to realize that Canada is somewhat of a paradise for fraudulent telemarketing. Right now, the amounts of the fines are too low and the prison terms are too short. In most cases, it is very difficult to convict a repeat offender. To fight against this type of crime, we try to extradite some offenders to other countries that have tougher laws, but that does not really work as we would like it to.

There is a whole aspect of fraudulent telemarketing that will have to be dealt with in legislation by the government in the months and years to come. In the meantime, the purpose of the bill before us is essentially to ensure the best control possible over unsolicited calls.

Some people are greatly affected, including the Canadian Marketing Association, which is the largest association of marketing businesses in Canada. Its members provide 480,000 jobs and generate over $151 million in annual sales. It is a powerful lobby within the marketing sector. It spoke in favour of Bill C-37 because of what I said earlier. In fact, telemarketers like the idea of having legislation that would deal with this situation.

The committee also gathered information on what was going on in other countries, particularly the United States. I think there was even a conference call with people in that country to find out what approach they developed. The approach being taken does not follow the same model, because it is more in line with our situation. Considering the large American market, there may be calls from the United States and other countries.

We have to ensure that our legislation is logical in terms of what is put forward. The bill is going in the right direction. That is probably one of the elements that will have to be studied in more detail when the bill in question is reviewed.

Consequently, we will soon be at the stage of passing this bill so that it can come into force. That includes the Senate amendments. At the same time, there has to be monitoring—the most appropriate monitoring possible—so that we know when the law is reviewed whether the entire model that is developed is adequate.

I recall the comment by my colleague in the Conservative Party who said that there should not be a repeat of what happened with the Canadian firearms registry.

We have to be vigilant. There should not be another firearms registry. We have already spent enough money on that initiative. The idea behind it was a good one. I honestly think there is a real need for a firearms control system. However, what the government did with it, the way it was set up and the costs it generated are completely unacceptable. I hope that the Auditor General will report to us quickly so that we get the most complete picture we can.

In the case at hand, we have to ensure that the new registry works in a way that avoids that type of excess so that we do not suddenly find ourselves looking at high costs a year or two down the road when the act is reviewed. When mechanisms are being put in place, the government has a responsibility to ensure that the job is done right.

It is very obvious that Canadians want a law that prevents unwanted telephone calls. However, it is also certain that they do not want a law that will generate wild expenditures far beyond what they would like us to spend on this type of system.

I therefore urge the House to vote in favour of the amendments so that the bill can be put into effect as quickly as possible.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2005 / 5:55 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-301 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 18th, 2005 / 1:50 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-301 as put forward by my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

I want to begin by recognizing and paying tribute to the dedication and commitment that my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain has shown to this issue. He has been tireless and has not given up in the face of adversity. Where many would have tired from running into the brick wall, he has persisted, and I appreciate him giving us this opportunity to have this debate today.

As the member for Winnipeg Centre, I also want to recognize and pay tribute to a former member from my riding of Winnipeg Centre, who we can safely call the father of the Canadian pension system. In 1925 the member for Winnipeg Centre, J.S. Woodsworth, was the founder and first leader of my party, then called the CCF. In fact, in those days it was called the Independent Labour Party.

J.S. Woodsworth was in a minority government situation with William Lyon Mackenzie King. In exchange for supporting Mackenzie King's government, he obtained a letter to the effect that to get the Independent Labour Party's votes, Mackenzie King would bring in an old age pension plan.

It is ironic that only a few years before this, the Government of Canada wanted to send J.S. Woodsworth to prison for his role as a leader of the 1919 Winnipeg general strike. However, in 1921 the good people of my riding sent him to Ottawa to be their member of Parliament, and within four years he had negotiated a pension plan for Canadians.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention another member who represented the riding of Winnipeg Centre from 1942 to 1984. That was Stanley Knowles, who many people will recognize not only built on the work J.S. Woodsworth had done but had the Canada pension plan indexed so it would grow with inflation.

The people of Winnipeg Centre are very cognizant of who was the champion of their pension system. I think they would appreciate, in the twilight days of the 38th Parliament, that we are again seized of the issue of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, thanks to my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

The government has known for years that 380,000 seniors who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement were not getting it because they never applied. It knows this because of income tax records. It has known full well who these individuals were and even how much they were eligible for, but it never told them.

When we learned this, partly through the research of my colleague, we were shocked. These are the poorest of the poor. To be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, one's income has to be around $12,000 a year. That is to get the full income supplement. These are desperately poor seniors.

The excuse the government gave was it would be a violation of their privacy rights for Revenue Canada to inform HRSD that certain individuals were eligible for the plan. What an absurd notion that anyone would complain the government misused privileged information in order to give seniors a benefit.

A glaring contradiction exists. If people collecting employment insurance cross the border, the border crossing officer tells EI that these people are leaving the country and the individual should not be because they are collecting benefits. Therefore, the government does not mind violating a person's privacy to rat them out, but it will not violate a person's privacy to give them a benefit. That was absurd. I reject that position and I condemn the government for that position.

Now we have heard the parliamentary secretary, a Liberal from Montreal, say that one of the reasons the government does not want to provide the retroactivity that is called for in Bill C-301 is because the government is worried about opening the floodgates to fraud. Are the Liberals serious? Are they seriously trying to maintain that it is a bad idea to give seniors money that is rightfully theirs because they are worried about fraudulent activity?

These are desperately poor Canadian seniors. If that is the barrier, let me dismiss that out of hand immediately. The government should go back to the drawing board to try to come up with a more credible excuse because that one is spurious.

I do not think we should be having this debate today. I believe the two things that are called for by my colleague's bill are eminently justifiable. The first thing is that eligibility should be based on one's income, not on whether or not the proper paperwork has been filled out. In other words, the guaranteed annual income supplement should be guaranteed, not subject to crossing the right t 's and dotting the right i 's. That is the first point my colleague makes.

The second point he makes is retroactivity. In those cases where people come to the realization that they have been eligible for the guaranteed income supplement for a number of years and, for whatever reason, failed to apply, that benefit should be retroactive to the date they became eligible, not 11 months as stipulated under the Old Age Security Act. It may be three years or five years, who cares? We should give them what they are owed.

Members can just imagine what a difference that would make in a senior's life. Let us think of the constituents we are talking about here, the poorest of the poor of our Canadian seniors, the people the social safety net has left behind. Imagine that small influx of money. It may be $20,000 or $30,000 in some cases, if the retroactivity went a few years. It is not a huge amount of money but it would improve the quality of life for those seniors in their remaining years. It would seem like a windfall to them and it would not break the bank of the federal government, as my colleague, the Liberal member from Lachine, would have us believe.

Let us go through the barriers thrown up by the Liberal government in trying to argue against these eminently good ideas.

First are the privacy provisions. I put it to members that any senior who was eligible for a benefit and was not getting it would thank someone for informing the officials that they were eligible and would not be filing any complaints with the Privacy Commissioner that somebody violated their right to privacy.

In terms of worrying about fraud, I do not even think that deserves my time here. Eligible seniors would come forward and make it known that they were making application for this benefit and the government should deal with it as any other eligibility for a government program.

The last thing concerns the retroactivity being an undue burden on the federal government. We have just learned it has a $13.5 billion surplus. Liberals are flying around the country as we speak in a spending spree that is hitherto unprecedented in this country. A Roman orgy of spending is going on as we speak. Am I being told that we cannot find enough money to provide for the basic needs of seniors to survive, to pay them the money that was owed to them, money that, by trickery and deceit, was kept away from them?

I do not say that to be romantic or to use exaggerated language. It was by deceit that these people were denied the benefits to which they were entitled. I can defend the use of that language because the Government of Canada knew who they were, and has known for years that they were eligible, and failed to tell them. If there is any fraud taking place here it is on the part of the Government of Canada for not doing the right thing for the senior citizens who were eligible for this benefit.

I am glad we are using this day, maybe one of the last sitting days of this 38th Parliament, to do something to augment the quality of life and the standard of living of our seniors. I compliment my colleague from Saint-Maurice--Champlain for bringing it forward. I will be voting with enthusiasm for this bill and out of respect for those who came before me representing the riding of Winnipeg Centre.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 18th, 2005 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Betty Hinton Conservative Kamloops—Thompson, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-301, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act, monthly guaranteed income supplement.

At the beginning I would like to make it very clear I have some serious reservations about some of the things that have been happening lately. The Liberals claim that spending outlined in the supplementary estimates will be lost if an election is called before Parliament is able to pass the supply bill. Examples of the spending cited by the Liberals include a pay raise for the military and the increase in the guaranteed income supplement.

I would like to make it very clear for all seniors that this is not the case. This is not true. They will not lose the guaranteed income supplement. The money was voted on by Parliament early last summer as part of Bill C-43, the budget implementation act. It never needs to be voted on again. Rest assured, this will take place for every senior in Canada, regardless of the rhetoric they may hear due to a pending election.

The bill before us today amends the Old Age Security Act to allow eligible pensioners to receive a monthly guaranteed income supplement without having to make an application every year. It also repeals the restrictions respecting retroactivity. I applaud any legislation that enhances the quality of life for Canada's seniors. The intent of Bill C-301 does this. Although a few details require a review, I am quite prepared to support the intent of the legislation and look forward to it being discussed in committee.

Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is something that should have been done a long time ago, but it was not. Therefore, let us get moving forward with this and make it happen.

We continually see the Liberal government making every attempt to extract every last nickel from Canadian taxpayers. A perfect example is the attempt to freeze income trusts and the resulting uncertainty for investors. This uncertainty has cost seniors money that they are dependent upon. These responsible seniors have invested in money for their retirement years and the government cannot stand not having its hands in their pocket. Liberals feel they are entitled to a portion of the pie. They are not and they should be ashamed of itself.

Canadian seniors now live in fear that their nest eggs will be eroded by the government's indecisiveness on income trusts. Because the government has cast a shroud of uncertainty over them, Canadian seniors deserve to see this bill go forward for further study. There must be some degree of certainty for seniors.

Seniors and low income families are facing unprecedented hikes in home heating costs this winter and it is incumbent upon the government to mitigate these increases as much as possible. While Bill C-66 seeks to do this, we all know what happened in a similar circumstance five years ago when deceased persons and prisoners received cheques while many in desperate need received nothing.

Under Bill C-66, single seniors must be receiving the guaranteed income supplement to get their paltry $125 in assistance. I would suggest that very few seniors are aware of this fact and are expecting this assistance from government. Imagine their disappointment when they discover, because they did not fill out a form to receive GIS, that they will not receive any assistance.

This brings me to another point. It has been reported that between 300,000 and 380,000 eligible seniors do not receive the guaranteed income supplement because they do not know if they are eligible for it. Why is this? Many do not understand the eligibility requirements. Nor do they understand they must apply for it annually.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “guarantee” as “a formal assurance that certain conditions will be fulfilled”. There is no guarantee that they will receive the supplement. There is no guarantee that they will receive the home heating rebate. The only guarantee seniors have is the incessant paper work required to get what is rightfully theirs.

As shadow minister for veterans affairs, I know all too well the hoops that veterans are required to jump through to get a disability pension or any of the benefits to which they are entitled.

Imagine having the double whammy of being a veteran and a senior, and trying to deal with the bureaucratic quagmire to get even the smallest bit of assistance? Instead of enjoying their retirement in dignity and comfort, many Canadian seniors are struggling to meet the most basic of life's needs.

It is incumbent upon us as a nation to ensure that those who helped build this nation live out their lives in relative comfort. Neglecting to ensure that seniors eligible for the GIS are receiving it has other repercussions as well. They are also losing out on the programs offered by many provinces, such as prescription drug plans, other income supplements, heating oil subsidies, and home care assistance programs that are available only to individuals receiving GIS. This is unacceptable.

It has a trickle down effect. When eligible Canadian seniors do not receive their guaranteed income supplement for whatever reason, they also lose out on other services that are essential to their quality of life.

This legislation would enable automatic processing of the guaranteed income supplement based on information from the Department of National Revenue, thus ensuring eligible pensioners receive their monthly GIS and without the annual application. I support this measure without question.

There are other aspects of this bill that require and deserve further investigation. With respect to the retroactivity, we need to look at how far back this would go, who it should apply to, and how it will be implemented. They are all important questions that need to be studied and this can be done best at committee.

I would like very much to see this bill go to committee, so it can be carefully examined and given the detail it needs. We need to ensure that it is a strong and viable piece of legislation that endures the test of time, as have our seniors. They deserve no less.

I am certain this legislation can be reinforced and strengthened for the benefit of our seniors. The need is unquestionable. As the Conservative critic for veterans affairs, I have consulted with seniors across Canada and can say unarguably that there is a broad consensus from coast to coast to coast that seniors need to automatically receive any and all benefits as they become eligible.

Let us not deny seniors their rights. I ask that we as elected representatives do what is right and necessary to ensure that those individuals who helped build this nation receive what is rightfully theirs.

For clarification, I will repeat my earlier statement. There is no need for any senior citizen to worry about the loss of GIS income if an election were to proceed. Those are scare tactics that are being used in a very unconscionable way against one of the most vulnerable groups of Canadians in this country. This money was voted on by Parliament early last summer as part of Bill C-43, the Budget Implementation Act. It never needs to be voted on again and it is assured for the seniors of Canada.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 18th, 2005 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment on Bill C-301, introduced by the Bloc member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. It pertains to the monthly guaranteed income supplement .

Our country recognizes the tremendous debt that we owe our seniors. Theirs was the generation that survived the Depression.

Quebeckers deplore the atmosphere that appears to reign in this House. I personally respect dissenting opinions. I listened attentively to the Bloc member who spoke for ten minutes, without attempting to interrupt her. Another Bloc member—for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, if I am not mistaken—is constantly interrupting me, however. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask him to treat me with the same respect.

As I was saying, theirs was the generation that survived the Depression, went to war to protect our liberty and built the Canada and Quebec we know today.

To address their evolving needs, this government makes significant investments across a full range of seniors' programs, from health care to income security, from retirement savings to assistance for their caregivers. We currently spend about $67 billion a year on seniors-related programs.

Seniors, particularly those with lower income, are a top priority. We believe that Canada's poorest seniors deserve a better quality of life and more money in their pockets. That is why we are addressing the immediate needs of low income seniors by increasing the guaranteed income supplement by 7%.

It is the GIS that provides low-income seniors with a fully-indexed benefit to ensure a basic level of income throughout their retirement years.

We will invest $2.7 billion, and the promised improvements will be fully in place in less than two years. The GIS will go up by more than $400 a year for a single senior and by almost $700 for a couple. Over 1.6 million seniors will benefit from the increase—most of them women.

This increase represents the biggest income hike in a generation for Canadian seniors who need it the most.

In Quebec, about one million seniors benefit from Canada's retirement income system. Half of them are low-income seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement.

Through Social Development Canada's outreach program, the government is helping Quebec seniors, particularly those with low incomes, become more aware of all the benefits they are entitled to.

Let me give you an example from the northern part of the province. In northern Quebec, many seniors live in small, isolated communities, posing a particular challenge to the outreach team. That is why outreach has forged a strong partnership with the regional government of Kativik. This aboriginal government oversees 14 communities from the Kuujjuag region of northern Quebec. The government's local employment officers are helping the most vulnerable citizens of this remote region apply for benefits.

By working closely with the regional government, the outreach team is helping to overcome the barriers presented by geography and, more importantly, to establish trust.

Over the past year, our outreach efforts have also focused on working with community groups. Our goal is to partner with these groups to contact Quebec seniors where they live, where they play, and where they work because there are seniors who do work even if it is just a day a month or part time.

By working with a growing team of partners, Outreach has been able to take advantage of the “multiplier effect” and reach many more seniors than it could on its own. Partners include the Fédération de l'âge d'or du Québec, the farm women's clubs and women's centres.

Let me give you another prime example of partnership in action. Outreach has teamed up with Quebec's vocational training centres to reach the most vulnerable seniors right in their own homes.

Under this program, we are training caseworkers to understand our programs, particularly the guaranteed income supplement. Remember, these caseworkers are in direct contact with our poorest seniors, visiting them in their homes and developing close, trusting ties. They are quickly becoming one of our greatest allies in boosting awareness of our benefit programs.

To date, Outreach has conducted training sessions with 25 vocational training centres, sending more than 450 caseworkers into the field and reaching more than 4,500 seniors at home. Its success is growing as it develops new sessions to target more aboriginal communities.

The Government of Canada, through this outreach program, is making every effort to reach the seniors who may qualify for the GIS and encourage them to apply.

Through the Outreach program, the Government of Canada is making every effort to reach the seniors who may qualify for the guaranteed income supplement and encouraging them to apply.

We are also reaching out to Quebec's ethnic communities—through ethnic associations and community newspapers—to find seniors who may have fallen through the cracks. We are even taking to the airwaves, on the TV show La Belle Vie , to broadcast details of seniors' benefits across the province.

Since 2002, over 75,000 letters and personalized application forms have gone to seniors throughout Quebec, to inform them about the availability of the guaranteed income supplement. This has resulted in almost 50,000 new GIS recipients.

The federal government will continue to inform Quebec seniors of their rights to collect the GIS by attending seniors fairs and functions. What is more, we have been simplifying and will continue to simplify our application forms to make it easier for seniors to fill it out or to get help to fill it out to receive the supplement if they qualify. We want all seniors to get the benefits to which they are entitled. We all want the best quality of life for our seniors.

The Government of Canada is ensuring the necessary supports are in place, so that all seniors can live with respect and dignity. Providing seniors with income assistance is just one of the ways this government is working to strengthen Canada's social foundation.

For all these reasons and more, 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.

With respect to retroactivity, I think it is more important that this program be totally consistent with existing provincial income supplementation programs. On the issue of retroactivity for one year, there is no discrepancy between this program and the provincial programs, which are income supplementation, security or support programs.

The Bloc Québécois contends that one year retroactivity is shameful. I would like them to tell me when they made the same remark to the Government of Quebec.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

October 24th, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-301, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act in regard to the monthly guaranteed income supplement. This bill would amend the Old Age Security Act to allow eligible pensioners to receive a monthly guaranteed income supplement without having to make application. It also would repeal the restrictions respecting retroactivity.

I applaud the intent of Bill C-301. Although there are a few technical details that need to be reviewed, I am quite prepared to support this legislation in principle and I look forward to seeing it discussed in committee.

Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure that eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is, quite simply, an issue of fairness. All too often we see the Liberal government doing whatever it can to squeeze every last dime out of Canadian taxpayers regardless of their ability to pay.

The freeze on income trusts and the resulting uncertainty for investors, especially seniors, is a perfect example. This government's problem with existing income trusts is that investors get to keep more of their own money, a unique concept that is foreign to this government. Many of these investors are seniors who rely on income trusts for financial security in their retirement years.

A recent letter to the Minister of Finance from CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, stated that Canadian “seniors are actually enraged, frightened and panicked” in relation to this government's indecisiveness on income trusts. They are not supportive, as the minister would suggest, showing once again that this government really does not understand and is out of touch with the Canadian public.

One senior writes to the government that:

Retirees are beyond the saving stage in their lives and spend almost all of their income. This benefits the Canadian economy. Your actions are happening at a time when retirees are facing some very major increases such as energy costs. This is a time for government to be compassionate and fair with retirees who have helped to make Canada the great country that it is.

Another senior writes:

Many seniors have been hurt by the uncertainty caused by the government's insensitive handling of the income trust situation.

Yet another senior is on record as saying:

The government has taken the solid platform from under our feet and replaced it with an open shaft.

Canadian seniors are continually facing the effects of a shrinking dollar: increasing energy costs that directly affect the ability of seniors to heat their homes and put gasoline in their cars; property taxes that continue to escalate, making it difficult for them to stay in their own homes; and indeed, the rising costs related to the basic necessities of life such as food. All of these continue to make it difficult for seniors to survive.

Not only is this government not providing seniors with the financial assistance they really need, the government is actually penalizing many seniors through a system that all too often utilizes clawbacks.

If the government deems it appropriate to cast a cloud of apprehension onto seniors when it reviews income trusts and to make it almost impossible for most seniors who really need financial assistance to obtain it, then it would be quite hypocritical for Liberal MPs to shut down further study in ensuring that GIS payments reaches their intended recipients.

Even if there are existing questions about implementation of costs, Canadian seniors deserve to see this bill pass second reading and go forward for further study. Indeed, if the government truly believes that Bill C-66 can be effective in helping those most in need of assistance with high energy costs, I do not see how the Liberals can vote against ensuring that seniors receive their due.

We all know that Bill C-66 sets out a specific eligibility criterion for seniors to receive the proposed energy rebate payment. Single seniors must be receiving the GIS in order to get their $125 in assistance. Of course, the Liberal government's generous offer of assistance with high energy costs becomes nothing more than a hollow promise when in fact hundreds of thousands of seniors miss out because they fail to fill out a form.

Again, while this government never misses an opportunity to collect money from Canadians, it just is not as enthusiastic about ensuring that Canadians get to keep what is rightfully theirs. This bill is an opportunity to make some amends.

However, I find it ironic that the particular assistance for those pensioners in need, those whom we are talking about today, is called a “guaranteed income supplement”. The National Advisory Council on Aging recently released a report entitled “Seniors on the Margins, Aging in Poverty in Canada”. In this report, the council states that there are more than 50,000 seniors who are eligible for the old age security pension but have not applied and more than 300,000 seniors who are eligible for the supplement but are not receiving it.

In 2001 a Toronto food bank raised the alarm when people aged 60 and over accounted for 10% of its users and only a minority of these individuals knew about and were receiving GIS and allowance benefits. They were living under very difficult circumstances. Once the rent was paid, the median amount remaining per week for all other expenses was a mere $34.65, yet the estimated average cost of food for one week in Toronto is over $40.

Forty per cent of those individuals were having difficulty paying for their medication every month and 27% were not taking their medication for lack of money.

That same year, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities issued a report to this House which concluded that there were more than 380,000 Canadian seniors who were eligible for this supplement but were not receiving it.

Incidentally, the title of the report was “The Guaranteed Income Supplement: The Duty to Reach All”. That was four years ago. I think I am being more than reasonable in suggesting that it is time for the government to start taking some action. Otherwise, the guaranteed income supplement is not really much of a guarantee, is it?

Eligible seniors must apply every single year to receive the supplement and we know there are many reasons why this application is not filled out. These reasons include not understanding the eligibility requirements or tax returns and educational pamphlets due to language barriers, functional illiteracy and failing eyesight or, quite simply, because of a lack of awareness that the GIS must be applied for on an annual basis.

The one common factor is that these seniors have very little money during their retirement years and are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Instead of enjoying their retirement in dignity and comfort, too many Canadian seniors are struggling for the basic necessities of life.

We have a duty to help—not neglect—the seniors who helped build this country. By ignoring the eligible seniors who are losing out on the financial assistance they have been guaranteed, we are also stripping away other rights and privileges they deserve. Many provinces have programs such as prescription drug plans, other income supplements, heating oil subsidies and home care assistance programs that are available only for those individuals receiving GIS. When an eligible Canadian senior does not receive his or her guaranteed income supplement, for whatever reason, he or she also loses out on other services that are essential to their quality of life.

Allowing eligible pensioners to receive their monthly GIS without having to make a yearly application is a measure that I support, not only out of compassion but also because it is simply the right thing to do for those in need. Bill C-301 would enable automatic processing of the guaranteed income supplement based on information from the Ministry of National Revenue, and let us face it, if we owe any money to the tax department, we know that they make sure they let us know in a big hurry.

I believe further attention must be paid to details to ensure that the GIS does in fact reach everyone to whom it is applicable. The retroactivity aspect of this bill also requires more research and definition. Who qualifies for retroactive payments? How far back should it apply? How will it be implemented? What, if any, restrictions will be in place? These are all important questions that deserve detailed scrutiny. I would very much like to see this bill go to committee so that it can be carefully examined and given the details it needs.

Giving the ministry authority to automatically provide GIS to those who deserve it does not necessarily provide the ministry with the capability to do the same. I am certain that this legislation can be reinforced and strengthened for the benefit of our seniors.

The need is unquestionable. As the Conservative critic for seniors' issues, I have consulted with seniors across Canada and I can say that unarguably there is a broad consensus from coast to coast to coast that seniors need to automatically receive any and all benefits as they become eligible.

Here are a few of the facts. OAS and CPP are the main sources of income for over two-thirds of seniors, and on average, 29% of the total income for seniors is derived from private employers' pensions and RRSPs, 27% from OAS, including GIS, and 20% from CPP and QPP. CPP benefits replace approximately 25% of income earned, for which a worker contributed to CPP and QPP, and 35% of seniors receive GIS.

As we can readily see, many seniors count on every dollar just to survive. Let us not deny seniors their rights. If the Liberals are truly concerned, as they have led us to believe, then let them as the government give us a royal recommendation and give us an opportunity to vote on Bill C-301. Let us put this to the House for a free vote. If the government truly cares about seniors, it will give seniors not lip service but action.

I ask that we as their elected representatives do what is right and necessary to ensure that those individuals who helped build our nation receive what is rightfully theirs.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

October 24th, 2005 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, this bill by the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain would enable seniors eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement to receive it without applying for it, and would also abolish the current restrictions on retroactivity.

Before addressing the specifics of the bill's proposal, I would like to highlight how Social Development Canada is responding to the needs of seniors at all income levels and the tools and programs that the department offers them.

Seniors make up the fast growing population in Canadian society. We know that in the next 30 years, one in four Canadians will be a senior. Today's seniors are healthier, better educated, better off financially than seniors of previous generations and they are also enjoying longer lives.

Our government recognizes and has always recognized that we must prepare for the diverse and rapidly growing seniors population of the future. At the same time we are committed to addressing the needs of the four million seniors in Canada today and to ensure we respect and benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience.

We have a very practical model for attaining those objectives, one which defines the issues and immediately comes up with possible solutions. That model is the detailed report, “Creating A National Seniors Agenda”, tabled in 2004 by the Prime Minister's Task Force on Active Living and Dignity for Seniors, under the auspices of the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, Minister of State (Families and Caregivers).

Even before the Bloc Québécois's tour, a former colleague, Yolande Thibeault, struck a committee which undertook a cross-country tour precisely in order to determine the needs of seniors. This issue was raised and noted, and steps were taken as a result. As the hon. member has said, Ms. Thibeault's report enabled the former minister to introduce all the measures possible. Today, thanks to the report by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, improvements to the program continue to be made.

The report by the second group informed us that Canadians wanted policies, programs and services for seniors that met their needs more effectively.

So far our consultations and meetings with other governments and stakeholders have allowed us to define common challenges and possibilities for seniors, including financial security, health and well-being, social involvement and participation, housing and public safety.

Currently, the Government of Canada spends roughly $67 billion a year on programs for seniors. According to the estimates, seniors receive a substantial part of the allocated funds, or some $54.5 billion for 2005-06, as direct income support under the government pension programs administered by Social Development Canada.The other $17 billion is used for tax credits, health care, housing and support for veterans.

Our retirement income system is definitely a success. The current $52 billion in pension payments is only part of a broader system that includes tax assisted personal savings and private pensions. Canada's public pensions are on solid ground, thanks to the government, and are projected to remain that way in the future. That is why today we are in that position, because of the actions the government took 10 years ago.

We are proud of the fact that in less than 20 years the system has dramatically reduced the number of seniors who live in poverty. Whereas in 1980 over 20% of the senior population lived on low incomes, today that proportion is less than 7%. It is nothing to be proud of, by the way. We are working to make it 0%. That is our goal and our commitment to seniors.

We also know that older women are especially vulnerable to poverty. Many are not aware of what benefits they are entitled to. It could be a question of language or it could be a question, as I said, of homelessness. There are a number of factors. That is why we are spreading the word through Quebec's women's centres. This is an example of where we have not gone only to the government. We have actually gone on the ground.

With 55 locations in and around Montreal, the women's centres have a strong presence in the region and proven experience working with disadvantaged and abused women. With this promising partnership, Outreach teams in the regions have had the chance to meet about 400 women. We are now gaining a foothold in women's centres throughout the province.

Our goal is to help more women in Quebec help themselves. As an elected member from Quebec, I am pleased to see such success, including the success of all my colleagues on this side of the House who are taking this type of approach to provide information to people who are not familiar with the various government programs.

The government is also looking for ways to promote active living and social participation for seniors, which are essential to their well-being and that of our society.

That is why we included the New Horizons program in our 2005 budget; to encourage older Canadians to use their skills, knowledge and experience as volunteers, mentors and community leaders.

The measures we are taking to improve life for seniors today and to prepare for the next demographic shift shows our determination to help the most vulnerable in our society, especially low-income seniors.

Despite these wide-ranging programs, we know there are still Canadian seniors on low incomes who are vulnerable, particularly single seniors in urban areas and single senior women.

Our government recognizes the need for action to improve the situation for Canada's poorest seniors. By 2007, the guaranteed income supplement will be increased by $36 a month for single seniors and $58 for couples. This increase will benefit over 1.6 million seniors. We will do better because we do have that surplus. That is exactly what we said and exactly what we have done.

We also recognize the need to provide a federal focal point for the collaborative efforts behind the movement to address seniors' issues. In the February budget, we responded by creating the Seniors' Secretariat within Social Development Canada. The new secretariat's mandate will be to collaborate will all levels of government, stakeholders, experts and the public to provide a focal point for senior's issues.

I can proudly say that our public pension system is working.

Therefore, I cannot support Bill C-301, even if it will not be put to a vote. I completely agree with the government's position that this bill, if passed, would unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially. There is nothing dishonest about that. No one stole any money. Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse.

In addition, we would not have enough information to determine entitlement for seniors who, for instance, do no file tax returns. This would also substantially increase the risk of errors within the system.

According to the Public Affairs Branch at Social Development Canada, individuals who do not file income tax returns include seniors from vulnerable communities, such as the homeless, aboriginal people, seniors living in remote areas and seniors who speak neither English nor French.

As parliamentary secretary, I can assure the House and all colleagues that Social Development Canada has outreach activities in all regions of the country to increase seniors' awareness of, confidence in and take up of Canada's retirement income system.

We are reaching out indirectly to vulnerable communities through our aboriginal governments, cultural communities and homelessness advocates to notify non-tax filers and other potential recipients who are missing out on their GIS entitlement.

Activities in the regions include such things as information booths, mailings, newspaper articles and presentations. As I said earlier, I and other MPs have gone out and done their own outreach. To date, 350,000 letters and personalized application forms have gone to seniors across the country identified for CRA income tax information. This campaign complements the initiative taken in 1999 to automatically renew approximately 1.3 million GIS recipients whose tax returns confirm continued entitlement automatically.

Through our efforts, we now have approximately 200,000 new recipients of the guaranteed income supplement and spousal allowance. In Quebec, more than 75,000 letters and personalized application forms were sent to seniors, informing them that the guaranteed income supplement was available. As a result, the number of recipients has grown by another 50,000.

We have made and will continue to make every effort. Our government, on this side of the House, wants to reach everyone who is entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.

All the efforts by Social Development Canada will continue. Our entire support program will also continue. If the hon. members across the way know of any seniors, this government is committed to reaching out to them and ensuring that they at least have access to what they are entitled to.