moved that Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I have the honour to open the debate today on an issue that is particularly important to a growing segment of our society: seniors. Although they are often silent, seniors have needs we must address with flexible, progressive measures.
Today, I present a solution to the problem of public transit, which is an important factor in promoting seniors' independence and overcoming the isolation our senior friends and relatives too often experience.
The bill I introduced would make public transit free for seniors, anywhere in Canada, during off-peak hours.
There are many reasons for this bill, which seeks to encourage seniors to lead active social lives, to make it easier for them to get around and to improve access to public transit.
I would like to start by describing some of the social characteristics of Canada's seniors.
Seniors are generally defined as people 65 and over. However, three different groups can be identified within this segment of the population: people 65 to 74, those 75 to 84 and those over 85. Each of these subsegments has different needs that call for specific, progressive solutions.
There are also many prejudices again about seniors, regardless of their age. The concept of an aging population has been the subject of a number of consultations and studies.
On the Hill, a special Senate committee on aging was formed. The committee tabled its report entitled, “Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity”, in April 2009.
Other governments have also looked at the aging population, and the Conseil des aînés du Québec released its own report in March 2010. Although the report has to do with ageism, I feel it is relevant to the issue of aging. In addition, although the report covers Quebec, the population and its characteristics are representative of Canada as a whole.
Returning to ageism, age is often the source of prejudice and beliefs that lead to discrimination. These perceptions affect seniors primarily, regardless of their exact age group. Ageism is also evident in various sectors such as employment, health and transportation. Seniors are seen as a social and financial burden.
I would like to help change our society's perception of seniors. But how can we change that perception when we are bombarded with images that equate happiness with youth and beauty?
I am one of those people who believes in accomplishing big things by taking small steps. Bill C-449 would give seniors greater mobility and perhaps change perceptions by showing that seniors are active and independent.
Let us look at the current situation of seniors, as described by Statistics Canada in its 2006 report entitled “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. I would just like to mention the Conservative government's decision to abolish the long form census. The Liberal Party put forward a motion in the House that was adopted, and we will do everything we can to restore the census so that vital economic and demographic data continue to be available.
We can refer to statistics from the 2006 census that give an accurate, reliable portrait of Canadian society. The report says:
The aging of the population will accelerate over the next three decades, particularly as individuals from the Baby Boom years of 1946 to 1965 begin turning age 65. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036....
If this trend continues, here are Statistics Canada's projections:
...the number of 65 to 74 years olds is projected to increase to 4.8 million by 2031, accounting for 12.4% of the total population at that time.
...by 2021 the absolute number of 75 to 84 year olds is expected to reach 2 million.
Between 2005 and 2021, the absolute number of people aged 85 or older is projected to increase to 800,000, although their share of the total population will remain around 2%.
Most of Canada's population—approximately 62%—resides in Ontario and Quebec. About seven of every ten seniors in Canada lived in an urban centre with at least 50,000 residents. Seniors have long been less likely than people in younger age groups to change residences. Thus, we can conclude that most Canadian seniors are sedentary and live in urban areas of central Canada.
A task force that reports to the Quebec family minister described the home environment of seniors as follows:
Most seniors, i.e., nearly 88%, live in a natural environment and this is where they wish to remain as long as possible. They must therefore be able to find services such as places of worship, supermarkets, banks, health services, etc., near their home.
Women accounted for 52% of persons aged 65 to 69, a figure that jumps to 75% for persons aged 90 or older. I would like to focus for a moment on this segment of the population.
According to Statistics Canada, the guaranteed income supplement and the survivor allowance accounted for the bulk of senior women's income in 2003 at 31.7%. Although the number of low-income seniors has declined slightly, it is still high for senior women living alone, with the highest figures in British Columbia and Quebec.
In 2007, FADOQ, Mouvement des Aînés du Québec, submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on Status of Women regarding the economic security of senior women. The organization expressed great concern about the financial insecurity of women. Too often widows are heavily burdened financially, and the organization made a series of recommendations to rectify this situation.
It is true that women take care of elderly loved ones and are penalized for this choice, which benefits all of society.
FADOQ called on the government to recognize the role of natural caregivers, which the Liberal Party of Canada did.
The Liberal Party supports Canadian families. It will help natural caregivers cover the cost of caring for sick or elderly family members in their homes.
I will now address the issue of transportation for seniors. In about 15 years, one in five Canadians will be over the age of 65. What impact will the needs of this population have on transportation services in Canada? How can we provide transportation for our seniors when they are no longer able to drive safely? How can we provide affordable transportation for low-income seniors, and particularly senior women? How can we provide accessible transportation for seniors to essential services such as health care and social services? How can we provide transportation that will enable them to continue socializing, to maintain their independence and to avoid becoming isolated?
We have to ask those questions and find solutions for Canadians. It is a complex problem and will require more than one solution.
Today, I would like to present a solution that I hope the House will adopt.
Mobility is critical to seniors' independence, and for decades the automobile has been the preferred mode of transportation for most Canadians. However, when it comes time to take away a senior's driver's licence or to convince them to voluntarily stop driving their vehicles, they go through a period of mourning. Their independence has been taken away.
“Seniors’ access to transportation” is a Statistics Canada report. The data and analysis give an excellent overview of the issue. Here are some excerpts.
The great majority of adults and seniors have access to private or public transport
In 2005, 98% of men aged 65 to 74 and 95% of women the same age had access either to a vehicle owned by someone in their household or to public transit. These percentages declined among people in older age groups. Nevertheless, even among seniors aged 85 and over, 86% had access either to a household vehicle or to mass transit.
However, that percentage drops once seniors reach the age of 85; only 86% had access to a household vehicle or to mass transit. Only 80% of seniors had access to a household vehicle, compared with 91% of 55- to 74-year-olds.
More specifically, 71% of people aged 65 and over had access to a household vehicle and had a driver's licence. Of that percentage, 86% were men and only 58% were women. And that gap grew with age: among those 85 and older, 66% of men had that same access and only 33% of women did.
The author asked the following question:
Is better access to transport linked to a more active life?
...a senior who owns a car and a driver’s licence, or who has the financial means to use a taxi to run his errands, can travel about much more easily than an older person who must rely on her son or daughter to take her shopping.
In this case, mobility refers to a person's ability to get up and go where they want when they want.
A statistical model showed that if a person has limited access to transportation, the probability that they would stay at home was 46%. The probability that those with a valid licence and a vehicle would stay home was 19%.
Women and people over the age of 85 living in rural areas are particularly likely to have limited outings. They are less mobile.
In the same study, the author reveals that people who live in rural areas and do not have access to a vehicle or to public transit leave their homes less frequently and do less volunteering. The study states:
According to some authors, this situation would suggest that older persons living in rural areas without a car are particularly at risk for social isolation, as well as difficulty in accessing community and medical services.
We therefore need to find a solution to the problem of transportation in rural areas and I would like to propose the beginnings of a solution. I read that in an area near the Outaouais region, in the Lièvre valley, seniors are mobilizing to organize their activities such as going to the doctor or simply getting groceries. However—and this is the recurring problem—they still need transportation. The lack of transportation represents a clear obstacle to seniors' activities, whether those activities are for survival, related to health, or simply social and recreational.
The task force established by the Quebec Minister of Families, which I previously mentioned, made this recommendation regarding transportation in the context of a policy on aging:
For those who live outside the areas well served by public transit systems, the possibility of travelling is essential to participate in the life of the community. The participants of several semi-urban regions mentioned difficulties with this. The transportation question must also be examined in the cities served by public transit to make sure that they meet all needs adequately.
With regard to transportation, seniors are a special case and should be treated as such. Such positive discrimination is not only justified, it is necessary.
I would add that we are already starting to see free services. Here in Ottawa, the nation's capital, public transit is free every Wednesday. What is more, seniors generally use public transit during off-peak hours and therefore this would not disrupt the existing service very much.
Public transit systems are already in place in most urban centres. Nevertheless, rural areas, as we have already seen, have fewer services or none at all. Special attention should be paid in order to provide free transit service adapted to rural needs. Seniors living in rural areas or outside major urban centres have the same needs as those living in urban areas that already have public transit.
In closing, allow me to emphasize two points. First, although transit comes under provincial jurisdiction, the need for resources should lead the various governments and territories to work together in order to meet the transit needs of Canadian seniors.
Second, the bill could be accompanied by a royal recommendation. In order to facilitate passage of Bill C-449, I will propose the following amendment at committee stage: to substitute, at lines 1 to 4 on page 2, the following:
The Minister of Finance shall study the ways in which a trust could be established to facilitate free local public transit for seniors, anywhere in Canada
In closing, I invite my colleagues to support Bill C-449 and refer it to committee. Ensuring free public transit for seniors anywhere in Canada during off-peak hours, addresses the specific needs of seniors and gives them—