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.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed much of the speech by the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, but to do justice to the debate on Bill C-36, we need to start from the same base level of historical accuracy and information.

I noted that the member for Oak Ridges—Markham said it was the Liberal Party that created the old age security system as we know it today. In actual fact, I would point out that in 1926 it was the member for Winnipeg Centre at the time, the founder and first leader of the CCF, J.S. Woodsworth, who went to the minority Liberal prime minister of the day, William Lyon Mackenzie King, and cut a deal with him that the CCF would support the Liberal government if it finally yielded to its demands and introduced some measure of old age security.

The member for Winnipeg Centre at the time was smart enough to get that in writing. A letter exists today in the archives of the New Democratic Party. Kicking and screaming, the Liberals were forced to introduce some measure of old age security for seniors back in 1926. My colleague, the member for Saint Boniface, remembers that; apparently, he is older than I thought he was.

In actual fact, something that he might remember is that in 1942 the hon. Stanley Knowles took the place of J.S. Woodsworth as the member for Winnipeg Centre. Stanley Knowles was widely agreed to be the father of the Canadian pension system because he dedicated his career from 1942 to 1966 fighting and struggling to get the old age security Canada pension plan that we know today introduced by a Liberal minority government under Lester Pearson at that time.

It was Stanley Knowles who finally levered the Liberals into acting like Liberals in introducing the Canada pension plan. Then he spent the rest of his career, from 1966 to 1984 when he suffered a stroke, trying to get the pension plan indexed to inflation, another huge victory for Stanley Knowles and the party that I represent.

It is disingenuous, if not revisionist, to say that the Liberal Party was responsible for the introduction of the old age security system, the guaranteed income supplement or the Canada pension plan. It was those two great men who represented the riding that I am honoured to represent now whom we can thank for that.

I believe my colleague, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, is too good a member of Parliament to believe the speech he was given to read in the House today. I honestly believe, at least now that he has been enlightened as to the history and origins of our old age security system, that he may want to revise his comments.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 6:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. I am also very happy to have the opportunity to rise in the House on the first day we are back. I hope all of my colleagues had an enjoyable holiday season. I look forward to catching up with them over the coming days.

I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham. Last year I raised several of my riding's concerns on the floor of the House and I continue to work with my caucus colleagues on such important subjects as the environment, the Kelowna accord and criminal justice issues.

The bill before us today aims to make a number of changes to the Canada pension plan and Old Age Security Act. The bill will implement the existing full funding provision for new benefits and benefit enhancements. It also provides for public reporting of costs and integration of those costs into the process for setting the contribution rate. Any new benefits or enhancements to existing ones will have to be met with an appropriate increase in premiums.

Bill C-36 changes the contributory requirements for disability benefits under the Canada pension plan for contributors with 25 or more years of contributions to the plan to require contributions in only three of the last six years in the contributory period. 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. 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.

On the whole, this is a bill that I will be able to support. I welcome the increase in accessibility to disability benefits as stipulated in this bill. I am pleased that sponsored immigrants will be treated the same for the determination of benefits.

A rich industrialized country like ours must ensure excellent standards of living for senior Canadians so that they can live out their golden years in dignity and comfort. Seniors in Canada have worked all of their lives and they should not have to worry about financial issues when they retire.

The Liberal Party is the party of the Canada pension plan and old age security. Our party continues to recognize the duty we owe to those Canadians who have worked for so many years and made so many valuable contributions to our communities.

Liberal policies in the 1990s returned the Canada pension plan funds to stability and ensured a reliable public pension system for 75 years to come, the longest we can possibly forecast. The Canada pension plan fund currently stands at over $100 billion. It is safe for generations to come. This is no small feat as just a few years ago many were predicting its demise. Due to good management by the previous government, future generations of Canadians can depend on the Canada pension plan as previous generations have for four decades.

As a member of Parliament I often meet with seniors in my riding. Seniors in Oak Ridges—Markham are worried about their pensions, savings, health care and day to day living issues. Unfortunately, many seniors in Canada are nervous about the policies of the Conservative government. I wish to explore these areas of concern.

The first is an issue with which the House is very familiar and that is rural mail delivery. In October the House unanimously supported my motion to have rural mail delivery restored. Losing one's mailbox delivery is inconvenient for anyone, but it is especially hard on the elderly. Elderly Canadians rely on mail delivery for communicating with friends and family and for receiving their pension cheques and other important material. Elderly Canadians were disproportionately affected by the cessation of rural mail delivery.

I am pleased that the government has directed Canada Post to reinstate this unique mode of delivery. The minister has set a timeline of an additional 18 months before delivery is back. It has already been 12 months since my constituents lost rural mailbox delivery. This is much too long a period for elderly Canadians to wait.

The second matter I wish to raise this afternoon that has greatly concerned seniors is the government's income trust decision on October 31. The decision to tax income trusts wiped out more than $25 billion in savings overnight and reversed a key Conservative campaign promise. Many seniors invested their money based on this promise and their faith in the Conservatives cost them thousands of dollars of their hard-earned savings. This kind of move really hurt the trust and confidence seniors have in the government. Many do not believe that the government has their interests at heart.

The third Conservative policy that is of concern regards what this bill fundamentally involves and that is the Canada pension plan. The Conservatives cannot claim to be the defenders of a sound public pension system. The Minister of Finance launched an attack on vital Canada pension plan funds with his net debt goal announced last fall. It is unwise and potentially dangerous to tie the Canada pension plan account to the national debt.

I fully support reducing Canada's national debt. Reducing the debt frees up interest payments and allows us to make important investments in Canada's social safety net and to decrease taxes and to make sure that Canadians are able to enjoy more of their hard-earned dollars. That being said, I do not believe that Canada pension plan funds should be used to lower the national debt.

The net debt announcement attaches Canada pension plan funds, the contributions of taxpayers, to our national debt to artificially balance the books. This is another attack on the security of pensioners. That money is not for debt repayment or future collateral to borrow funds. It is for pension payments. Future payments from the Canada pension plan fund represent a massive liability on the fund, a liability that was not considered by the minister in his net debt policy move.

The previous Liberal government reduced the debt, lowered taxes and ensured the long term sustainability of the Canada pension plan. Why is the Minister of Finance so determined to attack the Canada pension plan? Why does he want to use it for ends for which it was not intended? A balanced approach ensures the survival and sustainability of taxpayers' pensions while reducing taxes and investing in the priorities of Canadians.

I am pleased that we have Bill C-36 in front of us. It allows us an opportunity to debate and to discuss the overall theme of pensions. I welcome what the government intends to do in this bill, but it must remain mindful of its responsibilities toward Canadian seniors. This means ensuring they have a decent quality of life, have access to sound investments over which promises are not broken, and can fully depend on all pension plans.

I look forward to hearing the comments of my colleagues and following this bill as it makes its way through Parliament.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 5:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-36 concerning the guaranteed income supplement in particular. Actually, I have had to deal with this in my own riding because some people did not even know it existed. Some older people applied for it but after a year still had not received it. We had to help these people for several months. There are still people in my riding, though, who have not yet received the guaranteed income supplement.

It is important, therefore, to implement this legislation so that the government realizes that this guaranteed income is fair and equitable for everyone entitled to it.

The guaranteed income supplement report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in December 2001. Unfortunately, it is still pertinent after five years of Liberal rule during which nothing was done to implement it. The Conservatives have been in power for one year and only now are they starting to think about it. This is a serious problem that should be corrected as soon as possible.

The committee provided an interesting overview of the situation, which we should review today along with the necessary solutions. The Department of Human Resources and Social Development administers three income-maintenance programs for seniors, namely the old age security pension, the guaranteed income supplement, and the Canada pension plan. We are going to focus on the one that is closest to us.

The guaranteed income supplement was designed to provide an additional benefit to low-income retired people residing in Canada. The money is added to the old age security pension. I did mean low-income people. I am very close to some people who are having difficulty. It would be only natural for us to help all low-income people so that they can finish their lives in a dignified, equitable way.

The problem is that people now have to apply every year. These renewals are usually made when eligible people file their income tax returns. This is a source of grave injustices, however, because many people do not file income tax returns or are illiterate and have difficulty understanding what needs to be done to get the supplement.

It has been estimated that in the past, 15% of seniors used food banks and never received the guaranteed income supplement. These less fortunate people never received this supplement. Imagine how important an income supplement is to the survival of someone who uses a food bank.

The question is simple. Why do so many people not apply for the guaranteed income supplement, which could be of great help and perhaps even necessary? Filling out an application is not easy for a person with an inadequate level of literacy. The current government is cutting literacy programs and will create even more illiterate seniors. This system absolutely needs to be made as simple as possible, unless we can teach people to read and write or provide them with other ways to obtain this supplement.

Some will say that people can consult the Web site. Have you ever seen a food bank user able to use the Internet at that age? They are not familiar with this new technology.

Physical or mental health problems, physical limitations and language barriers have deprived a number of people of significant amounts of money. That is why so many people did not receive the guaranteed income supplement to which they were entitled.

It makes us wonder who makes up the client base. Who are these people that did not receive the supplement? They are people who never worked outside the home, people who did not file income tax returns, aboriginals, residents of remote communities, poorly educated individuals, who do not read or speak either of the official languages, or people who are disabled, sick or homeless. I want to emphasize that, because there is a growing number of homeless people over the age of 65.

During my tour of Quebec last year, I met homeless people who were 70, 75, 80. These people are increasingly being kicked out of their homes. Since they have no fixed address, they cannot receive the minimum required to live a decent life.

One thing stood out to the committee addressing this issue: the fact that Human Resources and Social Development Canada was aware of the under-subscription to the guaranteed income supplement. This has been a problem since at least 1993. What did the Liberal government do about it at the time? It did nothing, even though it knew about the problem.

The solution to this problem is to take action to help people directly. That is important.

Consequently, the Bloc is also proposing and recommending that the committee look at requiring the government to pay full retroactive guaranteed income supplement benefits, rather than a maximum of 11 months, as the legislation provides. This would mean a retroactive payment covering all eligibility periods.

How can the government have a double standard, requiring taxpayers to retroactively pay long overdue sums of money, yet refusing to do the same when it owes them money? It makes no sense. It is unethical and unfair. It is truly immoral.

The Bloc Québécois will also make sure that the amendments to the current legislation do not restrict eligibility. The guaranteed income supplement should be available to everyone who needs it. The Bloc Québécois will ask the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner to testify about expanding the group of third parties to whom personal contribution information could be provided. Because there are people who do not understand, others must ask questions on their behalf.

The Bloc Québécois will continue the fight it began long ago so that the federal government—we could even talk about the two successive governments—ensures that all seniors who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement can receive it easily and on an ongoing basis.

There is also the matter of interest charged on overpayments. The Bloc Québécois will make sure that this bill treats all taxpayers equally and that there are no abuses by the government.

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. As I said earlier, this is true especially of income tax. It could even be said that the government has a double standard: it acts one way when it is owed money and another way when it has to pay money to people who have been paying their taxes for years.

It is a question of ethics and setting a good example. The government should hold itself to the same rules as others. I would also like to say that the guaranteed income supplement should be available to everyone who needs it and that the application process should be simpler, so that people are not required to apply every year. It must be paid on an ongoing basis.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for her comments. We serve together on the parliamentary committee on the status of women. I want to put a question to the member.

Bill C-36, like many other pieces of legislation that have come before the House, lacks a gender-based analysis. We know that women are disproportionately impacted by decisions that governments of any political stripe make.

Could the member specifically comment on the fact that women are poorer and that women are disproportionately in receipt of old age security because they do not have the kind of income that would mean they would have private pensions? Could she comment on what a gender-based analysis would mean to a bill like Bill C-36?

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 5:35 p.m.
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Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will split my time with the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi. I am taking this opportunity to wish a happy new year to my constituents in the riding of Compton—Stanstead, who elected me for a second time last year.

I am pleased to address Bill C-36. The Bloc Québécois and myself feel that this legislation includes some interesting improvements for our elderly who—and we tend to forget it all too often—built this country.

After being elected for the first time, I quickly realized how the federal government was so incredibly indifferent to the plight of the elderly, particularly the most vulnerable ones. The government tends to be more receptive to the demands of groups that are more powerful, more vocal and more organized. Therefore, the most vulnerable and isolated seniors in our society are not a real priority for the federal government. This is one of the reasons why the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act were flawed in a number of ways. Fortunately, Bill C-36 seeks to correct several of these flaws, particularly as regards the guaranteed income supplement.

We know that until the Bloc Québécois began to work on it in recent years, this guaranteed income supplement was anything but guaranteed; it was pretty hit-and-miss. One had to be unusually motivated and prepared to battle in order to get it. In 2001, the Bloc Québécois made sure that the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities studied the guaranteed income supplement file. Again it was the Bloc Québécois that organized a huge operation to identify the seniors who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but who were being kept in the dark.

In 2001, it was estimated that over 68,000 seniors in Quebec and 270,000 seniors in Canada were not receiving the guaranteed income supplement although they were entitled to it. The parliamentary committee looking at the question pointed the finger at administrative complexity, ineffective, inadequate and poorly targeted advertising, over-zealous public administrators and, more generally, the conflict of interest caused by the astronomical sums saved by the federal government at the expense of the most disadvantaged.

Those are the reasons why so many seniors were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement. Between 1993 and 2001, close to $3.2 billion in all of Canada, including $800 million in Quebec alone, was not paid to seniors who were entitled to it and was reallocated to other purposes by the government of Mr. Chrétien, the member for LaSalle—Émard and the leader of the official opposition—I cannot mention their names.

Misappropriation of employment insurance, misappropriation of support for seniors and dumping of problems onto the provinces, these are the three pillars on which Ottawa’s zero deficit and debt reduction were built. What an edifying and inspiring example for future generations.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the Bloc Québécois, close to 42,000 of these people were discovered in Quebec alone. This effort accounts for some $190 million more that has been redistributed to the people who need it most. In 2004, when I was elected to the House, I quickly saw that the main problems of access to the guaranteed income supplement involved lack of familiarity with the program and the hugely complex application form.

I visited seniors' centres in my riding and met dozens of struggling individuals, in order to tell them about the guaranteed income supplement. Those few thousand additional dollars were enough to relieve much misery. I can guarantee that. However, once individuals are identified, not everything is solved. The question of renewal also posed a problem. For many seniors, especially those with less education, having to fill out complicated forms year after year constitutes a heavy burden.

Many of our seniors did not have the opportunity to learn to read and write. They have managed to get through life despite these limitations, but they are very discouraged by the complicated forms found on the Internet.

In recent years, I have been very happy to see that these forms have been simplified and that, finally, Bill C-36 introduces an automatic renewal system. It was about time.

That said, Bill C-36 introduces another important element, namely, the adjustment of the guaranteed income supplement if there is a drastic drop in the recipient's income.

Last year, one of my constituents came to my office. This gentleman, who worked part time in a sawmill, saw his hours drop from about a dozen hours a week to none at all. At that time, he had to wait eight months for his guaranteed income supplement to be adjusted to his new situation, which had a direct impact on his income and his quality of life, and caused him considerable stress that he could have done without.

I would also like to be very clear on one point. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill because it is a step in the right direction. However, I would like to see the government take the next step and launch an information and awareness campaign about the guaranteed income supplement. Older people who are eligible for this benefit but who are still not receiving it should automatically have access to it.

Furthermore, the Bloc Québécois will continue to fight for full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for everyone who has the right to it.

For years, the federal government withheld much-needed money from our poorest seniors. By failing to ensure awareness of this program and by producing forms that were not well-suited to older people, the federal government made things even worse for the most vulnerable members of our society.

A total of $3.2 billion was not distributed to the people who contributed so much to building this country. This is a flagrant violation of two major principles: inter-generational equality and the gratitude these builders deserve.

The only way to correct this situation and make amends is to give these older people full retroactivity. Full retroactivity. For the Bloc Québécois and for me, this is about honour and justice.

It is upsetting to learn that for all these years, both Liberal and Conservative governments have allowed a profoundly unjust and cruel situation to persist.

Yes, Bill C-36 will bring about some progress. Still, we will continue the fight to ensure that the federal government gives the people who made Quebec and Canada the nations they are today what they deserve.

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 second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the member from Hamilton on her passionate speech and her work on behalf of seniors, along with the member for Laval who spoke, and also on her new critic post on behalf of the Status of Women.

I am pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-36 both as the member of Parliament for Brampton—Springdale and also as the new critic for social development for the official opposition. As the critic for social development, I look forward to working on behalf of Canadians to ensure our youth, seniors and Canadian families have the tools and resources they need to succeed and to ensure they can actively contribute to their communities.

Today I will be speaking on Bill C-36, a bill that amends the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act, on behalf of our caucus. However, all of us must remember and perhaps take a look at some historical facts. One of Canada's greatest achievements, and our hallmark, is its retirement income system for seniors. It is a program, as has been mentioned before, that has helped millions of seniors across Canada. I know that not only our party, the Liberal Party, but all other parties in the House have always promoted investments with and for our seniors.

Every previous Liberal government demonstrated this commitment by investing in our seniors and ensuring they would have the very best and lived their lives with dignity and respect. It was a previous Liberal government that implemented the old age security program, the Canada pension plan, the guaranteed income supplement and reinstated the new horizons program. It did this to ensure seniors would live with respect and dignity.

The previous Liberal government also wanted to ensure that seniors would have a voice at the cabinet table. This is why the former Liberal government appointed a minister of state for seniors. In 2005 it also announced the creation of a seniors secretariat to ensure there would be a focal point within the federal government for collaboration to address many of the issues highlighted here in the House today.

In the 1990s the Liberal government demonstrated its commitment towards seniors and ensured long term stability in the funding for Canada pension plan and old age security. Today, the Canada pension plan fund itself stands at over $100 billion and remains safe for many generations to come.

In 2004 the Liberal government also increased the guaranteed income supplement by $2.7 billion over two years. This alone was the largest single increase that had ever been made since 1984. This increase directly benefited the many low income seniors, who we have mentioned here in the House today. It is due to the 13 years of Liberal government, its commitment and its investment in seniors that fewer Canadian seniors are now living in poverty. Public pension benefits such as the old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, the Canada pension retirement plan, survivor and death benefits have been vital components of Canada's retirement income system.

Canada's retirement income system has successfully and dramatically reduced the rate of low income seniors. Low income among Canada's seniors who are over the age of 65 has been reduced from 11% in 1993 to 5.6% in 2004. Even though this is a lower percentage, we all realize there are still many single seniors who live in urban areas and many seniors, who are single women, who still continue to face significant challenges. Due to the fact that many seniors continue to live on fixed low income, they are likely to remain in low income for an extended period of time.

Even though the previous Liberal government increased the GIS benefits for low income seniors, it is imperative in moving forward that we, as parliamentarians in the House, continue to ensure we invest in Canada's retirement income system to ensure that the policies and programs the new government is creating will ensure that a greater number of seniors actually live their lives with dignity, with the resources and tools they need and to not live in poverty.

The Conservative government, unfortunately, cannot claim to be the defenders of a sound public pension system when the Minister of Finance has launched an attack on the vital CPP funds by linking the CPP account to the national debt.

CPP funds must be used for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is for future pension payments. With the economic update that was put forward in the House in the fall of 2006, the Conservative government actually set a goal to eliminate Canada's net debt by 2021. While on the surface this sounded like a great idea and a very laudable goal, the reality of it is that it is a very different picture. Canada's national debt currently stands at about $480 billion. In the past decade, again thanks to years of Liberal fiscal management, it has decreased dramatically from its record high of more than $560 billion.

The Conservatives have pledged to pay down $3 billion per year on the national debt. However, a simple calculation shows us that at this rate the national debt will be eliminated by the year 2166. However, this is where the difference between the net debt and the national debt comes in.

The national debt is the amount of money that the Government of Canada actually owes to its creditors, mostly international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is basically the equivalent of a national mortgage and the accumulation of all past deficits and surpluses. Net debt is a national debt and all the other liabilities held by government plus all of the national assets.

The single largest national asset that is held by the Canadian government is the Canada pension plan. It is currently at a value of more than $100 billion and by 2021 will reach a value in excess of $400 billion. At current trends in 2021, the nominal values of the national debt and the CPP fund will converge, essentially cancelling each other out since one is a negative and the other is a positive. This is what has allowed the Conservatives to announce their goal of elimination of the net debt by that particular year.

However, it is completely misleading and irresponsible to attach the CPP fund to the national debt. Implicitly, the government has announced that the CPP fund will be used as collateral for future borrowing when in fact we in the House all know that the CPP fund exists for one reason and one reason only, to pay future CPP benefit payments.

Net debt has been the accumulation of all assets and all liabilities. In making their pledge to eliminate the net debt, which incidentally did not contain anything new since paying down $3 billion per year on the national debt had already been booked well into the future by the previous Liberal government, the Conservatives have ignored one of the biggest liabilities that face the government, future CPP payments which continue to increase on a daily basis as our Canadian population increases and ages.

Between now and the year 2030, the population is projected to grow to 38.6 million. By 2030, the median age, which is currently at 38, is also expected to increase to 44. During this period the proportion of retirees will also increase significantly from 13% to 23% or almost nine million people. Those 80 years or older will also significantly increase from the current 3% to 6% of the general population. This group represents one of the fastest growing segments of the population.

In 2003, when we take a look at the statistics, there were 21 retirees for every 100 people of working age. By 2030, it is expected that this ratio will almost double to 41 retirees for every 100 persons of working age. These demographics and this research highlights the necessity for the government to be able to respond to the changing conditions and our aging population.

Government must be committed to poverty reduction among seniors, single women seniors and our aboriginal seniors. Government must ensure that all seniors can maintain their standard of living in retirement. Public policy must be able to respond to the financial future pressure on the public pension system so that all seniors from all walks of life, not just high income seniors, are guaranteed a decent quality of life in their latter years.

Less than 50% of seniors benefit from a private pension plan. Women are far more likely to depend on the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement as important sources for their income. Both of these programs together account for 32% of women's income versus a men's income.

Despite the improvements the bill is going to make to ensure some efficiency, the government's policies have not helped Canada's seniors since the Conservatives have been in power. We need only look at the issue of income trusts. On October 31, 2006, the Conservative government broke its promise to Canadian seniors and actually started to tax income trusts, another promise broken by the Conservatives.

Many Canadians throughout the country had invested their money based on this promise. I know that many of my own constituents, many seniors in my own constituency of Brampton—Springdale, had invested their hard-earned life savings in income trusts. Many of them depended on and took the Conservatives at their word. On the day the decision to tax income trusts was announced, many constituents and many seniors across Canada lost their hard-earned savings. They were wiped out in a matter of moments.

It was ironic that when the Prime Minister appointed Senator LeBreton Secretary of State for Seniors, she herself could not see the devastating impact that the decision on income trusts actually had on seniors and stated, “I have not seen any evidence that people have individually lost large sums of money”. This was absolutely no consolation to the thousands of seniors who lost their hard-earned savings.

This is also the same government that less than a year ago proposed to the provinces to put all future federal surpluses into the CPP account. This was widely shot down by many of the premiers, who did not want or were wary of any type of political interference in the fund, because they also believe that the CPP fund should be kept at arm's length from government and managed by the CPP Investment Board.

We must ensure that the principles behind the CPP account cannot be compromised. I know that many of my hon. colleagues in the House have spoken about increasing efficiency, about ensuring that the most vulnerable seniors who need access to the GIS, the guaranteed income supplement, actually have the opportunity to get access, but I think we must also ensure, moving forward, that we provide access to the many thousands of seniors across Canada for whom English or French is perhaps not their first language. We must be able to reach out to the cultural communities to ensure that they also have the opportunity to learn of the benefits and the resources available to them.

Even though we will be supporting Bill C-36 today, I think it is imperative that we all work collectively in the House of Commons, as I believe ensuring the respect and dignity of our seniors is really a non-partisan issue. Many of the members of the House have put forward great initiatives, policies and program ideas. I hope that we all work together to ensure that our seniors have the very best.

Seniors must not live in poverty any more. There must not be low income seniors. We must provide policies, programs and resources to ensure that they actually live outside of poverty and have the very best, that they live in an environment of dignity and respect.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately there is nothing in Bill C-36 that addresses retroactivity. I have a bill on the order paper that speaks to precisely that issue.

This is one of the reasons why the bill needs to go to committee. It has all the punitive provisions whereby the government can grab overpayments. It has no problem doing that in a retroactive way. However, where seniors have been ripped off and shortchanged, there is absolutely no attempt to deal with retroactivity at all in the bill.

Again, it goes back to the same issue that I raised with respect to the mistake made in the Consumer Price Index and the impact that has had on increases in CPP, OAS and GIS. The government has admitted the mistake. It was not even its mistake. It happened under the Liberal administration, but the government admitted it happened. Again, is it willing to deal with it retroactively? Not at all. It owes seniors an explanation.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Hamilton is probably aware that the NDP was horrified to learn recently that as many as 300,000 Canadians who are eligible for guaranteed income supplement were not getting it even though the government knew who they were by virtue of their tax returns.

When we finally addressed the issue, the Liberal government grudgingly agreed but only with retroactivity for 11 months. The Bloc was very concerned with this issue as well. Is there any movement within the parameters of Bill C-36 or possibility to lift that ridiculous freeze and give the money to those people who were deserving of it and eligible for it all that time for the whole period they were eligible?

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP caucus, I welcome the opportunity to enter the debate on Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. Our caucus will support the bill at second reading so that it can go to committee where we can move significant amendments.

Earlier this afternoon I listened carefully to the minister's comments. Judging by the rhetoric, he would have Canadians believe that through this single piece of legislation, he has once and for all ensured that seniors no longer need to worry about their economic security in retirement. No one more than I do wishes that were true.

Seniors across our country are profoundly and legitimately worried about their retirement incomes. They are worried about the solvency of their private pensions. They fret about the adequacy of both CPP and public income supports. They are keenly aware that the rate of inflation is higher for seniors than it is for other Canadians.

What is the government's response to these very legitimate fears? It introduces a bill that is essentially just housekeeping in nature. It is administrative. It streamlines some services and application processes but it does nothing to redress the inadequate benefit levels of seniors' incomes.

Politicians on all sides of the House pay lip service to the fact that seniors built our country and that we owe it to them to ensure that they can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve, but in reality, through successive Liberal and Conservative governments, seniors are falling farther and farther behind. In my hometown of Hamilton, one-quarter of all seniors are living in poverty and senior women over the age of 75 have a poverty rate of 36%. Nationally, over one-quarter of a million seniors are living under the low income cut-off, or as we call it, living 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 just $12,400.

Living in poverty is hardly a retirement lived with dignity and respect. That is compounded by the fact that increases in the cost of living hits seniors disproportionately harder than any other segment of the population.

When Statistics Canada determines the annual cost of living upon which adjustments are based, its basket of goods includes electronics like iPods, plasma TVs and computers, all goods which are coming down in price and reducing the cost of living figures. Frankly, those are also the goods which seniors are not buying. The items seniors are spending money on are essentials like heat, hydro, food and shelter, the increasing costs of which are all outpacing their incomes. What is the government doing to address that issue? Absolutely nothing, not in this bill and not in any other piece of legislation that the Conservatives have introduced in the House to date.

In fact, I would like to remind members of the government of an issue that I raised with them in question period before the House rose in December. Statistics Canada has miscalculated the consumer price index since 2001. In response to my question, the then minister of human resources and social development acknowledged that this error meant seniors had been shortchanged for years in the increase to their CPP, OAS and GIS entitlements.

The government is continuing to make seniors pay for its mistake. Admittedly, that mistake originally happened during the Liberals' 13 years in government, but expecting the Liberals to act responsibly with taxpayers' money is, as Justice Gomery reminded us, like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

However, the Conservatives started with a blank slate and they have now tabled Bill C-36, purportedly to deal precisely with CPP, OAS and GIS. Yet nowhere in the bill nor anywhere in the minister's comments does one find any reference to righting this wrong for retirees.

I have started a national petition campaign on this issue. I would encourage the millions of Canadians who I know are watching this afternoon to go to my website, download a copy of that petition and send it back to me, or they could write to me postage free here at the House of Commons and I will personally send them a copy to circulate among their friends. Surely in what may well be an election year the government will not be able to ignore the voices of millions of Canadian voters, but judging by Bill C-36, the government will need to be pushed to do the right thing.

Last June I had the privilege of introducing on behalf of our caucus a motion in the House of Commons to create a seniors charter of rights. One of the enumerated rights in the charter is the right of all seniors to income security. To my surprise, the Conservative government supported my motion and the motion was passed by a vote of 231 to 52. However, the Conservatives have neither introduced nor supported a single legislative initiative in the seven months since the motion was passed to enact any of the rights the seniors charter guarantees.

We need the government to do more than talk the talk. It is time that it walked the walk.

To date, the Conservatives have been disinclined to help seniors living in poverty. In the last federal budget, the one and only item that came even close to addressing the income of seniors was an increase to $2,000 in the pension tax credit. Who benefits from that tax credit? Not a single senior whose only income is CPP, OAS and GIS. The tax credit only applies to private pensions. The seniors who need the money the most get no help from their government at all, not a single red cent for the neediest in our communities.

Similarly, the Conservatives increased the income tax rate in the lowest bracket from 15% to 15.5%, which means that many seniors are now getting $10 less on their monthly CPP cheques. They would have to spend $1,000 a month to recover that money from the much talked about 1% cut to the GST.

The federal government reported a surplus of $13 billion in its last federal budget and yet it did not spend a dime on alleviating poverty for seniors. I ask that I be forgiven for not doing cartwheels over the administrative tinkering that is before us in Bill C-36. it simply represents a missed opportunity.

Is there anything of value in the bill at all? Yes, there is. For example, I welcome the fact that the government will finally waive the requirement for a renewal application for the GIS and allowance benefits after an initial application has been made. That change, of course, was long overdue. What about the 130,000 seniors who are eligible for the GIS but are not receiving it? Why not just eliminate the application process altogether so that every eligible senior will be getting what is rightfully theirs?

I have proudly been working with the seniors and poverty working group in Hamilton which made it its mission last year to do the necessary outreach to ensure that seniors became aware of their public income entitlements and provided assistance to access them. It has been an absolute privilege to work with this dedicated group of community activists but it has also been an eye-opening experience to observe how community leaders who are already overworked have been forced to step up to the plate because the government has dropped the ball.

Just as seniors are not getting timely access to the GIS, so are many of them failing to apply for all of the benefits to which they are entitled under other income supports. CPP and OAS are the other two major programs that millions of aging Canadians rely on for income security in retirement. The same barriers exist for these programs as for the GIS.

One cannot simply refer seniors to a website and assume they can navigate their way through the information highway. In-depth counselling is often a prerequisite to seniors learning about all of their entitlements and ensuring that they fill out their applications properly and in a timely manner. That job used to be performed by government specialists who worked for Services Canada. These were people like Irene Smith in Hamilton who contacted me and my colleague, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, last November to inform us that she and her small cadre of colleagues were no longer permitted to give specialized attention to individuals seeking in-depth pension counselling. Instead, her job description was rewritten to make her a generalist who deals with everything from boat licences to EI. This will lead to hundreds and potentially thousands of elderly Hamiltonians being unable to access all of the financial benefits to which they are entitled in a timely fashion.

Often, restrictive clauses on retroactivity make it impossible to recover from early filing errors. These clauses too need to be changed but Bill C-36 offers absolutely no redress. Depriving seniors of what is rightfully theirs is hardly retirement lived with dignity and respect.

As we debate Bill C-36 here today, we need to ask ourselves who will ensure that current and future retirees will be made aware of their entitlements. Who will help them access what is rightfully theirs? Why is Bill C-36 silent on these crucial elements of implementation?

It is good to note that the bill would facilitate the application process for seniors who apply for income tested benefits and who have suffered a loss of income due to termination or reduction of employment or pension income by requiring that seniors report estimated pension and employment income only. However, who will be there to explain to them what that means? Who will explain to seniors when it might be advantageous for them to withdraw an OAS application where the pension has not yet been paid? I know that for some this will prove to be a positive change in the legislative framework but only if they are aware of how to access that permissive clause.

Who will explain the expanded restrictions on income tested benefits for immigrants subject to sponsorship agreements or does the minister hope that nobody will notice that part of the act?

Seniors whose sole income support is OAS and GIS are hardly in a position to hire lawyers and accountants to figure it out for them. That is why the NDP's seniors charter included the creation of a seniors advocate, someone who would be dedicated to conducting public education and awareness initiatives on the rights of seniors. Without that, a right that cannot be accessed is, frankly, no right at all. However, we can bet that the government has already put plans in place to enforce the punitive provisions of Bill C-36.

The bill strengthens the ability of the ministry to recover overpayments and interest where it has accrued, both with respect to OAS and CPP. We can bet our bottom dollar that those provisions have a staffing plan in place and yet why is there not even a mention of reimbursing pensioners with interest when an error of underpayment is made by the government? Seniors deserve better. Seniors have worked hard all their lives and have played by the rules but now that they need the system that their tax dollars helped to build, they are confronted by barriers to access.

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. It needs to live up to the commitment it made by voting for the seniors charter. It needs to ensure that seniors have timely access to all federal government services and programs. It also needs to ensure that seniors can rely on protected pensions and indexed public income supports that provide a reasonable state of economic welfare. Only then will seniors finally be able to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House and speak to Bill C-36.

First of all I would like to say that I am very proud to transfer the file on seniors and persons with disabilities to my new colleague from Repentigny, who I think will defend this file with as much enthusiasm, passion and determination as I did, and as all my colleagues of the Bloc Québécois who held the file before me have done.

This is a very important bill, which for us in the Bloc Québécois answers some of the requests that we have been making for many years and certain demands that we have concerning seniors, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society.

However, I have to say that there are still some shortcomings in this bill. As in all bills that interest us, we have done our homework. We have been in touch with the various seniors’ associations, the various organizations of seniors in Quebec and even some in Canada, to check with them and their representatives whether the bill was satisfactory in their view, if it met their needs, their concerns, and whether we could go ahead and support it.

At the outset, when we had the first information session, I was very pleased to see that finally this request made for so long concerning the guaranteed income supplement had been met, that is, that the supplement should become automatic, that people should have to apply for it only once and then it should become automatic.

From the first day, I was ready to say yes, to support this bill, to fast-track it and pass it right away so that people could start receiving their income and money in time for Christmas, so that they would be pleased to see that the guaranteed income supplement had become automatic.

I reminded myself that we should never be in too much of a hurry and that we have to be very careful, even if sometimes something looks like an excellent solution overall. Indeed the automatic GIS was the good news we had been waiting for for nearly ten years.

However, other aspects of this bill, which could harm seniors and might be negative for them, told us we had to be careful before giving our assent too quickly, because we wanted at all costs to be right concerning the guaranteed income supplement.

This shows once again that when the Bloc Québécois deals with an issue that affects Quebeckers and Canadians and a segment of society that is very vulnerable and fragile, it pays attention to what it is doing and the decisions it makes. We are very careful. I think it is worth it.

We certainly support this bill in principle. It is hard to be against virtue itself. However, the hon. members will recall a few years ago my colleague Marcel Gagnon, who is no longer in the House, defending this cause with great determination and courage. He toured all of Quebec and even some parts of Canada. He defended the guaranteed income supplement and the need to find people to whom it was owed. We managed at the time to find about 40,000 of the 68,000 people there were in Quebec. We suspected that there were 68,000 people just in Quebec who were entitled to the GIS but were not getting it because they did not know it existed. We found 42,000 of them. This means that there are still 24,000, 25,000 or 26,000 who have not been found yet.

What is being done for these other people who have not been found yet for all sorts of reasons? They are people who never applied for the GIS because of a physical or mental health problem, a physical limitation, illiteracy or a linguistic barrier.

Some citizens were even deprived of considerable amounts of money and did not get the GIS even though they were entitled to it. The Department of Human Resources and Social Development apparently had difficulty contacting particularly disadvantaged clienteles such as people who have never worked outside the home, people who do not file income tax returns, natives, residents of remote communities, people with few literacy skills, people who do not read or speak either official language, people who are handicapped or ill, and finally, the homeless.

When we think of all the people involved, we have to wonder whether this bill will give use the tools we need to contact them and give them the money they are owed.

As I said earlier, we consulted various organizations and groups that work with seniors in Quebec. One of them, the Conférence des Tables régionales de concertation des aînés du Québec, took time to read the bill, study it and send us their thoughts on it.

It should be remembered that this is a rather large association that includes most Quebec seniors, since it is made up of Quebec's 17 regional round tables. As we know, Quebec is divided into 17 regions. This is the only group that covers all of the Quebec territory. It also has a key link with the Quebec seniors council and helps it fulfill its mandate by supporting its initiatives in the regions. We also know that the conference and the round tables are the primary contacts of the Quebec Minister of Family, Seniors and Status of Women. This is important. When these people talk, or when they look at a bill, we listen very carefully to what they have to say.

We can already tell the House that, for a long time now, regional tables for seniors had been asking to group together applications for old age security and guaranteed income supplement, so that a single application would be necessary for those who are entitled to both amounts. This is what Bill C-36 purports to do, and we are very pleased about that. As for the changes to the disability insurance, we think that this insurance is well adjusted to today's labour market.

There was nothing either on the fact that interests can be collected on overpayments—which is normal—but the government should also pay interest on the money that it owes to pensioners, because this is also as it should be. If one wants to get something, one should be prepared to give something. This works both ways.

Clauses 11 and 25 make it possible for a larger number of third parties to have access to personal information on the contributor. This raises privacy issues and requires the establishment of strict rules to ensure a monitoring process, so that not everyone has access to such information. It is a good thing that the requirement for spouses or common law spouses to provide information on their income or family status was abolished, when that information is already provided by the other spouse or common law spouse. This will make it simpler to file income tax returns. However, there is no indication of the Canada pension plan, the old age security benefits or the guaranteed income supplement being indexed. It is also most unfortunate that there is no retroactive measure regarding the guaranteed income supplement.

FADOQ is another seniors group in Quebec that serves hundreds of thousands of people, which is not a small gathering that can just be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of seniors belong to this group. Their concerns are the same, but we believe there may be room to make other changes to the Canada pension plan.

Among other things, they are saying that the measures proposed in Bill C-36 only concern the continued renewal of the guaranteed income supplement application and not the initial application for receiving the GIS for the first time.

The purpose of the bill is not to reduce the number of seniors who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, but to reduce the number who do not receive it. However, in Canada in 2003, despite the progress made in the past few years, 37,000 seniors who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement still had not received it. These uncollected benefits totalled $204 million in 2003, for all of Canada—$204 million! Since the guaranteed income supplement is used as an eligibility criterion for a number of other programs, non-participants also miss out on the benefits the provinces and territories give to low-income seniors.

In Laval we have 40,000 seniors 65 and older of whom 38% are over 75. That is a significant number. In other words, many people who are over 75 are likely entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. It is not always easy to find these people since they are not used to asking for services; they are used to taking care of themselves.

Another problem is the fact that Bill C-36 says nothing about the clawback of old age security benefits imposed since 1989 on high income seniors, whereby they have to give some back. With respect to those seniors who have already reported high incomes and seen their pension clawed back after filing their income tax returns, the federal government seems to take for granted that their income level will remain unchanged, and advance pension deductions are made the following year. This means that, while these seniors do receive a monthly pension, the amount received is reduced based on the previous year. Members know that the income of seniors often varies, which makes this practice unworkable. Some seniors have told us that such a measure was likely to deprive them of a part of their income to which they are entitled.

At present, seniors who foresee significant changes in their income have to file pro forma tax returns with the Canada Revenue Agency. It might be simpler and more appropriate to have them report their income directly to the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, since that is the department responsible for administering the old age security program.

Since the late 1990s, the FADOQ, Mouvement des aînés du Québec, has been calling for the OAS clawback rate to be lowered, as it reduces excessively the income of retirees who have managed to put a little money aside. The FADOQ even suggested increasing the threshold in personal income beyond which benefits may be clawed back through income tax.

In spite of all these shortcomings and oversights, the Bloc Québécois recognizes the very exciting measures contained in this bill. We will support the bill in principle, so that it can be referred to committee, where it can hopefully be amended to some extent to make it even more exciting for our seniors, who are for the most part disadvantaged people.

Given that Bill C-36 will make it easier for disadvantaged seniors to benefit from the guaranteed income 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; given that Bill C-36 enables seniors who are faced with a sudden drop in their employment or pension income during the fiscal year to apply for the guaranteed income supplement using an estimate of their employment and pension income; given that Bill C-36 explains and clarifies sections of the Old Age Security Act to correct inconsistencies; and, finally, given that Bill C-36 makes changes to the Canada Pension Plan—which does not affect Quebec and its constitutional jurisdictions—we will support this bill in principle.

However, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to broadening restrictions on new Canadian citizens who 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 following clauses pose a problem by creating different classes of Canadian citizens: 11(4), 19(3), 19(6)(d)(ii), 20 and 21(9)(c)(ii), which refer to persons in respect of whom an undertaking by a sponsor is in effect as provided under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These clauses exclude new Canadian citizens who are still being sponsored.

The committee and the Bloc ask that the committee amend the bill so as not to limit the rights of new citizens, as referred to here. The obligations of the sponsor, who vouches for and looks after a person who has immigrated here, generally take effect as soon as the sponsored person obtains permanent resident status. This commitment cannot be terminated, and it remains in effect when the person obtains Canadian citizenship, separates or divorces, or a moves to another province. It would remain in effect even if your financial situation were to deteriorate.

Can we allow ourselves to leave seniors destitute, simply because the person who was supposed to sponsor them has suffered a loss of income or has lost his or her job? Many textile factories are closing their doors because the government did not think to support the textile industry. Furthermore, many people will not have work in certain areas, such as at Bell Helicopter, because the government did not bother to confirm with the United States whether something could be done to ensure that people from various cultural communities could obtain the contracts offered by Bell Canada.

Many other jobs are being lost in the wood products and forestry industries. People born outside of Canada often hold these jobs. These people often act as sponsors of another individual whom they have helped come here. Unfortunately, and through no fault of their own, they can no longer properly take care of the senior whom they have taken into their home.

Will we simply leave these people in need, in difficult situations, because the person hosting them is also having difficulties? In my opinion, we must pay attention and ensure that everyone who decides to live here has a decent minimum income.

The Bloc Québécois also recommends that the committee examine the obligation to pay the full retroactivity. Last year in this Parliament, in 2005, we decided unanimously to reimburse individuals and give them full retroactivity. What has happened since then? A government, a new government, which had voted in favour of the motion of my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain, has now decided that it will not respect its commitments.

We are asking the government to pay the full retroactivity, or at least that the committee study the obligation to pay the full retroactivity and to not limit it to 11 months, as provided by law regarding the guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowance. This policy would allow for retroactive payment covering the full period of eligibility.

The Bloc Québécois will also ask that the Privacy Commissioner testify with regard to the broadening of the third-party group to which the contributor's personal information may be forwarded. We will also ensure that amendments to the current regulations will not restrict the scope of the guaranteed income supplement. We will continue our longstanding fight against the government to have it put in place all the elements required to ensure that seniors who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement have access to it.

With regard to interest on overpayments, we will ensure that this bill treats all taxpayers fairly. Finally, we will ensure that the time limit in which the government may reclaim overpayment of benefits is proportional to the period in which individuals may seek a--

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 4:10 p.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 member for her speech and also for supporting this very important bill. As I listened to the member go through the different points on why she was supporting Bill C-36, I could not help but think that she certainly does understand how important this bill is.

Bill C-36 really takes us forward in serving our seniors in the future with some of the changes that are being made. Albeit some are technical, they will certainly make a difference.

Most of all, we are talking about some of the seniors who, unfortunately, we find difficult to reach with regard to the guaranteed income supplement. The member spoke to that. I would like to know if she has any suggestions on how we can reach the people who do not know about the guaranteed income supplement. We know that because this is income tested, we can use Revenue Canada, but I am wondering if she can make some suggestions as to how we reach the percentage of persons who are not able to get the guaranteed income supplement because they do not know it is available.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin today by saying how thrilled I am to have been asked by our leader to assume the position of critic for seniors, Canadians with disabilities and the social economy. Seniors and Canadians with disabilities are some of the most engaged citizens we have in this country. I look forward to working with them and to ensuring the solutions they have been working on for a long time will be presented to the government. In my experience as chair of the subcommittee on persons with disabilities, I hope this can be a non-partisan issue in which we do the most we can for our most vulnerable Canadians.

As is shown by the combination of the bill presented today, the issues around full citizenship, the ability to contribute and the issue around income security are things shared both by seniors and persons with disabilities. It will be extraordinarily important for us to understand the complexity of this and the need for the government, the provinces and the territories to work together. I think all of us who have worked in this area know that one of the real problems has been the gridlock involved in the fact that income security and human rights can be seen as a federal issue, but the supports and services are very much provincial and territorial. It becomes a real problem if we cannot work across government departments and across jurisdictions to do what the people who need us most know needs to be done.

The Canada pension plan is the basis of Canada's retirement income system. As the minister has said, there were many irritants and difficulties in the administration of that. We are grateful to the minister for bringing in these changes that will make the application of these benefits much simpler. As we know, it provides the retirement pension, disability benefits, benefits for survivors, children's benefits and a death benefit. As the minister alluded to, in 2005-06, four million people received benefits totalling $25 billion.

We know that the Liberal Party is the party of income security. Lester Pearson and Paul Martin Senior brought in the CPP program in the first place. It was the policies of Prime Minister Chrétien and the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, that stabilized the pension funds and guaranteed a secure public pension system for the next 75 years.

It is also important that we mention the issue of guaranteed income supplement, old age security and the retirement benefits under the Canada and Quebec pension plans which provide our senior citizens with monthly taxable benefits. For seniors without other income, the amounts received from these programs are, unfortunately, very modest.

The guaranteed income supplement was first introduced by the Liberal government under Lester Pearson in 1967 to help improve living standards for lower income seniors. The GIS is a monthly benefit paid to residents of Canada who receive full or partial OAS pensions and who have little or no other income.

I am pleased to see the proposal to waive the requirement for a renewal application for the GIS once an initial application has been made. Many seniors forget to reapply for their GIS or are late in their reapplication which results in a decrease in income for the following year. Administrative process should not be an obstacle to deserved benefits and I am glad to see that the government has recognized that.

I am proud to state that the Liberal government increased the guaranteed income supplement for seniors by $36 per month for single seniors and $58 per month for couples. This was a $2.7 billion investment that directly benefited 1.6 billion Canadian seniors. Unfortunately, as all parties in this House have recognized, there are many difficulties in ensuring that all seniors who qualify for GIS apply for it and receive it.

Many seniors fail to apply for GIS because they have no taxable income or they have health problems, mental or physical limitations, or literacy and language barriers. In fact, estimates by policy analyst, Richard Shillington, in 2001, with the help of Susan Pigott at St. Christopher House in Toronto, suggested that 320,000 eligible Canadians were not receiving the GIS and associated spousal and widow's allowances.

Under the last Liberal government there was a fantastic partnership between Human Resource Development Canada and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency which helped provincial organizations and grassroots volunteers to educate seniors about the GIS. There is no point having a program that seniors do not know they can access. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure everyone entitled to a program gets what they are entitled to, which means serious efforts must be made for outreach and education.

I hope the government will undertake a similar initiative to ensure that seniors are knowledgeable about the supports available to them. Failing to reach low income elderly people with funds that can make the difference between comfort and privation is a serious concern.

In 1997, the Canada pension plan was restructured to respond to the growing needs of an aging population, to ensure its viability and to stabilize contribution rates. Experts said that, as a result of those changes, the CPP would be viable for at least another 75 years.

As a family doctor, I can testify as to how important the changes are in this bill in terms of the flexibility in the Canada pension plan disability. It is a huge deal to someone who has become slightly disabled and whose attachment to the workforce has become less regular. The difference between qualifying with three out of the past six years as opposed to the previous four out of the past six years is huge to so many Canadians.

The Liberal record on income security is clear. Although I am supportive of Bill C-36, we must hold the government to account on this issue.

If the Canadian retirement income system is to work, it is essential that everyone contribute as much as he or she can for as long as he or she wants to or can.

Afterwards, when it is time to rely on the community, everyone will be confident that he or she will be considered and treated with respect and dignity; and each person will have a real sense of belonging.

That means that we have to avoid bureaucratic nightmares. Canadians must be able to receive what they are entitled to without a lot of administrative red tape.

We on this side are supportive of all of the proposed amendments: the simplification of access to and delivery of benefits of the OAS, the ongoing renewal, the agreements to co-administer similar provincial benefits to simplify the reporting of income for couples and seniors and the OAS-consistent benefit entitlements, the OAS clarity of legislation and the proposed amendments to the Canada pension plan, both the full funding and the CPP tri-annual review, the long term contributors Canada pension plan disability, and the CPP business transformation amendment, the administrative amendment as well as the proposed common OAS-CPP amendments.

The provision for electronic services is hugely important now and the charging of interest, I think, is an important provision, as well as the penalty provisions and the information sharing.

In 1918, Dr. Charles Hastings, the physician responsible for public health for the city of Toronto, said at the American Public Health Association that:

Every nation that permits people to remain under the fetters of preventable disease and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness; and, who endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible the development of a sound mind and body, is trampling on a primary principle of democracy.

That being said, we know that both seniors and persons with disabilities are still fighting the major challenge of poverty. Income security programs must ensure that income is secure. It is extraordinarily important that when we are evaluating these income security programs we are always asking the question: does this Canadian feel that his or her income is secure and that he or she will be able to continue with his or her housing?

I think it is really important that we continue to listen to fabulous organizations like the National Advisory Council on Aging and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. These partnerships have been very important in setting the priorities from the bottom up and in listening to the Canadians who will be most affected by the policies. I believe the bill today shows that the government is listening, or at least is doing what we as a government have heard before.

With seniors the fastest growing age group in the country and the increase in their numbers in the last 10 years being enough to populate mid-sized Canadian cities, we have to understand that we also must look carefully at the disaggregated data in terms of where poverty exists. And the poverty exists for women.

The Daily, Women in Canada 2005 published July 10, 2006, reported as follows:

Older women tend to have lower incomes than men because they participate less in the paid labour force, and, if they were employed, their wages were less on average. In 2004, about one in five senior women had never worked outside the home. Further, because women live longer they are at greater risk of running out of savings over their lifetimes.

According to a new study, senior women suffer much more financially from widowhood than do senior men. Over a 10-year period, senior widows saw their income decrease in the five years after the death of their husbands, while widowers` income increased in the five years after the loss of their wife.

It is going to be extraordinarily important as we go forward to make sure that we continue to bring together these uncoordinated income based programs, according to the National Advisory Committee on Aging and its report, “Aging in poverty in Canada”. It is this multitude of uncoordinated federal, provincial and territorial income based programs that is a nightmare for our seniors.

At one time, my twinned riding was Calgary Centre. There, we can look at the Kerby Centre and how it began by having a kiosk that seniors could come to in order to find out what level of government handled each program. If we look at that centre, we can begin to see that if we create programs from the bottom up and listen to seniors, we can start to bring these things together, as I hope this bill begins to do today.

In the worst case scenario, sometimes the cumulative effect of additional income may well be a net loss of an income. Seniors with low incomes are trapped due to the disincentives mentioned. They are discouraged from earning additional income to make their lives more enjoyable, or indeed, they may no longer qualify for subsidized housing or for the additional benefit. I think it is extraordinarily important that we as governments and as Parliament understand that the devil is in the details and that the net losses or the incomes from our programs have very real people attached to them in terms of their stories and whether they are actually better off or worse off. It is extraordinarily important that we listen again to these people who know best and hear their priorities for action.

The National Council on Aging has said that we must increase the GIS so that the combined GIS and OAS benefits are equal to or greater than the low income cut-off. We must correct the GIS shortcomings and decrease the number of late applicants and not unduly penalize them.

We must, as we have said, improve the coordination of income based programs and ensure automatic or compulsory sharing of pension rights under the Canada pension plan, employee pension funds and retirement savings plans following divorce or legal separation.

Again, our partnership with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities brings to our attention the fact that, with the aging of the population, people with disabilities make up a growing proportion of the Canadian population. One-third of aboriginal Canadians are living with a disability. Canadians with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than other Canadians and they face exclusion from quality education, employment and participation in their communities.

The first step in combating poverty and exclusion is to ensure that people have access to disability related supports and services. This is something that we as parliamentarians and the federal government need to do in partnership with our provincial and territorial partners. This is just too complex for us to allow people to fall through the cracks and for us not to work together to understand that it is only in consultation with persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities that we are going to get this right.

CPP disability deals only with Canadians who had a previous attachment to the workforce. We learned in our subcommittee that to go forward we need to ask, first, if a person can work and, second, whether that person would be able to work with appropriate training or education. If the answer to both these questions is no, then the federal government needs to work together with the provinces and territories and find a secure income for these people. CPP disability was only ever designed as an adjunct and it is still only those who had a previous attachment to the workforce who qualify.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living are calling on the federal government to show committed leadership and principle to overcome poverty and the exclusion of Canadians with disabilities.

Again, it is so important. I have some concerns that both the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Finance do not understand how important that technical advisory committee was on things like disability tax credits. To have disbanded the advisory committee that we fought so hard to put in place means that we will get it wrong when it comes to coordinating the net benefit to Canadians with disabilities.

The technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities has said:

Going Forward...Priority should be given to expenditure programs rather than tax measures to target new funding where the need is greatest.

The technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities, which was eliminated by the minister, conducted consultations with provincial and territorial administrations and the community of persons with disabilities.

It is really important to listen to them in terms of how they would evaluate their success. I believe they are asking us to look forward. They are asking us to reduce by half the annual income gap between Canadians with and without disabilities, to reduce by half the poverty rate of adults with disabilities, to reduce by half the labour market participation gap between Canadians with and without disabilities, and to reduce by half the non-reimbursed costs faced by persons with disabilities.

As we go forward, I encourage the minister to look at the extremely important and extraordinarily good report of the Subcommittee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities from the 37th Parliament and see what we learned in our report entitled “Listening to Canadians”. There were eight recommendations. I hope the minister will look at those recommendations and will bring together the kind of flexibility that it is going to take to actually incorporate into our society persons with cyclical diseases like mental illness, HIV-AIDS and MS.

There is a lot more to do, because we have to work together on the quality of life of all Canadians, on their dignity and respect. How we treat our most vulnerable is indeed the measure of a society. Together with the expertise of the seniors and the persons with disabilities of this country, I hope we will go forward. This bill is just one tiny step.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

moved that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today in my new role for the first time to talk to Bill C-36, a bill that proposes amendments to two of our foundational social programs, the Canada pension plan and old age security.

At the very outset, I want to begin by thanking the opposition parties for their support for the legislation. I think it enjoys broad support because it really does strengthen both the Canada pension plan, through improvements to allow people to get their disability pension, and old age security, through improvements so people will automatically receive guaranteed income supplement as their income rises and falls. I will say more to that in just a moment.

This is part of a larger agenda the government has to affirm our support for the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. These are extraordinarily important parts of Canada's social safety net. Even more to the point, they really do in a way show our government's commitment to seniors and our determination to ensure we do everything we possibly can to stand up for Canadian seniors who have done so much to build our country.

It is no exaggeration to say that because of the efforts of those who have gone before us we stand today in this great chamber. This country is built on a tradition of supporting human rights and democracy and ensuring we do everything we can so all Canadians get a fair shake, that they get an opportunity. For those people who, for whatever reason, can no longer participate in the labour force, they will still enjoy some support from the government and will have a decent standard of living.

I think fair-minded members on all sides of the House understand the importance of those kinds of social programs, and that is certainly true of the new government and the Prime Minister as well. In fact, the Prime Minister has gone to some lengths to underline his support for seniors by appointing a new secretary of state for seniors, Senator Marjorie LeBreton. I am thrilled to be working with her as she works with seniors, listens to their concerns and finds ways to support the programs that serve them.

Before we get into the actual amendments, it is important to point out just how important these programs are. The Canada pension plan today serves three million Canadians. It is one of the cornerstones of our social programming for seniors. The old age security goes to four million Canadians. The guaranteed income supplement goes to 1.5 million low income seniors, who are mostly women.

The Canada pension plan and old age security pays out $50 billion a year. GIS pays out $6.2 billion a year. We understand, as Canada's new government, how important those programs are. We want to build on those programs, make them better and make them stronger so we have them today and in the future. In fact, as I speak of the future, I need to point out that we are facing some big challenges as we go forward today. Roughly 12% of Canadians are seniors. In 25 years those numbers will double. It is very important that we have strong and sustainable social programs going forward.

The point of the amendments today are twofold. We want to modernize and streamline how benefits are delivered, and that really brings me to the first amendment.

The amendment has to do with changing the rules surrounding old age security so when seniors apply for it, they will only ever have to apply once in their life and at the same time will automatically receive the guaranteed income supplement if their income warrants it.

These amendments will change the rules so in the future we will take tax information from peoples' tax forms and use that to help us determine who should get guaranteed income supplement.

Today it works this way. If seniors are a recipient of the guaranteed income supplement and all of a sudden their income rises, making them ineligible for guaranteed income supplement in the following year, they will then have to reapply the year after to qualify if their income falls again.

These changes, supported by my friends in the opposition, will end that, and that is important. Seniors have more important things to do than spend a lot of time filling out paperwork to reapply. In some cases the sad fact is that people do not reapply and do not receive benefits for which they are eligible. These changes will largely end that. It will mean that seniors will automatically requalify should their income fall below that threshold according to their tax information. This is extraordinarily important. This really modernizes an important piece of legislation.

The government acknowledges as well that not everyone fills out a tax form every year. We will continue to do the outreach we are vigorously doing today to ensure that seniors are aware of these programs and that they understand how they work so if they do qualify and have not filled out a tax form, they can still get the guaranteed income supplement.

The other amendment that is very important has to do with the disability portion of Canada pension plan. As we know, the Canada pension plan, through the disability portion, provides thousands and thousands of disabled Canadians with an income supplement, which is critical for them to manage and maintain a lifestyle. The changes that we are proposing in the legislation will make it easier for disabled Canadians to qualify for Canada pension plan disability. As the rule stands today, we have to be contributors for four of the last six years we pay into CPP before our disability makes us unemployable and takes us out of the labour force.

We propose to change that from four years to three years. We project this will bring another 3,700 people into eligibility for Canada pension plan disability by the year of 2010, plus another 1,000 of their children, according to the data we have at present. This will ensure that more people, who cannot qualify because they have been knocked out of the workforce early by their conditions, will now be able to receive this important disability pension. This is a very important step. It demonstrates that Canada's new government is committed to helping people with disabilities.

Not long ago I was in Vancouver where I sought a meeting with Rick Hansen, who is a well known advocate on behalf of disabled Canadians. He was first made famous as the “Man in Motion” when he travelled the world in his wheelchair to draw attention to the devastating impact of spinal injuries. He has since established a foundation and has become a tremendous spokesman and an inspiration for people around the world on issues of disability. He is doing a tremendous job of drawing attention to these issues. He gave me great insight into the challenges that people in the disabled community face, and we will use those to help us guide our government as we move forward.

As someone who represents the community of Medicine Hat, which has twice as many seniors as the national average, I understand the challenges that seniors face. I think all members understand that and appreciate the contributions that the seniors who have gone before us have made. Many of today's seniors are people who have gone through the Great Depression, the second world war, Korea and the social unrest of the 1960s. They have seen and done a lot of things. They have raised families. In many cases they have gone without so their families could have a higher standard of living and a chance to have an education. We really do owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Bill C-36 underlines the importance that the government places on recognizing the contributions of seniors. That along with some of the other steps we have taken to raise the age credit, to allow pension income splitting, to cut the GST are all indications of how important we see the role of seniors in society today. We want to recognize them with this important legislation.

I thank members on all sides for their support of the legislation. I commend the legislation to the House and trust that it will pass quickly so we can deliver these important changes to seniors and to the disabled as soon as possible.

December 12th, 2006 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her question, but I would like to take this opportunity to ask her to help us put through Bill C-36 which would really be an asset for seniors. I would like to inform the House that Canada's new government has introduced important legislation for seniors in Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

Under Bill C-36, seniors would apply for the guaranteed income supplement at the same time they applied for old age security. No separate application would be required. In addition, as long as seniors filed regular tax returns, they would automatically receive the GIS benefit in any year that they were entitled to it. This is good news for seniors. They would never need to reapply. In a nutshell, it means that all eligible seniors should receive the GIS as long as they file Canadian tax returns.

That is good news for seniors, that is good news for Canadians and that is good news for the member.