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.

PensionsGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2010 / 8:30 p.m.
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Calgary Nose Hill Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy ConservativeMinister of State (Seniors)

Madam Chair, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with the House actions taken by the government to help ensure that older Canadians have the supports they need to enjoy a good quality of life and a secure sense of well-being.

Our government recognizes the important contributions seniors have made and continue to make to both the economic and social fabrics of our nation. Seniors are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.

Recently, David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, issued his report, “Growing Older—Adding Life to Years”. The report highlights the state of Canadian seniors' physical and mental health, as well as their economic and social well-being.

The good news is that Dr. Butler-Jones came away from the study with an overall positive outlook on Canada's aging population. He noted that people, by and large, are actually aging well. He says aging is a vibrant time and while sometimes there are infirmities along the way, people live life well, are engaged in their communities and contribute to society. It has never been better, says Dr. Butler-Jones.

This very encouraging observation is met with the reality, he says, that as Canada faces a larger older population, efforts made toward healthy aging need to be managed in more effective and meaningful ways. This is precisely what the federal government, in collaboration with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, intends to do.

The federal government also intends to ensure that older Canadians have necessary financial supports. We understand that financial security largely contributes to a secure sense of well-being. That is why, since 2006, this government has implemented several key measures to reduce the tax burden on seniors.

To date, our government has provided more than $2 billion in annual tax relief for seniors. That is more than $2 billion each and every year. Some of these measures include implementing pension income splitting; increasing the age credit twice, first in 2006 and then again in 2009, benefiting more than two million seniors; doubling the maximum amount of pension income that may be claimed under the pension income tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, which removed 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls completely; increasing the allowable earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500; allowing registered retirement income fund annuitants to reduce the minimum amount required to be withdrawn for the 2008 tax year by 25%; and increasing the age limit for registered retirement savings plans from 69 to 71 years of age, allowing more flexible, phased retirement arrangements.

As we can see from that long list, we have been working hard to deliver real financial benefits for Canadian seniors, but our actions have not stopped there. Our government introduced the tax-free savings account, which is especially useful for seniors as withdrawals from it are GIS exempt. Today, over 90% of seniors are receiving support from the GIS and OAS, which provides over $33 billion in assistance to seniors each year.

As well as increasing supports, we have improved service delivery to better ensure that seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. The application processes for the Canada pension plan and old age security have been simplified and updated, allowing seniors easier access to these important supports.

Furthermore, by introducing automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement under Bill C-36 in 2007, eligible seniors no longer have to reapply for this benefit every year. While these financial supports and the delivery of these benefits are important, we have made significant progress in a number of other ways.

In 2007, our government created the role of Minister of State for Seniors to be a voice for older adults at the cabinet level. That same year we established the first ever National Seniors Council, which provides advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors. This fall the council held round tables across the country to gain perspective from Canadians on retirement and labour force participation among seniors and on intergenerational relations. The council will produce a report and recommendations on these topics in the spring.

One of the NSC's past studies was on elder abuse, an issue that this government takes very seriously. In budget 2008, we committed $13 million over three years to the federal elder abuse initiative to help educate all Canadians to recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse. With an aging population, it is important that Canadians be aware of this type of mistreatment and be empowered to stand up and to speak out.

Through this initiative, we are working with the provinces and territories as well as professional organizations and community support groups to take measures to help prevent the exploitation of older Canadians. One way that community groups are helping to get this message out is through funding from the new horizons for seniors program, a program so successful and in such high demand that we increased its annual funding to $40 million in budget 2010, so that seniors can continue to be provided with opportunities to be active and engaged in their communities. The new horizons for seniors program also assists seniors to be active leaders and mentors in their communities. They are best able to achieve this through programs that foster inclusion, good nutrition and physical activity.

Bill C-40, which creates National Seniors Day on October 1 of each year, received royal assent just last week. This day will give Canadians an opportunity to collectively celebrate the continued contributions of older Canadians.

I would like to commend my colleague, the Minister of Finance, who has been working hard with his provincial and territorial counterparts to help ensure that older Canadians continue to enjoy a sound, reliable retirement income system. I can assure members that this federal government wants seniors to continue to help create a vibrant and successful Canada. We want our policies, programs and services to encourage and support seniors to remain active, healthy and engaged in their families, workplaces and communities.

We remain committed to ensuring that older Canadians receive the benefits to which they are entitled, that they stay financially secure in retirement and that they remain free from abuse and hardship. We also remain committed to ensuring that Canada is prepared to deal with the demographic shift that is upon us. Right now one in seven Canadians is a senior. In the year 2031, it will be one in four. The so-called boomer apocalypse will have profound impacts on the social and economic fabrics of our nation.

We need to be honest with ourselves and each other as leaders, policy makers, policy influencers, advocates and Canadians that the choices we make today will not only affect the baby boomer bubble but also our children, grandchildren and their children. It is our responsibility to ensure that we leave them a Canada that is just as strong and vibrant as the one we have enjoyed.

Our government will lead in preparing for the future with the well-being of seniors and of all Canadians as our goal.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

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

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for being allowed to add my voice to this debate on Motion No. 300. This motion, of course, proposes that the government introduce legislation to amend the Old Age Security Act respecting the guaranteed income supplement.

We all share the aim of doing what we can to help our country's seniors enjoy a better quality of life. Despite some of the protestations we hear from across the way, I believe there is a common underlying element within the House that wants to support seniors. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for all their contributions to building, and in many cases, safeguarding our country.

Indeed, Canada already has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the industrialized world and is recognized as a global leader in that regard. A big part of this success is due to the guaranteed income supplement, which is the focus of our debate today.

As recently as 1980, more than 21% of older Canadians lived below the poverty line. By 2006, that figure was less than 6%. Since then, our government has taken numerous additional measures to further assist low-income seniors.

I remind the House that, since taking office, our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement by 7% over and above the regular indexing for inflation. As many of our seniors continue to work, we have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500. That is a whopping 600% increase.

Not only have we increased the guaranteed income supplement benefits and left more money in the pockets of Canadian seniors, we have made it easier for low-income seniors to access these benefits. As a result of our government passing Bill C-36 in the last Parliament, seniors now only have to apply for the GIS once and will continue to receive benefits as long as they are eligible and file income tax returns.

To help seniors who may not be aware that they qualify for the GIS, we also send out applications to low-income seniors who do not currently receive the supplement. This measure taken by our government has put these benefits in the hands of an additional 328,000 low-income seniors.

That is not all. We have created a minister of state for seniors and appointed Senator Marjory LeBreton to fill that position. She is doing excellent work to promote the interests and protect the well-being of older Canadians.

We have also set up the National Seniors Council to advise us on seniors issues of national importance. By tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of our older citizens, we ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the changing needs of Canada's aging population.

It was also our Conservative government that, in budget 2008, announced an investment of $13 million over three years to increase awareness of elder abuse. As we know, that is a significant problem in our society today. What we have done is provide seniors with assistance in dealing with abuse.

The Minister of State for Seniors recently announced 16 new projects across the country to combat elder abuse, from physical abuse to financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under our new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative.

Since its beginning, the new horizons program has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada, helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities. Indeed, my own riding of Abbotsford has been and continues to be a beneficiary of this unprecedented funding for new horizons.

Perhaps most notable is the fact that our government has also provided more than $1 billion, not million, in tax relief to Canadian seniors each year by allowing pension income splitting and increasing the seniors' age and pension income credits.

However, I can assure hon. colleagues in the House that we are not finished yet. As Canada's economic action plan made clear, we are taking additional steps to protect seniors during these challenging economic times. We are adding over $300 million to the $1.6 billion in targeted tax relief that our government already provides to seniors for the 2009 tax year.

This includes $200 million in tax relief by reducing the required minimum withdrawal amount for 2008 from RRIFs. This change recognizes the impact of deteriorating market conditions and that impact on seniors in our country.

As well, we are increasing the seniors' age credit by another $1,000 per year for 2009 and beyond, further increasing the amount of money that stays in seniors' pockets.

The increase in the age credit builds on our government's previous tax relief for seniors and for pensioners. For example, we doubled the amount of the pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000, and we had already earlier increased the age credit by $1,000 in our 2006 budget.

We are getting things done for seniors, and recognizing that many older Canadians want to continue to work and recognizing that Canada needs their experience and their talents, we are also investing an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers. We also changed the program criteria so that smaller cities with populations of less than 250,000 can also participate.

Before I conclude, I would like to take a moment to comment on the specific proposals contained in today's motion. It is important to note that GIS benefits can already be paid retroactively for up to one year. This reflects what is being done in many other jurisdictions, and in fact, exceeds jurisdictions such as Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and even Australia and New Zealand.

So we are getting the job done for seniors. We are being fair with how we deal with their financial needs.

It is always interesting to note the duplicity of the Liberals in the House. Members may recall that the previous Liberal government, over 13 long years, opposed the motion before us, as we do today. Yet today they are standing up in the House to support it.

Only three and a half years ago, on November 18, 2005, during debate on a similar bill, the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said:

...I cannot support Bill C-301.

If passed into law, the bill would bog down Canada's retirement income system in reams of red tape. It would create an undue burden on the system, from both a fiscal and technical perspective. And without the checks and balances found in the current application process, it would lead to increased fraud and abuse.

That was back in 2005. Today her colleagues, the Liberal members in the House, are actually getting up and saying that they now support it, because they are no longer in government, so they do not have to be accountable. They do not have to place this motion within the context of an economic action plan.

Here is what the former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the social development minister said, again during debate on Bill C-301:

I completely agree...that this bill, if passed, would unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially. There is nothing dishonest about that...Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse.

Again, that is the Liberals speaking three years ago and today saying something quite different. Today the Liberals have flip-flopped. Suddenly something they were never prepared to do before when in government becomes perfectly okay when they are no longer in government. That is duplicity.

In closing, let me make a couple of points. The costs of this motion are incredibly high to the taxpayers of this country. The estimated price tag for this motion is $6 billion. Yet the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc have pulled this out of thin air and said that they want us to implement it. Who will suffer? It is the hard-working taxpayers and families of this country. These proposals, while perhaps well intentioned, really do not reflect the fiscal and economic reality in Canada today.

Our government has taken and will continue to take significant, meaningful and realistic steps to help low-income seniors and to improve their quality of life. We have made huge gains in assisting our seniors to improve their quality of life, and I encourage members opposite, first, to put aside all their partisanship and their game-playing and to join us in actually doing the work of our government and supporting seniors who need it the most.

April 29th, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.
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Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I can certainly understand the enthusiasm and passion that the member for Québec has on this issue. What I cannot understand is why the member and members of her party voted against a number of initiatives that we put forward to help seniors in significant ways.

I would like to highlight the government's commitment to all older workers and seniors in Canada. Canada has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the world, lower than the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The percentage of low-income seniors in Canada has declined sharply from more than 21% in 1980 to less than 6% in 2006, and those are clearly significant steps of progress. It is good news but, of course, we will not stop working to bring that number down even lower. That is why, since coming to office, this government has been taking action to improve the well-being and quality of life of our seniors.

I remind the House that since taking office our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement, referred to as the GIS, by 7% over and above regular indexation to compensate for increases in the average wage. In fact, the average income for seniors in that time has doubled. We have increased the GIS earning exemption for working seniors from $500 to $3,500. As a result, pensioners eligible for the GIS can now keep up to another $1,500 in benefits. That is a significant amount.

We also passed Bill C-36, legislation that makes it much easier for seniors to apply for and receive their GIS payments. This change allows seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it year over year as long as they are eligible, provided they file annual tax returns. To help encourage seniors to apply for GIS benefits that they may be entitled to, we sent out application forms to low income seniors identified through the tax system. These efforts alone have helped to put benefits in the hands of more than 328,000 additional seniors.

Canada's economic action plan also clearly underscored our government's commitment to seniors. Among other things in our economic action plan, we invested an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers and we have expanded the program to include a number of additional eligible communities. The age credit was also increased by $1,000, allowing low and middle income seniors to receive up to an additional $150 in annual tax savings.

Furthermore, we have allocated $400 million over two years through the affordable housing initiative to construct housing units for low income seniors,. However, our support for seniors goes much further. In 2007, our government created a National Seniors Council to advise on issues of concern to seniors. Our creation of the position of Minister of State for Seniors speaks volumes about our determination to promote the interests and protect the well-being of Canadians.

We have instituted a number of projects across with regard to combatting elder abuse in all its forms, physical abuse, financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under the new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative that has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities.

I have had the opportunity to deliver some of the funding to communities across my constituency and the funds were very well received and put to very good use. It is a great way of respecting our seniors, what they have done for us and our country and how they have built our country through the many years of their hard contributions. We can only pay that back by investing in them.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

March 10th, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
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Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the member speak for and against a subject that would help seniors and older workers in a number of ways that I and the hon. member have listed. It is certainly something that would have been worthy of support, but she is focused on her particular motion and I would like to speak to that.

I would speak in support of our public pension programs and the good work the Conservative government has been doing for some time to help seniors. Since its first day in office, our government has been absolutely committed to improving the lives of seniors. We have done that by making seniors' issues a priority and by sticking to improved programs such as the GIS the member referred to, so we can do an even better job of serving Canadians.

A great deal has already been done to translate this commitment into reality. For example, since taking office we have increased the GIS by $36 per month for unattached seniors and $58 per month for couples in January 2006 and January 2007. These monthly increases to the GIS amount to a 7% increase over and above regular indexation to compensate for the increase in the average wage. The total cost of this measure alone is $2.7 billion over five years.

We have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500, so that many working pensioners can now keep up to an additional $1,500 in GIS benefits.

We also passed Bill C-36, legislation that makes it much easier for seniors to apply for and receive their GIS payments. This change allows seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it year over year as long as they are eligible, provided they file annual tax returns.

To help encourage seniors to apply for GIS benefits which they may be entitled to, we send out application forms to low-income seniors identified through the tax system. These efforts have helped to put benefits in the hands of more than 328,000 additional seniors.

For seniors who do not file income tax returns, we have undertaken aggressive targeted outreach efforts to reach seniors who may be eligible for GIS. These efforts range from setting up information booths at events to working closely with the volunteer sector and first point of contact service providers. Targeted groups include newcomers, persons with disabilities, aboriginals and the homeless.

Our support for seniors has not stopped there. We have also provided more than $1 billion in tax relief each year to Canadian seniors through pension income splitting and enhancements to the age and pension income credits. This amounts to a significant amount of dollars.

More recently, through our economic action plan, we have introduced measures that will also help seniors in many additional ways. For example, we are increasing the age credit by $1,000 for 2009 and beyond to allow eligible seniors to receive up to an additional $150 in annual tax savings.

We are investing an additional $60 million over three years in the targeted initiative for older workers program. We are expanding the number of potentially eligible communities to include older workers in small cities.

We are providing $400 million over two years through the affordable housing initiative for the construction of housing units for low-income seniors.

Canada can be proud that the poverty rate among Canadian seniors has declined dramatically over the last 25 years. In fact, the average income for seniors in that time has doubled.

Canadians can also be proud that we already have one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world, at around 5%. It is quite a remarkable figure. This makes us the envy of many other nations, including Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.

That being said, there is always room for improvement. Our government will continue to work to ensure that the needs of all seniors, including low-income seniors, are adequately met.

Let me turn to the motion before us today. Given the size and complexity of the GIS program, upon which many of our most vulnerable citizens depend, it is vital that each and every change being considered be examined thoroughly. Careful consideration must be given to impact and cost.

With that in mind, I would like to take a few moments to examine the proposals contained in today's motion and how they might affect the GIS program and the people it benefits.

To begin with, there is a proposal to increase monthly benefits by $110, a move which could cost as much as $2 billion a year. The motion also calls for unlimited GIS retroactivity which, by some estimates, could cost as much as $3 billion. These two measures alone would cost several billions of dollars. We are talking about huge sums of money, especially given the economic times we are living in right now.

It is important to note that GIS benefits are already paid retroactively for up to one year. The current one year retroactivity provision is at least on par with, and in some cases superior to, retroactivity provisions for similar programs in other Canadian and international jurisdictions. For example, retroactivity provisions for the Alberta seniors benefit, British Columbia's senior's supplement, and Ontario's guaranteed annual income system allow for a one year retroactivity limit. This is also the case for the Canada pension plan.

The current one year retroactivity provision contained in the OAS act is even more generous than similar programs in other countries. For example, Australia's age pension, New Zealand's superannuation and Sweden's guaranteed old age pension provision provide for no retroactivity. Social assistance programs such as Alberta works, Nova Scotia's income assistance program and Ontario works also have no retroactivity provisions.

In this regard, I would like to point out that the previous Liberal government was in agreement with this particular point. Here is what the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, on November 18, 2005, had to say on this issue:

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

It is also very important to note that full retroactivity could also mean increased costs to the provinces and territories whose income supplement programs are based on eligibility for the GIS.

All that said, we must keep in mind that there are already two exceptions when retroactive payments can be made beyond one year: first, when the applicant would have been incapable of expressing the intent to apply for benefits; and second, when an administrative error has occurred or erroneous advice was given.

This motion also proposes paying six months of a deceased person's pension to the survivor. While this proposal seems reasonable at first glance, it is important to note that the GIS is already adjusted for changes in family status following the death of a partner since many low income seniors become eligible for GIS or an increase in that supplement due to the fact that they are now single income individuals. Furthermore, both the Canada and Quebec pension plans contain survivor benefit provisions that help seniors in such situations.

Last but not least, this motion proposes eliminating the requirement to apply for GIS benefits, which is also difficult since the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is often insufficient to determine eligibility. In this regard, the former Liberal member for Ahuntsic and former parliamentary secretary to the minister of social development said that doing away with the application process would:

--unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially...Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse. In addition, we would not have enough information to determine entitlement for seniors who, for instance, do no file tax returns. This would also substantially increase the risk of errors within the system.

Those words are from a Liberal predecessor of mine on this very topic. These comments were made in this House on October 24, 2005.

The onus for making an application must continue to rest with the applicant. Thankfully, as I have mentioned, due to the actions of this government, our seniors now only have to apply once for the GIS benefit.

For the reasons I have outlined, we cannot support this motion. While the proposals are well intentioned and we cannot disagree with the intent of the motion, the reality is that implementing these measures would require enormous financial investments and would have widespread ramifications and implications for other government programs, both at the federal and provincial levels.

As such, I would urge all members of this House to work with the government as we continue to ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the needs of Canada's seniors in a responsible manner. We will continue to do that and we will continue to look at ways to enhance their benefits. It must be at a progressive rate and at a time that the government decides.

Therefore, I would ask members not to support this motion.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add my comments on Bill C-490. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about our government's record on seniors' issues, because we actually have a record worth talking about.

That is why we have taken measures to ensure that OAS and GIS continue to meet the needs of seniors. This government was elected to take responsible, measured actions to support Canadians, and we have to look to the future when considering changes like the ones outlined in the bill.

Our government is very much aware of the significance and the importance of a program such as old age security. The program is an integral part of our social safety net. It is important for all Canadians and must be accessible by all Canadians for years to come.

It is also the responsibility of this government to manage these programs so they will continue to exist in the future. This is a responsibility that I think members of the Bloc in some respects have set aside, although maybe as members of the opposition they do not have the same concerns as Canadian taxpayers.

I would like to touch on three areas around OAS and the GIS. First, there is the increase in the monthly GIS payment. The bill proposes to increase the monthly GIS payment by $110 per month.

I commend the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan for his compassion in wishing to find ways to alleviate poverty among seniors, but the proposals outlined in the bill will not meet those objectives. In fact, quite the opposite may happen. This would bankrupt the program so that it would no longer exist for future generations of Canadian seniors.

Although it has been said in the House on many occasions, it is worth saying again that Canadian seniors have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Their income has more than doubled over the past two decades.

It is also important to remember that Canada now has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world. It has dropped from 21% in 1980 to less than 6% today.

We have lower poverty rates than our G-8 partners. Our social safety net is already the envy of the world. This is something the government will protect for future generations.

Certainly it is not time to stop working to reduce seniors' poverty further, because even one senior living in poverty, as we often say, is one too many. That is why this government acted when we were elected to increase the GIS by 7%. We did this again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the GIS with an additional $430 per year and $700 more per couple per year.

These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.

This government heard from thousands of seniors from across the country in the lead-up to budget 2008 and we heard that more and more of them want to remain in the workforce. They want to do it to stay active in their communities, to make a little extra cash to have some fun or to spend it on children, grandchildren or family, or just to do something for themselves.

Seniors' groups also told us that their members would love to continue working, but under the previous Liberal regime they could not do it without having their hard-earned benefits clawed back. There was little incentive or initiative to go out to earn a little extra for the things they wanted or, quite honestly, just to keep active and be involved. That is why this government increased the earned income exemption to $3,500 from the previous Liberal system, which allowed only $500 in earnings before benefits were withheld.

This important change will allow GIS recipients to keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in their GIS benefits: $3,000 more before benefits are withheld. I note that the Bloc actually opposed this in the last budget.

The second issue I want to talk about is the unlimited retroactivity. My colleague across the aisle also proposes that we bring in unlimited retroactive payments of the OAS-GIS for eligible beneficiaries. I would remind the House that currently these benefits are payable retroactive for up to one year from the month of application.

This period of retroactivity is not unusual. In fact, it is consistent with the retroactivity provisions of most other international jurisdictions. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs, not to compensate them for past needs.

Yet the government does make exemptions to the basic one year limit to ensure seniors are treated fairly. If the person was incapable of applying, was given bad advice, or if the mistake is an administrative error, the government will ensure that people get the benefits they are entitled to.

I would ask the House to consider the long term ramifications of this bill. In fact, this government and this House need to be very concerned regarding the ramifications of this bill. The costs of the retroactivity provisions alone could be in excess of $6 billion per year. This government cannot and will not take a risk like that with such an important program for seniors.

This government makes significant efforts to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. GIS applications are sent to low income seniors who do not receive OAS and GIS benefits.

Our efforts have resulted in an additional 325,000 low income seniors receiving the benefit who were not getting it before. With the GIS increase, as I mentioned before, for 50,000 new eligible seniors, plus the 325,000 who now get benefits under the Conservative government, that is significant.

Through Bill C-36, we have also enabled seniors to make a one time application for the GIS and receive it whenever they become eligible as long as they file a tax return.

These are reasonable actions which will ensure that OAS and GIS programs exist well into the future.

Last is the issue of the elimination of the requirement to apply for GIS benefits. The proposal to eliminate the requirement to apply for GIS benefits is unfortunately not workable. Formal application is needed since the information available from Canada Revenue is sometimes insufficient to determine eligibility. For example, not available in income tax returns could be information such as updated marital status and also residency in Canada.

The onus remains on the individual to make the initial application, but with the single lifetime application that this government introduced in Bill C-36, the process has become much easier and friendlier for Canadian seniors.

We can all applaud the stated goal of the bill and certainly the member for Alfred-Pellan for his desire around Bill C-490, but unfortunately it will not meet the goal and will put the future of this necessary program on the line.

For that reason, I cannot support it. I can assure this House, however, that we will continue to work hard and provide a bright future for all Canadian seniors.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2008 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the discussion on Bill C-490, concerning the cornerstone of Canada's retirement income system, the Old Age Security Act. I appreciate the opportunity to rise to speak about the government's record on seniors' issues because we have a record worth talking about.

Unlike the Bloc Québécois members who can only sit in the House and complain, the government has taken real action to support Canadian seniors. We recognize the contributions seniors have made and continue to make to our nation. That is why we have taken measures to ensure that the OAS and the GIS continue to meet the needs of seniors. Unlike the Bloc, we must concern ourselves with the consequences of our actions. We do not have the room for hypocrisy that members opposite have, knowing they will never form the government and never need to worry about the future of a program as important as old age security.

OAS is one of the most important programs in our social safety net. It is important for all Canadians, those who are seniors now and the Canadians who will be seniors in the future. It is the responsibility of the government to manage these programs so they will continue to exist in the future.

Bill C-490 proposes to increase the monthly GIS payment by $110 per month. I commend the hon. member for trying to find ways to alleviate poverty among seniors. I believe, however, this proposal would not achieve the results the hon. member desires. It would instead have the opposite effect. It would bankrupt the program.

We have spoken about this important issue in the House several times. I point out for my colleague that income for Canadian seniors has risen dramatically over the past 25 years. According to Statistics Canada, the income of Canadian seniors has more than doubled over the past 25 years and the rate of poverty among seniors has been cut from 21% in 1980 to less than 6% today. Canada now has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors in any country in the industrialized world.

Certainly it is not time to stop working to reduce poverty further because even one senior living in poverty is one too many. That is why the government acted when we elected to increase the GIS by 7%. We did this again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the GIS with an additional $430 per year and $700 more per year for a couple.

These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal governments.

The government heard from thousands of seniors across the country in the lead up to budget 2008. We heard that more and more of them wanted to remain in the workforce. They want to continue working, but under the previous Liberal regime they could not do it without having their hard earned benefits clawed back. That is why the government proposed in budget 2008 an increase in the earned income exemption to $3,500, up from the previous Liberal system that only allowed $500 in earnings before benefits were withheld.

My colleague across the aisle also proposes that we bring in unlimited retroactive payments of the OAS/GIS for eligible beneficiaries. I remind the House that currently these benefits are payable retroactively for up to a year from the month of application. This period of retroactivity is consistent with retroactivity provisions of most other international jurisdictions.

Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs, not to compensate them for past needs. Yet, the government does make exceptions to the basic one year limit to ensure that seniors are treated fairly. If the person is incapable of applying, or is given bad advice or if the mistake is an administrative error of the government, we will ensure that people get the benefits that they are entitled to.

I would ask the House to consider the financial implications of adopting the proposed measure. It is estimated that there would be an initial lump sum payout to clients amounting to $300 million for each additional year of retroactivity. And where would it stop? A new five year limit could entail a payout of $1.5 billion, a 10 year limit would be more than $3 billion and unlimited retroactivity could be as high as $6 billion in initial lump sum payments.

The government takes significant efforts to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. GIS applications are sent to low income seniors who do not receive OAS and GIS. Our efforts have resulted in an additional 325,000 low income seniors receiving the benefits that they were not getting before.

Through Bill C-36, we have also enabled seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it whenever they become eligible, as long as they file a tax return.

These are reasonable actions that will ensure the OAS and GIS programs exist well into the future.

Speaking of the survivor's pension payment, the bill also proposes to pay six months of the deceased person's pension to the survivor. While we are all sympathetic to those who lose their life partners, it would be patently unfair to other single seniors living on single incomes. The GIS already makes adjustments for changes in family status because low income seniors may become eligible for the GIS or an increase in that supplement owing to their now single income status.

We should also remember that the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan contain survivor benefit provisions.

Finally, the proposal to eliminate the requirement to apply for GIS benefits is, unfortunately, not workable. Formal application is needed since the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is sometimes insufficient to determine eligibility. As well, some persons choose not to receive the GIS for personal reasons and it is incumbent upon us to respect their wishes.

The onus remains on the individual to make the initial application, but with the single lifetime application, most of the necessary information can be captured at the time the client first contacts Service Canada prior to their 65th birthday.

We can applaud the sentiments behind Bill C-490, but for the reasons I have outlined, we cannot support it. I can assure the House, however, that the Government of Canada will continue to ensure that its policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of Canada's senior population.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, once among the poorest members of society, Canada's seniors now have access to a public pension plan and supplementary benefits for those most in need, but it is not all peaches and cream.

The critical issue for many marginal income seniors is that it is still not enough to keep them above the poverty line.

A succession of Liberal governments over the years were instrumental in providing support for Canadian seniors. Liberal governments were responsible for establishing a social safety net for our seniors.

In 1952, the Old Age Security Act established a universal old age security pension at 65 years of age. In 1966, the Canada pension and Quebec pension plans created a pension scheme where working Canadians contributed to a government pension plan to be drawn on upon reaching the retirement age of 65, while some time later amending the scheme to provide for an early retirement at age 60 subject to reduced benefits.

In 1967, the guaranteed income supplement for very low income seniors was instituted to top up our old age security benefits. In 1998, a restructured Canada pension plan was instituted to ensure its sustainability.

Government action to financially secure the public pension system meant that Canada was the only country in the G-7 with a fully balanced public pension plan system assessed by actuarial experts to have long term sustainability.

The Canada pension plan and the old age security are indexed quarterly based on the consumer price index which allows for modest increases in accordance with a comparable increase of the consumer price index. In reality, however, the value of such increases for an individual is literally small change.

In 2005, the guaranteed income supplement benefits for low income seniors was increased by $2.7 billion over two years. This was the first non-cost of living increase since 1984. As a result, the maximum GI supplement was increased to more than $400 per year for a single senior and by almost $700 for a couple.

Successive governments have tried to assist our needy seniors in other ways as well. For instance, Liberal budget 2005 doubled to $10,000 the maximum amount of medical and disability related expenses that caregivers could claim on behalf of their dependants, and further, approximately 240,000 seniors were removed from the tax rolls in 2005 when the basic personal exemption was raised to $10,000.

Under the Conservatives, the government signed into law Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, which made it easier for the long term contributors to the Canada pension plan to qualify for disability benefits and simplified the application process for the GIS.

In budget 2006, an estimated 85,000 pensioners no longer had to pay income tax as the maximum eligible amount for the pension income rose from $1,000 to $2,000 starting in the 2006 tax year. At the same time, other measures, such as the refundable medical expenses supplement, rose from $760 to $1,000.

Under budget 2007, the Conservatives increased the age limit to 71 from 69 for RRSPs and registered pensions and also permitted pension income splitting for eligible pensioners. The age credit was increased by $1,000, which meant approximately $150 in tax relief for low and modest income seniors. It also permitted phased in retirement, which allowed an employer to simultaneously pay a partial pension to an employee and provide further pension benefits accruals to the employee.

In budget 2008, the current guaranteed income supplement earned income exemption was raised to $3,500 from its maximum level of $500.

Those measure confirmed the concern that our successive governments and all political parties have for our aging citizens and also was a recognition of the financial difficulties many seniors face.

All that being said, however, today in Canada 242,000 seniors still live in poverty, a situation that should be an embarrassment to all members in the House. Behind these numbers and behind these statistics lies a huge human tragedy.

Men and women who made this country what it is today, men and women who built this country all too often sit down to a dinner of tea and toast or go hungry. Many live in substandard housing because they do not have the financial resources to lift themselves out of hovels. Others do not have the financial resources to repair old family residences that have fallen into disrepair, which leads to further disrepair as conditions continue to deteriorate.

In carrying out our responsibilities as members of Parliament, we interact on a frequent basis with our constituents, many of them seniors. I would venture to say that all members of the House have been approached by seniors at one time or another who inquire whether the government could increase their pension benefits a reasonable amount because they just cannot make ends meet anymore.

Seniors' household expenses are rising, including the municipal taxes for those who own their own homes or lease payments for those who rent, energy costs, food costs, even the basic loaf of bread has increased appreciably as the cost of grain and rice have skyrocketed. For those who can afford an aging car, the cost of gas has gone out of sight, while public transportation tickets also escalate. What is worse, our economic predictors suggest that these galloping costs will only continue to increase.

Many of our seniors are faced with such rising costs in their attempt to eke out a meagre existence that far exceeds their pension incomes. The reality is that rising housing costs and living expenses are pushing more seniors back into the workforce. Some have returned to work doing anything that frail bodies will allow until these same frail bodies simply give out.

A Statistics Canada report last year showed that more than two million Canadians aged 55 to 64 were employed or looking for work in 2006, up from one million in 1976. The callous will say that they should have better prepared for their retirement.

What about their employment pensions? Many stay at home parents never had a chance to pay into the Canada pension plan or make modest contributions from part time income. Many of today's seniors never had an employment pension. After 30 or 40 years of service, they walked out the door with their lunch pail. Some may have had pensions but they were not indexed and now, after many years, these pensions bear no relation whatsoever to what it costs to live. Some paid into employee pension plans but these companies have gone bankrupt leaving severely underfunded pension plans or nothing at all.

What are these poor seniors to do? Some will be forced to avail themselves of food banks. Some are taken in by family, if they have one. Some will turn their furnace thermostats down just enough to keep their water pipes from freezing. Sure, they throw on more clothes to keep warm or huddle under a blanket to try to stay healthy, but it is not enough. Some seniors develop colds, respiratory problems or flu, which leads to increased health care costs.

I recall an elderly lady calling my office in tears saying that she could not afford to pay her monthly charges on a heating contract and was seeking our assistance to get out of the contract. I attended her residence on a December day to find a lady in her nineties bundled in sweaters, with the heat turned down, living in a few rooms of her residence with the other parts of the house closed off.

I recall speaking with the president of a seniors club who briefed me on the financial plight of some members. I asked if he could provide me with an anonymous record of some of these seniors' income and expense summaries and was shocked, no, appalled, on how little money they had to cover their expenses. It was not enough to do so. He pleaded with me for our government to do something.

He also told me of a situation where a senior who suffered from incontinence was known to wash out paper diapers because that person could not afford to use these products regularly when needed. These are the actions of an individual in desperate straits.

Bill C-490 would help to respond to the pleas of the president of the seniors club, albeit in a small way. The bill would remove the necessity for an individual, who would otherwise qualify for a supplement, to make an application and would place the responsibility on the minister to provide guaranteed income supplement when income levels indicate a qualification point. The bill would also allow for retroactive payments of supplements. Many times low income seniors are not aware that they may be entitled to benefits and do not apply. Others forget to reapply for supplements. This provision would address this deficiency.

Another situation where a senior couple had retired on their combined CPP and OAS incomes, the death of one of these individuals and the loss of a deceased's pension income can present a severe financial crisis for the survivor at a time when he or she is also trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. The bill would provide interim relief for a transition period of six months for the surviving spouse or common law partner to receive the pension that would have been payable to the deceased spouse or common law partner. This is a humanitarian approach that would not incur huge sums for the Canadian taxpayer but substantial human benefits to a low income senior. The suggested increase of $110 a month would barely raise the threshold to the poverty line.

Bill C-490 is an attempt to address an unfair situation that we as parliamentarians face in our constituency offices on a regular basis. We were elected as advocates for our constituents. The bill is an example of a fulfillment of this responsibility. The bill should be supported by all members of the House.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2008 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to the debate on Bill C-490 in which the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan proposes certain amendments to the Old Age Security Act.

Since taking office, our government has acted decisively on its commitment to protect the security of Canadian seniors. This government cares deeply about the many contributions that today's seniors have made and continue to make to our society. These seniors raised families, they helped to build up our national economy and they made vital contributions to our health, safety, education and culture. Furthermore, many Canadian seniors are veterans who risked their lives to preserve our freedom.

For these reasons and many more, our government will continue to do its utmost to ensure that Canadian seniors are treated with dignity. We will ensure that they receive the full respect they deserve.

All Canadians can be proud that the guaranteed income supplement, or the GIS, has played an important role in reducing the incidence of poverty among seniors. As my colleague pointed out a few minutes ago, the poverty rate among seniors has declined dramatically over the past 25 years. The average income for seniors in that time has doubled.

Bill C-490 proposes that the monthly GIS payment be increased by $110 to reduce poverty among low income seniors. In fact, Canada already has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world. This makes us the envy of many other nations, including Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, when this government was elected, we raised the GIS by 3.5% and we did it again in January 2007. This amounts to an additional $36 per month for single seniors and $58 per month for couples. These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years. It will benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.

By proposing a $110 per month increase for all GIS recipients, Bill C-490 would not be focusing on seniors who are most in need, and this is not the responsible thing to do.

In addition, the bill proposes unlimited retroactivity for the GIS. The cost of such a measure would be enormous. It would be as high as $6 billion. We are confident that the current one year retroactivity provision of old age security and GIS benefits reasonably accommodates delays or oversights for applying for the benefits. I also want to clarify that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs. They are not there to address past needs.

We make every effort to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled just as soon as possible. This includes sending out GIS applications to low income seniors identified through the tax system as not currently receiving the supplement. This measure has put GIS benefits in the hands of an additional 325,000 low income seniors. As well, we work with community and seniors' organizations to reach the vulnerable seniors who are not on the tax roles.

Furthermore, as a result of Bill C-36, seniors now only have to apply once for the GIS. They will then automatically receive the benefit in any year they are eligible, as long as they file a tax return.

All these measures reduce the likelihood of eligible seniors missing out on GIS benefits to which they are entitled as well as the need for retroactive payments.

I would also like to respond to the proposal in Bill C-490 that a surviving spouse be allowed to receive his or her deceased spouse's pension payment for six months. Such a measure would raise a major equity issue. Newly widowed persons would temporarily receive higher benefits than other single seniors living on single incomes.

Finally, Bill C-490 proposes that the requirement for seniors to apply for GIS benefits be eliminated altogether. We require a formal application because the information available from the Canada Revenue Agency is not always sufficient to determine a person's eligibility. As well, some Canadian seniors choose not to receive the GIS for personal reasons. That is a decision that we must respect.

We also recognize and respect the choice of many of today's seniors to continue working. To assist low income seniors who choose to work, budget 2008 proposes to invest $60 million per year to increase the GIS earnings exemption. This important measure would exempt fully the first $3,500 of earnings and the average earnings of working seniors who receive the GIS. Low income seniors who want to remain in the workforce would, therefore, be able to keep more of their GIS benefits. Nearly 100,000 low income seniors will benefit.

The budget also proposes to extend the targeted initiative for older workers until 2012. It would add $90 million to the federal-provincial employment program for unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to help them stay active in the workforce.

Budget 2008 made crucial investments on behalf of seniors by addressing the problem of elder abuse in all its ugly forms. Over three years, our government will invest $13 million to help seniors and others recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and to provide information on available support.

I believe our government's creation last year of the position of Secretary of State for Seniors speaks directly to our promise to ensure the continued well-being of all Canadians aged 65 and up. We also established the National Seniors Council to advise us on seniors' issues of national importance. It will help to ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of Canada's aging population.

In February 2008, after its consultations on elder abuse, the council began a Canada-wide series of round tables. They were designed to better understand the challenges of seniors living on low incomes, particularly senior women. My remarks clearly show that our government takes the needs of Canadian seniors very seriously.

Since taking office, we have responded to those needs decisively. This includes the monthly increases to the GIS in 2006-07, as I have mentioned before. Our policies and programs are working and they are working in a very concrete and concerted way to support Canadian seniors' well-being and financial security.

The proposals contained in Bill C-490, on the other hand, would require enormous financial investments that would not be targeted to those most in need.

For those crucial reasons, and they are crucial, our government cannot support Bill C-490.

March 31st, 2008 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for raising the question this evening. It allows me the opportunity to discuss all of the great things that this government has done for seniors in the past and over the past two years.

I know that the hon. member cares deeply about these issues and I want to assure her that this government does as well.

Unfortunately, under the watch of the previous Liberal government, Statistics Canada did make a small error in the calculation of the consumer price index. This is a tool that measures inflation and calculates pension benefits for seniors. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada corrected this error and the consumer price index continues to serve as Canada's best and most accurate tool to measure inflation.

Like all western countries, Canada does not retroactively adjust the consumer price index. Retroactive adjustments to the consumer price index would result in administrative chaos. It would affect private and public pension plans, labour force agreements and many other agreements that use the CPI.

We know that the members of the NDP do not have to worry about the long term effects of their words because they will never form the government. However, we must worry about these effects.

If my hon. friend and her colleagues will not take the word of the government on this issue, perhaps they would like to listen to the International Labour Organization which confirmed that long term ramifications of retroactively changing the CPI would have a devastating effect on countless social programs that Canadians rely on.

I am sure the member knows that when it comes to honouring the contributions that Canadian seniors have made to their communities, the economy and the country, no government in history has done a better job than the one under this Prime Minister. Seniors know that actions speak louder than words. This is why this government acted quickly to support seniors issues. It is why within months of being elected this government introduced Bill C-36 to strengthen the CPP and OAS programs for all seniors.

We have simplified the application process and changed the rules so that seniors do not have to apply year after year for the benefits that they deserve. These are changes which the previous Liberal government never made during its 13 years in power.

We have brought in two separate 3.5% increases to the GIS. These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and will benefit more than 1.6 million guaranteed income supplement recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.

This is a record of action of which this government is very proud.

March 4th, 2008 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, my remarks are going to be very brief because I spoke to this issue just last week during the debate on the hon. member's Motion No. 383.

I want to point out again that the federal government proactively contacts millions of Canadian seniors to inform them of the benefits to which they are entitled.

I have to point out to the member that we have done a lot for seniors. We have given seniors their own secretariat and their own voice at the cabinet table. We have acted very quickly to support seniors issues.

Within months after being elected, we introduced Bill C-36 which strengthened the CPP and the old age security programs. We simplified that application process. We had many changes. We reduced the number of seniors living in poverty. The government has overseen two increases in the guaranteed income supplement.

Effective January 2006, we raised the GIS by 3.5% and raised it again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the guaranteed income supplement with an additional $430 per year and $700 per couple.

These increases will raise the total guaranteed income supplement by more than $2.7 billion in the next five years. These increases will benefit 1.6 million guaranteed income supplement recipients. This is more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.

In closing, I want to thank the hon. member across the way for her question, but I want to assure the member that Canadian seniors have finally found a government that really is interested in their issues and is responding.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

January 30th, 2008 / 6:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too want to support the motion of the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Seniors are as important to me as they are to her. This motion is in line with Bill C-490 introduced by the Bloc Québécois in December.

My Liberal colleague had some very interesting points to make. However, I find the comments of my colleague opposite, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, to be amazingly nonsensical. By “nonsensical” I mean foolish, silly, and just plain stupid.

When I heard the hon. member say that the Conservative government has been quite generous to seniors, I wondered what planet she has been on. I know that in two years the government has given an additional $18 to the guaranteed income supplement, when it knows that people are living below the poverty line. I do not see any generosity in that. When she argues that in 13 years, the Liberal government did nothing and that the Conservatives have done more in two years, I do not think it is right to justify doing more by comparing oneself to those who did nothing.

I am very pleased to speak to this motion. As I was saying earlier, it looks a lot like our bill C-490 tabled last December by the member for Alfred-Pellan. This bill follows up my tour of Quebec, in 2007, to identify the needs of the seniors of today and of the future.

Having realized that seniors have become impoverished over the past ten years, I met with several seniors' groups and associations in all parts of Quebec who shared with me their fears, needs and hopes. They spoke of the quality of life of seniors, of the causes of their poverty and of the solutions recommended to various levels of government. I also heard the opinions of seniors on Quebec society. The results are reflected in the bill that we tabled and that has four components. It is very much in keeping with the motion by my colleague for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

The first component is automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement. Why? Simply because this supplement provides additional income to low-income seniors. When we say low-income we are talking about individuals living in poverty. We know that poverty takes many forms and that thousands of seniors are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. However, they do not receive it because they do not know about it, which is also due to their poverty.

On August 23, 2001, the Toronto Star estimated that 380,000 seniors in Canada were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but were not receiving it. In Quebec, more than 80,000 people were in this situation. The reason is simple. Poor seniors often have difficulty reading and understanding forms, and the forms at the time were extremely complicated. People were also unaware that they had to apply every year. This is no longer the case thanks to Bill C-36, which was adopted last May.

There are other reasons associated with poverty as well. Poverty affects people who have never worked outside the home, who do not file income tax returns, who are aboriginal or who live in remote areas. We also think of people with poor literacy skills, people who speak neither French nor English, people who are disabled or ill and people who are homeless. There are many reasons.

If these seniors were automatically registered for the guaranteed income supplement at age 65, this problem would be eliminated. The work the Bloc Québécois has done over the past several years has drastically reduced the number of people who do not receive the guaranteed income supplement. In Quebec there are apparently still about 40,000 people who do not receive the supplement, but in 2001 there were 80,000.

The second part of our bill involves a $110 a month increase in the guaranteed income supplement. This would bring the poorest seniors up to the poverty line, as my colleague's motion says. The calculation was done in 2004, when the poverty level for a single person was set at $14,794 a year. Poor seniors who receive the maximum guaranteed income supplement are getting only $13,514 in 2007-08.

This means that that their income is $1,280 below the poverty line, or $106 per month, which we have rounded up to $110. This is not asking for much, just getting them over the poverty line. That is not too much to ask in a country like ours.

The third part of our bill concerns full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for people who have been given a raw deal under the current system. In May 2007, Bill C-36 resulted in just 11 months of retroactivity for poor seniors. That is not enough; we must do more. During the election campaign, the Conservative Party agreed to fix this problem. Now that they are in power, they do not want to talk about it. Nobody is asking for handouts here; we just want seniors to get their fair share from a system that ripped them off.

When one owes money to a person, one has a legal debt to that person. This is about justice, honesty and dignity. Just think of Mrs. Bolduc in Toronto who told a Radio-Canada reporter what it is like to live in poverty. Many seniors are in the same position as Mrs. Bolduc.

The fourth element our bill introduces is a six-month compassion period for seniors who lose their spouses. We know what kind of situation these people face. A six-month period would enable surviving spouses to recover from the grieving process and figure things out, because their benefits will automatically be reduced. This period will certainly offer a degree of security to grieving seniors.

The government's failure to help our poorest seniors is unacceptable. We have known for quite some time now that seniors are some of the poorest people in our society. Poverty affects their health, makes them feel insecure about their future and makes them even more vulnerable to those who claim to be taking care of them. Many newspapers have reported on violence against seniors and exploitation of the elderly. These people are in a very vulnerable position. It is disgusting that, despite vast budget surpluses, one government after another has failed to solve the problem raised by members of the Bloc Québécois.

The Bloc Québécois supports the motion by the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. That is a long name for a riding; it would be easier to call her by her name. I am asking all parliamentarians to support this motion as well as our bill, which will be debated soon in the House. It is a question of justice, fairness and dignity for all those who came before us and paved the way for us.

I would like to close with the 2006 definition of poverty by the National Council of Welfare:

—poverty is not just a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion. When people cannot meet their basic needs, they cannot afford even simple activities. Single parents or persons with a family member who is sick or disabled often suffer from “poverty of time” as well, and have too few hours during the day to earn income, take care of others, obtain an education, have some social interaction or even get the sleep they need. This form of social exclusion and isolation can lead to other problems, such as poor health, depression and dysfunction. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope.

This often happens to our seniors who are sick and poor.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

January 30th, 2008 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this issue in the House today. My colleague, like every member in the House, cares deeply about seniors and seniors' issues, especially the issues faced by seniors living in low income situations.

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss this government's actions with respect to seniors' issues, and we welcome any input from the opposition.

The good news is that Canada has one of the lowest poverty rates among seniors in the world. In fact, most Canadian seniors enjoy a high standard of living. Since 1980, the level of low income among Canadian seniors has dropped from just over 21% to about 6%, yet even this remarkable achievement leaves too many Canadian seniors living below the poverty line.

That is why this government continues to make the needs of low income seniors a priority, and that is why I welcome the opportunity to address the motion before the House today.

The motion proposes that the government review the old age security program with a view to achieving four main objectives. I would like to address each of these now.

First, the motion proposes that the government reduce operational costs in the old age security program by ceasing to pay benefits that subsequently have to be repaid.

Second, it proposes that any savings from these measures should then be allocated first to beneficiaries of the guaranteed income supplement, or the GIS, specifically elderly, single, divorced or widowed individuals.

It is exceedingly rare that the old age security program pays out a benefit that must later be repaid. Most of the overpayments result from errors in statements of income or a late notification of changes in marital status or death. Overpayments occur in less than one-third of 1% of all files and amount to about 1% of total benefits paid out annually.

Our government is working to eliminate even these rare instances of overpayment. Service Canada is working with the provinces to collect vital statistics in a more efficient and timely manner to eliminate the overpayments that occur due to late notifications of death or a change in marital status.

As a result of the government's successful modernization of this important program, the first two sections of this motion are unnecessary. In the very near future the savings to be made from overpayments will amount to mere fractions of pennies for each recipient.

The third provision calls on the government to improve GIS benefits for elderly, single, divorced and widowed individuals.

Under this government all seniors, including those groups mentioned in this motion, are receiving hundreds of more dollars in guaranteed income supplement and old age security benefits than under the previous Liberal government.

In fact, since we took office two years ago we have overseen two increases to the GIS.

Effective January 2006, we raised the GIS by 3.5% and we did again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients with an additional $430 per year and $700 more per year per couple.

These increases will raise the total guaranteed income supplement benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible under previous Liberal governments.

The fourth provision in the motion proposes to exempt 15 hours per week of earned income at minimum wage in the recipient's province of residence without penalty.

Given the range of minimum wage rates across the country, the income exemption would vary from just under $6,000 in Nova Scotia to just over $6,000 in Nunavut. Such a measure would raise serious equity concerns as seniors would receive different benefits depending on their province of residence.

The GIS is an important resource for low income seniors. It was never intended to supplement an individual's income. Rather, it was and is intended to ensure every pensioner has enough income from all sources, including the GIS, to maintain and improve the standard of living of Canada's seniors.

That said, we currently have an earned income exemption for GIS recipients of 20% of earned income above and beyond any benefits received from the government. This exemption is capped at $500, which is reached with an income of $2,500 per year.

Providing additional assistance to older workers and to seniors wishing to re-enter the workforce is a worthy goal, especially given the labour shortages that exist in so many sectors where seniors are likely to take a part time job. Let us examine the proposed solution for a few moments.

Recent statistics show that only about 4% of guaranteed income supplement recipients have earned income above and beyond the benefits provided to them. Many of those who have decided to enter the workforce have done so for personal reasons that are not financial, for example, to maintain social connections, to continue contributing to the community, to stay active, or just to be out of the house.

Then there are the real considerations. If all of these seniors were to take advantage of the 15-hour exemption, this would cost the GIS program almost a quarter billion dollars each year. This figure assumes no additional seniors would choose to enter the labour market. This translates into a large cost to taxpayers to benefit a very tiny percentage of seniors, and the seniors who could benefit are not likely to be the seniors most in need of additional assistance.

The government is committed to the financial well-being of Canadian seniors, especially those with low incomes. This is why we have done more for seniors in 24 months than the previous Liberal government did in 13 years.

We made it easier for seniors to apply for Canada pension and old age security benefits through the passage of Bill C-36.

We have reduced combined income taxes by allowing senior couples to split their pension income.

We have reduced the GST twice, which is often the only tax that low income seniors pay.

We have created the National Seniors Council to advise the government on matters related to seniors' well-being and quality of life.

We have committed $10 million to combat elder abuse through public awareness and education and upgrading of community buildings and equipment used by seniors.

We have also budgeted an additional $10 million per year to the new horizons for seniors program to encourage seniors to contribute to their communities.

As I said before, this government is serious about improving support for all seniors. That is why we have examined the provisions of this motion with particular attention.

Again, we thank the member for her concern for seniors. However, it is clear that despite its good intentions, the motion does not do what low income seniors might expect. It does not provide substantial and effective assistance of any kind to seniors, which this government has offered in the past and will continue to offer in the future.

For these reasons, I oppose the motion and urge all members of the House to join me in doing so.

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

December 7th, 2007 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, when we formed government, we took steps to modernize and strengthen the guaranteed income supplement, the old age security and the CPP. This is exactly what we have done by bringing Bill C-36 into law.

Seniors can rest assured that this government listens and delivers for them.

December 3rd, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to appear before this committee to talk about the 2007-2008 Supplementary Estimates.

Of course, Mr. Chairman, it's always a pleasure to be amongst friends here at Christmastime, a real pleasure.

Let me briefly outline my department's proposed investments and ask your support in helping Canadians create a productive and prosperous economy.

Human Resources and Social Development Canada touches the lives of all Canadians. Our programs and services directly benefit Canadians through employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, old age security, the universal child care benefit, loans disbursed under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and other student assistance programs.

We assist Canadians through Service Canada's 597 points of service and by working with our federal, provincial, and voluntary sector partners.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, is helping Canadians access quality and affordable housing by supporting low-income Canadian households, including seniors, persons with disabilities, aboriginal Canadians and women and children experiencing family violence.

Earlier I mentioned that my portfolio provides services directly to Canadians. I want to take this opportunity to update you on our progress in providing eligible citizens funding under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. To date, we have received 79,600 common-experience payment applications and have issued 25,900 payments, totalling $512.7 million. This is in addition to advance payments of $82.6 million, which have already been paid to individuals 65 and older, for a total of $595.3 million.

The funding sought by HRSD in these supplementary estimates is in support of a vision to build a stronger and more competitive Canada, to support Canadians in making choices that help them live productive and rewarding lives, and to improve Canadians' quality of life.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the ways in which these supplementary estimates enable the government to deliver on its budget commitments: making improvements to the temporary foreign worker program, $15.9 million; expanding the New Horizons for Seniors program, $8.2 million; improving labour market outcomes of aboriginal people, $4.9 million; providing domestic in-person service and a dedicated phone line for the foreign credential recognition office, $4.2 million; creating a new human resource sector council for the forestry industry, $0.3 million; enabling the transition from the national homelessness initiative to the new homelessness partnering strategy, $25.1 million; supporting the delivery of the Transport Canada ecoAUTO rebate program, $6.3 million; delivering renovation program assistance for low-income households over the next two years, $181.9 million; creating affordable housing under the bilateral affordable housing agreements, $40.8 million.

Today I would like to focus on what my department is doing to address the changing nature of the labour force and to support Canada's families.

Let me start with the labour market.

Canadians can take pride in our performance as a society and an economy. Our unemployment rate, at 5.8%, is the lowest in 33 years. Half a million jobs have been created in the past two years alone, and almost 80% of working-age Canadians are in the labour force today, a record level.

But when we look at the long term, it becomes clear that the demographics are working against us. For the last 50 years, our labour force has been the single greatest factor contributing to economic expansion. Over the past half century, it grew by nearly 200%. But in the next 50 years, that labour force is projected to increase by only 11%, and that includes immigration.

Our challenge is too few skilled workers to meet demand. In the past, we didn't seem to have enough work to go around for the number of workers. Now many jobs are going unfilled. Even in areas of high unemployment, we don't have enough skilled workers to fill job openings.

This is a challenge, Mr. Chairman, but it is also a wonderful opportunity.

We can raise our standard of living by ensuring all Canadians can access our labour market. Far too many Canadians are unemployed or underemployed. The best way to help them create opportunities in the emerging economy is by helping them acquire knowledge and skills.

This brings me to Advantage Canada, our long-term economic strategy. It sets an achievable goal:

to create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world.

Mr. Chair, our government wants to ensure that students can access post-secondary education. That's why the Government of Canada is investing 40% more per year in our post-secondary education system through the Canada social transfer.

In budget 2007, we also formally launched a review of the Canada student loans program, in consultation with provinces, territories, and stakeholders. In that regard, my officials have worked with national advisory groups representing a wide range of interests, held regular consultations with provinces and territories, and have sought the views of Canadians. We plan to announce the outcomes of this review in budget 2008.

I would now like to say a few words about the Canada summer jobs initiative. I am pleased to report that this initiative created about 42,000 summer jobs and offered funding to over 18,000 applicants. As you all know, I asked the department to accelerate a second round of funding decisions when it became apparent that some organizations delivering vital community services could be denied funding.

When the books are closed, we expect to have spent between $103 million and $105 million under this initiative. In the supplementary estimates, we are requesting $44.3 million for Canada summer jobs.

I am proud of the Government of Canada's role in helping students find career-related work while helping them save for school. I seek the support of the committee in continuing to make that happen. I look forward to announcing the government's new approach to the Canada summer jobs initiative for 2008 in the very near future.

Mr. Chair, through our labour market initiative announced in budget 2007, we will make significant investments through negotiated agreements with provinces and territories to provide training and labour market programming to people not covered by employment insurance. This includes members of underrepresented groups such as persons with disabilities as well as those with low education and literacy levels.

That same philosophy of collaboration also exists under the aboriginal skills and employment partnership program. We have more than doubled the program to provide training and jobs for aboriginal workers in major economic development sectors across Canada, such as forestry, mining, and construction.

I would like to draw committee members' attention to the forestry sector, which has been faced with some serious challenges in recent years.

Our government recognizes that many single-industry towns across Canada have been hit by lay-offs.

Our targeted initiative for older workers program means we can give older workers in these communities the training they need so they can find new jobs and support their families and our economic growth.

In September this year we also created a new sector council for the forestry industry. This investment highlights our commitment to work closely with the forestry industry to address skills shortages and to help the industry recruit and retain skilled workers.

Mr. Chairman, our government recognizes that not all regions experience the same growth and that individuals employed in seasonal work face special challenges.

To help these seasonal workers, we will continue the extended EI benefits pilot project to June 6, 2009. This demonstrates that our government has taken action to support workers and will continue to do so while traditional and seasonal industries adjust to global conditions. Our priority is to help Canadians participate in the labour market.

I have also announced an extension in the labour market agreement for persons with disabilities, with the provinces and territories, until March 2009. This investment will help Canadians with disabilities develop skills so they can find and keep good, long-term jobs, by breaking down barriers that some persons with disabilities face when trying to get a meaningful job.

Let me now turn to our other priority, providing support to families and their diverse needs. Through our significant investments in benefits for families, particularly those with children and those in low- and middle-income families, we are trying to help Canadians reach their potential. We believe in strong Canadian families that are able to contribute to their well-being, to the labour market, to their communities, and to their country. We are making significant investments in low- and middle-income families through the Canada child tax benefit, and the national child benefit supplement for low-Income families. We are also helping families with the costs of raising their children, through the universal child care benefit and the new child tax credit announced in budget 2007. And we are helping Canadians get over the welfare wall through the working income tax benefit, which strengthens incentives for low-income individuals who are either already in the workforce or who want to work.

The Government of Canada recognizes and values the contributions that seniors have made to their communities. With the passage of Bill C-36, there will now be automatic renewals of the guaranteed income supplement for recipients who file tax returns. We've also been conducting an outreach program to ensure that seniors are getting the information they need about their benefits.

Finally, we are expanding the New Horizons for Seniors program. This program helps seniors benefit from and contribute to the quality of life in their communities through active living. One aspect of that program focuses on education about elder abuse.

With these supplementary estimates, HRSDC is requesting Parliament's approval for additional funding totalling $146.6 million, which is offset by funding available within the department of $82.6 million. The total net voted requirements for the 2007-08 supplementary estimates is $64 million.

For CMHC, we are requesting a total of $222,871,000 to cover planned expenses for the 2007-08 period.

I would be pleased to answer the committee's questions.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SeniorsOral Questions

November 26th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious issue. This is why we have taken a number of steps to ensure that people are more aware of the benefits available to them.

In Bill C-36 we took steps. Once people have filed for GIS, as long as they continue to file their income tax, they will never have to reapply for it again. This is a very important step that will ensure that tens of thousands of people will be saved the paperwork and the hassle, which they have had to face up until now.

Second ReadingOld Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 26th, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, in case I do not have a chance to speak later on today, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Saskatchewan Roughrider organization and loyal Rider fans everywhere on being successful yesterday in winning the 95th Grey Cup. My wife and my family took to the streets. The Batters family certainly celebrated late into the evening and the Lesiuk family did the same. They joined throngs of people on Albert Street in Regina in celebrating a great win yesterday.

I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-362 and address the proposals put forward in this bill to amend the Old Age Security Act. I appreciate the hon. member's intentions in proposing a reduction in the residence requirement from 10 years down to three to receive OAS. However, there are several reasons why this is not a sound course of action.

First, let us look at the issues of fairness and equality. Length of residence in Canada has been this program's central eligibility requirement since its inception in 1952. The purpose of the 10 year requirement then, as now, is meant to be a measure of partial income security in recognition of a person's attachment and contribution to Canadian society, our economy and our communities.

It is a perfectly reasonable expectation that people live in this country for a minimum period of time before being granted the right to a lifelong public benefit, since this public benefit is paid entirely from general tax revenue and does not require any direct contribution from its recipients.

The Old Age Security Act has withstood the test of time, even over the course of several Liberal governments. Why do the members opposite pretend to care so much about this issue now? In fact, the sponsor of the bill has even admitted that the previous Liberal government fought seniors groups in court until they ran out of money because the Liberal government believed so strongly in the current program.

The current Old Age Security Act does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens as the sponsor would have us believe. It is based solely on length of residence and not, as some critics have suggested, on citizenship. In fact, the residence requirement makes no distinction between immigrants who have just arrived in Canada and other Canadians who are returning to Canada after being away. In both cases, applicants must meet the same 10 year requirement.

In my mind, the present system of requiring 10 years of residence is the most fair and equitable criterion for receiving OAS. I am certainly not alone in this belief. Twice, the previous Liberal government defended this issue of fairness in court. Twice, the previous Liberal government's view was upheld when the courts found that the current requirements do not discriminate against applicants on the grounds of national or ethnic origin and do not conflict with the charter.

The old age security system is fair and sound. It provides more than four million seniors in Canada with a retirement income. Its benefits are universally allotted. Yet, it is only one program in Canada's social safety net. There are built-in safeguards for those who do not qualify for OAS through many federal and provincial assistance programs.

Within the public pension system itself, many low income seniors also receive the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, designated to help Canada's poorest seniors. Here, too, citizenship is not a requirement, only a minimum 10 years' residency and an income below a specific threshold.

Under the current system, every senior has the potential to receive OAS and GIS. This is true even if they arrive in Canada at the age of 60 and never work. By the age of 70, they can begin receiving benefits.

Right now, we have a sustainable and robust pension system. Obviously it is in the interest of all Canadians to ensure that our pension system remains healthy. We know that the requirement for pensions will only grow as our senior population continues to expand. In fact, 25 years from now, nearly one-quarter of Canada's population will be 65 years of age or older. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the polices that we enact today protect our pension plans in the future.

The Liberals believed these same things a few years ago, but now they appear to have changed their minds. Relaxing the OAS eligibility requirements from 10 to 3 years would have significant fiscal implications for Canada. It is estimated that the consequent costs would be more than $700 million annually in combined OAS and GIS benefits, with approximately $600 million of this amount due to an increase in GIS payments. We cannot in good conscience place this financial strain on our pension system.

As well as our domestic concerns, we must almost consider the effect Bill C-362 would have on the international agreements we now have in place and for those we will be negotiating in the coming years. Fifty countries have established agreements with Canada based on the current 10 year residency requirement. Lowering this requirement by seven years could create a disincentive for other countries considering reciprocal agreements with Canada.

Clearly, there are sound reasons for maintaining the current OAS system. It is fair and equitable. It recognizes the contributions seniors have made to our country. OAS pension benefits are based on residence rather than citizenship or national origin. Also, the OAS program is financially sound. Under the current system, OAS is sustainable. It is our duty as our constituents' representatives to ensure that OAS is there for them when they need it.

I can assure this House and all Canadians that this Conservative government intends to take every measure possible to protect our seniors today and in the future.

We have demonstrated our intentions through such measures as those contained in Bill C-36, which simplify and streamline the OAS and GIS application process.

We have also introduced a number of initiatives, such as the National Seniors Council, aimed at improving the lives of seniors. We have introduced a range of measures to reduce the tax burden on seniors.

We will continue to act to protect seniors and Canada's old age security system. I urge my hon. colleagues to vote against the proposals contained in this bill, just as the Liberals did when they were in power.

Second ReadingOld Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 26th, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to participate in the debate on Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement). I want to be clear that I will be supporting the bill.

It has often been said that in politics, all politics are local. While much of what we do in the House is of national importance, most of us elected to this chamber take our responsibilities seriously to give voice to the concerns expressed to us in our ridings.

That is the yardstick against which I measure my parliamentary work. I simply ask myself if I am saying in Parliament what those who sent me here as their representative would like to say themselves if they had this privileged opportunity. Therefore, every time I participate in the deliberations of the House, I reflect on what is happening back at home.

In a discussion on old age security, like the one that is before us today, I begin by noting that in Hamilton the percentage of seniors living in poverty is 24%. That is one in four seniors. It increases to 36% for women over the age of 75. Shocking as those statistics are, the risk of living in poverty is even greater for recent immigrants.

What does that tell us? In broadest terms, it says clearly that seniors do not have the income security that they need to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve.

At the very lowest end of the income scale are those seniors who live on nothing more than the OAS and GIS and, shamefully, those income supports do not suffice to lift them above the poverty line. That is a disgrace in a country that posted a budget surplus of $40 billion in the last year alone.

Instead of giving more tax cuts to the oil and gas industry, the Conservative government should have spent that money on lifting seniors out of poverty, the very seniors who built the country whose coffers are now overflowing.

Under those financial circumstances, I cannot wait to hear the government's excuse for not supporting the bill that is before us today, a bill that addresses the needs of seniors who are not even receiving the basic income support of the OAS. It is those seniors who are at the centre of the legislation that is before the House today.

When one of the NDP forefathers, Stanley Knowles, began the fight for public pensions in this very chamber, he was motivated by a sense of social justice. He was motivated by a genuine concern for the needs and welfare of Canadian citizens.

When the Old Age Security Act was finally adopted in Parliament in 1951, it reflected that motivation in the very way it was set up. It was established as a universal benefit funded out of general tax revenue. Indeed, it is the OAS's universality that gives expression to its social justice roots. When that universality is compromised, it is incumbent upon us to right that wrong. That is what the motion tabled in the House by my colleague from Surrey North is proposing and that is essentially what Bill C-362 purports to do.

When the Liberal government brought forward the Old Age Security Act, it excluded persons from receiving the benefit if they had not lived in Canada for 10 years. Although the OAS was intended to be the cornerstone of Canada's retirement income system, it forced a large number of Canadian citizens to go entirely without benefits for many years.

Contrary to its roots of ensuring universality, the residency requirement actually ended up creating two different classes of Canadian citizens: those who qualify at age 65 and those who do not because they have not lived in Canada for the requisite 10 years.

I fundamentally believe that citizenship must entail the same rights and responsibilities for all Canadians and any act that does otherwise offends that sense of social justice.

The Liberals, of course, had many opportunities to fix that problem while they were in government between 1951 and the present day. It saddens me that they failed to seize those opportunities, especially since they are now so eager to scold the Conservatives for their inaction. I am certain that the double standard will not escape the many Canadians who are watching these deliberations on television.

It makes me wonder why the Liberals did not vote with me in committee to support a Bloc motion on Bill C-36 that would have solved this problem once and for all. In fact, it would have gone even further. It would have lifted the restriction on new citizens' access to the OAS on the basis of the sponsor's obligations under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Between the votes of the Bloc, the Liberals and the NDP, we would have been able to out-vote the government and fix Bill C-36 right then and there. However, the Liberals chose not to vote with us and, as a result, while Bill C-36 has long since passed into law, tens of thousands of Canadians are still not receiving the OAS.

That is a curious position for a party whose leader was recently in Hamilton and said that poverty was his priority. I would suggest that actions speak louder than words.

Organizations that work very closely with immigrant populations have been watching our work here closely. The Seniors Network BC, the Seniors Summit, Women Elders in Action, the Alternative Planning Group, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network representing the African Canadian Social Development Council, the Chinese Canadian National Council, the Hispanic Development Council and the Council of Agencies Servicing South Asians have all been advocating for changes to the residency requirement for a very long time. They no longer want to see immigrant seniors condemned to a life poverty. They want to move beyond the patchwork quilt of policies that was the legacy of the Liberal government.

As members of the House will know, some seniors who are newcomers can qualify for old age security even if they have not met the 10-year residency requirement. That is because the Government of Canada has signed reciprocal social security agreements with about 50 countries that make the benefits portable between Canada and that other country. They normally exist because both countries provide social security plans with similar benefits.

The reason for not having secured a reciprocal agreement is because the other country is unwilling or unable to provide comparable social security. This would include some of the most impoverished nations in the world and our government is, therefore, targeting the very people who may need the OAS the most.

If we want to be serious about ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve, then we must take every opportunity to walk the talk. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-362. I hope that then collectively we will turn our minds to look once again at the larger picture. We must remember that in Canada today we still have two million seniors living in poverty.

The Liberals and Conservatives supported my seniors charter, which I had the privilege of tabling in the House on behalf of the NDP caucus last year. One of the expressed rights in that charter is the right to income security for all seniors. Just as workers deserve a living wage, so seniors must be lifted out of poverty.

We need to take a holistic approach to this issue, which is why I tabled a motion in the House to undertake a comprehensive review of senior's income security. I would remind members of what that motion says. For those members who are eager to look it up, it is Motion No. 136. It reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should guarantee to all seniors a stable and secure income by: (a) linking the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Program to standard of living levels; (b) looking forward ten years to determine the adequacy of income support programs; (c) performing reviews of all income support planning for seniors; and (d) reporting all the above annually to Parliament.

We know that a major demographic shift is just around the corner. In fact, Statistics Canada suggests that between 2006 and 2026 the number of seniors is projected to increase from 4.3 million to 8 million. Their share of the population is expected to increase from 13.2% to 21.1%. A shift of that magnitude requires planning, and both the seniors of today and the seniors of tomorrow are looking to us to take leadership.

As my motion suggests, we need to begin that planning now. If we want to continue to espouse the sense of social justice that Stanley Knowles brought to this House when he worked to ensure that no senior should live in poverty, then we need to recommit ourselves to his vision starting today.

Yes, Bill C-362 is one piece of that puzzle, and I am proud to support it with my vote, but there is so much more yet left to be done. I want to encourage all members of the House to put partisanship aside and work together to ensure that promising a senior the right to retirement with dignity and respect is more than just empty rhetoric.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

November 26th, 2007 / 11 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-362 today.

Canada's public pension system is generally regarded as one of the best in the world and is recognized internationally for the quality and generosity of the financial assistance available to Canadian seniors. This is something that the government takes great pride in. Canadians believe in sharing the benefits of our economic prosperity with our fellow citizens and this government shares that belief. The government recognizes the important role seniors have played and continue to play in strengthening our communities and the hard work they have done to make our country the greatest in the world.

This is why this government has, first of all, delivered more than $1 billion in tax relief to Canadian seniors and pensioners. Second, it is why we passed Bill C-36, so that seniors apply only once and do not have to reapply year after year to receive the GIS. This change is helping more than 1.5 million low income Canadian seniors every year. Third, it is why we have put in place a $1,000 increase in the age credit amount, which will provide significant tax relief to low income and modest income seniors.

This government's record speaks for itself. It is one that I would put up against the Liberal record any day.

As members of this House, we have a responsibility to maintain the quality and integrity of our country's public pension program. It is up to us to make sure the laws that govern our social programs are the right ones. That means making sure the legislation we pass in this House is prudent and that it will maintain the integrity and long term sustainability of our social programs.

The opposition has been reticent to consider the long term ramifications of many of their private members' bills during this Parliament. The opposition has not been forthcoming on the true costs of this bill and what these proposals would mean for the long term viability of the OAS program.

We have estimates that put the cost of this bill at more than $700 million per year, a cost that will rise dramatically with the changing demographics facing the Canadian population in the next 20 years.

It is the goal of this government to preserve this program for future generations, including the children and grandchildren of new Canadians.

As we have seen, bills being brought forward by members of the opposition are lacking in due diligence. Many provincial social assistance programs are tied to the OAS, yet the opposition has not spoken with any provincial governments.

This government believes in consulting with the provinces, not imposing things upon them, especially when the proposed changes will cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars per year.

Clearly the bill was proposed in the spirit of trying to win votes rather than sincerely helping the seniors of Canada. It is also surprising to hear my colleagues from across the aisle stand up today and pretend to be the protectors of seniors and new Canadians when their record speaks otherwise.

The hon. member for Brampton West said during debate at a previous stage of the bill that “to demand a residency requirement any longer than three years is unreasonable”.

It was not unreasonable when she and her party had consecutive majority governments to deal with this issue and did nothing. It was not unreasonable when her government fought and won two separate cases in court on this issue. It was not unreasonable when the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that fact.

It appears it was unreasonable only when we were elected to government and the hon. members across the way no longer had to concern themselves with the consequences of their proposed changes. The members across the way continue to say today that the current OAS program discriminates against immigrants, but when the Liberal Party was in power it fought against this in two high profile cases which proposed the very changes outlined in the bill.

I am referring to Pawar v. Canada in the Federal Court of Canada in 1999 and Shergill v. Canada in the Federal Court of Appeal in 2003. In both cases, the Liberals believed that the residence requirement to qualify for OAS did not discriminate against the applicants on the basis of national or ethnic origin. The Liberals felt that the current OAS program was fair then, and it continues to be fair today.

This hasty turnaround now that the Liberals are in opposition should cause a severe case of party-wide whiplash. We have even more instances of Liberal hypocrisy on this issue. When the issue was raised in the House during the last Parliament, it was the Liberals who voted against Bloc amendments that would rectify this so-called historical injustice that my colleague bemoans today.

That is the Liberal record. As much as the hon. member for Brampton West would like to run away from it, she simply cannot move that fast.

The opposition has been creating a lot of white noise on this issue by pretending that theirs is the party that stands up for the interests of new Canadians. As we have seen time and again, their record contradicts the Liberals' rhetoric.

For 13 years the Liberals froze settlement funding and saw the success rates of new Canadians drop to alarming levels. It was our government that within months of being elected increased settlement funds to new Canadians by $307 million. These funds will help immigrants, both old and young, adjust to a new home, learn a new language and get the help they need.

It is this government that moved on the issue of foreign credentials recognition, an issue the Liberals managed to hide under a barrel for 13 years.

The Liberals have opposed these advances for new Canadians at every turn, but they cannot have it both ways. They cannot sit on their hands for 13 years and then claim to be the ones standing up for immigrant communities. They cannot oppose the changes to the bill when in government and then support them in opposition, but this is just what they have done.

It is hypocrisy in the raw and new Canadians can see through this ruse.

In order to be eligible to receive any OAS benefits, applicants must meet the specific residency requirements, a minimum of 10 years of residence. It has nothing to do with citizenship or immigration status. All that is needed is residency. It is really quite simple. The Liberal Party recognized that when it was in government, but it appears to have forgotten this now.

However, none of this is to say that the government should not be open to making changes to seniors' benefits. In fact, the government is open to change and has already acted to get results for seniors and new Canadians alike.

The government supports change when change is needed, but Bill C-362 simply does not fly. I believe the existing OAS legislation represents a fair balance between providing a taxpayer-financed pension to our seniors and recognizing their past contribution as residents of Canadian society.

It would appear that my Liberal colleagues believe it, too, which is why they did not address this during their 13 years in power. I challenge them to stop using new Canadians as pawns in their political chess game and vote against this bill.

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

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

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the government is fulfilling its campaign commitments on this matter. We promised to strengthen the guaranteed income supplement, old age security and the Canada pension plan, which is exactly what we are doing.

In fact, the government moved, in Bill C-36, to strengthen Canada pension plan disability benefits and in that same bill made it possible for people who have filed for the GIS to never have to reapply again because it will automatically occur when they file income tax.

We are getting the job done for Canadian seniors around this country.

Sitting ResumedGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Simcoe North.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this important motion. I would like to thank the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for its 21st report. We appreciate the diligence that the committee has shown in exploring the issues concerning the economic security of women.

Our government shares the committee's recognition that there is a need to ensure economic security for women and we have taken a number of measures to achieve this goal.

Speaking as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, and as a woman, our government's objective to enable Canadians throughout their lives to have the opportunities needed to participate in all aspects of Canadian society is fundamental in recognizing the many roles of women in Canadian society. Solid analysis on a wide range of issues, including gender, is key to fulfilling that mandate.

Before looking at the specific measures our government has taken to ensure the economic security of all Canadians, I will first take a quick look at the important advancements that women have made to improve their own security, particularly in education and in the labour market.

Over the past few decades, the participation of women at university has increased dramatically. A Statistics Canada study found that among 19-year-old youth in 2003, 38.8% of girls attended university compared with only 25.7% of boys.

As well, I am delighted to inform the House that the increase in Canadian women's participation rates in the labour force is one of the most significant social trends in recent decades. In fact, our nation has one of the highest women's labour force participation rates among the OECD countries and the highest among the G-7 countries. Our unemployment rate of 5.9% is the lowest it has been in 33 years. Half a million jobs have been created in the past two years alone.

Achieving positive results for all Canadians is our government's role. To this end, the economic update introduced by the government on October 30 lowered taxes, both income tax and GST. Taken together, these measures will contribute to greater economic security for millions of Canadian women.

In addition, because skilled workers are necessary to boosting productivity, budget 2007 made a landmark investment in post-secondary education, aimed at creating the quality workforce of tomorrow.

As I mentioned earlier, women are attending university in record numbers and our investments will help those numbers continue to rise. By 2008-09, we will be transferring $3.2 billion to the provinces and territories, an increase of $800 million, or 40%. Budget 2007 also provided an additional $500 million a year for labour market training, starting 2008-09.

Working with provinces and territories, this new investment will help all Canadians get the skills and training they need to prepare them for the future.

Our government supports low income Canadians through a range of programs, transfers to the provinces and territories and tax measures that work together to support self-sufficiency. To help in this effort, budget 2007 introduced the working income tax benefit, which will help Canadians over the welfare wall and reward work for low income Canadian men and women. This is in addition to the Canada employment credit of up $1,000 to help working Canadians.

The federal government also has built measures to support parents during the first year of a child's life through employment insurance, which is a national program providing Canadians with a full year of maternity and parental benefits.

Furthermore, after 13 years of empty promises and inaction by the previous Liberal government, our government is providing Canadian parents with choice in child care. We have taken action to support families with the cost of raising their children through a number of concrete measures. These include the universal child care benefit, which provides $100 per month for each child under the age of six, a new $2,000 child tax credit for each child under the age of 18 and the Canada child tax benefit. This provides $9.5 billion this year alone to families with children.

We also recognize that many families need child care spaces and this is why we are transferring an additional $250 million per year to provinces and territories to help them create and enhance child care spaces. This is on top of $850 million they already receive for children's programs and services, for a total of $1.1 billion this year alone.

We are implementing a tax credit for businesses that create child care spaces for their employees and the surrounding community. With this support, provinces have already committed to the creation of tens of thousands of child care spaces.

The standing committee's report rightly focuses on the most vulnerable women in society. Our government also concentrates its efforts in supporting these Canadians.

Housing is fundamental. To this end, we designated close to $270 million for a new homelessness partnering strategy and $256 million in support of CMHC's renovation programs over the next two years. This will help improve the living conditions of some 38,000 households, including single women, seniors, persons with disabilities, aboriginal people and others in need across Canada. We have invested $1.4 billion to create three provincial-territorial trusts that will help Canadians to find safe, affordable housing.

We have invested $300 million for a first nations marketing housing fund that will facilitate up to 25,000 housing units on reserve over 10 years.

We recognize, too, that aboriginal women and men need access to skills training jobs that enable them to participate more fully in the workforce and the economy.

Our aboriginal human resources development strategy is a $1.6 billion community based initiative designed to help aboriginal people prepare for, find and keep jobs. The aboriginal skills and employment partnership, ASEP, is an $85 million labour market initiative designed to provide training and long term skilled jobs for aboriginal people in major economic development sectors across Canada. We recently announced an additional $105 million investment to extend ASEP until 2012.

We all need financial security. This is particularly so for seniors, especially women who constitute a large share of the seniors population. Through its stewardship of Canada's public pension system, old age security and the Canada pension plan, HRSD provides income security for Canadians in their retirement years. Canadians know that the government has done more in 20 months than the previous Liberal government did in 150 months to address the needs of seniors.

For example, through Bill C-36, which we introduced and has been passed, we made it easier for Canadians to apply for and receive the benefits for which they are entitled, such as the guaranteed income supplement. We have also created the Secretary of State for Seniors and the National Seniors Council to ensure that our policies, programs and services continue to meet the needs of seniors.

The Government of Canada works with other levels of government and all concerned and informed stakeholders to develop a national approach that responds to the needs of seniors today and in the future.

We all know there is more work to be done. We know there is still a gap in earnings between men and women. However, the gap has diminished in recent decades and our government will continue to work to close that gap.

I am proud to be a part of a government that is strongly committed to providing effective and meaningful support to all Canadians, men and women. Once again I would like to thank the standing committee for its report. The observations and recommendations it contains will be of valuable assistance as we move forward.

SeniorsOral Questions

October 31st, 2007 / 3 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I would argue that we have done more in 21 months in government than the previous government did in 13 years.

The fact is we put in place a number of different supports so that seniors are allowed to keep more of the income that they earn. We have put in place a minister for seniors. We have announced a seniors national council.

We are helping seniors directly by ensuring that they get the benefits that they are entitled to by reaching out to them through initiatives like Bill C-36, and a number of different initiatives that make sure that they are aware of their CPP and OAS entitlements.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

October 23rd, 2007 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is my second opportunity to talk about Bill C-362, which was introduced by my Liberal colleague, and which aims to amend that part of the Old Age Security Act dealing with residency requirements for older immigrants.

Bill C-362 would reduce from 10 years to three years the residency requirement for entitlement to a partial monthly old age security pension.

The bill is a very simple one, so I do not understand why the Conservative Party is against it. How could they possibly oppose it? The current 10-year requirement is unfair to recent immigrants who are seniors, because they have limited access to old age security benefits. The only amendment this bill calls for is to change all instances of “ten years” in the act to “three years”. The definition of “specially qualified individual”, which indicates the number of years of residency required for an individual to be entitled to benefits, would be amended to read “three years”. When the Conservative Party says that the government has been very generous toward seniors, I have to wonder what it is talking about.

It is clear to the Bloc Québécois that Bill C-362 would give recent immigrants who are seniors easier access to the old age security program. Quality of life for seniors often depends on the care they receive. Quality of life also depends on their income, and recent immigrants are entitled to their dignity too. The Conservative Party does not seem to recognize that.

It is clear that Bill C-362 introduces amendments to the Old Age Security Act that do not encroach on Quebec's jurisdiction. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying this bill.

I would now like to remind the members about what the Bloc Québécois has done for seniors over the past years. In May I began travelling around Quebec, and I realized that seniors are vulnerable, poor and getting poorer. Over the past few years, we, the Bloc Québécois, have found that seniors, who are among the poorest members of our society, have always borne the brunt of the federal government's cuts to transfer payments. Quality of life for seniors has been hit hard.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has long been highly critical of the inconsistencies in the federal guaranteed income supplement program, which provides additional revenue for older people on limited incomes. If we wanted to do them justice, we would have to increase the guaranteed income supplement today by $106 a month just to reach the low income threshold.

Bill C-36, which was given royal assent last May 7, partly solved some of the problems with program accessibility, although without resolving the full retroactivity issue. The Bloc Québécois wanted to see full retroactivity, but that was not included in Bill C-36. It provided only 11 months of retroactivity.

Bill C-36 made other changes to the Old Age Security Act, including ongoing renewal of the guaranteed income supplement, the clarity of the act, simplified income reporting for seniors and couples; and the consistency of benefit entitlements.

There was also a proposal to make common amendments to the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. These provisions dealt with electronic services, the charging of interest, and information sharing. There was still one controversial issue surrounding accessibility, and the Bloc Québécois opposed the expansion of the limits on new Canadian citizens who had immigrated.

In the Bloc’s view—and apparently now in the view of the Liberal Party as well—there cannot be different classes of Canadian citizens, regardless of how they arrived. All Canadian citizens should be entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. Some sections of the legislation were problematic because they created different classes of citizens—for example, a person who has a sponsorship agreement still in effect under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These sections excluded new Canadian citizens who were still being sponsored.

The Bloc Québécois wanted the committee to amend the bill so as not to let the obligations incumbent upon sponsors under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act limit the eligibility of new citizens for old age security.

In the Bloc’s view, when a person becomes a Canadian citizen, his sponsorship agreement should automatically be terminated.

The sponsor’s obligations generally take effect as soon as the person being sponsored obtains permanent resident status and conclude at the end of the sponsorship period. This can be very long in some cases—as many as 10 years—and the problem needed fixing. Under the bill, the agreement could not be terminated, even through the obtaining of Canadian citizenship. It could not be terminated by separation, divorce, or moving to another province. It remained in effect even if the sponsor’s financial situation took a turn for the worse.

I should point out that the Liberal Party voted against this Bloc proposal last February. Today we are dealing with a matter similar to the debate on Bill C-36, which received royal assent last May. Bill C-362 does not deal with new sponsored arrivals but with other categories of new arrivals who are not sponsored.

The proposed amendments are minor. It is impossible to be against them, but we need to go much further.

Because of globalization and the fact that we live in a global environment, the Bloc Québécois thinks that Canada must be flexible about citizenship and the services offered to newcomers. Given the increase in exchanges between countries, there should be mechanisms in place to allow for greater human mobility, in addition to the measures already in place to help the disadvantaged, including seniors, of course.

The Bloc Québécois' position is as follows. We are aware that BIll C-362 will make it easier for recent immigrants who are seniors to access old age security benefits. As I said earlier, since seniors' quality of life often depends on the care they can receive, this quality of life is dictated by their income. Newcomers also have a right to dignity.

In closing, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. Nonetheless, I want to point out that there is still a lot of work to do. It is deplorable that in all these years the Liberal and Conservative governments have abandoned, muzzled and ignored seniors, the most vulnerable people in our society. The Liberals were the first to close their eyes to this category of disadvantaged people, choosing instead to allow capital to be sheltered in tax havens, to lower the debt and cut funding from Quebec and the provinces. Then the Conservatives chose to cut taxes instead of providing immediate support to the workers who helped build today's society.

Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois is here to ensure that our seniors have a voice in the government. Thanks to our many appearances in the House, in committee and in the media, the Bloc Québécois has managed to keep the attention on a group of people who have been dropped from the government's priorities. Seniors who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but without full retroactivity because of various governmental errors, are a good example.

The Bloc Québécois will continue to fight the federal government in order to bring justice to those who enabled Quebeckers and Canadians to become the people they are today.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

October 23rd, 2007 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not totally clear on this, but I believe the member indicated that this was brought before the immigration committee. It is not an immigration matter. It is a human resources issue. Otherwise, I am not aware of Bill C-36.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

October 23rd, 2007 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member introduced this bill some time ago and I remember that, following his speech, I asked her a question to which she never replied. I wonder if I might have an answer today, now that several months have gone by.

We were speaking of two social classes of seniors—the first class and the second class. The member said she was against making this distinction. Personally, I agree wholeheartedly. However, when Bill C-36 was sent to committee to be studied, the Bloc Québécois proposed an amendment because, despite the tabling of Bill C-362, there was an element of unfairness with respect to new sponsored citizens. When it was being studied in committee, the Bloc Québécois asked that the bill be amended so as not to restrict new citizens' access to old age security on the basis of the sponsor's obligations under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The Liberals voted against that amendment.

I do not know if the member can tell me why the Liberals voted against this amendment because today she is introducing a bill that is oddly reminiscent of what was proposed by the Bloc with regard to Bill C-36.

Bill C-357--Employment Insurance Act and Bill C-362--Old Age Security ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to two private members' bills, Bill C-357 and Bill C-362. Without commenting on their merits, I submit that these two bills require royal recommendations.

First, I want to explain why Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting), requires a royal recommendation.

As the Chair ruled on May 9, 2005:

--bills which involve new or additional spending for a distinct purpose must be recommended by the Crown. The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill. What this means is that a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where more money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is being significantly altered.

I would note that Bill C-357 is nearly identical to Bill C-280 in the 38th Parliament which the Speaker ruled required a royal recommendation.

On June 13, 2005, the Speaker stated:

--Bill C-280 infringes on the financial initiative of the Crown for three reasons: first, clause 2 effects an appropriation of public funds by its transfer of these funds from the consolidated revenue fund to an independent employment insurance account established outside the consolidated revenue fund.

Second, clause 2 significantly alters the duties of the EI Commission to enable new or different spending of public funds by the commission for a new purpose namely, the investment of public funds.

Third, as indicated in my ruling of February 8, clause 5 increases the number of commissioners from four to seventeen.

All three of these conditions apply to Bill C-357.

Clause 2 would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund. The bill would transfer money out of the consolidated revenue fund to the employment insurance account and that money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. This would be an appropriation of funds and, therefore, requires a royal recommendation.

However, worthy some aspects of the bill may be, and some aspects of it are, this does not alter the need for the royal recommendation.

Clause 2 would also change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission, including new requirements for the commission to deposit assets with a financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return.

These are new and distinct purposes which have not been authorized and are additional reasons why clause 2 requires a royal recommendation.

Clause 5 of Bill C-357 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.

On February 8, 2005, the Speaker ruled that the appointment of 13 new commissioners to the Employment Insurance Commission in Bill C-280 required a royal recommendation. This is consistent with other rulings where the Speaker found that adding remunerated members to commissions requires a royal recommendation. Given these precedents, I submit that clause 5 requires a royal recommendation.

To sum up, Bill C-357 would require an appropriation, it would alter the purpose of funds covered by the act, and it would require new spending for an expanded commission; therefore, it must accompanied by a royal recommendation.

The second bill I want to draw to your attention is Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act.

This bill would increase old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits by lowering the threshold for eligibility from the current 10 years to 3. This change would result in significant new expenditures.

Under the Old Age Security Act, applicants must have at least 10 years of residence in Canada after age 18 in order to qualify for benefits.

I would further note that partial benefits are paid to applicants who have less than 10 years of residence if the applicant has credits from a country with which Canada has a pension agreement. Residence has been an eligibility criteria since this program's inception in 1952. Reducing the residence requirement from 10 years to 3 years would have significant costs.

Since eligibility for old age security pensions also qualifies for low income recipients to receive the guaranteed income supplement, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that the total cost of reducing the qualifying period would be over $700 million annually.

Precedents clearly establish that bills which create new expenditures for benefits by modifying eligibility criteria or changing the terms of a program require a royal recommendation.

On December 8, 2004, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.

On November 6, 2006, the Speaker ruled with regard to Bill C-269, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Funds may only be appropriated by Parliament for purposes covered by a royal recommendation...New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On November 9, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-284, the bill that enlarged the scope of the student grants program beyond that originally authorized by Parliament, that:

Any extension of the terms of an existing program must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On November 10, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, dealing with employment insurance benefits, that:

--by amending the Employment Insurance Act to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, the bill would require the expenditure of additional funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized.

On March 23, 2007, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-265, dealing with employment insurance benefits, that it was abundantly clear:

--those provisions of the bill which relate to increasing employment insurance benefits and easing the qualifications required to obtain them would require a royal recommendation.

I would also note that when Parliament adopted amendments to benefit criteria in the Old Age Security Act in Bill C-36 earlier this year, this legislation was accompanied by a royal recommendation.

In conclusion, Bill C-362 would increase expenditures for old age security and guaranteed income supplements in ways not already authorized and, therefore, should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 17th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I would not do that.

Tomorrow is an allotted day.

Next week is constituent consultation week, when the House will be adjourned to allow members to return to their ridings and meet with constituents to share with them the activities of Parliament since the last constituency break.

For the interest of members, I will quickly review our plan for the context of our overall legislative agenda.

As he requested, this is currently strengthening the economy week, where a number of financial bills moved forward. The budget bill was sent to committee and, hopefully, it will be reported back tomorrow, or soon, so we can deal with it at third reading when the House returns after the break.

Bill C-40, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act, was read a third time and sent to the Senate. Bill C-53, an act to implement the convention on the settlement of investment disputes, Bill C-33, the sales tax bill and Bill C-47, the Olympics symbol bill were all sent to committee and we all would like to see those back in the House for report stage and third reading.

In an earlier week, Bill C-36, the bill that makes changes to the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act, was made into law after receiving royal assent.

Strengthening accountability through democratic reform week was a success with the consideration of Bill C-43, Senate consultation. We had three new democratic reform bills introduced that week: Bill C-55, to expand voting opportunities; Bill C-56, an act to amend the Constitution Act, democratic representation; and Bill C-54, a bill that would bring accountability with respect to loans. We hope to continue debate on that particular bill later today.

Bill C-16, fixed dates for elections, was given royal assent and is now law, which I think is the cause of the commotion now in all the committees where Liberals are using procedural tactics. Now they feel they can do it with a free hand.

Two other democratic reform bills are in the Senate, Bill C-31, voter integrity, and Bill S-4, Senate tenure. I really would like to have the term limits bill from the Senate for an upcoming democratic reform week if the opposition House leader can persuade his colleagues in the Senate to finally deal with that bill after 352 days. We may get 352 seconds in a filibuster, but they have had 352 days so far. They have been stalling for a year.

During the consultation week, I will be interested in hearing what our constituents think of the plight of Bill S-4 and the irony of those unaccountable senators delaying it.

We dedicated a good deal of our time focusing on making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime. Now that we have had the help of the NDP, we restored the meaningful aspects that the Liberals gutted in committee to Bill C-10, the bill to introduce mandatory penalties for violent and gun crimes. We are continuing to debate that bill today at third reading.

Bill C-48, the bill dealing with the United Nations convention on corruption, was adopted at all stages.

Bill C-26, the bill to amend the Criminal Code with respect to interest rates, was given royal assent.

Bill C-22, the age of protection, was given final reading and sent to the Senate, although it did spend close to, if not in excess of, 200 days in committee where the Liberals were obstructing and delaying its passage.

We made progress on Bill C-27, the dangerous offenders legislation. We would like to see that back in the House.

Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) and a host of other justice bills are working their way through the system.

Members can advise their constituents that when we return, we will be reviving two themes, back by popular demand. Beginning May 28, we will begin again with strengthening accountability through democratic reform with: Bill C-54, political loans; Bill C-55, additional opportunities for voting; and Bill C-56, democratic representation.

Up next is a second go-round on strengthening the economy week with Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill, which will be called as soon as it is reported back from committee.

In the near future, we will have the improvement of aboriginal people quality of life week with Bill C-44. This bill will grant first nations residing on Indian reserves access to the Canadian charter of human rights. They have been denied this right for 30 years. Unfortunately, Bill C-44 is being delayed by the opposition. This is another bill being delayed by the opposition in committee.

After Bill C-44, I intend to debate Bill C-51. The agreement establishes the use and ownership of land and resources and will foster economic development. This bill illustrates Canada's commitment to the North and to settling land claims.

I wish all members a productive constituent consultation week and look forward to more progress on the government's legislative agenda when the House returns on May 28.

May 15th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I should start by introducing my colleagues at the table. Of course Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Labour, is with me; his deputy minister, Munir Sheikh, is here, as is my deputy minister, Janice Charette. Next to Janice is Hélène Gosselin, associate deputy minister responsible for Service Canada; next to Hélène is Karen Kinsley, who is the president of CMHC; and next to Karen is Sherry Harrison, who is the comptroller for the department.

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to appear before this committee to talk about the 2007-2998 main estimates and the report on plans and priorities of my department.

I am accompanied by my esteemed colleague, the Minister of Labour, the Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who will talk about the activities and plans of the Labour Program within Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Of the $84 billion in planned expenditures for my department, nearly 93% will be in direct benefits. They range from child care, student support, and skills development to employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, and old age security.

The HRSDC main estimates exclude employment insurance—$16 billion—and the Canada Pension Plan—$28 billion—for benefits and administrative costs funded from those two accounts.

The 2007-2008 main estimates total $40.5 billion, a net increase of $5.1 billion over the 2006-2007 main estimates of $35.4 billion. The increase is primarily due to new funding for the universal child care benefits, the lump-sum payments recognizing the impact of Indian residential schools, and increases for statutory programs, which include old age security, guaranteed income supplements, and allowance payments.

Mr. Chair, I have recently had the opportunity to cross the country and see firsthand how our department touches the lives of Canadians and helps them fulfill their potential. Service Canada is central to my department and to the broader government, touching the lives of millions of Canadians. Service Canada is about improving service to Canadians. I'm proud to say that Service Canada provides access to more than 50 Government of Canada programs and services over the Internet, in person, or by telephone.

I'm also proud of our expansion into rural and remote areas. Over last year, our government added 170 points of service. Residents of Fort Resolution on the shores of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, for example, recently got help accessing programs and services, thanks to several Service Canada employees who made a 320-kilometre round trip from the local service centre in Hay River, rather than waiting for the residents to come to them.

Residents of the communities of Grise Fiord and Resolute and Nunavut also recently had a chance to find out about our programs through two trade fairs organized by Service Canada employees and the Baffin Chamber of Commerce. Some Canadians are now receiving their first direct contact with the federal government. Citizen service agents are providing scheduled outreach visits to several communities along the James Bay coast in northern Ontario that are only accessible by plane. Plans are also under way to begin offering services in Cree.

Many more Canadians are getting the services and benefits they need. Providing Canadians with excellent services is no longer just a goal, but a concrete reality.

Let me now outline for you some of our government's actions to support Canadians in their family life, at work, and in their communities. Mr. Chair, today is International Day of Families. Every day Canadian families face challenges balancing work and family responsibilities and making decisions on how to raise their children. That's why our government has now presented two budgets aimed at providing choice for Canadians. These measures are making a difference, Mr. Chair.

In fact, this year we will be providing nearly $5.6 billion—three times the previous government—in direct spending, tax measures, and transfers to support early learning and child care. Universal child care benefit provides $2.4 billion a year directly to families, and now with Budget 2007, we have committed $250 million per year to create new child care spaces through the Canada social transfer. This comes on top of the $850 million we already provide to the provinces and territories in support of early learning and child care programs. Budget 2007 announced further support for families with children, including a 25% non-refundable tax credit to support businesses in creating new child care spaces in the workplace.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the opening of an innovative employer-sponsored child care centre at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The centre sets up contracts with employers to supply full- and part-time care for children up to 13 years old, as well as temporary child care when the need arises. I can see Canadians working together to create effect choices in child care. I'm very encouraged when parents tell me that they have more choices for their families as a result of our programs and policies.

We have continued to follow through on our commitment to families by recently proposing in the budget a child tax credit for up to $310 per child under the age of 18. More than three million Canadian families would see their tax burden reduced. We have also proposed a new measure, similar to the registered education savings plan, that will benefit families who have children with severe disabilities. I'm sure that every one of us knows someone who faces the daunting financial challenge of caring for a child with a disability. The registered disability savings plan is designed to help ease that financial burden.

We have also done a great deal on behalf of seniors.

At the beginning of this year, the Prime Minister appointed the Honourable Marjory LeBreton as Secretary of State for seniors. In March, we announced the creation of a National Seniors Council to advise the government on issues of national importance. Budget 2007 had an increase in the age credit amount and pension income splitting. The recent passage of Bill C-36 will make it easier for seniors to apply for and receive their benefits.

This government also believes that investing in post-secondary education today will help bridge the skills gap, so future generations can access learning and employment opportunities of the future. That's why Budget 2007 proposed to increase the lifetime contributions and the annual contribution limits of registered education savings plans, as well as increase the Canada education savings grant. In addition, Budget 2007 proposed the biggest investment in post-secondary education since the inception of the Canada social transfer, an increase of more than 40% in transfers to provinces and territories in this area.

We are also delivering policies and programs that help bridge the gap in the labour market between employers who need workers and Canadians who need jobs. The budget establishes a new architecture for labour market policy, the centerpiece of which is a $500 million a year contribution in new funding for the provinces to help get training for those who are not eligible to receive EI. Our goal is to create the skilled, adaptable workforce Canada needs. In the final analysis, this translates into opportunities for individual workers to create Canada's knowledge advantage.

We live in a very special time in the history of the Canadian economy and its labour force. The challenge used to be people seeking jobs. Now we have jobs seeking people, especially when it comes to skilled workers.

Last January, for example, our government launched the apprenticeship incentive grant. Up to 100,000 apprentices will be eligible for grants to help cover the cost of tuition, travel, and tools. I was recently in Edmonton, Mr. Chairman, where I had the opportunity to present the first $1,000 cheque under the apprenticeship incentive grant at a steel fabricating plant, Wayward Steel. The smile on that young rig technician's face told me, Mr. Chairman, that we were absolutely on the right track with this new grant.

Our government is also producing programs that encourage employment for under-represented groups such as recent immigrants, persons with disabilities, and aboriginal Canadians.

Immigrants now account for a much larger proportion of Canada's population growth. We need the skills of these newcomers.

In the past year I announced enhancements to the temporary foreign worker program, including regional lists of occupations under pressure, and working groups in Alberta and B.C. that are designed to alleviate worker shortages.

In Calgary, last March, I announced funding for a program that will develop an online tool to help immigrants before coming to Canada upgrade their essential skills to meet the requirements of the Canadian workforce. We've also targeted other groups to help ensure that they can bring their skills to the workplace to help us bridge the gap.

When I was recently in Digby, Nova Scotia, I met a woman whose disability had made her feel that she was unemployable. With the help of the skills link program, she found a position with a retail chain. She was pretty thrilled about making a contribution to her community and the positive impact that the job would have on her life. Mr. Chairman, she told a very touching story at that time, and I couldn't help but feel a personal sense of pride in the skills link program that was helping her.

Mr. Chairman, there are many more stories like this one.

For example, when I visited a youth project in north Regina, I met a young aboriginal man who had experienced some pretty tough times. Participating in a youth program had motivated him to work towards creating his own business of renovating houses and flipping property.

We've also reached out to support aboriginal people. I'm very pleased that our recent budget proposed to double the investment under the aboriginal skills and employment partnership program. We propose to add another $105 million to this program, and I'm sure we'll see more success stories like these in years to come.

Last year the government invested some $175.5 million to support over 1,140 homelessness-related projects. We also committed $269.6 million over the next two years on a new homelessness partnering strategy. This strategy will work to find more effective and sustainable solutions to prevent and reduce homelessness, and improve the quality of life for Canada's most vulnerable citizens.

We also recently announced a two-year extension of CMHC's renovation programs, worth $256 million, to help bring housing for low-income households up to basic health and safety standards.

CMHC is spending $1 billion per year to create affordable housing through bilateral affordable housing agreements with the provinces and territories. It also spends about $1.8 billion to support some 633,000 existing social housing units across Canada.

The 2006 federal budget also provided $1.4 billion for affordable housing, northern housing, and housing for aboriginal people living off reserve. Along with my colleague, Minister Prentice, I recently announced the creation of a $300 million first nations market housing fund. This fund follows through on the 2007 budget commitment to develop a housing market in first nations across this country. It also represents a fundamental shift in how Canada's new government supports housing on reserve. Up to 25,000 new housing units over 10 years could be provided through this fund.

Mr. Chairman, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the contributions made by the individual employees of my department.

Through their hard work and dedication, we are making an impact on the lives of Canadians.

Mr. Chair, this committee will note that in the report on plans and priorities, we have made a commitment to Canadians, to our own employees, and to taxpayers. We will use their money wisely to achieve results and value for money.

When I travel the country and see a human face on the results that we achieve, I know we are on the right track. We are reaching people; we are helping them fulfill their potential.

I would be pleased to welcome the committee's questions.

Thank you.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 11th, 2007 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, a citizen is a citizen. A citizen who is a senior has been living in Canada, pays income taxes, GST and property taxes, Therefore, why do some seniors qualify for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement and others do not?

Six months before their 65th birthdays, seniors living in Canada have something to which they can forward. They can apply for old age security and on their birthdays they receive a cheque. No matter what their income levels, they receive a monthly pension cheque.

Some seniors come from countries that have social security agreements with Canada. They could be in Canada for a year, or three years or five years, and they may or may not be citizens. Even after just being in Canada for one year, they receive the old age security. That is fine. We totally agree with this. If that senior is in need of extra support, that senior can combine the Canada pension plan and receive the guaranteed income supplement if the level of income is below a certain poverty line.

Seniors who come to Canada from countries that have no social security agreements with Canada, even though they could be working, contributing to the society and paying their taxes, do not qualify for old age security even though they have been in Canada for five or eight years and are Canadian citizens. That is not fair.

Ordinary Canadians expect the Canadian pension system to be fair. They expect some social justice and equity. They feel that all citizens should receive old age security, no matter what country they come from or how long they have been in Canada.

The bill in front of us would change the residency requirement from 10 years to 3 years, and the NDP supports that proposal. We understand there is a historical problem that dates back to 1977. The NDP has spoken out about this injustice for many years. After all, the founder of the whole concept of old age security and pension was Tommy Douglas, the former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. We have always envisioned that old age security and pension would cover all seniors living in Canada. We know that quite a few seniors live in poverty.

We understand that approximately 17% of seniors live in poverty. This is almost one in five seniors. Of these folks, 71% are women and 29% are men. Twice as many women lived with low incomes, and these women are seniors. Many of them have contributed, but are unable to receive old age security.

We have noticed there has been massive support from the community. We want to thank the member of Parliament for Surrey North. She has moved a motion in Parliament to remove this unjustified 10 year residency requirement. The motion is also in front of Parliament right now.

There are also other groups such as the Alternative Planning Group and Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network forum, which represents African Canadian Social Development Council, Chinese Canadian National Council, Hispanic Development Council and the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians. They are pushing the Canadian government to be more flexible and accommodating in treating immigrant seniors as equal members of the Canadian family by eliminating the 10 year residency requirement.

We also received a Vancouver city council resolution, approved on March 15, 2005. It says:

THAT Vancouver City Council request the Federal Government to ensure pension equality for all Canadian senior citizens, regardless of their country of origin and whether or not that country has a social services contract with Canada...

We also received from the Women Elders in Action group whose pension conference recommended that every individual, who was a permanent resident of Canada, at age 65 be entitled to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement and that these pensions needed to at least meet the low income threshold cut-off levels to reduce the potential abuse of elders.

A seniors summit at the Vancouver Declaration also stated that we needed to change the rule so immigrants would be eligible for pensions. We have seen petitions with 10,000 signatures in support of eliminating the 10 year residency requirement.

We know there is massive support out in the community. We know it does not require a large amount of money to level the field so there is equity. That is why I do not quite understand why the Liberal members of Parliament a few months ago did not support the amendment at the committee on human resources when we were debating Bill C-36 on pensions.

I recall the Bloc had a motion which was supported by the NDP. Given this is a minority government in a minority Parliament, with the support of the Liberals that amendment would have been passed at committee. Because Bill C-36 is a government bill, it would have come back to the House of Commons. We would have had this old problem fixed. Never mind the 13 years of the former Liberal government never dealing with this problem.

Right now what we have in front of us is a private members' bill. We are supporting it. However, we thought the opportunity with Bill C-36 was a missed opportunity.

Let us collectively vote in favour of this private member's bill and change the residency with regard to old age security so seniors do not have to live in poverty. They would qualify for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Let us get the private member's bill to the human resources committee and have it come back to the House for support so we can right this historical wrong.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 11th, 2007 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying earlier when I was asking the hon. Liberal member a question, I was surprised by this bill presented by the Liberals, but, at the same time, I am pleased it was presented and I do not understand why the Conservative Party is refusing to support this bill. This is a matter of justice for seniors. When it comes to matters involving seniors I think we ought to be particularly attentive because they often experience injustice in our society.

Nonetheless, the bill does not change matters much. The bill simply reduces from ten years to three years the residency requirement for entitlement to a partial monthly old age security pension. That is not much.

The current ten-year residency requirement places undue hardship on recent immigrants who are seniors in that they are unable to adequately access old age security benefits. The bill on old age security would simply change a few sections of the act. The proposed changes would amend the sections that refer to ten years and replace ten years with three years. That is not asking much, so I wonder how anyone could be against it.

The definition of “specially qualified individual”, which indicates the number of years of residency required to be entitled to benefits, would be changed and ten years replaced with three years.

It seems obvious to the Bloc Québécois that Bill C-362 would facilitate access to the old age security program for new immigrants who are seniors. The quality of life for seniors often depends on the care they can receive. This quality of life also depends on their income. New arrivals are also entitled to dignity. The Conservative Party does not seem to realize that.

As well, it is clear that Bill C-362 introduces certain measures to amend the Old Age Security Act that do not affect Quebec's jurisdiction. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports this bill in principle.

Allow me to put this into context. In the past few years, the Bloc Québécois has noticed that seniors are among those in our society most affected by the federal government's cuts to transfer payments. The quality of life of seniors often depends on the care they can receive and this quality of life also depends on their income.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has always harshly criticized the irregularities in the guaranteed income supplement program, which guarantees low-income seniors additional income.

Bill C-36, which received royal assent on May 7, 2007, hopefully resolved some of the accessibility problems in the system, but it did not resolve the issue of giving beneficiaries the full retroactive amount. This what the Bloc Québécois was calling for, but it was not included in the bill.

Bill C-362 would extend the accessibility of the old age security program to recent immigrants who are seniors, by decreasing the Canadian residency requirement from 10 years to three years.

I would also like to briefly remind the House how Bill C-36 amended the Old Age Security Act. Bill C-36 received royal assent on May 7, 2007. It amended the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act. The amendments include ongoing renewal and clarity of legislation, simplifying the reporting of income for couples and seniors, and consistent benefit entitlements.

There was also a proposal for common amendments to both the Canada pension plan and old age security. These provisions had to do with electronic services, the collection of interest charges and the sharing of information. However, a contentious issue concerning accessibility remained for Canadians and the Bloc Québécois opposed increasing the restrictions on new citizens who have immigrated to Canada.

The Bloc Québécois believes there cannot be different classes of Canadian citizens—which the hon. Liberal member recognized earlier—no matter what their background. The Bloc Québécois believes that being a Canadian citizen should be enough to access the guaranteed income supplement. Some clauses of the legislation posed a problem by creating different classes of Canadian citizens, for instance, a person in respect of whom an undertaking by a sponsor is in effect as provided under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—the sponsor system. Those clauses excluded new Canadian citizens who were still being sponsored.

The Bloc Québécois asked the committee to amend the bill so as not to restrict new citizens' access to old age security benefits because of the sponsor's obligations under the Immigration Act. The Bloc Québécois believes that once a person becomes a Canadian citizen, the sponsor's obligation should automatically end.

The sponsor's obligations generally begin as soon as the sponsored person obtains permanent resident status, and they end at the end of the sponsorship period. In some cases, that can be a long time—as long as 10 years. That has to change. According to the act, the obligation cannot end prematurely, even if the sponsored individual becomes a Canadian citizen. Moreover, neither separation, nor divorce, nor moving to another province ends the obligation. The obligation stands even if the sponsor's financial situation becomes difficult.

As I mentioned earlier, it is important to note that the Liberal Party voted against the Bloc Québécois' proposal last February. Now we are discussing an issue very similar to the ones debated in the context of Bill C-36, which just received royal assent. Bill C-362 does not address sponsorship of newcomers, but it does address other categories of newcomers who are not sponsored.

The changes Bill C-362 proposes are minimal. The main change is to reduce the residency requirement for entitlement to a monthly partial old age security pension from 10 to three years. The number 10 is simply replaced by the number 3. The bill amends other sections of the act simply to bring them in line with the definition of a “specially qualified individual” so that the act can apply.

Who is affected by this bill? There are various categories of newcomers and potential immigrants to Canada. Unfortunately, as I just mentioned, sponsored immigrants, permanent residents and new citizens who are still being sponsored are not affected by the amendments made by this bill. They would have access to old age security after three years for spouses or 10 years for other individuals, as is currently the case after sponsorship.

Newcomers who are affected by the bill include skilled workers, businesspeople—the three categories are investors, entrepreneurs and self-employed workers—asylum seekers and refugees. I believe that Canada accepts 25,000 refugees each year.

Because of globalization and the fact that we live in a global environment, the Bloc Québécois thinks that Canada must be flexible about citizenship and the services offered to newcomers. Given the increase in exchanges between countries, there should be mechanisms in place to allow for greater human mobility, as well as measures already in place to help the disadvantaged.

The position of the Bloc Québécois is the following. We are aware that Bill C-362 will facilitate access to the old age security program for recent immigrants who are seniors. Since the quality of life of seniors often depends on the care they can receive—as I said earlier—this quality of life is dictated by their income. Newcomers also have a right to dignity. Moreover, we believe that Bill C-362 introduces certain measures amending the Old Age Security Act that do not infringe on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. However, I would like to point out that a great deal of work remains to be done. It is deplorable that, for all these years, the Liberal and Conservative governments neglected, muzzled and ignored seniors, the most vulnerable individuals of our society. First, the Liberals ignored this group of disadvantaged individuals and preferred to allow the flight of capital to tax havens, the reduction of debt and cuts to Quebec and the provinces. Next, the Conservatives favoured tax reductions rather than providing immediate support to the workers who helped build today's society.

Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois was there to ensure that our most vulnerable seniors would have a voice in government. Thanks to many interventions in the House, committees and the media, the Bloc Québécois was able to keep in the forefront a group of individuals who were not a government priority. Seniors are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but without full retroactivity because of various notable government mistakes. We will continue to fight against the federal government in order to—

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

May 11th, 2007 / 1:45 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 appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement). I want to thank my hon. colleagues for their contributions on this important issue.

The bill proposes to lower the residency requirement from the current 10 years to three years. For several reasons this proposal is unacceptable for the government and I will outline the reasons.

I want to start my discussion of old age security by stating that Canada's public pension system is widely recognized as one of the best systems in the world and is often duplicated by countries wishing to set up public pension programs of their own.

The old age security, OAS, portion of our pension plan is an integral component of the system. It is of the utmost importance that we show prudence and forethought when proposing sweeping changes the likes of which this bill proposes.

The Government of Canada has a fully functioning public pension system. One part of it pays benefits to Canadians who have paid into the program like the Canada pension plan. Other parts, like the OAS, are not contributory and therefore they are offered to all seniors in this country, as long as they have a minimum 10 years of residency in the country. This does not seem unreasonable.

In fact it is the responsibility of the government and of all Canadians to ensure that the people who built this country are taken care of in their old age. It is for this reason that the length of residence in Canada has been the program's central eligibility criterion since its inception in 1952.

The OAS is not income based or contributory, or based on one's nationality or country of birth; it is simply residency based. This requirement is intended to establish a person's attachment and his or her contribution to Canadian society, the economy and his or her community over his or her lifetime. It is reasonable to expect that a person live in Canada for a minimum period of time before being granted the right to a lifelong public benefit.

Many other countries have functioning public pension systems as well, and the Government of Canada has endeavoured to sign agreements with these other countries. We have done this so that new Canadians from other countries with similar public pension systems have the ability to use time spent in their country of origin and the contributions they have made in their communities to help meet the minimum residency requirement for Canada's old age security program.

The proposals put forward in this bill would require years of renegotiation with some 50 countries, the same as they took years to sign in the first place. Did the member for Brampton West consider this in the drafting of her bill, or was this just an afterthought? Unfortunately the opposition members have continued their trend of proposing changes to programs without fully understanding what the ramifications of these changes would be.

What is most shocking is that this bill has been proposed by a Liberal, a former parliamentary secretary. She should know that not only would the bill cost billions of dollars and put the long term viability of the old age security program in peril, but that it would take years of negotiation with more than 50 foreign governments with whom we have signed agreements.

There are only two options here: the member did not know this, which means she did not do her research and the bill does not deserve to pass on that alone; or she knew and did not care, which means she has put forward this bill for political purposes to score cheap political points.

I note with interest the comments made by the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale when she suggested in the House that the proposals contained in Bill C-362 were required to offer support to new Canadians.

I just want to reiterate the comments made earlier by the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington whom I believe made a very valuable point. It is Canada's new government that put forward the largest increase in settlement funding for new Canadians in the past decade. It was not the Liberals. It was the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who created the foreign credentials referral office. The Liberals did not do it. In all of their 13 years of majority rule, the Liberals did not do it despite their talk.

I also notice that this particular bill was not proposed when the Liberals were in power. Canadians, and especially new Canadians, know who is getting the job done for immigrant communities, and it is the Prime Minister, not the previous Liberal government.

Canada's new government has looked to support seniors with several initiatives aimed at helping older Canadians, specifically older Canadians who are surviving on small incomes. These were implemented in a responsible manner after careful study of all relevant facts.

These changes include the commitment of $19.5 million for the new horizons for seniors program. We are providing tax relief by allowing pension income splitting for pensioners, providing tax relief by increasing the age credit by $1,000, and increasing the guaranteed income supplement maximum benefit. This initiative alone benefits more than 50,000 seniors. Budget 2007 raised the age for maturing RRSPs and pension plans to 71 from 69.

Bill C-36 is an act which makes several reforms to improve access to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. It expands the compassionate care benefit, making more Canadians eligible to take care of loved ones in their hour of need.

The record of the Conservative government speaks for itself. We have acted to protect the pension program for seniors. We have a lengthy list of accomplishments on this file and we will not abandon our prudence for political gain. Furthermore, we have a record that is unparalleled when it comes to support for new Canadians.

The Liberal record tells another story. The Liberals have proposed a bill here today that would not only put the long term viability of the old age security program into peril but would also require years of renegotiation with more than 50 foreign governments.

The opposition has not done its homework and that is simply unacceptable. The government must and will act responsibly when it comes to protecting the seniors pension programs and the responsible thing to do is oppose the bill.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

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

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanOral Questions

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

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

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

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

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

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

May 3, 2007

Mr. Speaker:

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

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

Secretary to the Governor General

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

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

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

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

Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

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

Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

The position of chair suits you well, madam.

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

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

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

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

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

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

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

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

According to the government's own National Advisory Council on Aging, between 1997 and 2003, the mean income of senior households increased by $4,100 while the average income of other Canadian households increased by $9,000. The situation is even worse for seniors who are living on their own. Sometimes people only pay attention to numbers. In total, over a quarter of a million seniors live under the low income cut-off, or as we also say, below the poverty line.

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are seniors penalized more than others?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 19th, 2007 / 1 p.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

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

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

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

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

The bill addresses a couple of things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

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

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House resumed from March 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, be read the third time and passed.

Human Resources and Social DevelopmentOral Questions

March 2nd, 2007 / 11:55 a.m.
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Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, in fact this government has moved to provide all kinds of new services, including the universal child care benefit that goes to 1.4 million families on behalf of 1.9 million children. That is a tremendous help to many, many families, and that comes on top of a universal reduction of the GST, which puts money in the pockets of every Canadian.

Even today we were to be debating Bill C-36, which extends benefits to the disabled and helps seniors. This government is moving to help Canadians of all kinds while the previous government failed on every front to do that.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 2nd, 2007 / 10:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important bill, so I am surprised that nobody has asked the other members who have been talking about Bill C-36 any questions. It will give some of our seniors a better future while others, who are not included in this bill, will face a worse one.

You know how much I care for our seniors in both Quebec and Canada because my family, my father is from Saskatchewan. I therefore have a very close connection to people living in the rest of Canada outside of Quebec. In my opinion, all seniors who have contributed to making Canada and Quebec what they are today should be given due consideration and be enabled to experience the end of life with the dignity they deserve in return for all they have given us in the past.

For a long time now, we have been asking the government to improve access to the guaranteed income supplement. For a long time, we have been demanding that the government make it easier for seniors to top up their revenue with the supplement. Previously, people could not get the guaranteed income supplement unless they made a formal request every year. Many people just could not collect it.

The committee that studied this issue in 2001 found that more than 380,000 people in Canada were not exercising their right to ask for the guaranteed income supplement because they were illiterate, or unable to see well enough to read the forms, which were difficult to understand. They may not have had access to resources to help them understand their rights, or they were simply speakers of other languages who did not understand their rights with respect to the guaranteed income supplement to the old age security program.

Bill C-36 will correct some of the problems facing our seniors. However, it does not correct all of them. We would have liked to have had the government and the Liberal Party on our side, in order to be able to correct some serious inadequacies. Some amendments were even made to the bill, to the effect that, now, some Canadians and Quebeckers who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement no longer are.

Yet, these are people who are Canadian citizens, people who contributed to our society, people who came here believing they would find justice and fairness, in many cases, unlike their experiences in their country of origin.

Today, we realize that the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party did not want to admit that the amendments would restrict access to the guaranteed income supplement for Canadian citizens who are sponsored by someone else.

I find this quite deplorable, since we are talking about the most underprivileged people of all. Simply because an individual is sponsored by someone else does not always mean that that individual has better living conditions. Often, people are sponsored by individuals who, in good faith, wanted to bring them here to give them a better life. We are now seeing that, over the years, many jobs have been lost due to the ineffectiveness of the governments in place. They have failed to act in files such as the textile and manufacturing sectors. Furthermore, it has often been those Canadian citizens who are from somewhere else, who were born elsewhere, who have suffered those job losses.

Despite their best intentions, these people cannot always meet the needs of the relatives they brought here in order to give them a better life. I find the situation deplorable because these people contribute every day and pay taxes like everyone else. If they suddenly cannot meet their families' needs, it is not because they are not trying.

It is because our government was not smart enough and did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the manufacturing sector and the textile sector could provide decent jobs for these people over the long term.

This bill seeks to increase the number of third parties who can receive confidential information.

The government and the Liberal Party have refused to support the Bloc's amendment, which would not allow an increase in the number of third parties with access to confidential information. The law already provides for an authorized representative. Now, the bill refers to “any other individual authorized”.

I worked with seniors for many years. Many times, I saw children, siblings or neighbours of seniors cruelly abuse this right. They blackmailed the senior into signing documents that would give them access to information. Not only were they able to obtain relevant information, but they could also access bank documents and so on.

I do not understand why the government wants to expand access to seniors' confidential information to include any authorized individual.

Despite everything, this bill is sufficiently beneficial that we support it. However, we will have to be very vigilant and make sure that, in future, we have the opportunity to amend these clauses that seem slightly abusive to us.

Vulnerable seniors have no recourse available to them. They have no voice. We here, in Parliament, are their voice. We are the only ones who can help them get what they are entitled to. We should not abdicate that responsibility. It is a responsibility we must accept respectfully and vigorously.

If we do not, your mother, my mother and the parents and relatives of everyone here in this House will suffer and be deprived, because as a government, we did not do our best for them.

We have been fighting for a long time for seniors who have been mistreated and unable to receive the guaranteed income supplement. This bill is designed to further limit seniors' chances of obtaining retroactive guaranteed income supplement benefits.

Last year, on the eve of the election, the government voted by a majority for full retroactivity to be granted to older persons who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. Unfortunately, I no longer sense this desire for fairness, I no longer sense this desire for justice from the members of the government. This surprises me greatly because the position of the Liberal Party was very clear on this not so long ago. However, we no longer see this desire for fairness.

I hope that we can discuss this issue further and that the people who were swindled out of this money, some $3 billion, can receive this money. Some $13 billion has just been invested in weaponry and $3 billion and change in airplanes. Furthermore, it wants to invest a few billion dollars in procuring jeeps.

Do those who provided us with the life we have today not deserve to have some money spent on them? Do these people not deserve some of the money we have in such abundance? There are surpluses every year. Annually, the government ends up with staggering surpluses, which it applies to the debt.

Of course some of this money can go toward the debt, but it is essential that we recognize the importance of the older persons who came before us, who allowed us to be here today, who, because of their actions and their courage, are the reason we are here today.

I do not see that in many of my colleagues in the government or in the Liberal Party, and that disappoints me tremendously. I would hope that this changes over the coming year. I am just one person, but all my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois feel the same way I do, that we have to render justice to our seniors, to those who are isolated, alone and have no voice. We have to render justice to all those who came before us. We have to ensure they get justice. I can guarantee that most hon. members in the government and in the Liberal Party would sleep a lot better at night if we could render justice to these people.

When the committee conducted its study, it discovered a number of very disturbing things as far as older persons are concerned, a number of things that were more than disturbing because some seniors were living in total denial. Today, a very high number of older persons choose to die than simply survive or just get by.

More and more seniors are committing suicide, and this is unacceptable in a society like ours. It is unacceptable in a society as rich as the one we live in. It is awful to think that some seniors believe that suicide is better than living, that there is nothing left worth living for. I am ashamed to see that we do not care more than that, that we do not make an effort to give our seniors what they deserve. This bothers me and makes me very uneasy. We have comfortable lives, we cannot deny that. How many of our seniors can live comfortably?

In Laval, where I am from, there are 40,000 seniors, and 38% of those 65 and up are over the age of 75. This segment of society is the worst off, because these people do not usually receive the Quebec pension plan, do not receive any pension, do not receive anything. This category of people is increasing exponentially. In my riding of Laval alone, 12,000 people are over 75. There are more than 12,000 people between the ages of 75 and 90, even 100. One woman even recently celebrated her 104th birthday.

Quite often, these people may have retired 20 or 30 years ago. At the time, they thought they would live until the age of 70 or 75, because back then that was the life expectancy. So, they thought that if they lived until 70 or 75, they would be OK with what little money they had.

Now, they have reached the age of 90 or 95, and they have been without an income for 20 years. They thought they would die 20 years ago, but they are still around and they have very little income. Those with some capital can earn 1%, 2% or 3% in interest. That is not nearly enough for a decent living.

The cost of rent, food and drugs has increased. These people must visit the doctor more often and, since they no longer drive, they must do so by taking a taxi. This means that their related costs, their daily costs are very high, yet, a number of these people do not get the guaranteed income supplement and only get a pittance from the old age security program.

That is not how I want to grow old. That is not how I want my life to end. That is not how I want my mother to go.

I hope that everything we said about our elderly will be taken into consideration. I hope that people will think about this issue.

Yes, I do want Bill C-36 to be passed, because the part of the bill where it says that the guaranteed income supplement will automatically be renewed after the first claim is important. Many people did not know that they had to present a new claim every year. At least, they will get that. We have been asking for this for a long time, and I am pleased that, at last, it is included in the legislation.

The government could have gone further and be more generous. It has the means to do so. It chose not to. Still, the Bloc Québécois will continue to lead the fight, so that those who are entitled to it get full retroactivity. We will continue to lead the fight, so that the elderly are treated in a fair, responsible and respectful manner by this government.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 2nd, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, it seems unfortunate this morning that we came here with great intent to speak to Bill C-36, with the primary purpose of improving the lives of pensioners, those Canadians who have been unfortunate to receive or be a victim of disabilities and yet the parliamentary secretary introduces into this debate discussion on political appointments.

He seems to think that the great purists are on his side of the House but I am sure if Canadians were to review the appointments that his party has made, even the reference to his recent person, there certainly are political affiliations with most of those appointments.

However, today we are talking about Bill C-36. We know that every day, workers contribute to a healthy public sector and to private sector success. What they expect in return from our governments and within society is that their efforts will be respected and rewarded, both now and in later life.

In 2021, Canadian seniors over the age of 65 will constitute approximately 18% of our population. That compares to the year 2000 when seniors were only about 12.5% of the population of Canada. We do have a serious problem with demographics and, hopefully, as our country grows, we will see more new Canadians, larger Canadian families and the fact that we can maintain the demographics that are needed for a good society.

Today the federal government is addressing key issues affecting older workers and tomorrow's seniors. The income security of future retirees must be protected by good, sound public pension plans. I am proud to say that to address the evolving needs of Canada's seniors, the Liberal government made significant investments to ensure this over the last number of years. In fact, in 1997 the government restructured the Canada pension plan to meet the increased demands of an aging population to ensure its future sustainability and to stabilize contribution rates. Experts were called in and they determined that changes were needed to make the Canada pension plan sustainable for at least the next 75 years.

Those reforms were carried out by our government at the time and they made Canada one of only three countries in the world that offered a public pension plan that was sound and would be available into the far future.

As a government, we put our wallet, our money, the finances of this country, into this plan. We invested more than $28.5 billion into old age supplements and guaranteed income supplements on a yearly basis. We pledged to increase the guaranteed income supplement for seniors by some $36 per month for single seniors and $58 per month for couples. This was a promised $2.7 billion investment that directly benefited some 1.6 million Canadian seniors.

As a government, we also committed more than $2 billion annually in direct tax credits, such as the old age credit and the pension income credit. As Liberals, we also created a new employment insurance benefit, the compassionate care program, which allows family members to take time off work to provide care for seriously ill loved ones without suffering sudden income or job losses.

Also, it is probably interesting to note that in terms of our EI legislation, the member for Sydney—Victoria has a private member's bill that would enable those who become sick or are off work for long periods of time because of sickness, to draw EI benefits for more than the 15 weeks allowed at present.

As well, under the new horizons program, we offered funding for community projects to reach out to valuable seniors and to keep seniors active in their communities.

As a Liberal government, our commitment to seniors could not be clearer. We felt that seniors were a very important part of our group and that they must be paid the proper respects for the efforts that they make and have made on behalf of all Canadians.

Income security is just that, security for seniors. I join today to make every effort to ensure that all eligible Canadians receive their benefits in a timely and efficient manner.

As a party and as a member of Parliament, I am very pleased to support Bill C-36 and its provisions for simplifying access and a better delivery of benefits to seniors. Working Canadians need government action to ensure that every citizen has the right to retire with dignity, comfort and enjoyment.

Today's seniors deserve the best care we can give to them with unqualified financial security. Our party has always worked in that regard. We strongly support Bill C-36. Hopefully, we can proceed with the legislation and have it made the law of our country.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 2nd, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, the thing all Canadians need to realize is that the bill was a result of consultation with seniors. Seniors themselves were the ones who encouraged us and members of the committee to enact the changes that we see before us in Bill C-36.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, not all of their proposals are contained in this bill but a majority of them are. The primary benefit is to streamline the benefits that seniors will receive. It has been for too long a very convoluted and complicated process.

My colleague from Winnipeg Centre earlier mentioned the frustrations that many seniors feel and experience when applying for benefits. The primary purpose of the bill is to streamline the process and the ability for seniors to receive those benefits they richly deserve.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 2nd, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for outlining Bill C-36. However, he did touch on the issue of Canada pension plan disability. I wonder if he shares the same frustration that we have had as members of Parliament when constituents come to us looking for help with their CPP disability.

Virtually everybody who applies for CPP disability gets turned down on the initial adjudication, no matter what the merits of their case would be. It is only on appeal, and usually on appeal with the help of their member of Parliament, that we ever break through this barrier, this complete wall that has been put up in terms of access to CPP.

I do not say this as a criticism for the current government. This has been the case for a decade or more. Somebody, somewhere within Canada pension plan disability, sent a memo around to the adjudicators saying to deny every claim and that if applicants want to come back and appeal, maybe they will consider the merits of it then. I defy anyone to show me a single Canada pension plan disability claim that has ever been granted on initial application. It does not exist.

I would like to know what specifically the government could do about this or what it even may be doing in Bill C-36. If there is some progress to be announced in association with the eligibility for CPP disability within Bill C-36, I would like to hear about it.

Also, briefly, would he not agree that at this point in regard to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board it is time for beneficiary representation on that board?

An 11-person board now controls investment worth $140 billion on behalf of Canadians and we have no representation on the board. It is made up of patronage appointments, largely, people who have no particular experience with investment banking. In fact, one of those 11 people is the Liberal that I beat in the 1997 election. His soft landing was to get put on this new Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. He was a history teacher.

I wonder if there is not some interest in putting a labour representative, a beneficiary representative, somebody to represent the Canadian public, on this all important investment board that is investing our money.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

March 2nd, 2007 / 10 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this place today to speak to Bill C-36. I should let you and members of this place know that I am pinch-hitting for my colleague, the parliamentary secretary to the minister, who is storm stayed in the bowels of Pearson airport with many of our other colleagues.

In any event, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this very important bill. I say it is important because Canadians, particularly seniors, look to our excellent public pension plan for the income security they need and deserve in their retirement years.

It is important for Canada's new government as well. This legislation is part of the commitments we made to Canadians during the last election.

Delivering on that commitment is a way in which we reinforce the trust Canadians have in their government. This is an important change. Canadians are happy to have a government that is following up on what it promised by getting it done.

This bill is also important because it strengthens the public's faith in the government's capacity to serve as a good steward of the Canada pension plan and the old age security program.

Canada's population is aging at an unprecedented rate. The number of seniors is expected to double in the next few decades. It has been urgent for some time that governments develop the policies, programs and services that will meet the evolving needs of seniors, both for today and in the future.

Our government, through Bill C-36, is doing just that. We introduced a number of important amendments to the old age security and the Canada pension plan. At this stage of the bill, it is important to acknowledge the progress we have made.

While this government and the Prime Minister have shown tremendous leadership in delivering what we promised, I am pleased to acknowledge the cooperation of all parties in providing input on the bill before us today. I want to thank each member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for their excellent work and collaboration in advancing this bill. While there were some proposals that did not make it into the bill, we are all better informed by the contributions of the members for Chambly—Borduas and Hamilton Mountain.

Ultimately, the bill we have before us benefits Canadian seniors and long term contributors applying for CPP disability. I think they will pleased with the collegial work that took place on their behalf.

I was watching the news on Tuesday night, and in fact, right after the committee's consideration of Bill C-36. There was a segment on the latest Statistics Canada report entitled “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. The news story was very positive. Seniors in Canada today are healthier. They are living longer. They are much more active. Many are exercising three or four times a week. And seniors well into their seventies want to keep working.

Seniors have a powerful voice, and this government is listening. What resonates with me is their strong belief in remaining able and active members of Canadian society. I was so proud when at the end of the news report a man said, “I have my old age pension and I have my Canada pension plan...what more do I need?”

We as parliamentarians should not rest on our laurels. We have a responsibility to ensure our pension programs remain stable, sustainable and generous. I believe, and I think members of this House would agree, that we are accomplishing exactly that through this bill.

This bill comes from Canadians. They were the ones who, through their letters, their emails, their meetings with us and their organizations, made a point of saying that they needed these changes. They are changes that will make a difference in their lives, changes that will alleviate some of their frustration and changes that recognize their unique circumstances. They are changes that make sense to all members of Canadian society and treat them all fairly while ensuring that we maintain their trust in their public pensions by remaining fiscally responsible, transparent, and accountable, accountable to them, the seniors of this country.

Our public pension system is something we can rightly take pride in. It plays a vital role in ensuring the economic well-being of millions of Canadians. Public pensions deliver over $54 billion to Canadian seniors each year.

We are proud of the fact that our pension system has been an important part in dramatically reducing the level of poverty among seniors. In 1980, almost 21% of seniors lived on low incomes. Today that number has dropped to less than 6%. Like our health care system, our public pension programs are part of the Canadian way of life. They are defining features that we all cherish.

This bill will improve the delivery of pension benefits for seniors and enhance eligibility for Canadian pension plan disability benefits for long term contributors to the plan. Frankly, it will improve access.

My biggest sense of pride as a parliamentarian, and I am sure this sentiment is shared by all parliamentarians, comes from participating in a democratic process whose end result makes a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians. These changes go a long way to doing just that.

In particular, the proposed lifetime application process for the guaranteed income supplement means that seniors will never have to reapply for the benefit each time their income increases or decreases. This will greatly ease the frustration of certain seniors and will ensure that those who file their income taxes will receive their benefit in a timely manner.

When a person applies for his or her old age security pension or Canada pension plan, that person is establishing a relationship with us that will last for the rest of his or her life. Expanding the group of third persons who can assist seniors with their pension benefits means that extended family members will be able to play a more active role and assist their loved ones whose first language is not English or French or who may have trouble reading or writing. I think seniors will very much welcome this change.

However, easing eligibility rules for long term Canada pension plan contributors will assist thousands of individuals to qualify for disability benefits in future years. This means that applicants with a long history of attachment to the labour force who become severely disabled can count on CPP disability to be there when they need support. I am particularly pleased that this important change is a result of federal-provincial-territorial collaboration.

Clearly, we always need to need to do more. I want to thank my colleagues and the witnesses who appeared before committee, who offered excellent suggestions on ways in which to improve our outreach activities and who acknowledged that legislative changes only go so far. There is clearly a responsibility, aside from our legislation, to get the word out to explain our pension programs and to work closely alongside community groups.

Seniors are valued members of our society. They are the reason we enjoy our country as we know it today. After their lifetime of hard work, we want to ensure that seniors can continue to have a good quality of life without having to constantly worry about their financial security. They deserve our utmost respect and consideration. We have an obligation to ensure that public pensions respect their needs.

Ultimately, I think this bill goes a long way in effecting the kinds of changes that seniors need and have asked for. I am grateful to all members for their support in moving forward on this bill expeditiously.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

March 1st, 2007 / 3 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, today we will continue the debate on the Bloc opposition motion.

Tomorrow I hope to start and conclude the debate on the third reading stage of Bill C-36. This relates to the Canada pension plan and old age security.

Next week and the following week will of course be constituency weeks and members will be working in their constituencies while the House is adjourned.

When the House returns on Monday, March 19, it is my intention to call the report stage of Bill C-10, the mandatory minimums penalty part of our agenda to make communities safer; Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act; Bill S-3, to do with defence; and Bill C-33, relating to income tax.

At 4 p.m. on Monday, March 19, the Minister of Finance will present his budget, as he has previously advised the House. Tuesday, March 20 will then be the first day of the budget debate. Wednesday will be day two.

I am currently asking that Thursday, March 22 be the last allotted day subject to any need to reschedule given that we are three weeks away from that day.

Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 28th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, or as we like to refer to it, Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, as was agreed upon on Tuesday, February 27.

February 27th, 2007 / 4:30 p.m.
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Director, International Policy and Agreements, Seniors and Pensions Policy Secretariat, Social Development Sectors Branch, Department of Human Resources and Social Development

Marla Israel

I think, generally speaking, words are important—I would definitely agree with you—and the obligation of the “shall” provides an obligation on the part of the minister to disregard circumstances that could arise where it would be warranted, for example, to provide an individual with an application form.

Now, I have to say that from a departmental perspective, as I said, the automatic renewal of GIS, the measures that are taken in Bill C-36, will I think go a long way to ensure that seniors will not be placed in a position where they have to apply through a paper application.

But let me give you a circumstance where the flexibility in the “may” may be warranted. For example, we rely on income information that is provided to us from the Canada Revenue Agency. If an individual has, for example, applied for the benefit in the past and could be in a situation where certain life events have changed—let's say their income information has changed—we're relying on the information that is provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. If that individual claims that the Canada Revenue Agency has not assessed their income appropriately, then what happens is we'd be obliged to accept the CRA income and potentially not have a senior be eligible for a GIS benefit because their income, as assessed by the Canada Revenue Agency, would be too high.

So you proactively go out and you initiate an application form for the individual. They provide us with the income. Ultimately, if the reassessment of CRA deems them to have income that's too high, there will have to be a reassessment of that situation. But I think the flexibility is something you want to ensure, with the proviso that you take every effort that is necessary to avoid an application process.

February 27th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, will now go clause by clause.

I'll ask everyone to get their bills and their pieces of paper out, and we'll get started with the clauses.

I see that in clause 1 we have no proposed amendments, so I'll just call the question, unless someone wants to speak on it.

(Clauses 1 to 3 inclusive agreed to)

(On clause 4)

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

February 26th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion to extend the provisions of Section 83 of the Criminal Code, which, if they are not extended by a vote of the House, will lapse and die. Arguably, if there is a need for these types of provisions, new legislation will need to be introduced, thereby creating a gap in our law, if it is the will of the House and the government to proceed in that way.

These particular sunset provisions were added to the Criminal Code by Bill C-36 after extensive justice committee study and public debate. I was very involved in the work of the justice committee and I do have some personal knowledge of those events at that time.

The sunset provisions were inserted at the insistence of a number of people, including members of the House, for two possible scenarios. The first was the possibility that the provisions, which were quite new to the Criminal Code, might be misused in some way. It turns out that the sections have not been used and therefore have not been misused.

The second reason was in the event that the sections were not needed. Over time it was felt that the perceived need for this type of procedure might not be there and if the conspiracy that gave rise to this legislation was to end, diminish or calm, it could be argued that these more robust procedural provisions might not be necessary and that our ordinary laws might prevail and be usable.

In my view, I do not think either of those circumstances have occurred. There has not been a misuse of the provisions and the conspiracy that gave rise to them has not ended or calmed. I will speak to that later in my remarks.

One could say that these provisions were certainly not enacted because they were not needed. If they were not needed, they would not have been enacted. In fact, the public servants and parliamentarians who generated the legislation could see the need at that time and that is why they were enacted. One could argue that circumstances have changed and that is part of the subject of debate here today.

Why were the sections needed five years ago? I think the reason relates to the fact that there was an acknowledged gap in our criminal law, our common law, that simply evolved through the passage of time. Prior to the last century, the subject of security of the state was in the hands of the king. In fact, it was listed among the king's prerogatives and the king actually did take care of that kind of business.

We have all read history books and seen the movies. The king and his forces would actually detain and arrest people who were conspirators against the state. I suppose they did not make fine distinctions in those days whether it involved a conspiracy, a sedition, a subversion or a treason. These were all components of the common law in those days. The king simply would detain the person, perhaps arrest the person and make use of the dungeon and eventually liquidate the conspiracy.

After we entered into the 20th century, with the growth of civil liberties and written constitutions, it became apparent that our citizens needed rule of law. Commonwealth jurisdictions then adopted what were then known as the war measures acts. When the state entered into a serious war conflict, it relied on special legislation called the war measures act. It was used during the first world war and the second world war.

Eventually, in the modern context, those pieces of legislation were seen to be a bit too draconian for peacetime and therefore were dropped. We no longer have a war measures act. As a result, the legislation we relied on through the Korean War and the two world wars up to about the 1960s is no longer there so that the state cannot rely on any special provisions. It must use the criminal law.

We then had the terrible events of 9/11. Roughly 300 or 400 miles from here as the crow flies, we witnessed the events in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. Following that, other events occurred in Bali, Madrid, Philippines, London and an almost event in Los Angeles. These events have been ugly. They were terrorist attacks, killing and maiming many and creating the maximum in violence, disruption and disorder. That is the nature of the threat.

As I mentioned, we do not have the provisions that used to be contained in the war measures act, and not only do we not have those, but in years gone by the state could rely on conspiracy laws. However, with the evolution of modern evidentiary rules, it becomes very difficult to convict for a conspiracy. As a result, because the sections have fallen into disuse, not many police or crown prosecutors are good at using them and the courts are not comfortable with them.

I would also point out that we no longer have grand jury investigations. These were part of our criminal process. A grand jury would be invoked, put in place and would investigate allegations of a criminal act or a conspiracy before they actually occurred or just after they happened but before criminal charges were laid. Two or three decades ago our jurisdiction stopped using the grand jury procedure.

At the end of the day, our laws have given up on the war measures act, the law of conspiracy and grand juries. My point is that there has been, by happenstance, a gap in our law. In peacetime, our laws work quite well. We are always reforming them but our laws generally are up to the test, but when the state gets into a conflict or it is at risk, it would be my view that the state needs to rely on a different set of provisions. These sunsetted provisions in Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act, were intended to fill the gap.

It is also worth noting that all of our major allies had to do the same thing. This is not just a Canadian story. Our allies in the U.K., the United States of America and Australia all had to legislate to fill this gap in their laws as well. That is a notable thing and we in the House should take note of it. This is not a circumstances peculiar to Canada.

It is important to segregate things which are not politically, legally connected. I have read some of the debates and I have seen some of the media on this. We are not dealing with investigative warrants under the Security of Information Act. We are not dealing with investigative warrants taken out by CSIS to deal with threats to the security of Canada under the CSIS Act. We are not dealing with continued detention under the Immigration Act. We are not dealing with security certificates, which are removal procedures under the Immigration Act. All of those things are outside the envelope of what we are dealing with here.

We are dealing with two sections. The first one, the investigative hearings section, is both retrospective and prospective in its stance. It can look in the rear view mirror at threats and offences and terrorist activities that happened previously, or prospectively or pre-emptively into the future. The second one is the detention with recognizance section and that is pre-emptive in perspective. In other words, it does not look backward. It is there for the purpose of pre-empting an imminent terrorist attack.

I have tried in my own layman's way to conjure up a scenario when these sections would be used. This is one thing that is actually missing from the debate and I am not sure why. I am curious why security professionals or government officials have not offered a scenario which would explain a bit more clearly how and why these sections would be used. I realize that security professionals do not want to alarm the public. They do not want to reveal existing procedures. They are under oath to keep their information inside a security loop. These are probably some of the reasons we have not had that element of this debate.

It is also notable that this country's security apparatus is populated by officials who do not have the power of arrest. This is a very important distinction here. Most people think that CSIS officials can run around and scoop people off the street. The fact is they cannot legally or otherwise. CSIS officials are not even armed. They do not arrest people. The only people who arrest in this country are peace officers, that is, police officers. All the security professionals on the job are not able to make an arrest, whether it is at CSIS or CSE or in transport. They must be peace officers before they can arrest anyone.

As we develop our intelligence data, it is important to realize that if there is going to be any pre-emption of a terrorist attack by an arrest, it would be done by a policeman, not by our security apparatus. Most of the information we get involving security and intelligence comes from the broader security and intelligence apparatus. Some of it comes from police intelligence, but the bulk of it comes from our security and intelligence apparatus and our allies. That is a very important and indispensable function.

Because we do not have a scenario here, I am going to suggest the scenario of a border attack somewhere on the Canadian border. I do not think I am being right off the page here in suggesting there could be an attack. I do not have to go into any gory details; let me just say that an attack is possible and that the attack is imminent. Let me suggest that police and authorities may not have all the data needed to obtain a Criminal Code warrant for any of the existing provisions in the Criminal Code. They may have only one or two persons identified. They may have a possible target identified. They may have detected part of a cell and a likely target. They may not be able technically to connect all of the dots necessary to obtain a Criminal Code warrant. If they can, then they can take out a Criminal Code warrant and make an arrest.

Let me suggest as well that this data has not come from their own sources, but has come from an intelligence agency or an allied intelligence agency. I will assume for the sake of my scenario that the information is credible and real.

Given the potential for massive violence and disorder, pre-emption becomes the order of the day. It becomes a priority. If people are not sure what massive violence and disorder is, they should think about what happened in London, Madrid or New York City, just to get the flavour of what this is.

Under these sections a peace officer using credible data, probably packaged by an intelligence agency, either domestic or ally, would then present the information very quickly to the attorney general of a province. If some members think that is time consuming, some of our constituents have to wait sometimes to see an MP or to see a cabinet minister, but I can say that getting through to the attorney general of a province on a matter of priority happens very quickly. I have had the pleasure of dealing with an attorney general on a matter of that nature, and it was a very prompt and a very quick turnaround time. The information is then packaged for an attorney general, who must provide consent in writing. The information is then taken to a judge, who must also sign off and issue the warrants.

The procedure for the use of these sections is judicially supervised in the beginning. It is consented to by the attorney general representing the government. It is managed by a peace officer, police officer, subject to the Criminal Code. The entire process in both sections has been judicialized. It is totally judicially supervised. There is a warrant, a judge, an attorney general, and a totally judicialized procedure. It looks awfully charter compliant to me.

It has already been mentioned that our courts have agreed that these procedures are charter compliant. An argument that the charter is a reason that these sections should not be renewed, in my view, respectfully to all of those who feel that way, is not on; I do not accept that. There may be other issues involving civil liberties that concern them, but certainly not the charter, at least not in a way that I have heard in this House or in the courts up to now.

There are some side notes worth noting. Both the committee of this House and the committee of the Senate have reviewed these provisions and have reported back confirming their support for the provisions.

Also, there exists, as I pointed out earlier, an arguable symmetry between the provisions that we have enacted here and the provisions enacted by our major allies. They operate on the assumption, and I know there was collaboration back at the time these sections were enacted, that our legislation bears some analogy to their own, that when we deal with our allies, they will have the ability to act quickly, and when they deal with us, we will have a similar ability to act quickly.

If these two sections are to lapse, it is arguable that our legislation will not be so symmetric, will not coincide with the legislation of our allies. Since the threat of conspiracy persists, and I am informed that it does, they may be curious as to why we would allow these two sections to lapse.

I would attribute the argument that the sections have not been used to good intelligence work and good luck. Both of those have contributed to that. Regarding the suggestion that the sections are not needed, one only has to look at weekend reports from the United Kingdom, where public reports are that the threat level there is as high as it has ever been.

With all due respect to many in the House who are concerned about the civil liberties aspects of this, I hope the record will show that these sections are charter compliant and that they are there for the benefit of Canadians as a whole as a protection order. I hope colleagues will take all of that into consideration in the vote.

Anti-terrorism ActOrders of the Day

February 26th, 2007 / 1 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to rise and speak to this motion. I must say that I feel rather ashamed. I was here in the House in 2001 when we had the debate. I remember very well all the questions raised by the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, who was the opposition leader at the time, as well as those of our justice critic, Michel Bellehumeur, the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm.

We were worried about a number of things. The first was the very definition of terrorism and a terrorist act. I do not want to return to all that because the Supreme Court did not rule on it. The other extremely important questions that we raised had to do with procedural fairness, the right to a full and complete defence, and how best to achieve a laudable objective. We need to remember the situation in 2001 and how concerned we were, especially in view of what had happened in the United States. We know how close the historical bonds have been between Canada and the United States, bonds that led a former Canadian Prime Minister to say of our relationship that geography made us neighbours but history made us friends.

We could not remain unmoved by the collapse of the twin towers and all the information pouring forth about terrorist networks, real or potential. I would like to thank the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, by the way, for all the vigilance he has shown.

The speeches we heard this morning are pretty amazing in some respects. I should say, first, that for me the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same. We need to remember what the Liberals were saying. The Bloc was very clear. Not that we were great seers or prophets, but we did anticipate a few things. Some provisions of the bill that was being introduced, Bill C-36, were obviously incompatible with the basic principles on which our justice system is built.

I remember very well the questions and comments made by the justice minister at the time. They were even more unacceptable in that she was a former professor of constitutional law who had written articles on legal guarantees and procedural fairness, which I had had occasion to read.

The Liberals and Conservatives were animated by a common desire to move as quickly as possible and respond to the emergency because the situation was indeed very worrisome.

I read the Supreme Court ruling from beginning to end. What the Supreme Court told us is that in a democracy, and in a system where the rule of law means something, the end never justifies the means. As parliamentarians, we must respect that. The Conservatives and the Liberals were of one mind; we realize, with hindsight, that their position does not stand up to our most basic principles of justice.

It is demagogy, to some extent, to rise this morning in this House and to make it seem as though there are those who are concerned about the safety of citizens and those who are not. All parliamentarians in this House are concerned about the safety of citizens. However, it may be that, in our work as parliamentarians, we have to propose measures that push the boundaries when it comes to how we perceive the evidence or how we see the process unfolding.

I was in this House when Bill C-95, the first anti-gang bill, was adopted in 1997.

The definition of a criminal organization then was: five individuals who, in the past five years, committed offences punishable by more than five years' imprisonment.

At that time, there was also a sense of urgency. However, I would never have thought about rising in this House and voting for this bill, which was to be revised by Bill C-24, if the principal condition of the law had been to deny the accused access to all the evidence. That is the problem with this bill. I am surprised that no government members have noted this fact.

We will have an opportunity to mention this: the Criminal Code does contain mechanisms for preventive detention. First, common law recognizes this principle and the Supreme Court has recognized it several times. We need not go very far. Section 495 of the Criminal Code—if my memory serves me correctly—allows a police officer to arrest, on reasonable grounds, a person he believes has committed or is about to commit an offence.

Later, of course, the individual will have a trial and can be represented. All legal guarantees will be offered and justice will be served the way it should be in an adversarial system, in other words, the public prosecution lays charges and provides evidence and the accused can defend himself or herself. Getting to the truth is what this confrontation should be all about. That is not what is being proposed in the antiterrorist provisions.

We are not against the fact that measures are needed. I am sure that the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin never said anything of the sort. We acknowledge that some individuals may pose a threat to national security. It is true there are terrorist movements.

I remember attending lectures given by researchers from the Raoul Dandurand Chair in strategic and diplomatic studies. We know that terrorist movements have been at work and that they will be in the years to come. We are even told that the largest terrorist movements, which constitute the worst threat to the security of modern states, are those with religious motivations.

We know all that. We are not questioning the fact that in legislation, whether in the Immigration Act or in other legislation, a minister may be asked to review situations where individuals will have to be deemed threats to national security. We recognize that and we agree that in all modern countries, particularly in vast countries and countries where borders are porous, it is acceptable for these provisions to exist.

Nonetheless, there is something quite unbelievable in these provisions. The Supreme Court said that the way in which the antiterrorist provisions are set up, in their wording and the way the courts are called to interpret them, some procedural guarantees are being breached. I will come back to that.

This leads to the following question. Can these terrorist movements be dismantled by using the provisions in sections 83.27, 83.28, 83.29, and 83.3? Why have these provisions not been invoked? Logically speaking, just because they have not been invoked yet does not mean they will not be in the future, but this is nonetheless a measure of their immediate relevance.

Under the existing Criminal Code—as we were reminded—an individual can be arrested without a warrant. It even sets out that in individual can be brought before a judge, compelled to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace and prohibited from contacting certain individuals. This is set out in section 810 of the Criminal Code.

Section 465 even includes a provision that allows for the arrest of individuals on the basis of conspiracy alone and because there is a risk they will commit acts at a later date. It is not as though we are completely without any other legislative recourse, or as though there is nothing in our existing legislation.

Something is very troubling. While we may not agree on how our political system operates, we cannot deny that there is a recognized tradition of respect for human rights. This includes Diefenbaker's Canadian Bill of Rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act adopted in 1977 and, more recently, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the National Assembly, in 1982, at the time the Canadian Charter was debated, we did not agree on the management of linguistic rights. Nor did we agree on section 27 pertaining to the enhancement of multicultural heritage. We nevertheless recognize the charter as a tool for the protection of human rights, particularly for judicial guarantees, which, moreover, already exist and were already set out in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. We recognize that it serves as a tool for the promotion and enhancement of human rights.

As legislators, how could we have let ourselves become distracted? The Bloc Québécois cannot be blamed because, based on the recommendation of the leader of the Bloc and our justice critic, we voted unanimously against BIll C-36.

Why did we vote against Bill C-36? Because we did not believe that an individual could receive a fair trial without access to the evidence, especially the most important pieces of evidence, the ones supporting the charges or leading to a guilty verdict. The Supreme Court spoke of “sensitive information”. That was the main problem with the proposed law.

I would like to quote what the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said on page 54. A unanimous ruling is significant, after all. In a decision written by Madam Justice McLachlin, the court said:

I therefore conclude that the IRPA's procedure for determining whether a certificate is reasonable does not conform to the principles of fundamental justice as embodied in s. 7 of the Charter.

This is serious. Legislators should be very concerned about this paragraph. I have difficulty understanding the government's obstinate refusal to recognize the proposed law. Of course, the Conservatives were not responsible for creating it; the Liberals were.

I hope that all Parliamentarians in this House will acknowledge that things have been taken too far, that due process is not happening and that even though we have a general duty to protect our fellow citizens, we must have safe communities. Specifically, we must protect our fellow citizens from possible terrorist attacks.

The court will explain what it means by the “principles of fundamental justice” embodied in section 7. This section is well known to us all. It concerns life, liberty and security of the person. The Supreme Court will say that those rights cannot be interfered with. First and foremost, we must ensure an impartial hearing.

The Supreme Court considered the question of the evidence being introduced ex parte, that is, the judge reviews the evidence, but not in the presence of both parties, specifically, defence lawyers for the person named in the certificate.

Is it not troubling to know that a person who does not appear before the judge—a judge who has reviewed the evidence, including the sensitive information—cannot refute that information, cannot correct the facts, cannot explain them, cannot respond to the quality of the information provided and the credibility of the informants?

Not only did the Supreme Court say that it was a miscarriage or denial of justice, as must exist for section 7 of the Charter to apply, but it also said that judges hearing the evidence ex parte are placed in a position where they cannot be impartial. Is this not tantamount to asking them to be investigators?

The court said that not allowing a person detained under a certificate to receive all of the evidence and be able to refute, explain and correct it, and to question the source of the evidence infringes section 7.

The court did not say that security certificates are unnecessary. Over the next year, the court invites the legislator to review the way in which certificates are issued. It is interesting to remember that the court gave the United Kingdom as an example. In committee, this was even brought to the attention of parliamentarians. The court even gives Canadian examples where the members of a House of Commons subcommittee, who were hearing from employees of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, were able to respect the security and confidentiality requirements and still carry out their parliamentary work.

The court also has the following observation, and again I will cite Justice McLachlin. Furthermore, no parliamentarian or minister has provided an explanation for this. I hope they will during our exchanges later. Justice McLachlin said, “—Why the drafters of the legislation did not provide for special counsel to objectively review the material with a view to protecting the named person's interest—as was formerly done for the review of security certificates by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and is presently done in the United Kingdom...has not been explained”.

The United Kingdom has also passed antiterrorist provisions. The court wonders why we did not take the same route. The court proposes a compromise between complete denial of access to sensitive information about the person named in the security certificate and the possible confidential nature of certain information in thwarting terrorist attacks, in other words a procedural fairness requirement, a requirement for respecting basic justice. The court says that if we want to maintain these balances, these powers that have to be balanced between national security, confidentiality of certain information, but also the rights of those who may be charged—who are in fact charged in some cases—then we need access to information. I hope the government will take this into account during the review it has been given one year to do.

In closing, I cannot believe that people were detained for five or six years. I am running out of time. However, we have to remember that different rules apply depending on whether the person is a permanent resident or a foreign national when it comes to a review of detention. A permanent resident gets this review within 48 hours and every six months. A foreign national can be imprisoned for 120 days without ever having their detention reviewed. As the Supreme Court pointed out, this does not make any sense.

I will stop here, but, once again, I believe there is no reason to be proud today of Bill C-36. In my opinion, this House would have been better advised to listen to the Bloc Québécois when it gave these warnings. Fortunately, the Supreme Court was able to take an informed look at this legislation that offends human dignity and the best we can do is to review it.

February 22nd, 2007 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Lessard.

Those are the questions for today. I'd like to thank the witnesses for coming in person, and also Mr. Bajwa for appearing from Mississauga. Thank you very much.

I will remind committee members that amendments for Bill C-36 are due tomorrow at noon.

I thank the witnesses, and I thank the members for their indulgence.

We are adjourned.

February 22nd, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am going to go back to an intervention by Mr. Shillington, which in my mind is very important. We are looking forward to adopting Bill C-36 because it will make things better. We are going to make amendments to it and vote for it. Mr. Shillington pointed out that we were delighted with initiatives that should, of course, have been taken much sooner. We are facilitating access to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, to the forms, etc.

The fact that we have to set government machinery in motion to correct a situation that should have been resolved is rather sad. It bothers and saddens me. Another thing that saddens me it the fact that my colleague, Ms. Yelich—and I am not blaming you for this, Ms. Yelich—gave what was an inappropriate example in my opinion.

People who absolutely do not want to provide basic information as to whether they are alive or not would not want to be receiving Old Age Security benefits either. In fact, to get the benefits, they have to provide exactly the same information as is required for the Guaranteed Income Supplement. In the latter case, the only difference is that they also have to indicate whether their level of income makes them eligible.

If people have income they do not want to reveal, it’s their choice. If this is the case, they won’t be applying for Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits. They’ll tell department officials not to pay out the supplement because their income is sufficient. They don’t have to reveal that they are hiding income. Other people are responsible for checking into these things. So with all due respect, I don’t think we can use this example to penalize a whole group of people.

A certain number of people are entitled to some income under Canadian legislation. The question is: do we allow them to access it or not? We know that in 2002, 340,000 people were deprived of benefits to which they were entitled. Today, there are still about 100,000 people in this situation in Canada. That is a very serious. I don’t think we can invoke the Access to Information Act in this case. Even the privacy commissioner told us that it didn’t apply. Otherwise, it would apply to all the other benefits related to income security, including employment insurance. There is a minimum amount of information that has to be submitted to the government. Given the discussions that will be taking place with respect to the recommendations and amendments to be made regarding Bill C-36, I think this is an important point.

I will thank you now because I won’t have the opportunity to do it later. I would appreciate your comments on what I just said.

February 22nd, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
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Senior Research and Communications Officer, Federal Superannuates National Association

Bernard Dussault

I have a quick clarification. Maybe I misled you when I talked about interest. You're right that no interest is charged presently, but in Bill C-36 there are two paragraphs to the effect that interest would be charged on overpayments. That was my concern.

February 22nd, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
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Chair, Women Elders in Action

Alice West

You'll have to pardon my lack of French. If you heard me, you'd laugh. I'll try to do this in English.

Yes, we think this program is very important. People over age 55 have the most difficulty finding any job. As a matter of fact—and I have to admit I did work for the federal government at one time—we found that even people over the age of 40 had greater difficulty finding work.

It's extremely important that we have a bridge somewhere between involuntary layoff.... People don't close down the fish plants or the logging industry or whatever it might be; the corporations do it for their financial benefit. But it leaves the working person alone.They may qualify for EI for a very limited period of time, so they need that bridging. It has to be a decent bridging; it cannot be a minimal amount, which barely keeps body and soul together.

So yes, we're very much in favour of that, and we would certainly support things like that.

Unfortunately, I don't know what Bill C-36 says, so I can't comment on it.

February 22nd, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bernard Dussault Senior Research and Communications Officer, Federal Superannuates National Association

Good day. Thank you for inviting the Federal Superannuates National Association to appear as a witness.

We represent the Public Services, Canadian Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police pensioners and pensioned federally appointed judges. All these people, once they reach the age of 65, receive the Old Age Security pension and they also receive a pension from the Canada Pension Plan or the Quebec Pension Plan, sometimes before the age of 65. Even though our mandate primarily concerns Public Service or public sector pensions, we are also concerned about everything that is happening with respect to the Old Age Security pension and the Canada Pension Plan.

Clearly, we can only be pleased with the amendments proposed under Bill C-36. There is only one aspect that I would like to bring to your attention, as a result of comments I’ve been getting from members of our association when problems arise. In 99% of the cases, everything is fine, but one of the things that irritate our members the most is when there is an administrative error resulting in an overpayment. Not only do they have to reimburse the overpayment, but also pay interest.

We agree that the overpayment and interest should be paid in the case of fraud, but these plans are so complicated that in many cases, when errors occur, people can’t tell. I don’t know if anything can be done in this regard, but I just wanted you to know that it is an important issue, not only for the less well-off, but also especially for the less well-off who do not understand what is going on.

Thank you very much.

February 22nd, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Good afternoon, mesdames. Thank you for telling us about your experiences. It's very enriching for us to know what is actually going on in the field.

Ms. West, you told us about a few issues concerning 55-year-old women who lose their jobs. Previously, there was the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, POWA, which enabled older workers who lost their jobs to make it to retirement with a decent income. That program no longer exists. It's been transformed.

Do you believe that kind of program could help women who lose their jobs after the age of 55? It's harder for them to find another job than men.

Ms. Calhoun, Bill C-36 is currently being considered by the Human Resources Committee. It's a very interesting bill: people will only have to apply for the Guaranteed Income Supplement once in order to automatically receive it thereafter. I must admit that the government has introduced a very promising bill. However, we're not talking about raising the Guaranteed Income Supplement to the poverty line. The poverty line in Canada is approximately $14,000, which is very low. In Quebec, it's $17,000 for a single person. So the poverty line is much higher in the provinces.

Should we establish a poverty line that takes the needs of older persons more into account? Needs increase as we age: drugs, housing, food, taxis and so on. Could we increase people's incomes?

February 22nd, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
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Richard Shillington As an Individual

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about Bill C-36, which seeks to make some changes to the legislation for old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, and the Canada Pension Plan.

I would like to begin by emphasizing the critical importance of these programs to the financial health of seniors, particularly those who retire without an employer pension plan. Without these programs, these seniors would be destitute. Even with these programs, the circumstances of low-income seniors are not comfortable.

For a single senior without a pension plan, the average income is $15,000, and 82% of single seniors who don't have an employer pension plan live on less than $20,000 a year. So you can imagine the circumstances that they would live on if they weren't getting OAS, GIS, or CPP.

The purpose of these programs is income security. It was said to me very well by a friend the other day: income security, the security of their income. We want income security, so that seniors aren't destitute and so that working-age Canadians can work knowing that these programs will be in place when they retire.

This income security is only achieved if seniors receive the benefits that are provided for them in the legislation. The ultimate purpose of the legislation is to place money into the hands of seniors. I'd like people to remember that.

Some of you will know that I became involved in this issue in the fall of 2001, when it was discovered that some 300,000 seniors who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement were not receiving it. We've made some progress in this area, and this committee's report at that time was called “The Guaranteed Income Supplement: the Duty to Reach All”. But I do not think we have achieved the objective of reaching all. We're some distance from it for each of the programs: OAS, GIS, and CPP.

Bill C-36 is the first legislation in the last six years that I recall actually addressing the procedures for applying for these benefits. It's the first legislation since the realization in 2001 that hundreds of thousands of seniors were not getting the benefits they were entitled to. To my mind, Bill C-36 makes some minor improvements, but it is some distance from addressing the major remaining problems with the administration and legislation of these programs.

The remaining problems are discussed in my brief. They include take-up, which is the policy wonk's term for people getting the benefits they're entitled to.

Retroactivity is the provision to provide benefits to people who, either because of an error on the department's part or their own, are not receiving the benefits they were entitled to.

Interest and retroactivity is an issue I would like people to discuss for a minute, and it's dealt with in Bill C-36. We could talk about the current practice, what the legislation provides for, and what it should provide for.

Application for early CPP is discussed in my brief very quickly.

Regarding the determination of administrative error, the current legislation provides full retroactive benefits when there is an administrative error. But I think there are problems in what we mean by administrative error and who decides when an administrative error has been made.

Regarding the design of the GIS clawback, some of you know that this is RRSP season, and my name appears in the press regularly advising low-income senior who will be on GIS when they retire that the last thing they want is an RRSP. Also if you're a low-income senior, working will not primarily benefit you. You'll face an effective tax rate of well over 75%. So presently the design of the GIS, in terms of the clawback, is dysfunctional.

In the first piece of legislation that we've seen in some years, I would have liked to see some provision to address all of these issues in Bill C-36.

Thank you very much for your time.

February 22nd, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, I call the meeting to order.

Welcome. I want to thank the witnesses who have taken time to join us here today by teleconference. Thank you very much.

We will begin by asking for presentations by the witnesses who've taken time to be with us, and then we will go to questions.

We will begin with Monsieur Salembier. You have seven minutes, sir, sept minutes.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

February 22nd, 2007 / 3 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, today we will continue the debate on the Liberal opposition motion.

Tomorrow morning we will begin debate on the procedural motion relating to the back to work legislation, to which the opposition House leader was referring. Also, we will have Bill C-45, the Fisheries Act, following question period.

On Monday, we would like to conclude the debate on the statutory order regarding the Anti-terrorism Act, which is very important for Canadians for public security reasons. We are also getting down to the deadline when certain provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act will sunset.

I have consulted with the other parties and I will propose a related motion at the end of my business statement.

Next week we will consider the following bills: Bill C-37, financial institutions; Bill C-41, competition; Bill C-11, transport; Bill S-3, defence; Bill C-42, the Quarantine Act; Bill C-36, Canada pension plan and old age security; Bill C-10, mandatory minimum penalties; and depending on developments regarding the railway strike, we may call the procedural motion relating to the back to work legislation.

Thursday, March 1 shall be an allotted day.

As I mentioned earlier, following discussions with the House leaders of the other parties, Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you would find unanimous consent of the House to adopt the following motion. I move:

Motion

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, once the Statutory Order regarding the Anti-terrorism Act is called on Monday, February 26, and when no member rises to speak on debate or at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders, all questions necessary to dispose of the Statutory Order regarding the Anti-terrorism Act be deemed put, a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, February 27, at 5:30 p.m.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

I am counting on you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you very much. That will allow me to propose an amendment.

Recently, in 2004, the Canadian government wanted to have even greater control over managing the file concerning persons with a disability, in relation to the provincial jurisdiction and Quebec's jurisdiction.

At that time the Bloc Québécois proposed an amendment to the plans for reforming the system, an amendment to ensure that the Canadian government would respect provincial jurisdictions. The government of the day rejected the motion in order to exercise even greater control over this area of provincial jurisdiction.

In my proposal, I maintain that we, as Quebeckers, find it quite appalling that every time the Canadian government interferes in aspects of those jurisdictions that should belong to the provinces and to Quebec, it fails in its duty to correctly assume this responsibility.

As I stand and speak here today, an election has just been called in Quebec. Every time there is an election, this issue of jurisdictions enters into the debate: our ability to be able to exercise our powers, to manage our own holdings and, of course, the money we send here to Ottawa, and the assurance that it will be used as it should be.

Employment insurance is one example. To date, the government has diverted more than $50 billion from employment insurance. At least a quarter of this amount belongs to Quebec.

Today, in ridings throughout Quebec, including my own, activists and other members of the public are meeting to discuss how to reopen this political debate during the election campaign, not just to focus attention on this issue, but to see how Quebeckers can eventually regain control over their own destiny. I want to commend the people who have already begun the debate.

In my opinion, it is important to point out to the hon. members of this House that we in the Bloc Québécois have always been open about our intentions, our goals and our vision of the future. Today, when we look at the issue of persons with disabilities, the federal government's responsibility for these persons, the way it has handled this issue and the government's negligent attitude toward monitoring support for persons with disabilities, we are sorely disappointed.

This study will also have to look at the issue of areas of jurisdiction.

The member for Kitchener Centre has called on us to examine all aspects of the treatment of the disabled. She would entrust this task to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

This is a matter that we must not take lightly and we need to take our time to study it correctly. At this time, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is studying several bills. We have just completed a review, after recommendations, of Bill C-257, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). We have before us Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. This government bill deals with the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. We also have two bills pertaining to employment insurance.

Mr. Speaker, I see you are indicating that I have two minutes left. All these bills will require a great deal of time to study.

If we want to do our job with regard to the motion before us, the following amendment should be made. I move:

That motion M-243 be amended by replacing “no later than May 2007” with “no later than November 30, 2007”.

I believe I require the consent of the member who tabled the motion, thus the member for Kitchener Centre, to amend the motion. She could second it, if she consents.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2007 / 7 p.m.
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Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Motion No. 243 presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

This motion would instruct the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to undertake a study of the current level of financial support that is being provided to people with disabilities through the Canada pension plan disability benefit.

May I state at the outset that the Government of Canada is pleased to support this motion.

In supporting Motion No. 243, I would like to talk today about three central points: first, what the Canada pension plan disability benefit is intended to do; second, who it is meant to assist; and third, how it is governed. I wish to briefly discuss each of these areas because I think it is important for Canadians to understand what the CPP disability benefit is all about.

What is it intended to do? I would like to remind members that the Canada pension plan is one of the most highly regarded public pension plans in the world. The Canada pension plan, along with old age security, provides Canadians with a solid foundation upon which to build their retirement income. Together, Canada's public pensions deliver about $54 billion in benefits to Canadians each year.

Starting at the age of 18, Canadian employees and the self-employed contribute to the CPP throughout their working lives. Employers match the contributions of their employees. The funds built up by the investment of these contributions enables CPP contributors to access important benefits for themselves and for family members over the course of their lives. These benefits include retirement pensions, survivor and death benefits, children's benefits, as well as disability benefits.

I know that members are already aware of how important the CPP disability program is to Canadians. CPPD is the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada. It provides annual benefits of more than $3 billion to almost 300,000 Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities who can no longer work, as well as nearly 90,000 dependent children. As a matter of fact, according to the 2005-06 statistics, the most recent available, there were 296,000 beneficiaries of which 89,000 were children, and a total of $3.3 billion in benefits.

Who is it meant to assist? The primary role of CPP disability is to replace a portion of the earnings of contributors who, due to a disability, are incapable of regularly working. It is important to understand the specific eligibility requirements for CPP disability. It consists of two parts as laid out in the Canada pension plan.

First, applicants must have made valid contributions to CPP in four of the last six years. This means that applicants have to have worked recently to be eligible for CPP disability benefits. Second, the legislation stipulates that eligible applicants must have a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability which prevents them, on a regular basis, from doing any substantially gainful work, not just their previous job. This means that not all Canadians with a disability are eligible for the benefit. It is a benefit intended for some of the most vulnerable Canadians.

Who gets CPPD? Let me give the House a snapshot.

Seventy per cent of CPPD beneficiaries are between the ages of 50 and 64. The gender breakdown of recipients is roughly equal, with females at 50.5% and males at 49.5% in 2005-06. It is interesting to note that this is a significant change from 20 years ago when over 70% of the beneficiaries were male, or 70.7%. That was in 1986.

Persons with mental disorders now represent the largest proportion of Canada pension plan disability beneficiaries at 27%. Until recently, 2004-05, persons with musculoskeletal conditions represented the largest category.

How is it governed? A moment ago I referred to the Canada pension plan legislation. This brings us to the issue of how CPP, including CPPD, is governed. Although the federal government administers the Canada pension plan, the federal, provincial and territorial governments are joint stewards of the plan.

It should be noted that the legislation stipulates that substantive changes to CPP benefits and financing require the approval of Parliament, as well as that of at least two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population.

Every three years federal, provincial and territorial ministers of finance review the Canada pension plan to ensure that it remains financially sound and to make any necessary adjustments. This review also enables us to ensure that the CPP is evolving to meet the changing needs of Canadians throughout their lives.

The triennial review process, therefore, is an important way of demonstrating accountability and transparency to Canadians.

Notwithstanding the ongoing review of the CPP, we welcome the opportunity to have a separate study of CPP disability benefits as proposed by Motion No. 243.

A study of this kind by the standing committee would help to reinforce the practice of the Department of Human Resources and Social Development to continually monitor and assess the plan in order to ensure that it is meeting Canadians' current and future needs and that it remains affordable and financially sustainable.

I spoke earlier about the eligibility requirements for CPP disability. I would now like to discuss our government's recent action in this area.

In November 2006 this government introduced Bill C-36, which will, among other things, ease disability eligibility rules to promote fairness by making it easier for applicants who have worked for many years to qualify for disability benefits. This is a change that the disability community, as well as members of the House, have long wanted. This is exactly what our government has delivered. We are listening carefully to Canadians' concerns and acting on them.

The amendment will allow applicants with 25 or more years of contributions to become eligible for disability benefits if they have contributed in three, rather than four, of the last six years. Of course the applicants, including long term contributors, must still meet the medical eligibility requirements.

Introducing this change to the CPPD eligibility rules will mean that in the future, thousands of applicants will be able to receive disability benefits. For example, in the four years following the coming into force of this amendment, it is estimated that an additional 3,700 disabled individuals will receive CPPD benefits, as well as 800 of their children. This is an estimate by the chief actuary of the CPP.

This improvement and others included in Bill C-36 clearly demonstrate how governments can work together to improve the lives of Canadians while keeping CPP affordable.

Today I have tried to underscore the important role that CPP disability plays in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Accordingly, we want to ensure on an ongoing basis that this program is soundly administered and transparent in all aspects of its operation. We want to also assure Canadians that it provides good value for money with demonstrable results in keeping with the program's intent.

The study proposed by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre would enable the standing committee to provide us with valuable information to help keep this essential program strong, transparent and accountable.

For these reasons, I, along with the Government of Canada, am very pleased to support Motion No. 243.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

We can deal with that after. We have to deal with Bill C-36 right now, as it is proposed.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

One more thing. We need a budget. You have a budget before you for witnesses for Bill C-36.

Mr. Savage.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I noted that two of the improvements proposed in Bill C-36 are to enhance the fiscal sustainability of the Canada Pension Plan. One provides new guidelines that would instruct the chief actuary about how to go about calculating the full benefits of the CPP benefits. The other provides some rules around greater transparency in terms of reporting these costs and integrating this new fully costed arrangement into the deductions that are paid.

I also note that the other part of the bill calls for extending Canada Pension Plan disability benefits. For the benefit of the members of this committee, I'd like you to elaborate on the intricacies around these two proposals with respect to federal-provincial jurisdiction and how complicated it was to get to this point because, as we all know, the Canada Pension Plan is not exclusive federal jurisdiction; it is joint jurisdiction, and there is a very complicated collaborative process to get us to this point. Maybe you could also tell this committee that any changes to this legislation with respect to the pension plan would require us to go back to the provinces to restart the consultation process and regain their consensus on this matter.

February 20th, 2007 / 4:45 p.m.
See context

Assistant Deputy Minister, Social Development Sectors Branch, Department of Human Resources and Social Development

Susan Scotti

I think we've already answered that question in part. I'm nevertheless going to try to answer it, but in English.

I don't know about the numbers. We'd have to go back and look at the numbers base.

But the essential point here is that we go to extreme efforts to try to reach all eligible Canadians. We use a variety of mechanisms, whether it's letters, agreements, partnerships with the Canada Revenue Agency, or partnerships with the non-governmental sector, which at the community level might be able to identify people much better than we can here in Ottawa.

So the outreach is continuous and constant. Every single effort is made to find those people who might be eligible but have not applied. At the end of the day, there may be other means we haven't thought of. We would be quite open to receiving the benefit of your ideas about other means that we might use to extend our outreach efforts. But I can assure you that through all the mechanisms available to us, we have done our very best to ensure that everybody who is eligible is receiving a benefit.

Through the measures we're introducing in Bill C-36, over time the fact that there will be one single application, and that individuals will not have to continuously report the changes in their income levels to us, will reduce any gaps that may exist in terms of the take-up on eligibility.

So moving forward, things are going to be better. Where we are right now is a vastly improved situation—

February 20th, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

All right.

Bill C-36 is a positive initiative for seniors, particularly with regard to the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

To what extent will the fact that you no longer have to apply for this supplement every year mean that more people will receive it?

February 20th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Assistant Deputy Minister, Social Development Sectors Branch, Department of Human Resources and Social Development

Susan Scotti

I'm now on the slide called the “Canada Pension Plan”.

My apologies for the confusion.

The Canada Pension Plan is the second component of Canada's retirement income system, the third being the private pension plan, RRSPs. As I said earlier, the plan was created in 1966, and the federal and provincial governments are its joint stewards.

The different types of benefits under the Canada Pension Plan include a retirement pension, disability, survivor, and children's benefits. In 2005 about 4.6 million people received benefits from the Canada Pension Plan, of which retirement benefits totalled $16 billion, disability benefits about $3 billion, almost $4 billion was paid out in survivor benefits, and $500 million paid out in death benefits.

The next slide outlines a few more details on the Canada Pension Plan. Unlike the OAS, the Canada Pension Plan is funded from contributions that are made to the plan that are shared equally between the employer and the employee. Presently, the contributor rate is fixed at 9.9% of earnings from a minimum of $3,500 to a maximum of $42,100 in 2006. A self-employed worker pays the full amount of both these contributions on gross earnings.

The plan is funded by employer-employee contributions, as well as revenues from investments and earned interest, all of which is managed at arm's length by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which was created in 1998 as part of the wider package of CPP reforms that ensured that the plan continued to be on a sound financial footing for future generations. One point to note here is that if this legislation passes the House of Commons and the Senate, orders in council from the provinces will still be required to bring the new legislation into effect.

The next slide looks at the summary of the proposed amendments to the CPP. I will quickly walk you through some of those.

The first recommendation relates to the existing financing provisions of the Canada Pension Plan. Under current legislation, there is a requirement that for any new benefit or any change that enhances benefits, the enhancement must be paid as the benefit is earned by the contributor. If it is not, it must be amortized and paid for over a limited period of time in order to avoid having future generations of Canadians cover the costs for the existing generation of contributors. These provisions came about in the 1998 reforms.

However, the current legislation does not have sufficient detail to be able to describe how to calculate the full cost of benefit enhancements, or to establish how the costs of a brand-new benefit would be estimated in the future, if this were to happen. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to provide the government with regulation-making authority that would set out the detailed calculation of how the existing full funding provisions would be applied. It would set out the public reporting of these costs, and it would clarify the contribution rate setting when such costs are present.

While this may appear to be a relatively minor adjustment to the CPP legislation, it is one that is very important to the mathematician of the plan, the chief actuary, in order to facilitate the actuarial work and make it easier to explain to Canadians in a transparent manner any proposed changes to the plan and how they would be funded.

The next change relates to these disability benefits. In 1998 a series of measures were adopted to enhance the sustainability of the Canada Pension Plan. At that time, the rules around the qualifications for CPP disability were changed so that a person had to have four valid years of contributions to the CPP out of the last six years in order to qualify for benefits.

In the process of the triennial review, federal-provincial ministers recommended that the present eligibility requirements for long-term contributors to the CPP be modified so that anyone who has had 25 years of contributions to the plan would be able to qualify for a disability benefit with three years of contributions in the last six years, instead of the present four-out-of-six requirement.

The proposed change could potentially expand disability coverage to some 80,000 contributors and result, to use a rough estimate, in about 3,700 contributors and 840 of their children receiving disability benefits by 2010.

The next change is about the statement of contributions online. Because we had this opportunity to open up the legislation as a result of the CPP triennial review, we also put forward a number of administrative measures to modernize service delivery and streamline access to benefits under both the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

The first such example is to enable Canadians to view online their statement of contributions to the Canada Pension Plan. Currently the legislation specifies that a record of earnings can only be requested once a year. This does not exactly conform to what citizens want or to the fact that we now have advances in modern technology that make the statement of contributions available online to Canadians. In order to better conform with what citizens want, there's no longer a need to restrict access to the statement of contributions to once a year only. Canadians will now be able to view their own contributions as often as they wish and request their statement of contributions more than once a year, whether by paper or electronically.

The next slide is about credit splitting. This is a provision in the legislation allowing pensioned credits to be divided equally between two partners whose legal marriage or common law union has ended. This division is called credit splitting.

For persons divorced before 1987, the legislation provides divorced couples with the opportunity to waive existing time limits and to initiate a credit split, as long as both spouses agree to do so in writing. However, the provisions for common law partners are not the same as those for married spouses. If you take John and Sally, for example, whose common law relationship broke up in 2003, the existing CPP rules state they only have until 2007, or four years, to initiate a credit split. Because some have found this requirement frustrating and rigid in its application, we're proposing to change the provision to allow the existing time limit to be waived, as long as both partners agree to do so in writing, and thereby to treat married and common law partners in the same fashion.

I'm going next to the old age security amendments.

The proposed amendments are divided into four areas: simplifying access, achieving equitable benefit entitlements, implementing recommendations of the Governor General, and clarity of legislation in both official languages.

On the next slide, simplifying access to and delivery of benefits, the first significant change relates to accessing the guaranteed income supplement. I know that this committee has heard a lot about the frustration that citizens have around the access to the guaranteed income supplement. One of the issues is the fact that under the current legislation citizens now have to apply separately for the OAS and the GIS, and seniors are currently forced to reapply whenever their income changes and their income level has affected their eligibility. When a person's income goes above the allowed threshold, the person is no longer entitled to receive the benefit, and again would have to reapply in writing in a subsequent year when they became eligible.

To explain this better, I'll give you an example. Let's take Mary, who at age 65 received GIS benefits until the age of 68, at which time she received a windfall inheritance that changed her income level. Because her income rose, she was no longer entitled to a GIS benefit until the age of 80, for example, when her income went down again. Under the current rules, Mary would have had to reapply for the benefit in writing, and it's possible that she could have fallen through the cracks because Mary might not have known that she had to reapply for this benefit in writing.

Under the proposed amendment, Mary will be able to use a new common application form to apply for the OAS and the GIS at the same time. Not only that, Mary will also be able to let us know that she would like to receive the GIS benefit for the rest of her life as long as she remains eligible. Once an initial combined OAS-GIS application has been made, this will assure her continued eligibility for the rest of her life. So long as we can obtain income information and information about the marital status of an individual applicant from their income tax records, the benefit would be paid to pensioners in any year that they meet the income requirements. This amendment will largely prevent seniors from falling through the cracks. We want to simplify the administration of the benefit and reduce the paper burden so that seniors can receive all of the benefits to which they are entitled.

I'm moving on to the next slide now, which is simplification of access to and the delivery of benefits. This amendment is about enabling the federal government to enter to agreements for the administration of certain provincial low-income benefits. While current legislation allows the federal government to administer provincial benefits--that is, we pay low-income GIS benefits and provincial low-income benefits on behalf of the province of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories--we do not now determine the entitlement to those benefits. Doing so would simplify the administration of low-income benefits for many provinces that already rely on the GIS eligibility to determine the eligibility for provincial benefits. The proposed amendment would permit the federal government to determine eligibility and to calculate the benefits for a senior with respect to both provincial and federal low-income benefits. The provision would rely on agreements that would be signed between the interested provinces and the federal government that would establish the terms and conditions for these arrangements.

The next slide is on simplifying the reporting of income for couples and seniors. This is something that we call options. It is a complicated provision at the moment, which we are trying to simplify. The legislation currently allows seniors who retire or who suffer a loss of earnings or a reduction in pension in a given year to provide an estimate of their current income in order to qualify for the low-income benefits. Applicants are required right now to estimate income from all sources, whether it's employment, interest from investments, or pension income. This process can be very cumbersome because it is difficult to accurately predict all of your income from all sources.

The proposed legislation would limit the estimated income to pension and employment income only, which is much easier to predict on an annual basis and predict accurately.

It will also extend the time limit for seniors to submit an estimate of their income, because the current deadlines can be very tight. This change, we think, will be very welcomed by low income seniors, because it will mean fewer adjustments, and it will simplify the administration by greatly reducing the complexity of this provision.

The next slide is “Application Withdrawal”. Currently, the Old Age Security Act does not allow for a person to withdraw his or her application for benefits once it has been submitted and payments have started. Seniors have asked us to look at this, because they would like to have some additional flexibility.

For example, sometimes seniors have miscalculated what they can expect to receive in OAS payments and they may want to defer the receipt of their pension to another year. Or they may have received additional income from dividends and may not want to increase their overall income at age 65 because they may still be working, or may want not to apply for the OAS benefit just yet, in order to keep their income relatively modest for income tax purposes.

While this appears to be a minor fix, it's relevant to seniors who want the ability to withdraw their application if they so choose.

The next slide is about “Achieving Equity in Benefit Entitlements” through two proposed changes. The first is about income-tested benefits and eligibility for income-tested benefits.

These income-tested benefits are provided to seniors to help them meet their daily living needs; however, the current legislation allows an estate to also make an application for GIS benefits on behalf of the deceased. This provision would be changed to only allow the living person to benefit from the supplement to which he or she is entitled.

The second relates to income-tested benefits for sponsored immigrants. As I explained earlier, the OAS benefits are not based on a person's citizenship but on a person's residence. Currently, there are provisions that allow the payment of an OAS pension to someone with less than ten years of residence if they lived or worked in a country with which we have a social security agreement.

In 1996, the legislation was amended to recognize the financial obligation of sponsors to look after a family member during the length of the sponsorship, for persons receiving benefits under social security agreements. However, the words “Canadian citizens” were left out of the drafting of the original legislation, which inadvertently created a difference in treatment between permanent residents and those who become Canadian citizens during the period of their sponsorship, allowing the latter to receive pro-rated GIS benefits during the sponsorship period.

The proposed legislation is designed to respect the integrity of the residence-based OAS program by treating all categories of persons the same, regardless of citizenship. Pro-rated GIS benefits are still available to non-sponsored immigrants from agreement countries, as well as sponsored immigrants whose sponsors have passed away, become bankrupt, or become incarcerated.

I just have a couple of more slides, and then I will end. The next is “Implementing the Recommendations of the Auditor General”.

There is a series of amendments to both the OAS and CPP; these are the common amendments to both legislation.

The first relates to observations of the Auditor General, who recently noted that the Old Age Security Act and by extension the Canada Pension Plan were not in compliance with the provisions of the Financial Administration Act, because unlike what the Financial Administration Act states, neither the OAS nor the CPP collects interest on overpayments.

The proposed legislation will formally recognize that the government does not wish to charge interest to seniors and will exempt the OAS program and the CPP from the provisions of the FAA that oblige the programs to charge interest.

The Auditor General also recognized that the existing penalty provisions in the OAS Act were never brought into force. Penalties were supposed to be assessed in cases of deliberate misrepresentation or fraud. The proposed provisions would ensure that both acts are in compliance, as recommended by the Auditor General.

There are some other proposed common amendments. They are identified on the next-to-last slide. These relate to broader access by Canadians to electronic services that would provide the ability to apply for benefits online, which current legislation does not allow for.

Another proposal would ensure that information can be shared with third parties other than those who have been specifically listed in legislation--for example, advocates and lawyers. The amendments would enable seniors to share information with family members in order to facilitate the application process and the administration of their benefits throughout their lifetime.

Finally, some of the provisions propose to update the French translation of certain sections that have been noted not to be coincident with the English versions in the past.

I've come to the end of a very long presentation. You have my apologies for the length of it.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that we think Bill C-36 will provide greater access to pension benefits, strengthen the administration of the program, hopefully simplify some of the red tape that's involved in it now, and implement many of the suggestions and recommendations for improvements that have come from Canadians and from your committee.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

February 20th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Susan Scotti Assistant Deputy Minister, Social Development Sectors Branch, Department of Human Resources and Social Development

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'm very pleased to be able to be with you today to provide an overview of the amendments to Bill C-36. We have prepared some presentation material, so I'm going to walk you through that material. It essentially does several things.

But before that, I'd like to introduce my colleagues who are with me here today.

Madame Marla Israel, director, international policy and agreements, Seniors and Pensions Policy Secretariat; Nancy Lawand, director general of the Canada Pension Plan Disability Directorate; and Réal Bouchard, senior adviser, Department of Finance.

There are three things I would like to do today with this opportunity to speak to Bill C-36. First is to tell you a little bit about the circumstances that led us to develop the proposed amendments that you are considering today. Second is to provide you with a brief overview of some of the basic eligibility criteria for the OAS and the CPP. I'm sure that many of you have received calls, sometimes good, sometimes not so good, about our programs. As there's some complexity attached to them, I thought, with your indulgence, it might be an opportunity to give you a little bit of background on them.

Third, I just want to walk you through the proposed amendments, first under the CPP and then under the OAS, and then I'll discuss the amendments that apply to both. Then, of course, I'll take your questions.

First, why are we changing the legislation?

In large part, many of the amendments proposed in Bill C-36 began with suggestions that we received from Canadian citizens, through their letters, through meetings that we've been having with seniors organizations, and through the interactions that they have with all of you as parliamentarians.

Amendments to the CPP and OAS don't happen frequently, given that both pieces of legislation are quite complex. We took the opportunity to bundle a number of amendments together. The first trigger for these amendments was the triennial review of the Canada Pension Plan, which was completed this past June. As many of you know, federal-provincial-territorial ministers of finance who are joint stewards of the plan recommended two significant changes, which I'll come back to in a moment.

In addition, we had some observations from the Auditor General regarding the compliance provisions in the Old Age Security Act with respect to the Financial Administration Act. These two events provided the impetus for changes to both pieces of legislation. While the changes that are being brought forward are largely of a technical nature, they do represent very important changes that will improve the administration of benefits and remove some of the anomalies that have caused frustration for our clients in the past. They will also improve access to the benefits for seniors and streamline the delivery of those benefits in order to strengthen the accountability and fairness within Canada's public pensions.

If you go to slide 8, I'll move to a description first of the old age security program. The old age security program goes back to 1952 and is the first of the three tiers of Canada's retirement income system. It provides a basic pension to the majority of Canadians who are age 65 and over and is funded from general tax revenues of the government. There are three related low-income benefits that are tied to the OAS, the guaranteed income supplement, the allowance, and the allowance for the survivor. The latter two benefits are available to persons between the ages of 60 and 64. In 2005 and 2006 benefits were provided to over four million Canadians who received close to $30 billion through these programs.

On slide 7 there's a little bit of information on the basic rules of eligibility of the program. In order to qualify for an old age security benefit, a person must be over 65 and have acquired at least 10 years of residence after the age of 18, if applying for the benefit from Canada. If applying for the benefit from outside the country, a person must have acquired 20 years of residence after the age of 18. The only exception to these rules is if a person has lived or worked abroad and has received benefits through our 50 social security agreements that are now in place and that allow the pooling together of periods in both Canada and other countries in order to meet the minimum eligibility requirements of the OAS and CPP. The supplement is a low-income supplement that is paid to those who are receiving GIS and whose annual income is below a minimum threshold, which is at $15,000 a year for a single individual excluding OAS and $20,000 a year for married or common law pensioners.

Income is reassessed every year through income tax information provided to us by the Canada Revenue Agency. A maximum OAS benefit is close to $500 a month and is paid to individuals who have acquired 40 years of residence.

February 20th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Bill C-36, an act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, I want to call the meeting to order.

I want to welcome Ms. Scotti and her team. We're going to give you a few extra moments today to outline what you have for us, and then some rounds of questions will proceed afterwards.

Ms. Scotti, if you would like to just proceed, take all the time you need.

Opposition Motion--National Anti-poverty StrategyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 20th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for inviting me to join her in her goals. That is what I have spoken about. I would say that I have answered all of her questions through actions, not just through talking and press conferences. As I said earlier, we walk the walk.

We are working on recognizing foreign credentials so that indeed the immigrants who come to this country can in fact practise in the profession they had succeeded in in the country from which they came. We are working on foreign credentials recognition, but we have to have the cooperation of the provinces and the professionals to make sure that the credentials are indeed recognized correctly. Foreign credentials recognition is well in place.

We introduced Bill C-36 for the seniors and I hope that the member will encourage everyone to fast track this bill so that this will not be another burden for the seniors who soon will be trying to access the guaranteed income supplement to top off their low incomes.

Those are just two immediate goals, but I could perhaps refer to our child care initiative which I think really helps--

SeniorsOral Questions

February 16th, 2007 / 11:45 a.m.
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Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I encourage the member to help us pass Bill C-36.

The wonderful thing about old age security is that there is a residency provision. We do not discriminate. People can be non-Canadians or Canadians. Old age security is offered universally to anybody who has residency in Canada. I encourage the member to please help us pass Bill C-36 as quickly as possible, so that some of her fears can be alleviated.

SeniorsOral Questions

February 16th, 2007 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, we are addressing that in Bill C-36. The position we are taking will work very well for the seniors the hon. member is speaking about. This particular provision will ensure that we do not compromise our immigration policy.

February 15th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, if we keep a break, I don't see any problem in that, but I simply want to say that that answers the question Mr. Brown asked: what happens if we haven't finished at midnight? That's why I'm going to wait until he is with us, with your permission, of course.

We aren't the first committee that has set itself guide posts for a bill. This has happened for very important bills, again recently, from the moment one of the parties wishes, for its own reasons, to stretch out the debate.

The committees of Parliament operate on the same principle as the House, that is by majority order. However, when you study the history of the formation of the committees, you discover that the purpose of that was precisely that, at some point, a majority order would decide, determine the progress of business.

That could have happened to any party. Sometimes, for our own reasons, we may adopt a certain type of behaviour, but it is always the majority that determines the order. In the matter before us, Bill C-257, the debate has been underway for a number of months and even years.

The Conservative Party, like a number of witnesses, has reminded us that this is the tenth time we've introduced this bill. Virtually everyone has repeated their positions. We ourselves have debated them here. We are at the clause-by-clause consideration stage, and we have identified those clauses very specifically. We would be deluding ourselves if we said that our positions would change if we continued the debate for another 20 hours.

If there are minor distinctions to be drawn, no matter how minor, we can easily make them in two minutes, and that requires us to rely on each other's intelligence. It also requires us to summarize our remarks very clearly.

That is why this order, which we want to see adopted here by the committee, is consistent with the interests of the House of Commons and the parties involved.

We have obligations as parliamentarians. One of those obligations is to report on our proceedings. At the rate we're going, we won't be able to report on our proceedings and we'll even undermine those proceedings for the consideration of other bills.

I would remind you, since I've said it, that the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has called on me personally to ask whether I was prepared to collaborate, cooperate, so that we could expedite our consideration of Bill C-36. We will do so; I told him, yes. However, if we are put in a situation such as the one we've been in since yesterday, we can guarantee nothing, and I don't understand the way the Conservatives want to work when they act in this manner. However, I won't criticize them for that because they have their prerogatives, but I nevertheless want the majority of this committee to determine how it intends to conduct its business so that it is constructive.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.

I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. Unlike the motion by the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, I will be brief and I will stick to the point.

The omnibus motion before the House today is reminiscent of the Liberal Party of the past. It is an indication of what would come should the Liberals ever have the opportunity to form government again. It should remind us that all that party is is a party in disarray, a party that cannot pick priorities and a party that is obviously facing division within its own ranks. The motion touches on Kyoto, day care, agriculture, justice, linguistic duality, the Wheat Board and the Status of Women Canada. It is the latter that I will discuss this afternoon.

For months now, the opposition has been attempting to mislead Canadian women about what has been happening since we formed government. There has been a great deal of discussion around the renewed terms and conditions of the women's program and the new criteria for funding. We believe advocacy has a role to play. Canada's new government believes that now is the time to act and we want to focus taxpayers' dollars towards action. We have the studies; we know there are problems. Instead of wasting time discussing the issues, our government is looking at tangible ways in which we can make a difference now.

For example, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is dealing with matrimonial property rights for aboriginal women. Our government increased funding to on reserve family violence shelters by $6 million. As well, the minister announced $450 million for improving water supply and housing on reserve, education outcomes and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families, real money in the hands of organizations that are on the ground working to make a difference.

In terms of human trafficking, the former minister of citizenship and immigration developed a program to offer victims temporary visas. Human trafficking is on the rise and the majority of those trafficked are women. They are brought to this country and are forced into a life of prostitution. Instead of being treated as criminals, our government will issue temporary resident permits for up to 120 days and will provide the necessary health care required free of charge.

Women's issues are issues that all Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers are concerned about, not just one minister, all cabinet ministers. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development announced $4.48 million to help retrain women on social assistance in New Brunswick. This three year pilot project called Partners Building Futures will help women on social assistance get the training necessary to find jobs.

As well, the minister has introduced legislation, Bill C-36, that will make it easier for Canadians to access the guaranteed income supplement. The guaranteed income supplement pays out $6.2 billion a year and goes to 1.5 million low income seniors who are mostly women. This is real change that will affect people right where they live in our communities across our nation.

In one short year we have introduced the universal child care benefit to help women and their families in their homes. We have implemented patient wait time guarantees for prenatal aboriginal women. We have expanded eligibility for compassionate caregivers, most of whom are women. We have introduced pension splitting for senior citizens. We have targeted tax cuts like the GST, the textbook credit and the credit for families with children involved in physical activity to ensure that families are supported. This is real change, ideas and policies that are making a difference in real Canadian women's lives.

This government is committed to action in terms of women and justice issues. There are stories in the paper every day about repeat offenders, men who have abused their wives, children or girlfriends, who are back on the streets putting lives in danger because law enforcement does not have the necessary tools. Domestic violence is an issue that this government takes seriously.

The Minister of Justice has brought forward tougher legislation. We need effective sentencing where dealing with sexual predators and repeat offenders is addressed. We need to end conditional sentencing and raise the age of protection. This is critical.

Canada's new government believes in supporting programs that have a direct impact on women. We believe in putting money into the hands of groups that will help women in their communities.

In October 2005 Canada was cited by the United Nations committee on human rights as failing to adequately address the high rate of violence against aboriginal women. These women and their children deserve safe communities. This is why Canada's new government has committed to the multi-year funding of $1 million a year until the year 2011 to the Native Women's Association of Canada. The Sisters in Spirit initiative addresses the high rates of racialized, sexualized violence against aboriginal women. This project will have a direct benefit on the lives of aboriginal women in their communities.

There is no simple answer. The economic security of women can be traced back as a root cause of the problems women face on a daily basis. We need to ask how we can work together to alleviate these problems, and how we can work with the provinces to better provide services for women. That is one issue which the status of women committee is addressing as we speak. The committee is taking a look at the economic security of women all across our nation.

When a woman faces domestic violence, what can we do to help her get herself out of that cycle of abuse? How can we help women to get out of these situations, to find jobs, build homes, be self-sustaining? We need to let women know that there are other options enabling them the opportunity to change their lives.

The idea that this government is trying to silence women or their advocacy groups is completely ludicrous. I would like to put our partisan political differences aside and work with all members of this House to ensure that we are making a difference in the lives of women all across Canada.

It is imperative that action replace words. It is imperative that problems are solved so women in their daily lives, in their homes and communities all across this nation can get the assurance and support that they need.

It is a pleasure to be here today working with our government in terms of putting words into action.

February 13th, 2007 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, you've just confirmed what I said. He announced one motion, but he debated the second one. I want to understand how we're going to be working from now on.

I suggest we take them in order and that we examine the first one first. It's written and we're going to wait for it. I imagine it will be in both languages. At that point, we'll be able to debate it.

Mr. Chair, may I suggest something? Could we look at our calendar regarding the witnesses to call for Bills C-36 and C-269? That way, we won't be wasting our time while we wait.

Government ProgramsOral Questions

February 13th, 2007 / 2:45 p.m.
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Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the government has acted very quickly to address the needs of disadvantaged people. It was this government that announced $1.4 billion to go toward housing in Canada. In December $270 million to the homelessness partnering strategy was announced. In the House today, Bill C-36 in committee will deliver more benefits to disabled Canadians.

Guess what? The common denominator to all of those things is the fact that the Liberals voted against them. That is the hypocrisy of the Liberal Party.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 12th, 2007 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as hon. members will know, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women has been working very hard to address the concerns of women's organizations and women's groups from coast to coast.

The central issue raised in the third report of the committee focuses on the renewal of the women's program and the way in which we fund women's organizations. As a member of the Status of Women committee, I can tell the House that we have been working very diligently on the important issues that I am confident will have a direct impact on women's lives.

I realize that the recommendations brought forward in the third report focus attention on women's program specifically. However, I thought that today I would concentrate my remarks on what it is that Canada's new government is doing to help answer some of the questions that are inherent in that report.

I believe that an examination of the record will show that our new government has been taking action, as opposed to the former government's dithering and delaying when it came to women's issues.

The minister responsible for the Status of Women was very busy this past year. I am pleased to tell the House that she has held a number of round table consultations. The minister was seeking advice on key areas of action to advance women's issues and I know she was extremely pleased with how productive these sessions actually were.

The round tables provided the minister with excellent insight into the organizational structures regarding issues of equality as a societal norm. The round tables brought together women's groups, academics and other organizations for an exchange of ideas related to equality for women. Issues of economic independence of women and violence against women were a key focus of these discussions.

While Canada has made considerable progress in advancing gender equality, the minister recognizes that there is still much more work to be done to achieve the full participation of women in Canadian society. She is committed to ensuring that all initiatives within her mandate, such as the women's program, supports key government priorities, including accountability and the achievement of real results, concrete outcomes for women in their communities.

The recent renewal of the women's program provided an opportunity to address key aspects of fulfilling the women's agenda. It allowed us as a government to ensure that money would get directly into the hands of those who need it most.

As members of the committee will know, there has been a great deal of discussion around the renewed terms and conditions of the women's program and the new criteria for the funding. I strongly believe that advocacy does have a role to play but Canada's new government believes that now is the time to act and we want to focus taxpayer dollars toward action.

We already have the studies. We already know there are problems. Instead of spending more time discussing these issues, our government is looking at tangible ways we can make a difference right now in the community where it matters most.

For example, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is dealing with the issue of matrimonial real property rights for aboriginal women. Our government increased funding to on reserve family violence shelters by $6 million.

As well, the minister announced $450 million for improving the water supply, housing on reserve, educational outcomes and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children and families. This is real money in the hands of organizations that are on the ground working to make a real difference.

In terms of human trafficking, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul touched on this. The former minister of citizenship and immigration developed a program to give victims of human trafficking the chance for temporary visas. We know that human trafficking is on the rise and the majority of those trafficked are women. They are brought to this country and forced into a life of prostitution and despair. Instead of being treated as criminals, our government will issue temporary resident permits for up to 120 days and will provide the necessary health care that is required without any cost to them.

As the minister has mentioned before, women's issues are issues that all Conservative cabinet ministers are concerned with. I will give some examples.

The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development announced $4.8 million to help retrain women on social assistance in New Brunswick. This is a three year pilot project, Partners Building Futures, that will help women on social assistance get the training that is necessary to find jobs.

As well, the minister has announced legislation, Bill C-36, that makes it easier for Canadians to access the guaranteed income supplement. The guaranteed income supplement, or GIS as we call it, pays out $6.2 billion a year and goes to about 1.5 million low income seniors, most of whom are women. This is real change that will affect real people where they live.

In one short year our government has introduced the universal child care benefit to help women and their families in their homes. We have implemented patient wait time guarantees for prenatal aboriginal women. We have expanded eligibility for compassionate caregivers, most of whom are women. We have introduced pension splitting for senior citizens. We have targeted tax cuts like the GST, the textbook credit, and credit for families with children involved in physical activity. These are real changes, ideas and policies that are making a difference in the lives of Canadian women, but there is more.

We have and we continue to demonstrate our commitment to women's safety and health. Through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, $2 billion is provided annually to construct and maintain safe, quality and affordable housing for 633,000 lower income households right across Canada. Our 2006 budget also provided a one time grant of up to $1.4 billion in new money as extra support for affordable housing.

This government has acted on its commitment to women and employment. We have initiated a new apprenticeship job creation tax credit that provides tax credits to employers who hire women apprentices entering the skilled trades and a new tools tax deduction which will help them get the tools they need to succeed in their careers.

This government has also committed to forming a new foreign credential recognition agency to ensure foreign trained immigrants meet Canadian standards while getting those who are trained and ready to work in their fields of expertise into the workforce more quickly. We heard time and again through the various testimony on our comprehensive report on human trafficking that in fact the issues around visible minorities and immigrant women were most important.

Canada's new government cares about welcoming newcomers and helping them integrate into our society. We value community efforts that are supported by partnerships with the provinces, municipalities and community organizations. I am proud that our government has provided for increased settlement funding.

Budget 2006 committed an additional $307 million to these programs over the next two years, funding that will benefit all newcomers, including and especially immigrant women. This is new money that will go to our partners in the immigration system to help newcomers become full members of the Canadian family. It means additional funding for programs for English or French as a second language and more funding for settlement services and employment programs for new Canadians.

I should point out that language training for newcomers to Canada includes support for the care and supervision of children to give parents the time and freedom to attend these classes, a benefit of particular importance to immigrant women. We are also improving women's education by offering many financial assistance programs that enable Canadian women to access learning opportunities and upgrade their skills through post-secondary education.

Let me remind all members of the House that unlike the previous Liberal government, this is a government of action. As promised, we lowered the GST from 7% to 6%. We delivered over $20 billion in tax relief for individuals. We delivered tax credits to help Canadian families, including a children's fitness credit for up to $500 for physical fitness programs; a tax credit on the cost of textbooks of about $80 per typical post-secondary student; a $2,000 tax credit for employers who hire apprentices; and the new Canada employment credit, a tax credit on employment income of up to $500.

We have acted on our commitment to safer streets through a major investment of nearly $200 million over two years for RCMP training and recruitment. We will continue to act on this commitment by getting tough on crime. We will do that by combating illegal drugs, by implementing tougher laws and by protecting our youth from sexual predators by raising the age of protection.

We have met with Canadians and stakeholders to seek their views on key areas of action to support women's participation in all facets of society. We are looking closely at ways to improve our policies, our processes and practices for funding programs in the areas of accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.

As a member of the committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues to find ways to bring about the full participation of women in the economic, social, political and cultural life of Canada.

Anti-terrorism ActOrders Of The Day

February 12th, 2007 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me say to the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley that in the subcommittee we are looking at all other aspects of Bill C-36. It is a very comprehensive review. That report will be finished in the not too distant future. Really, I hope the government looks at that report seriously.

With respect to Mr. Arar, my argument would be that these provisions have not been used. If the provisions of investigative hearings and preventive arrests had been abused since 2001 until today, I would be the first one to say we should sunset them. In my judgment, and I think in the general consensus, they have not been abused because they have not been used.

Therefore, my argument would be that because they parallel many of the provisions currently available in the Criminal Code, although they are not precisely what is needed under Bill C-36 and that is why they were written in, my argument would be that they have not been abused, they are still needed, and they therefore should be extended.

February 8th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Okay, thank you very much.

Just before I thank all of our witnesses for being here today, I do want to remind everyone that if there are any witnesses you would like to see when we talk about Bill C-36, Bill C-269, or Bill C-278, could you get those to the clerk by Tuesday at noon. Christine will be sending out a notice to that effect, but it is Thursday now and we'll be heading to Friday and Monday. And remember there are the amendments for Bill C-57 as well, but you do have until Wednesday at noon to get them in.

Once again, I'd like to thank all the witnesses for being here today, and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules.

The meeting is adjourned.

Rights of Persons with DisabilitiesOral Questions

February 8th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
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Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member heard me. I said that we are acting. We have moved forward with Bill C-36. It will reduce the number of years that people have to be in the workforce in order to ensure they get CPP disability. This will help at least 3,700 people in the next few years.

We are moving forward on other initiatives. This government is acting on behalf of disabled Canadians everywhere.

Rights of Persons with DisabilitiesOral Questions

February 8th, 2007 / 2:55 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the government is already acting on behalf of disabled Canadians. Bill C-36 is right now before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. That piece of legislation will make it easier for people to qualify for CPP disability benefits.

I have also been in touch with many people in the disabled community to understand these issues better. We are going to move and take action to ensure that disabled Canadians have every chance to succeed in this country.

February 7th, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, I think it would be appropriate to adopt the same approach and to send in our amendments in advance, particularly since we have more time for Bill C-36, while at the same time abiding by the schedule here.

SeniorsOral Questions

February 6th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
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Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, this government has moved on many occasions to help seniors, starting with fulfilling our commitment to cut the GST. Fully 30% of Canadians do not pay income tax; a cut to the GST makes a big difference to them. We raised the age credit. We raised the pension credit. We allow pension income splitting. We have moved on a number of occasions. We are doing that again in Bill C-36 to help seniors, because we want to help seniors. That is a role of this government.

SeniorsOral Questions

February 6th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government has now admitted on three separate occasions that seniors have been shortchanged for the last five years because Statistics Canada miscalculated the consumer price index in 2001.

Bill C-36 would enhance the government's ability to recoup money from seniors when they have received too much from the government. Well, here we have a case where seniors got too little.

Will the minister commit today to paying seniors as quickly for his mistake as he wants them to pay for theirs? Will he ensure that seniors are reimbursed retroactively for the full five years, yes or no?

February 1st, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
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Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

Thank you very much. Good afternoon, Madam Chair and committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

I'd like to congratulate you, Madam Chair, on your new role as chair of this committee.

I have been following the committee proceedings and I want to commend you for your hard work. I know that you will be studying the economic security of women during this upcoming session, and I appreciate your work on this matter, as we have identified it as a challenge facing Canadian women, particularly senior women.

I would also like to thank Ms. Mourani and Ms. Smith for their work on the human trafficking motion before the House of Commons. I know the committee spent a great deal of time investigating human trafficking.

While human trafficking is an ongoing problem in Canada, statistics from past international events such as the Olympics have shown an influx of human trafficking in host countries. With the 2010 Olympics around the corner, it is crucial that we have a system in place to deal effectively with the problem. Your work in this area will have a direct impact upon the lives of the women as we move forward.

I would first like to recognize the hard work of the officials of Status of Women Canada on the renewal of the women's program. Since my last appearance before you, there has been a great deal of discussion around the renewed terms and conditions of the women's program and new criteria for funding.

Canada's new government believes that now is the time to act, and we want to focus taxpayers' dollars towards action. We have the studies; we know there are challenges. Our government is looking at tangible ways we can make a difference now.

For example, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is dealing with matrimonial property rights for aboriginal women. Our government increased funding to on-reserve family violence shelters by $6 million. As well, the minister announced $450 million for improving water supply and housing on reserve, education outcomes, and socio-economic conditions for aboriginal women, children, and families—real money in the hands of organizations that are on the ground working to make a real difference.

In terms of human trafficking, the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration developed a program to offer victims temporary visas. Human trafficking is on the rise, and the majority of those trafficked are women. Instead of their being treated as criminals, our government will issue temporary resident permits for up to 120 days and will provide the necessary health care required, free of charge.

As I have mentioned before, women's issues are issues that all of my cabinet colleagues are concerned with. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development announced $4.48 million to help train and retrain women on social assistance in New Brunswick. This three-year pilot project, Partners Building Futures, will help women on social assistance get the training necessary to find jobs.

As well, the minister has introduced legislation, Bill C-36, that will make it easier for Canadians to access the guaranteed income supplement. The guaranteed income supplement pays out $6.2 billion a year and goes to 1.5 million low-income seniors, who are mostly women. This, Madam Chair, is a real change that will affect real people where they live.

In one short year, we have introduced the universal child care benefit to help women and their families in their homes; implemented hospital wait time guarantees for prenatal aboriginal women; expanded eligibility for compassionate caregivers, most of whom are women; introduced pension-splitting for senior citizens; and targeted tax cuts such as the GST, textbook credits, and credits for families with children involved in physical activity. Real changes, ideas, and policies are making a difference in the lives of Canadian families and women.

As I come before you today, we are in the midst of one of the most horrendous murder cases in Canadian history. The trial in Vancouver stands as a solemn reminder of the realities faced by the most vulnerable in society. This government is committed to action on justice issues. While this high-profile case garners the lion's share of national and international media attention, there are other stories just as heart-wrenching. There are stories in the paper every day about repeat offenders—men who have abused their wives, children, or girlfriends; men who are back on the street putting lives in danger because law enforcement does not have the necessary tools.

Domestic violence is an issue that this government takes seriously. The Minister of Justice has brought forward tougher legislation. We need effective sentencing when dealing with sexual predators and repeat offenders.

We need to end conditional sentencing and raise the age of protection.

If all members in the House and all members of this committee would like to make a difference to help women in their communities, I would urge all to encourage their caucus members to pass these bills quickly.

Canada's new government believes in supporting programs that have a direct impact on women. We believe in putting money into the hands of groups that will help women in their communities.

In October 2005, Canada was cited by the United Nations Committee on Human Rights as failing to adequately address the high rate of violence against aboriginal women. These women and their children deserve safe communities. That is why I committed to the multi-year funding of $1 million a year until 2011 to the Native Women's Association of Canada.

The Sisters in Spirit initiative addresses the high rates of racialized, sexualized violence against aboriginal women. This project will have a direct benefit on the lives of aboriginal women in their communities.

There is no simple answer. The economic insecurity of women can be traced back as a root cause of the problems faced by women on a daily basis. We need to ask how we can work together to alleviate these problems.

How can we work with the provinces to provide better services for women? I look forward to the committee's work on this issue. When a women faces domestic violence, what can we do to help her get out of this situation, find a job and a home, and be self-sustaining?

We need to let women know that there are other options enabling them the opportunity to change their lives. This committee is a wonderful vehicle to provide input to bring forward solutions.

As Minister for the Status of Women, I will continue to work towards achieving results for women across this country. I would like to suggest putting our partisan political differences aside and working with you. Together we should strive to ensure that we are making a real difference in the lives of women.

Thank you for the invitation to be before you and with you today. I look forward to our discussion.

Government PoliciesOral Questions

January 30th, 2007 / 2:40 p.m.
See context

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out that today in the House we are debating Bill C-36, a bill that will ensure Canadian seniors receive the guaranteed income supplement more easily than they have in the past, a bill that will ensure disabled Canadians will have a chance to receive disability benefits.

Through income splitting, pension splitting, raising the age credit and cutting the GST, we have done more in one year to help seniors than that government did in 13 years.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 30th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on this issue today. It stems from a government bill, namely Bill C-36, to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.

We are pleased with this initiative, but only to some extent. As previous speakers have mentioned, this is an initiative to make access to the guaranteed income supplement simpler and more practical by streamlining the process. This is something we have been calling for for many years, but have been systematically turned down by both the previous government and, for the past year, this government.

Because it deals with the old age security program, this bill also affects the benefits paid to pensioners, and particularly the guaranteed income supplement.

A problem arose, which my colleagues have raised, where low income seniors had to meet two criteria: age—they had to be 65 years old—and the number of years of residence in the country. These were the two criteria for applying, provided, of course, they had limited income. In this respect, however, regulations were made, which restricted and, in many cases, prevented access to the supplement.

My hon. colleague pointed this out earlier. In 2001, there were 272,000 people in Canada who were denied access for objective reasons that I will get into later. In Quebec, 68,000 individuals were affected. Our colleague Marcel Gagnon, who was the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain at the time, fought tirelessly to have more of them receive the supplement, providing them with information about their rights and helping them, naturally, with the appropriate procedures.

The objective reasons I referred to were of the following nature. People were told they had to reapply each year. Many were not even aware that they were eligible for this supplement and, thus, did not apply for it the first year. Others did not know about the requirement to reapply annually.

Which of these people were the most vulnerable? It was those in poor physical health. Often it was also a matter of mental health. And there were actual physical limitations. Among those identified are people who have never worked or who have not filed income tax returns because they did not have any income or so little income that they did not think they needed to file a return. Aboriginals have been particularly affected, as have residents of remote communities, semi-literate people, those who do not read either of Canada’s official languages, persons with disabilities, people suffering from disease and homeless people.

We see that there is a range of people who are, I would say, disabled concerning their obligations to obtain one of their rights. A further complication was added to prevent them from obtaining this right. Over the years, especially since 2001, a major offensive has been led against the previous government for it to correct the situation and, for the past year, against the current government.

So how does that translate into money?

It was between 1993 and 2001 that people began to become aware of the situation—and it continues now, but less significantly. Seniors have been deprived of $3.1 billion. These people are among the most disadvantaged in our society.

What surprises me is that this does not seem to have touched the members of the previous government very much, because they took all those years to make an effort to correct the situation. In the present government we can observe some sensitivity to correcting the situation for people applying now, but no sensitivity for the people who have been deprived of this right. The situation is serious.

I do not want to be too hard on the present government, but when it was in opposition, some of its members were outraged by this situation, just like us. What happens when these people begin governing the country? How do people end up changing their attitude to such an extent? Why, when people are in power and can correct such a large injustice, do they not do so?

The two main political parties in Canada, who have until now taken turns in government, seem to have quite a particular propensity for attacking seniors.

We must also look at the problem as a whole. One of the recurring problems is the lack of will to support older workers who are forced out of the labour force because of massive layoffs.

There was the POWA, the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, but it was abolished in 1997. POWA helped workers aged 55 and over who lost their jobs and were unable to find new jobs for various reasons, the first of which being the unwillingness of employers to show generosity in hiring older workers first. That means that these people cannot find work because of their age. Some of them worked in the same trade for 20, 30 or 40 years and it is not easy for them to learn a new one. Furthermore, an average of 20% of the people laid off these days are 55 and older.

Since 1997, the year the Liberals abolished the POWA, we have been fighting to get an income support program for older workers.

The present situation contributes to the impoverishment of seniors who retired because they reached retirement age or because they were laid off. And here, I am referring to some massive layoffs.

Last week or the week before, the government announced the creation of an expert panel to study the situation. In fact, the government made that commitment last year, during the budget debate.

It was even part of last year's budget amendments. Ten or eleven months ago, the government made the commitment to proceed very quickly with this study and was supposed to report to the House when Parliament resumed after the summer recess.

Despite the fact that, whenever we asked questions about this during the last year, the current minister's predecessor told us every time that the study was underway, that progress was being made and that we would soon see results, we learned a week and a half ago that nothing had been done and that the government was setting up a committee now to do this study. Obviously the House of Commons was not told the truth, and that is a polite way of putting it. We were told something that was not the truth because it was false to say that the study was underway when it has not even started yet.

The second problem with that committee is that workers are not represented. It is made up of representatives of organizations that do not necessarily have that expertise. Surprisingly, the human resources and social development committee toured the country last fall to examine the issue of employability in Canada. One of the issues dealt with at that time was precisely the employability of seniors. How is it that we are being told today that this committee will do exactly the same work without even waiting for the results of the work currently done by our committee, which should be released before we adjourn in the spring?

It is rather amazing to see the extent to which the government will resort to delaying tactics not to honour its obligations to seniors who lose their jobs in massive layoffs. It systematically refuses to provide income support to those people, which tends to confirm what I was saying earlier about this government's tendency to target seniors.

Back to the guaranteed income supplement. It is time for the government to deliver. The parliamentary secretary said that we have to manage public funds carefully. Then she said that it will be very difficult to reimburse the money owed to these people because they are so hard to find. Her statements do not hold water.

The first demonstrates not only a lack of sensitivity but also a lack of empathy toward the poorest people in our society because everyone knows that whatever she says about keeping public funds under lock and key, we have a government that has generated budget surpluses for the past 12 years. On September 25, the Government of Canada announced a $13 billion surplus for the past fiscal year, yet it has responsibilities to seniors who often do not have enough income to pay for basic necessities, such as food, housing, clothing and a reasonable standard of living.

This morning, our colleague from Repentigny shared with us a very moving account of his previous job experience helping these people. He told us about the suffering and the isolation they are forced to endure. This isolation is caused in large part by their low income, which makes it impossible for them to contribute to society in any way.

The parliamentary secretary also said that it is hard to find these people. But if we know how many of them there are, we must know where they are. When it was a matter of finding a way to bring money into government coffers, they had plenty of ideas, plenty of ways to do it. For example, when it came time to bring in the GST and the QST and other provincial sales taxes, they found ways. In Quebec, a harmonized sales tax was implemented. Quebec passes on the Canadian government's share: 6%. Why have we not done something similar for seniors?

Many of these seniors are forced to ask the province of Quebec for help, either through the Quebec pension plan or social assistance. Why is there no agreement? Why have we not considered that the Canadian government could correctly identify these people by their income and that Quebec also had records that could be used to conduct the appropriate verifications to ensure that the guaranteed income supplement is given to those who qualify? Why has this not been done? The answer seems just as clear to me today as in the past. There is a lack of political will, which stems from the ideology of the two political parties, one after the other, an ideology based on supporting the wealthy people of our society and the people who contribute to society by providing jobs.

We know that a minister who temporarily became Prime Minister was able to take advantage of retroactivity for his business beyond the 11 months allowed for seniors. There was no skimping on the number of years and this was done for other businesses, too. When it comes to making exceptions for corporate taxes, there always seems to be a way. The answers we are given do not pass muster and are completely unacceptable in the current context, considering the injustice committed against our seniors.

In closing, I would like to point out that I limited myself to this aspect because my colleagues discussed possible amendments to allow our eligible seniors to access the guaranteed income supplement program. I deliberately discussed retroactivity in particular because I believe that if we do not include a provision in this bill to allow for retroactivity, we would simply be maintaining the same injustice, which is entirely unacceptable.

We, the Bloc Québécois, want no part of that. We encourage our colleagues of the other parties to come to their senses, to embrace justice, to embrace their sensitivity, and finally grant our seniors the right to receive their guaranteed income supplement benefits, which they should have been receiving since 1993. Thank you.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 30th, 2007 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-36.

This is an important legislative proposal, the amendments to the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act. I wish to speak to the impact of the proposed changes to the Canada pension plan for people living with disabilities in Canada.

Canada's new government understands the need to ensure that people living with disabilities are given the support that they need. People with disabilities are our friends, our families and our constituents.

We campaigned and were elected on our commitment to stand up for Canada. Canadians were offered the priorities of our Conservative government and found that we hold all the same values dear. We all want a government that makes careful use of public resources to ensure that they are there to help our families and friends who need it.

The new government is getting things done for our friends and for our families with disabilities. For instance, budget 2006 committed enhanced assistance for persons with disabilities. This was done by increasing the maximum annual child disability benefit to $2,300. We expanded the eligibility for the same benefit. We boosted the maximum refund for the medical expense supplement to $1,000, and HRSDC has put together labour market agreements and the opportunity fund for persons with disabilities.

Canadians want what we are all looking for. We want a government that understands that the federal government and provinces need to work together constructively. Canadians can take heart. The legislation comes as a result of a healthy and renewed relationship that our new government has forged with our provincial partners.

Most Canadians recognize the importance of the Canada pension plan to their income security. Along with old age security, the Canada pension plan provides Canadians with the foundation upon which to build their retirement income. Together, Canada's public pensions deliver about $54 billion in benefits to Canadians every year.

However, the Canada pension plan is much more than a retirement pension. Through its disability program, the Canada pension plan provides basic coverage to approximately 295,000 Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities and to 90,000 of their children. Indeed, the Canada pension plan is considered the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada.

Every three years the ministers of finance review the Canada pension plan to ensure that it remains financially sound and to make any necessary adjustments. The triennial review also provides an opportunity to see that the Canada pension plan evolves to meet the changing needs of Canadians throughout their lives. It also exemplifies that the CPP's accountability and transparency is there for Canadians.

The most recent review, completed in June, confirmed that the Canada pension plan is on solid financial footing, but the review also showed that together we could all do a better job of recognizing contributors with long term attachment to the workforce by making their CPP disability benefits more accessible.

Federal and provincial finance ministers understood that it was time to address an issue that has been raised as a concern by people living with disabilities, their representatives and members of the House. The ministers listened to the people who came to them. They took on the issue. They showed leadership that had been lacking by pursuing this change.

There has always been a minimum qualifying period for CPP disability benefits since they were first issued in 1970. Over the years this qualifying period has been amended on several occasions. For example, from 1987 to 1997, applicants needed contributions in two of the three years or five of the last 10 years to qualify for disability benefits.

In 2003 Parliament heard from long term contributors who were ineligible for benefits because of the change requiring contributions in four of the last six years that was introduced in 1998.

What followed was a report prepared by the chief actuary regarding Canadians with a long history of workforce attachment and who were denied CPP disability benefits on the grounds that they had insufficient contributions. The study found many of these applicants had contributed for two or three years of the minimum qualifying period but had not done so for a fourth year. Without that fourth year of contributions they could not qualify for benefits under the existing rules despite in some cases more than 30 years of overall contributions.

Imagine a woman who has worked steadily for 25 years and has contributed faithfully to the Canada pension plan, including for three of the last six years. She feels that these substantial contributions will give her access to disability benefits when she needs them. Suddenly a major medical condition takes her out of the workforce and then she discovers that she does not qualify. She needed to contribute to the CPP for one more year before she could qualify. Imagine her sense of disappointment and frustration. Despite her lengthy contributions to the Canadian workforce her Canada pension plan disability benefit was not there for her when she needed it.

As I said at the outset, Canadians elected Conservatives to stand up for them. They elected us because they knew we understood them and their concerns. We were elected by Canadians because they knew we would get things done and we are getting things done. The government is acting to ensure that thousands of Canadians who are long term contributors to the CPP are not left alone to fall through the cracks. We stand with them and we are standing up for them.

I am pleased to say that Bill C-36 is a positive response to the desire for greater fairness expressed by the Minister of Finance. It is an obvious response to the needs of persons with disabilities whose concerns were too long ignored.

Under the proposed legislation, applicants with 25 or more years of contribution would become eligible for benefits if they contributed in three rather than four years. All other applicants would still have to make contributions in at least four of the last six years and of course all applicants must still meet the medical eligibility requirements.

What does this legislation mean for Canadians? It means an additional 2,000 long term contributors with severe and prolonged disabilities would be eligible to receive benefits by 2008. By 2010 the new beneficiaries could total about 3,700. Close to 1,000 children of these beneficiaries could also receive benefits.

Through this legislation the Government of Canada is sending an important message to long term contributors to the Canada pension plan who are forced to leave the workforce because of a severe and prolonged disability. It says that Canadians have told us that the current disability program does not meet their needs. It says that we have heard their concerns and we are acting on them.

This legislation is part of the government's commitment to greater accountability and to action that restores the public's trust in government. It says the government balances the social needs of Canadians within an accountable and transparent fiscal framework. The legislation change is fully affordable at the current CPP contribution rate and will not compromise the financial sustainability of the plan.

It pleases me that other members of the House are in fact agreeing to support this important bill that will help our Canada pension plan. It also tells me that everyone, along with our new government, understands that seniors have made contributions and continue to make huge contributions to our country. Seniors know that Conservatives and the House share the same values and concerns as they do, and that these are the values and concerns of all Canadians. We all understand that sometimes the world changes and that we need a government that will ensure that seniors are not left behind.

We recognize a commitment to the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement as fundamental guarantees of income security in retirement years. We promise to ensure that seniors have the respect and integrity that they deserve. Our pension plan has been integral in dramatically reducing the level of poverty among seniors. Back in 1980 almost 21% of seniors lived on low incomes. Today, because of changes that were made, we have reduced that number to less than 6%.

To address presently changing needs of seniors, we are making significant investments across a full range of seniors programs, from health care to housing, from retirement savings programs to assistance for caregiving. We have shown support in budgeting for seniors: $64 billion a year on programs for seniors, including our public pension programs.

Our public pension programs are something Canadians can rightly take pride in. Our public pension system is recognized worldwide as one of the best. It plays a vital role in ensuring the economic well-being of thousands of Canadians.

Today seniors are generally healthier, better educated and economically better off than in previous generations. Today's seniors are looking for new ways to contribute to their country. Seniors work longer, volunteer more, and play an active role in the communities across Canada.

As the baby boomer generation marches toward retirement, we need to take steps to prepare for the growing number of seniors. I am one of those baby boomers and I am concerned that in the next 25 years nearly one in four Canadians will be a senior citizen. The aging of our population means that we cannot take our cherished public pension programs for granted.

We understand that the future of these programs is a matter that affects all Canadians. This is why our new government is strengthening our social foundations. Standing up for seniors mean ensuring these programs are there for seniors now and in the years to come. As well, Conservatives and all Canadians understand that the retirement income system, the Canada pension plan and old age security are key pillars of Canada. These pillars must be maintained and cared for if they are to be counted on to maintain and care for the needs of Canadians.

Something also important to Canadians are the changes proposed in the bill that will improve the way governments administer pension programs. Together these amendments strengthen fairness and accountability. In the past, concerns have been raised that eligible seniors may not be receiving the guaranteed income supplement because they were not aware of the program and did not apply. Much has been done already to remedy such situations. This legislation, however, goes one step further.

To explain, under the proposed changes seniors apply for GIS at the same time as they apply for old age security. No separate application form would be required. In addition, as long as seniors file a regular tax return they will automatically receive the GIS benefit in any year they are entitled to. They would never need to reapply. This cut in red tape makes sense. It is the kind of sensible thinking that our new government has put into creating “Advantage Canada”. In a nutshell, it means that all eligible seniors should receive the GIS as long as they file a Canadian tax return.

The same sensible thinking is what led our new government to propose amendments to the Canada pension plan that are found in the bill that I spoke about earlier, making it easier for long time contributors to qualify and working Canadians who are attached to the workforce. Canadian seniors, men and women whose hard work helped build this country, deserve to have a government that stands up for them and I am proud to be a part of this government. I am proud that we are taking steps to put in effect the existing full funding provision of the Canada pension plan.

The new provision adds transparency to the existing provision, which requires any changes to the plan's benefit be paid for in full so their costs are not passed on to the future.

This is what Canadians want to know, that CPP is on sound, financial footing now and for future generations. This change would help get that done.

Our new government will also be modernizing service delivery, to ensure electronic services for pensions are available for seniors across the country, a simple, practical thing in this modern age of technology. However, a change to the legislation was needed to enable seniors to apply for benefits online.

These amendments would also close loopholes and prevent misrepresentation, which ends up costing all taxpayers.

Enhancements to our retirement income system are one of the ways we are helping to improve the quality of life for Canadian seniors. As I said earlier, the government is doing even more. Let me give a few quick examples.

We are reaching out to seniors across the country, thanks to our new horizons for seniors program. Through this program, we are helping to harness energy, skills and leadership of seniors and projects that make a difference in their communities. Consider the grandfriends program in Prince Edward County, where seniors are giving back to their community by acting as storytellers to children.

Canada's new government promised new measures to provide tax breaks for older Canadians, and we got it done in budget 2006. Starting in 2007, seniors couples can split their pension income. We increased the age credit amount by $1,000 to $5,066, retroactive to January 1, 2006. We doubled the amount of eligible pension income that can be claimed under the pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000, starting this tax year.

Through these tax measures, we are putting back into the pockets of our seniors who have already contributed to so much in our country.

Our new government is standing up for those who have spent their lives raising families, saving for their retirement and building up our nation. We are standing up seniors because we are committed to protecting what is great about Canada.

With the proposed amendments in Bill C-36, we will are helping to ensure that all Canadians, young and old alike, can rely on the Canadian pension plan and old age security as key pillars of their retirement income.

This important matter crosses party lines. I am happy and pleased to say that everyone in the House wants what is best for seniors. That is why I am thankful that hon. colleagues in the opposition, along with us, have given their stamp of approval to this important legislation.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 30th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
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Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add that I certainly support the bill.

I hope to see some improvements to certain recommendations, particularly the recommendation concerning retroactivity. I am aware that Bill C-36 is a first step, which will allow us to eventually go even further with respect to providing support for seniors.

I firmly believe that this is an interesting bill and that it constitutes a first step, since it corrects several injustices. However, we must not think that our work can stop as soon as the bill is adopted. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities must continue its in-depth study to determine whether there are other ways to improve the situation of our seniors.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 30th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, referring this bill to committee will allow us to review all these types of exception, be it people coming to Canada from abroad or seniors, whether Canadian-born or immigrant. I think that there is a degree of fairness, a degree of justice that is required. If these people have suffered injustices, these injustices must be remedied. If our seniors in this country are vulnerable, so are those coming from abroad. At committee, we will be able to see whether these people have suffered any injustice; we will have an opportunity to look at changes that could be made to Bill C-36.

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January 30th, 2007 / 10:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate and thank the hon. member for Repentigny. He gave us his appreciation and analysis of the situation, and I want to stress the quality that he displayed in telling us about his experience and in sharing with us his rather exceptional course.

My colleague described the plight of those seniors who are affected by this injustice on the part of the Canadian government, an injustice that has prevented them from having access to the guaranteed income supplement. He showed very clearly how the government acted, so that these people would become ineligible for these benefits through their own actions.

Without getting into the sordid aspects of life, I wonder if my colleague could tell the House about the impact of such a measure on the most vulnerable seniors in our society. Indeed, the first criterion to qualify for this supplement is that the person must have a low income. In other words, we are targeting the most needy. With Bill C-36, an effort is being made to allow these people to now have access to this guaranteed income supplement. However, they were robbed of $3 billion, and I am not using excessive language here.

I wonder if the hon. member could elaborate on this point and remind us of the impact that these measures have had on the elderly.

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January 30th, 2007 / 10:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to join those of my colleagues who, since yesterday, have been speaking on Bill C-36.

I extend special thanks to the hon. member for Laval, who spoke yesterday. I listened carefully to her speech. Until just recently, she was the critic on this issue, which I have now taken over. I am pleased to rise today to address Bill C-36.

First, I will take a moment to thank the people in my riding of Repentigny, which I represent here in the House of Commons. I wish them a happy new year. The time is still right in January to extend our wishes.

I also beg the members' indulgence for my raspy voice. I have caught a bad cold, a man's cold that is apparently difficult to get rid of.

I pledge to my constituents of Repentigny that I will spare no time or effort in representing them well in this House and vehemently defending their rights. My colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and myself will continue to doggedly defend the interests of all Quebeckers.

It is my pleasure to stand in this House today to speak on an issue as important as seniors. Before getting into politics and joining the Bloc Québécois, in my former life, I had daily contact with people of all ages, and seniors in particular facing poverty.

Humbly and with the means available to me, I tried to help them. I started by listening to them. I comforted them, I am convinced of that. And I got a better feel for what kind of hardship they were experiencing.

I recall that a month before I went into politics, a woman came to see me in the parish where I was working as a priest. She was in tears. She wanted to move out of her niece's home, because her niece was mistreating her, but she could not afford to live anywhere else. She was on a waiting list for a home of her own. Obviously, I could not solve her problem, but I was able to help her just by listening. I tried to give words of comfort to people suffering from poverty, because the poor really do suffer. I wondered why there was so much poverty among the elderly and why governments had never recognized what a scourge poverty is and tried to eradicate it. The elderly built Quebec and Canada, and I wondered why we did not help them more.

I would like to quote part of a column Pierre Foglia wrote last week in La Presse about the death of Abbé Pierre:

Abbé Pierre was the last in a long line of good people who indignantly refused to accept poverty. ... Now that Abbé Pierre is gone, all we have left are good people.

I wondered why Foglia said that. I know that Foglia felt and still feels today that there are many good people in our society who are doing something about the growing inequalities. But Abbé Pierre was special: he responded with indignation. Foglia also wrote:

Without a sense of indignation, we become accustomed to doing good works instead of working for social justice.

It is not enough to do good works; we also need to have a sense of indignation about the bad things done in our society. I do not claim to be another Abbé Pierre, nor do I claim to be of the same calibre, but I think that that is more or less the main reason I got into politics. Poverty makes me as angry as it made him, especially when it affects the elderly. And if, together, we can improve the lot of our fellow citizens, then I will not have entered politics in vain.

During my recent election campaign, I had the opportunity to tour my riding for the first time. I visited various community organizations as well as seniors' residences. I had the privilege to sit down to dinner with seniors a number of times. And like any good candidate, I went door to door. I saw that many elderly people do not live in any kind of luxury.

I was shocked and even appalled to see such deserving people living on so little, knowing that the government was hiding the extra income to which they had every right. At that moment, I became convinced—and I remain convinced to this day—that my decision to enter politics was the right one and that we, my colleagues in this House and I, could find a way to help vulnerable seniors.

I took the time to talk to these people. I did my very best to inform them of the current and former governments' conscious omission and to tell them that they are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. I promised to do everything in my power, with the support of my Bloc Québécois colleagues who have been fighting to defend and improve Quebec's rights for so long, to spur the government to action on this issue and ensure that every senior is informed and, above all, receives the guaranteed income supplement and any other income they are entitled to. This has become a personal commitment for me.

Let us not forget that for many years now, the Bloc Québécois has been devoting a lot of energy in this House to reminding the government of its responsibilities and duties toward our seniors, who are often the most vulnerable members of our society, the people who built the country we live in, the people whose quality of life often depends on the level of care they receive. That quality of life is often dictated by their income.

In 2001, the Bloc Québécois criticized the Liberal government's mismanagement of the guaranteed income supplement program. We implemented a major initiative that has enabled us to find 42,000 of these people so far. Often, these people were society's neediest and many of them were deprived of the money they should have been collecting for years through the federal guaranteed income supplement. Thanks to our efforts, about $190 million has been redistributed to some of the poorest seniors in our society. The Bloc Québécois is also asking the government to acknowledge its mistake and give full, not partial retroactive reimbursement to all of the seniors it swindled.

I would remind the House that in December 2001, under the Liberal government, the House adopted the report on the guaranteed income supplement by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities. In its report, the committee painted an interesting picture of the situation and made a number of recommendations. I do not intend to repeat the committee's recommendations, but the fact remains that, although Human Resources Development Canada has been aware of the under-subscription of GIS since at least 1993, the problem persists today. I would remind the House that we are now in 2007. It is very sad to think that, for the past 14 years, Human Resources Development Canada, HRDC, could have and should have been helping tens of thousands of people among the least well-off in our society. Instead, it chose to turn a blind eye and deliberately ignore these people, who are so desperately in need. It deliberately chose to take no action.

Let us first take a closer look at the problem surrounding the guaranteed income supplement. The raison d'être of such a program was, first and foremost, to give low-income retirees an additional benefit on top of their old age security. In order to receive it, eligible individuals must apply for it every year when they are filing their income tax return. This is what constitutes the greatest injustice, because many seniors are unable to fill out the forms or even understand their contents.

This bill to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act finally corrects the irregularities that our seniors have been facing for more than 14 years. However, it still raises a number of issues that remain vague, even though we, the Bloc Québécois, continue to tackle them with vigilance. I have the opportunity to rise and speak here today, and I am privileged, along with my colleagues in this House, to analyze Bill C-36, introduced by the government, which, overall, leads us to believe that this government knows that our seniors have been cheated for far too long.

We understand that the primary objectives of Bill C-36 as a whole are to ensure the availability, accessibility and obtainability of the amounts owing to all potential beneficiaries. We are, however, bitterly disappointed to note that the Conservative government is not undertaking to give beneficiaries the full retroactive amount.

If a Canadian citizen owes money to the government, though, for whatever reason or to whatever department, we all know just how far the government will go to recover the amounts in question. Why should there not be the same commitment to these seniors who have been cheated for so long?

We in the Bloc Québécois believe that a responsible government would refund the total amounts that its predecessor or it itself had voluntarily or involuntarily failed to pay for so long. A responsible government, by means of this quite legitimate gesture, would acknowledge a problematic situation that it had created itself, and also thus acknowledge the outstanding contribution made by those very individuals, our seniors, through their hard work and dedication, to the development of Quebec and Canada.

Furthermore, this Conservative government, with this bill, wishes to create different classes of Canadian citizens. I will come back to this point later.

The government offers all Canadians—except in Quebec where we have our own plan, the Quebec Pension Plan—a federal-provincial pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan. In addition, the first pillar of Canada’s retirement income system is the old age security program and more specifically, the benefits based on income, that is, the guaranteed income supplement and allowance, which are generally paid to seniors aged 65 or more.

The guaranteed income supplement is a non-taxable monthly benefit, which is paid to low-income beneficiaries of the old age security pension. The benefits gradually decrease until they reach zero as the beneficiary’s net income reaches a certain level. Since this supplement is in addition to the old age security pension, we may ask: who is entitled to it? First, people must be 65 years of age or older and, second, must be Canadian citizens or legal residents of Canada at the time the pension is approved. Third, they must have resided in Canada for at least 10 years after the age of 18.

This bill will make it easier for the most disadvantaged seniors to receive the guaranteed income supplement by no longer requiring them to reapply annually. The application will be renewed automatically and the guaranteed income supplement for couples will be based on one and the same return.

This bill will allow seniors who suffer a sudden reduction in employment or pension income during a fiscal year to submit an application for an income supplement based on an estimate of their employment and pension income.

Yes, this bill will amend and fine-tune certain sections of the Old Age Security Act in order to deal with inconsistencies. Yes, it will introduce some measures amending the Canada Pension Plan, which does not at all affect Quebec and its constitutional areas of jurisdiction.

However, how can we, the Bloc Québécois, support expanding restrictions on new citizens who have immigrated to Canada? As I was saying before, for the Bloc Québécois, there cannot be different classes of Canadian citizens, no matter what their background.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, why would the government only pay retroactivity limited to 11 months, as provided in the act governing the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance?

We are asking the committee to examine the obligation to pay the full retroactivity. This policy would allow for the entire eligibility period to be covered in full.

The Bloc Québécois will ask the Privacy Commissioner to testify with regard to the broadening of the third-party group to which the contributor's personal information may be forwarded. The Bloc Québécois will ensure that amendments to current regulations will not restrict access to the guaranteed income supplement.

The Bloc Québécois is also committed to continuing its longstanding fight with the federal government to have it put in place all the elements required to ensure that seniors who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement are able to receive it.

With regard to interest charged on overpayments, the Bloc Québécois will ensure that the bill is fair for all contributors. Finally, the Bloc Québécois will ensure that the statute of limitations in the case of recovery of overpayments by the government is proportional to the period for which individuals can make a claim for an amount due to them. While the government does not propose to offer full retroactivity for the guaranteed income supplement, it appears to abolish any time limit when it comes to the money that is owed to the government.

We should not stick our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that there is poverty in our midst. Let us also recognize that poverty is a part of the daily life of a great many people, as much in Quebec as in the rest of Canada. I personally rubbed shoulders with poverty not long ago while working as a priest. I was outraged and I am still outraged to see this scourge continuing to affect the lives of so many people, especially the most vulnerable people, those who are older.

If my colleagues have not seen this scourge, they have only to go out into the streets. They will see that there really are such people. They need only walk about their ridings; and if they are nervous about doing that, let them come to my riding. I will be happy to show them.

In closing, let us take some time to reflect and to think of our own parents, who worked all their lives; who raised families, sometimes large families. It is in large part because of them that our life today is what it is. Let us think of these seniors who did so much for us and for our country. Let us ask ourselves whether they do not deserve more respect from their government, whether they are not entitled to receive this minimum that the government wants to give back to them. Let us understand that we are not talking here of people who are well off, to whom we are offering a little extra. No, we are talking about people who struggled all their lives; who worked hard all their lives and who have had trouble making ends meet. Often, these people deprived themselves for the good of their family, for the good of their children. They deserve a minimum of respect from the government.

For the sake of dignity, out of respect, and in recognition of our senior citizens, I call on the government to carefully consider the recommendations made by the Bloc Québécois. These recommendations are no more than the justice and fairness to which our older citizens are entitled. We must never forget that justice is the first of all values; it comes before even love. We can not love someone if we do not treat him or her with justice. Thank you for having listened attentively.

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January 30th, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. It gives me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the many seniors in Victoria whom I met last December and this January. I met seniors who advocate on behalf of other seniors, like those in the Greater Victoria Seniors organization or the seniors at the James Bay New Horizons Society. These seniors are worried about their pensions and their ability to cope with inflation.

Seniors make up 18% of greater Victoria's population. There are approximately 55,500 seniors and of that number approximately 5,600, largely women, are living in poverty. It is disgraceful that our seniors in Canada and in Victoria have to live month to month. That should not happen in Canada.

This bill is largely a housekeeping bill to modernize the administration of benefits, with several clauses on interest amounts owing to Her Majesty. It is a lost opportunity to make substantive changes in the lives of seniors. It was an excellent opportunity to fix some of the problems facing seniors. I would like to speak to a few of the issues that were raised with me.

Speaking about the bill's provisions on the interest on amounts owing to Her Majesty, there is nothing in this bill about the interest on amounts owing to pensioners from miscalculations on old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and CPP between July 2001 and March 2006, when it was fixed, as my colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, pointed out to the minister. For that, it seems, we are going to have to wait and to continue to badger the Conservative government to get action for redress.

There are over four million seniors who rely on OAS, GIS and CPP for their incomes. While past changes and some increases in payments have helped alleviate some of the most dire poverty faced by many Canadian seniors, there are still too many falling between the cracks of our support systems in Canada. In fact, 165,000 seniors have no income other than OAS and GIS benefits.

I also want to raise the issue of the income disparity between men and women that my colleague has just referred to. The income disparity throughout their lifetimes is of course reflected in women's retirement income. Women's lesser wages and varying degrees of participation in the labour market affect their contributions and thus payments from CPP.

As an example, I would like to stress that data demonstrating gender differences in coverage show that the average monthly retirement pension paid to pensioners aged 65 to 69 was $533 for men and only $299 for women in that year. Nothing in this bill addresses this issue. There have been many reports providing some solutions to this problem, as has been pointed out by many speakers before me.

There is nothing in this bill, either, to address the under-subscription of OAS and GIS. It is necessary, still, to apply for these benefits. Many seniors who are either not able to apply or not well enough informed lose this important source of income. This is not insignificant. The sums in question are considerable. The 50,000 seniors who were eligible for OAS but did not apply in 2004, for example, sustained a total income loss of $250 million per year. It is often women who fail to apply for these benefits.

Last year, Parliament adopted the seniors charter. If we want to do more than pay lip service to the rights enshrined in the seniors charter, we must begin to explore all possible means of creating better income security and well-being for those who have worked hard all their lives.

Recognizing some of the problems faced by seniors in B.C. and their inability to advocate on their own behalf, 15 seniors' organizations formed the Seniors' Advocacy Steering Committee in British Columbia. Echoing the seniors charter, they passed a motion asking for the establishment of a seniors' advocacy group. We ask the Conservative government to support the motion and to begin by creating a seniors advocate, as already approved by Parliament. This simply complies with the will of Parliament.

There is a demonstrated need for public education and awareness initiatives on the rights of seniors, as we have already pointed out. There is a need for an ombudsman for seniors with respect to all government services and programs.

We know, for example, that there is a need to better coordinate provincial and federal programs. I would like to give a specific example from Victoria. Some of my constituents report that they are regularly advised by the provincial government to apply for federal CPP disability instead of the provincial disability program. However, people on CPP disability have been refused access to at least two programs that are available to those on provincial disability, for example, the homeowner grant that helps to pay a portion of property taxes and the monthly bus program.

This illustrates that an ombudsman or a seniors advocate could help to bridge those gaps. Seniors should not be denied these services just because they are on federal or provincial disability. It is cases like these, as I have said, that demonstrate the need for a seniors advocate.

We must put words to action. We recognize older Canadians as creative, active and valued members of society. We know what contributions they make in each of our communities to social cohesion, family support, mentorship and community volunteering. We have enshrined the right to income security for every senior living in Canada. I believe that it is time to pass to action through amendments at the committee level. I hope the committee will review some of the problems that have been raised, take them seriously and review, for example, the existing process for receipt of income support.

It is also time to act on a national home care program. I know from speaking to some seniors in my community that they want to live as independently as possible for as long as possible. The absence or the cost of home care, which is prohibitive for many people, force them into higher cost facilities or into hospital.

It is time for the government not just to pass simple administrative housekeeping bills, but to really give follow-up with serious action and to redress and correct the reality that many seniors in Canada are living in poverty and isolation. That should not happen. Their contribution calls for more fairness for all.

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January 30th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, before the House adjourned yesterday I said that New Democrats would support Bill C-36 going to committee but that we strongly felt that a number of issues in the bill needed to be addressed.

Many seniors in my riding are facing dire circumstances and, in terms of livability and affordability, this would have been an opportunity to look at some other measures within the bill. It was a chance to actually fix some of the problems that are occurring with CPP and OAS.

I also want to talk about housing. I have heard some heartbreaking stories from seniors in Lake Cowichan in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan who have told me that when it comes time for a couple to go into assisted living or long term care the couple is often separated. One member of the couple needs to move to Duncan where the person can get the care that he or she needs. We now have a senior travelling from Lake Cowichan to Duncan on a daily basis to look after his or her loved one. That is just one of the many issues facing our seniors and we need to look at where we are investing our energy.

A group of women in British Columbia called Women Elders in Action, WE*ACT, has put together a very good document about pensions in Canada, “Policy Reform Because Women Matter”. One of the things it talks about is that a quarter of a million seniors are living under the low income cut-off. Many may ask what low income cut-off means.

The low income cut-off is the most consistently used measure of poverty in Canada. Several years ago Statistics Canada found that average Canadian families were spending about 50% of their total income on food, shelter and clothing. It arbitrarily estimated that families spending 70% or more of their income, 20 percentage points more than the average on the basic necessities, would be in dire circumstances.

Let us think about the fact that 70% of our income would go to what most of us would consider the basic necessities. We have a significant number of women in Canada who are living under the low income cut-off. In Canada I would suggest that it is probably something that most of us would find unacceptable.

Canadian men and women work hard all their lives and when they reach the age of 60 or 65 they fully expect to retire with some dignity and to have access to a pension that ensures their quality of life, which means that they do not have to struggle to have their basic needs met, like food, security and shelter.

According to WE*ACT, from 1990 to 2000 about 65% of people receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement were women compared to 35% of men who tend to rely more heavily on occupational pension plans and RRSPs for income.

I need to re-emphasize that figure of 65%. We have a significant number of women in this country who, once they reach the age of 65, are living in desperate poverty. Many of these women have spent much of their working life in low wage jobs or in non-standard employment which is a lovely word to describe the fact that women are often in part time, seasonal or contract employment. This means that they have never had the opportunity to contribute to a private pension plan and therefore are totally reliant on Canada pension, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. As well, many of these women have had employment gaps and do not have the full years of entitlement.

Some drop-out provisions have been made but many of these women have also been looking after aging parents or have had the primary responsibility for child-rearing. The fact that they have been in non-standard employment, low wage employment or part time employment significantly affects the quality of their retirement years. In addition, women traditionally outlive their spouses so they often end up single and relying again on substantially reduced pension plans.

Why would this matter? I acknowledge the fact that many men who retire are also poor but a substantial amount of research talks about where women go so does the rest of the community. In the WE*ACT report, according to Esping-Andersen there is a strong case for a woman-friendly social contract because improving the welfare of women means improving the collective welfare of our society.

With this opportunity to look at CPP and OAS, it would seem critical that we actually look at the people who are living in these dire circumstances in our society.

This report from 2004 made about 23 recommendations and a number of these recommendations were never acted upon. The report included a recommendation for reforming the public pension system to ensure people had adequate living conditions. Some of the recommendations talked about private occupational pensions, some taxation considerations and the need for indexing, and then some overall recommendations around policy changes to support these other changes.

A number of things are really important, and I will not read the full details, but they talk about providing education on all aspects of pensions that is accessible and understandable to women of all ages. They talk about providing problem solving counsellors for people who have questions or concerns and a 1-800 number that is easily accessible and, I might add, staffed because we know Canadians are struggling to access the 1-800 numbers provided by the government services. People often have lengthy delays in accessing information. They also talk about providing seniors with a list of government programs for which they might qualify upon making application to receive the pension and ensuring they are informed of all future changes to pension policy in Canada, including analysis of the differential impact on men and women.

We also need to look at affordable child care, adequately paid maternity leave, parental leave and so on, but we also need to look at pay equity so that by the time women reach the age of receiving CPP and old age security they have been in jobs that recognize the value of women's work. It would be timely to revisit the important pay equity report that came out a couple of years ago but which has never been implemented.

Although New Democrats will be supporting this going to committee, we see that there needs to be some substantial changes to this legislation to ensure that fairness and affordability are there for all Canadians when they retire.

The House resumed from January 29 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.

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January 29th, 2007 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Victoria.

Before I get into some specifics around Bill C-36, much has been talked about in terms of the Canada pension plan and how its investment in the stock market has been such a good thing. Yet when members raise issues around health care, how do they address the fact that the Canada pension plan has money invested in tobacco companies? We know there are links between various kinds of cancers and the impact they have on our health care system. On one hand, we are putting money into CPP. On the other hand, we are paying it in health care costs. One would wonder about the wisdom of that kind of situation.

With regard to Bill C-36, the New Democratic Party will support having this bill go to second reading, but we have some concerns about the things that were omitted from the legislation. We hear a lot from seniors in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. My riding happens to be a destination of choice for people to retire. Although rising numbers of seniors are moving to the riding, we also have rising housing costs, reduced access to rental accommodation, increased concerns about health care in terms of access, long wait lists and lack of access to things like resident home support and to long term care beds.

Many issues are facing seniors. We also hear from them about things like transportation, for example, and that is certainly an environmental issue. It is also very much an issue for seniors. They want the ability to maintain their independence, yet in many of our communities there is lack of access to adequate public transportation, which really limits their ability to maintain that independence.

We also have heard from seniors about livability and affordability in their communities, and that leads me directly to income.

I see that my time is up for the day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.