Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act

An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under this Act while maintaining entitlement to benefits for, and avoiding a reduction in the amounts payable to, their spouse or common-law partner under this Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 18th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.
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Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I believe that you would find the unanimous consent of the House for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practices of the House, Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, be deemed read a third time and passed.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31, Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act. With this legislation, the Government of Canada intends to amend the Old Age Security Act to suspend old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits for incarcerated criminals.

Let me remind the House of what the bill sets out to do. Once passed, it will suspend old age security benefits to prisoners in federal penitentiaries who are serving sentences of two years or longer. Then in provinces that have agreed to help us implement the bill, an information sharing agreement will be signed, which will allow us to suspend old age security benefits for individuals sentenced to a term of 90 days imprisonment or more in that province or territory.

We want to see these changes implemented as soon as possible and the support of the provinces and territories will be vital to getting that done. It is important to note that this government has taken steps to minimize the impact of innocent spouses and common-law partners. The proposed bill ensures that low income spouses or partners of the prisoners will not lose their own entitlements to the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance. The guaranteed income supplement and allowance benefits to spouses or partners of prisoners will be adjusted so they are based on the income of the spouses or partners who are not incarcerated rather than the combined income of the couple.

The bill would bring the Old Age Security Act in line with other federal and provincial government programs and would suspend benefits to the incarcerated. Across the country, seven provinces and one territory already suspend social and income assistance to inmates.

There are international precedents as well. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia among others, also suspend the payment of state pensions to prisoners.

The purpose of old age security is to help seniors, especially those living on a fixed income, to meet their basic needs. It is an important program that recognizes that seniors helped build our great country.

Prisoners do not have to worry about these costs. They do not have to worry about things like paying rent or buying groceries. That is because their basic needs are already paid for by taxpayers. Hard-working taxpayers should not be paying twice. Prisoners should not be receiving old age security benefits. Our Conservative government believes that Canadians who work hard, contribute to the system and play by the rules deserve government benefits such as old age security. It is wrong and obviously unfair that prisoners who broke the law continue to receive the same benefits.

The bill is another example of our government's commitment to ensure fairness for hard-working taxpayers and putting victims and taxpayers first, ahead of criminals. The response we have heard from families of victims and victims organizations have proven to me that the bill is truly the right thing to do.

Let me name just a few of the people who support the bill: Sharon Rosenfeldt who is the mother of one Clifford Olson's victims and president of Victims of Violence; Ray King, the father of another victim of Clifford Olson; David Toner, president of Families Against Crime and Trauma; Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu; and Kevin Gaudet, Canadian Taxpayers Federation as well.

Ms. Rosenfeldt and Mr. Gaudet appeared before our committee during our study of the bill. Ms. Rosenfeldt's son was tragically murdered by Clifford Olson. For years she has been a tireless advocate for victims and their families. She urged for the passage of the bill. It is common sense that one cannot benefit twice at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. That is why Canadians are upset and outraged. The bill is important for the principles of fairness.

Mr. Gaudet informed the committee that their petitions in support of the bill received close to 50,000 signatures from Canadians across the country in only six weeks. He spoke about how it was not just victims and stakeholders who wanted the bill passed, but countless everyday Canadians cared so much about the bill that they had taken time out of their busy lives to voice their opinion.

When the minister spoke, she said that she had received more correspondence on this issue than almost any other. I have heard from several of my constituents and I know MPs from all parties in the House have also heard from their constituents. Canadians across the country have told us they do not want these benefits going to prisoners. We understand why they feel so strongly about this issue. Canadians are telling us they want the bill passed and they want it passed soon.

I am pleased to report that after extensive study at committee, the bill was passed, but we still have a way to go. We must complete report stage and third reading of the bill, as we are doing now. Then the hon. senators must study it and pass it before it becomes law.

I urge all parties to not unnecessarily delay the bill. Let us get the bill passed so we can ensure that mass murderers like Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo and Robert Pickton do not receive these benefits while in jail. It is what Canadians want and expect. It is the fair and right thing to do.

I urge the House to get behind the bill to pass it as soon as is possible.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not disagree with the bill and where it is headed. However, I am very concerned with the fact that the victims of crime initiative has seen a 41% cut since 2005. When we add that up to the more than 70% that has been cut from the crime prevention programs, which stop people from becoming victims in the first place, I wonder where some of this revenue would be used. Could the government use some of the revenue it has saved to restore the cuts it has made to important programs that help victims.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there probably is not a government in history that has done as much for victims as we have.

We created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to serve as an independent resource for victims, at $1.5 million per year. We have a victims fund to provide resources for victims of crime in the support of provincial and territorial services and NGOs.

Support for victims is a priority of this government. We have provided funding of $5.25 million over five years for the creation and enhancement of child advocacy centres across Canada to help better serve young victims and victims of crime.

We certainly have done significant things for victims of crime. In this case, the bill addresses not only those who are victims of crime, but those who are associated with victims of crime. It requires immediate passage. It is important to put the interests of victims ahead of the interest of prisoners and the entitlements of prisoners.

I would ask the member and his party to get behind the bill, not drag their feet, but have it passed as soon as possible.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe the saving to the government will be $2 million when the bill passes, but the savings as a result of the provinces signing could be as much as $10 million a year.

Could the member tell us what the situation is with regard to the provinces? Has the government talked to the provinces about this? If so, what is the response it has received from the provinces? Does the government have a commitment from any or all of them to participate in this program and how soon would this roll out?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Firstly, it is not a question necessarily of just the savings of dollars, although that is important. It is the fact that Canadians are outraged with the fact that any money is spent with respect to paying old age security for prisoners when they already have their food and accommodation looked after. The very kind of things for which old age security was intended is already provided for them. Therefore, any amount of money would be too much of a payment.

The minister has certainly been in discussions with the provinces and a number of provinces are on board. I would expect that there would be a good take-up rate on this. We would expect this to go forward as soon as possible. We urge those members, as we are urging the House, to move the bill forward as quickly as possible to the Senate and eventually get it passed.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to support the bill, as it looks like most members are going to support it. No one is foot-dragging or delaying it. However, I have three points.

The parliamentary secretary said that one of the rationales for removing these OAS payments was that they were prisoners who broke the law and should not receive benefits. If that were the rationale, then we would be removing benefits from anyone who broke the law at any time.

We are doing this, and I think the member has already said it, because these individuals in custody are already being supported with food and shelter and other amenities. Is that not the reality? In fact, we pay prisoners something like $5 a day. That is $100 a month. We pay prisoners an allowance per diem. Therefore, if the government were consistent with this, it would remove the $5 a day.

Will the member agree also that this does not apply to the Canada pension plan payments, which is a separate pension plan entitlement that prisoners in custody will continue to receive? Unless they defer them to age 70, they can start receiving them at age 60 if they wish.

Would the member not agree with what I have just said so we can keep a balance in the way we are explaining the rationale of this legislation?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the member seems to be leaning toward supporting this bill. That is a good and admirable thing.

He stated what the underpinnings of it were. The constituent from Redvers, Saskatchewan who wrote to my office set it out very succinctly. He said the principle upon which this bill should rest and the reason it should be passed is that meals and accommodation are already provided and that costs taxpayers a whole lot of dollars. People do not think taxpayers should be victimized again by paying prisoners old age security that was meant to cover things like food, shelter and so on.

There is the issue of victims and those associated with them watching as prisoners set up savings accounts and accumulate dollars. It is an affront to them. They think it is outrageous. It is something they cannot tolerate. They want us to take that benefit away. The specific reason is that provisions are already made at great cost to taxpayers. Taxpayers and those close to victims should not be victimized further.

I suggest that the member not only think about supporting the bill but that he get his colleagues to support it as well so that it can be passed as quickly as possible.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, in 1979 the Conservative government of Joe Clark changed the rules to make federal inmates eligible for these pensions in the first place. I am very interested in knowing what the rationale was for the Conservative government's decision at that time.

Surely when the minister was formulating this bill, discussing it in caucus and coming up with the rationale for doing it he would have looked back to find out why the Conservative government of Joe Clark started giving pensions to prisoners in the first place. Was it because of a court case? Are there any records to indicate what the rationale was in the first place? We understand the government's wanting to get rid of the payments now, but the question is why a Conservative government started doing it in the first place.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would not propose to speak for Mr. Clark or anyone else in history. Certainly this government is not supporting that.

One of the member's colleagues in the NDP raised the issue of universality of pensions and felt that in some fashion prisoners are entitled to receive pensions. I am certainly not an advocate of that. I do not think they are entitled to them or that universality is a challenge to that. If a person commits a crime, there are consequences that follow.

Pensions are not taken away from prisoners forever. Pensions are suspended only for the time the individuals are incarcerated. We have gone so far as to ensure that their spouses or common law partners are not disadvantaged and receive entitlements based on their income and not the incomes of both parties.

This is a fair piece of legislation. It is legislation the public expects. This government has been very quick to respond to this issue. For 13 years the Liberal government did nothing on this issue, but we took action in weeks or months. It has been a very quick and precise response to the public and one which the public expects not in years but weeks and months to get the bill through. If we had a modicum of co-operation, we could do it even quicker.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to be here to speak to issues, especially things that we went on record some months ago as supporting, without having to listen to some of the rhetoric. I heard my colleague behind me use words that are inappropriate in the House, and I will just leave it at that.

It has been suggested that we on this side of the House are not supporting this bill. It has also been suggested that this has been a fast process. The bill was introduced in June. This issue was brought up first by the media, by the way, not by anybody else, in March. It took until June for the legislation to be introduced. Here we are on November 16 finally getting a bill passed. That has a lot to do with the fact that the committee worked very well with the intent of getting the bill back into the House. Otherwise who knows how long it would take to get it here?

Some of us are concerned and frustrated when we hear the other side say that we are not helping. We are the ones who have been pushing this forward since it was first announced in the media. The government has been advancing it at nothing short of a snail's pace. Let us be clear on that point.

The committee has done a good job. After all, it was a little more than a month since the committee was asked to examine Bill C-31. Members of the committee took the bill seriously. They did their homework and asked questions to make sure that we avoided unintended consequences. Hence the bill is now before us and it could be passed very quickly here and in the other place. It is fair to say that the committee members did a quick and thorough job of reviewing the bill, contrary to, as I indicated earlier, what the government did not do.

My primary concern stems back to the pace that business is being advanced in the House. A proactive government would move quickly on issues that concern Canadians and parliamentarians.

Most members know that Bill C-31 is legislation that is relatively simplistic from a legal perspective, which does not happen too often. It is not particularly controversial, nor is it divisive in its scope. After all, the entire bill, in both English and French, is less than six pages in total length. It is a very small bill.

Put another way, after more than five months of working on this legislation, we have successfully completed just 25% of the legislative process. Imagine, just 25% in five months; that is a snail's pace if there ever were one. If this is the best we can do, Bill C-31 will not pass into law until July 2012, long after when every reasonable person expects the next election to be held. We know what will happen. An election will be called; everything will die on the order paper and nothing will ever get done. This could have been done in September. The bill could have passed in September and gone to the other place. It is not often that we are asking the government why it is not moving something forward faster, but this is a very simple and small bill and it could have been passed by both houses by now.

This means the government wants to talk about this bill more than it wants to pass it. It wants to say that it is tough on crime more than it wants to back its rhetoric with real action. Most particularly, the government is clearly more interested in optics than it is in the elements of governing as responsible Canadians.

Permit me to be completely clear though. We are of the belief that the changes are long overdue and we do not oppose them. In fact, we support them. As I have said before, from the Liberals' perspective, we are certainly prepared to fast-track this legislation. I indicated in June when the minister introduced the legislation that we were prepared to fast-track this bill.

When I last spoke in this House on Bill C-31, my primary concern was simple. I wanted to make sure there were no unintended consequences attached to the bill. It is a requirement for all of us as legislators to ensure there are no unintended consequences on any legislation that is introduced in the House. Even though many of us had strong feelings from the start when the media flagged this issue, our government was not aware of this issue any more than anybody else was. It was members of the media, in the kind of work they do, who discovered Mr. Olson was receiving old age security cheques, which clearly bothered all of us.

While I was anxious to punish the guilty and to ensure that tax dollars were not being wasted, I also needed to be sure we were not punishing the spouses for the crimes of their partners. We all know that the spouses pay a big enough price and I do not believe any of us wanted to add to that difficulty.

It seems that the committee members were satisfied by hearing witnesses from various organizations throughout Canada. They listened to all sides of the issues to make sure that Bill C-31 would not have a negative impact on the spouses, and that the spouses, families and children would be protected.

In my mind there would seem to be no other reason that we would not send Bill C-31 to the other place. If the Prime Minister were truly committed to its speedy passage, he could direct his Conservative-dominated Senate to pass the legislation immediately. It could all be done before we rose for Christmas, if he really wanted it done. Of course, the Prime Minister has little interest in this approach, so one would wonder how serious he is about the issue, or is he just more interested in looking as though he were serious about the issue? That is for the Canadian people to decide at the appropriate time. After all, this is just another in a recent string of examples of the government's relentless drive for good optics.

According to the recently released public accounts, lapsed funding for the victims of crime initiative last year amounted to just under $4 million, or 45% of the available funds. That means in 2009-10, the Conservatives spent $4.8 million helping victims of crime versus $6 million which they spent this year to advertise how they helped those victims of crime.

One of the motions that was introduced at committee was that the $2 million, the amount of money saved by not sending the pension to the likes of Mr. Olson, should be given to the victims of crime organization so that we could help victims in as many ways as possible. However, my understanding is that the amendment was not passed at committee.

Those commercials we continue to see in the government's massive advertising campaign fail to mention that when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, he killed his entire crime agenda that we had heard so much about for so many years, much of which had the Liberals' support. However, once Parliament was prorogued, all of that fell off the agenda, just as this bill would if the Prime Minister were to prorogue Parliament tomorrow.

People have to understand what proroguing Parliament really does. The legislation that all of us work for, although not all of us necessarily support, is lost once Parliament prorogues. Every single bill at that time was back to square one. When Parliament resumed sitting in the spring, each one of them had to be reintroduced, one by one. That delays them, because they have to go through the same process again: first reading, second reading, consideration at committee, report stage, third reading and then they go to the other place. All that so-called big crime agenda that was necessary was lost. Some of it was not as good as it could have been; there were lots of problems with some of it, but we were supporting it. Then we had to start all over again in the spring. Yet if we listen to the Prime Minister's multi-million dollar ad campaign, we would swear that all of that legislation was in effect right now, which is simply untrue.

Call it retail politics, spin, wedge politics or whatever one wishes, but Canadians are being misinformed again and again by the government. I say it is time for that nonsense to stop and for the government to be honest about the kind of legislation that is being passed and the timelines in doing that.

In simple terms, Bill C-31 seeks to amend the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under this act and at the same time to maintain entitlement to benefits for their spouse or common law partner. When we talk about unintended consequences, we had to ensure that the spouses and children of these individuals would not be harmed with the passage of Bill C-31.

As I have already said, the latter of these elements is, in my estimation, a pivotal thrust of this particular piece of legislation. We should never be too eager to cast a net without first ensuring that only those deserving of punishment are actually forced to endure it, and not their spouses and children.

Despite our often fierce partisan differences in the House, today we are looking at an issue that should unite all of us regardless of our political affiliation.

As we know, the old age security pension is intended to help seniors pay for their housing, clothing, food and transportation, which are expectations that many seniors struggle with each and every day.

I just came from a meeting at the industry committee where we were talking about Bill C-501. This is a bill that was put forward by one of my colleagues in the other party to try to deal with pensioners and bankruptcy collapse, to deal with what happens to people who work for companies that go bankrupt. This bill deals with the impacts on current pensioners and would-be pensioners. It deals with the devastation of trying to live on $1,200 a month and the many pensioners who are in poverty as a result of their company's going bankrupt.

This is a call on the government and all parliamentarians, and we were all very serious this morning regardless of party, to try to find solutions to the problem of Nortel, for example, and other companies. How do we better protect pensions and people's contributions in this country?

For thousands of seniors who are struggling with these growing bills on a fixed income, the thought that convicted and imprisoned criminals would be eligible for the same OAS benefit as they are is quite offensive and totally unacceptable for all of us.

Moreover, given that the old age security is meant to help a recipient pay for housing, clothing, food and transportation, it seems unnecessary for prisoners to get a cheque given that their housing, clothing, food and transportation are already paid for as a condition of their incarceration. It does not make a lot of sense that we give the same amount of money to seniors out there having to pay rent and buy their own groceries and clothing and all the rest of it, and yet people in prison, regardless of what they are there for, get all of that plus their old age security.

One senior said, “Maybe I should go to jail. At least I would have some extra money and all of my needs would be taken care of”. I assured that senior that once the gate was closed it might not seem like such a good idea.

As a legislator, I see the current reality to be redundant, unacceptable and, as I indicated earlier, something that should be changed without delay, without delay. I would like to hear the government move this through at votes tonight, move it into the Senate and ask the Conservative-dominated Senate to pass Bill C-31 immediately. This is precisely why I am of the belief that Bill C-31 should be advanced, as I indicated before.

I last addressed this issue in June when the minister introduced the legislation. I said at that time that I would not seek to draw this process out for the sake of speaking longer in the House. I did not intend to do that then, nor do I intend to do it today. What is needed today is action and it is needed now.

For the sake of clarity, contrary to my colleague's asking if we would vote for it, the Liberal position has been on the record since June, maybe before that, that we would support this kind of legislation. So that there is no question whether we will, the Liberal side of the House supports the stated notions of Bill C-31 unequivocally.

The next thing we know, though, there will be a massive email campaign going around to everybody in Canada saying to go after the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc because they may not support Bill C-31. Let me be clear. We have indicated from the beginning that we support it. We are going to continue to support it. In fact, we are asking the government to fast-track it through the Senate.

We agree that convicted and incarcerated criminals should not receive societal benefits, like the monthly old age security cheque. On a purely personal note, I would take this belief one step further.

I, like most Canadians, was horrified as I watched the trial of the former Colonel Williams. This person is now sitting in jail, but upon his formal retirement he could be eligible for a pension that he earned while a member of the Canadian Forces, a time that coincides with the time he committed his heinous crimes. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion that he will be rewarded on the same scale as Canada's veterans of the war in Afghanistan. There is something terribly wrong with that.

Canada's pension systems, both public and private, need a great deal of attention. The Canada pension plan, old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the various private options available are good. We are grateful that we have them and that the investments were made, but we need to do better.

We need to examine all facets of these systems in a way that will close the gaps, reduce the redundancies and enhance the benefits for all Canadians. I recently released a white paper on pension reform. That document was the product of more than a year of work by nearly 20 industry and pension specialists of every partisan stripe.

Whether we addressed the creation of a supplementary Canada pension plan, the tightening of regulatory loopholes, the enhancement of regular Canada pension plan benefits or the establishment of a pension bill of rights, the focus was not on politics. It was on substantive pension reform. Our primary focus was, and is, finding ways to make pensions stronger. Some days I wish that example could be adopted more often by the government and this House.

Twenty-eight recommendations later, I am convinced that we have a winning strategy, a comprehensive, multi-generational plan that puts people and their pensions first. The white paper, which can be found on my web page, fits hand-in-glove with Bill C-574, which I introduced on October 1.

Bill C-574 is a pensioners' bill of rights. Since the Mackenzie King government, a Liberal government I should remind the House, first introduced the Old Age Pensions Act 83 years ago, Liberals have fostered a long history of creating, enhancing and expanding pensions available to Canadian seniors.

From old age security, introduced by the Liberal government, to the Canada pension plan of previous Liberal governments and the supplement, also from a previous Liberal government, we understand the extreme importance of protecting and preserving pension security, adequacy and coverage for all deserving and law-abiding Canadians.

Bill C-574 is the next step in that process. Too often, financial illiteracy, inadequate opportunity and economic instability strip away the hard-earned savings of our seniors. That must stop.

Bill C-574 is the first bill of its kind ever proposed to better protect our seniors and their nest eggs. I am proud to have presented it. I clearly hope that all members in this House will adopt it at the appropriate time. I would urge colleagues to take part in that debate on November 23. As always, our seniors are counting on us.

Bill C-31 is yet another step that could be taken down this road. I stand ready to do whatever it takes to achieve these goals, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and with the government to pass measures geared to the same.

With the help of the government, I am hopeful that we can advance Bill C-31 quickly in this House and then, with the help of the Prime Minister, quickly through the other place.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate our hon. colleague from York West on her speech. I think we have reached the same conclusions about Bill C-31. She raised the issue of protecting victims. It would be interesting to hear more of her thoughts on this.

We are used to seeing the Conservatives introduce bills to penalize criminals even more, but they almost never introduce anything to prevent crime. Some things, it goes without saying, we can agree on, such as Bill C-31, but the Conservatives rarely or never introduce bills to protect victims.

Can the member tell us if this bill contains any elements to protect victims? If not, what measures should be brought forward to protect the victims of crime?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the committee my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour spoke to me about introducing a motion that would divert the dollars being saved in this bill to the victims of crime. That budget for the victims of crime gets cut on a continuous basis. More money needs to be made available to those very victims who have suffered so much.

I have a wonderful young mother in my riding by the name of Louise Russo. Many members in the House are aware of her. She was picking up a sandwich at a sandwich bar for her daughter after night school and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was a mob hit. Somebody went by and sprayed bullets into this upscale coffee shop with the intention of getting someone else but unfortunately happened to get Ms. Russo, as she entered to get that sandwich for her daughter that fatal night. She nearly died. She is paralyzed from the breast bone down. She is a young mother with a severely disabled child. Now there are two people in wheelchairs, Ms. Russo and her daughter.

When I inquired about what was available in the way of support for people like Ms. Russo, I found out that the maximum amount was $25,000. We have a woman who had been actively working and had a disabled child, and the only kind of compensation available to her was $25,000.

Victims of crime need to be supported in a variety of ways. Emotional support needs to be there, but clearly, financial support has to be there as well. Her ability to be employed, to have a successful job, has been taken away. In Bill C-31, some of the money could have been diverted for the victims of crime.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, a little earlier I asked the parliamentary secretary why the Conservative government of Joe Clark started sending federal prisoners OAS and GIS payments in the first place, in 1979.

It seems to me that if a government is trying to undo a measure that is on the books right now, it would first research the history of it. We know it has done it. It seems to me that it would try to find out when the measure was brought into force and why it was brought into force, and on that basis it would frame its legislative initiative. We know the government has done it, but every time I ask the government the question, I get an evasive answer. The answer is, “Well, the Liberals had 13 years and they did not do anything about it”. The parliamentary secretary did not say that his government has had five years and is just starting to look at the issue.

What prompted Joe Clark to change the rules in 1979 in the first place? Was it a court judgment that was made? Was it a caucus discussion? What were the reasons the government started sending pension cheques to federal prisoners in the first place? It is incumbent upon the government to answer that question.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I were a member of the government I would answer the question, but I am not a member of the government and I cannot give the member the answer. Maybe one of our colleagues might call Mr. Clark and ask him exactly what happened back then.

I am sure this was not done casually. I am sure there was a serious amount of investigation and study into it. This did not come up because the government of the day found out about it. It came up because the media found out about it and flagged the issue. All of us in the House were concerned about it and we felt that changes needed to be made.

If money is to be spent, it should be spent on victims of crime to try to help those very people who are victimized by the likes of Clifford Olson and others.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on an excellent job. I also congratulate the work being done through the committee, such as zeroing in on the unintended consequences of something like this.

At the very outset, of course, we do not want to punish those who are receiving the money outside of the individuals themselves. We may have people living in poverty where the consequences were of no fault of their own and yet they are the ones being punished because they are not the ones receiving the public subsidy or receiving money from the government to survive, such as those who are incarcerated. Therefore, I congratulate the member and the committee on their work.

I found it very strange and disingenuous of the parliamentary secretary to raise the issue of 13 long years. It has been four years, for goodness sake. On a three page bill, someone should have flagged at some point that this should have been done. How much time has to elapse before we realize that we are now the author of our own demise and no one else wrote that for us.

It goes back to the debate we had earlier. In the other bill dealing with tough on crime, all of these small items could have been done through the Criminal Code on a larger basis. We could have one piece of legislation that takes care of all of that if there were a vision in place by which the government wants to tackle or fight crime.

However, there does not seem to be a vision because it does not go lockstep with anything else. It is incarceration. However, eliminating that crime before it actually begins is just not a part of the vision.

Could my hon. colleague comment on that please?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe there was a recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer concerning the billions of dollars, I think it was $12 billion, that it will cost both federally and provincially for all the new prisons that will be required after all this legislation is passed.

It seems to me that investing in crime prevention and organizations like that are the way we need to be going so we can get rid of these criminals so that maybe they are not created. Maybe we could put more money into schools.

I represent a riding that has many challenges and, clearly, from what I understand, investing in early childhood education, showing kids that they have opportunities in the future and giving them hope does far more than building more prisons. We could take that $12 billion and put it into everything from early learning opportunities to providing hope for people so that, no matter what their background is, there is opportunity for them to move ahead in our society. Whatever challenges they are facing, there are ways to get out of that.

As a society, we should be doing more to help people achieve their goals instead of building so many prisons.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate it if you would delay the time for questions so that I can finish my speech. My colleague from Hochelaga agrees with me.

I am pleased to speak to this important bill. It is important because it shows the true face of this government and it lets us see the government for what it is.

This bill, which was introduced on June 1, 2010, would eliminate old age security benefits for prisoners. From the outset, the Bloc was clear that it would support this new measure in principle, contrary to what our Conservative colleagues are trying to insinuate. We support this bill in principle.

We also said from the outset that we wanted the bill to go to committee, and it was studied by the committee I have the honour to sit on, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. We made a unanimous recommendation in this House that would correct this flaw that allows prisoners, who are fed and housed at public expense, to receive old age security benefits, which are not earned through employment or otherwise.

The government made this an urgent issue, even though we did not see it as urgent. We saw the need but not the urgency, because no one was threatened or hurt by this situation. It was a matter of recovering the money these people had received unfairly. We discovered along the way that the Conservatives were just paying lip service to the idea of urgency, because they tried and are still trying to drag out the debate so that they can make purely demagogic arguments implying that the opposition parties disagree with the principle of this bill. Clearly, we are talking about something that went unnoticed for years and only came to light because of Mr. Wilson's situation.

A more urgent issue would be the situation of seniors who are not incarcerated, but who live in the community and have to make do with an income that is not enough to let them live in dignity.

I will talk about two specific measures. The first is the guaranteed income supplement, including income security. One seniors advocacy group, FADOQ, has brought this issue forward on a number of occasions, and started a petition that I tabled in this House a week or two ago. My Bloc Québécois colleagues have also filed petitions from each of their ridings.

We find ourselves in this House with petitions presented by Bloc colleagues. These petitions, started and sponsored by seniors groups, are calling urgently for an increase in seniors' income, which consists of basic income security, known as the old age pension, and the guaranteed income supplement for those who receive old age security but still do not have enough income to pay for housing, food, clothing and medication.

In Quebec alone, 78,000 seniors find themselves in this situation; in Canada, the number is threefold.

Therefore, this is of concern to us. A well-known Quebecker said that a society is judged on how it treats its children and its seniors. Given that we can identify 78,000 Quebeckers and more than 200,000 Canadians living not just below the poverty line, but below the level of income considered necessary to live with dignity, something is not working properly in our society.

This is an indication that the laws are poorly designed or not being enforced.

In the case of the guaranteed income supplement, the legislation is being misapplied, perhaps even deliberately misapplied. Eight years ago in 2002, it was discovered that 83,000 eligible people in Quebec alone were not receiving the guaranteed income supplement. And yet, they were entitled to it.

Year after year, we have asked the government why these people are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement even though the government receives their income tax returns and has knowledge of their income. Almost none of these people are aware of their entitlement. They are isolated in the community and lack the necessary knowledge and education. And yet, the government knows who these people are.

Bloc Québécois members including Marcel Gagnon, the former member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, campaigned to make people aware of their GIS eligibility. Tens of thousands of people discovered that they were entitled to the GIS as a result of this campaign. And yet, these people were living in poverty—which I will not describe as abject, because they are proud people—but in poverty that was barely tolerable. The upshot was that over 40,000 people found out about their entitlement and filed applications.

At this very moment, there are still 42,000 people in Quebec and three times that many in the rest of Canada who have fallen through the cracks. There is the very familiar case of the woman from Toronto who had been living in absolute poverty and found out only two years ago that she had qualified for the guaranteed income supplement for the past 10 years or more. News of our campaign spread to Toronto, where she found out about her entitlement and was also discovered. Her story made headlines. That is just one case. There have been tens of thousands of similar cases.

There is a lot of urgency around this first measure. Not only does this situation require urgent attention so that these people get the guaranteed income supplement, but also, benefits must immediately be paid retroactively since over $3 billion has been misappropriated. That money belongs to seniors. This wrong must be righted immediately.

To correct this injustice, in April, my colleague, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, introduced Bill C-516, which includes the following measures. We in the Bloc Québécois truly hope that all members of the House will support this bill and, when the time comes, vote for it. The bill would increase the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month. It proposes a six-month extension to the pension and surviving spouse or common-law partner benefit. This six-month extension would ensure that a survivor is able to bridge the gap after the death of his or her spouse. Also included is automatic enrolment for those over the age of 65 who are eligible for the GIS—which I mentioned earlier, and it is ridiculous that this has not yet been done—retroactive guaranteed income supplement payments to seniors, and a surviving spouse benefit increase to match GIS levels.

These are the measures that must be taken immediately with respect to my first example.

My second example has to do with the people who have not reached the age of eligibility for the income security pension, that is, the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement, and who lose their jobs while still under the age of 65. Beginning in 1989, we had a program for older worker adjustment, the POWA, for workers aged 55 and up who lost their jobs and were not able to find new employment, particularly in one-industry regions. These people were left with nothing once their employment insurance benefits and benefit period ran out, and they ended up on welfare.

From 1989 to 1997, we had a program called POWA, the program for older worker adjustment, which enabled these people, for whom there were no jobs available, to receive income from employment insurance to allow them to live decently.

In 1997, the Liberal government cut that program completely, and it has not existed since then, which means that factories have been shut down in many regions in Quebec and elsewhere. Other members can speak for what has gone on in other provinces.

There is Whirlpool, for example, which shut down in Montmagny in 2004. Nearly 30% of the 245 employees were over 55. The primary employer in the region closed its doors and there were no jobs for the employees who were over 55. The younger ones could always find work elsewhere, but it was a difficult time. What happened to these people? They ended up on welfare. These people had worked and paid into employment insurance their entire lives, and the government did not even support them with a measure that was paid for out of their own pockets.

What happened during that time? The employment insurance fund was generating surpluses every year. In 1997, the same year the government cut the POWA, a surplus of over $7 billion had accumulated in that fund. Yet over 50% of the employees who had paid into the EI fund were not eligible to receive EI benefits. As a matter of fact, surpluses accumulated year after year, thereby allowing both parties that formed successive governments to misappropriate over $57 billion from the EI fund over a period of 13 or 14 years. During that time, older workers were losing their jobs and not receiving any benefits, even though they had paid into the EI fund their entire lives.

As we know, some measures were taken during what has been called the economic crisis. These include the stimulus plans for municipal infrastructure, special measures for the automotive industry, and so on. Then again, even if there is no national economic crisis, people who lose their jobs go through their own economic crisis and so do their families.

On behalf of my party, I introduced Bill C-308 to correct the situation, but the Liberals sided with the Conservatives to defeat that bill.

To be fair, some Liberal members voted in favour of the bill, but they arranged, as they so often do, to have enough members absent—including the Liberal Party leader, first and foremost—to ensure it did not pass. We had just won an opposition vote on a Liberal motion, and the Liberal Party leader practically ran down the aisle to leave so he would not have to vote. It was a little pathetic.

So, yes, there are victims who need to be taken care of, victims of crime, of course, and victims of the economic situation. I illustrated this with two very specific cases.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to know when I will be able to finish my speech.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to tell you that all four of your House leaders are working very well together.

I did notice the enthusiasm of the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who wanted to pass more crime bills, so I wondered if we could have the unanimous consent of the House to pass all of the crime bills that have been put forward by the good Minister of Justice.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my speech on Bill C-31, which aims to preclude criminals over age 65 from receiving old age security benefits.

My hon. colleague from Hochelaga was quite right to remind me earlier that there are several kinds of victims in society, including victims of crime and victims of economic crime, and that one serious economic crime is depriving people, such as seniors who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, and we know who is doing that. The same is true for people entitled to EI benefits. Yet, the Conservatives have found a way to take away those benefits.

The Conservative government sings its own praises and takes pride in defending victims' interests. But something is not right. My colleague from Compton—Stanstead introduced Bill C-343 in support of victims of crime. In accordance with the will of the majority of the House, this bill was studied by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. But five Conservatives voted against it. That was the first time since I came to this House that a bill specifically meant to help victims of crime had been introduced and, contrary to expectations, the same Conservatives who claim to defend the interests of victims of crime voted against it. That is the real face of this party, which is hypocritical and lies to the public. All it wants is to complicate legislation concerning criminals.

I mentioned this morning that a number of these bills were supported by the Bloc Québécois because none of them were that excessive. The Conservatives have voted against our every effort to make amendments in support of victims.

To conclude, I would like to say again that we will support Bill C-31 because it establishes a balance between those who qualify for old age pensions and those who do not. Of course, criminals do not qualify. However, we strongly condemn the fact that the government is not following through on its commitment to help victims of crime. In fact, it stonewalls all attempts to do just that.

I hope that when the time comes, when we come back to the House for third reading of Bill C-343, all members of the House of Commons will vote in favour of it, including our Conservative colleagues who, this time, might have the heart to support victims of crime.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill is one that all parties support. It is one that really has caused, I think, a good deal of consternation in the country. The NDP will be part of that coalition of all parties to support the bill. However, I do want to make some points about, really, a missed opportunity with regard to this bill.

It is fairly straightforward what we are doing here. We are simply removing, while a person is incarcerated in a federal prison, his or her right to receive old age security benefits. So, it is quite straightforward in that regard. That provision has been in our laws since the Conservative government of Joe Clark, in the late 1970s. The only reason, quite frankly, this bill is coming forward at this point is because of pique on the part of the Prime Minister, who received a letter from Clifford Olson, we all know he is, sort of taunting the Prime Minister about the fact that, now that he was over 65, Mr. Olson was receiving old age benefits.

Unfortunately, as is all too often the case with the current government and the current Prime Minister, there was a knee-jerk response to dealing with the issue.

As I said, all parties agree that federally incarcerated prisoners, as a general rule, should not be receiving both support while they are in custody in a federal prison and old age benefits from the federal government. That is a given. And it is part of the problem that there should not be an absolute rule.

As I have said, this has been going on now in this country for more than 30 years, getting into 35 years now. However, instead of taking the time, rather than taking a prudent, fiscally responsible and, from the perspective of the victims of crime, thorough review of this, we simply had this knee-jerk response by the Conservatives that they would show Olson, that they would take this right away from him and, at the same time, take it away from everybody else.

Here is where the problems lie. This has been through committee and we dug up as much information as we could. There are all sorts of potential situations we are not aware of. For instance, we do not know who is receiving the old age pension, who is entitled to it at this point. The figure we received was a bit vague. There are approximately 600 prisoners in our federal prisons, out of about 14,000, who are eligible to receive it, as they are over the age of 65. We do not know, though, how many have ever applied or how many have actually received the old age benefit. We do not know that. The only people who would have that information are the individual prisoners who are incarcerated. We have never made any attempt within Corrections Canada to ascertain that information. We were told by the commissioner of prisons that it would take literally months and months to go through every single prisoner over the age of 65 to ascertain that information.

We also do not know if, in fact, these moneys are subject to other court orders. Certainly, we see periodically that there are orders for restitution. We do not know if these funds would have been available for that purpose and, in fact, were being used for that purpose of paying restitution to victims of the crimes these prisoners had committed. We do not know if there are any dependants of the prisoner, to whom these funds are flowing.

Had this been done prudently, properly, the way we are supposed to pass legislation in this House, we would have discovered answers to all those questions.

Finally, with regard to what we do not know, is this going to have an impact of any kind on the amount of money that is received by the federal prison system?

There is a provision within section 78 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that allows the corrections authorities to actually take moneys from prisoners for the provision of their food, clothing and one other minor item, but basically for food and clothing. We in fact do that on a very limited basis; it is hardly at all, but we do it a little bit. Therefore we do not know in this case whether those funds would be used for that purpose.

If the bill goes through, which obviously it is going to, since it has unanimous support, we do not know if in fact some money is going to be lost to Corrections Canada in that regard.

We know this. It is going to save the federal treasury some money. I will add to the list of things we do not know. We have no idea, even though there have been estimates from the government, how much it is going to save. It goes back to the point that we have no idea how many prisoners have, in the past, applied for and begun receiving the old age security benefit.

I want to make one point about the bill itself that gave all members of the committee cause for concern. I moved a series of amendments to the bill. There was a provision in the bill that made it very clear that persons could only, in effect, reinstate their pension benefits once they were released from the federal prisons by notifying the minister of their release. Because of the way the section was worded, they could only give that notice of release after they had been released.

On my party's behalf, I moved amendments, and ultimately after some negotiations with the government and the opposition parties, we reached an agreement and we have amended the bill so that, when prisoners are advised of their pending release, they at that point can give notice to the minister of their pending release so that paperwork can begin to be processed.

This is not a reflection on the officials within the human resources department, but we all know there are times when payments get delayed. There was quite a concern that, if delays occurred, we would have the situation of people being released on the street over age 65, almost certainly unemployable, and then either having to receive municipal welfare benefits and having that level of government shoulder this burden, when clearly it is the responsibility of the federal government, or because of being desperate for revenue, committing further crimes in order to support themselves.

For those two reasons we moved those amendments. We got the co-operation of the government ultimately to change the wording somewhat to provide that notice can be given at the time the notice of release is being given. That usually is a minimum of 30 days before the person is released, so there will be sufficient time for the department to process the application.

I will spend a few more minutes on the other missed opportunities that I made some reference to. There was not only an opportunity to take this benefit away from convicted criminals but there were also, had we moved on this, a number of other areas where we could have implemented some reforms that in fact would have aided victims directly.

I want to be very clear that this saving is going to stay in the human resources department. It is not going to go to the victims. The victims' benefit out of the bill is absolutely zilch. That is where the missed opportunity was.

We are not talking a great deal of dollars, but it is a substantial amount when we look at the number of prisoners. It could be as much as several million dollars. We could have, for instance, said that while they were incarcerated all of this money would be paid into a victims' compensation fund. That did not happen.

We could have gone beyond that and looked at other revenue streams and other assets that could have been made available as compensation for victims. This would be compensation for physical injury more often than not, as well as for psychological trauma suffered as a result of a violent crime perpetrated on a victim, or in some cases a victim's family.

Because of what happened in the exchange between Clifford Olson and the Prime Minister, we had an opportunity to make significant amendments to expose those other assets through court orders so that victims would be able to receive the funds directly and be compensated for the injuries they suffered. We missed that opportunity completely.

We could have looked at several areas, such as expanding a source for restitution to be paid, expanding payments directly to victims as a result of individual lawsuits against the perpetrators of the crimes, and exposing other assets. We had the opportunity to look at all of those, but the government chose this knee-jerk response to slap back at Mr. Olson. We must recognize that this does nothing for any of the victims and it is not going to do anything for any of the victims.

Those were missed opportunities. I would urge the government to consider, as I did during committee hearings, those potential amendments.

It was interesting to listen to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation at committee. It stated that there already was a section in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would allow the government to take money from prisoners. This group is not exactly an ally of my party on a historical basis, but on this we agree, that there are opportunities here to save the taxpayer some money. From my perspective, the government should go after the assets of some wealthy prisoners to compensate specific victims or the money could go into a general victims compensation fund. It is a fund that we are beginning to scratch the surface on with the government. An additional source of revenue would be a great boon to what we could be doing to assist victims of crime.

This was a missed opportunity. I urge the government to take another look at this area for other reforms that are badly needed, which would be useful to the victims of crime.

We will be supporting the bill, but we hope that at some point in the future the government will move on these other areas.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made a thoughtful and constructive intervention on this bill, which is going to pass.

We are always looking to learn lessons from how legislation has been crafted. Many members will not be able to fully understand the significant forces which come to play on a matter like this one, where we are trying to surgically remove something without unintended consequences. I have a feeling there probably are unintended consequences. That concerns me. It concerns me when a piece of legislation is motivated by public outrage regarding Clifford Olson as opposed to helping victims of crime.

Not having been able to participate on committee and to discuss this issue with officials or expert witnesses, I wonder if the member would care to advise the House about the charter implications of dealing with some people one way and with others another way. This may be affected by their personal wealth, their name, whatever it might be. It seems to me there may be pressure with respect to charter violations in terms of people not being equal under the law.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:25 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, at committee I raised the issue of whether this bill was charter proof. I have some doubts as to whether it would survive a charter challenge. From discussions with defence lawyers and some of the agencies that deal with prisoners, it is unlikely there would ever be a charter challenge, and practically speaking, it probably would never happen.

The agencies that deal with prisoners believe that the vast majority of prisoners currently incarcerated do not apply for the old age security benefit until shortly before they get out. That is the general belief. That category of prisoners is not going to bring the application on.

These applications are very expensive. An applicant, in effect, would be taking on the federal government in at least the Federal Court of Appeal if not the Supreme Court of Canada. There is no practical way a prisoner could afford that. Even wealthy prisoners who might be able to afford the fees would look at the minimal amount they would get. They would probably not receive much with the clawback, and they may get as little as zero. There would be no motivation for people who could pay for it. The final issue is whether the provincial legal aid plans would cover it. They may very well not, given what the costs would be.

There were comments made in the response from the minister's office that it was charter proof. It pointed out some examples at the provincial level where benefits have been taken back. When we analyze each one of those benefits, there is criteria that has to be met. It is understandable why the benefit could be taken back or there could be a refusal to pay it while prisoners were incarcerated in provincial institutions. That criteria is entirely different from the criteria of what is needed in order to get the old age pension in this country.

If somebody does challenge it, I think there is a reasonably strong chance it will be overturned, but the reality is it probably will never be challenged.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, which would eliminate entitlements for prisoners.

I was on the human resources committee which dealt with this bill after it passed the House with the support of all parties. We supported the bill then and we are supporting it again. We hope it is dealt with very quickly. However, that does not mean we do not have certain issues and questions. That is why we have a committee system in Parliament. We look at issues to ensure that however well intended a bill might be, it does not have unintended consequences that could come back to bite us after the fact.

My colleague from Mississauga South referenced that. His view is that it is very possible it will come back to bite us. I tend to agree. I am sure there are parts of it on which we will look back and ask why we did not spend more time on them at committee. We did raise significant issues at committee. My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh raised some. We raised a number. They were dealt with.

In simple terms, to reinforce what Bill C-31 is about, under Bill C-31, the old age security pension, the GIS provided for under the OAS would not be paid to persons who are incarcerated in a federal institution and serving a sentence of more than two years, incarcerated in a provincial institution and serving a sentence of more than 90 days, or incarcerated in a territorial institution and serving a sentence of more than 90 days.

I think people would say that makes sense but they would want to know how it came about. I want to go through the timeline on this as I think it is somewhat instructive.

On March 26 news reports surfaced across the country that Clifford Olson was getting a pension while in prison. Because of the heinous nature of his crimes, people were understandably and rightly offended by that. That very day the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development made a comment in the House. This is what she said:

...I am very concerned and disturbed [about these reports]. Members can rest assured that we are making every effort at a very rapid pace to ensure the situation does not continue and that it is prevented from happening in the future.

Those were the comments of the minister on March 26. Our party's critic, the member for York West, indicated right away that we would support getting the bill through the House as quickly as possible. Yet it was not until June 1 that the government introduced Bill C-31. The House recessed for the summer on June 17 without the bill having been called for second reading.

On September 23 we came back from the summer break. We had some debates, and the second reading vote was on September 24.

On September 30, we had our first meeting of the human resources committee, referred to as HUMA. It was on October 7 that we finally met to deal with Bill C-31. In fact the first meeting the minister was meant to attend, she was unable to make it. That meant another meeting went by without our being able to act on this bill.

It is a duty of the committee to look at these bills. There may be some unintended consequences. That does not mean this bill could not have come before us quicker. I just say that to show that the official opposition, and I think all opposition parties, wanted to deal with this bill as quickly as we possibly could.

The question is whether this bill will do what it is supposed to do, which is to make sure that Canada's most violent and offensive criminals who are serving long periods of time in jail are not receiving OAS and GIS payments. I think we all agree on that.

On the other hand, there are a number of people who are incarcerated in the prison system and upon release after many years in jail, what are their options? If their options are prefaced by a complete lack of money and resources, what is the action that obviously will follow? In many cases the person who had been an offender will most likely reoffend because the person has no income.

That does not mean those people should receive the payments. We believe they should be withheld, but we wanted to ensure during the course of this that the system was not only taking the payments away when appropriate but also that the payments would resume when appropriate.

We were surprised, perhaps even astonished, at how little information the corrections service keeps on prisoners' families. In fact, the commissioner was unable to tell us some very basic information about the income status of some of the prisoners who were in the system, which obviously could have a direct impact on their families. That was one thing we found surprising. There was not as much information as we thought there should be.

What are other countries doing? I think every country in the world would look at their most violent criminals and say that they need to have a look at that and see if they should be treated differently.

Some work has been done on this. For example, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg do not pay state pensions during the duration of prison sentences. In some cases those are recent changes and in some cases that is the way it has been for some time. Austria and Ireland confirmed that the legislation specifically excluded convicted prisoners from receiving their state pensions but that it did not apply to those remanded in custody. Dependants could apply to receive a portion of the pension.

Just about all countries that responded stated that prisoners would not be entitled to the full resumption of their benefits once they left prison, which is certainly the case here, but, as my colleague from the NDP, the justice critic from Windsor—Tecumseh, indicated, the bill had to be amended for us to be certain that the process would be in place to ensure that those payments would continue as appropriate.

Some other EU countries do in fact pay state pensions to prisoners during their sentences. Belgium and the Czech Republic continue to pay state pensions. In France, the payment is made into a prison account. Ten per cent is deducted and allocated to the prosecution and 10% goes toward a release allowance. In Germany, elderly prisoners are entitled to receive state pensions during the period of their prison sentences that is paid into a private bank account. In Norway, sections 3 to 29 of the national insurance act suggest that pensions are subject to deductions during the prison service, according to rules similar to those applying to those in long-term accommodation. In health institutions, the prisoner will receive reduced payments.

Therefore, other countries have had a look at this and some have decided that they should go the route that Canada is going, which is to ensure that people do not get payments while they are in prison.

As I have indicated, we are supportive of this measure because we think it makes sense, but that is not to say that there are not legitimate concerns that have been raised. Some people have indicated that they are concerned that this may not withstand a charter challenge. I am not a lawyer. I have been accused of being one, but I am not a lawyer and I cannot speak effectively to that.

I do want to suggest that there was significant opposition. The Canadian Criminal Justice Association sent some information around to all of us indicating its concerns. Its main points with regard to Bill C-31 are: that it may be in violation of the charter; that it may set a precedent to deny benefits to others housed in government institutions, specifically mental health centres or hospitals; and that the bill may take away funds that may be needed for food and shelter upon release. This goes to the issue of what people would live on when they leave the institution.

The association goes on to say that a waiting period of weeks or months to reinstate payments would exacerbate this problem. I wanted to mention that because that was the biggest issue in our committee and the subject of the amendments, on which the opposition parties and the government eventually came to terms.

The association was also concerned that it may create additional victims out of families, spouses and children of prisoners, as pensions may contribute to household income, and that it could contribute to household disintegration due to lack of income, resulting in additional expenditures to Canadians. There were a number of other issues.

One of the association's biggest concerns, which was a concern expressed by a number of people throughout the country, is whether this is the best way to do criminal justice. Do we react to a headline of a story and then determine that is the course of action?

Back in early summer, Craig Jones, who was then the executive director of the John Howard Society, suggested that this was being used to divert attention from other problems plaguing the government. I want to indicate what his view was. Mr. Jones warned against quickly crafting new laws based on the most extreme examples of offenders. That was a legitimate concern and one that we had to take into account as we did our committee deliberations.

It is not hard to imagine that most Canadians would be generally in favour of suggesting that inmates should not get pensions. In fact, I would reference an Ekos poll taken back in April, shortly after this story broke, under the topic of entitlement to old age benefits while in federal prison. The poll showed that 59% of Canadians agreed with the statement that all federal prisoners should lose their benefits while in prison; 25% said that only federal prisoners with life sentences should lose their benefits; and 17% said that all federal prisoners who are entitled to federal pensions should receive them.

The percentages in the poll were not particularly surprising and probably spurred the government on to ensure that this legislation was brought forward.

However, as I said before, we think it could have been done quicker and, in fact, could have gone to committee before the summer break. Certainly our critic from York West indicated that we would have been very supportive of that.

There were a number of questions, but the key question and the first question I asked when we had committee meetings was: How do we ensure that this gets administered in a way that is not only reasonable for the families, who, in many cases are the unwitting victims of what their loved ones have done by committing offences, but also ensure that we have streets that are safe? How do the benefits get stopped and how do the benefits get started?

We agree that when somebody is in an institution they should not be getting old age benefits and GIS. The spouses could still qualify for GIS on their own income. If it is determined that prisoners will not get benefits while in a federal institution, how would that actually happen and how do we ensure it happens correctly on both ends?

The Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, Don Head, presented to us on October 26. He took us through a number of things about what happens to inmates while they are in prison. He said:

I would like to address the mechanics of how Correctional Service Canada would help implement the withholding of old age security benefits. We have developed a draft informationsharing agreement with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada that would permit the disclosure by CSC of information on federal offenders age 60 years or older. This would include information on those who are incarcerated in order to facilitate the suspension of payments, as well as information on those who are recently released by virtue of parole or statutory release, so that payments can be reinstated.

I want to emphasize the words “as well as information on those who were recently released”. This would indicate that as prisoners are entering the prison system, when the time has come for their benefits to be stopped, that will happen automatically. On the reverse side, when prisoners come out, the bill stipulates that they must notify the minister, i.e. Service Canada, for the resumption of benefits. What the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada indicated was that the department would provide information on those who were recently released.

That is a bit of a concern in that it means that people would be hitting the streets without any income to support themselves and potentially their families. We asked if there were a way that Correctional Service Canada could work with inmates as they are coming up for release, either being paroled or at the end of their sentence, to ensure they can make contact with Service Canada to avoid a month or two month delay when they get back onto the streets and hopefully back to their homes, if they have them.

I do not have any reason to doubt the integrity of the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada or the people who work in the system. I think they are all very well-intentioned and do a very good job. However, they indicated that they could not assist us in ensuring that would be the case.

The nature of the amendments that were provided by the opposition were to ensure that prisoners getting ready for release, not just after they are released, would actually receive those benefits upon release. I think that was taken care of. We had discussions in committee and eventually the government and the opposition parties got together and agreed on some wording to that effect.

As I indicated, I do not know if it is a charter challenge. I am not a lawyer so I cannot speak very effectively to that. However, what makes perfect sense, I think, to most Canadians is that prisoners serving long sentences for serious crimes should not be getting OAS and GIS.

On the other hand, we need to ensure that there will not be some unintended consequences where families will simply have no option. In many cases, it is through no fault of their own that they are involved with people who commit these violent and serious offences.

The other part of this is the cost and/or the savings to the government. We have been told that there needs to be a coordination with the provinces but not all the provinces have signed on. The minister acknowledged this when she appeared before committee. She said that a number of provinces indicated that they would coordinate this with the federal government but that not all of them have. This is something that will need to be worked out, respecting provincial jurisdiction and the fact that some of these costs could be borne by the provinces. Somewhere between $2 million and $10 million, which are the numbers we heard, would be withheld or, in other words, saved. The government would spend $2 million to $10 million less a year.

When the minister appeared before committee, I asked her if that money could be used to support victims of crime. The critic for the Liberal Party indicated as far back as the spring that it was our view that the savings should go to victims of crime. There are some victims of crime organizations that have had funding cuts or their funding has lapsed with the government. I think we all agree that a lot of people who are victims of crime should get the benefit of the doubt.

If $2 million to $10 million will be saved, why can we not allocate that? We all understand that the money goes back to a certain department but there are lots of ways to allocate a certain amount of money and ensure it goes toward something specific. We think it is perfectly sensible and logical that the money should go to victims of crime.

The government talks about victims of crime a lot but it cut the budget of the grants for victims of crime initiative by 41% and the contributions for the victims of crime initiative by 34%, $2.7 million. There is a need by the groups working with victims of crime and we do not understand why that money, which in fact would be money saved because of this bill, could not be dedicated to them.

The saving of money was not the primary purpose of the bill. The primary purpose of the bill was to ensure that people who commit violent crimes do not benefit while in prison. Their costs are already being paid. Why would they need OAS and GIS? We understand that. However, if there are savings to be made, why could that money not then be turned over to victims of crime organizations?

The minister indicated that statutorily the money goes into the department, and we understand that, but whatever the savings are we could very easily designate those savings to the victims of crime. It is all taxpayer money and it all comes out of the same pot at the end of the day. We believe that amount of money, whether it is $2 million or $10 million, would make a bigger difference to victims of crime organizations than it would to the overall bureaucracy that administers OAS and GIS. We were a little disappointed, because we felt this was an initiative that was well worth supporting, that the government did not see fit to support that.

The committee meetings that we had on this were generally productive. As I said, we heard from a number of witnesses, such as Correctional Service Canada and victims groups. We heard some very compelling testimony from people who had been victims of crime. As one can imagine, they tell stories that most Canadians do not want to hear but when they do hear them they feel great empathy and compassion for the families.

The committee worked and at the end day we fashioned a bit of a compromise on an amendment to ensure that more would be done to ensure that long-term prison inmates would not hit the streets without anything for the good of society as much as for the good of themselves and their families. The bill is back in the House today.

I can support this bill. In our country now there is a big need to recognize that there are causes of crime that we can be tough on, but we also want to ensure that we are reasonable, fair and that we are not paying benefits to prisoners that, by and large, Canadians do not think they are entitled to, and I tend to agree with that.

We do not think it is a perfect bill, and there may well be some things that come out down the road, but for today it is an important step for Parliament to say that it is a step forward, that this is a better way of doing things, let us not make perfect be the enemy of better and let us pass Bill C-31.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his very cogent comments and for the support he clearly gave to some of the proposals put forward by our members in the committee, which have strengthened the bill.

From the evidence given today and the reply to the bill, it is very clear that the vast majority of prisoners apparently do not even apply for these benefits just before or after they get out of prison. I do not think any Canadian believes that people who commit serious crimes should have the double benefit of having their room and board paid in prison and at the same time bank money to cover the room and board that they do not need outside of prison.

However, the member raises a number of really critical points. It is regrettable that the government did not listen to or support some of the amendments, particularly the amendments that the member raised about re-channelling those moneys. In other words, if a prisoner would have been able to gain the benefit of OAS and GIS payments, why not put those into a fund that would benefit the victims of that crime, for example, crime prevention funds? Why not fund educational programs in prison so when prisoners get out there is less chance they will violate again? What about the money the government has yanked from the Aboriginal Healing Centres?

Could the member expand on that?

Also, could he also speak to the issue raised by my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan? She raised concern that we were talking about a relatively small amount of money related to the pension fund. In other words, by denying these funds, we are not really putting a lot back in to benefit those who would normally benefit from pension funds, yet we have veterans living on the street and having to go to food banks. Could he address the broader matter that we are spending all this time debating the bill, which does not really give a lot of benefit to Canadians, when we should be standing in the House and debating specific concrete measures to enhance the pensions to Canadians, including veterans?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, my colleagues raises some very good questions. When we look at how many people currently incarcerated in federal penitentiaries would be affected by this, we are told it would be 400, potentially up to 600 if we include provincial institutions, at a cost of somewhere between $2 million and $10 million.

The bill probably could have been handled much more expeditiously. The last government bill we saw on employment insurance was the military families one, which would affect 60 people a year at a cost of somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million a year. Many things we do in the House are more about politics than they are about principle or policy.

Having said that, we follow the rules of this place and we want to support the bill. We want to get it through.

The member mentioned a number areas where the money could go, whether it be $2 million or $10 million. There are some things that could be done with that in our prison system and for our veterans. I suggest the money could be dedicated to reopening prison farms, which was only a matter of a few million dollars a year and had great benefits. There are many areas where that money could go. It is not a large amount of money in the overall scheme of things on OAS and GIS, but on specific targeted measures it could have made a significant difference.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the member has done a fair amount of research on the bill. However, in his research work, was he able to ascertain why and when federal prisoners started receiving pensions in the first place? I think the member would discover that it was the Joe Clark Conservative government in 1979 that started issuing the cheques to prisoners. How did that come about?

Presumably when the government was doing its research, as any government would, it would have found out the reasons for instituting the practice in the first place. Was it a court order? What where the reasons? There must be some Hansard from those days. There must be some papers available. I have asked government members that questions several times, on the very few times they speak to the bill or any other bill for that matter. I have yet to get a response from them as to why their Conservative government of Joe Clark would bring in this measure in the first place. Now all of a sudden, because of a letter from Clifford Olson and a couple of newspaper articles, we are here, almost in knee-jerk response, cutting these pensions.

We support the bill. Why did the government in 1979 institute this practice in the first place?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I know he has asked that question before. I do not know the answer. I do not know why it would have started. I was not aware until recently that it had actually been instituted in 1979 under Prime Minister Clark, a person for whom I have enormous respect. I do not know what the reason is. It might have been something in the courts and if it was post-charter, then maybe that makes it even more problematic now. I do not know the reason for that.

The member is right to ask the government. It is very reasonable. I am sure he could make an appointment with the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. For five or ten minutes, they would be happy to sit down and be very open and transparent about the whole process. They would be better able to give the history than I would.

For now, the history is important. It is important to look at what other people do, particularly those countries to which we like to compare ourselves, European countries, OECD, the United States and other countries, and figure out where we are now. I would be very interested in what he finds out about 1979. I just cannot answer the question.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is nice to hear my hon. colleague say what the government is not willing to say on some of these issues, which is he does not know why this was instituted in the first place.

A number of times I have seen the government take a very specific case or a story out of a newspaper and then draft entire legislation around it. It is not necessarily just specific to the bill that is before us, because these bills take a great deal of effort. They change the laws in our country, so they do not just apply to the newspaper story case or to individuals. They apply to everybody.

We have seen this developing pattern from the supposed tough on crime government where it uses individual cases, newspaper articles or something in the evening news to build legislation and craft Canadian law. This precedent sends us down a very dangerous road. There is the rule of unintended consequences when we craft legislation. We craft it for one purpose, but the way the law works in applying to everything has all sorts of other consequences.

In the case of the so-called Olson bill, I think my colleagues have expressed it well. Canadians have a great resistance to the idea of also paying for CPP and what not. However, there is this principle of designing legislation based upon media moments that may grab a few more votes and bits of attention. It was said once that we should worry as much about who was going into prison as who was coming out.

Could the hon. member comment on this? The government seems not so concerned with the rehabilitative process of prisoners or the fact that they will likely commit a crime again if they do not receive any kind of service or help whatsoever to rehabilitate themselves fully.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, that is a good question, and I referenced it a bit in my comments. There is certainly a proclivity for the government to take headlines and turn them into immediate pieces of legislation and give them slick-sounding names, which is another thing we see with a lot of the legislation. It does not mean that the bill is wrong, but it does mean that it becomes very political.

We saw that with the last piece of EI legislation on the military families. I am not sure, I have not been around this place long enough, although it seems like an awful long time, to know what can be done without having to come to the House of Commons. We all agree with some of these measures. We could have done it very quickly.

We support this legislation. We think it makes sense. We think it reflects the feelings of Canadians, which is we need to do a better job of reflecting how they want to see their government act in certain matters. However, I certainly agree with my colleague that a lot of these things are taken out of the media, dressed up and some of the policy gets lost amidst the politics, which is disappointing.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.

It is important for the people listening to us to fully understand. The title of the bill, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, will probably get some people's attention. In fact, as we know, the old age security program has not been enhanced for quite some time, except for a few minor changes. I met a senior who told me that recent increases barely covered the cost of a coffee. Therefore, the title—An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act—could be confusing. It might lead people to believe that the government is overhauling the Old Age Security Act. They will be disappointed because there is no major reform in this bill.

There are two words in the text of the bill, “incarcerated persons”, that shed light on the Conservatives' philosophy. They have decided to implement a law and order agenda, which includes preventing criminals from receiving their old age pension.

On the one hand, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois agrees. This measure has received the nod from all parties in the House. I do not think that anyone approves of criminals in prison receiving the old age pension. It is an aberration of the system. On the other hand, why is this bill necessary? We must understand why the Conservatives decided to let this bill go to committee, with great debate and major discussion. The purpose was to get us talking about it and sidetrack us from talking about the real problems of the elderly, of our seniors living in difficult circumstances. Many seniors live below the poverty line. They deserve a real debate and a real bill to amend the Old Age Security Act so that, among other things, the guaranteed income supplement can be increased by $100 per month, as proposed by the Bloc Québécois.

With regard to the guaranteed income supplement, this bill proposes that spouses be treated as though they were single and that they be entitled to an increase in their guaranteed income supplement. That is fine with me. The criminal is in prison, but his spouse does not necessarily deserve to suffer substantial losses. Therefore, it makes sense that she be treated like a single person.

Once again, nothing in this bill addresses the problems our seniors face. We should have expected as much. Given its grand-sounding title, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, we expected meaningful old age security reform. However, this is not the direction that the Conservatives are taking and it is definitely not the direction that the Liberals are discussing. We heard them. The Liberals particularly do not want to talk about an increase in the guaranteed income supplement in case they take power since they do not quite know what to do about the expenditures they have announced. For them, therefore, helping seniors is not a way to help our society progress.

Take, for example, the bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois. Every day when they are here in the House, the members of the Bloc Québécois have at heart the interests of citizens, the men and women in Quebec who have worked hard throughout their lives to help our society progress. As I was saying earlier, it was not for nothing that we introduced a bill to increase the guaranteed income supplement by $100 a month, among other things. We also introduced a bill to address losses in company pension plans to help citizens who have seen or who may see a significant drop in their pensions because their company went bankrupt or experienced hardship, as was the case during the recent economic crisis.

The Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to provide a tax credit equivalent to 50% of lost revenues to individuals who have lost pension fund income. This would have allowed them to recover 50% and would have had a domino effect in the provinces, because once a bill like that passes in Ottawa, the provinces follow. This would have enabled those who lost money from their pension plans to recover part of that money through refundable tax credits. Once again, the Liberals voted against this bill.

I have experience here because I have had a plant shut down in my riding. It has now reopened because a new buyer was found, but the buyer did not purchase the company with its pension liabilities. The old company is still in talks and is under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The company's asset, the factory, was sold and the new buyer put it back into service. But the fact remains that the Fraser pension plan remains under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The pensioners were told that their pension plan was reduced by 35% instead of 40%.

It was a big news story. The Bloc Québécois introduced its bill in the House at that time, and the Liberals voted against it. There are still a few Liberals in the Outaouais, and they felt the need to put their oar in and say that they could not support the Bloc's bill, but that they would come up with their own proposal for solving the pension fund problems. The problem, though, is that these people have already lost money, and if they wait for the Liberals to return to power, they will be waiting for decades. The Liberals should have done something for these people and supported the Bloc Québécois's bill, but they did not.

As expected, the Conservatives opposed the bill. The Conservatives' way of helping the poor is to say they have to work. But when you are 55 or over and retired, it is not easy to find a job.

As for the forests, the Conservatives said it was necessary to diversify the economy. The forests are still there and the trees are still growing, but they said the people who worked in forestry had to become computer scientists. That is the Conservatives' approach. It is not a responsible approach, but something that was put down on paper here in Ottawa by high mucky-mucks who opted for monetary trade-offs and decided to put forestry workers into computer jobs.

In the 1990s, they tried the same thing with call centres, which sprang up all over the regions. Today, all the call centres have gone to India. The fact is that jobs that are created in an effort to diversify the economy are not stable. We can achieve stability in the forest industry by developing forest products and reviving the industry. The forests are still there, and as I said, they are still growing.

Once again, to get to that point we need to invest in research and development, support businesses and offer loan guarantees, as we have been calling for. They complied with WTO rules, but Conservative ministers made a big fuss saying that they did not comply while, at the same time, lawyers from the Canadian government were arguing the opposite before the WTO. Our opponents used statements made by ministers in the House to say that the Canadian government was saying one thing before the WTO and using its lawyers to argue its case while simultaneously telling the Canadian Parliament that this was not the way to proceed. The Conservatives have always acted like a dog chasing its tail. The Liberals cut off their own tail with the sponsorship scandal, so they cannot chase it anymore.

And these things might make you laugh, but they can also make you cry if you are a senior living below the poverty line when rent and food prices continue to rise and the measly old age security pension does not keep up with the rising cost of living. I am talking about the cost of living for seniors. The problem with the members of the House, the Conservatives as much as the Liberals, is that they do not seem to understand that the cost of living for seniors as calculated by Statistics Canada is not the average cost of living calculated by the department. And by the way, the Conservative Party was so tired of seeing the data from Statistics Canada that they changed the census form.

The cost of living for seniors includes food, medication and housing. But the costs of these items are not dropping; they continue to rise. Even property values are rising. Some would say that they are not land owners, but renters. But when the price of property rises, rent increases. If we do not build affordable housing for seniors, it is inevitable—

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, this debate is at third reading and is dealing with entitlements for prisoners. My colleagues are going all over the world and their comments have nothing to do with what the intent of the bill is.

If we want to make Parliament work we need to stay on the subject. Certainly the subject is the ending of entitlements for prisoners. When my colleague across the floor talks about all of these other things that have nothing to do with the bill, I would ask, Madam Speaker, that you ask the hon. members to stay on the focus of the bill.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I read the title of the bill, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. Once again, inevitably, when people see such a title for a bill, especially if they are seniors, they will think that the bill is going to affect their lives. Then, when they see the fine print under the title where it says “incarcerated persons”, they will be very disappointed.

That is the purpose of my presentation here today, that is, to point out once again that, by giving their bill a title as impressive as An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, the Conservatives want to make us debate a subject that we all agree on.

Why did the Conservatives decide to spice up this bill's title and then indicate in the fine print that it pertains to incarcerated criminals? It is precisely to prevent us from talking about the real issues at hand and the real problems facing our seniors and older people.

I can understand that the Conservatives want to promote their law and order policy and ideology at all cost, but again, all that to say that this is a law and order bill. They want to punish criminals and take away their old age security if they have it. The problem with the Conservatives is that they are so obsessed with law and order that they have forgotten that the vast majority of older people, of our seniors, are living below the poverty line and deserve to have a bill, as the Bloc Québécois had wanted, that would improve the guaranteed income supplement by increasing it by $100 a month, in order to help seniors cope with increased housing, food and drug expenses.

In the meantime, prisoners are being housed and fed and their drugs are paid for. That is how the Conservatives operate. They decide to get rid of old age pensions for criminals, but they forget that the vast majority of our seniors do not have enough money to pay for their housing or to cover their food and drug costs. That is the reality. The Conservatives are obsessed with law and order and are abandoning good citizens who have paid taxes their entire lives, who have contributed to society and who are now seeing criminals get all the attention in relation to this bill.

We support this bill and have said so from the very beginning. All parties in this House support it. The problem is that we are still talking about it. We should have settled this matter and had a real bill to amend the Old Age Security Act in order to help our seniors who cannot make ends meet and who are living below the poverty line. We have to help them meet their own physical and mental health needs. However, that is not what we are discussing. The government prefers to talk about law and order and eliminating inmates' pension entitlement. As I said, we support this measure, as do all parties in the House.

Why has this matter not been settled yet? Quite simply because the Conservatives have decided to draw out the debate. That is what they want. They want us to talk about it and discuss it. While we discuss the so-called “Act to amend the Old Age Security Act” in Parliament, the people who read the title will think that they are being looked after and that seniors who have trouble making ends meet and who live below the poverty line will be taken care of. It creates a false impression that their needs are being addressed. Instead, the Conservatives are merely promoting their ideology, with the support of the Liberals—all too often we forget about the Liberals—and once again are ignoring the problems of seniors.

In closing, Bill C-31 before us must be passed as quickly as possible. It makes sense to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving their old age pension, particularly in light of the fact that they receive shelter, food, health care and medications free of charge while our seniors, who have worked their entire lives to advance our society, find it difficult to meet their own needs when it comes to housing, food and medications.

That is what the Conservatives, with the support of the Liberals, are forcing us to live with. For two years now, every time a budget vote has come around, the Liberals have stayed seated or not shown up with enough members. They are always there to support the Conservatives. They are like a crutch that keeps hobbling along. We have been watching the Liberals hobble along. Their disease is spreading to the Conservatives, who are limping along as well. That is how they operate.

I am pleased to say that we will support Bill C-31 because it will prevent prisoners, people who are incarcerated, from receiving old age security, and will still protect their spouses. These spouses will be considered single under the Old Age Security Act and will therefore be entitled to a larger guaranteed income supplement amount.

However, I must point out that the impressive title, “An Act to Amend the Old Age Security Act”, should not fool the public and the seniors who are watching us. This will not solve their problems. They deserve a monthly increase of $100 to their guaranteed income supplement, as suggested by the Bloc Québécois. They deserve a real debate and real changes to the Old Age Security Act so that they can have adequate income to pay for housing, food and medication. They have spent their entire lives advancing our society. We want them to know that the Bloc Québécois and all of its elected members will always defend them here in the House. That is what we do and will continue to do as long as they continue to place their trust in us.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member despite his statements about the Liberal Party not working as hard as he would like us to work. I thought it was kind of interesting that some members of the government simply want to stop this debate and get on with it when we have this situation where all of the parties agree on the intent of the bill. We have learned some lessons going through this and the member has raised some very important points about unintended consequences to seniors and in other circumstances where this may be applied.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh raised an issue with regard to whether the bill would suffer a charter challenge. In his view, it is likely that it would not, not that it should not, but that it would not, simply because those who could afford to pursue such an avenue would not likely want to fight that battle.

My question for the member is whether there is some concern that there may be some problems with regard to violations of the charter. I wonder if the member could comment on whether the government and the Minister of Justice in fact have done their due diligence with regard to determining that the results or the impacts of this bill on not just Clifford Olson, but all others who would be impacted by it, would in fact respect their charter rights and make sure that we are all treated equally under the law.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my Liberal colleague's question. He is asking whether the bill would withstand a charter challenge. I would say there are grounds for a challenge. The courts will decide. The problem with the Liberal Party is that it has wholeheartedly supported the way the Conservatives have handled the economy for at least the past two years, since the 2008 election.

When the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill in the House that would give a tax credit to people who lost pension income because of a company bankruptcy and the Liberals did not stand up, I hope it was not because the bill violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pensioners with these companies that went bankrupt deserved better than that. They deserved to have us stand up for them, but the Liberals did not do that. It is great that they are talking about the charter. They seem to have something of a conscience today, and that is great. I only hope it will not prevent them from making decisions.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, since I sit near my colleague, I know that there are many things he wanted to talk more about, but he did not have time. I am going to give him a chance to talk about them by asking him this question: what would he like to expand on?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, that is how the federal government treats our seniors. The Conservatives have picked up where the Liberals left off. Employment insurance is a perfect example. The Liberals decided to plunder $54 billion from the fund and now the Conservatives are saying there is no money left, that we have to start over. The Conservatives are saying they were not the ones who stole from the fund; it was the Liberals. Our unemployed workers are the ones who lose in the end.

The same goes for our seniors. The Liberals did not adjust old age pensions as they should have. And the Conservatives decided to do the same as the Liberals. Under the Liberal government, the Bloc Québécois called for a monthly increase of $100 in the guaranteed income supplement. The Liberals said no. We asked the Conservatives for the same thing and they also said no. That is the reality of those two old parties. They decided to abandon seniors, older people, unemployed workers and forestry workers. I thank my hon. colleague for giving me the opportunity to talk about it.

Now they are wondering why people have had enough of them. It is quite simply because their way of doing politics is outdated; it is no longer appropriate for our times. Those two parties do not care about defending the interests of seniors and workers the way the Bloc Québécois does. We will continue to defend them every day that we are here in the House.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague talked about the misleading title of this bill. The Conservatives are introducing a bill that says it would amend the Old Age Security Act. My colleague explained to us the anomaly between the content of the bill and its title. With such a title, the Conservatives could have included a measure to make good on a promise, such as automatic registration of all people entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement. They promised to do that in the 2005-06 election campaign, but they have not done it yet. Because it is not automatic, there are still many people, many seniors, who are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement even though they are entitled to it. It would be very easy for the government to make it automatic. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am glad the question came from my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain, because his predecessor was the driving force behind that bill and that request.

The Bloc Québécois took an interest in this issue after it discovered that thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians had not received the guaranteed income supplement, which they were entitled to. The Bloc Québécois canvassed seniors associations all across Quebec and identified thousands of people. We know that there are still thousands of people who are not receiving the GIS. Because applicants have to produce their tax return, the simplest solution would be to automatically send a cheque to the people who are entitled to the GIS. Instead, the Liberals decided to shorten the form by reducing the number of questions, which means that people have to fill out another form to qualify. The Conservatives kept this practice but shortened the form even further to make it easier to fill out. So the GIS is not paid automatically.

Often the least fortunate have difficulty taking care of their own affairs either for health reasons or for other reasons. My colleague is right; it would have been very simple. That is what I am saying: the Liberals and the Conservatives are one and the same. All they want is to try to save money on the backs of the taxpayers to advance their own spending projects. The Conservatives are more focused on military spending, while the Liberals have other priorities. But the average citizen never wins. It is never the least fortunate that win. Money is being ripped out of the hands of the unemployed and of seniors when they are not automatically given the guaranteed income supplement. The government has decided not to help out forestry workers in order to save money because it decided to help Ontario's automobile industry instead. It is a choice.

These are political choices that the Conservatives and Liberals have made to the detriment of the least fortunate in Quebec. They then wonder why they do not win over this part of the population. It is simply because these people know the score. And it is not with a bill like the one introduced today, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, which does not address the real problems facing seniors, that the government will manage. The government could have introduced a bill called, “an act to prevent prisoners from receiving their old age pension”, but that would not have been as glamourous as the one they are currently introducing.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I arrived this morning to listen to some more of the debate and followed it closely as it has moved through the system. The summary of the bill states that:

The enactment amends the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under this Act while maintaining entitlement to benefits for, and avoiding a reduction in the amounts payable to, their spouse or common-law partner under this Act.

This was prompted by a report, before last summer, that the serial killer Clifford Olson was receiving old age security.

Canadians were outraged and parliamentarians agreed and, in fact, all parties agreed that we should move forward with this.

Whenever we do a bill, however, it is not just good enough to say that we all agree, just pass it and let us go. We have to very careful, and some members have already spoken about potential unintended consequences. I must admit there are some circumstances in which questions could be raised. So, I want to touch on a few of those.

First, old age security, as we know it today, and members are familiar with this, is a benefit that is received by all Canadians who reach the age of 65 and is subject to certain criteria, specifically income, because there is a clawback provision, which means that if a person makes a lot of money in Canada they will not get the old age security.

Interestingly enough, up until I believe it was 1969, Canadians actually paid premiums for old age security. There actually was a specific premium on the tax return to make a contribution toward one's old age security. That makes it different for those who did and those who did not pay into OAS during their working careers. It was contributory and then it stopped, I think in 1970. So we have two different classes of senior, those who were in the OAS contributory plan up until 1970 and those who were not. That raises the question about whether or not there are any other areas in which people have different circumstances.

I wanted to raise these because it would appear that, in the haste to get this bill put together, some of these were not taken into account.

I also understand that once the bill was actually tabled and received a bill number, Bill C-31, it basically languished for a long period of time. It was not dealt with by the government quickly. In fact, it just sat there, and it was not until September 23 that we actually had the first hour of debate at second reading.

We have to ask this question. How is it that the Parliament of Canada can put together a bill so quickly and yet not dispose of it, given the time frame that has already passed, especially when, with discussion among the various House leaders and party leaders, there could be consent? Even today, the House leader did make a reference that we should, right now, have unanimous consent to support and to pass all of the outstanding justice legislation at all stages now.

That was proposed to the government in the last Parliament. to fast-track bills, and the government turned it down.

We have to ask ourselves, even though we are dealing with a specific bill, if we have learned any lessons from the process we have gone through and from what seems to be happening.

The pattern has been that when the government gets into some difficulty, when some tough issues come up, when it gets caught or trapped, such as with whether or not Canada is going to stay in Afghanistan on a training mission, and when there are a lot of concerns and a lot of issues, the government announces that the following week it will be bringing back all of its justice bills and we will debate justice bills for a whole week. We just have to look at the government's record.

That is not the way to do it, because it is basically politically motivated. When there is a difficult issue, when the government does not want people to dwell on a problem or it does not want a problem articulated too loudly, it switches the channel.

We have switched the channel and we are now on this bill. However, this bill has been with us since before we rose for the summer. Nothing happened to it until September 23, and then it was rushed through the House after a couple of hours of attention and sent to committee. Some concerns were raised by witnesses and amendments were made. When we work together, things can happen. But the bill, as I can see right now, could probably have been completed before we rose for the summer. If the government was serious about the bill, it could probably have been passed at all stages before we broke for the summer. That has to tell us something, and it concerns me.

The other point I want to raise is with regard to the process of bringing this legislation forward. The last thing that happens before the bill comes here and a minister rises to present it, is that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has to opine on whether the bill is charter-proof, whether the bill is in good form. We cannot have legislation before the House that would be in violation of the charter.

Interestingly enough, today in debate I engaged the member for Windsor—Tecumseh in a question or two about whether or not this bill is charter-proof. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada gave the opinion to cabinet and the bill was signed off and presented to the House. That does not mean that there cannot be a challenge.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh also said that the bill would only apply to about 600 prisoners out of the 14,000 in our prisons in Canada. Many of them probably would have income from other sources and may very well earn enough income so they do not get old age security. It is very unlikely that they would get it.

If we took all of the people out who would maybe entertain a charter challenge on the basis that they were being discriminated against under the charter, the number of those 600 is really reduced. Some might have so much money that they do not care to do it because it is of no interest to them. Somebody in the middle might not be able to afford to go through the process. The member concluded that, in our situation, a charter challenge probably would never come forward.

The issue came out at committee. If members consulted some of the committee evidence, they would find that the issue did come out. The Canadian Criminal Justice Association raised the validity of the charter on this matter as one of its first points.

When I see things like this happen, I have to ask myself whether or not we have learned any lessons from the past. It is difficult to understand how legislation can be questionable under the charter and has not been nailed down 100%. That might be the first point. Why is it, if it can be demonstrated that there is a risk about whether or not a bill is charter-proof, that it would be up to someone who was aggrieved by the legislation to fight that case?

We have the potential for some unintended consequences. The issue of unintended consequences was raised by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour in his speech as well. If our enthusiasm and our motivation for changing the Old Age Security Act is because everybody would like to punish Clifford Olson, is there somebody else who may be touched by this but we have not thought it through?

The speech given by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who is a member of the committee, by the way, really concerned me. In committee he said that Correctional Service Canada did not seem to be fully informed about the prison population, about inmates' financial considerations, health issues, families, who was splitting benefits, whether they were eligible to do that where there were spousal payments, whether there were orders from other jurisdictions for moneys to be withheld and attached by some other court order.

There is a fair number of details, and none of these things have come up in speeches given by government members. There is one reason, and it is that they do not give speeches. They have someone to present a bill and then they sit on their hands. They do not give speeches or ask questions. They let the opposition parties spin their wheels, and they know that as long as they do not give speeches, they will not have to answer any questions.

That I find somewhat contemptuous of Parliament. Debate is an integral part of what we do here. If the government is not prepared to be accountable and transparent in what it is doing and how it is doing it, then we should express some concern. I hope more members will do that.

This particular bill is not rocket science. As has been outlined to the House, many countries have similar legislation wherein persons incarcerated over a certain period of time are not eligible to receive benefits. They include places like the U.K., Ireland, Austria and a number of other countries. They have various iterations of programs.

The question of unintended consequences is probably what the Bloc member who just spoke was most concerned about. Some people may not agree, but I find this interesting. When somebody over the age of 65 is in jail and will eventually get out of prison, that person needs to live and survive. Nobody wants to be a ward of the state and to be on welfare. People want to live in dignity.

Pension security has always been an issue, and of late a lot of Canadians have expressed that they have not adequately provided for their pension requirements in order to maintain a dignified lifestyle during retirement. Prisoners are still seniors, and the Bloc member gave a very good intervention from the heart about the fact that we should not consider prisoners to be devils, people who should be punished for the rest of their lives.

In fact, our criminal justice system has pillars that work against that kind of thinking. It is a system that, yes, includes punishment for crimes committed, but another important pillar is to provide rehabilitation so that when people ultimately come out of our prison system they understand what they did, are remorseful for it and are looking forward to picking up the pieces of their lives and making the best they can of it.

The other part is to provide for reintegration. That is the part this bill addresses and may be the unintended consequence. People who do not have a lot of money will receive old age security. However, people say that inmates receiving all of these benefits are not entitled to them and we should take it away. But all that does is take away the resources people may need for getting themselves reintegrated into society.

It may take away the money that will be necessary for their burial. It may take away money that is necessary for caring for any persons for whom they have responsibility or persons whom they love. It does not give them that opportunity. In fact, in some cases we will have people who will not be able to live in dignity after they have served their sentences and paid their dues.

We should learn from our experience in some of these bills. The bill was hastily done and there is some fear that we have to do this and everyone is going to jump onside simply because if we do not the public is going to say that we think Clifford Olson should get his old age security. There are many ways to do this, but we did not think about the victims of the crimes that were committed by those persons in jail. We did not think of what happens if the old age security is not paid to certain of these prisoners. That money stays in the coffers of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. It never goes anywhere near the victims. Probably one of the areas that we have not dealt with as legislators as much as we should is dealing with and helping victims of crime.

We also should be talking about the prevention side.

Our criminal justice system has many tentacles. A parallel would be when I first became a parliamentarian in 1993, and at the health committee, the first committee I was on when I became an MP, we were given a briefing on the state of the health system in Canada. We were told that 75% of what we spend is spent on fixing problems and 25% is spent on preventing them. Their conclusion was that the system or the model was unsustainable.

It is interesting. I see it as a valid parallel because right now the Conservative government is totally preoccupied with punishing people, but we have not talked very much about rehabilitation. We have not talked very much about prevention or reintegration. All we are talking about is punishing people who eventually will get out of jail and will have to reintegrate into society. We played with a number of bills that deal with parole, et cetera, and shortening that so that people spend a longer time in prison, even though all of the evidence indicates that people who earn parole and spend less time in jail are less likely to reoffend. We need to learn lessons like that and make sure that our legislation is cognizant of some of those details.

Earlier this morning the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca was speaking to another bill. One of his points was about how half the people in the jails in Canada suffer from mental illness and things like fetal alcohol syndrome. He said that the jails are filled with people who really should not be there and for whom rehabilitation is not possible. That would be another example of where in dealing with legislation, the thinking has to go on. In that case it was dealing with the sexual exploitation of children over the Internet. There are other aspects of legislation to be taken care of.

If we look down the list of the criminal justice bills, many of them are linear bills. Many of them have to do with sentencing. Many of them have to do with parole. They could have been rolled together into an omnibus bill, one to deal with sentencing principles and provisions. The reason the government has not done that and we are dealing with this one very linear issue in a bill is that the government does not want these things to be completed and made into law. The government wants to continue to have them there on the shelf, ready to bring them out, to recirculate and recycle them so that it can change the channel whenever it gets into some difficulty.

It is kind of cynical to say that, but the evidence speaks for itself. Many of these bills were active in the last Parliament, and they have come back. They were not reinstated in the same position after prorogation. Some came back and were actually put together in an omnibus bill. Others were not, but the names were changed.

I support the bill but we have missed some opportunities to make our criminal justice system better.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has indicated that the government plans to save $2 million by cutting off the pensions to inmates. If all the provinces sign on to the plan, it could potentially save another $10 million.

We have had information from the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and others who say that the government has no clue as to how many people this measure would actually affect.

Why is the government proceeding on pure speculation? We know that these pensions were first implemented in 1979 by the Joe Clark Conservative government. We asked the government questions about the reasons at the time for Joe Clark to institute these payments to prisoners? There is no information. Either the government does not know, or it does know and it does not want to tell us the information.

The government is now saying it is going to save $2 million at the federal level and $10 million at the provincial level. If we do not even know how many prisoners are collecting, are we really dealing with reality here and with proper numbers?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe some time earlier one of the members, and it may have been the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, did say that there were about 600 of the 14,000 prisoners in our jail system who were eligible. However, that does not mean they applied.

We do know that the number is less than 600. Even if it is 600, the savings that have been suggested by the government seem to be a little bit out of line.

It is yet another case where the government has not done its homework. It has not done the bill justice and it has not done Parliament justice, simply because it did not do its homework. It does not know what is involved.

All the government knows is that the public will think that taking the old age security away from Clifford Olson is great, and it will get the political benefit from that.

But if everything we do around this place has to do with how we get political benefit, there is no question in my mind that the prayer we say, that we make good laws and wise decisions, will almost be impossible to achieve.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, a proposal was raised by New Democrats through this debate. I am wondering about the member's opinions and his party's opinions on this.

I think the government has found a loophole that involves people who are staying beyond their retirement years who are then having their room and board taken care of, if we want to call prison “room and board”, but are also receiving old age security payments. The government wants to take those funds that have been allocated, and constitutionally allocated, to those prisoners and put them into a fund to help with the rehabilitation process and to help with external programs that it has since cut.

One of those programs that we are very intimate with in the riding I represent is the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. This was an institution set up to help with the institutional effects of residential schools over many generations. The government decided to cut those funds, and the effects have been felt throughout.

The reason I raise aboriginals in this particular case is we know that first nations are overrepresented in our prison system as it is right now. One of the ways to help people either stay out of prison, or if they go in to not go back in, recidivism, is to make sure there are supportive programs when they come out.

The government seems to be blinkered in its attitude towards crime, they believe that the only satisfactory response to crime is to build more prisons as opposed to stopping the crimes from happening in the first place.

If we really want to stand up for victims' rights in this country, we would create fewer victims. By creating more programs there would be fewer victims in the country and fewer crimes happening.

I am wondering about my colleague's opinion about taking this one issue, this so-called Olson bill, and referring it to something a little bit more profound and getting at the sources and roots of crime, the actual nuts and bolts.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I fully agree with the member. This is part of the problem. The government has not thought it through and has not done a good job on the bill, whether it be the funds for rehabilitation purposes, whether it be for victims of crime or anything where it puts those savings, whatever they might be, in a manner that is going to contribute to the reduction of repeat offenders and help people to reintegrate.

My concern is that if the numbers that we are talking about are as small as they are, I suspect that the administration that would have to be set up to deal with this would cost more than the money that one would actually get.

That is why the government needed to have done the work, and if in fact it found out that this was not economically feasible, even the way it is right now where the moneys are retained in human resources and not for victims or for justice-related issues, it probably should have simply had a specific Olson bill to say that Clifford Olson does not get OAS, period, and we are done. It would have gotten unanimous consent and we would not have to spend months with a bill behind which the government really has not put its work nor its heart.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am proud to stand up on behalf of the New Democratic Party and speak about this bill.

As I mentioned earlier today, there are few topics that are more profound than those that involve crime and punishment. When we talk about punishment, we are talking about some of the most serious issues that any mature society can deal with. We are dealing with tragedy, with victims, with pain, damage, some of it permanent, and it is always something that legislators need to take with the most serious of intentions and the utmost good faith.

I am not sure that the bill before us, Bill C-31, was born out of that kind of approach. In the last six months, the prospects of Clifford Olson getting a pension came up in the news and the government then sprang into action, as it often does with crime bills, by governing by exception. The Conservatives will take a case that comes up in an exceptional circumstance and then they will rush to legislate, and I think this bill is a product of that. That is regrettable, and I would urge the government and all parliamentarians to take a more considered, more fact-based and more effective approach to making policy when it comes to Criminal Code amendments and when it comes to determining how we deal with those who have breached the rules of society.

Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, I will say at once, suffers from a very common problem that is becoming increasingly used by the government, and that is the interjection of hyper-partisan short titles of the bill. I heard a cabinet minister today say that the opposition is just focusing on the short title. I think there is something more important at stake, and that is the integrity of the laws of the Government of Canada. There are many lawyers in the House. I myself am a lawyer, and the way that the government has interjected its own partisan leanings into what should be an objective and lawful description of the laws that all citizens of this country have to abide by is regrettable.

The Conservatives have described this bill in short form as the “Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act”, which again is probably not accurate. For sure it is partisan and it does not do justice to what we as parliamentarians ought to be doing in the House.

The bill suspends payments of old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving more than 90 days in a federal correctional facility. Of course, a person has to be sentenced to two years or more in order to be in a federal correctional facility in this country.

The bill would suspend payments of the spousal or survivor allowance to eligible individuals between 60 and 64 years of age, while that individual is serving time in a federal facility. The bill does maintain OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who are incarcerated. They are to receive these payments at the higher single rate, based on their individual, not combined, spousal income. To that degree, I would offer my approval and support to the government for at least having the foresight and care to not penalize spouses of those incarcerated in federal institutions who are over 60 years of age.

The bill would maintain the spousal allowance benefits to the spouse of incarcerated individuals. It also allows provinces to opt in by entering into agreements with the federal government to suspend OAS and GIS and spousal allowance benefits under the terms that I have mentioned, to all individuals incarcerated for a sentence that exceeds 90 days in a provincial facility.

Notwithstanding what I have just said, benefit payments would still be paid during the first month of incarceration, and benefit payments would resume the month that an individual was released on earned remission, parole, statutory release or warrant expiry upon application by that individual.

I want to first deal with a little bit of history, because I think this is instructive. It is interesting that prior to 1979 in this country, inmates in federal penitentiaries did not receive old age security or GIS.

Interestingly, I think Canadians would be very surprised to learn that it was a Conservative government, Joe Clark's government of 1979, that restored pensions to prisoners serving time in federal institutions.

I think this shows just how far the government has strayed from any notion of progressivity that once was a hallmark of the Conservative Party in this country, as it was then called the Progressive Conservative Party. Canadians need to know that Conservatives gave prisoners pensions in this country. I would ask that the members on the other side of the House reflect on that at some point and think about where they have come from and where they are going.

I have some quotes from the Hon. David Crombie, who was the Minister of National Health and Welfare at the time. This is what he said in 1979 when he, as a Conservative, was granting pensions to offenders in federal institutions in this country:

If I may refer now to the provision which will end the suspension of the OAS benefits for prisoners, this is also an improvement of some significance....

This provision has, over the course of years, proven both difficult and unfair. When OAS pensioners are imprisoned and their benefits are subject to suspension, any delay in effecting the suspension can result in overpayments which must be collected when the pension is released. Even if there is no overpayment, the lack of benefits during imprisonment can mean that these people are released with little money at an advanced age and few prospects for making a living.

There are fewer than 100 persons affected by this provision in any given year. The cost of maintaining payment of their OAS benefits is a small fraction of a per cent of program costs. However, if even one prisoner is able to find a better life as a result of this change, and one prisoner's spouse is not deprived of her allowance, it will be well worth the effort....

I invite the support of all members of this House for this particular step, to improve the humanity of a program now in place, and for the broader examination which we hope to carry out, in co-operation with provincial governments and the private sector, to ensure that we have the best possible pension system that we can afford to provide retirement protection for all Canadians.

That is what Conservatives said in 1979.

What they want to do now is strip pensions from certain people in this country, in this case prisoners, and they have done absolutely nothing to address senior poverty in this country or to improve the Canada pension plan or any pension legislation that will actually help our seniors have a retirement and live in dignity in their golden years.

That said, I also want to point out that at that time, in 1979, there were about 100 people who would be affected by the pension. It is not much different today. I have done some research and discovered a number of facts.

There are 398 people over the age of 65 in the federal corrections system. That was as of March 31. Interestingly, many countries have similar legislation, including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. At least six provinces and territories now stop social welfare for more than three months when people are in prison: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and the Northwest Territories.

I think it is important to ask the government where we sit in terms of comparing ourselves to other countries in the world when it comes to how we are dealing with issues such as this.

I want to talk about some of the positive aspects of the bill, because I think it has some positives and some negatives. First, there is an inherent and undeniable logic to suspending payments designed to provide for the basic necessities of life in cases where our taxpayers are already funding the basic necessities of life for people who are sentenced to federal prisons.

I want to stop there. That makes some sense. I think it would pass the smell test for Canadians that old age security is intended to provide a certain amount of money to seniors. It is not very much. I think it is approximately $10,000 a year, and that would go to helping a person pay for shelter and food. One could argue, and I think it is a valid argument, that if individuals are in a federal institution and already have their accommodation and food taken care of, the justification for receiving that OAS payment may not be there.

I think there is some small savings to this measure. It has been estimated that suspending OAS and GIS payments to prisoners over the age of 60 would save about $2 million a year immediately and up to $10 million per year if all provinces and territories opted into this program.

I want to reiterate that I think the way this legislation is drafted mitigates to an extent the financial impact on spouses of offenders in federal institutions by allowing them to receive OAS and GIS payments at the single rate and based on their individual rather than combined spousal income, although it must be recognized that a spouse of an offender and their family very likely would stand to be hurt by this provision because they would be deprived of that spouse's income that would otherwise come to the family.

There are some negative aspects of the bill. The constitutionality of these provisions has been questioned. Some may view this provision as an attempt to add a sentencing provision to someone. It brings up the concept of civil forfeiture, which was a concept abolished in the British Commonwealth system some 150 years ago. That is the notion that when people are convicted of a crime, the sentence that is carried out by the state is that they are deprived of their liberty and they are deprived of their ability to walk freely in society. Those I do not think should be underestimated in terms of the profundity and the impact of those losses.

But otherwise a person, even in a federal institution, still retains certain rights as a citizen. They have the right to vote. They have their basic human rights. They have the right to communicate with their lawyers. Stripping them of their private property, as was done in Britain 150 years ago where people convicted of an offence might have their property, personal or real, seized by the Crown, which would throw families into poverty, and where they had debtors' prisons, has been a concept that most mature, civilized societies have rejected. So the concept of stripping someone of an entitlement that is universal in this country may be seen in that respect.

I think it could be argued that this bill would violate the universality aspect of our OAS system, a principle that I think a lot of people in this House hold dear.

We do not accord universal health care or OAS payments generally based on our evaluation of whether that person is a likeable person or whether that person has done something with which we may disagree. We generally accord those principles to every Canadian citizen as a matter of citizenship and as a matter of right. It can be considered worrying that when we open the door to taking away a universal benefit such as this bill would propose, it may open a door to which there is a sliding scale, the destination of which we know not. An example could be that if the logic of this is why are we paying for prisoners' room and board when the taxpayer is already paying, it leads to an argument that maybe we should do that if a senior citizen breaks a hip and has to be in the hospital for three months. Could the argument then be made that while the taxpayer is already paying for the lodging and food for that person for the three months, therefore we should suspend that person's OAS or GIS payments for that three-month period?

What about people who are in psychiatric hospitals or under the care of the state for mental health issues? Is that the next argument that the government would make, that we should be stripping OAS and GIS from those people?

I think we have to be very aware of where this bill could take us.

As I pointed out, the bill would have an unavoidable negative financial effect on some spouses of inmates who would lose out on almost half of the joint income used to support them. This may have a significant negative impact on spouses who are under the age of 60 and are being supported by the OAS and GIS payments made to an individual who is subsequently incarcerated, because no federal pension benefits would be provided to them.

In those cases, HRSDC officials have indicated that the provincial social assistance systems would be required to support those individuals. Once again, I think we are seeing a case where a piece of federal legislation may have a deleterious effect on the provinces by downloading onto them the requirement to use their welfare programs to support certain people who otherwise would not need that support.

I think this is very similar to the two-for-one piece of legislation where the result of us taking away the two-for-one credit for pretrial custody would no doubt result in many more prisoners spending much more time in provincial remand centres and provincial institutions and cost the provinces much more money.

Suspending pensions for inmates may also affect their ability to make court-ordered restitution payments to victims, something that is widely recognized by victims' advocates as a key component of healing, and what criminal justice experts regard as an important rehabilitative process for offenders.

We must also remember that most offenders are already poor. In fact, poverty is one of the determinative causes of crime. For those individuals who are released back into society, there is a positive social benefit in having their difficult reintegration process aided by savings of several thousand dollars. This is true particularly for seniors, who will be even less likely to quickly find employment after release.

This government bill was targeted at individuals like Clifford Olson, which every member of this House agrees has committed crimes of unspeakable evil. We all agree that Mr. Olson should never, ever see the light of day, and that Mr. Olson should not get any entitlements beyond the bare minimum that a humane society would accord a prisoner like him. But whether or not that is a sound basis upon which to make policy is a different question.

I would have preferred to see the government introduce legislation that targeted the removal of pensions for people serving life sentences. That would have been a more measured approach that would have accomplished what I think is the goal. But this bill takes away OAS and GIS from every single senior in the federal system. We could have a member of our society who is 59 or 60 years old and who gets sentenced to 2, 3, or 4 years. That person may have an interest in maintaining an apartment or house, because he or she is going to come out in perhaps two or three years. This bill would have a very deleterious effect on such people.

This legislation was motivated by a desire to reflect Canadians' great distaste and horror at the prospect of Clifford Olson receiving a pension. But we must realize that this has broader effects.

I want to talk about something my hon. colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley brought up. It is a positive suggestion by our party that ought to be considered by the government, namely, if we support this bill and it is passed, we should take that $2 million to $10 million a year and, instead of putting it back into general revenue, put it into programs that aid the rehabilitation of senior prisoners.

We can leave aside the people who have life sentences, people like Clifford Olson. Rehabilitation is not an option for those individuals. We all agree on that. But there are 300 or so senior citizens in the federal system who are going to come out, and who did not commit crimes like Mr. Olson. They are not murderers. They have not committed manslaughter. They are people who have been convicted of all manner of crimes, but most of their crimes are not anywhere near those that Clifford Olson committed. Perhaps we can take that money and do some good with it. We can target that money to programming that will help them reintegrate into society.

Steve Sullivan, the victims' ombudsperson, who was not reappointed by the government, has pointed out that victims do not want offenders to serve longer periods of time. They do not want them to suffer unduly. All they want is for those offenders to come back into society and not reoffend. They want to be able to walk safely in their communities and in our streets. That is what those victims want. It is what we all want. Any policy measure, any bill, any piece of legislation that is considered by this House should be measured against that standard. Will it help that offender not to reoffend? If it does not, then we know that we are playing politics. We are not making sound policy.

I also want to talk a bit about pensions. It is interesting that the government has done nothing to improve the pensions or the income security of seniors since it was elected in 2006. The government has been in power for coming up to five years, and that is a decent amount of time for government to reveal what its agenda really—

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Oxford Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to my colleague across the floor. He frequently mentions that he was a labour lawyer before he came here. What I notice is he talks, as other members of his party have, about not liking the short-form titles of bills. The people in my riding like the short-form titles, because they know what we are talking about and they agree with these bills.

I am puzzled as to why the member would be locked into issues of 31 years ago and why he would think there is something wrong in changing legislation that is 31 years old. In this case, with respect to people doing long sentences in federal institutions, I would like to know why he thinks for one minute that the government should even consider allowing them to continue to receive benefits.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question. He has probably been a member of the Conservative Party for 30 years. I wonder what his position was in 1979 when his Conservative party was giving pensions to prisoners in the federal system. I do not know that there was any great hue and cry.

If this was such a big issue, I wonder why my friend sat on his hands in 2006. Where was the government in 2007, 2008, and 2009 if this was such a big issue? Conservatives sat there, because they gave prisoners pensions. They do not like it when we point that out, because they want to look as if they are tough on prisoners in our federal institutions. They do not want to have Canadians know they are the ones who gave pensions to prisoners.

Of course, that is what Canadians need to know. People should ask the Conservatives why they gave prisoners pensions. If it was a bad idea, what did Conservatives say about it in 1982, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009? That is what Canadians want to ask. Why are they making policy off headlines?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I often make the mistake of referring to the member as the member for Edmonton Kingsway only because I would like to bring him back to my fair city, but I am glad he is representing his area well. It has been brought to my attention by another one of my colleagues, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, that a critical publication in my city, the Edmonton Senior, has spoken out on this issue in a way that does not seem well represented in the House. We heard there are polls where people are saying it is reprehensible that prisoners should receive pensions. But let me repeat the statement in the Edmonton Senior , which said that the “concern is not around whether or not senior prisoners should receive pension money, but what the correctional system is doing to prepare offenders for their release”.

I wonder if the member could speak to this very thoughtful commentary, which reflects on a more measured response, reflects on the broader issue of what gets people into prison in the first place and what we are doing to prepare them for their release. Further, I would like to hear his thoughts on where those moneys should go other than to general revenue.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a thoughtful question, as is usually the case, from the member from Edmonton—Strathcona. It gets to the nub of the matter.

I think Canadians want parliamentarians to focus on the programs being delivered in prisons. This is not because we feel bad for them or because we feel a sense of compassion, although that may be the case for many people. It is because we have a vested interest in making sure that people who come out of prison do not reoffend.

A full 96% of those individuals will return to society. It is not a question of if; it is a question of when. Think of that person in federal prison coming out and taking a bus in our communities, or walking near our schools, or shopping in our shopping centres, or walking down our alleys. We have a vested interest in how that person behaves.

I think that the question asked by the seniors in the hon. member's fair city is a thoughtful one. We need to ensure that those people have the kind of assistance they need in prison, so that when they come out they do not reoffend. That is what I would like all members of this House to focus on. This is how we can best ensure that the people in our federal institutions come out less likely to offend.

Taking away inmates' money may be justified. I understand the argument that the taxpayer is already paying for their stay and their food, and that is a compelling argument. On that basis, our party will support this bill. However, let us not be overpowered by a gut reaction to Clifford Olson and make legislation on the fly, as this government has done. We need a thoughtful, mature, and effective approach to prison policy in this country, and we have not seen that from this government.

Our prisons are full of mentally ill people. They are full of people with addictions and alcoholism. They are full of people with FASD, brain damage, and cognitive malfunctioning of all types. It is an absolute fact that these people are not getting anywhere near the kind of support or programming that they need, not only to improve their lives, but to keep Canadians safe.

Cheap politics such as we see practised by this government, politics that prey on people's fear, is not the way to improve safety in our streets.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the answer to the last question was in itself a very good speech. The member has drawn on input received from a large number of parliamentarians today in this debate, at least from the opposition side.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh raised a concern about whether or not this bill was charter proof. His opinion was that, given the small number of people involved, 600 or less, and taking away all those who have enough resources that they do not want to go into that battle, as well as those who cannot afford to, leaves it to the middle core. These people probably will not do it. His view was that we would not have a charter challenge by any of the people affected by this.

I wonder if the member cares to comment on whether Parliament should be put in this position. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has already opined, and signed off on the bill, that it is charter proof. Yet, organizations that came to committee stated, as their first point of concern, that the bill was not charter proof and probably would be challenged.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, one thing that is absolutely clear is there will be a charter challenge to this legislation. I would find it very surprising if there were not an offender or group that deals with offenders or the criminal justice system that does not make a charter challenge. Right then and there it will probably cost the government $2 million in defending a charter challenge as it inevitably winds its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

There is no way to know if the legislation is in compliance with the charter or not at this point. Some of it depends on whether it is applied on a proactive basis. Certainly any person who is in prison now and has his or her pension taken away could argue that this amounts to the imposition of a sentence by Parliament beyond the sentence imposed by the judge.

At the time of sentencing, an offender may have received a fine, a period of incarceration or an order for restitution. If we now say we are taking away his or her pension for a period of time, there very well could be a challenge by that offender, saying that we are attempting to unjustly and illegitimately add to that person's sentence. I am not sure if that will prevail or not, but that is definitely a risk.

I want to make it clear that my party will support the legislation on the basis that taxpayers ought not to be paying twice. I know that people in the community wonder why someone who goes to prison gets to bank his or her old age security and GIS. It could be argued that people are in better shape going to prison than those in the community and we have to be sympathetic to that argument. That is why my party will support the bill. However, let us not pretend that this bill is going to do anything for community safety or is getting at the real issues on the minds of Canadians and the issues taking place in our prisons because the bill does not do that.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31. I have listened to a number of good presentations today on the bill. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh spoke at length about how the government had missed a good opportunity to offer restitution to victims of crime.

It was either in 1970 or 1971 when the Manitoba NDP government of Ed Schreyer became the first in Canada to bring in the criminal injuries compensation program. The program has been updated since that time. Compensation for victims of crime has been an issue in Manitoba for the NDP since 1971.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out that Ontario had a similar fund as did some other provinces, but the federal government did not. For the enterprising Conservatives on the government side, it seems to me that this would be a logical thing for them to consider because they want to align themselves with victims. They want to do the right thing for victims. Setting up a parallel federal compensation program for victims of crime would be a well-received government initiative.

In terms of funding for the initiative, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has suggested that the moneys that would be received in general revenue by cutting off the pensions to federal inmates could be put into that fund for compensation to the victims.

I know I only have a few minutes today, but tomorrow I can read out a list of the rules and restrictions on the compensation fund for Manitoba and I am sure the federal government could set up a similar type of fund.

In terms of how much money would be put in that fund, the parliamentary secretary mentioned today that the government was looking at saving a potential $2 million on federal prisoners alone, all 400 of them, and another $10 million perhaps on the 600 provincial prisoners provided the government could get all the provinces to sign on to the program.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed that when the bill went through committee, members were unable to determine exactly how many prisoners were drawing a pension. There is really no way for the government to know how many people are collecting pensions while in prison. This $2 million may be more or less a bogus figure that the government is perpetuating when it says that it plans to save on the federal portion of the pensions to prisoners.

Nevertheless, this is just another example of the government proceeding on the basis of projections without having them fully worked out, thought through and written down. We proved that with the government's crime bills earlier this year. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has provided information indicating that these bills will cost a lot of money. If we base it on the parliamentary secretary's assumption, we are already proving that $2 million is not really an accurate figure. Regardless of what the money is, if the government could at least use this opportunity to put the money into a compensation fund for victims that would be a positive thing.

As has been mentioned, there are a number of court ordered restitution orders that prisoners have to follow. They may be impacted when we take away these pensions. There is also the possibility of opening up lawsuits against perpetrators. Russell Williams certainly would have assets that some of the victims could access.

Exposing criminally obtained assets to the victims would be something positive. The government has now sort of missed the opportunity to do this. This is an opportunity on which it should have perhaps followed up.

In terms of why the government—

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 24th, 2010 / 10 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue with my speech on this bill. As indicated, I spoke yesterday on it for a number of minutes and I have about 11 minutes left, but for those who are listening in today and who did not have the benefit of listening to the presentations yesterday on this bill, I will recap and then point out some of the things that this bill would do.

It would suspend payments of old age security, OAS, and guaranteed income supplement, GIS, to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving time in a federal correctional facility, which, of course, would be a sentence of two years or more.

It would suspend payments of the spousal or survivor allowance to eligible individuals between 60 and 64 years old while the individual is serving time in a federal facility.

It would maintain OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who are incarcerated, and provide to receive these payments at the higher single rate based on the individual rather than the combined spousal income. It also would maintain the spousal allowance benefits to the spouses of incarcerated individuals.

The bill would allow the provinces to opt in by entering into agreements with the federal government to suspend OAS, GIS and spousal allowance benefits on the above terms to all individuals incarcerated for a sentence that exceeds 90 days in a provincial facility. This would take a process of having all of the provinces opt into this bill. Notwithstanding the above, the benefit payments could still be paid during the first month of the incarceration. Benefit payments would resume the month that an individual was released on earned remission, parole, statutory release or a warrant expiry.

In terms of some of the positive aspects of the bill, which speakers on this side of the House have noted, there is an inherent and undeniable logic to suspending payments designed to provide for the basic necessities of life in cases when the taxpayer is already funding the basic necessities of life, and that has been mentioned by almost all of the speakers to this bill.

Another positive aspect of suspending pensions for prisoners is that it does have a lot of support out in the public. It would save between $2 million a year and up to $10 million per year if all of the provinces and the territories were to opt in. The bill would also mitigate, to an extent, the financial impact on spouses by allowing them to receive OAS and GIS payments at the single rate based on their individual rather than a combined spousal income.

I did deal with an issue here yesterday to which I still do not have an answer. I asked at what point, what year and what government was in place when the OAS and GIS benefits were initially provided to inmates of federal institutions. I understand that the year was 1979 when Joe Clark was the Conservative prime minister. It was the Conservative government of Joe Clark that started paying OAS and GIS payments to federal prisoners in the first place. I asked whether, in developing this bill, the government had gone back to those days to determine the debates that had occurred and why the government in those days decided to provide these payments to the prisoners in the first place.

Was there Hansard debate available here in the House at the time? I am sure this must have come before the House of Commons for debate. If there is no Hansard available, then how did this measure start? Was it an administrative decision on the part of Joe Clark and the Conservative government to provide these pension benefits to federal inmates? Exactly what was the process? Was there a court intervention? Did somebody take the issue to court and win a court case and that is why the federal government made that move?

We know that when we get this bill to committee there will be an opportunity to ask these questions and more so we can get a full understanding of where this issue came from. Essentially, like a lot of the government's justice initiatives, it is basically knee-jerk. It is based on what the latest polling shows or what the latest press articles are. When an article comes out, the next week the government introduces a bill to deal with that issue. When in actual fact we know, and the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan pointed out very well yesterday, that what we need is complete pension reform in this country

We need to move forward. We have seen some good signals coming from the Conservative government that it is prepared to look at doubling the benefits of the CPP as opposed to taking the private route and rewarding private insurance companies on Bay Street. I applaud the Conservatives for that because that is to the benefit of Canadian citizens and not something we would necessarily expect coming out of a Conservative government.

In the area of the Criminal Code, it has been mentioned several times in the House that the Criminal Code that is 100-plus years old, that it is out of date and that it needs a lot of revisions. It is time for the government to take a total view of things and make an announcement that the Criminal Code will be revised, get all the parties involved and embark on this process.

I still go back to what has not been accomplished under this minority government. When we compare the minority government period of Lester Pearson from 1962 to 1968, those six years, to this government which is pushing five years, it is only a year away from actually exceeding being probably the longest minority government in history and it has very little to show for its now five years in office.

During the same time, the Pearson government had resolved some very controversial issues. It brought in the new Canadian flag, which was very controversial to the members of the Conservatives at the time. It unified the armed forces, also extremely controversial, melding the air force, the navy and the army together in one unit. It brought in the Medicare Act. That government did a lot of things and the present government could be doing the same thing.

I look to Manitoba as well, under the Conservative government of Gary Filmon, where, in a minority situation, it got a lot of things done because it was trying to make parliament work.

However, here we have a group that is undecided as to how it wants to proceed. It develops a wedge politics attitude and every issue it looks at it wonders how it can drive wedges between the opposition parties and create division within the country. That is not how Lester Pearson ran the government.

I do not know how long it will take for the government to figure this out but I hope it does it soon because it may not be around that much longer. I would hate to see the Conservatives wake up years after the fact and realize that if only they had done this. I can see the Prime Minister, 10 years from now, saying, “I was the Prime Minister for five years and I could have done X, Y and Z but I let the opportunity pass”.

Once again I would call on the government and the Prime Minister to take the initiative, to do the comprehensive revisions to the pension system in this country, to initiate major changes to the Criminal Code and, by doing so, will develop a national vision for the government, which it does not have at this time.

As was pointed out yesterday, our member for Burnaby—New Westminster has a motion, Motion No. 507, tabled before the House where he requested that the government prohibit the payment of old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments to individuals serving life sentences for multiple murders, except for the individuals released from prison, and allocate the proceeds to a victims compensation program administered by the provinces. This is a very sensible approach in that it would cut the payments to mass murderers, 19 of them in the system right now, and it would take the proceeds from their pensions and put them into a compensation fund for the victims where it rightfully belongs. That would go a long way to helping victims in this country. It shows vision and it shows leadership, something that is severely lacking from the government on this particular issue.

We are offering solutions that try to contribute to the problems in the country.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 24th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the demographic changes in our country, we will have an explosion of those people who will be needing pensions. We also know there is a significant problem today of people not having enough savings and not having enough pension security.

I would ask the member's opinion on one of the things I think we could do. When pensions were put together, the average life expectancy was roughly 60 to 62. Today, the average life expectancy of a woman is 82 and for a man it is 80. There is a large gap between the time of retirement and the average end of life.

I would ask the member whether one of the challenges that a government would have and one of the solutions would be to incentivize individuals to be able to work after the age of 65. Maybe one way to do this would to enable people to take a part of their CPP tax free in order to incent them to work after the age of 65, and that number would actually increase from 65 to 70. This way it would have less pressure on our CPP levels while providing an incentive for people to work.

We are also seeing a contraction in our workforce as our population ages. The amount of workforce we have will contract because we know our population reproduction rate now is about 1.5 children per woman and the number needed just to maintain a population is 2.1 children per women.

Does my friend believe that a significant reformation of our pension system to incent individuals to work beyond the age of 65 would be to allow them to keep part of their CPP tax free?.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 24th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am always interested to hear from the member because he makes very insightful speeches on not only this but many topics.

I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance would be more than prepared to let him know this. In the last budget, and I am not sure whether it was in that 880-page omnibus budget bill that was presented before the House or whether it was in another part of the budgetary process, but the government actually did deal with part of what he just spoke of. It tinkered with the rules a bit to give incentive to people who wished to work an extra two or three years and they will get paid a little bit more than if they were to take early retirement. That is already on its radar and it was dealt with last year to that small extent.

I read an article about that issue where an analyst said that it was a bit of an incentive. People who stayed in the workforce an extra three or four years would gain a little bit but at the end of the day it really was not that much and therefore the incentive for staying probably was not worth staying the extra three years. It is not really quite enough. Perhaps what the member is suggesting, combined with what the government is already doing, might actually achieve the desired effect.

I do not think what has been done with the system right now will achieve the results that the government itself is looking for here. It did not offer a big enough incentive for people to stay in the workforce those extra two or three years.

The member is welcome to check with the parliamentary secretary on this issue because he has all the details. However, it was passed and I believe it is in force as we speak, or should be. What the hon. member has mentioned is certainly an added benefit that we should look at because I do not think what the government has done will give it the desired effect. I could be wrong but I do not think so.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important bill, Bill C-31, the eliminating entitlements for prisoners act.

Our Conservative government is committed to ensuring fairness for hardworking taxpayers, and we will continue to put victims and taxpayers first, ahead of criminals. Our government believes that Canadians who work hard, contribute to the system, and play by the rules deserve benefits such as old age security. It is wrong and obviously unfair that prisoners who broke the law should receive these same benefits.

Bill C-31 will ensure that mass murderers like Clifford Olson do not receive benefits while they are in jail. This mass murderer is receiving these government benefits, even though he actually admitted to brutally murdering eleven children, forever altering the lives of their families and traumatizing the communities in which he committed these dreadful crimes.

In a few short years, Paul Bernardo is supposed to receive the same benefits. So is Robert Pickton. This is offensive and outrageous to our Prime Minister, to me, to our government, and to Canadians right across the country. As soon as this shocking process was discovered, the Prime Minister asked me to take action quickly to put a stop to incarcerated criminals' receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. That is exactly what we are doing today. We are doing exactly what Canadians want.

Canadians know that when our Conservative government makes a commitment, we follow through, and unlike the tax and spend opposition, we will use their hard-earned tax dollars fairly, responsibly, and prudently.

Before I continue, I want to explain exactly what this legislation aims to do. The purpose of the old age security program is to help seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income, meet their immediate basic needs and maintain a minimum standard of living in retirement. This is in recognition of the contributions seniors have made to Canadian society, our economy, and their communities.

However, an inmate’s needs, such as food and shelter, are already met and paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadians accept these costs because they want to make sure criminals stay off their streets and stay in jail where they belong.

What Canadians are not okay with are benefits meant for law-abiding, hard-working seniors going to incarcerated prisoners. Since an inmate's basic needs are already paid for by public funds, Canadian taxpayers should not be paying for income support through OAS benefits. It is grossly unfair to make law-abiding Canadian taxpayers pay for incarcerated criminals twice.

In short, whether someone is in jail for two months, two years, or twenty years, the fact is that taxpayers are already footing the bill for their room and board, so the criminals should not be receiving old age security benefits intended to help low-income seniors pay for their basic expenses. Accordingly, once passed, this bill would terminate old age security benefits for prisoners sentenced to more than two years in a federal penitentiary. The federal government would then work with provinces and territories to sign information-sharing agreements to proceed with the termination of these benefits for incarcerated criminals serving 90 days or more in a provincial or territorial institution.

I was very pleased that the government of British Colombia was the first to announce its support for our legislation and its willingness to work with us, if and when this bill becomes law. I have written to all of the provinces and territories to gauge their support and I hope to hear from all of them. What is more, I really hope that they all agree to move forward on this very important initiative.

This bill will affect approximately 400 federal inmates and about 600 provincial and territorial inmates each year. In total, implementing this bill will result in a savings to Canadian taxpayers of $2 million annually once the change is made federally. The savings will increase another $8 million to $10 million per year if every province and every territory signs on.

I would like to point out that this bill would put the OAS Act in line with other federal and provincial, as well as international, practices. For example, the working income tax benefit and the employment insurance program both cease payments of benefits when an individual is incarcerated. In addition, most of the provinces and territories, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories, already do not make social assistance available to inmates. The United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States, among others, all suspend the payment of pensions to prisoners as well.

We have been very careful to ensure that the innocent spouses and common-law partners do not suffer as a result of the actions of their criminal spouses. They will not lose their individual entitlement to the guaranteed income supplement and the allowances as a result of these proposed amendments. They will still receive benefits, but based on their individual income rather than the combined income of the couple.

In summary, Bill C-31 would put an end to the practice of prisoners receiving taxpayer-funded old age security benefits. Our Conservative government believes that this is the fair thing to do and we believe it is the right thing to do.

What matters more than what we think, or what anyone across the aisle thinks, is what hard-working Canadians across the country think. Let me tell the House that support for this legislation has been overwhelming. Victims of Clifford Olson and the organizations that support them have praised this bill.

One of the people by whom I was most touched was Sharon Rosenfeldt. She is the president of Victims of Violence. She is also the mother of one of Olson's victims and her life is forever altered by his heinous crimes. When this bill was introduced, Ms. Rosenfeldt said, “It's great to see that this government is putting victims and taxpayers first ahead of criminals. The suspension of OAS benefit payments to inmates is just that. I commend [the Prime Minister] and [the minister] for taking leadership on this important issue and ending entitlements for convicted criminals”.

Ray King is the father of another victim of Clifford Olson. When he learned that the government introduced this bill, he said this “is the best news I have heard in a long time. I am quite pleased the government has actually done something”.

David Toner, president of Families Against Crime and Trauma, also praised this bill saying, “We are thrilled that the Prime Minister and the minister have taken leadership and are putting victims ahead of the entitlements of prisoners. I commend the Harper government for introducing this legislation”.

It is not just the families of victims that support this bill; law enforcement has also been very supportive. I have heard from police officers across the country who believe that this bill is the fair and right thing to do.

As an example, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu applauded the bill, saying, “It would be my hope that the innocent victims will no longer feel further victimized by watching their attackers receive old age pensions during their forced retirement from their careers of crime. I am sure this evolutionary change in legislation will be greeted warmly by the many victims of these criminals”.

Taxpayers across the country have made their voices heard by signing a Canadian Taxpayers Federation petition in support of this bill. In fact almost 50,000 Canadians signed the petition. When the bill was introduced, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said, “When the government does something right, they deserve credit”.

As we can see, victims and other major organizations strongly support this piece of legislation. What has really made an impact on me is the reaction from everyday Canadians. The number of Canadians who care about this issue and who took time out of their busy lives to write, email, and call in support of this bill has been truly remarkable. In fact I have received more correspondence from Canadians who support this bill than I have on almost any other issue.

I believe that it is important that their voices be heard, so I want to share with you a very small sample of what Canadians are saying.

From Cornwall, Ontario: “It is ludicrous that Clifford Olson is entitled to benefits he does not need, does not deserve, and has not earned”.

From Campbell River, British Columbia: “Thank you so much for introducing Bill C-31 so quickly to the House. You are to be commended for listening to the people who were so shocked to hear of the outrageous amount of money going to incarcerated men and women in the form of OAS”.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba: “Thank you for saying what most Canadians think. It is truly an outrage that Clifford Olson would get a pension on top of what he has in prison”.

From Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: “Canadian taxpayers have too long been held to ransom by those in our society and nation who flaunt the mores and break the laws of decent, law-abiding citizens”.

From Edmonton, Alberta: “Thank you for bringing the issue of prisoner pensions forward and I wish you much success with your initiative. I am hopeful that wisdom prevails from all parties on this issue”.

From Oshawa, Ontario: “I am glad that Bill C-31 has been introduced. It is a step in the right direction. Let us just hope this bill moves swiftly through to becoming law, putting an end to this insane practice in Canada”.

And from Halifax, Nova Scotia: “You are correct, Canadians who have spent their whole lives working and obeying the rules are the only ones entitled to these benefits, and I applaud the Conservatives for recognizing this and actually doing something about it quickly. Again, thank you for your good work, much appreciated”.

The overwhelming support that we have received from Canadians across this great country is proof that this bill is the right thing to do.

As members may be aware, shortly after this bill was introduced, the government received a letter from Clifford Olson himself, written from prison. In it he states that he is against this bill and is going to take the government to court if it passes.

Well, if a criminal who brutally murdered 11 children does not agree with this bill, then I think that is even more proof that this bill is the fair and right thing to do.

It is very unfortunate that for decades previous governments ignored this unfair and wrong practice, but it is not surprising.

There is a fundamental difference between our Conservative government and the opposition members. They are more concerned with the rights of prisoners who break the law and terrorize innocent families than they are with the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens.

Our Conservative government, on the other hand, continues to stand up for the rights of victims and their families. And we have a strong record of action to prove it.

For example, we created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman of Victims of Crime to serve as an independent resource for victims in Canada.

Over the last three years, we have committed $52 million to respond to a variety of needs of victims of crime, including the victims fund, which provides resources for victims of crime; support for Canadians victimized abroad; National Parole Board hearings; testimonial aids to assist child victims and witnesses with videoconferencing testimony; and support for under-served victims, including northern and aboriginal victims.

Furthermore, budget 2010 provided additional funding of $6.6 million over two years, and we will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory to better fund victim services.

We are also taking action to facilitate access to employment insurance sickness benefits for eligible Canadians who have lost a family member as a result of a crime.

Bill C-31 is in keeping with our Conservative government's commitment to put victims and law-abiding Canadians first, ahead of prisoners.

Our government took quick action to put an end to incarcerated criminals receiving taxpayer funded benefits that are meant to help Canadian seniors who have contributed so much and so many positive things to our country.

Bill C-31, the eliminating entitlements for prisoners act, puts an end to hard-working Canadian taxpayers paying twice for prisoners. The bill is all about the responsible use of public funds and the fair treatment of Canadian taxpayers. We are taking action to put an end to entitlements for prisoners and to ensure that those Canadians who have spent their lives working hard and playing by the rules receive the benefits that they deserve.

This bill is the fair and right thing to do. It is what Canadians want us to do. I implore the opposition to listen to Canadians, to put victims and taxpayers first ahead of criminals and pass this bill quickly.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue today. It would be nice, given the fact that this is our first week back, if everybody would be respectful and people would get along with each other. Unfortunately, the insults continue to be there, no matter how hard we try.

This bill was first introduced at the beginning of June and, as the critic, I immediately got up to speed on it. However, I was quite disappointed that it took until now to actually deal with it. I would have preferred to have dealt with it as speedily as possible back in June because I and my colleagues feel very similar to the minister on this particular issue.

Despite our often fierce partisan differences, today we are looking at an issue that I believe should unite all of us, regardless of our political affiliations. Therefore, I will not be throwing any insults around as I speak to this.

Today we begin the exploration of Bill C-31, legislation, as outlined by the minister, that would prevent convicted criminals from being eligible to receive old age security benefits during their term of incarceration.

The old age security pension is intended to help seniors pay for their housing, clothing, food and transportation, an expectation that many seniors struggle with each and every day. All of us in the House, and myself as the critic for seniors and pensions, get calls every week about the difficulty seniors have, especially those at the low income levels, coping with everyday challenges, the low interest rates, the $1.35 increase in their OAS pension cheque, the difficulty many of them have finding housing and so on. Naturally, when Canadians or seniors hear about this they are clearly upset.

For thousands of seniors who are struggling with these growing bills on a fixed income, the thought that convicted and imprisoned criminals would be eligible for the same OAS benefits is offensive and totally unacceptable to all of us.

Moreover, given that OAS is meant to help the recipient pay for housing, clothing, food and transportation, it seems somewhat unnecessary for prisoners to get the cheque given when their housing, clothing, food and transportation are already paid as a condition of their incarceration. As a legislator, I see the current reality to be redundant, unacceptable and something that should be changed without delay.

With that in mind, I intend to keep my remarks brief today because I believe we should all work together to forward the bill to committee to ensure we analyze it efficiently and properly, get it back to the House and get it through.

I believe it is important that we be prudent as legislators to ensure that the things we do here do not have any unintended consequences in our rush and in our enthusiasm to pass the bill. Again, the only outstanding concern that I have centres on my desire to be sure, as indicated by the minister, that the changes in Bill C-31 do not prompt any unintended consequences that may place hardships on the spouse and family of a convicted or incarcerated person.

Of course, the Old Age Security Act is the legislation from which the monthly old age security benefit is derived but it also offers the guaranteed income supplement, a spousal allowance and a survivors benefit. Often the spouses of incarcerated criminals were not complicit in the crimes of their spouses and, as such, should not be further victimized by the removal of these important benefits.

I know the government has signalled that it agrees with these sentiments but, on a personal note, we should take the time to ensure that all is as it seems and as it should be. It is our duty as responsible legislators to do due diligence on every piece of legislation, to set aside our emotions at times and to ensure we are doing due diligence on everything we are passing on behalf of all Canadians.

Our position here as Liberals is very clear. We support the intent of Bill C-31. We agree that convicted and incarcerated criminals should not receive sizeable benefits, like the monthly OAS cheque. I stand ready to do whatever it takes to achieve these goals and look forward to working with my colleagues and with the government to pass the measures geared to the same.

The minister also talked about the $8 million to $12 million in savings as a result of this bill. I certainly hope those savings will be passed on to the seniors in this country and to the victims of crime.

Cuts continue to go to a variety of people. We know things will be difficult in the coming months and years when we deal with the massive deficit, but I would not like to see that deficit paid for on the backs of our seniors and other vulnerable people in our society. I implore the government to reinvest these savings, to which the minister referred, into the seniors of our country.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, on June 1, when the Conservative government introduced its bill aimed at eliminating old age pension benefits for prisoners, the Bloc Québécois clearly indicated that it planned on supporting this new measure. We will be supporting it, but only once we are certain that this bill, which was written at the last-minute, has been studied in detail.

Once again, the Conservative government, still severely blinkered by its right wing, Reform mindset, wants to pass this bill quickly to impress the voters with its ideology of stark, severe repression. It is hoping that the House will stand behind it and rush to pass this bill so that we can speed up the procedures needed to implement it.

The Bloc Québécois is not buying it. Let us be clear: this bill does not deal with an urgent issue. No one is in danger and no one is being unfairly penalized if this bill is not passed immediately.

I could list many urgent matters that are far more important than the measure proposed in Bill C-31, even if I only talk about current issues for seniors. I will stick to two of the seniors' issues that I feel are the most urgent.

Since last spring, advocacy groups for seniors' and retirees' rights in Quebec have taken to the streets to send a very clear message. Like the entire income security program, the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, does not meet the basic needs of low-income seniors. In my opinion, it is far more urgent to pass legislation to improve the GIS.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has been proposing significant changes to the GIS for years. I sincerely hope that this Conservative government will hear the message that seniors will soon be sending them through petitions that the FADOQ network has been collecting since last spring to call for improvements to the GIS.

Despite the new indexing recently announced, the maximum amount paid in old age security benefits is clearly still not enough for seniors to pay for their housing, clothing, food and medication. Over 78,000 seniors in Quebec are living below the low-income line. The maximum GIS allowance is not even enough to get seniors out of poverty. I think this constitutes a genuine emergency.

For years now, the federal government has been unfairly depriving these people of the money owing to them. In order to access the GIS, one must apply. Tens of thousands of seniors in Quebec have been cheated because they have not applied for the GIS.

The Bloc Québécois will continue to work to improve the GIS in order to: increase the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month; continue paying both pension and survivor benefits, for a period of six months, to a surviving spouse; automatically enrol people over 65 who are eligible for the GIS; ensure full retroactive payment of the GIS for all those who were shortchanged; and increase the surviving spouse's allowance to the same amount as the GIS.

I plan to address this matter again in the House in the very near future, because this issue is very important to me.

There is another urgent matter. In the previous budget, I reminded the Conservatives of the pressing need to bring back a real income support program for older workers, formerly known as POWA. Older workers who cannot find another job by the end of their EI benefit period are forced to turn to social assistance, now known in Quebec as employment assistance. They have to deplete all of their hard-earned assets to get that employment assistance.

Is that justice? Is that what we really want for the men and women who have spent years building our society? No, of course not. Urgent action is needed, but the Conservatives will not even consider it.

Today, we are being asked to pass at second reading a bill to amend the Old Age Security Act, which naturally deserves the attention of this House.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to fully explain the Bloc Québécois position to my fellow citizens. I believe this is a perfect example of the right approach to take when passing legislation that, for some, may once again reflect the rhetoric so often behind the bills proposed by our Conservative friends.

The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-31 at second reading in order to study it in committee where, without rushing things, without blindly following the Conservative ship—which could soon sink as it navigates troubled waters—we will examine it in detail.

Passing legislation, establishing regulations and anticipating exceptions are some of the fundamental tasks that this House must carry out with diligence and discernment. Elected representatives must foresee all the effects and repercussion of the laws they adopt. That is the work of a good parliament and that is why, in this House, bills are customarily studied in committee after second reading.

Once the early enthusiasm disappears and calmer heads prevail, unfortunate gaps are sometimes discovered. Wisdom prevails.

This bill has three clear objectives. First, it precludes incarcerated persons from receiving old age security benefits when those persons are serving a sentence of two years or more in a federal penitentiary.

Once their sentence has been served, the person can notify the minister in writing of their release in order to re-register for old age security.

It goes without saying that the same applies to the guaranteed income supplement associated with OAS. With this measure that would affect roughly 400 inmates, the government hopes to save $2 million a year. We must, however, clearly identify here the pension program that Bill C-31 will affect.

The benefits that would be cut by this bill are not those from the Canada pension plan or the Quebec pension plan, which are benefits based on contributions received during years of work. Eliminated instead would be the benefits based on years of residence in the country, the benefits known as old age security, which also provide access to the guaranteed income supplement. OAS is given to almost everyone 65 and over.

It is therefore important to distinguish between the two plans and identify the real target of Bill C-31, namely OAS.

Second, Bill C-31 stipulates that an incarcerated person's spouse who is 65 or older be considered single. This would allow them to receive benefits as a single person, which are more generous than for persons married to a pensioner, in order to compensate in part for the drop in their household income.

The bill also allows an incarcerated person's spouse aged between 60 and 64 to continue receiving the spousal allocation even though in practice they no longer live together, again to compensate for the drop in household income. The Bloc Québécois feels that these are essential measures to avoid making spouses suffer unfairly for the incarceration of their partner.

Third, Bill C-31 proposes applying the same denial of benefits to persons incarcerated for at least 90 days in a provincial prison, if the province concerned concludes an agreement with the federal government. This type of agreement does not exist for now between Quebec and Ottawa.

If ever this type of agreement between Ottawa and each province went through, this could affect roughly 600 seniors held in provincial prisons and would save $8 million a year.

Those are the main points of the bill we are debating today at second reading. The Bloc Québécois has done its homework since June 1, and we have carefully analyzed the impact of this government bill, as we should.

Over the course of our analysis, three questions in particular came to mind.

First, does the practice of suspending social benefits exist in Quebec? Is it part of our social practices, and if so, how does it work?

In Quebec, pursuant to section 27 of the Individual and Family Assistance Act, and sections 19 and 26 of its regulation, an individual who is incarcerated in a penitentiary or prison is no longer eligible for last resort financial assistance as of the third month following the month of their incarceration.

Individuals become eligible again once they are released from the prison or penitentiary even if, for example, they are living in a half-way house as part of their rehabilitation.

Therefore, Bill C-31 does correspond to a practice that already exists within Quebec society.

The second question we have is the following: since this seems to violate the principle of the universality of old age security benefits, does Bill C-31 violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating a discriminatory measure?

It seems not to be the case. If someone made a claim of discrimination, they would have a hard time proving it, because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.

The discrimination established by Bill C-31 does not involve any of the grounds listed in the charter and could not be considered an affront to human dignity. Basically, Bill C-31 does not contravene the Canadian charter.

And the third question is this: what real effect will this punitive measure have on the spouses of incarcerated persons?

The effect will vary, depending on the age of the spouse. The bill allows spouses aged 65 or over to be considered single, which would allow them to receive higher benefits than those paid to someone married to a pensioner. In addition, they can receive the maximum guaranteed income supplement of $652.51, as opposed to $430.90 for someone married to a pensioner.

As for spouses aged 60 to 64, they can still receive their spouse's allowance even though, in practice, they do not live with their partner. The loss of financial support from the imprisoned spouse could then be partially compensated through an increased allowance of up to $947.86 a month.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-31, which would keep prisoners from receiving old age security benefits and the guaranteed income supplement. It is in favour of having this studied in committee. We still have some specific questions to ask, notably to the civil servants who created the bill, those who will implement it and those who work at the parole board.

The responses we receive to our questions will determine the amendments we can introduce, if necessary, in order to ensure that the bill works well.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague on his speech about the problems this bill could cause. We are not completely opposed to the underlying principle of this bill. However, we are concerned that the bill as written contains the element of revenge that often motivates this government when it comes to cracking down on crime.

My colleague raised the issue of families being affected. I would like him to expand on that, even if it means being somewhat repetitive, because this is a very important bill. I would like him to talk about what we can do to protect the standard of living of spouses and family members and about how we can make sure that this bill does not punish families. We must remember that family members are not necessarily criminals—far from it. In fact, I would even suggest that they are, indirectly, victims of the father's or spouse's criminal lifestyle.

I would like him to talk about what he thinks we should do to make sure that this bill, which is well-intentioned overall, is not just a way to exact vengeance on a person, but rather a way to ensure that crime does not pay.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for his pertinent question.

As I have already said, the Bloc Québécois has been doing its homework on this issue since June 1, since this bill raises a number of questions and could have a significant impact on families—children and spouses.

In committee, the right questions need to be addressed to the various public servants who will have to manage this bill, which could have a significant impact on spouses. We must establish how this bill will protect a spouse under the age of 65 and the children of a man who was receiving old age security. We will have to pay particular attention to this issue in committee and establish all of the parameters and protections needed to ensure that the spouses, and especially the children, are protected.

As parliamentarians, we must work diligently when analyzing such bills and not backtrack, saying we forgot this or that or we are sorry but we did not think about how it might affect such and such a person.

We must take our time, do our work seriously and not rush when examining this kind of bill. There is no urgency. Our seniors need a substantial increase in the guaranteed income supplement in order to survive.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I gather from my colleague's speech that the bill would apply to all inmates who have been sentenced to two years or more in federal jails.

I also gather that, pending an agreement with the provinces, this would apply to inmates of provincial jails sentenced to 90 days or less. Perhaps he meant 90 days or more.

I would like the member to clarify whether it is 90 days or less or 90 days or more in provincial facilities.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Desnoyers Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. It is 90 days or more in provincial jails. There would have to be an agreement with the provinces for this to be implemented. This would mean a lot of work. It would affect 600 inmates and the amount involved is nearly $8 million. The committee will conduct a thorough analysis of the impact of the bill on those involved.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-31. I want to start out with a very brief summary of what is included in the bill. I also want to acknowledge the fact that a number of other speakers have talked about the importance of turning full attention to the bill and studying it so that we are not looking at unintended consequences.

Many members of the House were here a couple of years back when the government of the day passed a bill on voter identification that resulted in thousands and thousands of rural voters being excluded from voting because of a flaw in the bill. It was a bill that was rushed through the House, despite the fact that the New Democrats protested loudly about the problems with the bill. The government subsequently needed to bring forward amendments to its own legislation, because the bill had unintended consequences. I raise that as an issue in the context of this particular bill so that we do not try to rush through a bill that has unintended consequences.

I also want to acknowledge the member for Windsor—Tecumseh who has, as usual, done stellar work on this, and also the member for Vancouver Kingsway and the member for Hamilton Centre. All of these members have contributed to the NDP process in considering this bill.

The bill suspends payments of old age security, OAS, and the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, to all persons 65 years of age and older while they are serving time in a federal correctional facility when they are sentenced to two years or more. It would suspend payment of the spousal and survival allowance to eligible individuals aged 60 to 64 if they were serving time in a federal facility. It would maintain OAS and GIS payments to spouses and partners of those who were incarcerated and would provide that they receive these payments at the higher single rate based on individual, not combined spousal, income. It would maintain spousal allowance benefits to the spouses of incarcerated individuals and allow 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 exceed 90 days in a provincial facility. Notwithstanding the above, benefit payments would still be paid during the first month of incarceration. Benefit payments would resume the month an individual was released on earned permission, parole, statutory release, or warrant expiry.

There are two aspects of the bill that are troubling. One is that it appears that this could be the wrong method for dealing with this situation. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh has suggested that in looking at this, what we really should do is look at the criminal jurisdiction. He suggested that an order could be put in place at the time of sentencing or thereafter that would deal with these payments. The concern that arises when it is dealt with under income security for seniors is the fact that it could undermine the universality of our old age security and guaranteed income supplement.

I talked about unintended consequences, which are a concern for New Democrats and for seniors across this country if we apply this logic to anybody who is in federal care, anybody who is receiving benefits and housing. Just look at veterans who might be in long-term care hospitals, even though we are closing vets hospitals as we speak. If a veteran were in a long-term care hospital and was being provided for under veterans' allowances, what would happen to universality? Would that also be an argument for the government to claw back OAS and GIS? The questions around universality are really critical.

I want to refer to some issues related to universality. This quote comes from the Historica-Dominion Institute, which did a number of studies on universality. It talks about the impact on our society of the change in universality. This is something the House and the committee, if this bill gets there, need to consider. The section entitled “Social Security in Canada - a Receding Tide” says that “[t]he direction of these cuts and their overall purpose in improving the Canadian economy was laid out by the Conservative government in Ottawa in 1984”.

That was the start of the clawback of universality.

From this perspective, the government moved to eliminate universality in family allowances and old-age security. In 1989 the government introduced a “clawback” to both universal programs that required upper-income families to repay all of their benefits. The same applied to the highest-income seniors.

It goes on to talk about the impact on child tax benefits and whatnot.

Later on in the article, it says:

The Liberals, on their return to power in 1993, completed the sweep against universality by announcing in 1996 that the Old Age Security program would be replaced by an income-tested Seniors Benefit in the year 2001.

There are some different models out there. What we saw is an impact on seniors and families in this country that we are still living with to this day.

In this article, the Historica-Dominion Institute argues that there could be a new direction for social security in Canada:

A contrasting model of social security, one that is more commonly found in western European countries, is an integrative-redistribution model that provides universalist services to broad categories of need. This model has egalitarian goals that aim to lift individuals and families out of poverty and away from social exclusion.

It concludes by saying:

Evidence of social exclusion in Canada abound - the homeless, Canadian children growing up in poverty, the clientele of food banks and the army of unemployed. The one shining example of a Canadian social security program which promotes inclusiveness and a sense of community is Canada's system of public, universal, prepaid health care.

Of course, we know that in recent years that has also been eroded as more people have been forced into a two-tier health care system by long waiting lists, lack of access to drugs, and so on. However, universality is one of the fundamental principles Canadians look to.

A number of people have raised concerns about the approach the government chose to take by having this managed through Human Resources Development Canada under CPP/OAS/GIS instead of through a criminal jurisdiction.

I also want to raise a point. It is interesting that the first bill the Conservative government has brought forward to deal with pensions is this one that would strip federal old age security from federal offenders. It will save approximately $2 million. Those savings could go up if the provinces decide to opt in.

It is a sad comment on the approach to income security for seniors in this country. I would suggest that it probably fits in with the so-called tough on crime agenda the Conservatives are putting forward. The reality is that we have thousands of seniors in this country who are living in poverty. I wonder why the government did not choose to bring forward a pension reform bill that deals with the poverty facing these seniors in this country instead of this bill. I agree that the fact that federal prisoners are receiving old age security certainly warrants some attention, but I would question the current government's priorities.

I want to also mention that there is an alternative way to approach this. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster put forward a motion, Motion No. 507, which was much more narrowly defined, that would deal with clawing back the old age security/guaranteed income supplement from only murderers with life sentences for multiple murders. The Conservatives are actually proposing a fairly broad sweep of prisoners over the age of 65 in this proposed clawback of OAS/GIS.

Going back to seniors, recently we discovered that old age security was increased over the summer by 0.6% for seniors who live outside of prison. It was the first increase in over two years, and it amounted to $1.55 per senior. These are seniors. These are the poorest of the poor. These are the seniors who are worried about whether they can pay their rent, whether they can feed themselves, and whether they can pay their drug costs.

With all the attention we have placed on other matters in this House recently, seniors are simply being left off the agenda. There have been a number of groups and organizations working together that are calling on the current government for serious pension reform.

Certainly New Democrats have been front and centre on this. I also want to acknowledge the member for Sault Ste. Marie, who has been leading the charge to deal with poverty among seniors and other Canadians. Certainly seniors factor largely into a lot of the work the member for Sault. Ste. Marie has been doing.

In June, our leader announced a number of initiatives to deal with some of the income security issues for seniors. One of them, of course, was helping the quarter of a million seniors who are living below the poverty line. We can do it tomorrow by injecting $700 million into the guaranteed income supplement, which is part of old age security. That is one-twentieth of what the Prime Minister's corporate tax cuts will cost us annually by 2012.

Second, let us build on that bulletproof Canada pension plan. Let us phase in a doubling of maximum benefits to $22,000 per year. That means increasing the CPP deductions that appear on one's paycheque, but these deductions are savings, not taxes.

Of course, there are other organizations, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, that have also been calling for reforms to our income security system for seniors. Their first calls in asking the federal and provincial governments to work together, are one, to phase in a doubling of payouts from the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, and two, to immediately increase old age security and the guaranteed income supplement for all retirees.

They also go on to talk about the fact that what we really need to do is have a very broad strategy for dealing with all aspects of pensions in this country, whether it is for workers who have private sector pension plans that are under threat because their companies are going bankrupt, whether it is for workers who simply do not have another pension plan and are relying on the Canada pension plan, old age security, and the guaranteed income supplement to pay their bills, or whether it is to regulate some of the financial products and some of the risks for those people who actually have enough money left over to invest in RRSPs.

It is interesting that the very first approach to income security for seniors deals with federal prisoners. It does not look at those broad needs for our seniors.

There was an article in a paper called the Edmonton Senior in June, after this bill was announced, that said that ending prisoner pensions is not so simple. There were a number of interesting points, including some concerns about universality. The article in this seniors' magazine, which addresses issues that seniors are concerned about, also pointed out the fact that once again we are lacking an overall, comprehensive plan to prevent people from going to prison in the first place. Others, such as rabble.ca, have also raised the issue. For instance, there is the four-pillar approach to crime prevention that looks at all the things that can be done to keep people out of prison in the first place, whether that is a poverty reduction strategy, adequate alcohol and drug counselling, educational strategies, or adequate housing.

We acknowledge that people who commit crimes and are found guilty through our justice system need to have appropriate consequences.

I am the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP. We know that aboriginal peoples are hugely overrepresented in federal and provincial prisons. Once they are in prison, they need appropriate programs for rehabilitation.

The article from Edmonton Seniors says:

The concern is not around whether or not senior prisoners should receive pension money, but what the correctional system is doing to prepare offenders for their release.

It goes on to quote Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, who says:

We know that homelessness, we know that poverty, and we know that lack of resources in a number of areas are contributors to coming into conflict with the law. When an offender is released, whether they are 25 or 65, they face the same barriers that non-offenders would face if they don't have resources. And of course you want to encourage these folks to live peacefully and lawfully in the community. Simply put, there is some requirement to provide them with legitimate access to some financial means. That's the basis of income security programs in Canada to begin with.

He goes on to do an analysis of what prisoners have to pay for when they are in the federal system and so on.

This piecemeal approach to the criminal justice system again is quite troubling. To reiterate, we need prevention, we need a criminal justice system, we need police resources and so on that can actually deal with offenders and incarcerate them where appropriate, make sure that when they are inside that what we are doing is looking at rehabilitation and the tools and resources, so that when they come out of the system they can be reintegrated into communities in a peaceful and law-abiding way.

The piecemeal approach that we have seen from the Conservative government simply is not addressing all of those issues. I turn to Insite, the safe drug injection site in Vancouver, which we know is helping to keep people safe and alive, and hopefully out of the prison system by providing with supports at the safe injection site. Yet, we see the Conservative government constantly trying to find ways to close it down.

Instead of taking a look at the issues around drug and alcohol addiction in a more holistic kind of way, it is--

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening with great attention to the member's speech. I have heard her speak about virtually every subject except the actual content of the bill that is before the House.

The Standing Orders require that speeches be relevant to the matter before the House. I would ask the member to respect that convention.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the member was listening I started my speech with clearly outlining the elements of the bill, raising some concerns around the issue of universality, putting into the context the overall approach that the Conservative government is taking to crime and punishment in this country.

It is an interesting comment from the minister that he cannot acknowledge the relevance of the aspects that put people into prison to begin with, that deal with rehabilitation issues, including access to funds while they are in prison and access to funds once they come out of prison,

This is all part and parcel of this piece of legislation. It is unfortunate that the Conservative minister simply does not see that the piecemeal approach that the government is taking to crime and punishment in this country is causing significant problems for aboriginal Canadians and for many other Canadians.

I would argue that what I have been saying is absolutely relevant to Bill C-31.

I will conclude by indicating, as other members of the House have indicated, that we feel the bill requires further study, that some of the unintended consequences around the potential impact on universality of old age security and guaranteed income supplement must be considered, that there needs to be a thorough review about whether there is any possibility that this legislation is unconstitutional and could violate the universality of our old age security system.

We also encourage the government, in any study, to take a much broader approach both to the criminal justice system and to looking at income security for seniors in this country.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I pointed out Motion No. 507 that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has put forward already calling for the clawback of old age security-GIS for multiple murderers.

We were out there with that motion in the early days once this whole situation developed with the serial killer in British Columbia. New Democrats are supporting getting the bill to committee at second reading, so that we can deal with some of the potential unintended consequences which I outlined in my speech.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her presentation on Bill C-31. I certainly found her remarks to be very relevant to the provisions in the bill. She outlined them very well.

Certainly, in regard to this government's approach to just crime in general, we have seen it for the last five years now looking at changes to the Criminal Code in a very piecemeal fashion based on whatever is happening in the news media at any particular time. In fact, the government should be doing a total revision and revamping of the Criminal Code of Canada which has not really been dealt with in a major way for 100 years. That is what the government should be doing in cooperation with the opposition.

With regard to the pension system, the member clearly pointed out that, once again, the government should be looking at a comprehensive approach to the pension system. It should be looking at doubling the CPP system. If we were to put $700 million toward the GIS for I believe one-quarter million seniors, mainly women, we would be bringing them out of poverty in this country.

That is the approach the government should be taking and that is what the member is pointing out. The government should be looking at a universal approach here dealing with the problem in the country rather than simply jumping from issues that happen to be popular at a certain time that it thinks helps its poll numbers.

I have news for the Conservatives. They have been doing this for five years and it has not helped their poll numbers at all. I suggest they pull back and come up with a comprehensive strategy in both the pension area and in the crime area.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right, we have seen that piecemeal approach. We have talked in this House before about wedge politics, and using rhetoric and simplistic kinds of approaches. It is not the way to build a comprehensive strategic plan both to deal with pensions or to deal with the criminal justice system.

At the outset of my remarks, I indicated that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh had talked about the fact that this is actually the wrong approach to deal with the clawback of OAS-GIS. What he has proposed, and I am sure there will be further discussions on this, is that this rightfully belongs under the criminal law jurisdiction where the courts could order at the time of sentencing a clawback of these benefits. That proposal would not have the danger of undermining the universality of OAS-GIS.

I am optimistic that when the member for Windsor—Tecumseh gets an opportunity to suggest some of these other approaches to dealing with this problem, that the government will be receptive.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an important piece of public policy that we are dealing with here today. It will have some serious impacts, some of which I do not think anybody would disagree with, for example, the removal of any further benefit to serial murderers who are serving life sentences.

I guess the fear that many of us have in this is that when one throws a net out such as this, one catches people who should not be caught, or who will be impacted in a very serious way in terms of their ability to be rehabilitated, to get their lives back on track, get into the world at some point, and to look after themselves not to mention their families.

I ask the member in looking at this bill, is this OAS-GIS as opposed to Canada pension? OAS-GIS, in my understanding of it in the work that I have done out of my office, typically goes to seniors who do not have much income and need a top up usually to get them through the poverty line, so that they can live a life with some dignity and quality attached to it.

This will impact some people who, as has been said, end up in the prison system to begin with because they live in poverty, oftentimes the outcome of that, and the fact that many poor people end up in jail because they cannot afford a good lawyer in the system that we have.

I would ask the member to delineate for me if this is OAS-GIS versus CPP? Also, to expand a bit more on what she considers to be the problem with universality and whether she thinks this might end up at the Supreme Court and being challenged as unconstitutional.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, this bill deals with OAS-GIS and not CPP.

When the minister rose, he asked whether we in the NDP were in favour of taking money back from serial killers. Of course, we support that aspect of the bill. What he did not say was that this actually suspends payments to all persons aged 65 years and older, not just serial killers.

We need to take a look at some of those broader impacts on people who are over age 65 and also the universality aspect of it. The question that has to be considered is: by undermining the universality of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, are other people, who may also be federally supported, in danger of having their OAS-GIS clawed back? I talked about veterans in vet hospitals.

It is our responsibility and due diligence to ensure that when we have a piece of legislation before us we look at the consequences of that legislation. At the outset of my speech I talked about the voter ID bill that was before the House and disenfranchised thousands of voters. That was an unintended consequence and we want to make sure that other people in a federally-supported system are not caught up in a widely cast net.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her remarks and for drawing the House's attention to these unintended consequences. There are two that I hope she has time to comment upon.

First, a number of inmates will be caught up in this far more than just the Clifford Olsons of the world. As a result, for their families and spouses, who may be under 60, there will be no OAS and GIS. The results in terms of their poverty and innocence with regard to all of this is of concern.

Second, restitution payments to victims of crimes may not be possible—

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to touch on restitution for victims of crime. I had a meeting this morning with somebody who had been in touch with one of the families of the murdered and missing women and the rigmarole that this family had to go through in order to get access to money for victims of crime was unbelievable.

One of the things we could also consider is ensuring that victims of crime are adequately supported in dealing with some of the terrible tragedies as a result of these violent crimes. That is certainly missing. I know provincial governments have some responsibility, but the federal government does as well.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a delight for me to add my comments at second reading to Bill C-31, eliminating entitlements for prisoners. I will confine my remarks to the things that are actually in the bill, not the wild speculation of the previous speaker.

I commend the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development for sponsoring this important legislation and also for her excellent speech just over one hour ago.

The eliminating entitlements for prisoners act, Bill C-31, is a very important bill. It is important for taxpayers and for victims of crime and it is important for the principles of fairness.

As the minister has noted, our Conservative government is strongly committed to ensuring fairness for hard-working taxpayers. Ordinary, every day tax paying Canadians deserve fairness from their government, and this government intends to deliver fairness to those taxpayers.

The government provides many services and it also provides help, but that help comes from the tax dollars that the government collects. It comes out of the pockets of every hard-working tax paying Canadian, the Tim Hortons crowd if I may.

Income security is one of those things the government provides and it is important. It is important the government provide that help fairly to Canadians since, as I have said, that money belongs to Canadians. It does not belong to the government. It is taxpayer money.

When we are talking about fairness, and in this case we are talking about treating hard-working and law-abiding Canadians and their tax dollars fairly. We are also talking about doing what we can to ensure that victims of crime and their families are not faced with more pain. These victims should not have to watch the painful sight of their money and their community's money going into the pockets of the very criminals who hurt them and their families.

The Prime Minister has said it, the minister has said it and many of my colleagues, including me have said it. We will continue to put victims and taxpayers first, ahead of criminals.

Our government believes that Canadians who work hard, contribute to the system and play by the rules deserve government benefits such as old age security. This is what our government believes and I think it is what Canadians expect. I certainly know from hearing from many of my constituents by letter, by email, by phone call, that this is what my they expect.

It is obviously wrong and obviously unfair that prisoners who have broken our laws, who have broken our society's trust receive the same taxpayer-funded benefits as law-abiding Canadians. I am perplexed as to how it could be otherwise. I believe this, the government believes it and my constituents believe it. I am happy to say that the Prime Minister believes this, as do all Canadians.

Bill C-31, which I welcome, would ensure that criminals, those who have broken trust and broken our laws and made victims of their fellow Canadians, would no longer receive taxpayer-funded benefits while serving time in jail.

Right now, without this change to our laws, child murderers such as Clifford Olson are receiving these government benefits, notwithstanding that he brutally murdered 11 children.

As the minister told the House, in a few short years Paul Bernardo similarly will be entitled to these benefits. Some day in the not too distant future so will Mr. Robert Pickton. This cannot happen and that is why it is incumbent upon the House to act expeditiously.

These criminals, these murderers, to take just a small example, brutally and heartlessly took the lives of people living in their communities. Many of those lives were young, and they shattered and forever diminished the lives of those families who had members torn from them.

For criminals such as these to easily, blithely receive the same “assistance” from our government is simply wrong.

The assistance that the government provides is intended to help older Canadians with their costs of living after many decades of work and much contribution to their families, their communities and their country.

Prisoners on the other hand, criminals who have broken our laws so seriously that they are incarcerated in federal institutions and provincial prisons for long periods of time, do not need extra cost of living assistance. Why? Because they already have their costs of living paid for by the taxpayers of our country, the same taxpayers from whom these criminals have taken so much.

This is offensive and outrageous to our government, to our Prime Minister and to our Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. This is also offensive to Canadians all across the country, and that is why I believe there is wide support for the bill, at least at second reading. We have heard from members on both sides of the House and it appears the bill will be near unanimously favoured when it comes to a vote. It is offensive to all Canadians.

As soon as this shockingly unfair and unjust situation was discovered, the Prime Minister asked the minister to take action as quickly as possible to put a stop to incarcerated criminals receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. The abbreviations they are more commonly known by are OAS and GIS.

It is our government's intention, our commitment and our goal to fix this. Our government has shown that when we make a promise to Canadians, we take action. We follow through on our commitments to Canadians. That is why the minister acted with the haste that she did.

We are going to remedy this inequity and we are moving quickly to do so. Why? Because that is what Canadians want and that is what they demand. That is exactly what my constituents want, and it is happening here today. Today is part of that process, a process that I hope will continue to move swiftly.

I am going to touch on the main details of the bill. I think the attention is good and the details are relatively straightforward.

A prisoner's needs, such as food and shelter and their standard of living, such as it is, are already met and paid for by public funds, and that is by the hard-working Canadian taxpayers. That has a cost and we pay it. We pay it voluntarily and we pay it gladly.

What I and my constituents are not okay with is the provision of benefits that are meant for law-abiding hard-working seniors to instead go to prisoners. Canadian taxpayers should not be paying for double for income support through OAS and GIS benefits to these same prisoners. It is grossly unfair to force law-abiding Canadian taxpayers to pay for the criminals twice, first, by paying for the room and board and second, by paying for the supplemental benefits, the OAS and the GIS.

Once passed, the bill will terminate OAS and GIS benefits for federal prisoners. The federal government will then work with the provinces and the territories to stop these benefits for prisoners who are serving 90 days or more in a provincial or territorial institution.

I hope all provinces and territories respond as favourably to the minister and to this legislation as the British Columbia government has. I understand British Columbia is already on board and once this legislation is passed, it will similarly apply to provincial prisoners in the B.C. detention system.

I also hope all my colleagues in the House will respond positively and quickly. Our constituents, who are our bosses, our fellow taxpaying Canadians, expect us to use their hard-earned tax dollars fairly, responsibly and prudently. They have told us that, loudly and clearly.

I am sure all members of the House have received feedback with respect to the bill after it was announced last spring. Speaking on behalf of the considerable correspondence that I received, it was universally positive.

In fact, what encourages me most is the overwhelming response from Canadians. They have truly told us, loudly and clearly, what they believe is right and fair. We have heard publicly from the families of the victims of Clifford Olson. We have heard from the national victims support groups. Those people whose lives have been so damaged by the actions of these criminals are pleased and supportive of our government's action. They support the bill.

We have also heard from rank and file police officers from across the country, people who often see the damage first-hand that is brought on by these criminals.

We have heard from regular, everyday taxpayers across our country, as I referred to earlier the Tim Hortons crowd.

The minister received a petition in support of the bill. It was signed by nearly 50,000 Canadians. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more thousands of people have told us, have told the minister and our colleagues that the bill is necessary. The response that we have seen and heard has truly been remarkable.

When circumstances like this unjust entitlement are discovered and when Canadians speak out so clearly and so loudly, we must listen to them and heed to their calls, advice and demands.

It is not a credit to us that this unfair and wrong practice came into being and continued, with little if any notice. It is not a credit to any of us that those who did not know it, did little, if anything, to change it.

We cannot change the past, but we can certainly fix the present and improve things for the future. That is what we are doing today with the continued second reading of Bill C-31.

The bill is also in line with many of our Conservative government's other related actions with respect to the victims of crime and their families. We have a strong record of action and this legislation only builds upon that record.

The bill is in keeping with our Conservative government's commitment to put victims and law-abiding Canadians first, and certainly to put them ahead of criminals. It puts an end to the hard-working taxpayers paying twice for prisoners and to having victims of crime see their victimizers receive unjust public help.

Finally, the bill is about the responsible use of taxpaying public funds and the fair treatment to all Canadian taxpayers. It is the fair and right things to do and it is what Canadians want us to do. We need to listen to Canadians. We need to pass the bill.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech has been very helpful. I have not had an opportunity to read the bill, but I did listen to the prior speech and I heard most of the minister's speech.

There is one question of which the member, who is a lawyer by profession, may be aware. If we have a circumstance where we have two identical persons, one of who, for lack of years of residency, does not qualify, for instance, for old age security and the other one does, and they both commit the same crime and are both sentenced to the same term in prison of something over two years, one would get the additional penalty of not getting the old age security. I am putting it into the context of this and I am asking it for information purposes. Is this not a situation where the penalties prescribed under the law would be different for two persons who committed exactly the same crime and all the same details? I ask this for information purposes.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

It is a good question, Mr. Speaker, and I am not sure that I do. If two individuals commit the same crime but one would otherwise be entitled to OAS and the other one would not, does that create a differential in penalties if the bill is passed? The result would be the same. The one individual who was otherwise entitled to OAS and became a federal prisoner would thus be disentitled. Under that circumstance, neither would get it so they would be treated fairly and equally.

However, that really misses the point of the legislation. The legislation is to disentitle serious criminals, those who are incarcerated for more than two years in a federal institution or more than 90 days in a provincial institution from being paid twice, being paid once by having their room and board paid for by the taxpayers of Canada as they are sentenced to spend time in an institution and then to subsequently receive OAS and GIS on their 65th birthday.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

I will try once again, Mr. Speaker. I understand that if one person does not get OAS and another one who is in the same position does and it is taken away, then they would both get nothing. The issue is that someone had a financial entitlement and there is real value being taken away. Therefore, this is the term of sentence prescribed by the judge for both persons, but the law would also say that, “And should you be entitled to anything else, we will take that away too and it is only applicable to you”. Therefore, there is that differential in terms of the two cases.

I raise simply about whether there could be a problem that the punishment, whether it be in time or in other consequences, is different for two persons who commit exactly the same crime.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, assuming this is relevant, and I do not know that it is, I suppose the member made a point, but there is nothing unique about a situation where individuals who receive a disposition from a criminal court ultimately have that disposition changed.

An obvious example would be if an individual received a life sentence and died while he was in prison. He would end up serving less time than another lifer who was able to serve more time.

These differentiations are irrelevant and certainly take away from the good content of this legislation which is to disentitle federal inmates from tax-paid supplements, such as old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, paid for by taxpayers who are concurrently paying for those prisoners to be housed in federal institutions.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, what did the government of the day and the prime minister of the day have in mind when they initiated the program in the first place? It is my understanding it was the Joe Clark Conservative government in 1979 which initiated the program. The Clark government changed the rules.

I would like to ask the member whether he has read anything in terms of what sort of arguments were in play to allow the Conservative government of Joe Clark to change the rules to allow prisoners to get OAS and GIS in the first place?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not a member of the House when Mr. Clark was the prime minister of Canada. What I can speak to is this legislation that is before the House.

All members must fairly admit that in the spring of 2010 when the newspapers published the story about Mr. Olson's entitlements and how much money he had actually saved from those entitlements and what his monthly stipend was, we were all caught off guard. We all bear some responsibility for the fact that this went unnoticed for so long.

Canadians were rightfully outraged when they found out that federal prisoners were receiving slightly in excess of $1,100 per month. The hon. member represents people in Winnipeg. I am sure a lot of the seniors in his constituency do not bank $1,100 per month. They use these stipends, this government assistance, to pay their mortgage, rent or heating bills. They do not bank $1,100 a month like a federal prisoner does.

When this government found out about this inequality and that the taxpayers were paying twice, paying prisoners' room and board and also paying the monthly stipend, it acted quickly. That brings us to the debate today on Bill C-31.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate.

The bill is fairly simple. It is not lengthy by any means. The bill would amend the Old Age Security Act to preclude incarcerated persons from receiving benefits under that act while maintaining entitlement to benefits for, and avoiding a reduction in the amounts payable to, their spouse or common-law partner. It would preclude individuals, who of course are over the age of 65, from receiving benefits under the old age pension or the old age supplement when they are incarcerated in an institution.

We are dealing with a principle here and I agree with the principle. It probably does not apply to a lot of people. My research indicates it is in the vicinity of 400 individuals across Canada. We are not talking about an awful lot of money. It is $2 million on a pan-Canadian basis, but it is the principle. I would suggest it was an anomaly that was never caught by anyone. The situation right now is that there are approximately 400 individuals who are perhaps not receiving all the GIS, as it would depend on other sources of income they have, but they are receiving benefits from the taxpayer while they are incarcerated in a federal institution.

Again the standard situation is probably individuals who committed serious crimes. They probably turned 65 while they were incarcerated and they are getting this money. I think I speak for most Canadians that they are offended when they hear this. They do not think their taxpayers' money should be used for that purpose and they think it should be stopped. I think the vast majority of Canadians certainly will support this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of noise in the House and I would ask for your assistance.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

I thank you for your assistance, Mr. Speaker.

I have been around the House long enough to know that sometimes when something looks and sounds simple and is something that should be done quickly and expeditiously without a whole lot of debate or deliberation, we get into the whole area of unintended consequences. Sometimes what we did not really expect to happen happens, and sometimes we do not find out until a year or two later.

I certainly will agree that this bill as drafted should be passed by the House. The bill should go to committee to allow the committee to study it. In principle, I agree with it, but are there any unintended consequences that should be looked at? We do not want to cause anyone harm, especially people who are not involved in the particular situation.

Some unintended consequences have been raised this afternoon, such as the whole issue of universality. I do not see that as an issue myself. We have to look at why a person is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, which is approximately $1,100 a month. The reason is it is a benefit available to every Canadian so that people can pay for their accommodation, food, transportation and other personal needs. This, or most of it, is all taken care of under the prison system. That is the situation.

Another situation that has developed and will be looked at by the committee is what the obligations are of the senior to a spouse or a child. I would not think it likely that there would be a child, but there could be, or maybe a dependent child. These are situations that will have to be looked at very carefully by the committee.

I do not know how a 65-year-old person living separate and apart from his or her spouse is treated with regard to GIS. I know the GIS per couple is less than that for two single people. I do not know how that situation is treated, but it is something that will have to be looked at because at the end of the day, we certainly do not want any adverse repercussions for the spouse, whose life is probably difficult enough. We do not want any adverse repercussions to him or her, especially not having been involved in the crime nor being in prison. Spouses certainly do not need any more grief in their lives by having their existing benefits cut.

Restitution orders have been raised by other members. Again, that will have to be looked at by the committee. There will have to be discussion about any ongoing support obligations to previous spouses or dependent children who are disabled. Is there an obligation to support that individual in the unlikely situation the prisoner may actually have children? Those situations will have to be looked at before the bill gets final approval by the House.

This point was also raised by a previous speaker, but I want to reiterate that this does not involve the eligibility of benefits under the Canada pension plan. In that particular case, if the incarcerated person was receiving CPP benefits, he or she would have paid into them when he or she was working. The person is certainly entitled to those benefits and will continue to receive them. This bill does not affect that entitlement whatsoever.

An issue has been raised, and this is where it gets very interesting, where I do see unintended consequences, although it does not affect the bill in its present form. The bill contemplates that the provinces may opt in and not pay the benefits to anyone who is incarcerated for more than 90 days. In the federal system the incarceration is in excess of two years. It is a much simpler system. I do not have the confidence in the provincial and federal governments to administratively deal with this issue.

I will describe a situation. If a senior citizen were incarcerated for 90 days, administratively that would mean that at a certain time of the month the person would have his or her benefits cancelled. Let us say that the person went to jail on September 15 and three months later the person was released, which would, of course, depend on a lot of circumstances. We can see the administrative nightmare. These people, because they are receiving GIS, which means they have no other income whatsoever and are living hand to mouth, I have a real concern administratively as to the capability of the provincial and federal governments to coordinate all their efforts to ensure these payments are stopped on time and, more important, started on time.

I know that is not the issue before the House today but I see that as a serious issue going forward if all the provinces opt in. From my dealings, I do not think the capabilities are there to make it a seamless administrative procedure to do this without causing all kinds of problems. Given the numbers we are talking about, I can see a situation in which the administrative costs would certainly exceed the benefits that would be saved on that particular issue when they start cancelling benefits for short periods of time. However, that is something for the committee.

I support the legislation because I, like most Canadians, was appalled when I first read about it. It is a situation that I, like most members of Parliament, never thought about. It was raised in one particular instance. I do not like making laws and discussing public policy based on one particular incident or one particular individual but this goes right to a public policy situation where approximately 400 eligible recipients are receiving benefits as we speak. In that particular case, it does warrant some response from the house.

It is my position that the bill should be passed by the House at second reading and go to committee for further study.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my good friend's comments regarding Bill C-31.

I, too, am very curious to know what the arguments were for making the OAS and GIC available to federal inmates back in 1979. If this is true, that was when Joe Clark, a Conservative prime minister, was in office. I would like to know whether this was an administrative directive on his part or whether it came to Parliament. If it came to Parliament for debate, surely there would be Hansard records of the day as to why that government would want to extend OAS and GIS to federal inmates in 1979.

Is the member aware of the discussions that went on in Parliament at the time or did the Joe Clark government simply issue a directive without any debate to provide these OAS and GIC benefits to federal inmates in 1979 when the Conservatives were in power?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, as my friend knows, I was not here in 1979 so I am not aware of any discussions.

We perhaps should not talk about suspicions but my suspicion is that this particular situation was not thought about nor debated. Of course, 31 years have transpired since then and it has not been raised in the House that I am aware of since then. Therefore, I think that is the situation.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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.