Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-31. This is a controversial subject that has certainly prompted the government to spin itself into action when it became public information that Clifford Olson was receiving OAS and GIS benefits. However, no mention has been made at all about how, why and when these benefits were originally made available to federal inmates. I for one have been trying to find out just how that came about. My information is that the benefits were given to federal inmates under a Conservative government in 1979, the government of Joe Clark.
I would like somebody on the government side to stand and tell me why the Conservative government proceeded to give federal inmates OAS and GIS benefits back in 1979. Perhaps there is some Hansard of the day that we could refer to. Perhaps there was a directive. Perhaps it was done as a result of a court decision upon which the government had to act. However, certainly in the fullness of debate that we would expect in this House over a bill, or any bill for that matter, that information should be made available.
In dealing with the actual provisions of Bill C-31 and other related measures, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, in her presentation, pointed out that the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster did introduce into this House Motion No. 507.
I want to read Motion No. 507 for the members. It reads:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should prohibit the payment of Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement payments to individuals serving life sentences for multiple murders, except where the individual is released from prison, and allocate the proceeds to a Victims Compensation Program administered by the provinces.
That particular motion, which was introduced by one of our NDP members, is currently before the House and I am certain that it will be debated in due course.
However, in terms of the provisions of the bill, as we know from the debate this afternoon, the bill would suspend payment of the OAS and the guaranteed income supplement to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving time in a federal correctional facility, and that, as we know, would be a sentence of two years or more. The bill would also suspend payment of the spousal or survivor allowance to eligible individuals between 60 and 64 while that individual is serving time in a federal facility.
It also maintains the OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who are incarcerated and provides to receive these payments at the higher single rate based under individual not combined spousal program.
We also know that the CPP provisions would stay in place. They would not be affected by this bill.
Also, the bill would maintain spousal allowance benefits to the spouses of incarcerated individuals.
It would allow the provinces to opt in by entering into agreements with the federal government to suspend OAS and GIS and spousal allowance benefits on the above terms to all individuals incarcerated for a sentence that exceeds 90 days in a provincial facility.
The member who just spoke showed some concern about how this would work vis-à-vis the provinces. He was fairly clear that the federal component would not be a problem but when we were dealing with the provinces he has some concerns.
I believe all these issues can be dealt with when this bill goes to committee. We are dealing with second reading here. We are dealing with the principle of the bill. However, as the members know, when we get into the committee structure, many more aspects to this bill will be dealt with and amendments will be made at that time.
Notwithstanding the above, the benefit payments would still be paid during the first month of incarceration. The benefit payments would resume the month that an individual was released on earned remission, parole, statutory release or warrant expiry.
In terms of some of the positive aspects of the bill, and I think we have heard some comments this afternoon about that, there is a certain logic to suspending payments designed to provide for the basic necessities of life in cases where the taxpayer is already funding the basic needs of necessities of life. Suspending pensions for prisoners meets a test for a lot of Canadians. We have heard from Canadians on this issue in large numbers.
We know that $2 million would be saved immediately under the program and up to, I believe, $10 million a year if all of the provinces and territories were to opt in. We also know that the bill would mitigate to an extent the financial impact on the spouses because it would allow spouses to receive the OAS and GIS payments at the single rate based on their individual rather than their combined spousal income.
I want to retreat to the motion that was tabled by the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster, Motion No. 507, where he specifically deals with the issue and very narrowly focuses the resolution on the issue of payments to individuals serving life sentences for multiple murders, of which I understand there are approximately 19 people in that category at the current time. Except where the individual is released from prison, it allocates the proceeds to a victims compensation program administered by the provinces. We would not only have the benefit of stopping payments to serial murderers but we would have the added benefit of taking the money and presenting it to the victims.
If we are a Parliament that believes in help for victims, it seems to me that the member has thought of a proper approach to this problem by earmarking the OAS and GIS amounts to a victims compensation program administered by the provinces. To me, that is a much more sensible approach to the problem as opposed to the broader forum that this bill implies.
Having said that, I do not have any problem at all with this bill going to committee. I do not have a problem with it in principle. In the committee, the debate will follow through and get to all of the issues. Hopefully we will consider the suggestion by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster to confine it to multiple murderers, that we take the money and put it in a compensation fund to help victims, which is where it should go, and that perhaps we can make some amendments to the issue.