Evidence of meeting #58 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was benefits.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Graeme Truelove  Procedural Clerk
Henri Salembier  National President, Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées
Claude Major  Director General, Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées
Balkar Bajwa  Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum
Richard Shillington  As an Individual
Bernard Dussault  Senior Research and Communications Officer, Federal Superannuates National Association

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Thank you, Mr. Bajwa.

We're going to go to the NDP for five minutes. Ms. Charlton.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I certainly agree with Mr. Bajwa that we don't want to be in a position where we create two classes of Canadian citizens. I do believe we do that in some ways already. When you think about the benefits that are being paid under CPP and the entitlements under CPP, we have an 11-month retroactivity period everywhere except in Quebec, where you actually have retroactivity for five years. I wish we were treating pensioners equally right across the country with respect to their entitlements.

Mr. Bajwa, I also want to follow up with you, if I could. I may have misunderstood. You said you're speaking on behalf of the Old Age Benefits Forum, so let me ask you this, first of all. Did I hear correctly that you're speaking for pensioners in the GTA only?

4:40 p.m.

Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum

Balkar Bajwa

No, the Old Age Benefits Forum is a Canadian-registered body, but we joined with the other organizations in objecting. They joined with us to strengthen this case because they too are suffering. The Chinese are suffering. The Africans are suffering. People from Arabic countries are suffering.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Absolutely.

4:40 p.m.

Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum

Balkar Bajwa

This is a fight. They have joined with us.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you, Mr. Bajwa.

I was just wondering whether you were in a position to tell us how many people you think are adversely affected by the current provisions in Canada.

4:40 p.m.

Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum

Balkar Bajwa

Common people, ordinary people are being affected because they are deprived of this benefit, I should say. I should not say “pension”. It's a benefit. A sector of the people should not be deprived of the benefit. Canada is a great country because the medical facilities are provided after three months, and on them there's no residency condition. So why is there a residency condition on other benefits?

The seniors are excellent storytellers. They're excellent babysitters. They are essential to a family, and the family unification and reunification has a great value to Canada's workforce. It is a completeness of the family. The family is not complete without its elders. When the elders come here, it is perfect that they have come. Their children sometimes find it hard to support them. I'm talking of 65-plus men. Those who are less than 65 are working hard. They are going to factories. They are going to farms. They are going to nurseries. But the point here is that those people who are 65-plus should not be forced to suffer on the condition of ten years. At least, I would submit that the moment they become Canadian citizens, there should be no residency conditions, because they are Canadian citizens. They have taken the oath to Canada. They have a abandoned their citizenship from their original country.

Thank you very much.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you, Mr. Bajwa.

I certainly appreciate the point you're making about the need to treat Canadians equitably. I'm the first to bash the government whenever I can. I do know, though, that this issue has been around for a very long time.

So I wonder whether you could give me a sense of how many seniors from the South Asian community, from the Chinese community, from the communities that you listed, are currently being affected by the policy that's now in place. Conversely, how many people would benefit if we changed that policy?

4:45 p.m.

Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum

Balkar Bajwa

The head office in Vancouver of the Old Age Benefits Forum has researched it and come up with the figure, which is that only 5% of the over-65 citizens are not getting this benefit because of residency conditions--only 5% of the seniors population; 95% are getting this benefit. If you like, I can send this information to you. They researched it, and from the papers of the government it has come out that in the year 2006, perhaps.... They have come out with the figure that among over-65 citizens only 5% are deprived of this benefit because of residency conditions.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Thank you, Mr. Bajwa.

Thank you, Ms. Charlton.

We'll go to the last questioner in this round. Ms. Yelich, for five minutes.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Thank you.

Mr. Shillington, I want to make a comment and see if you agree. You made the analogy about the mistakes in this area that would not have happened if it had been a business. We have to admit that mistakes can be made in business. To make that analogy almost seemed a little unfair.

This will bring me to my question. This legislation is here because mistakes have been made and people want to correct these mistakes. There have been problems with trying to identify those who qualify for some of these benefits. Would it be a mistake not to make sure this goes through? This is a technical bill. It will be a very good bill to move forward on.

You brought up the difficulties with CPP, and you made comments that there should be changes. The difficulty would be that there can't be any changes to the CPP without two-thirds of the provinces being in agreement. No changes can be made to the CPP without that. In fact, this proposed legislation has to go back to those orders in council. It is not in our purview. We're not able to make those changes.

I'm trying to make this brief. I really want this to go through. It is important. I'm hoping people like you will help us to streamline it and make it more efficient so that we don't have these mistakes of the past. You have cited these as mistakes that could only happen in the public service, yet I think that was a little unfair.

4:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Richard Shillington

I'm looking to the chair.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Go ahead.

4:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Richard Shillington

I don't think I said this would not happen in business. I think what I said was, with the incentives that are in place now, there's not a great financial penalty to the Canada Pension Plan or to the federal treasury when people are not paid. So the incentive is to not address the take-up issue. So I don't think I said it would not happen in business. I'm quite sure these things happen in businesses all the time, as well. All I was really saying was that the financial incentive in place now is to not address the issue.

The best part of the bill is not having to reapply for GIS, and that in the long run will help immensely with the GIS issue. But the bill does nothing about CPP.

The thing I was trying to encourage was to say that I don't believe you need any legislation for the officials to actually do what Quebec does and contact people and make sure they're signed up. Are you telling me that they need approval from the provinces to actually become proactive and contact people? I don't know. Perhaps. There's nothing in the legislation.

The comments I made were partly out of the fact that you have to realize that this started seven years ago with the GIS story, and it has now been seven years of talking about take-up and retroactivity. We have this piece of legislation, which is the first piece of legislation in seven years, that will address the issue of take-up and retroactivity, and to my mind, it doesn't address the issue of the Canada Pension Plan at all.

I'm being told this is one step forward and we'll wait for another. When's the next opportunity going to be? Is it in another seven years? Most of the people I've helped to get their benefits are dead. I'm telling you absolutely the truth. Most of the people I've helped get their benefits are dead. Most of them are in their late eighties and nineties. So when I look at this, it is a small step forward, I'll acknowledge exactly, on the reapplication for GIS—absolutely—but to my mind, it's so minimal.

We found out that two-thirds of the people who get GIS are women, and 80% of the people who were not getting their GIS because they were unaware of it were women. The vast majority of these people are women and the vast majority are very old.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

I do think there are some concerns about privacy. I will give you an example that I was surprised about in my own province.

A year ago, there were notices sent out to women who were over 55, I believe, that if they didn't have their regular checkups, this was necessary. So many people were livid over that. It was in the best interest of the women, but it was an example of how some people value their privacy and really don't want governments knowing their business or using their databases for other areas.

I know it sounds silly, but I do have that example, and if you do any research on that, I think privacy is something that this bill has had to be concerned about, especially in the area of a couple of clauses.

There are quite a few clauses in this bill that will indeed improve things for seniors. One of them is being able to go online and apply to have a third party assigned as a trustee to help fill out forms. But most of all, if it's passed, will it make a significant difference and ensure that seniors who are eligible for GIS do receive it? Do you agree that this is what will make the significant difference?

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

That's more a comment than a question.

We're well over the time. We've completed two rounds. On the third round, we're going to go to the Conservatives first.

Mr. Lake, you have five minutes.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

I just want to make a couple of comments after listening to Mr. Bajwa a little bit. I'll make my comments, and then he can comment on them if he wants to.

What you're talking about is an issue that would be of importance to folks in my community too. I have a community with a significant Indo-Canadian population.

The comment I want to make is that our social programs have been established and have been invested in for many years by Canadians, and I guess for all Canadians, in a sense. The rules that are in place allow us to continue, to some extent.... We have a fairly generous immigration policy in this country, probably the most generous in the world.

Now, in line with Ms. Charlton's comments in terms of the numbers, I would imagine that if you were to calculate the number of people in Canada right now who are over 65 and who have been here for fewer than 10 years, it would be a very significant number of people who would qualify for this benefit if we were to change those rules. To this point, every single one of those people has chosen to come here because Canada, in my mind, and I would say in the minds of everybody in this room, is the greatest country in the world. It really is. There are lots of reasons for people to come to Canada.

In this global community we're living in, we're trying very hard, the government's trying very hard, to establish these agreements--I touched before on the 50 social security agreements, more than any other country--with more and more countries. And it's incumbent, as we talked about yesterday, on the governments in countries like India and China to bring their rules in line so we can actually establish agreements with those countries as well. I think it is important.

I want to talk about the concept of sponsored immigration, in that it's something that actually allows seniors who have never paid a cent in Canadian tax to come here and join their families who agree to support them. I mean, the whole concept of sponsored immigration is about balance and fairness and, at the same time, our goals. Something that's incredibly important to me and the people in my community is to bring families together and allow families to be together. Obviously I know that in the Indo-Canadian community it's very important, and I see lots of situations with grandparents and several generations of family living within the same household, and I see the tightness of those families. That is enormously important, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.

I think that with the numbers we're talking about, the costs we're talking about, it would be a tremendously expensive venture to go down a road of changing the system on the GIS side to make the changes you're discussing here. I'd be interested in meeting with your organization at some point to discuss it one on one, for sure.

Those are my comments. I don't want to go down a road that would ever see us impact on the ability to bring those families together because of costs or anything like that. So I'd like to get your comments on that, if I could.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Mr. Bajwa, did you want to respond to that? You have one minute.

February 22nd, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.

Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum

Balkar Bajwa

Yes, my friend Michael has made my point, that only a very insignificant population of people past 65 are deprived of this payment.

In the family, in the reunification, they are indispensable members. They have wisdom, they have experience, they have knowledge. Some of them are retired people who have a lot of knowledge in a technical and professional background, which is highly useful to the younger generation.

For example, if you'll permit me to gloat, my grandchildren come to me and ask me to help them with mathematics, help them with science, and help them with English. And you would be surprised to know that they are convinced...and one of my grandsons says that I am a living resource in the family. He has told his teacher that he has a living resource in the family.

I am a citizen, but I've been waiting for 10 years. It's just for the sake of a decision. Such is the case that the number of people who come are under 5% of the population.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

I don't want to break up a conversation between friends, but—

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

No, I just wanted to say thank you very much. I know it's tough when you're on video conference to take part in something like this, and I want to say thank you for your input to this.

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Thank you, Mr. Bajwa.

Thank you, Mr. Lake.

I think we'll go to Mr. Lessard. This may be the last set of questions.

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am going to go back to an intervention by Mr. Shillington, which in my mind is very important. We are looking forward to adopting Bill C-36 because it will make things better. We are going to make amendments to it and vote for it. Mr. Shillington pointed out that we were delighted with initiatives that should, of course, have been taken much sooner. We are facilitating access to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, to the forms, etc.

The fact that we have to set government machinery in motion to correct a situation that should have been resolved is rather sad. It bothers and saddens me. Another thing that saddens me it the fact that my colleague, Ms. Yelich—and I am not blaming you for this, Ms. Yelich—gave what was an inappropriate example in my opinion.

People who absolutely do not want to provide basic information as to whether they are alive or not would not want to be receiving Old Age Security benefits either. In fact, to get the benefits, they have to provide exactly the same information as is required for the Guaranteed Income Supplement. In the latter case, the only difference is that they also have to indicate whether their level of income makes them eligible.

If people have income they do not want to reveal, it’s their choice. If this is the case, they won’t be applying for Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits. They’ll tell department officials not to pay out the supplement because their income is sufficient. They don’t have to reveal that they are hiding income. Other people are responsible for checking into these things. So with all due respect, I don’t think we can use this example to penalize a whole group of people.

A certain number of people are entitled to some income under Canadian legislation. The question is: do we allow them to access it or not? We know that in 2002, 340,000 people were deprived of benefits to which they were entitled. Today, there are still about 100,000 people in this situation in Canada. That is a very serious. I don’t think we can invoke the Access to Information Act in this case. Even the privacy commissioner told us that it didn’t apply. Otherwise, it would apply to all the other benefits related to income security, including employment insurance. There is a minimum amount of information that has to be submitted to the government. Given the discussions that will be taking place with respect to the recommendations and amendments to be made regarding Bill C-36, I think this is an important point.

I will thank you now because I won’t have the opportunity to do it later. I would appreciate your comments on what I just said.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Michael Savage

You have one minute, Mr. Shillington, or less.

5 p.m.

As an Individual

Richard Shillington

The privacy discussion brings back memories. When I first discovered there were the 300,000—it was my discovery—I phoned officials whom I knew personally and said, “Is this right?” They said yes, and I asked why they didn't tell people about their benefits. They said it was because it would violate their privacy.

When, about nine months later, I finally got the story in the newspaper and the newspapers told about the 300,000, the very first lines that were given by the bureaucracy for why they don't tell these seniors is that it would violate their privacy.

There's a section of the Privacy Act that says it is not a violation of someone's privacy to tell them things about themselves that are to their benefit. In 2002 the Privacy Commissioner appeared before this committee and said, do not use privacy as an excuse to deny benefits to people.