Bill C-490 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Robert Carrier Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Not active, as of June 4, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment provides for an increase in the amount of supplement to be paid monthly to a pensioner and for the payment of a pension and supplement to a person who ceases to have a spouse or common-law partner by reason of the spouse’s or common-law partner’s death. It removes the requirement to make an application for a supplement and allows the retroactive payment of supplements.
- June 4, 2008 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Employment Insurance Act—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
December 6th, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
The Speaker Geoff Regan
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on November 23, 2016, by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), standing in his name.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for having raised this important matter as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Essex, the hon. member for Cambridge, and the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for their comments.
This bill is intended to provide for the development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program strategy and to amend the Employment Insurance Act. It is the latter portion of the bill that is at issue in the present case.
The purpose of clauses 6 and 7 of the bill is to allow a pregnant woman to claim employment insurance benefits if she has obtained a certificate, completed by a medical doctor, attesting that she is unable to perform the duties of her regular or usual employment or of other suitable employment, because the job functions may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child.
Under the present regime of the Employment Insurance Act, any pregnant woman could have access to pregnancy benefits for a total of 15 weeks starting, at the earliest, eight weeks before her due date. The decision on when to begin receiving benefits is entirely up to the applicant, and the act is silent as to any governing reasons or criteria. The bill would provide access to these benefits starting 15 weeks before the due date if there is a health risk due to the claimant's work environment.
In other words, the claimant, instead of claiming eight weeks of benefits before her baby was born and seven weeks after, could claim the entire 15 weeks prior to the birth of the child.
The member for Kingston and the Islands argued that Bill C-243 does not need a royal recommendation, since the effect of the bill would not result in an increase of the amount of benefits paid or an increase of the benefit period or of the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim, nor would it change the eligibility requirements to make employment insurance benefits accessible to more claimants.
Since the bill would simply shift the existing entitlements, any cost associated with the changes would be merely operational. His central argument was that protecting maternal health is already a function of maternity benefits, and since the bill aims at achieving the same result through existing entitlements, it cannot be considered to be creating a new function.
He went on to indicate that since “applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, [it] is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits”.
The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader argued that the royal recommendation attached to the Employment Insurance Act covers not only the charges envisioned by the act but also the terms and conditions of each benefit. He stated that “altering when a person is eligible to receive a benefit under the Employment Insurance Act, even if the change to the benefit would not increase the overall charge, would constitute an alteration to the terms and conditions”.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 834 states that:
A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered. Without a royal recommendation, a bill that either increases the amount of an appropriation, or extends its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications is inadmissible on the grounds that it infringes on the Crown’s financial initiative.
In the present case, it is clear, as the sponsor of the bill argued, that there is no increase in the overall amount of benefits. The shifting of the time period would have no bearing on the total amount of money disbursed.
However, in these matters, the cost is not the only factor. The question for the Chair is whether or not the changes proposed would significantly alter the objects, purposes, conditions, and qualifications of the benefits such that they would require a royal recommendation.
On May 8, 2008, Speaker Milliken delivered a ruling that can be found at page 5587 of Debates, on Bill C-490, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments). While the bill clearly provided for increases in supplements, it also made changes in the manner in which people applied for benefits and the extent to which qualified persons could claim benefits retroactively. In Speaker Milliken’s view, this:
...would alter the conditions and qualifications that were originally placed on public spending on old age security payments when those benefits were approved by Parliament.
As I have reminded the House on a number of occasions, funds may only be appropriated by Parliament in the manner and, as explicitly stated in Standing Order 79(1), for purposes covered by a royal recommendation.
In this case, Bill C-243 does not impose any new charge on the public treasury but creates a new set of conditions, relating to the safety of their workplace for their pregnancy, under which pregnant women could have access to benefits related to their pregnancy from as early as 15 weeks before the birth of their child. Though the sponsor of the bill argues otherwise, the Chair is not convinced that the current act allows spending under the circumstances, in the manner, and for the purposes he proposes. This being a circumstance not yet envisioned in the Employment Insurance Act, it infringes on the terms and conditions of the initial royal recommendation that accompanied that act and therefore requires now a new royal recommendation. This remains the case, even if the total amount of benefits stays the same.
Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
November 30th, 2010 / 11 a.m.
Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC
Madam Speaker, Bill C-47, a budget implementation act, is at third reading.
The Bloc Québécois spoke out on several occasions against the budget presented by this government. The budget proposed by the Conservatives perpetuates the federal government's encroachment on areas of Quebec jurisdiction. The budget also clearly penalizes the Quebec government. Another source of major dissatisfaction for Quebec is the fact that this budget maintains a tax system that is extremely generous to the banks and oil companies while putting the burden of the deficit on the middle class, workers and seniors.
The Bloc Québécois's budget suggestions have always been consistent with the expectations of Quebeckers and, if the government had implemented them, they would have ensured that Quebec came out of the crisis prosperous, sustainable and green.
The Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, have continued to focus their policies on the needs of Ontario and Alberta to the detriment of Quebec. Despite all the fine Conservative promises of 2006 about a new openness toward Quebec, the Conservative budget does not satisfy the needs of Quebec's economy. Forestry, aerospace, the environment and culture are priorities of Quebeckers that have been completely ignored. What is more, Quebec's top priorities—enhancing employment insurance and the guaranteed income supplement, harmonizing the QST with the GST, and implementing a real plan to help the forestry industry—have not been addressed in the budget.
The government is also confirming its intention to create a Canada-wide securities commission despite opposition from economic players in Quebec and its National Assembly.
It is clear that the Conservative government has many priorities other than Quebec. The automotive industry in Ontario has received $9.7 billion, while the forestry industry, which is so vital to the regions of Quebec, has received only $170 million.
For all intents and purposes, the environment was ignored in the budget. However, the Conservative government has put $1 billion toward developing nuclear power, which benefits Ontario, Alberta and the oil companies. These companies already have generous tax benefits.
What I find the most upsetting in this budget is that it ignores the need to improve employment insurance and the guaranteed income supplement, which is keeping our seniors in poverty. It also ignores the need to deal with the issues of social housing and homelessness.
As for the guaranteed income supplement, an issue that is dear to my heart and concerns many of my constituents, for years now the Bloc Québécois has been calling on the various Liberal and Conservative governments—we had a Liberal government in 2004 when I was first elected—to stop pulling the wool over seniors' eyes. We have asked the government many times to take concrete action in order to help the thousands of seniors throughout Quebec who are lacking the basic resources they need to live in dignity. In 2007, I introduced Bill C-490 to make significant changes in order to allow our seniors to live in dignity.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have gotten into the habit of being misleading and telling half-truths in order to govern according to their ideology while keeping public discontent at bay. Just recently, we saw another shocking example of their bad faith when they distributed documents congratulating themselves on increasing guaranteed income supplement benefits.
Those increases are nothing more than adjustments that have been planned since 2005. In reality, the Conservatives have done absolutely nothing since 2006 to help older people who are struggling financially, and needs remain considerable and urgent.
But let us go back to the legislation before us, Bill C-47, to implement various initiatives presented in the budget on March 4, 2010. The Bloc Québécois voted against the budget because it was unfair to Quebec, but does not object ideologically to all the measures resulting from it. The Bloc Québécois actually supports many of the initiatives presented in the bill, which our party helped to enhance. We especially support the clauses to improve the allocation of child benefits. The government agrees to pay half to each of two parents who have joint custody in order to ease the tax burden on beneficiaries of a registered disability savings plan, a plan that was designed to provide severely disabled children with financial security.
We also support the provisions to reduce the administrative burden on charities and some small businesses and tighten the rules around the TFSA in order to prevent tax avoidance, as well as those that will prevent companies from benefiting from double deductions for stock options.
However, despite our support, we also have many reservations. This bill confirms the Conservative government's intention to spare rich taxpayers at all costs and have the workers and the middle class pay off the deficit. The government will continue to treat stock options like capital gains for ordinary taxpayers. The Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that only half of the income derived from stock options is subject to federal income tax. The Conservative government could show fairness to workers and collect $1 billion in tax by cutting off this gift.
Businesses are not being asked to pay their fair share to increase government revenue, except that they have to make source deductions to ensure that employees with stock options pay their taxes. Furthermore, this bill attests to the Conservative government's inertia with respect to the environment and the fight against greenhouse gases. Only one environmental measure is included: encouraging the production of clean energy.
The government is ignoring the Bloc's urgent calls concerning equalization payments and increased transfers for education and social programs. It is ignoring our recommendations concerning income security for pensioners.
I would like to address some of the measures in this bill that affect entire areas of Quebec society. First, I want to address the measures regarding income tax on charities, as included in part 1.
The government is changing the rules on sums that have to be spent on charitable activities by repealing the rule on charitable spending, changing the rules on capital accumulation, and strengthening the rules against tax avoidance. In Quebec, we can count on the dedication of 16,000 charities registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. The Bloc Québécois believes it is vital that charitable organizations be able to focus on their activities, rather than on constant fundraising. Accordingly, we supported the campaign to eliminate the capital gains tax on donations of securities and private equity holdings to charities.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois is open to the idea of extending the tax credit for charitable donations.
In response to the 2010 budget, the Bloc Québécois deplored the fact that the government did not consider the issue of charity funding. The survival of these organizations is especially important given that the Conservative government has used terrible methods to reduce its deficit, which could lead to reduced public services. The decisions related to health transfers are one example of this.
When it comes to international aid, we cannot help but be concerned by the major withdrawal and the politics of fear imposed on NGOs by this government. This withdrawal is particularly apparent in the case of organizations whose positions are at odds with the government's viewpoints.
In budget 2010, the federal government announced its plans to cap expenditures for development assistance, thereby confirming that it would not make the effort needed to achieve its target of 0.7% of GNP.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the important role of charitable organizations in Quebec society and around the world. They all need predictable, long-term funding in order to fulfill their respective mandates. The federal government must stop extending certain programs on a temporary basis and stop being so secretive about its intentions regarding the funding of organizations. In doing so, the government creates uncertainty among the most vulnerable, our community groups and the charitable organizations that help them.
The Bloc Québécois will also continue to call on the federal government to implement a realistic plan to achieve the UN target of 0.7% of GDP for international assistance as quickly as possible. If the federal government does not increase its budget for development assistance, it will greatly impede the vital work that is being done by charitable organizations in the developing world.
Part 3 of the bill deals with measures pertaining to federal-provincial fiscal arrangements. The purpose of these piecemeal arrangements, made at the behest of the federal government, is to facilitate tax sharing by Canada and Quebec. The Bloc Québécois believes that it is high time to come up with a vigorous mechanism ensuring that Quebec receives all taxes paid in the province. For that reason, we are asking the federal government to initiate talks with the Government of Quebec in order to create a single tax return in Quebec, on the basis of an agreement similar to that for the GST, for all taxes paid by Quebeckers.
Since 1991, the Government of Quebec has collected the goods and services tax for the federal government, which compensates it for this service. The Bloc Québécois believes that Quebec should collect all income tax. Not only would corporations and individuals save considerable sums every year, but the reduced cost of tax collection would lead to recurring savings that, in turn, would lower pressure on public finances. The introduction of a single tax return by the Government of Quebec would save hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing duplication.
Part 7 of the bill, which also deals with federal-provincial fiscal arrangements, particularly addresses total transfers, including equalization. The Quebec government is the loser with this implementation bill, as it was with the 2010 budget, because the Conservatives have maintained their decision to unilaterally cap equalization payments.
Since the equalization envelope is now capped, the total amount of equalization payments will be calculated in line with economic growth, which means that Quebec will lose several billion dollars over the coming years.
There is nothing in this bill about the formula affecting a segment of Hydro-Québec's revenue, either, which deprives the Quebec government of an additional $250 million. Lastly, there is nothing planned with regard to education and social program transfers. The Bloc Québécois is calling for a substantial increase in investments in these programs to return to the 1994-95 indexed level. Such an increase would mean that Quebec would receive $800 million more annually for the funding of its social programs.
The government is flatly refusing Quebec's urgent calls for an increase in federal transfer payments, in particular in education. The growth in health and education transfers will be compromised as of 2014-15 since the Federal Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act does not allow for any further growth in these transfers beyond 2014.
Furthermore, the bill currently before us provides no compensation for the harmonization of Quebec's sales tax. Even though Quebec has been unanimously calling on the government to provide financial compensation of $2.2 billion, this is still being denied. Total compensation of $6.86 billion has been allocated, including $4.3 billion to Ontario, and the rest to British Columbia and three Atlantic provinces.
For days there have been rumours from the office of Quebec's finance minister that Quebec and Ottawa will reach an agreement on this by spring. It is only a glimmer of hope, but if this agreement goes through, more than 20 years of injustice will finally be remedied.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill to implement various initiatives in budget 2010, but the many reservations we have expressed about this budget and its serious shortcomings show that the Conservatives still have not understood the economic and cultural reality of Quebeckers.
The public cannot be fooled so easily, as we saw in yesterday's byelection in Quebec. The Liberal government in Quebec, which for months has been ignoring calls by the public to hold a public inquiry into the ties between the construction industry and political parties, was defeated in a riding that it had held for more than 25 years.
The fact of the matter is that Quebeckers do not identify with this Conservative government. They deplore the fact that their cultural and economic development are being hindered by this government and they are not shy to make that known at election time.
Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
March 9th, 2010 / 12:25 p.m.
Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Chambly—Borduas.
I would like to take this time to share with the House my comments on the budget brought down by the Conservative government.
During the prorogation imposed by the government at the end of 2009, I had the chance to take part in the Bloc Québécois' prebudget consultation tour of the various regions of Quebec with my colleague from Hochelaga, who is also the Bloc finance critic.
Quebeckers were very happy to see us and share their needs and expectations with regard to a budget they dreaded. They often told us that other political parties did not visit their region. The Bloc's closeness to Quebeckers is a key reason why the Bloc has always enjoyed the support of the majority of voters in Quebec.
Whether we are talking about forestry, aerospace, the environment or culture, Quebeckers' priorities, as expressed during our tour, are completely ignored in this budget.
By bringing down such an empty budget, the Conservative government is showing us once again that federalism simply does not benefit Quebec.
Once again, the Conservatives are missing an opportunity to properly address Quebec's economic, social, environmental and financial needs.
They have shown once again that, as far as Canada is concerned, it is as though Quebec does not exist. The Conservative government is continuing to follow the course set by its 2006 economic statement, which established policies geared to the needs of Ontario and Alberta to the detriment of the very pressing needs of Quebec.
Despite all the wonderful Conservative promises in 2006 of a new openness towards Quebec, there is nothing in the new Conservative budget to address the needs of Quebec's economy.
Like the Quebec Forest Industry Council, the Bloc Québécois is calling for loans and loan guarantees, such as those made available by Investissement Québec, an agency of the Quebec government.
Furthermore, a comprehensive policy to support and modernize the forestry industry is needed. For example—as shown so clearly in the budget where the figures are set out side-by-side—the automotive sector, which is concentrated in Ontario, has received $9.7 billion over the past two years whereas the forestry industry, which is so important to Quebec, received only $170 million for the whole country.
Investment in Ontario was 57 times greater. After the government invested so much money to save jobs in Ontario, which was legitimate, forestry workers would have expected that protecting the forestry industry and its jobs would be given consideration in this budget.
In another area, in response to the budget, the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, the FRAPRU, a well-known community organization in Quebec, accused the government of creating a deficit at the expense of the poor. In fact, fighting the deficit will affect the most disadvantaged in society: those living without proper housing, the homeless and individuals and families living in poverty. During our consultation tour, people inevitably talked about the lack of social housing.
In Montreal alone, more than 23,000 households are waiting for affordable housing. In the province of Quebec, there are 35,000 households on the waiting list.
Although construction of social housing for seniors and the disabled is required because it was already in the government's action plan, the current budget does not propose to construct social housing for the poorest families. That would be housing with more than two or three bedrooms, which it makes sense to build for our society.
People from across Quebec also pointed out many flaws in the EI system. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas will surely expand on this later.
In any case, the budget does not propose any measures for unemployed workers, except for an extension of the work sharing program. This is not a new measure, since it was announced in the last budget.
There is no mention of the reforms needed in order to improve accessibility. It must be repeated over and over that less than 50% of workers have access to employment insurance. That is why a major overhaul is so important, although it has yet to be included in a budget.
Although the budget will lift the freeze that had been placed on premium rates, this will not improve the system.
What is most appalling about all of this is the fact that the government plans to pilfer a total of $19 billion from the EI fund between 2011 and 2015. Those figures are written in black and white in the budget. That money will be taken directly from the workers. Instead of helping workers improve their situation, the Conservatives are going to take more money from them.
Now what about our seniors who are living in poverty? The guaranteed income supplement paid to the most disadvantaged is keeping them below the poverty line. In addition, over 40,000 people in Quebec are still not receiving it, because they do not know it exists or because they cannot understand and complete the application form.
On June 4, 2008, Bill C-490, which I had the honour to introduce, passed second reading in the House after being supported by a majority of members, with the exception of the Conservatives. I find that shameful.
The government put an end to the bill when it called an election in September 2008, thereby preventing the bill's passage.
The bill proposed automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement—since the government has access to people's income, and an additional $110 a month just to help them reach the low-income cutoff, which used to be called the poverty line, as well as full retroactivity for seniors who have been shortchanged and realized it when they finally applied. At present, retroactivity is limited to 11 months. The bill proposed full retroactivity, since that money was owed to them.
Now that the worst of this crisis is behind us, we could have expected the government to use this budget to correct the situation by helping people who are relatively poor and allowing our seniors to live in dignity.
I say dignity because that is the word seniors used when they spoke to us during the guaranteed income supplement consultation tour we went on when we introduced the bill. These people are not looking for charity. They just want to live in a dignified way.
Unfortunately, despite all the steps often taken by the Bloc Québécois, our seniors will again have to settle for their government's lack of consideration because there is nothing for them in this budget.
I would now like to reiterate that Quebec is the only province to have harmonized its sales tax and not receive compensation for it. The Atlantic provinces are receiving a $1 billion compensation over four years, Ontario will receive $4.3 billion and British Columbia will receive $1.6 billion.
It is very complicated for Quebec. The government has been saying for a year that it is in talks with Quebec to finalize compensation for harmonizing the tax, which has been applied in that province for 18 years now.
Quebec assessed the cost at $2.2 billion and it said officially that it needed that money in order to prepare its budget in the coming weeks. It is inconceivable that the current budget is not correcting this injustice, which has been dragging on for so many years.
Unless there are major changes, it is clear that the Bloc Québécois will vote against this budget.
Guaranteed Income Supplement
Private Members' Business
March 10th, 2009 / 6 p.m.
Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should as soon as possible introduce a bill providing: a 110 dollar monthly increase in the guaranteed income supplement paid to pensioners; the continuation of the payment, for a period of six months, of the old age security pension and supplement to a person whose spouse or common-law partner has died; automatic registration for people 65 entitled to the guaranteed income supplement; full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors who have been short-changed.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time since the voters of my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot first elected me in 2007 that I have had the privilege to present a motion as a member of Parliament.
The motion I have chosen to sponsor is a good example of my interest in creating bridges between the generations. I am also very pleased to have the cooperation of my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, the Bloc Québécois critic for seniors.
Motion M-300 proposes some more specific amendments to the guaranteed income supplement. It is a reintroduction of Bills C-301 and C-490 introduced during past sessions by the Bloc Québécois. Its intention is to help our needy seniors and demonstrate our desire to improve their situation. This motion is intended as an answer to their wishes.
I cannot help but be delighted by the support of my motion by the hon. member for Laval, the Bloc Québécois critic for the status of women. We are well aware that many women are affected by the current unfairness in the guaranteed income supplement program.
This motion therefore proposes four different items: automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement; a $110 per month increase for recipients of the guaranteed income supplement; full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors who have been short-changed; and a compensatory continuation of benefits to recipients of the guaranteed income supplement when a partner has died.
The tour undertaken by my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois to consult seniors and seniors' organizations in all parts of Quebec cast light on the poverty of seniors. They asked us to pay attention to their needs, because many of them live in real poverty. The rise in the cost of living is more likely to affect seniors as they have to pay more for drugs, essential services and housing.
Do I really need to convince my colleagues that this money will be going to the neediest of our seniors?
Our elders deserve more than the Conservatives want to give them at this time. Tax credits are all very fine, but a person has to pay income tax to be able to benefit from them.
For those most in need, the support measures proposed in my motion are essential, because these people cannot meet their basic needs. This is a form of isolation and social exclusion that can lead to other problems such as bad health, depression and dysfunction. There is no doubt that poverty can quickly strip people of their confidence, dignity and hope.
It is not uncommon to see recipients unable to fully retire, because they need to earn some additional income just to survive.
I am using the term survive, because this is indeed what it is all about.
By being unfair to them, the government is choking our seniors and keeping them in extreme poverty.
Honouring our elders is a fundamental value in our society. We must respect these people, who worked so hard for the well-being of future generations. This is a matter of dignity, social justice, respect and, above all, rights for our elderly. Personally, I believe that this dignity begins first and foremost with financial security.
For years the Bloc Québécois has been criticizing the irregularities in the federal guaranteed income supplement program, which provides supplementary income to low income seniors.
Over the past few years, an extensive operation carried out by the Bloc Québécois has helped track down some 42,000 of these people in Quebec. However, there are still about 135,000 seniors who are being shortchanged, including 40,000 in Quebec alone.
The reason why so many seniors are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement is simply the Liberals' inaction, which is now being imitated by the Conservatives.
The government says that seniors only have to register once to get this supplement. This shows the government's ignorance of the situation and of the needs of our elderly.
The 135,000 people who are not getting this money are precisely those who are not aware of the existence of that program, who do not understand the application form or who cannot fill it out properly.
The government has an obligation to track down all those seniors who were forgotten. It must immediately set up an automatic registration system. It has the means to do so, since the exchange of information with the Canada Revenue Agency is now allowed.
The $110 monthly increase in the guaranteed income supplement is essential and would help our seniors improve their living conditions. Right now, the guaranteed income supplement paid to low-income pensioners does not even allow them to reach the low income cutoff. Increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $110 would help these people to at least have a revenue equivalent to the low income cutoff.
In 2006, the guaranteed income supplement was increased by $18, then by $18 again in 2007 and by $16 in 2008, for a total of $52 over three years. We are definitely not talking about exceptional generosity. Do hon. members really believe that such measures will not trigger a reaction from our seniors?
There is another problem: the Bloc Québécois found 42,000 people in Quebec who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but they will receive only 11 months' retroactivity from the federal government. When a Canadian taxpayer ends up owing money to Revenue Canada after an audit of past tax years, the government does not settle for 11 months' retroactivity; it wants every penny it is due.
I myself handled files for seniors who were being told to pay back overpayments from the department. The department has occasionally used pretty ruthless measures to recover such overpayments. But the government does not settle for 11 months' retroactivity; it collects every penny of the overpayment. That is a striking example of how the government takes advantage of the most vulnerable.
I should add that full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement would cost some $12 billion. We know that the government has recorded surpluses in the neighbourhood of $10 billion over the past few years. It might have been nice for some of that money to go to our seniors, who are becoming both more numerous and poorer.
It is just disgusting to see so much money spent on the military—$17.1 billion for the purchase of helicopters, planes and other equipment—on top of the billions Ottawa has given to “poor” oil companies. The Conservatives should be ashamed of their plan to reduce taxes on oil companies to 15% over the next five years, while reducing the tax rate to 22% for SMEs that have been hit hard by the economic crisis. Thanks to the government, oil companies will get $2 billion worth of tax breaks in 2009. But they do not see this as scandalous.
Why does the government not want to invest a little more in our seniors? Seniors' associations have also asked that guaranteed income supplement co-beneficiaries be allowed to continue collecting benefits for six months after a spouse's death. Currently, surviving spouses receive just one month of benefits after their spouse's death, which is a heavy penalty.
I want to make it clear that this compassionate payout will last for just six months. It is not permanent. The goal is to enable seniors going through a grieving process to create a more stable situation for themselves.
An individual who loses his or her spouse has to think about whether or not they will move or how they will maintain or keep the family home. These questions have to be asked. This compassionate measure shows a bit of humanity in dealing with our seniors. I am also convinced that my colleagues from all parties recognize our responsibility towards those who made us what we are and who expect our appreciation.
When in opposition, the Conservatives supported Bill C-301, which was introduced by the Bloc Québécois before the 2005 election was called. All Conservative members in this House voted for the bill. In order to demonstrate their sincerity, and thus honour the position taken previously, I urge them to support my motion now that they are in government.
The government can count on Quebec, which it has recognized as a nation. Members of the Bloc Québécois have known for a long time that our role is to defend the most disadvantaged. Rest assured that in a sovereign Quebec our seniors would not be penalized. The National Assembly of Quebec has adopted a unanimous motion in support of seniors who do not receive the guaranteed income supplement to which they are entitled. More than ever I will promote an independent Quebec that will respect our seniors. The guaranteed income supplement is intended for the most vulnerable. Our seniors wish to live with dignity. It is a question of social justice, rights and what is due to our seniors.
Our seniors built the Quebec of today and my generation will build the Quebec of tomorrow. These are intergenerational bridges.
Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
November 27th, 2008 / 12:20 p.m.
Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Before doing so, I would like to take this first opportunity to send a warm thank you to the voters of Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for their continued trust. They gave me a very strong mandate with a margin of 15,000 votes. I thank them.
Their trust is an honour. I will proudly represent every single citizen in my riding during this 40th Parliament. I will defend their interests and the consensus of the Quebec nation. Thank you again to all. Congratulations, Madam Speaker, on your appointment.
For several weeks we have been tracking the serious global financial crisis which, sooner or later, will affect the businesses and citizens in our regions. Having seen what is being done elsewhere in the world to counter this global recession, people expect the federal government to play a decisive role in supporting them and getting the economy back on track as soon as possible.
In my opinion, when we talk about this central role, we need to keep in mind that a government is not a business. A government exists to serve and protect the people. It is there to prevent people from suffering needlessly from this widespread financial crisis.
As I listened to the broad statements in the throne speech on November 19, I was expecting that the government would take action on the economy to help people get through these difficult times. I believed it would act in the best interests of the people. But, sadly, people are going to have to be patient and bite the bullet.
My leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, took the words right out of my mouth when he described the throne speech as insensitive. The speech is particularly insensitive because it all but ignores the poorest members of our society. And I am not even talking about how the consensuses of the Quebec nation are simply ignored. This speech is insensitive, all the more so because of the many important issues it fails to address, including seniors. Not only do our seniors continue to be deprived of government pension money that is owed them, but they are left out of the throne speech.
People who spent their whole lives saving for their retirement are worried today when they see their savings threatened by the global financial crisis. What is the government proposing to do to carry out its fundamental duty to protect our seniors? Nothing. Not one word.
The government may turn its back on seniors, but the Bloc Québécois and I will not, because we understand the urgent needs that seniors and their associations shared with us when we toured Quebec during the summer and fall of 2007. We got a very clear message: seniors have become impoverished in the past decade. Even though pensions and the guaranteed income supplement have generally increased in step with the consumer price index, it does not reflect the real circumstances in which pensioners and GIS recipients live.
In fact, the cost of living for seniors tends to be affected more by the cost of drugs, health care services and housing. In order to establish an acceptable quality of life for our seniors and to restore their dignity, the Bloc Québécois developed four important approaches that were included in Bill C-490: increase by $110 per month the amount of the guaranteed income supplement; continue paying the benefits, for a period of six months, to a surviving spouse; automatically enrol people over 65 who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement; and ensure full retroactive payment of the guaranteed income supplement for all those who were shortchanged.
Not only will we continue to defend with equal fervour our seniors' legitimate demands to improve their quality of life, but we are also thinking of those who have been cheated by their pension funds. Clearly, we should raise the age limit from 71 to 73 for converting RRSPs and registered pension plans into taxable annuities and RRIFs.
I said earlier that I was disappointed by the direction taken in the throne speech and total silence regarding protection of the most vulnerable. My colleagues and my constituents are well aware of the great interest I take in all matters of justice, and especially social justice. One thing is clear and I think it was quite deliberate: the major omissions are all social issues.
I note that apart from seniors, the glaring omissions in this throne speech concern women, people with inadequate housing, older workers, the unemployed, the cultural industry, francophones outside Quebec, students and others in the education system who are waiting for $800 million to be reinvested to remedy the fiscal imbalance, and non-profit economic development organizations.
This is certainly not mere coincidence. I am sad to say that I see once again the same groups of people that were ignored by the Conservative government in the last Parliament. It is quite simply disheartening.
I would also add that it is not just the most disadvantaged people who are bearing the cost of the Conservative government's insensitivity. There are consensuses in the Quebec nation that have again been ignored in this throne speech. They alone could provide the subject for a lengthy speech, but I will simply name those I find most urgent.
First, there are the cuts to culture and to economic development organizations. In Quebec, the consensus is that culture is one of the fundamental pillars of our identity and must be protected.
Second, there are the repressive laws to be applied to young offenders. In Quebec, the consensus is that we focus on rehabilitation and that our system is working well, since we have one of the lowest crime rates in North America. Punishment instead of prevention, to reduce crime, is absolutely not acceptable.
Third, there is the creation of a federal securities commission. In Quebec, the consensus is that we already have our own and it is fine that way.
Fourth, there is the fact that the Kyoto protocol is not mentioned. In Quebec, the consensus is that we have chosen the Kyoto protocol route, and not some sort of compromise or inaction.
Finally, there is the rejection of our own affirmation by reducing Quebec's political weight in Parliament and creating new intrusions into areas under Quebec's jurisdiction. In Quebec, the consensus is that we are in the best position to define our needs, and that affirming our identity in our institutions is necessary if we want our culture to be able to survive.
There are many other instances of insensitivity that my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois have discussed at length in their speeches, to demonstrate the point to which the consensuses in Quebec are still being jeopardized by this government.
I will close by saying that I, with all the Bloc members, will not be supporting this throne speech, for all of the reasons I have stated.
Status of Women
Committees of the House
June 18th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.
Nicole Demers Laval, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development by simply saying that if there really was a strategy to decrease poverty in Quebec and Canada, the Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-207 to keep young people in the regions. The Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-269 to give women and youth access to employment insurance. The Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-490 to give seniors the right to an increased and retroactive guaranteed income supplement. And the Conservative government would have voted against Bill C-484 to ensure that women will always have access to legal and free abortion.
Mr. Speaker, as you can see, I do not need two-and-a-half minutes to respond to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development because I think I have summarized the situation.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 4th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.
The House resumed from June 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Statements By Members
June 4th, 2008 / 2:15 p.m.
Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC
Mr. Speaker, today, June 4, members of the House are invited to vote on the bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-490, at second reading. The bill calls on the government to correct the terrible injustice to seniors who have been cheated by the guaranteed income supplement or GIS program, and improve the lives of those most vulnerable.
Introduced in December 2007 by my colleague, the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan, this bill has four components: automatic registration; an increase of $110 a month; full retroactivity for seniors entitled to the GIS; and a six-month compassionate measure for seniors who have lost their spouse.
With this bill, we will really find out if the Conservative members are willing to respond to the appeals of the many seniors' associations that have shown their support.
Since this is Seniors Month, I urge all members to vote unanimously in favour of Bill C-490. It is a matter of justice and dignity for all seniors in Quebec.
Business of the House
June 3rd, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
Prince George—Peace River
Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip
Mr. Speaker, there has been consultations between all the parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following two motions concerning upcoming votes. I move:
That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the deferred recorded divisions on second reading of Bill C-393, on report stage amendments, concurrence and third reading of Bill C-377, and on second reading of Bill C-490, currently scheduled to be held immediately before the time provided for private members' business on June 4, be held instead at 3 p.m. on June 4.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 2nd, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC
Mr. Speaker, in the short time I have left, I would like to set the record straight regarding certain arguments I heard during the two hours of debate on the bill I introduced on December 5, 2007, Bill C-490 concerning the Old Age Security Act and specifically the guaranteed income supplement.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development lavishly congratulated her government for increasing the GIS by $18 a month in 2006 and 2007. I would remind her, once again, that people who receive it are still $110 below the low-income cutoff. That is what is important in this bill.
According to the parliamentary secretary, the increase of $110 for GIS recipients would not go to the seniors who need it most. What a ridiculous argument. It seems that no other response could be found.
How can a government be so insensitive and deliberately force our seniors to continue living in poverty? If she were to meet with seniors, they would tell her just how difficult things are for them and that they do not understand how the government can let them live in such conditions.
With respect to the full retroactivity called for by the bill, the parliamentary secretary referred to the very high cost involved, which could go up to $6 billion. I would like her to provide the details of that estimate, because the Bloc Québécois, which has a much better reputation when it comes to predicting budgetary surpluses, estimates the cost at $3.1 billion.
I think it is shameful that the parliamentary secretary should use such an argument against disadvantaged people who have had their money taken from them. Yet her government recently spent $17 billion on military equipment, plans another $96 billion in military spending and offers hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts to rich oil companies by granting them accelerated capital cost allowance for the oil sands. Even worse, the government had a surplus of $11.6 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008. It therefore could have allocated the money needed to implement this bill, as the Bloc Québécois was calling for.
During the debate on Bill C-301 on full retroactivity, in October 2005, my former colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain alluded to the work the committee had done on the GIS in 2001, when it was said that 270,000 people, including 68,000 Quebeckers, were not receiving the GIS. The government was being criticized for not paying them their due after they registered. On what grounds did the government appropriate that money?
I read with interest the speeches that were made at the time and still apply to the current bill. I could restate the same arguments the hon. Conservative member for Niagara West—Glanbrook did, but I will quote just a few passages. “Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure that eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is, quite simply, an issue of fairness,” he said, and later, “We have a duty to help—not neglect—the seniors who helped build this country.”
I remind the House that all the Conservative members voted in favour of that bill, including the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, as well as the Conservative member for Leeds—Grenville, who has spoken out against the current bill. It should be noted that all political parties voted unanimously in favour the bill at second reading.
I am calling on all hon. members to support the bill before us today. As it did in 2005, this matter concerns us all, regardless the political party we belong to. Any MP who pays attention to the public is well aware of the difficult situation many seniors find themselves in. The government, which provides help and support when the need arises on the international stage, must not neglect its own seniors.
No one can reasonably oppose the principle of this bill. I therefore invite all my colleagues to support it during the vote at second reading. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities will then have the opportunity to further investigate the four themes of the bill and make any necessary refinements.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 2nd, 2008 / 11:40 a.m.
Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is my delight to enter into the debate on Bill C-490, which proposes some amendments to the Old Age Security Act.
I have thought long and hard about income for seniors after they are no longer gainfully employed. One of the questions I have always asked is, should a retiree's income be totally as a result of savings and investments the individual has made over his or her lifetime, or should it be totally paid for by the taxpayers in a current regime and money that is collected by taxation is transferred to the seniors of the day, or should it be some combination thereof?
I am quite convinced, in having studied this over the years, that we need to have a combination. We have to have a regime in which, through tax measures and other government initiatives, people are encouraged to save a certain amount for their own retirement income.
I used to teach math and finance at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, but I also taught exponentials. Those were the wonderful days when we went from slide rules to calculators and we could do these fancy computations. I remember one time challenging my students, who were then in their late teens or early twenties, that they should consider putting money away at that age for their retirement. I gave them a problem to solve. I will shorten the situation here, but at that time, a pack of cigarettes cost about five bucks and I told them to put away the equivalent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day over their lifetime, from age 20, when presumably a person would be starting his or her employed service, to age 65, when the person retired. At that time interest rates were really high, around 18% for mortgages and a little less for savings accounts. I said that properly invested, they could get 10% on the investment.
The students computed this. First, we had the mathematical problem and in a class of 40 students, I heard about 20 different answers after they had computed the formula. So, we first reconciled the number, and the number in the end was $1.3 million. I asked them if they knew what they had computed. I gave them the formula, and then I told them the story of the $5 per day over 45 years. It totalled $1.3 million just for saving the equivalent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day. Many of the students whom I meet and who remember me say, “You never smoked, did you?” I say, “No”. Then they say, “So how are you doing? Where is your $1.3 million?” I say, “I gave it to my wife.”
It is an interesting question, how we should look after the needs of seniors.
It is totally fair to say that under this government the financial position of seniors is much better than it has ever been. As my colleague previously mentioned, over the last 10 or so years, the income of seniors in this country has actually more than doubled. The OAS and the GIS, the Canada pension plan, and of course, the ability to put money away into RRSPs during one's early life and shield it from taxation until it is withdrawn are all wonderful measures that enable people to look after themselves to the degree that they can when they reach retirement age.
Of course, there is also a segment of our population which cannot or do not do this. We live in probably the best country in the whole world for people who either have not had the ability to save for their own future or have just been careless in not doing it. We have in Canada in our wonderful taxation system and our social programs the ability to provide at least a minimal income for people who have not done this.
I remember that my grandfather, who brought his family to this country in 1923, always put away a little. They were a poor family. There were 10 kids in the family. They worked very hard on the farm. Sometimes their crops were poor. They worked with animals and they had huge gardens to feed themselves.
But my grandfather always put a certain amount of money away and I remember my dad saying, talking about his dad, “My dad wasn't all that smart”. I asked, “How's that?” He said, “He always saved his money instead of spending it on meeting the needs of his family. He looked ahead and he planned for saving. Then when he finally did retire, lo and behold, he was ineligible for some of the social programs of the day because he had too much income. If only he would have done, as all the other equally poor neighbours in Saskatchewan did where we grew up, and like all of the other neighbours did and spent the money that the family needed. Some of them even went on vacation with their extra money, they did not save it. When they retired, they had such a low retirement income that they were eligible for the supplement”.
Therefore, I think that is another issue that needs to be addressed. I do not think that we should punish people who plan for their own retirement.
Nevertheless, I must speak a little about Bill C-490. This is a bill which takes certain measures to increase the amount of income that seniors would be eligible for and other measures. I would like to speak briefly about a few of those things.
First, it must be recognized that our government has taken some substantial measures to improve the lot of seniors. Not only have we increased the amount of pension, both the Old Age Security and the GIS that people are eligible for, we have followed the same formula as was done by governments previous to ours and in some cases we have enhanced it.
There is one which is not often mentioned when we talk about people's financial well-being. In this country, everybody, seniors and those still in the workforce alike, have seen huge decreases in the amount of their taxation. They have more disposable income, seniors included, especially because of the fact that the rates of taxation have gone done and the thresholds have gone down.
I think members will remember very well in the fall of 2007 when in our economic statement the finance minister announced that he was increasing the basic amount by $1,000 from $8,600 to $9,600. That means another $1,000 that everybody, including seniors, can earn before they pay any tax at all. If the income of a senior is based simply on some investment income or on some income from pensions and so on, and if that amount is relatively small, percentage wise that is a huge decrease in tax payable and similarly then, a considerable increase in the amount of money that is available at their disposal.
The economic statement went on to predict and to announce, and our government will do this, on January 1, 2009, just a scant seven months away or thereabouts, that the basic exemption is going to go up again to $10,100. When we increase that amount, that is a very significant percentage increase in disposable income for seniors.
Of course, we have not even talked about the reduction of the GST from 7%, to 6%, to 5%, which again, not only seniors but everybody who is earning wages and earning income, has the ability to pay.
Therefore, I think of Bill C-490 and I see that the measures in it are certainly well intentioned, but I believe that we must as a government look at the big picture. The idea of retroactivity for seniors who did not apply is a fine idea, if we want to do that to make people feel good, but as a government we also have to be fiscally responsible and the cost of that is estimated to be close to $6 billion, which could throw a serious wrench into our economic works.
In conclusion, we cannot support this bill because of that and other measures that are included in it. One thing that our government has done with respect to notice is if in the income tax system we recognize that individuals, when they file their income tax, if they are eligible, we send them a notice so they can apply and receive what they are entitled to.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 2nd, 2008 / 11:30 a.m.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, this is a very important debate. I would like to begin by saying that I think this bill to amend the Old Age Security Act, specifically the guaranteed income supplement, deserves not only to be debated here in supreme good faith, but also to be adopted unanimously.
Before diving into the debate, I want to thank two members of the House for their work. First, I would like to thank my colleague from Alfred-Pellan, the sponsor of the bill, which he has spoken for with great enthusiasm and conviction. I would also like to highlight the extraordinary work of our colleague from Repentigny, who is right here with me this morning.
This bill started out with broad consultations conducted by my colleague from Repentigny. As such, this bill is a response to the real difficulties facing seniors and to their desire to escape the situation in which the Canadian government has placed them. The Canadian government is indeed responsible because it is in charge of redistributing revenue to share the wealth and ensuring that social programs help society's most vulnerable.
I also want to thank organizations in my riding that are dedicated to the wellbeing of seniors, such as the seniors' clubs in Richelieu, Otterburn Park, Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville—which has two—Marieville, Maria-Goretti, McMasterville, Saint-Mathias and Beloeil, of course, as well as the Saint-Basile-le-Grand club, La Gerbe Dorée, the Amis de la Vallée-du-Richelieu and the Bassin de Chambly seniors' foundation.
Organizations in my riding all agree. I am using my riding as an example because this applies to all other ridings. Seniors' organizations and the community groups that exist to help them all agree that this injustice cannot go on.
Just this morning, the Trois-Rivières Le Nouvelliste reported that the Trois-Rivières branch of FADOQ, the Quebec seniors' association, is asking all parliamentarians to con, excuse me, consent—though seniors have been, quite literally, conned—to give their unanimous consent to this bill.
This morning, my two colleagues and I went to the Prime Minister's office. I had to leave a little early to rush over here to give this speech—my colleagues have just returned. We went to his office to present 1,000 more postcards from seniors who are calling for the guaranteed income supplement, under the changes made by Bill C-490. These 1,000 postcards are in addition to the 10,000 others sent to the Prime Minister's office by the Bloc in February, by the member for Repentigny, the member for Alfred-Pellan and myself. In total, that makes 11,000 postcards that have been delivered directly to the Prime Minister's office, in addition to all the others sent through the mail.
Furthermore, this morning we gave the Prime Minister a few hundred resolutions from organizations that represent tens of thousands of seniors in Quebec, concerning positions, recommendations and motions adopted by these organizations. Why has this become such a movement? Because there is a serious injustice.
Rarely does a bill mobilize so many and affect so many. This goes beyond just seniors, since when seniors experience difficulties, others around them often suffer as well.
As I was saying, I could not stay the whole time, but my two colleagues were welcomed in English. French, the second official language, is being ignored, just as the rights of seniors are being ignored. My colleagues opposite voted against a Bloc motion to ensure official languages are respected in Quebec for workers under federal jurisdiction. It is not surprising that these workers' rights are being ignored; our rights are being ignored right here in Parliament.
I shared that little aside because it shows the contempt that exists towards rights that have been recognized by laws or regulations. These rights are not respected by this government, and were not by the previous one either.
I will briefly go over the content of the bill, because I would like to have time to talk about the positions of the two main federal parties.
First, this bill seeks to correct a huge injustice: the poorest seniors in our society have been deprived of their basic right to receive an income supplement when they do not have sufficient income to live decently. I am talking about a bare minimum.
Many seniors live in isolation. Sometimes, they have no choice, because they cannot read or they live in remote areas or they lack the means to communicate or they have not been informed of their rights.
In 2002, there were 83,000 such seniors in Quebec and some 200,000 in Canada. In 2003-04, the Bloc was able to reach quite a number of people, but today, 42,000 people in Quebec and 123,000 in Canada are still not receiving the guaranteed income supplement. These are not insignificant numbers. However, the supplement could at least be paid to people who file income tax returns. All the government would have to do is use the returns to have the guaranteed income supplement paid automatically to these people.
By not doing so, the government has been able to liberate—not to use a more forceful and accurate word—$3.3 billion from these people's pockets to date. This is extremely serious. We are talking about the poorest members of our society.
Bill C-490 corrects this injustice, but also adds $110 a month to the guaranteed income supplement. This is not much, but it can at least bring a person's income up to a decent level that allows him or her to live.
The bill also provides that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can receive the deceased person's benefit for six months, while the surviving spouse puts his or her affairs in order.
The bill also provides that the guaranteed income supplement be paid automatically, as I said earlier. I believe this is essential.
One of our main roles here is to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable people in our society. We are seeing members letting party politics get in the way and opposing seniors' rights. When we steal from seniors—this is their money—we are committing a serious crime that affects their pocketbooks. Yet, there seems to be no problem investing in military equipment, oil companies or nuclear power.
I see that I have only one minute left. I would like to conclude with this. In 2005, Bill C-301 was unanimously passed at second reading. We asked that Bill C-301 be fast-tracked in the same way that the bill about veterans' income had been. It was the Liberal Party that stood in the way.
Given that the Liberals are singing the same tune today as they were in 2005, I would ask them to be consistent until the end and vote as we will. I also ask the Conservative party, which is saying that the country will be driven to bankruptcy with—
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 2nd, 2008 / 11:20 a.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in debate on Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), on behalf of the NDP caucus and as the critic for seniors and pensions.
I fully support this bill. In many ways, it is the companion piece to my own bill, Bill C-336. Whereas my bill seeks to enhance the ability of pensioners to access their CPP benefits retroactively, the bill before us today deals specifically with the guaranteed income supplement. Both are fundamentally about fairness for seniors and both are long overdue in their adoption.
The bill before the House today simply seeks to accomplish four things. First, it would no longer require seniors to apply for the guaranteed income supplement. This is an absolutely essential piece. By the government's own admission, there are currently 135,000 seniors in Canada who are eligible for but not receiving the GIS. Why? Because even if they were aware of the program, the application process is unduly complex and many seniors lack the language or literacy skills to avail themselves of the benefit.
What has the government done about that? Instead of pursuing aggressive outreach to inform seniors of their entitlements, the Conservative government has redesignated positions at Service Canada so that experts, whose only role it once was to assist seniors to find their way through the maze of CPP, OAS and GIS, have now been replaced with generalists to deal with everything from boat licences to employment insurance. In-depth counselling for seniors no long exists.
If we are not prepared to help seniors access the benefits to which they are legitimately entitled, then why do we not make it as easy as possible? Bill C-490 would accomplish that goal by taking away the requirement to fill out an application in order to receive the benefit. It makes perfect sense.
The Department of Human Resources and Social Development, which administers the GIS, is allowed to exchange information with the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA collects the tax returns of seniors and therefore the government already has the information that it needs to determine whether a senior is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.
In case anyone still believes that this kind of information exchange may violate a senior's privacy, I would remind members in this House that Canada's Privacy Commissioner told the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that “Section 241 of the Income Tax Act specifically authorizes CCRA to disclose taxpayer information for the purposes of administering the Old Age Security Act”.
The GIS, of course, falls under the Old Age Security Act.
The government suggests that the application process is nonetheless necessary because there may be seniors who do not wish to receive the guaranteed income supplement. I cannot imagine that any such person exists in Canada.
The guaranteed income supplement is a means tested program that goes only to the neediest seniors. It was brought in as a measure to attempt to deal with poverty in the older adult population. Does the government really believe that seniors who have worked hard all their lives, who have played by the rules but are now finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, would turn down such desperately needed financial assistance? It is nonsense.
However, even if such a person did exist, I am sure it would be easier for the government to deal with the handful of applications from those who wished to discontinue their benefits than to deal with the tens of thousands of new applications that currently need to be filed every year. The government's argument here simply does not cut it.
What about those 135,000 Canadians who still are not receiving their benefit? The government says, and I quote from the parliamentary secretary's intervention earlier in this debate:
We make every effort to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled just as soon as possible. ...we work with community and seniors' organizations to reach the vulnerable seniors....
I have the great privilege to work with one of those organizations in my home town of Hamilton. It is the Seniors and Poverty Working Group, which dedicates itself to assisting and empowering the most vulnerable seniors in our community. On shoestring budgets, the dedicated volunteers and professional members of our group do phenomenal work with and on behalf of seniors. In fact, they have taken a leadership role in exploring ways to ensure that seniors are made aware of their financial entitlements.
The group organized a series of public meetings and train the trainer sessions that had a profoundly positive impact both on individual seniors and on community capacity building through the collaborate community based nature of the process. The aim was to ensure that every senior who is entitled to the GIS would be made aware and assisted with their applications.
The Seniors and Poverty Working Group believes that to do anything less is to perpetuate the systemic neglect. However, that is the point, we are talking about systemic neglect. Our system of government has the ability to correct that neglect simply by doing away with the application process.
Community groups should never need to use their scarce resources to backfill gaping holes in the government's implementation of its own program. They simply are not funded or resourced for that. The fact that they are doing it anyway speaks volumes about their profound commitment to the right of every senior to retire with dignity and respect.
When community groups actually find people who were not aware of their entitlements, they cannot even help them to claim their full entitlement. The GIS can only be received retroactively for a period of 11 months. A system designed like that is clearly not a system designed to lift seniors out of poverty. What a disgrace.
If seniors owed the government money, the Canada Revenue Agency sure would not limit itself to 11 months of retroactivity. It would hound seniors until it had every last cent owning to it. So it should be for seniors, and the bill before us today would achieve that laudable goal. It would allow for full retroactivity for unpaid pension amounts.
Right now in Canada, almost one-quarter of a million seniors live in poverty. Even the ones collecting the GIS are still not receiving income that is high enough to lift them up to the poverty line. That is hardly a retirement with dignity and respect.
That is why the third component of Bill C-490 seeks to raise the GIS by $110 per month. The Conservatives say that such an increase, combined with full retroactivity, would simply cost too much. They put the figure in the billions of dollars.
Let me get this straight. The government can find $2 billion to continue subsidizing the big banks and polluters but it cannot find the money for the neediest seniors in our country? This is not about a program costing too much. This is all about a government that cares more about its wealthy friends than it cares about the people who built our country.
Conservative MPs should be ashamed of themselves. If they got their heads out of the tar sands long enough to actually notice what is happening in communities across our country, they would realize that by denying seniors an adequate standard of living, they are also denying them hope.
Let me quote, as others have done, from the National Council of Welfare, which stated:
poverty is not just a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion. When people cannot meet their basic needs, they cannot afford even simple activities, such as inviting family or friends to dinner occasionally or buying gifts for a child or grandchild. Poverty leads to isolation and social exclusion, which in turn lead to other problems, such as poor health, depression and dysfunction. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope.
What message are we sending to seniors when we are refusing to lift them up to the poverty line? This is not good public policy. It is not even good fiscal management. It is simply meanspirited. The government's objection to the final part of Bill C-490 makes that a abundantly clear. It proposes that a surviving spouse be entitled to receive his or her deceased spouse's pension payment for six months. It hardly seems unreasonable to allow people time to mourn their loved ones.
Many will have to make decisions about whether they can continue to live in their homes and keep up their bills. To give them a little time for those decisions after the devastating loss of a spouse is simply the compassionate thing to do. The six month extension of the deceased spouse's GIS simply shows a bit of humanity to seniors.
However, the government is not often accused of being compassionate. Instead of accepting the proposals of Bill C-490 and taking pride in having done right by seniors, its approach to dealing with the GIS is telling seniors to get a job.
In their last budget, the Conservatives announced that seniors could now work and earn up to $3,500 before their GIS would be clawed back. Nothing defines the differences between the Conservatives and the NDP more clearly. The Conservatives want seniors to retire in the uniform of a Wal-Mart greeter. New Democrats want seniors to retire in dignity and respect.
I cannot wait for the votes to be counted on this bill. For every member of the House, the question will be, “Which side are you on?” I know NDP members will be voting in favour of the bill but this is a private member's bill where all of us can cast our votes free of party discipline. Conservative MPs will be able to vote their conscience. I cannot wait to see which side they are really on.
Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business
June 2nd, 2008 / 11:10 a.m.
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate and discussion on Bill C-490.
Bill C-490 provides for an increase in the amount of supplement to be paid monthly to a pensioner and for the payment of a pension and supplement to a person who ceases to have a spouse or common law partner by reason of the spouse's or common law partner's death. It removes a requirement to make an application for a supplement and allows for the retroactive payment of supplements.
I tend to support the idea of removing the requirement to make an application or to at least have some less bureaucratic way of ensuring that seniors are getting the benefits to which they are entitled. Some seniors get distressed in these cases or may not be fully conversant with the law. I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but we need to provide all the support and assistance we can to seniors to make sure they receive the pension benefits to which they are entitled.
Perhaps a process could be put in place to facilitate that, but I have a large problem with seniors who have not taken advantage of their benefits because they did not know they had to fill out an application. I see some of those seniors in my office from time to time.
I am not quite sure about the retroactivity provisions that are called for by the bill. That could be a bit difficult, but nonetheless I want to congratulate the member for opening up this discussion, because Canada's seniors have made an enormous contribution to the social, cultural and economic fabric of Canada.
As a result of their efforts, Canada is considered one of the best countries in the world in which to live. Our generation is receiving the benefit of their efforts and generations beyond us will benefit in the future.
In spite of this contribution, many low income and middle income seniors in Canada living on fixed incomes are financially stressed. Old age security payments and the guaranteed income supplement have not kept pace with the living costs seniors are facing today, notwithstanding regular inflation adjustments and increases that our Liberal government put in place through the GIS and, in fairness, that the Conservative government has put in place as well.
I have heard the arguments from the other side, and I think research would tend to show that on balance seniors in Canada do quite well, but it is equivalent to the summation that if we have our heads in the fridge and our feet in the fire, our average temperature is fine.
We still have some low income seniors who are struggling. Certainly in my riding, which we could characterize as a blue collar riding and where the mean family income is below the national average, many seniors who come to me, especially those on fixed incomes, especially women and especially widows, say that they are really having difficulty keeping pace with the costs they are facing.
This is a problem. It caused to me do some research into the question of whether it would be feasible to set up a cost of living index that was particularly unique to the basket of goods and services with which seniors in Canada are faced. I did some independent research and there also is some research already out there.
For example, a 2002 McMaster University study in the “Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Report”, showed that in explaining the changes in expenditure patterns after the age of 65, most of the major differences that are observed among age groups are a consequence of declines in income after retirement.
At the national level, the study found that while the all-items CPI did generally track closely to the inflation experienced by seniors, there were some notable variances in food and shelter expenses. These are the two items that are frequently brought up to me by seniors, who say they are spending far too great a percentage of income on food and shelter.
The rule of thumb with respect to shelter is that no more than 30% of a person's income should go toward it. Many seniors in my riding, in fact constituents of all ages, are spending 40% to 50% of their income on shelter.
According to the Department of Social Development, the last evaluation of old age security was completed in 1992. As reported by the Auditor General of Canada, the 1992 evaluation report concluded that, in terms of adequacy and earnings replacement, the program was “generally” fulfilling its role within the retirement income system.
However, research conducted by myself concluded that the old age security has consistently lagged behind wages during the period from 1991 to 2003.
The 2004 report of the Prime Minister's task force on active living and dignity for seniors, chaired by my colleague and soon to be member of Parliament again, Tony Ianno, states that:
Generally speaking, Canada has seen a trend where growth in wages has exceeded growth in prices.
Old age security recipients' benefits fall behind the rate of growth seen by the working age population.
A Library of Parliament research report prepared in February 2006, at my request, noted that no effort has been made to establish a consumer price index targeting seniors. Further, independent comparative analyses that I have completed have concluded that cost pressures on seniors have risen at a much higher rate than current old age security inflation adjustments.
While I laud the member for putting forward this private member's bill, it would appear that it probably will not have the support of the government, primarily for reasons of cost, which is not the right criteria necessarily, unless it would bankrupt the government and put the old age security into a non-sustainable position.
Creating a cost of living index specific to seniors would not be that difficult to implement. It would weigh the cost of products and services to which seniors are exposed and it would be updated annually. It would be that cost of living index that would be used to increase the old age security and the GIS annually, rather than this generalized cost of living index, which represents the population as a whole, the basket of goods and services to which Canadians generally are exposed, but does not really reflect the basket of goods and services that our seniors are faced with, seniors who built this country and deserve our respect and our support.
I recall meeting a senior widow in my riding and her family who are the salt of the earth. Her husband had worked in construction for 50 years and, regrettably, passed on. She lives in their small bungalow and raised a family of three. They are all doing well and contributing to society. She was struggling severely. What a tragedy for that woman, who lost her a husband and raised a family, all of whom had contributed and are contributing so much to Canada, was being pressured to move from her small, modest home to something not really appropriate.
While the bill before us is a step in the right direction, and I appreciate its intent, we could do something more significant and more achievable for seniors by creating a cost of living index that would reflect the cost of the goods and services that they face. The index would then be used to increase the old age security and the GIS annually, instead of this generalized cost of living index.