Honourable Chairman and members of the committee, it is truly a privilege and an honour to be part of this particular discussion.
I came to this issue in 2003 when there was a caucus group that came to Toronto, and I was asked, in my capacity as executive director of the African Canadian Social Development Council, to come to speak about issues affecting seniors in our community. Of course, not being a senior, I had very little knowledge about what those issues might be. Therefore, because the council was a membership-based organization that has many groups that deal with the different populations that make up the continental African-Canadian community, I consulted individuals to give me some information. I didn't feel that it was sufficient information for the presentation, so I started to do further research, and lo and behold, that was the first time I became aware of this problem that impacted our seniors.
Our seniors were saying, “The problem we have is that we have no income.” That was something I didn't know about, and that was the impetus upon which I began to try to get others also to look into the issue vis-à-vis their own communities.
I belong to a group called the Alternative Planning Group, which has a membership that involves the councils of Chinese, south Asian, and Hispanic communities. So we did research and held focus groups, and all the seniors were saying, “Indeed this is a problem.” So we said, “Ah, this is something that we really, as a matter of decency, need to try to raise attention around.”
I say this because I do not come here to blame anyone for having come to the issue without necessarily having known of the problem previously. I come to you to say that there is in fact a reason, I guess, that all of us have a lacuna, a blind spot, about this issue.
One of the reasons is that, as we all know, previously, in the 1950s and 1960s, in the 1970s, in fact, and even up to the 1980s, the source countries, where people came from, were quite different. As Madam Beaumier rightly mentioned, they came from countries that were much more developed—in some instances, with social security systems even comparable to Canada's. Potentially, at least, individuals coming from those countries who had lived most of their lives there could have recourse if those systems were there to support them. So there was a comfort that was available.
There were also these agreements that Canada was able to establish, mostly with those kinds of countries, at least, in the beginning. So if Canada denied entitlement to its social security system for these individuals, there was something that potentially could be drawn upon. That changed in the 1980s with a change of countries, but for all that time, there was at least a basis for having some sort of comfort that everybody somehow would be catered to.
That has changed, and when it changed, unfortunately we didn't all immediately wake up to that reality. Now people are coming from countries where there are no such systems at all, where people will work all their lives not because they wanted to....
One minute, Mr. Chair? Okay.
Essentially, there are a number of questions that my paper—which I worked on overnight, literally, to put together—looks at, and I think you will get access to it when it's translated. What is the nature, source, and magnitude of the problem? How did it escape our notice? I've explained that. And what would it cost to fix it?
I actually did some estimates based on statistics from Canada Immigration and from Statistics Canada. Essentially my estimates—which I worked on overnight, so I haven't had a chance to share them with all my colleagues—are as follows.
It will essentially cost $470.5 million per year, because there are 56,263 individuals over the past 10 years who have immigrated as permanent immigrants under family class. If we assume that in the first five years of their stay here, they will be given the same benefits that are given under the OAS, which is one-fortieth of the maximum--which is $502.30--times five, that would be actually $62.80.
If you take the average GIS that is given currently, which is $634.02, you have a total entitlement for this individual, under this bill, of $696.82. This means $8,361 per person, per year.
Multiply this by these 56,000 people over a 10-year period, which is the period upon which people are denied entitlement, and you get $470 million per year.
In the context of good governance, in the context of doing that which is decent, in the context of a budget of $30 billion to look after seniors as a whole, in the context of an understanding within current practice that the support for seniors is actually divided--not only by the seniors themselves, not only by their families, but by government--I think it is possible that we can all rise to the opportunity that this bill provides to do good.
On the bill itself, we fully support it and we congratulate Madam Beaumier. There is a slight challenge that I think needs to be addressed, which is the sponsorship component. That also needs to be looked at.
On the sponsorship component, essentially, if left alone, one might have a pyrrhic victory. We do not do all this to achieve that. We want to have both a change in the act, under the OAS, that brings it down to seven years, and then a change in the immigration rules--it's in here, and you can read it—that also reduces the sponsorship obligation to three years, so that the purposes that such a change seeks under the act, under the OAS, will actually be achieved, effectively in practice.
Thank you very much.