An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada Pension Plan to implement the existing full funding provision for new benefits and benefit enhancements. It also provides for their calculation, the requirements for public reporting of those costs and the integration of those costs into the process for setting the contribution rate.

It changes the contributory requirement for disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan for contributors with 25 or more years of contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, to require contributions in only three of the last six years in the contributory period. Other contributors will continue to have to meet the existing requirement of contributions in four of the last six years in their contributory period.

It also makes changes to the Canada Pension Plan of an administrative nature to modernize service delivery. It authorizes the Governor in Council to make regulations respecting the payment of interest on amounts owing to Her Majesty under Part II of the Act. It also addresses anomalies in the Act, amends the penalty provisions and clarifies certain language used in the Act.

In addition, this enactment amends the Old Age Security Act to authorize the Governor in Council to make regulations respecting the payment of interest on amounts owing to Her Majesty under the Act. The enactment also eliminates the ability of estates or successions to apply for income-tested benefits and ensures that sponsored immigrants are treated the same for the purpose of determining entitlements to income-tested benefits. It also corrects anomalies in the Act, amends the penalty provisions, modernizes and simplifies the application and delivery of the Old Age Security program and clarifies certain language used in the Act.

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

May 11th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the member who introduced Bill C-362. I think it is a good bill, but it seems to me that there is something contradictory about what the member said.

She said that she does not want to see two classes of Canadian citizens: first-class Canadians and second-class Canadians. However, because I have not been a member for long, I remember being there when the social affairs committee considered Bill C-36, which was also about seniors. At the time, the Bloc Québécois proposed an amendment because the clauses excluded new Canadians who were being sponsored.

The Bloc Québécois asked the committee to amend the bill so as not to restrict new citizens' access to old age security because of the sponsor's obligations under the Immigration Act.

I know that the Liberals voted against that amendment. Now that the member is introducing a bill that looks a lot like what the Bloc Québécois proposed for Bill C-36, can she tell me why they voted against the amendment?

Canada Pension PlanOral Questions

May 3rd, 2007 / 2:55 p.m.
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Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, today I stood on the steps of Parliament with the Hon. Marjory LeBreton and representatives of the disabled and seniors communities as we celebrated the passage of Bill C-36, which extends disability benefits to people who should have access to the Canada pension plan. It makes GIS more accessible for seniors. We were happy to celebrate that with those groups.

We have also announced a new seniors council so seniors will have input on these important issues. We are getting the job done.

May 3rd, 2007 / 2 p.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

May 3, 2007

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the schedule to this letter on the 3rd day of May, 2007, at 10:30 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bills assented to were Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate)--Chapter 9, Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act--Chapter 10, and Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act--Chapter 11.

May 1st, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Cannavino, Mr. Francoeur, good afternoon. I have a few comments to make. Mr. Francoeur, thank you for your testimony and, in particular, for pointing out the contradiction between the fact that the government wants to have stiffer sentences, but is not concerned about the easy availability of weapons. You will not have to work very hard to convince a number of us.

It seems to me that there are two types of measures that are really needed to fight crime. First, there is the firearms registry. If I were appointed Minister of Justice or Public Security, the first thing I would do would be to look at parole. I do not think that this bill will have a big effect on the problems you are describing.

Mr. Cannavino, you will be pleased to know that the Defence Lawyers' Association supports this bill. They told us—see how all is right with the world!—that in practice, magistrates, justices of the peace and judges did not release people on bail who had committed firearms offences. Obviously, not everyone might agree. I introduced a motion on street gangs, and I hope that my colleagues on the government side in a great gesture of friendship such as we have seen all too rarely over the past few years in this committee, will pass it on Thursday morning.

Mr. Cannavino, you were there when parliamentarians considered Bills C-84, C-24 and C-36. You know how concerned the Bloc Québécois and others are about gangsters and street gangs. People in Montreal and Toronto, especially your colleague Mr. Robinette from Montreal, have told us that drive-by shootings are not covered by the definition of criminal organization in the Criminal Code. Should we not include that immediately? When people are intercepted, a drive-by shooting is not enough to prove that they belong to a street gang and can therefore be charged. They can obviously be charged with homicide and other offences, but it would be better to have a charge of gangsterism, since that delays parole and results in longer sentences.

If we have to choose between a bill like C-35, which seems to us to entrench a practice which already exists, and not being more vigilant with the firearms registry and not changing the definition of criminal organization in the Criminal Code, I would opt for the latter approaches.

I would like to hear from your colleague, Mr. Francoeur, yourself or any of the other witnesses who might like to comment, but I would first say that I find the current system, which allows people to serve only one-sixth of their sentences, totally unacceptable. One-third would be understandable. But the revolving door scenario that you have described does not seem to me to have too much to do with Bill C-35; it stems more from the fact that people can serve just six months of a sentence—Some crimes that allow perpetrators to be eligible for release after one-sixth of the sentence are much more serious than these. Gun smuggling is a real concern. There are people eligible to serve no more than one-sixth of their sentences who pose a much greater danger to society, in my view.

I would have liked us to review this issue of serving one-sixth of sentences and of amending the Criminal Code to change the definition of criminal organization, which seem to me to be much greater priorities than bail for firearms offences, which is basically a non-issue in practice, if we are to believe the people who work on the frontlines.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 243. I am very pleased to speak in support of this motion, which calls on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study the level of financial support provided through the Canada pension plan disability benefit, CPPD.

From the first hour of debate it appears a substantive issue in this motion, a study by Parliament on Canada pension plan disability benefits, has the support of all parties in this House. It is no small accomplishment for all parties to agree on anything, so Canadians should be heartened by seeing a shared agreement to make something as important as studying long term disability a priority. I say that Canadians should be heartened, yet they probably are not. Why? Because the opposition's commitment falls short of truly making this study a priority.

The Conservatives made supporting our friends and neighbours who are struggling with disabilities a central plan of our platform in the last election. This Conservative government has honoured those who voted for us by introducing Bill C-36 which improves access to Canada pension plan disability benefits by measures in the 2007 budget, such as: the new registered disability savings plan introduced to help parents and others save money to care for children with severe disabilities; up to $1,000 annually to a limit of $20,000 in the form of a Canada disability savings grant to help promote the future financial security of children in lower income families; an investment of $30 million in the Rick Hansen Foundation which will help translate research into benefits for Canadians living with spinal cord injuries; and a new enabling accessibility fund that will contribute $45 million over three years to help all Canadians, regardless of their physical ability, participate fully in their communities.

I believe Canadians see that their government has stepped up to the plate, so where are the Liberals? For starters, the Liberals voted against every measure the Conservative government put in place to help those Canadians who are dealing with disabilities. Their leader says he wants to run on a platform of social justice, then instructs his caucus to vote against the budget that actually delivers it for the first time in this country.

Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition needs more time to think about it. We say that leadership is not leading followers in the wrong direction. Canadians cannot afford to wait for the Liberal leader to ponder what they already know is good and works. How can Canadians be expected to trust the Liberals to govern when Liberals cannot even seem to figure out how to be in opposition?

When it comes to this motion, the Liberals are no less of a disappointment. They hold out the promise of doing something on a priority, then agree with the Bloc to defer everything until the fall. That is not leadership. This is another example of the Liberals saying whatever they think will be pleasing to the public, but failing to follow through. No doubt the member for Kitchener Centre proposed this motion to show support for stakeholders in her own community. How disappointed they must be to see her agree to postpone it. It looks like her new leader cannot shake off the ghosts of the old Liberals who made everything a priority so that nothing ended up being one.

I understand that the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development relayed his support for this motion to be studied at committee. I have no doubt he was encouraged to see the opposition align more closely with the views of Canadians that he was hearing. How disappointing for the minister and the stakeholders he meets to see that this important public policy issue is not getting the true support it deserves.

It is no less perplexing to see that the Liberals are working with the Bloc to frustrate progress on this issue. The Bloc, of course, has no experience with the responsibilities of being in government. The Bloc's contribution to this public policy matter is to delay any action at the same time the Bloc purports to support it. The Bloc members cannot have it both ways, at least not in the minds of the people they are putting off.

The government and Conservatives across the country want to make progress for those with disabilities. We believe that to make further progress requires proper study of the Canada pension plan disability benefit. It is only through gathering the evidence and learning where challenges exist that we can recommend to the government how to address those challenges with sustainable solutions.

Sustainability is critical. Acting in an informed way helps build solutions that can evolve as circumstances change. We have an opportunity here, but despite the Liberal leader's claim to be committed to sustainability, he is unable to show some discipline with members of his own caucus who are proposing ad hoc solutions to the types of problems that potentially should follow a study like the one in this motion.

For instance, the member for Sydney—Victoria has a bill before the House. It stands for a principle we all support. It aims to help those who have cancer or other illnesses, but rather than providing benefits through Canada pension disability, the bill calls for a solution that would only help employees to the exclusion of other Canadians.

I cannot help but think that Bill C-278 would benefit from Motion No. 243 being studied as soon as possible. Perhaps because the member for Kitchener Centre agreed to defer this study until fall the member for Sydney—Victoria felt he had no choice but to call up his bill in the coming days.

Still, Canadians expect legislation to be based on good planning. They expect solutions to be measured and sustainable. Canadians should not be held hostage to the lack of good planning by the Liberals for their own private members' business. They should not be saddled with legislation whose impact has not been studied and no one can say is sustainable.

I support a study because it is the right thing to do. I only wish the opposition cared as much about ensuring that we pass good legislation as my caucus colleagues and I do. My constituents wish that the opposition would come to its senses and return to making this study a priority.

When this finally does get studied, members will know that CPP disability is the largest long term disability insurance plan in Canada. Last year, approximately 300,000 individuals and 90,000 of those individuals' children received financial support through this program.

As specified in the Canada pension plan, monthly Canada pension plan disability payments are made up of two parts, a fixed amount which in 2007 is $405, and a variable amount based on the level of Canada pension plan contributions and the number of years contributions were made before the client became disabled. The combination represents the monthly amount a Canada pension plan disability beneficiary will receive in 2007. The maximum benefit payable is $1,053 per month. In addition, eligible children of disabled contributors are entitled to a fixed monthly payment of $204. Last year on average, Canada pension plan disability beneficiaries received $763 per month.

What is also important to note is that a significant number of recipients receive benefits from other sources. There is a broad and complex system in Canada that provides income support to persons with disabilities. While Canada pension plan disability plays a central role in this system, the standing committee may also wish to review in its study the other income sources for disability beneficiaries.

An example of another pillar of this income support system is EI sickness benefits which fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. EI sickness benefits provide temporary income support for up to 15 weeks to individuals who are too injured or sick to work. In 2004 over 294,000 individuals received these benefits with total payments of $810 million.

We know that a number of individuals who receive EI sickness benefits while they are temporarily disabled go on to apply for and then receive CPP disability benefits. With the introduction of Service Canada in the last few years the government has been working to better serve all Canadians who need services from the federal government including those applying for EI sickness benefits through CPP disability.

This government is committed to quality client service by building on the one step personalized service offered through Service Canada. The government is working to improve the client interface on behalf of these two important sources of support for Canadians with disabilities.

Even though I have much more to say on this motion, I know my time is running out, but the premise of what I said is that the motion should proceed directly to committee. It should be studied. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Liberals who introduced the motion now suddenly want to put it off until fall. It is a matter of making a decision. This is an important issue. It is meaningful to a number of Canadians who are beneficiaries and it should be looked at immediately.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2007 / 11:10 a.m.
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Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this important motion today. I would like to start by restating my support and the support of Canada's new government for Motion No. 243, which was presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

The proposed study will contribute to Human Resources and Social Development Canada's practice of continuously monitoring and assessing the Canada pension plan to ensure that it meets the needs of Canadians, both today and in the future. I know this study will provide valuable information on the extent to which the Canada pension plan disability program is meeting its objectives. This is important information. That is why I feel quite strongly that this study should be completed as soon as possible, not delayed until November.

It is important to note that later this week parliamentarians also will be considering possible changes to Bill C-278, which deals with another important program for persons with disabilities, EI sickness benefits, and I feel strongly that the Human Resources study of the level of financial support offered by the Canada pension plan disability needs to happen now.

The information to be gleaned from the study of CPP disability should be considered before proceeding to discuss possible changes to EI sickness benefits. All too often in this place hon. members want to act before the facts are in. They want to propose changes to programs before they even know whether there is a problem or not, and the political speeches begin before studies are undertaken. This issue is far too important to play politics with and I feel that every member of the House can agree with that.

This is an important issue, one that deserves to be examined right away. Let me repeat: this is important information and we need it as soon as possible, not in November. There are bills before Parliament that require the information that can be learned from studying this program and these bills will not wait until fall.

I think there is some confusion here as to what the CPP disability program is and what it is supposed to do. Therefore, I think it would be good to have a cursory examination of the program so that we can clear the air on a few important points before we begin to discuss changes in earnest.

It is important that all hon. members and in fact all Canadians understand what this program is about and how it works.

Let me start by saying the CPP disability program is the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada. Currently, some 300,000 Canadians and 90,000 of their dependent children receive about $3.3 billion in payments. The CPP program as a whole is recognized around the world as one of the best public pension systems in the world and this government has acted to make it even better.

The CPP disability program was designed to replace a portion of earnings for those who have to leave the workforce due to a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability. This program was not intended to function as a general needs-based income program. There are other levels of support, offered by all levels of government, that fulfill that role. Its purpose is to provide protection against the loss of employment income and to supplement other disability and family income.

How does it work? There are contributory and medical eligibility requirements for the disability benefit, as laid out in the Canada pension plan. First, applicants must have made CPP contributions in four of the last six years. This requirement of recent contributions to the CPP is designed to address the objective of replacing a portion of employment income.

While the government feels that this issue is worthy of immediate study, that is not to say that the government has not acted to make changes to this program. I am sure all members know that. It is part of Bill C-36, currently under review in the Senate. A proposed amendment seeks to make it easier to qualify for CPP disability benefits for long term CPP contributors, those with 25 or more years of contributions, by requiring contributions in only three of the last six years.

Second, as stipulated in the legislation, only those with a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability are eligible to receive disability benefits. This requirement refers to a disability that prevents an applicant from working regularly at any substantially gainful occupation, not just their most recent jobs.

As we can see from the specific eligibility requirements, not all Canadians with a work-limiting disability will be eligible to receive a benefit. CPP disability is intended for some of our most vulnerable Canadians.

I would like to take this opportunity today to address an important and often misunderstood point. I understand from recent comments made in the House that some are under the impression that all applicants for CPP disability benefits are automatically denied and that only through appealing this decision do they eventually receive CPP disability benefits.

This is simply not true and is a perfect example of some of the misunderstandings surrounding this program, misunderstandings that we on this side of the House feel should be examined immediately. If hon. members on the other side of the aisle feel this is true, then they should also want to study this immediately and not shirk their responsibilities by ignoring this issue for another six months.

That being said, each and every application for a CPP disability benefit is reviewed thoroughly and fairly with reference to the legislative requirements and in a timely manner.

Trained CPP disability specialists with a medical background view each applicant's application. They look at their capacity to work, taking into consideration their health status, disability-related limitations, treatments, and personal characteristics such as age, level of education, and work experience. All of these components are extremely important in the decision making process and help ensure a fair decision that is consistent with eligibility criteria.

Clients whose applications are not approved receive telephone calls and personalized letters explaining the reasons for denial. In addition, in cases where an applicant is not satisfied with a decision on their application for CPP disability benefits, there are three separate levels of recourse available. The last two levels are appeals to two independent review tribunals. This generous appeal structure is designed to ensure fairness and accessibility.

In addition, it is important to note that a significant number of CPP disability recipients can also receive benefits from other sources. The CPP disability program is one part of a broad and complex income system for persons with disabilities, a system that includes private long term disability insurance, workers' compensation, employment insurance sickness benefits, and provincial social assistance.

Staff in Service Canada's service delivery network also refer those who are denied a CPP disability benefit to other appropriate programs and supports that may be made available to them. For example, CPP disability applicants are encouraged to apply for a tax credit, called the disability tax credit, or the veterans disability pension if it appears that they may be eligible for one or both of these entitlements. In some cases, Service Canada staff will assist these individuals with their applications.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities may wish to take this overall context of CPP disability programs into account when undertaking its study.

A number of hon. members of this House have indicated that it takes too long to adjudicate applications for CPP disability benefits. In 2005 and 2006, the disability program received more than 60,000 applications. Of those, over 30,000 applicants were granted benefits.

In terms of speed of service, the target is that 75% of decisions will be made within four months of receiving a completed form. As of February 2007, 86% of decisions were made within this timeframe.

Service Canada is exceeding its stated targets. That is indeed something to be proud of and we can feel confident that most vulnerable clients are being well attended to.

I again want to thank the House for the opportunity to speak today. I want to reiterate that it is an important issue that cannot wait until fall to be examined. There is currently legislation before the House and the Senate that would benefit from the knowledge that can be gained from undertaking an examination of the CPP disability, and these bills will not wait until fall. We need answers as soon as possible.

We would be shirking our duty as responsible legislators if we were to allow bills to proceed without having all the evidence in place beforehand. If the opposition really is interested in more than just playing politics with this important issue, then it will want to examine this issue right away and not wait until fall.

March 29th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

The position of chair suits you well, madam.

Mesdames, thank you for being here today. Thank you very much for the courage you continue to show in believing that you can really change the way policies are developed for women. Thank you for believing in us, thank you for believing that your presentation is important for us.

Ms. Spencer, I have a question for you that can also be put to Ms. Bose and Ms. Fyfe. Ms. Spencer, you told us about immigrant women of all ages, but we know that, as we age, it's even more difficult because we have fewer means, fewer pensions and so on. One bill currently under study, Bill C-36, limits access to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for immigrant women who are still being sponsored. To date, the act enabled those women to access the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Do you believe this change is positive? Do you believe it can help immigrant women, if a bill further limits their access? Personally, I find it contradictory, but we're told this is better for immigrant women. I'd like to have your opinion on the subject.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to my colleague. I understand that this is a debate that engages the entire House and I too would like to commend my colleague, who has done this work for 13 years, but I believe, Mr. Speaker, that if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That the motion for third reading of Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, be deemed carried on division.

I recognize that there are many people in the House who would like to speak to the concurrence motion before us. I am very cognizant of the fact that there will be a budget tabled today. It is not our intention at all to in any way delay Bill C-36, but we obviously recognize how important this concurrence motion and the whole issue of fetal alcohol syndrome are, not only to the House but to all Canadians.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-36.

Although this has been termed a housekeeping bill, it is unfortunate that we did not take this opportunity to examine some of the other issues that are facing seniors in this country. It is unfortunate that we did not take the steps the NDP proposed in the seniors' charter to address some of the very real issues that confront seniors in our country today.

Canadians are worried about a number of different issues. Canadians are worried, for example, about the solvency of their pension plans. In the previous Parliament a substantial amount of work had been done to look at protecting those pension plans for seniors. One proposal was that if a company should be so unfortunate as to go bankrupt, the protection of workers' pensions needed to be front and centre.

The NDP had argued very strongly for much stronger measures than actually came forward in former C-55. One step which parliamentarians and I am sure all Canadians would support would be to make sure that workers' pensions are protected, and that when a company went bankrupt, the workers' pensions would be the first to be paid and would not be somewhere far down the line.

In addition, we have discovered that since the mid-1990s, seniors' incomes have reached a ceiling. The gap between seniors' revenue and that of other Canadians is increasing. We have talked about fairness and affordability. We have talked about a prosperity gap. Seniors are truly facing that prosperity gap.

According to the government's own 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 worse for seniors who are living on their own. Sometimes people only pay attention to numbers. In total, over a quarter of a million seniors live under the low income cut-off, or as we also say, below the poverty line.

There are many groups of people who are adversely affected as they age. One such group of people who are adversely affected is women. There is a recent Ottawa Citizen article entitled, “Late CPP applicants lose thousands in benefits: Women hit hardest by 11-month limit on retroactive payments”. I am going to quote from that article because it is helpful when there are other words out there besides those of parliamentarians.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time today with my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Last June, the NDP member for Hamilton Mountain introduced a seniors charter of rights. We are very proud and we want to congratulate her for that work. That charter of rights was supported by the government. The charter was passed by a vote of 231 to 52. It was a landslide.

One of the rights outlined in that charter is the right of all seniors to income security. Yet, despite Parliament's clear message, this is the first legislative initiative that the Conservatives have introduced to enact any of the rights that the seniors charter guarantees. Unfortunately, Bill C-36 does not even deal with the real causes of poverty among Canadian seniors.

To date, the Conservatives have been disinclined to help seniors living in poverty. Of the few attempts that even come close to addressing the income of seniors, the two trumpeted most are the increase of $2,000 in the pension tax credit and pension income splitting. But who benefits from that tax credit or income splitting? Not a single senior whose only income is CPP, OAS and GIS. The tax credit applies only to private pensions, so the seniors who need the money most receive no help from their government, none at all.

Currently about 130,000 eligible seniors receive GIS, the guaranteed income supplement. About 80% of those missing out are women, mostly women who are very elderly. In addition, there are also about 55,000 seniors who are missing out on CPP retirement benefits.

Interestingly, there are virtually no eligible seniors without QPP. That is because officials in Quebec identify those eligible seniors and ensure they apply for their benefits.

If a senior realizes that he or she qualifies, the current legislation for OAS, GIS and CPP provides only 11 months of retroactive payments unless governments provided erroneous advice or there was an administrative error. Years of income may be lost.

To add insult to injury, Ottawa does not pay interest on the retroactive CPP payments, even when those cheques are for lost benefits due to administrative error. Again, in Quebec, QPP pays retroactive benefits for up to five years, including interest.

There is also precedent in the rest of Canada, where long periods of retroactivity are allowed for other programs. Income tax returns can be re-filed for several years to make claims that have been missed. As well, GST credits are paid retroactively for more than 11 months.

Why are seniors penalized more than others?

About 38% of seniors receive GIS. The majority of seniors who retire without an employer pension plan receive GIS. RRSPs can be a terrible investment for many Canadians who do not have a pension plan, but for those seniors on GIS, their income includes earnings, RRSP withdrawals and CPP benefits, which can result in an effective tax rate of 50% to 100%. I repeat: 50% to 100%. This occurs because GIS is reduced by 50¢ for every dollar in income, including RRSP withdrawals, and that income is still taxable.

The structure of the current clawbacks for GIS makes it virtually impossible for GIS recipients to enjoy the benefits of any RRSP savings they make. Most of the funds will be clawed back in the form of GIS reductions and income tax.

Similarly, if a senior is employed, this will also lead to a GIS clawback as the money will still be subject to income tax and payroll taxes. Thus, under the current regulations, employment is unlikely to improve the standard of living of the poorest seniors.

Those dependent on OAS and GIS are condemned to live below the poverty line. In 2004 about one-third of seniors, mostly single women, were dependent on OAS and GIS for an average income of about $12,400. The Statistics Canada low income cut-off is approximately $17,000.

The particular impact on women was outlined in the Ottawa Citizen just last month. The paper stated:

Many elderly Canadians, especially women, are losing thousands of dollars in income because the federal government bars them from collecting all the Canada Pension Plan benefits they have earned....[T]he government should be doing more to reach out to seniors who are eligible for benefits, but who, for reasons ranging from ill health to illiteracy, might not realize it or have the wherewithal to apply. Women are hardest hit because officials often assume that elderly women were stay-at-home wives and mothers, and therefore do not check to see whether they are eligible for Canada Pension Plan benefits when they are applying for old age pension or the guaranteed income supplement.

I would like to note that in particular, unattached senior women remain very vulnerable. They make up 60% of seniors living below the poverty line. In 2003, according to a Government of Canada report, 154,000 unattached senior women lived in poverty. Let me repeat that, 154,000 senior women lived in poverty.

The GIS, which is supposed to help, forces many seniors, especially those who are unattached, into poverty. I want to emphasize again that a single senior receiving OAS and GIS is forced to live on about $1,000 per month. That is just not acceptable. One thousand dollars a month simply does not do it.

There are many reasons why senior women end up living in poverty or near poverty. Women's unpaid work makes their risk of poverty higher and results in less access to private pensions. Senior women receive smaller pension incomes because of the wage difference between men and women. Most divorced women do not claim a portion of their former spouse's pension, even though they are entitled to it.

Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable. Many over the age of 65 who have lived in Canada for less than 10 years are without any income at all. Approximately 65% of GIS beneficiaries are women. Women are concentrated in low wage and part time jobs where there is rarely a pension available. Because many retirement plans do not compensate for absences to raise children or look after sick relatives, women are left out once again. It is usually women who do the caregiving.

The ratio of male to female earnings tells a story of persistent systemic inequality between male and female incomes whether from employment or pensions. The first step to ending the poverty cycle for senior women and men is ensuring access to safe, affordable and accessible housing. If a person spends the majority of his or her income on his or her place of residence, this leaves little money for food, medication and other necessities, thus forcing many into the poverty cycle.

In 2001 more than half of seniors living on their own in rental accommodations were paying more than 30% of their income on housing. In particular, single women were more likely to be living in substandard conditions because of those low incomes. If housing costs are tied to one's income level and not to market value, then and only then does one have a chance to break out of poverty and live in dignity.

The cost of housing across Canada is on the rise. Last year housing costs were up 13%. With no new affordable housing money in the foreseeable future, many Canadians, especially senior Canadians, run the risk of becoming house poor. I hear from my constituents in London—Fanshawe about this very dilemma all the time. Many of them are energy poor because of the increase in the cost of utilities. When housing costs are higher than 30% of a person's income, the person is indeed condemned to live a life below the poverty level.

Over four million seniors rely on the OAS, GIS and CPP for their income. While past changes and increases in payment amounts have helped to alleviate some of the poverty faced by these seniors, there are still too many falling between the cracks.

Bill C-36 was an excellent opportunity for the government to fix many of the mistakes left over by the Liberals, but it fails to do so. If we want to do more than just pay lip service to the rights of seniors, we need to enshrine the seniors' charter. We need to explore all possible means of creating better income security for those who built our country.

There is great potential in Bill C-36. I hope all parties will come together and amend this bill so that seniors have the opportunity to live in dignity.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 1 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is my second opportunity to speak about Bill C-36. I am happy to do so, particularly because I am the critic for seniors' issues.

I would simply like to remind members, as others have done before me, that in 2006 we introduced Bill C-36, but I think it should have been introduced long ago, since five years earlier the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities examined the guaranteed income supplement, a non-taxable monthly benefit, which is supposed to be paid, based on household income, to low-income beneficiaries of the old age security pension.

In its December 2001 report, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities observed a number of deficiencies in the application of the guaranteed income supplement program, which is among the three income-maintenance programs for seniors administered by the Department of Human Resources and Social Development. The three programs are not perfect, but today I will only address the guaranteed income supplement, because there are some serious deficiencies in its application.

First of all, in order to receive the guaranteed income supplement, citizens had to apply for it every year. Eligible individuals usually applied for a renewal when completing their tax returns. It is precisely this last point that is the source of a grave injustice.

In its analysis of the matter, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities referred to a study conducted in Toronto in early 2001 by social statistician and policy analyst Richard Shillington. The study found that only 15% of seniors who were using food banks were getting the guaranteed income supplement, though nearly all were eligible for it. Furthermore, a news report in the August 23, 2001 edition of The Toronto Star stated that more than 380,000 Canadians eligible for the guaranteed income supplement were not receiving it.

Personally, I find these statistics appalling, since seniors are vulnerable individuals who are often unable to stand up for themselves.

The question was simple. Why did so many people fail to apply for the guaranteed income supplement, something that could be so beneficial to people who are poor and without resources?

The answer was equally simple. For one thing, it is not easy for elderly people with low literacy levels or failing eyesight to understand the complexity of the eligibility criteria, the content of tax returns and the information pamphlets written for them. For another thing, many people did not know that they had to renew their application every year.

The guaranteed income supplement is for seniors who have physical or mental health problems, physical limitations, language barriers, or limited literacy skills who receive complicated documents, written in language that is often inaccessible and difficult. It is therefore not surprising that 85% of eligible individuals do not take advantage of this income.

Furthermore, Human Resources Development Canada apparently had difficulty contacting particularly disadvantaged clienteles, such as people who have never worked outside the home—often women at that age, and a significant number of them—, people who do not file income tax returns—also numerous—, aboriginal people, residents of remote communities, people with limited literacy skills, people who do not read or speak either official language, people with a disability or who are ill, and the homeless.

Most absurd of all is no doubt the fact that HRDC had been aware of the under-subscription of GIS since at least 1993, but never did anything about it, as evidenced by the fact that the problem persists, or at least did so at the time when Bill C-36, which has yet to come into force, was introduced.

There are not very many options to solve this problem. First and foremost, potentially eligible individuals, whether they file income tax returns or not, have to be contacted directly.

Naturally, it is easier to contact those who file income tax returns, given that their income is already known to the government. However, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities noted that the human resources department refrained from using information from tax returns for fear of contravening the provisions of the Income Tax Act governing the protection of taxpayer information.

Had this money been owed to the government, I think that this fear would have been quickly alleviated.

The Privacy Commissioner had to intervene to lift this fear, stating before the committee that, under section 241 of the Income Tax Act, the provision of information was allowed for the purposes of the administration of the Old Age Security Act, because the GIS is nothing more than a component of the OAS.

This means that HRDC had not only the means but also the authority to check. So, for the past 14 years, the department could and should have been helping tens of thousands of people among the least fortunate in our society, but has not. That is bordering on scandalous.

Simply put, by its lack of action, HRDC financially penalized individuals among the most disadvantaged. It is mystifying to see that, at the time when this study was tabled, in 2001, officials admitted that the government had been aware of the situation for at least eight years and, yet, HRDC did not manage to take appropriate steps to remedy the problem.

Luckily the Bloc Québécois was there. Over the past few years, the Bloc Québécois has noticed that seniors are among those the most affected by the federal government cuts to transfer payments. The quality of life of older persons quite often depends on the care they can receive. This quality of life also depends on their income.

That is why the Bloc Québécois harshly criticized the irregularities in the guaranteed income supplement program, which guarantees low-income seniors additional income. The negligence of the Liberal government in managing the guaranteed income supplement program was such that in 2001, more than 68,000 seniors in Quebec, who are among those who needed it the most, were still being short changed up to $6,600 a year. I think that would be a significant amount of money to a low-income person.

A major operation by the Bloc Québécois has so far uncovered roughly 42,000 of these people, several of whom did not receive the money they were entitled to for years under the federal guaranteed income supplement program. This effort represents roughly $190 million more, redistributed to the least fortunate in our society. What is $190 million compared to the billions of dollars invested in the military?

A lot of work still needs to be done. In the riding I have been representing for almost four months, I have been in contact with the owner of a retirement home, who is aware of the issue, to ask him to approach the seniors in his establishment to determine their financial situation. The man in question sent a short letter to all his residents explaining that if their income did not exceed a certain amount, they could verify whether they were entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement. Believe it or not, after three weeks, we have already met three people who were entitled to this supplement who were not receiving it. And that is just in one retirement home. Imagine what we would find across Quebec and Canada.

That means that in Quebec, and elsewhere in Canada, a number of people have been swindled by the federal government. These people should be reimbursed.

The Bloc Québécois plans to continue its efforts to ensure that older persons who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement receive it, and that the government reimburses the $3.2 billion that it stole from them over the years by feigning ignorance.

In 2001, the committee studying the guaranteed income supplement issued seven recommendations. I would like to review them briefly. Unfortunately, these suggestions and recommendations were not included in Bill C-36 as tabled.

The first recommendation in the committee's report was to ask HRDC, in conjunction with other relevant federal departments, to work immediately to develop an automatic notification process so as to ensure that all potential guaranteed income supplement applicants, prior to their 65th birthday, are apprised of the availability of this income support.

Second, the committee recommended that HRDC, in conjunction with the Canada Revenue Agency, take the necessary steps to develop an automatic process for renewing guaranteed income supplement eligibility, and that the department take immediate steps to simplify the initial application for the guaranteed income supplement.

Third, the committee recommended that the government consider adopting a variable retroactive guaranteed income supplement payment period.

The Bloc Québécois found that this recommendation could be improved and suggested that the committee recommend that the government pay out full retroactivity for the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance. Such a policy would have ensured retroactive payments for the entire period of entitlement. The Bloc Québécois' recommendation was not adopted.

Fourth, the Committee recommended that the Government of Canada define “occasional income” and exempt a certain level of occasional income for the purposes of the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance.

Fifth, the Committee recommended that HRDC undertake an extensive and systematic public awareness campaign to ensure that all seniors receive clear, simple and easily understood information on how to access information on the guaranteed income supplement.

Sixth, the committee recommended that HRDC and the CCRA continue to work together to identify and directly contact seniors who may be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

Seventh, the committee recommended that all future annual departmental performance reports of HRDC include an estimate of the number of eligible seniors who do not receive the GIS, the spouse's allowance, the OAS or CPP. In addition, HRDC should prepare a special report, to be tabled in Parliament by October 2002, outlining the progress it has made to address the GIS under-subscription problem.

After having been introduced, having received second reading on January 29 and having been referred to committee, the bill is now coming back to the House to be passed. The Bloc Québécois recognizes that Bill C-36 will make it easier for disadvantaged seniors to have access to the guaranteed income supplement program by allowing for automatic application renewal and payment of the guaranteed income supplement to couples on the basis of only one spouse's income tax return.

The Bloc Québécois also recognizes that Bill C-36 allows seniors who suffer a sudden reduction in employment or pension income during a fiscal year to submit a GIS application based on an estimate of their employment and pension income.

The Bloc Québécois further recognizes that Bill C-36 amends and fine-tunes certain sections of the Old Age Security Act in order to deal with inconsistencies that it contained.

Finally, the Bloc Québécois recognizes that Bill C-36 introduces certain measures amending the Canada Pension Plan, which does not at all affect Quebec and its constitutional jurisdictions.

Therefore, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill. However, it is opposed to broadening restrictions on new Canadian citizens who have immigrated to this country. To the Bloc Québécois, there cannot be different classes of Canadian citizens, regardless of how they came to be here. Every citizen has access to the guaranteed income supplement.

The Bloc had also recommended that the committee look at requiring the government to pay full retroactive guaranteed income supplement benefits, rather than a maximum of 11 months, as provided under the legislation on guaranteed income supplement and allowance benefits. This would mean a retroactive payment covering the whole eligibility period.

The Bloc also had reservations about the discretionary power, about waiving the requirement for a renewal application for the guaranteed income supplement and allowance benefits, once an initial application has been made. The relevant wording reads, “The Minister may waive the requirement”. We wanted it to read, “The Minister must waive the requirement”, but that was rejected by the committee.

The Bloc Québécois will ask that the Privacy Commissioner testify with regard to the expanding the list of third parties to which the contributor's personal information may be forwarded. We will also ensure that amendments to the current regulations will not restrict access to the guaranteed income supplement.

The Bloc Québécois will continue its longstanding battle with the federal government to ensure that it puts in place all the necessary elements to allow seniors entitled to the guaranteed income supplement to have access to it. With regard to interest charged on overpayments, the Bloc Québécois will ensure that the bill treats all taxpayers equally.

Lastly, the Bloc will make sure that the limitation period for claims of government overpayments is proportional to the period during which individuals can claim amounts owing. The government is not proposing full retroactivity, yet it seems to do away with any limitation period when it comes to the money it is owed.

In conclusion—as I know that my time is almost up—there has been progress. In fact, we are pleased to recognize that progress has been made on several points.

After the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities was tabled in 2001, forms were simplified and sent by the Department of Human Resources and Social Development to pensioners who might be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. Seniors only have to sign the document to give the Department of Human Resources and Social Development permission to examine their file.

Renewal application forms are now more readily available, especially since they are found on the Department of Human Resources and Social Development website. Unfortunately, seniors do not often use the Internet.

There is much more to be done. It is deplorable that, for all these years, the successive Liberal and Conservative governments neglected, muzzled and ignored the most vulnerable seniors in our society. Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois was there to ensure that our most vulnerable seniors were heard by the government. Through its numerous interventions in the House, in committees and in the media, the Bloc Québécois was able to keep the spotlight on a group of individuals excluded from the priorities of the Liberal and Conservative governments.

Some progress has been made. However, these few measures will not silence the Bloc. We will continue to fight the federal government in order to obtain justice for all those individuals who made it possible for Quebeckers and Canadians to form the nations that they have become.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at third reading of Bill C-36. It is an important debate notwithstanding that the parties are supportive of the amendments to the Canada Pension Plan Act and the Old Age Security Act, and some of the provisions of senior security.

Interesting enough, members have spent a fair bit of time talking about seniors, poverty and vulnerability. I will not change that because it is well worth speaking to those. However, I will speak briefly to the intent of Bill C-36.

As we all know, the Canada Pension Plan Act and the Old Age Security Act provide the basis for government sponsored social benefit programs that offer a minimum level of supplementary income to senior citizens, retired or disabled individuals and their dependants following a loss of income. An important point to note is that our seniors population will double over the next 25 years.

When I was first elected in 1993, the seniors' proportion of my constituency was approximately 15%. It is now over 20%. Based on the latest information available, there is no question the senior population is rising. I will be faced with a populace that is very vulnerable and has a significant amount of needs. I have seen it in the level of activity in my riding. Many people in my community have reached retirement age. My community is the most mature community in the city of Mississauga. Many of these people do not live in the dignity in which I believe Canadians would wish them to live.

The bill addresses a couple of things.

With regard to the Canada pension plan, I played an important role with respect to Bill C-2, which was the last time major amendments were made to the Canada Pension Plan Act. Some members may recall that back in 1997 a lot of Canadians said that the Canada pension plan was bankrupt. They believed it would not be there for them in the future and therefore could not depend on it. That is no longer the case.

The government of the day brought in important changes to the Canada Pension Plan Act which, in particular, dealt with the premiums that were received from those who contributed to the Canada pension plan. Rather than loaning those premiums to the provinces at low or no interest, the whole funding of the Canada pension plan was put on an independent basis. The moneys collected were invested in the public marketplace in a fashion that would not disrupt it. A tremendous amount of capital was invested, but it was set up through a special investment board.

As it turns out that plan has done very well. The most recent actuarial evaluation of which I am aware indicates that the plan is on a very sound footing and has been for over 90 years. That is very significant and Canadians should understand the Canada pension plan is there for all of them.

With regard to Bill C-36, there are a couple of amendments of note. The first one has to do with disability benefits. Members will note that currently disability benefits are available after four years of participation in the labour force if individuals are members of the plan. That will be changed to three years.

It should be noted that the Canada pension plan and the old age security, together, pay out over $50 billion a year in support. This is a very large number. It probably makes most people's eyes roll back at the magnitude of it, yet people within our society do not benefit to the extent necessary to ensure they can live in the dignity and the respect to which they should and are entitled.

With regard to the guaranteed income supplement, it currently pays out $6.2 billion a year. Right now roughly 12% of our population is seniors. That figure is expected to double in the next 25 years. We understand the demands an aging society can have on these important programs. Even now there is evidence of that, as we have already heard from members with regard to the guaranteed income supplement. For instance, some 130,000 seniors, who are eligible for those benefits, have not applied and have not received them. Why have we as a country, as parliamentarians, as government not found a way to be in touch with every Canadian, particularly the most vulnerable in our society? I refer to seniors collectively because they have the least opportunities and tools available to correct their situation. They cannot go back to work. They cannot somehow deal with inflation by themselves. Inflation generally eats away any income protection they have against inflation.

For a person is on a fixed income it really is a challenge. Consider the range of needs of seniors, and we have all seen them in our ridings, whether it is pharmacare, or home care, or excessive medical expenses. With our tax credit system now, there is very nominal support from the tax system, such as the medical expense supplement. There are so many different ways. Housing is an extremely important issue, although the bill does not address it. However, we are talking about aspects that impact the lives of seniors in many ways. These changes will address some of those. It is not a short bill, but these significant amendments are very brief.

The second amendment, other than the Canada pension plan, has to do with the disability portion of the Canada pension plan. The disability portion provides disabled Canadians with income supplement. The proposed changes will make it easier for them to qualify for that benefit.

Under the current law, individuals have to be CPP contributors for four of the last six years before the disability makes us unemployable and takes us out of the labour force. The amendment would change that from four years to three years. This would bring another 3,700 people into eligibility for Canada pension plan disability by the year 2010, according to the government estimates. It would also provide additional benefits to a spouse and children.

This is all well and good. These are important changes. The accessibility and the sustainability of these programs would be enhanced by the bill, and I am pleased members are supporting it. However, I want to move even beyond Bill C-36, as other members have, and talk about the broader range of seniors' issues with which the House must be seized.

Back in February 2004, I tabled a series of motions related to seniors' health and well-being.

The first motion was to consider the advisability of a guaranteed annual income for seniors. We have talked about poverty for a long time in this place. Talk is cheap, but how do we get to where we want to go? We have to ask ourselves the rhetorical question. What is the level of poverty that we are prepared to tolerate in Canada? If the answer is none, as some members have suggested, then why does everybody who makes minimum wage automatically live in poverty? Why has the purchasing power of seniors been eroded by inflation? Why have things like GIS not been indexed? It was declining in purchasing power.

If we believe seniors are the most vulnerable, that they are the ones least able to deal with the challenge of financial need for basic necessities, then clearly we should talk about something like a guaranteed annual income.

I proposed another motion to eliminate mandatory retirement. We have seniors who, for whatever reason, were unsuccessful or unlucky during their working careers, or they were unable to have sustained work, or they had a family tragedy, or their financial base for retirement purposes was taken away because someone was very ill. We know many illnesses for which there is no coverage under insurance plans and the tax benefits are not enough to pay for substantial amounts.

My daughter was taking a drug that cost $1,700 per month when she was fighting cancer. It was not covered by insurance or recovered through tax benefits. The money had to be paid, and it was not discretionary. The drug provided the only way for her white cells to recover quickly enough so she could withstand the regimen of chemotherapy.

I also know about seniors' issues. My mother is 82 years old and has a number of prescriptions, like many seniors do. Many of the prescriptions are expensive. Some are covered but not all. Even some of the basic ones, like calcium for bone strength, are not covered. It is hard to believe that these kinds of things can actually happen, but it is endemic in the system related to seniors.

Another motion was about caregiver tax credits. Although our system has caregiver tax credits, family members, usually a son or daughter, and if there is one of each usually the daughter, probably will have to withdraw from the paid labour force to care for the parent. Let us consider that. They withdraw from the labour force, do not earn income, do not participate in the Canada pension plan as fully as they could have and therefore defer the buildup of their own pension benefits. There is a ripple effect when someone has to provide care, for which we know the system does not provide.

Caregiving for those in need in our society, particularly seniors, is generally not available. As a jurisdictional responsibility, it falls on the provinces, but I will never ever use the argument that it is one jurisdiction over another. The issue is seniors. The issue is the need for caregiving for those who are most in need.

I proposed a motion to provide EI benefits for caregivers who withdrew from the paid labour force to care for a family member. Why should they not qualify for EI benefits? They are providing an important service. They are not withdrawing from the paid labour force for a discretionary reason. It is needed and necessary. It is the right thing to do. Why can we not support those who provide care through the EI program?

I also proposed a motion for a refundable medical expense supplement. There is a provision for extraordinary expenses, but I believe it only covers 25% of them. I wanted to double that to 50%. Again, medical expenses are not discretionary. When they are digging into the pockets of fixed income earning seniors, we can understand how we could have a very good debate and argument for doing this.

I had another motion to amend the Canada pension plan to permit those who withdrew from the paid labour force to provide for an agent or infirm member. They are withdrawing. Under CPP, why could it not be deemed to be work? Why can they not pay into CPP during the time they are caring for a loved one, a senior, and continue to earn CPP credits? It makes so much sense to me. We have the tools to work with if we could only get these things on the table in terms of a comprehensive strategy to deal with seniors.

I also wanted to introduce a motion that would take the necessary steps to improve accessibility to home care, to establish meaningful guidelines to ensure that the number of hours of care available are sufficient and to expand home care to include chronic care. Chronic care is not part of the home care model. Chronic care is a different situation. It is a lot more intense and involves a lot more time. It falls through the cracks.

We could work with the provinces to strengthen the pharmacare system and that would ensure all medically necessary drugs were available to seniors without cost? Why is it that we cannot define medically necessary? In the Canada Health Act, medically necessary is not a defined term. I remember talking with Roy Romanow about this one day and asking whether we should do it. He said that if we were to open that up it would really cause some problems. I am not afraid of problems. I would like Mr. Romanow to come here and explain it to parliamentarians. Maybe the health committee should call him and ask him why we should not be talking about medically necessary services, especially as it relates to seniors. Why should we not talk about supporting seniors who need medically necessary drugs?

Many of the tools are here. We could look at working with the provinces to expand and improve accessibility to affordable housing. The Government of Canada has more work to do on the affordable housing file.

I spent five years on the board of the Peel Regional Housing Authority. I know a lot about rent geared to income. I know a lot about subsidized housing and government housing and how important it is. Half the units in my community are seniors' units and the other half are mostly for families led by mothers. The seniors' units are there but in the last report I received from the region of Peel, the wait list can be anywhere from four to seven years, depending on one's rating based on need.

Affordable housing obviously comes in there. This is all part of this theme that Bill C-36 brings to the House about dealing with sustainability of and accessibility to the tools or benefits that seniors need. This is also part of the model.

I have another motion to establish guidelines for the care of the chronically ill and those who require continuous care and for the regulation of the nursing home industry. I am sorry I had to raise that one in Parliament by way of a motion but members may recall that we had gone through a period of time where seniors' abuse in some of the caregiving facilities was an issue. It is an issue that does scream out for guidelines within our caregiving institutions. It is another way in which we can help seniors.

We could also amend the Criminal Code to recognize that taking unfair advantage of a vulnerable senior represents an aggravating factor which warrants stiffer sentences for those convicted of that abuse. Can anyone imagine seniors being taken advantage of by people who recognize their situations and defraud them of money? That is an aggravating circumstance. They are taking advantage of a situation. Our Criminal Code should take that into consideration.

I want to add one last element that has to do with something to which a previous member had spoken, and that is a charter of rights for seniors.

I asked the question earlier about how a charter of rights for seniors would dovetail with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and, as a matter of fact, it does not and it is not intended to. However, it should define the values and the attributes that we want to show in terms of the Canadian value system as it relates to seniors so that every time we introduce legislation in Parliament, we should always look at it with the lens of a seniors' charter that protects their rights and ensures we are not eroding them or attacking them but that we are somehow ensuring benefits go to them.

The seniors' charter is only a lens. Just as we use the gender analysis to ensure women's issues are properly reflected and cared for in legislation, seniors should have the same.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.
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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 PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Hamilton Mountain.

As I was saying when we left off, this bill does tinker with a few administrative issues, but it does not address the substantive issues that seniors are facing. It really is the incredible lightness of Bill C-36 that best characterizes it. There is so much more that could have been done. Perhaps seniors will be listening very closely this afternoon during the budget to see if everything that could have gone into this bill but was overlooked and forgotten might be addressed by the budget. We can always hope.

I would like to talk about three issues: eligibility, retroactivity, and the clawback.

Large numbers of people are eligible but are not receiving benefits. According to Statistics Canada, right now there are 130,000 low income seniors who are eligible for the GIS but are not receiving it. Eighty per cent of those missing out on the GIS are women, most of whom are very elderly. There are also about 55,000 who are missing out on CPP retirement benefits. For the average riding, that works out to about 200 seniors who are not getting their CPP. That means 200 seniors in Victoria.

The comparable number missing out on the Quebec pension plan benefits is apparently zero. Why are there no people missing out on the Quebec plan but so many elsewhere in Canada? Apparently the answer is that they receive phone calls or even visits by officials to let them know how to apply for these benefits.

There are no legislative impediments to Canadian officials advising seniors who appear to be eligible for OAS, GIS and CPP benefits. Files are used to identify seniors who have received overpayments. Computer files such as income tax returns are used to automatically reduce OAS payments to those subject to the OAS clawback. The same files could be used to identify those seniors who should be receiving benefits but are not.

This legislation ensures ways of securing interest on payments owed to the Crown but does nothing to ensure payments owed to seniors by the Crown. For example, the government has now admitted on three separate occasions that seniors have been shortchanged for the last five years because Statistics Canada miscalculated the consumer price index in 2001.

Bill C-36 enhances the government's ability to recoup money from seniors when they receive too much money due to government error, but when seniors receive too little due to government error, the government refuses to reimburse them. That is shameful. That is precisely the kind of thing that the government, when it was the Reform Party or the Alliance or whatever it was, would have gone after, but now, for some strange reason, it has become silent on this injustice.

I would also like to talk about retroactive payments. The current legislation does not remedy the case when seniors apply late for payments. The OAS is notionally a universal program, payable based on the number of years one has lived in Canada. It is an entitlement based on past residency. The OAS, at one time, had a five year retroactive period. This period should be more than the 11 months that it is now and perhaps should return to the five years.

The CPP and the QPP are quite different. Here, the funds disbursed do not come from the consolidated revenue fund but are made up of contributions from employers and employees, contributions that have actually been made. These benefits are funded from contributions from Canadians. Here there is a fiduciary responsibility by the government, and the appropriate period should be full retroactivity, plus interest.

There is a private member's bill before the House that would do just that and would provide full retroactivity for the CPP, and since the government did not do it, I would urge all members of the House to support that bill.

In addition, this legislation does nothing to address the GIS clawback. Earnings, RRSP withdrawals and CPP benefits for those on GIS face an effective tax rate of 50% to 100%. This is because GIS is reduced by 50% for every dollar of income, including RRSP withdrawals. The structure of the current clawbacks for GIS makes it virtually impossible for GIS recipients to enjoy the benefits of any RRSP savings they may have. In a similar fashion, any employment undertaken by seniors who are on GIS will lead to GIS clawbacks.

The right enshrined in the seniors charter was to income security. We are still very far from that. We have asked for a seniors advocate to help look into the adequacy of the programs available to seniors. Instead, the government provided a committee. We have to go much further than that and ensure that our seniors have income security and well-being in this country.