An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan (arrears of benefits)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Chris Charlton  NDP

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

Status

Not active, as of June 20, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Pension Plan so that a person who applies for a pension after reaching seventy years of age would in all cases be able to receive retroactive payments starting from their seventieth birthday, rather than the current maximum of twelve months.

The enactment also provides for full retroactive payments of a disability pension, survivor’s pension, disabled contributor’s child’s benefit or orphan’s benefit, rather than the current maximum of fifteen months in the case of a disability pension and twelve months in the case of a survivor’s pension, disabled contributor’s child’s benefit or orphan’s benefit.

The enactment also requires that interest be paid on the arrears.

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.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2008 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in debate on Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), on behalf of the NDP caucus and as the critic for seniors and pensions.

I fully support this bill. In many ways, it is the companion piece to my own bill, Bill C-336. Whereas my bill seeks to enhance the ability of pensioners to access their CPP benefits retroactively, the bill before us today deals specifically with the guaranteed income supplement. Both are fundamentally about fairness for seniors and both are long overdue in their adoption.

The bill before the House today simply seeks to accomplish four things. First, it would no longer require seniors to apply for the guaranteed income supplement. This is an absolutely essential piece. By the government's own admission, there are currently 135,000 seniors in Canada who are eligible for but not receiving the GIS. Why? Because even if they were aware of the program, the application process is unduly complex and many seniors lack the language or literacy skills to avail themselves of the benefit.

What has the government done about that? Instead of pursuing aggressive outreach to inform seniors of their entitlements, the Conservative government has redesignated positions at Service Canada so that experts, whose only role it once was to assist seniors to find their way through the maze of CPP, OAS and GIS, have now been replaced with generalists to deal with everything from boat licences to employment insurance. In-depth counselling for seniors no long exists.

If we are not prepared to help seniors access the benefits to which they are legitimately entitled, then why do we not make it as easy as possible? Bill C-490 would accomplish that goal by taking away the requirement to fill out an application in order to receive the benefit. It makes perfect sense.

The Department of Human Resources and Social Development, which administers the GIS, is allowed to exchange information with the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA collects the tax returns of seniors and therefore the government already has the information that it needs to determine whether a senior is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

In case anyone still believes that this kind of information exchange may violate a senior's privacy, I would remind members in this House that Canada's 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”.

The GIS, of course, falls under the Old Age Security Act.

The government suggests that the application process is nonetheless necessary because there may be seniors who do not wish to receive the guaranteed income supplement. I cannot imagine that any such person exists in Canada.

The guaranteed income supplement is a means tested program that goes only to the neediest seniors. It was brought in as a measure to attempt to deal with poverty in the older adult population. Does the government really believe that seniors who have worked hard all their lives, who have played by the rules but are now finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, would turn down such desperately needed financial assistance? It is nonsense.

However, even if such a person did exist, I am sure it would be easier for the government to deal with the handful of applications from those who wished to discontinue their benefits than to deal with the tens of thousands of new applications that currently need to be filed every year. The government's argument here simply does not cut it.

What about those 135,000 Canadians who still are not receiving their benefit? The government says, and I quote from the parliamentary secretary's intervention earlier in this debate:

We make every effort to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled just as soon as possible. ...we work with community and seniors' organizations to reach the vulnerable seniors....

I have the great privilege to work with one of those organizations in my home town of Hamilton. It is the Seniors and Poverty Working Group, which dedicates itself to assisting and empowering the most vulnerable seniors in our community. On shoestring budgets, the dedicated volunteers and professional members of our group do phenomenal work with and on behalf of seniors. In fact, they have taken a leadership role in exploring ways to ensure that seniors are made aware of their financial entitlements.

The group organized a series of public meetings and train the trainer sessions that had a profoundly positive impact both on individual seniors and on community capacity building through the collaborate community based nature of the process. The aim was to ensure that every senior who is entitled to the GIS would be made aware and assisted with their applications.

The Seniors and Poverty Working Group believes that to do anything less is to perpetuate the systemic neglect. However, that is the point, we are talking about systemic neglect. Our system of government has the ability to correct that neglect simply by doing away with the application process.

Community groups should never need to use their scarce resources to backfill gaping holes in the government's implementation of its own program. They simply are not funded or resourced for that. The fact that they are doing it anyway speaks volumes about their profound commitment to the right of every senior to retire with dignity and respect.

When community groups actually find people who were not aware of their entitlements, they cannot even help them to claim their full entitlement. The GIS can only be received retroactively for a period of 11 months. A system designed like that is clearly not a system designed to lift seniors out of poverty. What a disgrace.

If seniors owed the government money, the Canada Revenue Agency sure would not limit itself to 11 months of retroactivity. It would hound seniors until it had every last cent owning to it. So it should be for seniors, and the bill before us today would achieve that laudable goal. It would allow for full retroactivity for unpaid pension amounts.

Right now in Canada, almost one-quarter of a million seniors live in poverty. Even the ones collecting the GIS are still not receiving income that is high enough to lift them up to the poverty line. That is hardly a retirement with dignity and respect.

That is why the third component of Bill C-490 seeks to raise the GIS by $110 per month. The Conservatives say that such an increase, combined with full retroactivity, would simply cost too much. They put the figure in the billions of dollars.

Let me get this straight. The government can find $2 billion to continue subsidizing the big banks and polluters but it cannot find the money for the neediest seniors in our country? This is not about a program costing too much. This is all about a government that cares more about its wealthy friends than it cares about the people who built our country.

Conservative MPs should be ashamed of themselves. If they got their heads out of the tar sands long enough to actually notice what is happening in communities across our country, they would realize that by denying seniors an adequate standard of living, they are also denying them hope.

Let me quote, as others have done, from the National Council of Welfare, which stated:

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.

What message are we sending to seniors when we are refusing to lift them up to the poverty line? This is not good public policy. It is not even good fiscal management. It is simply meanspirited. The government's objection to the final part of Bill C-490 makes that a abundantly clear. It proposes that a surviving spouse be entitled to receive his or her deceased spouse's pension payment for six months. It hardly seems unreasonable to allow people time to mourn their loved ones.

Many will have to make decisions about whether they can continue to live in their homes and keep up their bills. To give them a little time for those decisions after the devastating loss of a spouse is simply the compassionate thing to do. The six month extension of the deceased spouse's GIS simply shows a bit of humanity to seniors.

However, the government is not often accused of being compassionate. Instead of accepting the proposals of Bill C-490 and taking pride in having done right by seniors, its approach to dealing with the GIS is telling seniors to get a job.

In their last budget, the Conservatives announced that seniors could now work and earn up to $3,500 before their GIS would be clawed back. Nothing defines the differences between the Conservatives and the NDP more clearly. The Conservatives want seniors to retire in the uniform of a Wal-Mart greeter. New Democrats want seniors to retire in dignity and respect.

I cannot wait for the votes to be counted on this bill. For every member of the House, the question will be, “Which side are you on?” I know NDP members will be voting in favour of the bill but this is a private member's bill where all of us can cast our votes free of party discipline. Conservative MPs will be able to vote their conscience. I cannot wait to see which side they are really on.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. This bill is a little bit of flag waving to try to placate seniors and for the government to say that it did something in the House of Commons to address their concerns.

Substantively the bill does very little. The seniors in the member's riding of Timmins—James Bay are like the seniors of Hamilton Mountain and the seniors in Victoria that my other colleague spoke about. They do not need more rhetoric. What they need from the government is action.

We have the capacity to deal with those things in the House. I tabled a motion asking that the House of Commons review the income needs of seniors on a regular basis, that we establish adequate benefit levels and that we say to seniors that it is unacceptable that they are living in poverty after all the contributions they have made to build this amazing country. If we are not going to do that, at a minimum we should take seriously Bill C-336 which I introduced so that seniors can access their CPP entitlements retroactively.

It is completely insane that we rely on funeral homes to let people know about their survivor benefits when a loved one passes away. Why can the government not engage in active outreach? It used to do that. There used to be people in Services Canada who counselled people with respect to their pension entitlements. Those people are now dealing with everything from boat licences to employment insurance. That is not good enough.

Our seniors deserve the kind of hands on specialized attention that gives them access to their benefits in a timely fashion. If that is not provided, then at a minimum seniors should be given full retroactivity for their benefits so that no matter when they find out about their entitlements they can get the money that is legally and legitimately theirs. That is the minimum of what we need to do to lift seniors out of poverty.

When the government supported the seniors' charter we all saw that as beacon of hope. We thought that perhaps just for once this House would move forward and take the right steps on behalf of seniors. Clearly that has not happened yet. On the eve of an election I am not optimistic that it is going to happen, but boy, I know that the government is going to be out there waving the flag and saying, “Trust us. We will do it next time”.

I do not think seniors are so trusting any more. They cannot be fooled. They deserve action now.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate on behalf of the NDP caucus in the third reading debate on Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

I know that the government wants the bill to pass through the House expeditiously. With an election perhaps just days away, the government desperately needs something to hold up to seniors to say, “See? We acted on your concerns”. However, every time I have pushed the government for action on issues like fully pension retroactivity or reimbursement of the money owed to seniors as a result of the CPI miscalculation, it has responded by dodging the issues at hand and instead has pointed to this bill simply as a placebo.

That is all this bill is, a placebo. It is a placebo that has all the right things in its title. It references the three cornerstones of most seniors' retirement income, namely the GIS, the OAS and the CPP. In doing so it raises hopes among seniors that this legislation will finally take the necessary steps to lift them out of poverty, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite the bill's promising title, it does little to improve the lives of the vast majority of seniors in Canada. Instead, it engages in administrative tinkering that serves the government more than it serves its purported target audience. There is only one section in the entire bill that is truly laudable, and that is that the government is finally going to waive the requirement for a renewal application for the GIS and allowance benefits after an initial application has been made. That change, quite frankly, is long overdue.

Once seniors have applied for and received the GIS, there is absolutely no need for them to fill out subsequent applications. Their income tax forms give the government all the information that is needed to determine continued eligibility. Removing this burden from seniors is indeed a welcome relief.

Sadly, the bill is more remarkable for what it failed to achieve than for what it accomplished.

During the past few weeks I held consultations with seniors throughout my riding of Hamilton Mountain. It did not matter whether I was talking to seniors on their doorsteps, at a meeting of the residents' council of Swansea Apartments, at a gathering of active seniors at the Sackville Hill Seniors Recreation Centre, or at a meeting of over 150 seniors at St. Elizabeth Village, the message was always the same. Seniors are concerned primarily about the adequacy of their incomes and about the need for improved health care.

I recognize that health care issues are beyond the scope of this bill, but suffice it to say that huge numbers of elderly people in my community are suffering. They are suffering because they cannot afford the diapers for their incontinence. They cannot afford the new lenses for their glasses that would allow them to carry on their normal independent lives. They cannot afford the dentures that are so crucial to their nutrition and to their overall health.

The seniors who told me those stories were shy about admitting those problems publicly. Most of them came up to me privately at the end of meetings and tearfully told me of their personal care needs. In many instances they had to swallow their pride to reach out for help.

That is not the retirement with dignity and respect that the government promised to seniors when it voted for my seniors charter. This House has adopted the charter as a statement of fundamental rights that each and every senior in Canada deserves to enjoy as a contributing member of our society. The time to enact those rights is now.

The other concern that is top of mind for seniors not just in Hamilton but right across the country is income security. Seniors everywhere told me that they are worried about the solvency of their private pensions, the adequacy of survivor pensions should they predecease their spouse, the sufficiency of CPP and public income supports, and their ability to cope with what Statistics Canada confirms is a higher rate of inflation for seniors than for average Canadians.

Since the mid-1990s seniors' incomes have reached a ceiling. The gap between seniors' revenues and those of other Canadians is increasing. According to the National Advisory Council on Aging, between 1997 and 2003 the mean income of senior households increased by $4,100 while the average income of other Canadian households increased by $9,000.

The situation is even more pronounced for seniors living alone. In total, over one-quarter of a million seniors live under the low income cutoff, or as we more commonly say, below the poverty line. In 2004 about one-third of seniors, most of whom were single women, had little other income and were dependent on OAS and GIS for an average annual income of only $12,400.

Living in poverty is hardly a retirement with dignity and respect. So when seniors learned that the government was finally going to open up the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act and bring in amendments, they greeted the news with cautious optimism. They eagerly awaited a sign that the government understood the financial plight of seniors and that it would do the right thing for those who built our country.

However, when seniors had a chance to review the bill, they felt cheated. The programs that seniors rely on most for their financial security are finally being amended and yet nowhere does the bill address the most urgent needs articulated by seniors. The bill does not increase benefit levels to lift seniors out of poverty. The bill does not allow seniors to claim retroactive benefits, even if they are just trying to access their own money, as is the case with the Canada pension plan. The bill does nothing to foster a higher take-up for those unaware that they are eligible for government benefits.

Yes, we will be supporting Bill C-36 because we must at least ensure that the poorest of seniors will have easier access to the GIS, but for everything else, we must now pin our hopes on this afternoon's budget. Perhaps it will live up to the spirit of the seniors' charter and see the government walk the walk.

Seniors are still waiting to be reimbursed for the StatsCan error in calculating the consumer price index that has shortchanged seniors for years on the increases to their CPP, OAS and GIS entitlements. Will the government's budget this afternoon fix this egregious wrong? Will the government allocate resources to re-establish the government specialists within Services Canada who can help people access their pension entitlements fully and in a timely fashion? If not, will the budget at least contain provisions that mirror my private member's Bill C-336 and allow for full retroactive benefits plus interest when someone applies for the CPP?

CPP is a pay as you go, contribution based program that is funded solely by employers and employees. It is absurd that a person who is late in applying for his or her pension is only entitled to 11 months of retroactive benefits. It is that person's money. It is not the government's money.

Will the budget live up to the other commitments the government made to seniors by voting for my seniors' charter in the House of Commons? Will it invest in accessible, universal, public health care by increasing funding to primary care, home care, palliative care, pharmacare, preventive care and health promotion? Will it support secure, accessible and affordable housing? Will it create lifelong learning opportunities? Will it finally create the office of the seniors advocate to ensure that seniors are involved in policy making and have access to all government programs and services? This afternoon the proof will be in the pudding.

If the government wants to be taken seriously with respect to its treatment of seniors, it needs to do more than talk the talk. It needs to walk the walk. Bill C-36 left seniors feeling betrayed. It is not too late to do the right thing. Let us listen to the voices of seniors in Hamilton and right across the country. Let us give them the support they need to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve. We owe them at least that much.

Canada Pension PlanRoutine Proceedings

June 20th, 2006 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-336, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan (arrears of benefits).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce legislation today that would allow for full retroactive payments plus interest when someone applies for benefits under the Canada pension plan.

The CPP is a pay-as-you-go contribution based program that is funded solely by employers and employees. It is absurd that a person who is late in applying for his or her pension under the CPP is only entitled to 11 months of retroactive benefits. It is not the government's money.

The bill would put an end to this insufficient and unfair period of retroactivity and would do the same for disability pensions, a survivor's pension and a disabled contributor's child benefit. This is something that should and could have been done long ago. In fact, my colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie, championed similar legislation in the last Parliament.

I urge all members not to wait any longer and support this important improvement to the income security of Canadian seniors.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)