No, not "Waltzing Matilda", the other "Matilda". I will not read it all, just a couple of lines that are very much to the point. Matilda, growing tired of play and finding she was left alone, went tiptoe to the telephone and summoned the fire brigade.
We know the story. It was a false alarm. There was no fire. She did it so many times that a few weeks later when her aunt was away at the theatre, that night a fire did break out: "You should have heard Matilda shout. You should have heard her scream and bawl". We know the rest: "For every time she shouted fire, they only shouted little liar". They did not believe her because too often she had used the dramatic overstatement to draw attention to her situation. Why did they not believe her? Along the way by overstating the simple and the untrue she had worn out her credibility.
In a more modern idiom, she was Chicken Little: "The sky is falling. These big bad Liberals over there want to put a comma in the legislation. The sky is falling, the world is coming to an end". That is what we have been hearing for the last couple of days.
I say to my friends in the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois that I spent some time in opposition provincially and federally. If they want to check the record I said some fairly dramatic things from time to time. One has to learn that there is a time for making dramatic statements and there is a time for standing up and calling things exactly as they are.
Let us look at this particular bill. This is no occasion for pulling your hair or threatening the end of reality or saying the sky is falling or screaming fire when there is no fire. There is no fire here at all.
The Unemployment Insurance Act would be amended here, for example. Listen how drastically this foul government wants to amend the Unemployment Insurance Act, then decide whether the sky is falling.
Bill C-54 has no impact whatsoever on eligibility criteria or benefit structure of the UI program. What else is there in the program other than the benefits and the eligibility? It has no impact on those matters at all. Here is what it would do, though. It does contain one little amendment, giving the minister the discretion to disclose UI client information only to the commissioner of the RCMP for the purpose of conducting investigations and prosecution, for purposes of ensuring compliance with the law. That is the amendment. That is the sky is falling amend-
ment we have been hearing about for the last day or so in this particular bill.
On the proposed amendment in this bill to the Children's Special Allowance Act, no change again in eligibility criteria or the benefit structure of the CSA program-not a wit of change proposed in this.
There are two amendments though, both advanced for reasons of administration. I believe hon. members are familiar with those. I can read them into the record if they wish.
Let us come to the question of changes for OAS, old age security, and the Canada pension plan. Again we read that the government's sin here is in finding ways to make it a little less onerous for the people out there who are receiving these benefits, instead of having them fill in forms ad nauseam every year as they are required to do now in order to qualify for those supplements. That is what the bill is about. You would wonder if you listened to some of the speeches.
The bill is what I called earlier some comma legislation. I have some advice to give to my friends in all parties including myself. Save the fire call for when there is a fire. When there is some legislation here that we have some real discomfort with then get up and say so. Then people will recognize that we know what we are talking about. Screaming fire when there is no fire creates false insecurities out there. People are asking: "What are they doing to the old age security?".
I will tell them what we are doing with the old age security. I will tell the people watching exactly what we are doing to the old age security in this bill. Instead of that silly form people have to fill in every year, we are going to see to it that they have to fill it in less often, sometimes only once. That is what the bill is about.
What are we doing to the UI? If somebody is out there trying to beat the law, we are going to make it harder for them. If this bill passes, we are going to allow the commissioner of the RCMP to have access to client information for the purpose of prosecuting a person if they are in that particular category.
I identify with those objectives. I have no difficulty at all with those objectives. That is why it gives me great honour and pleasure to rise in support of Bill C-54, because when passed the amendments here will directly benefit and assist over 4 million Canadian seniors, in particular the 1.4 million seniors who are currently receiving the spouse's allowance or the guaranteed income supplement, commonly known as the GIS.
The proposed amendments will allow these seniors, the majority of whom are women, to receive the benefits to which they are entitled with a minimum of red tape. Let us look at a few of the features of the programs we are talking about. Then let us look at why these amendments although small in one way are nevertheless important.
The foundation of the retirement system is the old age security benefit. The OAS pension is paid to individuals 65 years of age and over who meet certain residence requirements. That benefit though is not enough for certain seniors. That is the reason we have additional benefits which are income tested.
The GIS is a monthly income tested benefit payable to seniors with low income, while the spouse's allowance is a monthly income tested benefit payable to the 60 to 64-year old spouse of an OAS pensioner as well as to low income widowed persons in that same age bracket of 60 to 64 years.
The amount of these additional benefits is determined on a sliding scale of income with the maximum paid only to those pensioners with no income other than the basic old age security pension. While having outside income can reduce the amount of the supplement or the allowance, this reduction does not completely offset the benefit since only one dollar of supplement is lost for every two of other income. This ensures that pensioners will be better off for having saved and prepared for retirement.
The GIS and the spouse's allowance are both income tested benefits, and so they are normally based on a recipient's income in the preceding calendar year in accordance with the Income Tax Act. For example, the benefits for the period from April 1994 to March 1995 are based on the income for 1993.
Each year before the benefit can be calculated and paid in April, seniors must fill out a renewal application, including a complete statement of income. Of course, most seniors also fill out their income tax form at about that time with the very same information that they provide on their annual GIS application form.
There in a nutshell is an example of unnecessary government red tape, where the senior sits down, paper in hand, fills out a form putting in certain information related to income and mails it to the income tax people; then goes over to the other end of the table and gets another form, using the same pen and putting down the same answers to the same questions, then mails it off to the old age security. They wind up in offices almost across the corridor in Ottawa or wherever these forms go.
While they may appear so, these two systems do not operate in isolation. The income security branch of Human Resources Development Canada pays the benefit initially on the basis of the GIS application. Later on, usually in the fall, it verifies the income that the client filled out on the application with the assessed income figures received from Revenue Canada to determine if the payments to be made are still correct. However, pensioners often very rightly wonder why they have to give the
information twice and why it takes so long to cross-check the information.
The amendments to this bill will serve to eliminate some of that duplication so that in the future not all seniors will have to fill out the same information twice for two government departments. As well, it will simplify the process of transferring information between the departments, which is already allowed by legislation anyway.
Let me emphasize that the desire to improve and simplify administration is not confined to one department or set of programs. Last year, for example, Revenue Canada introduced three new tax returns for people with straightforward tax situations and one of these returns was for seniors who meet certain requirements regarding age, level and type of income. That return is mailed to people over 65 who have been retired for at least a year with income under $50,000 and receiving most of their income from pensions and investments and receiving old age security benefits.
The simplified tax return which I was just mentioning has large print and provides preprinted amounts for old age security, guaranteed income supplement benefits and Canada and Quebec pension plan benefits. Any lines from the standard tax form that are not needed by seniors are deleted and the accompanying guide is easy to read with large print.
I realize that if I read very much more of this I am going to have everybody sound asleep, including myself, because it is such ongoing straightforward logical information. I thought I would read just a little of it to demonstrate to the House that while some of the speakers have almost had cardiac arrests telling us about the pitfalls of this legislation, the reality is that it could not introduce a mild headache let alone a heart attack.
This is a fairly simple bill. Let us get on with it and allow the government to produce the enabling legislation to simplify those forms for senior citizens and the other matters which I have outlined here, administrivia but necessary nevertheless.
The second point, to reiterate, to all of us here in this House including myself is save the fire screams for fires. I spent slightly more time in opposition than I did in government and so I am very much committed to the role of opposition in government. I happen to believe very firmly that the less effective an opposition is the less effective government is.
I understand my friends from Elk Island and Okanagan Centre, I understand that they want to muse on the possibility of when I will be back in opposition.
I not only happen to accept that possibility but in time would look forward to it. If it is anything that is more debilitating than too long in opposition, it is too long in government. That is the very point I am trying to make to my friends. Good government consists of a good government bench and a good opposition bench as well. To put it differently, if we do not have a good opposition we do not have as effective a government.
One of the mixes of this particular House which is different than any other chamber that I have been in, both other sessions here and in the chamber in Newfoundland where I had the privilege of sitting for 10 years, is that we have a completely new mix in terms of a party, the Reform Party, which heretofore had only one seat in the House and the other, the official opposition, which heretofore had six or seven seats in the House. Almost the entire opposition bench, not to mention a good many of the government bench, is here for the first time. That is refreshing in the context of not getting bogged down in hanging on to all the old things.
It is a particular challenge when one has to come in here on the day one arrives and help make good government. Helping make good government includes being appropriately critical.
Some people talk about the free vote. We have free votes. I am not being tongue in cheek. We have free votes as do all the other parties. We are now finding, having been here a year, that most of our free votes take place in caucus where they should take place. That is why we are a party and not a conglomerate of 52 members or 54 members or 170 members. We are party because our real fights take place. If you saw the exchange, Madam Speaker, I had with a minister in a caucus yesterday you would wonder why the two of us are still in the same party.