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Evidence of meeting #30 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was countries.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Balkar Bajwa  Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum of Canada
Balwinder Singh Chahal  Secretary, Old Age Benefits Forum - Vancouver
Raymond Micah  Principal, Raymond Micah & Associates, As an Individual
Samuel Olarewaju  Secretary, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network
Kifleyesus Woldemichael  Member, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

I haven't spoken to him about asking for....

You know, I'm running through this a little bit blind. This is the first time I've done a private member's bill dealing with finances.

If it's required that he does...I'm sure he will. Well, I think he will.

9:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

9:20 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

I see from your remarks that you're a person who's very concerned about the lot of seniors. Do you agree with me that our concern for seniors should at least merit a comprehensive policy to combat poverty among seniors?

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Yes, I do. I think this was my way of getting the door open and sticking my foot into it before we come forward with an overall policy. It is not my critic's position or my portfolio to be dealing with seniors issues. That is for Carolyn Bennett, and I think she has an overall policy planned.

9:20 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

All right. I want to understand. We parliamentarians work with political commitments to determine how to direct our efforts. Last November in Toronto, your leader announced that there would be a comprehensive policy to combat poverty. I remain skeptical about that, and that's why I'm questioning you. I'll question your colleagues as well when I have the opportunity.

Do you know what the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, POWA, is? Immigrants are also concerned by that. Every time a business closes, at least 20% of workers are over the age of 55. In 1998, your party cut that program. Cutting the program increased poverty among seniors.

With respect to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, you'll remember that your party—I don't want to attack your party, but I have to tell it like it is—refused to allow people to be automatically registered for the Guaranteed Income Supplement. As a result, today, $3.3 billion is owed to seniors among the poorest citizens who did not receive it.

I would like to understand your actions and what it is possible to do in your party. We can do a lot amongst ourselves here, but, if there isn't a commitment by your party, we won't succeed and we'll continue to deceive immigrants who are having difficulty getting protection when they are elderly. We are working in that direction. However, it must be said that all seniors are victims of measures that affect their incomes and push them into poverty. I would like to know how you understand the support that we will get first from your party. On our side, we are completely invested.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Lessard, I think the issues you are talking about are all-encompassing issues. We certainly have identified the problems within our party, but the solutions are being worked on. I don't think I'm in a position to even discuss the overall senior policy positions, because I'm not the critic and I'm not the one who will be releasing the policy on poverty.

The only thing I can speak to is my bill and my reasons for bringing it forward. As for the rest, I think we have to wait and see what comes.

9:25 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

You deserve a great deal of credit, and I respect you very much for introducing this bill.

In speaking to you this morning, I'm also sending a message to your colleagues. Barely two and a half years ago, you were in power and you denied us these kinds of measures. When I say you, I don't mean you personally, but rather your party. You have previously proposed these measures. I'm thinking of the one concerning the income supplement, the assistance program for older workers who lose their jobs and measures like those you're announcing this morning.

There are also questions of cost. I would like you to submit to us the table containing the figures you presented to us earlier. I believe I incorrectly noted down some of those that you submitted to us the second time.

If the Prime Minister intends to seek royal recommendation, we'll have to work together. I would like you to understand clearly, you who are introducing a private bill, that we won't get far if your party doesn't support it. We have to get through the royal recommendation stage.

I see that there are people here today representing people who have recently arrived in the country and immigrants of longer standing. They have hope in this regard. I would like us to give them a fair idea of the contributions of each of the parties. I don't know what your commitment to this issue is. Work has been done in this area. I would like you to inform us about it and also to inform the interested groups here this morning.

Are you ready to do that?

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Absolutely. Absolutely.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Michael Savage

Thank you, Mr. Lessard. That's seven minutes.

We do have conflicting information, so the information that you have, Madam Beaumier, you should make sure that the committee members have. We have had a cost from the department, and it's a little different from the Library of Parliament's. There may be reasons for that, but we can discuss that as we go. But we'd like to see your numbers.

Ms. Charlton, for seven minutes.

May 13th, 2008 / 9:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Ms. Beaumier, I first of all want to commend you for bringing this bill forward. I think all of us who've been working on seniors issues know that income security is the single most important priority for all seniors in our country. I do agree with Mr. Lessard, there's lots of work to be done, and this is just a particular slice of the larger policy area.

Do you agree with him, though, that despite the fact that this is, as you say, a narrowly focused issue, we do know that right now in Canada there are 200,000 people who are eligible for the GIS already who aren't accessing it? And one of the reasons they're not accessing it, among many, is that there are linguistic and cultural challenges to filling out the applications. Therefore they're not even sure of their entitlement and don't apply, and they don't get the GIS.

I wonder if in proposing this bill, because it does deal specifically with the newcomer community, you've thought about how we'd ensure that when we provide this entitlement for the GIS, people who would now be eligible could actually access that benefit. Because entitlement without access doesn't do them any good.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

A simplistic way is to advertise in the ethnic newspapers--but no, I think we have to be a little more inventive in our ways of getting people to understand that these benefits are available. I do agree with you.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Let me just ask a couple of other questions.

Do you have a comprehensive list of countries with which we don't have a reciprocal agreement, and therefore a list of countries whose emigrants this would affect?

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

No, we don't have a list.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Is it possible for the committee to get that list?

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

We haven't focused on the different countries affected, I guess because we didn't particularly think it mattered where they came from.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

It matters to me only in terms of—

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Yes, I understand that.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

—whether you would agree that we need to have particular kinds of outreach strategies to make sure everybody becomes aware of the entitlements. It does matter in which languages we might pursue that. It would be of interest.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Michael Savage

I'm informed that it would be easier to get a list of those countries with which we do have reciprocal arrangements, and we'll provide that to the committee as soon as possible.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Fair enough. Thank you very much.

You talked very eloquently about the fact that this isn't just a cost, that there's also a net benefit, not just to newcomers but to our whole community, in implementing this bill. It strikes me that one of the areas where there'd be substantial cost savings--although not on the federal government side--would be through social assistance savings, for example.

Have you costed that out at all? I know it will vary province by province.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

No, we haven't.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

It seems to me, following up on Mr. Lessard's comments, that when we're dealing with a private member's bill that in some parties will be subject to a free vote, putting as much evidence as you could before us to help us persuade colleagues on the other side of the House might be an element that would be persuasive to some.

In the same vein, this issue has certainly been around for a very long time--but I'm a rookie here, so correct me if I'm wrong--and people in my community and across the country have been lobbying for movement on this in a very tenacious way. They've hung in and been very patient with Parliament to get us to this point.

Since it's not the first time that it's before us, I wonder whether you can talk a little about what the obstacles were with past governments. What were the reasons why this was never brought forward? I know it was discussed, so there must have been reasons why it wasn't implemented. It couldn't have just been costs, I would assume.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

I'm not really sure that it has been discussed at any great length. We've had different groups lobby us.

We're politicians, but we have our own personalities and things that are important to us. And I'll tell you how I got to this point.

The seniors in my area, mostly south Asians, began the lobbying. When they came to me and told me that it was against the charter and that it should be their right to have it, as a politician I was....

Even though they were right, you get a little tired of hearing people coming to you all the time saying, “I'm a Canadian, and I have rights, and....” You do.

At any rate, I told them that since I wasn't a lawyer, I didn't know what the implications were of the charter or how this would go through a court system, but I wasn't sure they'd win on a charter aspect. However, when I began going to the fields and watching....

I have a gentleman here, Sucha, who drives seniors who are over 70 to work in the fields so that they can have spending money. It's about dignity. When you go out and you see these people, they have so much pride and so much dignity; they don't want to go to their sons to ask them for money for coffee.

It's not as though you have to be very wealthy to have your parents come to this country. They come, they provide a service. There's dignity in being self-sufficient, and to see these men and women, in the hot days of summer, out working in the fields in order to preserve their dignity, made me very ashamed of myself and of our system.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

I agree with you absolutely. To me, this isn't a charter issue. As I understand it, the charter only applies to Canadian citizens. This is fundamentally an issue of treating seniors with the dignity and respect they deserve.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

It's just decency.