House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Interparliamentary DelegationRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report prepared by the official parliamentary delegation of the Canada-France Parliamentary Association which attended the 25th annual meeting of the association held in Montreal, Charlevoix and Iqualuit from July 16 to July 24, 1994.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Roger Simmons Liberal Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to present petitions on behalf of several hundred residents of Newfoundland. The signatories of these petitions come from my riding of Burin-St. George's as well as from the riding of my colleague, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the member for Gander-Grand Falls.

The petitions salute the importance of the mining industry as the mainstay of employment in more than 150 communities across the country and as an important contributor to Canada's gross domestic product and exports.

The petitioners call on Parliament to take action that will increase employment in the mining sector, promote exploration, rebuild Canada's mineral reserves, sustain mining communities and keep mining in Canada.

I have much pleasure in presenting these petitions and in giving them my full support.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, according to Standing Order 36, I would like to present two petitions. The first petitions the government and prays that Parliament ensure that present provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada prohibiting assisted suicide be enforced vigorously and that Parliament make no changes in the law which would sanction or allow the aiding or abetting of suicide or active or passive euthanasia.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

The second petition, Mr. Speaker, is from petitioners who pray and request that Parliament not amend the human rights code, the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in any way which would tend to indicate societal approval of same sex relationships or of homosexuality, including amending the human rights code to include in the prohibitive grounds of discrimination the undefined phrase sexual orientation.

It is an honour for me to present these petitions on behalf of my constituents.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Similkameen—Merritt, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present today, both on the same subject. I would like to add that there are a growing number of Canadians who continue to be concerned about the proposition of more gun legislation in this country.

These petitioners call to the attention of the House that current legislation allows law-abiding citizens of Canada to own firearms and that current legislation regulates the acquisition and possession of firearms through a complex, expensive and rigorous regulatory scheme. In the vast majority of serious crimes in which firearms were involved those firearms were illegally acquired or were illegally possessed.

Therefore, the petitioners call on this House of Parliament assembled to oppose further legislation for firearms acquisition and possession and to provide strict guidelines and mandatory sentences for the use or possession of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. I concur with my petitioners.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Simon de Jong NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wish to present a petition signed by over 400 people from Balgonie, Saskatchewan in my constituency.

The petitioners point out that the present Prime Minister in a letter dated August 1993 to Rural Dignity of Canada stated that the Liberal party had "vigorously spoken out against Canada Post's plans to close or convert existing post offices and that the Liberal Party viewed the closure and the conversion as a deterioration of services to the public resulting in poorer service, lower wages for employees and greater difficulty in guaranteeing the security of the mail".

The petitioners ask that a full corporate post office be reinstated in the town of Balgonie which is a growing and progressive community, and they want a full time postmaster.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I wish to present two petitions this morning on behalf of my constituents in Cumberland-Colchester.

The first petition requests that this Parliament ensure that the present provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada prohibiting assisted suicide be enforced vigorously and that Parliament make no changes in the law which would sanction or allow the aiding or abetting of suicide or active or passive euthanasia.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Dianne Brushett Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is with regard to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The petitioners are requesting that we do not alter the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in any way which would tend to indicate societal approval of same sex relationships or of homosexuality, including amending the human rights code to include in the prohibitive grounds of discrimination the undefined phrase sexual orientation.

I am pleased to present both of these petitions on behalf of my constituents in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present on behalf of my constituents today.

The first one deals with the young offenders legislation. My constituents have expressed a number of concerns. I am pleased to see that our government has addressed many of those in the present legislation before this House as well as in the study that is being undertaken by the justice committee.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, my second petition has to do with changes to the Human Rights Act. My constituents are concerned that the changes will concur or give societal approval to things that my constituents do not believe appropriate.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

York North Ontario


Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Shall all questions stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Victoria B.C.


David Anderson Liberalfor the Minister of Human Resources Development

moved that Bill C-54, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Children's Special Allowances Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

York North Ontario


Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, it is my very great honour to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-54, whose amendments which will assist over 3.5 million Canadian seniors, in particular the 1.4 million seniors currently receiving the spouse's allowance or the guaranteed income supplement.

The proposed amendments will enable these seniors, the majority of whom are women, to receive the benefits to which they are entitled with a minimum of red tape.

I am particularly pleased to speak on behalf of this bill because so many of its amendments display a unifying theme, namely establishing effective and efficient government and providing better service to the public while at the same time controlling costs.

This bill is a demonstration of our continuing commitment to both current and future seniors. It follows improvements to telephone service made earlier this year.

Members may recall that in February the Minister of Human Resources Development responded to public concerns raised by the Auditor General by ordering immediate action to ensure pensioners were able to get answers to questions about their benefits. These changes which involve the training of up to 200 additional client service officers and a $3 million investment to expand and upgrade existing telephone equipment has certainly been very effective.

In fact since May over 65,000 calls have been answered from clients in Ontario and New Brunswick alone. These clients would have had their calls go unanswered had the changes not been made.

The amendments we are introducing today will move us a few more steps down the road toward the administrative effectiveness and excellent client service which we all seek. They will also make it easier for you as members of Parliament to represent constituents in their dealings with the department.

I want to speak a bit about the reform of income security programs. The government is committed to providing Canadians with a more streamlined and efficient system. This is especially true in Human Resources Development Canada where this is not just some philosophical notion but rather a daily commitment to the clients who use the numerous employment, training, social development and income security programs which the department administers.

The redesign of our income security programs encompassing the old age security program and the Canada pension plan is a concrete example of this commitment. This project will vastly improve the efficiency and quality of service to Canada's seniors and pensioners. However, redesign is not something that happens overnight but it is indeed a continual process.

Fortunately there are changes which can be made right away and these are contained in the bill before the House. These include an alternative to the annual application process for income tested benefits under the old age security program; streamlined appeals process and procedures to expedite the hearing of appeals; one year retroactivity under the Canada pension plan for retirement pensions payable after age 65; the authority to forgive overpayments resulting from administrative error or erroneous advice; and a number of technical amendments which collectively enable the government to offer better service to seniors in a more efficient manner. Also in the bill is found changes to guaranteed income supplement and spouses allowance.

One amendment of the bill is of special significance to low income elderly Canadians, a disproportionate number of whom are single women. Under the Old Age Security Act a basic pension is provided to all those persons over the age of 65 who have met the residency period established in the act.

The basic pension is the foundation of the old age security program. In addition this program provides income tested benefits such as GIS and SPA. These two programs ensure that recipients have a guaranteed minimum income on which to live.

The amount of GIS or SPA an individual receives during the fiscal year is based for the most part on income in the previous calendar year. To obtain this information we have always required that our clients file a statement of income each and every year. The experience of experts in this area is that this can be an onerous and even frightening experience for many seniors.

I recently received a letter from a volunteer agency composed of seniors whose mandate is to ensure that other seniors are aware and able to take advantage of the services and benefits available to them. This group was asking if any alternatives to the current application/reapplication process had ever been considered. This question obviously flowed from its experience in dealing with problems caused by the current system. The woman who wrote on behalf of the group pointed out two significant areas of concern which these volunteers had encountered.

To begin with, renewal applications are sent out each January and must be returned by the month of March. This allows the new benefit amounts to be calculated in time for the April cheque.

The woman who wrote on behalf of the volunteer group pointed out that some of the older recipients in her province worry about being late in reapplying, so much so that many complete it as soon as it arrives in January. The problem is that people with some other source of income have not received their information slips by the end of January. As a result, these pensioners guess at what their income was in the previous year.

However, if they guess wrong it means that they either receive an underpayment or an overpayment on their April cheque. In the case of an underpayment, they may not receive sufficient money to live. In the case of an overpayment, recipients could end up having to pay money back to the government. As well, some recipients set this form aside for safekeeping in recognition of its importance and then forget to submit it when they receive their information slip.

Sadly, it is no longer possible for staff to contact those seniors who have not returned their forms by a certain date, since we now have more than one million supplement clients to serve each year. In any case, failure to file this form means that pensioners' old age security cheques in April would contain only the basic pension amount. At its worst, this could mean receiving roughly $388 instead of $848, a 54 per cent drop in income.

For someone relying on an income tested benefit to make ends meet, this is of course a devastating experience. At that point they need special help to get their forms completed and a cheque issued as fast as possible. This, of course, adds to administrative costs.

I am not saying that all pensioners, or even the majority of pensioners, have difficulty with the renewal process. However,

the fact is that there is a problem for some which is reason enough for this government to find alternatives.

An amendment to the Old Age Security Act contained in the bill would go a long way to alleviating these very real problems facing very real people. The amendment would give the Minister of Human Resources Development the authority to waive the requirement for an individual to reapply each year.

It will be some time before we are able to use this waiver extensively. However, some of the cases where this waiver could be used either immediately or in the very near future include the following: Pensioners whose income does not change from year to year, a situation common among more elderly seniors; pensioners whose only other source of income is the Canada pension plan, which means that my department already has the income information necessary to calculate the income tested benefits under the old age security program; and, pensioners who have already filed their income tax returns by the end of March.

For this group, the income information could be obtained directly from Revenue Canada. Obtaining information directly from Revenue Canada would do more than provide an improved client service. It would also reduce a great deal of duplication both for seniors and for the government. Seniors would no longer have to provide what is effectively the same information to two government departments. In turn, the role of the Department of Human Resources Development plays in the renewal process would become more efficient because it would get the correct information from Revenue Canada about an individual's income from the first.

This means that the underpayments and overpayments on many accounts would be eliminated. Efficiencies such as this would go a long way to streamlining service to the public, while at the same time reducing government expenditures. As well, there would be a reduction in the paper burden imposed on those who are least able to cope with it.

Other amendments in the bill would also have significant benefits for pensioners. The OAS appeal process is yet another example. It involves changes to the old age security appeal process. Currently any client dissatisfied with the decision under the OAS act may ask for a reconsideration which is an internal review of their file or the client can go directly to a review tribunal which is made up of three members, a representative of the client, a representative of the minister and a chair who is agreed by the other two.

There are a number of problems with this process which I feel the amendments will go a long way to alleviate. First we are proposing that the reconsideration stage be mandatory for all appeals, so that clients would be assured of a speedy review of their case to ensure that the decision they originally received was in fact the correct one.

Experience has shown that reconsideration is the fastest way to change the original decision, especially if an error occurred or if there was simply something lacking in the documentation submitted the first time around. This happens when clients bring forward new information that was not available when the original decision was made.

Second, we are proposing to have all OAS review tribunals heard by the review tribunals correctly in place under the Canada pension plan. As I am sure hon. members can appreciate, it is often very difficult to find three volunteers who are all able to be at the same place at the same time, during business hours, particularly in remote locations. In fact there are currently appeals under the OAS program that have been waiting to be heard for more than two years.

By contrast the Canada pension plan review tribunals in place since 1992 are proving very efficient. These tribunals are composed of three members chosen from a panel appointed for just this purpose. As a result we have a significant number of people who are committed to be available to take part in the appeal process in all parts of this very large country.

As well, because members hear a number of appeals during their tenure, they develop a very good working knowledge of the program on which they are being asked to adjudicate.

On the issue of war crimes, we are also proposing amendments which complement Canada's commitment to the international community in its efforts to bring to justice persons suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

To further the important work of the Solicitor General, the department is proposing amendments to the information disclosure provision of the Canada pension plan, the Old Age Security Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act by allowing the commissioner of the RCMP, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada access to information controlled by our department.

Canada is strengthening its ability to be a meaningful partner in this effort. I assure hon. members that this access will be strictly controlled and will be restricted to actions conducted by Canada in Canada.

On the information exchanges with veterans affairs, other changes to the information provisions contained in the Canada pension plan and Old Age Security Act will follow for expanded information exchanges in veterans affairs. Even though many of our clients are the same our ability to communicate with each other has been very limited.

In this time of economic restraint it is important that we govern as efficiently as possible. It is also important that people will receive their correct entitlements under various government programs. Better communications with veterans affairs will meet both of these objectives.

On the issue of pensioner activity I now want to outline a significant amendment to the Canada pension plan contained in the bill, significant because of why it is being made; that is, the introduction of a 12-month retroactivity period for Canada pension plan retirement applications by persons over the age of 65.

In 1987 with the introduction of flexible retirement under the CPP it became possible to receive an actuarially adjusted retirement pension from age 60 to age 70. The amount of an individual's benefit is based in part on the age at which the pension begins. Specifically the benefit is reduced by .5 per cent for each month an applicant is under age 65 or increased by .5 per cent for each month the applicant is over the age of 65.

To complement this change, it was felt that there was no further need for retroactive retirement pensions prior to age 70. If someone delayed applying for retirement pension past age 65, their benefit would be adjusted to reflect this fact.

However, in the ensuing seven years, there have been some complaints from people over the age of 65 who state that they would rather have had the option of receiving up to 12 months of retroactive benefits. This would be in lieu of the increase of up to 6 per cent in their monthly entitlement that a delay of 12 months represents.

This change is not significant if we look at the number of people who have requested it. However, ask any one of the individuals who wants to choose the retroactivity option and they will tell you how significant it is to them.

Usually they have delayed a few months in applying after their 65th birthday and they really cannot understand why they cannot get benefits back to that time. Frankly, neither can I. It is not a matter of costs since the extra months of payments are balanced by actual adjustments.

Another significant change proposed by this legislation relates to overpayments which occasionally occur under the Old Age Security Act. When overpayment was solely the result of an administrative error the Minister of Human Resources Development under this legislation would have the authority to give such an overpayment. This mirrors a provision that currently exists under the Canada pension plan.

Today I have outlined the major changes the government is proposing to OAS and CPP legislation. However there are several other technical amendments that will also help us better serve pensioners.

In conclusion, these amendments taken together will result in improved service to our clients, reduce administrative costs and significantly reduce duplication and paper burden both to our clients and to the government departments involved.

The amendments contained in this bill represent one more step in this government's commitment to providing Canadians with the excellent government services they deserve while at the same time reducing costs as much as possible.

Finally, the amendments in this bill will go a long way toward helping making life a little easier for our seniors who have after all made such a tremendous contribution to the building of this country.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-54, an Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Children's Allowances Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act, was tabled on October 7 by the Minister of Human Resources Development.

The proposed amendments to the Old Age Security Program and the Canada Pension Plan will provide for certain improvements that will benefit senior citizens, but the bill's lack of clarity is certainly no guarantee that senior citizens will have an adequate level of financial security. The bill may even reduce the incomes of some seniors.

As the critic for seniors' issues, it is my duty to ensure that the social security review does not become an exercise in making cuts in all programs designed to protect the neediest in our society, especially senior citizens.

Most senior citizens have modest incomes. According to a report by the National Advisory Council on Aging, disposable incomes of senior citizens were as follows: the incomes of families headed by seniors were 68 to 80 per cent of the incomes of other Canadian families, depending on the income measure used and the Canadian region concerned. In 1989, for instance, the average income of families headed by seniors was only $37,462 or 72 per cent of the incomes of families where the head of the family was under 65.

In 1989, the average income of single persons aged 65 or over was $16,316, while the average income of single persons under 65 was $23,080. A single person is an individual who lives alone or in a household where the person is not related to other members of the household. Single persons, irrespective of their age, tend to have relatively low incomes. Consequently, if we consider single persons as a group, the gap between senior citizens and the rest of the population is not as wide as it is between families, but it is still substantial.

Responsibility for seniors is shared by two departments, Human Resources Development and Health, with the Seniors Secretariat, which is responsible for giving seniors the information they need on federal programs and services, while providing liaison with the federal and provincial departments responsible for programs for senior citizens. Why not have a minister responsible for senior citizens, like the previous government? I asked this question at the very beginning of my term as a member of this House.

In addition, the National Advisory Council on Aging advises the Minister of Health on the quality of life of senior citizens, either at the request of the minister or on its own initiative. The council's role consists in disseminating information and publishing reports, for instance. The federal government assists senior citizens mainly through two programs: Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan, and a number of tax measures.

The purpose of the OAS program is to provide seniors with a decent level of income. The program includes three kinds of benefits under the Old Age Security Act. The basic old age security pensions provide seniors with the basis for a decent level of income. Pensions are paid to all Canadians and Quebecers 65 years of age and over who meet residence requirements. They are taxable and subject to partial or full clawback in the case of seniors with high incomes.

The guaranteed income supplement ensures a minimum level of income to old age security pensioners. Benefits are paid to old age security pensioners who have a low or modest income. The amount of benefits is established through an assessment of annual income, generally based on the individual's income for the previous year areported for tax purposes.

The spouses's allowance helps married, retired and low-income couples who receive only one old age security pension or guaranteed income supplement, as well as low-income widows and widowers, aged 60 to 64, who meet the old age security requirements in terms of residency. Benefits are determined through an income assessment similar to the one applicable to the guaranteed income supplement. The Canada Pension Plan is a mandatory and contributive social insurance program designed to protect Canadian workers and their families against a loss of income due to death, disability or retirement.

Retirement pension benefits are equal to 25 per cent of the pensionable earnings of the contributor, with this average being established for the net qualifying period. These benefits will help about 2 million pensioners each month, for a volume of transactions of $9.6 billion in 1993-94. Survivor's benefits consist of a monthly benefit paid to surviving spouses of deceased contributors, an overall benefit paid to the succession and orphan benefits paid each month to children of deceased contributors. Benefits paid to surviving spouses are reduced if spouses are aged 35 to 45, are not invalid or have no children. Disability payments are made monthly to contributors who have not yet reached 65 years old and have a chronic and serious disability and to their dependent children who are 18 years old or less or 18 to 25 if they are full time students. In 1993-94, approximately $2.5 billion will be paid to 325,000 recipients every month.

Bill C-54 highlights contain, among other things, two specific amendments which will have a positive impact on the programs for the elderly and the amendments are the following.

Spouse's allowances automatically become old age security benefits when the recipients reach 65 years old. The guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowances will be paid even when applications are late. The intent of the proposal is to amend the Old Age Security Act in order for the minister to be able to exempt some recipients from filing an annual application for the renewal of the guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowances.

However, the Bloc Quebecois cannot support Bill C-54's provisions which change access to some information, since the government wants to increase the number of departments, agencies and persons given access to personal information used in the administration of the acts amended by this bill.

According to the legislation as it stands now, the agencies having access to information are the departments of National Revenue, Finance and Supply and Services, the Employment and Immigration Commission, Statistics Canada and any provincial authorities administering an assistance program. These agencies do have access providing the information deals only with the status of recipients or the amount of the benefits or where disclosure of information is required for the purposes of administering the act.

We must be careful when gathering personal information on elderly people, because this can be used for other purposes. We must protect them from possible abuse. The government has not demonstrated that privileged information disclosure was required and essential. The government must always be accountable to elderly people by showing that the gathering of such information is not abusive.

Governments are encroaching more and more on the private lives of people, as we saw recently in the Grant Bristow case. Furthermore, the Bloc Quebecois does not accept the clauses providing for sanctions in case of illegal communication because they do not go far enough.

Also the bill's clauses relating to information add the following agencies to the list of those who can have access to that

information, namely Canada Post, Correctional Services of Canada, the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General and even federal MPs and any other person designated by the minister as a health professional.

Some information will be made available to a greater number of departments. It is important to note that Correctional Services of Canada will have access to information on pensioner inmates in order to force them to pay back part of the costs of their detention.

The Department of Justice as well as the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will have access to obtain information that could help them catch war criminals. Of course, this is aimed at Nazis who migrated to Canada after the last World War, among others. It is not explained why it is necessary to include any other person designated as a health professional by the minister. It is also mentioned that it would be useful to include Canada Post since that agency could, by using new techniques, help speed up the processing of pensioners' cheques.

Another important point in Bill C-54 has to do with the government's plan to save money. From now on, clients who apply late for their pension will be able to receive up to one year's retroactive payment of benefits. In the case of Old Age Security, this is a reduction from five years to one year. For the Canada Pension Plan, this kind of situation is dealt with through actuarial adjustments.

This provision will come into force on April 1st, 1995. However, pensioners who owe money to the OAS plan will have their debt forgiven if it is the result of an administrative error or erroneous advice on the part of a departmental official.

The maximum deadline for the recovery of OAS overpayments will be eliminated. This way, the government will be able to get back between one and two million dollars.

Moreover, the minister may stay payment of benefits pending an appel or a judicial review, thus depriving beneficiaries of money they need since it is often their only source of income.

The Old Age Security pension and the guaranteed income supplement are paid to 72 per cent of women pensioners and 50 per cent of men. Only 5 per cent of senior citizens have incomes above $50,000. Their life expectancy has improved and we must ensure that these senior citizens lead a full and satisfying life during these extra years.

By putting more stringent conditions on programs for senior citizens, the government is merely cutting the income of these people. The government is saying that the retroactive period has been shortened from five years to one year, to make the OAS program consistent with that of the Canada Pension Plan.

According to the present legislation, the government can go back a maximum of two years. Abolishing this provision would save the government between one and two million dollars. Given that people are protected from possible errors by civil servants, they would not have to refund any excess payment in such a case. The minister should tell us where he is going to take that money.

In the event of an appeal, the minister will be authorized to delay payment. Yet, the government itself recognizes that a large percentage of pensioners have no other incomes.

Let us not forget that the federal government has decided to reduce the tax credit given to senior citizens. At the present time, all taxpayers 65 and over can claim a tax credit equivalent to 17 per cent of $3,482 at the federal level, and 20 per cent of $2,200 in Quebec. This tax credit is non-refundable, that is to say, taxpayers can use it to reduce the tax they owe, but they cannot ask for a cash refund on any unused portion of it. However, such an unused part can be transferred to the spouse.

This tax credit amounts to a reduction of federal tax of about $610 per year for all tax-paying senior citizens. In most provinces, and in Quebec in particular, this credit also reduces the provincial tax. The combined reduction of federal and provincial taxes averages about $950, but in Quebec it comes to about $1,050.

On May 31 of this year, I took the floor to oppose any reduction of the tax credit for senior citizens. I stressed that once again the meagre efforts to reduce spending were done at the expense of the neediest. At that time, I also mentioned that, on May 10, I had questioned the minister responsible for seniors about the projected use of so-called voice mail boxes to answer inquiries from senior citizens.

The Minister of Human Resources Development merely stressed the efficiency of the proposed service. I explained that a lot of seniors hate to use this type of service and that the golden-age club representative voiced their concerns. In the last year, the Minister of Human Resources Development received numerous letters from Quebec members of the AFEAS, the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale. Here are excerpts from one of them:

We heard that your department, Human Resources Development Canada, is planning to use voice mail in its communications with senior citizens wanting information on income security matters.

We believe this measure will affect people who may naturally be at a loss when confronted by this technology. Moreover, many of them do not have the required telephone sets.

We AFEAS members are strongly opposed to your project to provide services to seniors through voice mail instead of having real people answer questions about income security.

We ask you to reconsider this unfortunate decision as soon as possible.

On May 11, 1994, I insisted again. I then asked the House: Why does the federal government insist on attacking senior citizens, considering that most of them find it very difficult to deal with a system that is so impersonal?

Last September 28 in this House, I asked the following question of the Minister of Human Resources Development: Does the Minister of Human Resources Development still intend to slash programs for seniors in order to finance other federal government programs? Will we have to wait until after the Quebec referendum to know the answer?

On September 29, I rose again in this House, in an attempt to get a formal commitment from the government not to tax RRSPs. The purpose of my remarks is not to reject all the measures in Bill C-54 affecting senior citizens, given that certain rules that complicated their lives unnecessarily have been relaxed.

However, the government must guarantee seniors a certain security by not slashing the social programs that affect them. The government's direct expenses associated with senior benefits, which include old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the spouse's allowance, represent $20.6 billion in 1994-1995. The burden carried by seniors must be fair and equitable. Recent studies indicate that one person in eight is over 65.

In ten years, the number of people 65 and older will increase by at least 40 per cent. More Canadians aged 65 and older will have to rely on the ability to pay of working Canadians aged 15 to 64. However, many seniors are still active and prefer to live at home, look after themselves and make their own decisions.

With respect to seniors who wish to live together, one measure that I find very discriminatory is reducing old age security payments when seniors living in a residence decide to share an apartment with their spouse. Do you not think that more humanity, more generosity and less pettiness are in order?

In conclusion, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Châteauguay, that all the words after the word "that" be struck out and the following substituted:

"this House declines to give second reading reading to Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Children's Special Allowances Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act, because it does not provide a penalty under the Criminal Code for the disclosure of personal information concerning beneficiaries to persons who are not legally authorized to such information pursuant to Access to Privileged Information."

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Hon. colleagues, there have been discussions, and the amendment is in order.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, as critic for human resources development I have some statements to make about the bill.

For the benefit of Canadians who are joining the debate by television, I would like to set out the purpose of the bill. It deals with major pieces of legislation involving enormous expenditures by the government. However the bill is not a major initiative. It is a piece of housekeeping and its purpose, according to the summary, is to improve services to clients to allow for more efficient program administration and to increase efficiency between programs in the case of old age security and the Canada pension plan.

It is almost exclusively concerned with amendments to the Old Age Security Act, that is the first 16 pages of the bill; with the CPP act which takes us through the first 30 pages of the bill; with the Children's Special Allowances Act which takes up a couple of pages; and with the Unemployment Insurance Act which takes up another couple of pages. These acts are housekeeping in nature but, as has been stated by my colleague from the Bloc, there are some policy considerations that should be brought out as we debate the piece of legislation.

The government speaker who spoke on the bill in the House this morning played rather heavily on the government's "commitment to seniors". Back in January the government introduced with much fanfare a review of our social security system. I will read from the terms of reference that were put forward to the House respecting that review: "that the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development be directed to consult broadly, to analyse and to make recommendations regarding the modernization and restructuring of Canada's social security system", and this is the operative part, "with particular reference to the needs of families with children, youth and working age adults".

Seniors are quite conspicuous by their absence from this mandate and review of the social security system. At the time the mandate was debated in the House I stood and proposed that it was deficient in that it ignored our social security system as it related to seniors. Seniors are some of the people most impacted by our social systems. OAS, CPP and health care are very much of concern to seniors. Yet their interests were ignored in the terms of reference for the review. Now the government stands and plays the violin about its commitment to seniors. That is a little hypocritical.

The bill does one thing for Canadians. It points out the enormous complexity of the legislation and administration of our social programs. This complexity catches Canadians in many ways and causes their lives to be a nightmare of forms, deadlines, red tape, information exchanges, letters, phone calls and all things that go along with an enormous state bureaucracy that is supposed to look after us but in fact does not do it very well.

After one year in office the Liberal answer to the need to address the substantive dysfunction of a lot of our social programs, and the concern that the services to Canadians are eroding and cannot be sustained, is to bring forth a bit of housekeeping legislation. That is simply not good enough for Canadians. We need to be serious about addressing our social programs.

I will talk about that in a moment but first I will address the concern about confidentiality. Canadians want to see some common sense in this area. For example, if a non-citizen, someone from another country, comes to Canada, decides to stay for reasons we can certainly well understand and makes applications as a refugee, that the individual is on welfare or some other social program cannot be disclosed to Canadians trying to evaluate which people should be allowed to come to our country and be accepted as citizens to help build our nation.

There are many areas where the concern about confidentiality interferes with efficient, effective and common sense administration of our own system. For example, if someone applies for benefits often it cannot be disclosed in other jurisdictions or to administrators of other programs. That is one of the reasons we have abuse, inefficiency and overlap.

We need to be very sensible when we address this area and not go overboard by suggesting that nobody, especially the system that is paying the bills, has a right to know what individual Canadians are receiving in benefits.

The real issue is not that we need a little tinkering with our programs, a little housekeeping legislation from time to time to try to smooth the bureaucratic wheels. As we know these programs are in far deeper trouble than that. What is really needed is a substantial review and reform of our income security programs and our social programs and that is what we are not receiving from the government.

The review taking place presently totally ignores all the programs of most concern to seniors. It totally ignores CPP. It totally ignores old age security. It totally ignores health care. Government says this is coming. Our social system is just that. It is a system. All these programs are interrelated. If changes are made to program a it will impact on programs b , c and d. That is the way it works. To do this piecemeal, to look at one program,

then maybe another and a couple of years down the road we will get around to looking at the rest, is not the way to look in a coherent, effective and clear manner at how social programs should be administered.

A lot of people refer to the old saying: if it ain't broke don't fix it. Why are we looking at social programs? Why has the government brought in the review of social programs in Canada? It is fairly clear to everyone in the House and certainly to most Canadians why it is necessary. Although these programs are barely 30 years old, they are already unsustainable financially. They are not paying their own way. The cost of these programs is growing astronomically year by year and, worst of all, they have been largely financed on the backs of our children.

The bill for much of the spending on these programs which are so nice for us today is being handed to our children tomorrow. We are mortgaging our future so that we can have these programs. How long have we even had them? We have had them for 30 years. For 30 years we have impoverished our country and we are impoverishing our children so that we can have enormous benefits and an enormous bureaucracy to administer them. What have we accomplished? Very little as far as the long term benefit to the country is concerned.

Someone needs to stand and say this and do something about it. Canadians are looking to the government for leadership and for a good, common sense grappling with the issues facing us not just today but in the future. We do not see that happening.

We have a government that is continuing to say mortgaging our country to the tune of $100 billion during its term in office is okay. It will celebrate if that is all it does: if it only puts us in the hole by $25 billion a year it has done a great job for us! Canadians will beg to differ and certainly our children will beg to differ.

Seniors are at risk unless something is done. This is why many seniors are dependent upon pension benefits they have counted on to sustain them in their retirement years. It is very clear from anybody looking at these programs that in coming years our seniors will be sadly disappointed.

In just 15 short years we will have 40 per cent more retired Canadians than we have today. That is a huge increase. These Canadians will be looking for old age security payments. They will be looking for Canada pension plan payments. They will be looking to the health care system to make sure that their increased medical needs are covered and looked after.

Yet what is happening? These programs are costing more and more money. They are increasing the debt burden on our country

and are in serious trouble by any standard. Yet there has been no substantial, serious or urgent look at the situation.

If we look at the Canada pension plan into which people like me faithfully and without any free will on the matter paid for so many years of our working lives, we see that the premiums to sustain the program have already had to rise. By the most moderate analysis they will be rising to at least 13 per cent by the time the next generation is paying our pensions. Some analysts suggest that the burden on future workers and taxpayers could be as high as 16 per cent. This off the top payment, even if it were only 10 per cent, will be in addition to the enormous yearly interest that will have to be paid on the money that we borrowed and to the payment for all the other programs we will be using.

Do we seriously think the taxpayer of the future, in addition to paying the interest, paying for all the other programs to sustain society, trying to keep their lives together and building businesses and professional lives are going to pay an additional 10 per cent, 13 per cent or 16 per cent off the top so that you and I, Mr. Speaker, can have the Canada pension plan? That is not going to happen.

The future taxpayer will rise up in revolt and say that we are the guys that got them into the mess and if we think they are going to pay that much money off the top of their earnings in addition to everything else so we can have Canada pension fund benefits, we can think again; it is not going to happen. I can scarcely blame them.

Somebody has to get serious about the situation. Just going along with it and saying "don't worry, be happy; it will all work out" is not good enough.

The future taxpayer will have to pay billions and billions of dollars every year in interest on what we have borrowed. This year, for example, we are having to dig into our pockets for at least $40 billion-and it looks like it will be $44 billion-to pay interest on money the Liberal and Conservative governments have borrowed in the last 25 years. In 25 years they have managed to extract from our economy an obligation for $44 billion, and that is $44 billion that cannot be used for old age security, Canada pension plan, health care and all other programs we desperately need.

That interest obligation is rising. The government is going to think it is doing us all a favour if it only rises by another $5 billion or $6 billion every year due to its feeble stewardship over the next four years of its mandate.

We cannot continue to impoverish our future by not getting a grip on the issue today. We simply have to say we cannot continue to obligate our children to take $40 billion or $50 billion every year out of our economy, out of their hard earned pay, out of our economic activity, because we did not have the courage and the good sense to do what is right: to live within our means and pay our own way.

These programs have to be reorganized so that the people who really need them can count on them in the future. They have to be reorganized so that the state does not continue to have this enormous inefficient and ineffective bureaucratic growth, saying that it is going to look after us when it is abundantly clear that even at great cost, great inefficiency and great numbers of bureaucrats and administrative tribunals, it is simply not working and will not continue to work.

Last of all, we need to ensure these programs will be something we can continue to count on and pay for into the future. That is absolutely essential. It is a cruel deception for the government to tell Canadians it is looking after things, that everything is all right and that it is going to reward seniors who have invested in the country by making sure they get the programs. The government's inaction is virtually ensuring that our seniors will not be getting these programs, even in the foreseeable future as numbers of seniors rise.

I urge the House today not to look just at housekeeping legislation and a few little administrative changes to help a few people caught in the bureaucratic jungle. That is good; that is nice. However the answer is not to tinker with the programs. The answer is to look at the whole system that we have set up, all the structure that is not working after a mere 30 years or sometimes less, and have the courage, the vision and the leadership to get a grip on the situation and turn it around so that all Canadians can feel secure and confident that when they need help it will be there; otherwise the government will keep its hand out of their pockets and its nose out of their business.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

We have now moved to the next stage of the debate and from now on, pursuant to Standing Order 74, members will be allowed to make 20-minute speeches, subject to a 10-minute question and comment period.

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bonaventure—Îles-De-La-Madeleine Québec


Patrick Gagnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to speak to the bill before us. I want to emphasize a specific aspect of the bill, namely the proposed amendments to the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Unemployment Insurance Act. These amendments are intended to advance the cause of social justice in this country.

The proposed enactments would allow the government to disclose information to the Commissioner of the RCMP for the sole purpose of facilitating investigations, prosecutions and

extradition activities in relation to individuals suspected of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The existing OAS and RPC legislation does not allow us to disclose privileged information, unless the person in question has been charged formally. Regarding unemployment insurance, the present legislation prohibits the disclosure of certain information, but does not prescribe the type of information that can be released in other instances to facilitate investigations.

The amendments contained in this bill will standardize the circumstances under which information can be communicated to the RCMP regarding the three programs I mentioned.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, with the new legislation, the Commissioner of the RCMP, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada are the three persons to whom the information could be made available. It would be strictly forbidden, under any circumstances, to disclose information concerning any beneficiary to a foreign organization.

In 1985, the federal government instituted the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, presided by the hon. Justice Deschênes. The commission tabled its report in the House of Commons in March of 1987. It recommended that the RCMP and the Department of Justice work together to investigate war crimes that were said to have been committed between 1939 and 1945, that is to say during the last World War.

The report also contained a list of people presumed to be war criminals living in Canada. Both the RCMP and the Department of Justice worked hard to find and charge these people. Unfortunately, this was no easy task. Despite the considerable resources invested by Canada and 17 other countries, the RCMP was unable to find many of those suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The lack of information is, of course, the main reason behind this lack of success.

Furthermore, efforts to obtain relevant information overseas were compromised since the information was destroyed. Although such information exists in Canada, it is more often than not impossible to access because of the restrictions imposed, not to make war criminals untouchable but to protect the legitimate rights of honest Canadians.

Given the age of the individuals in question, the clientele of the OAS and the CPP programs, the databases for these programs are clearly a valuable source of information for locating and identifying persons alleged to have committed war crimes. A first step toward providing access to this information was taken in 1992 when the legislation for OAS and CPP was amended to allow the release of confidential information where a criminal charge had been laid.

However the loosening up of the existing restrictions did not prove to be all that helpful to investigators since a charge cannot be laid if the RCMP is not certain that the suspect is in fact a war criminal. Unfortunately the needed information to establish this can only be released after a charge has been laid.

There are two types of information belonging to the unemployment insurance program which could be of value to investigators. The first type is the information given by the persons receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Given the ages of the suspected war criminals few of them are likely to still be in the labour force let alone collecting unemployment insurance. However, there may be exceptions and providing the RCMP access to UI client information could in fact provide the missing link needed in a few cases.

This type of information will be of valuable assistance in the investigation of modern war crimes and crimes against humanity. As well it would mean that all beneficiary information under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resources Development would be treated in essentially the same way for war crimes investigations.

It is also important to emphasize that providing access to client information in this one instance does not mean the government is taking its responsibility to safeguard client information any less seriously. OAS, CPP and UI privacy provisions have always been deliberately restrictive because of the nature of the information collected. Public servants who administer these programs are required to collect personal information from millions of Canadians in order to manage these programs.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. This is a very important debate, so I would like to call a quorum please.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I see a quorum. Resuming debate.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Patrick Gagnon Liberal Bonaventure—Îles-De-La-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is indeed a very important debate. I should also advise hon. members opposite that this government takes its work very seriously. I am also informed there are 15 committees taking place today on a variety of subjects.

I would like to continue my speech.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

We want your views.

Old Age Security ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Patrick Gagnon Liberal Bonaventure—Îles-De-La-Madeleine, QC

I will give you some views later on.