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.


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3:45 p.m.


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

That is the difference between us. One can put a negative spin on anything one wants to. If he is saying to four million Canadian seniors that relieving them of the burden of those forms every year is diddling, in his term, I hope they heard him.

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3:45 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

What is the sense of having forums when there is going to be no program?

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3:45 p.m.


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

The member makes the mistake of thinking one has the same speech on every piece of legislation. I hear his views. I share many of the views he expressed a moment ago in his intervention. Of course I share many of his views but it has nothing to do with this bill.

If he is saying: "Let's go out and solve the deficit and all you older people, you four million, just wait there with your forms now. Keep filling them out. We are going to rush out and fix the deficit first. We will be back a few years from now and then we will help you with your forms". We can do both. It is not such a big deal. Let us give them a few simplified forms. So work with me on this, Matilda.

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3:45 p.m.


Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member opposite, who talked about fire throughout his speech. And speaking of fire, I would like to say that the government started the fire, and it is now up to the opposition to put it out.

My question is very straightforward. Earlier, in referring to social security reform, the hon. member mentioned one aspect of unemployment insurance reform. My question is about unemployment insurance and one specific point on which I would appreciate some clarification.

The government says it will put in place a mechanism to find people who are cheating. I have no objection to that. I would, however, appreciate a little more information on unemployment insurance reform and what it entails. I would appreciate it if the hon. member could expand on the role of the RCMP in apprehending cheaters. Could we have some more details?

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3:45 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I would like to say to the hon. member for Lotbinière that my French is still as bad as ever.

Therefore, for the time being I will speak to him in English because I lost the first part of his intervention in French and I apologize to him for that. As he well knows, I like to, when I can, respond to him in his first language. For clarity, let me do it in the other language that I am working on, English.

If he is talking about the reforms generally, I say to him that this certainly is the place to discuss everything, but certainly not the agenda item.

This agenda item is not talking about UI reform. We are talking about a very simple administrative change that would make it possible for the commissioner of the RCMP to enforce the law. It is simply that. There is nothing very sinister here.

We have on our statute books all kinds of examples where there is certain access to information for prosecuting alleged criminal offences. Therefore there is nothing sinister in this legislation so far as that item is concerned. It is a very simple administrative provision that would allow the commissioner of the RCMP to have access to certain client information, UI client information for the purpose of prosecution.

If members subscribe to the basic tenet of law and order, then I do not think they can argue with the need for the commissioner of the RCMP to have access to that kind of information. I do not know whether that answers the member's question. I might have missed something else. If so, I would be glad to hear from him again.

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3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

I will recognize the hon. member for Lotbinière very briefly, because someone else has a question as well.

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3:50 p.m.


Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Madam Speaker. When the hon. member opposite was spoke earlier, he made a few points about unemployment insurance. Since he has already started to respond to my comments and talk about unemployment insurance, I would appreciate it if he would expand on what he was saying. That was it.

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3:50 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I understand my time is just about up so I cannot be as expansive as I would like to on this.

Yes, I say to my friend from Lotbinière, I have many views on unemployment insurance and its application. Some of those views do not agree with some of the options laid out in the discussion paper which the Minister of Human Resources Development put before the public in the last week or so. I will have an opportunity to say that as I have already been saying so.

The time will come when we will have, as a result of those discussions, those public consultations-I have begun the process in my own riding and I am sure the member has in his because it is going to be a very thorough going review-and during the day I will have my say. At the end of the day, based on what kind of a package we come up with, I will do whatever the other members of the House will do. I will make a decision as to whether I will support that package or not.

If he wants my views on the issue in more detail I can give them to him when I have some more time. However I do not believe that one can punish people who through no fault of their own are locked into seasonal employment as opposed to longer term employment, for example.

I do not believe we can have in Canada two classes of citizens. We can have all the categories we want but we have to always apply the basic rule of fairness to all. If I had more time I would be much more specific on that issue. I have some strong views.

I have in my riding several thousands of people who drew their first cent of UI two years ago. I have people who fished for 35 years who never drew one cent of UI until two years ago. They fished for 11 and a half months a year. They took Christmas off and never even bothered to fill in the form even though they qualified for a week or two. They went back out again in January as they had done for many years.

My brief is not for people who have learned to beat the system. There are some of those out there. My brief is for those who are generally out of work from time to time and need the assistance of the program to see them through.

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3:50 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say, as I have done before, how much I always enjoy the speeches of the member for Burin-St. George's. However it seems to me he may have moved a little to the right of me since I last heard him speak.

He talked a fair bit about fire, in calling fire. The member is looking a little puzzled but I can see that he is a little more to the right than he was the last time I heard him speak. A matter of positioning I think, Madam Speaker.

The member repeatedly talked about the Reform Party crying fire. I think he misinterpreted us. We are calling smouldering embers that could burst into a flame at any time. I was rather hoping he would use his glass of water to douse some of those embers but he never did get round to it.

The bill we are debating, Bill C-54, is a bill full of what, I agree with the member, appear to be pieces of legislative housekeeping. Although there are one or two areas that give me a little concern, I will deal with those a little bit later in the speech.

First I would like to remind the House that Bill C-54 amends the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Children's Special Allowances Act, and the Unemployment Insurance Act. Clearly we are dealing with amendments to various social programs, programs which cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money and some of which are currently under review as a consequence of the discussion paper that was presented by the minister of human resources.

No doubt we will have to make some cuts to the social programs in order to gain control of federal spending. In case any member doubts the seriousness of the problem I would like to remind the House that the current debt stands somewhere in the region of $354 billion. This already enormous debt will increase by about another $2 million in the time it takes me to give this speech.

In case some of the members are rushing to check the Hansard of October 7, yes, in my speech that day I said that the debt would increase by $1 million, but I have twice the allocated time today so there will be twice as much quality content for government members to absorb. It should not be difficult for anyone to see the risk to our social programs posed by this enormous debt.

On Monday morning of this week I was a guest at Windsor Secondary School in my riding. I was invited by a political studies teacher, Mr. Tony Kapusta, to speak about life as an MP and some of the critical issues that are facing the country today. When I asked these grade 11 students to tell me what they thought were the really big issues facing Canadians, they identified Indian land claims, possible separation of Quebec, an out of control immigration and refugee situation, an ineffective Young Offenders Act, and justice problems in general. They also mentioned the debt and deficit in relation to social programs.

I asked these young people, who will actually have to pay off this debt-it will probably be $600-$700 billion by the time they are out in the work force-how long they thought it took for Canada to incur this debt. Their guesses included 100 years, 50 years. You should have seen the looks of astonishment when they found out that it has basically taken only their lifetime, something less than 20 years to incur this $534 billion worth of debt.

It was also a Liberal government in power when this whole deficit problem began so perhaps it is fitting punishment that many of the same people who were present in that Liberal government of the late 1970s will now be forced to face the problem of the smouldering embers that I talked about a little earlier.

The chief offender in fact may have been the present Prime Minister who, as the Minister of Finance on budget day, November 16, 1978, said: "Significant reductions in the deficit can be expected". The problem is he did not say when.

Now he is quoted in this morning's Financial Post as saying that if Canadians will not accept spending cuts in the next budget, then the government has no option but to increase taxes. The whole country is screaming for cuts to government spending and the Prime Minister is still talking about raising taxes.

It took 20 years to incur $534 billion worth of debt and he is still talking about raising taxes. How are we going to pay it off? Let us imagine for a moment that we could somehow manage to eliminate the deficit this year by cutting $40 billion in spending. Then let us say we could somehow manage to cut a further $10 billion from spending and begin applying it to paying off the debt. Allowing for ongoing interest, it would take at least 60 years to pay off the debt. This debt that we have incurred in less than 20 years would not be paid off by our great-great-grandchildren. To achieve that would, as I have just explained, require us to cut about $50 billion from spending this year, $50 billion from a total of about $165 billion or almost one-third of the entire federal budget.

The problem is that every day we delay making serious cuts it becomes harder and harder to take the first step. Every day takes us closer to that time when those smouldering embers burst into flames and the interest payments will end up consuming such a large percentage of federal revenues that the entire federal structure will collapse.

What will happen to our social programs then? What will it matter about all the housekeeping amendments in Bill C-54 if there is no money to pay the benefits?

Bill C-54, because it appears to improve the efficiencies of the Old Age Security Act, the Canada pension plan, the Children's Special Allowances Act and the unemployment act, may not in itself be an offensive bill. But the very fact that it deals with aspects of social programs raises serious concerns about how we can maintain these programs for those who genuinely need them before our out of control federal spending destroys the entire system.

I heard an NDP member in the House yesterday complaining that far too much attention is paid to the deficit. I am astounded that there are still members in the House who have not learned anything from witnessing the collapse of socialism in Sweden. How can they ignore what happened in New Zealand, a country that failed to gain control of its debt? When New Zealand experienced its debt crisis in 1984 there was a labour government in power, the equivalent of the NDP. But all the NDP philosophy in the world did not help them when nobody would buy their bonds. They had no choice but to cut social programs to the bone, to sell off the country's assets, and to deregulate unions; no choice regardless of the NDP philosophy.

Imagine how the labour, let us say NDP, prime minister of the time, the Right Hon. David Lange, must have felt. He had to tell the people of New Zealand that there was no free lunch, that they had been buying their social programs with borrowed money, and that the foreign lenders had decided they were sick of picking up the tab.

Let me read a recent quote from the Right Hon. David Lange:

There was an enormous revolution in the New Zealand economy. The outcome was that in the course of about three years we changed from being a country that was run like a Polish shipyard to one which could be internationally competitive.

Costs are big. People with privileges were dispossessed of them. They crashed. It was tough. But on the other hand there is something fair about a society which is transparent in its reward to people who work and which does not preserve for those who do not, an inevitable flow of taxpayers' money.

There is a key sentence in there from an NDP prime minister. Let me read that key sentence again:

But on the other hand there is something fair about a society which is transparent in its reward to people who work and which does not preserve for those who do not an inevitable flow of taxpayers' money.

The message is that people and companies which are cheating the system will have to be cast adrift. The regulations that permit people to collect benefits when they are earning above the average family income must be changed. Our social services have to be seen to be transparent and fair, available to those who really need them and unavailable to those who have been cheating or using the system to their own advantage.

It is extremely important that we voluntarily trim our social programs so that they are preserved for those who truly need them. The alternative could be having to deal with the aftermath of a New Zealand style debt crisis.

There is a lot of talk in the House too about training programs for people who are out of work. The human resources minister has been running around saying that these programs are going to be part of the new, revised social security system. I think the evidence is that government run training programs are on average pretty useless.

I see grant applications for UI training programs coming across my desk on a regular basis, as most members of the House must have. I have done a fair bit of in depth analysis of these programs. Typically they claim great success in placement, sometimes around 80 per cent, but on further investigation I have found that often this means that 50 per cent have gone on to a further training course that they could not have done without the first one. That is considered to be placement when in fact it is not a job at all; it is becoming a perpetual student.

The present programs are openly discriminatory. The application forms require the training company to fill in a quota of women, visible minorities, disabled people and natives. Instead of being able to choose the people with the best chance of success on the course, the trainers are forced to make racist and sexist decisions about who gets to be trained. It is a disgrace that the government is openly encouraging racist and discriminatory practices in its UI training programs. These abhorrent requirements should be removed from the application forms immediately so that prospects for training can be selected without regard to their ethnic origin, sex or religion.

In Vancouver recently I was listening to a radio talk show and a president of a local training company called to say that he was prepared to train people for existing job opportunities and that he would only ask for payment from the UI system when he made a successful placement.

What an opportunity for the taxpayers. Here is a private company that is prepared to risk its own money to select people, to train them and then to put them into a job and only ask for payment when the job is done. But our present laws do not allow for this option.

I would have thought the minister would be falling over himself to introduce an amendment to Bill C-54 that would allow this opportunity. I am very disappointed he has not done so. Instead of making meaningful changes to help reduce the cost of social programs, he is quietly funding special interest groups to lobby his ministry for retention of their own special interest program funding. Six days before he presented his social services discussion paper in the House, the minister's department had already approved lobbying funds to a special interest group in my riding.

I happen to think this particular group does some pretty good work helping disabled people to gain work skills, but I strongly object, on behalf of the taxpayers of Canada, to the handing out of lobbying funds to organized special interest groups. These

groups already have the advantage of being organized, with research material readily available to them and the ability to mount aggressive lobbying campaigns.

In a committee meeting on Monday the minister admitted that many special interest groups have already completed their submissions. How can this be? The people of Canada did not even get the chance to see the discussion paper until the first week of October. The minister has left us with the impression that his favourite special interest groups already knew what would be in it and had received special interest funding to ensure that they lobby to protect their own special interest programs.

How can we believe the minister is serious about social program reform when he has apparently already stacked the deck in favour of specific groups, forgetting as usual the most important single group of people: the workers who pay the taxes and who will have to deal with the debt?

Ministers of the New Zealand government thought that they could play that game too but the game had a finite end. They too used to hand out grants and privileges to special interest groups, to farmers and to businesses, but it all stopped because they failed to address the problem of the debt.

An excellent "W-5" program on the New Zealand debt problem was shown in Canada just over a year ago. In case some members of the House did not get the opportunity to see it, I have arranged to have it broadcast on the internal House of Commons television channel in the near future. I will send notice to all members to let them know when it will be shown.

However, as an update, I would like members to know that the minister of finance for New Zealand rose in the New Zealand House about one week ago to make a very important announcement regarding the debt. He had made a mistake about the budgetary surplus of $600 million predicted for this year. It was not going to be $600 million after all; it was going to be a surplus of over $700 million. The prediction for next year was $2 billion, a surplus of $2 billion, with tax cuts promised for the following year. How I long for the day when a minister of finance can stand in this House and tell us that there will be tax cuts the year after next.

Talking about the Minister of Finance reminds me that the Canada pension plan is also being amended in Bill C-54. The amendments are of a housekeeping nature, but it brings to mind that the finance minister has refused to deny that he may introduce a tax on RRSPs in the upcoming budget. I am sure government members are receiving plenty of letters about it because I certainly am.

Many Canadians have done exactly what the government has been urging them to do. They have been putting aside money for their retirement in RRSP funds. They have put aside these funds because they are afraid the present debtload will cause the CPP system to totally disappear. Even floating a trial balloon about the taxing of RRSP balances is a cruel thing to do, but to refuse to deny it is being considered is completely unacceptable.

The next RRSP season is due to peak around the time the next budget may come down. Unless the minister puts it on record that he will not under any circumstances tax RRSPs, he will cause a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the investment markets and a lot of stress for taxpaying Canadians.

While the government refuses to assure Canadians that their RRSPs will not be taxed, nothing is being done to bring the gold plated MP pension plan into line with the private sector. In the next month or so a large group of Liberal MPs will become eligible for lifelong pensions after just six years in the role of an MP. They will be sidling up to the tax trough for a combined total payout of around $53 million. It is a lifelong pension collected as soon as they are thrown out of office in the next election and fully indexed to inflation in later years.

I would like it on the record that I refused to sign the form authorizing 11 per cent of my salary to be paid into the MP pension fund. Despite this, the 11 per cent is being taken against my will, forcing me to bring this topic up regularly until I am permitted to opt out of the plan, or it is brought into line with plans in the private sector.

I am almost out of time. I did want to question some of the provisions of Bill C-54. Clauses 9 and 23 of Bill C-54 affect clauses 18 and 37 of the OAS act and permit the crown to attempt to recover accidental overpayments from more than a year ago, provided it would not cause undue hardship.

Overpayment is overpayment. I am not sure just because the recipient spent the money that there is a reason not to collect it. The key perhaps is whether the crown was negligent in overpaying and by its actions caused the recipient to believe that he or she was receiving the funds legitimately. I hope this area will be studied and addressed in committee in order to determine the true meaning and purpose of the clauses.

Clause 37 amends clause 86(1) of the CPP act and appears to make it more difficult for out of country residents to claim travel costs in the event of an appeal. I am curious to know how much money is expended on such travel claims and hope that one of the government members can clarify this point for me. I am all in favour of eliminating unnecessary government spending, but I wonder if justice is being done by making it financially difficult to appeal a ruling, especially if the appeal is successful.

Finally, none of us want our children to be deprived of all the social services that Bill C-54 addresses. I do hope the government will start to address the problems soon.

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4:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I have to start by asking the Chair whether or not any thought was ever given to installing a large gong in the House that members could approach and hit.

I am absolutely astounded at some of the comments. It is irresponsible of the member to create fearmongering about all the different things he talked about. I cannot deal with all of them in the brief time I have, but I would like to address the RRSP question, for instance.

The member will know that the federal government had commissioned a major report. It was reported in today's Ottawa Citizen that the study the finance minister had commissioned would not be ready before the next budget. The article fairly reflected the fact that there will not be the information available for the minister to consider any major changes to RRSPs and pensions. There may however be some minor changes that may for instance lower the maximum limit one can contribute to an RRSP.

The member is somehow suggesting that every time a question is asked, will the minister do this, he has to say yes or no. That is totally denying the process of discussion with the Canadian public which has just commenced.

Last evening a roundtable of 20 groups representing economic organizations and groups from right across the country came before the finance committee to advise on the process and ways in which the government could address the deficit and the debt. That is consultation which the hon. member is denying. He wants answers and decisions right away before the consultation has even taken place. He discounts the value of communicating and consulting with the Canadian public.

Finally I would simply like to say with regard to MP pensions that I do not think the member is ever going to find any disagreement in this House with the need to reform MP pensions. That is coming. Indeed the Prime Minister said in this House that MP pension reform will be coming.

The government ran on the platform in the red book that included the elimination of double dipping and the delay in pension receipts until retirement age. With regard to those facts, just those two of the many things I could have mentioned, I certainly for one would have opted to take the hammer and hit the gong.

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4:15 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, the member has accused me of fearmongering and making unacceptable statements. I personally do not consider it fearmongering or unacceptable to express the concerns of my constituents in this House.

I am being showered with letters and phone calls from my constituents demanding that this government deny it is going to tax their RRSPs. That is not an irresponsible request; it is a reasonable request from Canadians.

We often joke on this side of the House that question period is properly named because we never get answers. The minister has a responsibility, studies or no studies, to ensure that RRSPs which are the foundation of Canadians' retirement programs are not going to be taxed. It is very important that he does so.

I stand by the statements I made in my speech. I think the member is irresponsible if he does not communicate his constituents' concerns about RRSPs also into this House.

I would like to mention that he also indirectly accused me of fearmongering with respect to the rest of my speech. I would like to make the note that although Bill C-54 is fairly thick and heavy and full of only minor amendments, it does not help whatsoever in reducing this huge deficit problem that we have, $40 billion this year.

Imagine how many hospitals and roads we could build and what we could do to upgrade our armed forces, how much it would contribute to reducing child poverty if we had that $40 billion to spend instead of using it to pay interest on the debt. We could build 12 times as much infrastructure as the red ink book infrastructure program does in one year, 12 times as much in a single year. Vancouver could finally get a freeway capable of carrying its traffic.

We have to do something about the deficit and the debt problem. I stand by every word I made in my speech.

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4:15 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleagues have eloquently shared with members of the House many of the details of the amendments contained in Bill C-54 and many other items as well. However because some hon. members may portray these amendments as detrimental to old age security and the Canada pension plan and unemployment insurance beneficiaries, I am pleased to have the opportunity to set the record straight.

These amendments arise out of a genuine desire to improve the service which the Department of Human Resources Development provides its many and varied clients. At the same time these amendments enable the Government of Canada to pursue other important goals while respecting the rights of its clients and those of the taxpayers of Canada.

One of the amendments contained in Bill C-54 would reduce the period that old age security benefits can be paid retroactively from five years to one.

Some will suggest that the government is robbing pensioners of their pensions. Really what older Canadian, in fact what not

so old Canadian has not heard of the old age security pension. It is probably one of the best known of all government programs.

Everyone knows that we have to be age 65 to get the pension. One of the reasons it is so widely known is that it opens doors to other entitlements. If you receive the old age security pension and have a low income you can qualify for the guaranteed income supplement. If your spouse is between 60 and 65 he or she can qualify for the spouse's allowance.

As well once a person receives the OAS pension they receive an OAS identification card. Many seniors use that as proof they have reached the so-called golden age and are entitled to discounts and special rates that businesses, transportation providers and others offer to senior citizens. Let us not forget the benefits that many provincial and territorial governments provide to low income recipients of the old age security pension.

On the other side however some individuals aware of the five year retroactivity period may in fact decide to delay application for their OAS. Their profit so to speak may be eligibility or increased benefits for other provincial or federal benefits because they are not receiving the OAS.

Further, higher income individuals may look at the five year retroactivity period as a means to defer taxes with the so-called clawback of the OAS.

Given then that the old age security pension is so widely known, is one year not a reasonable period during which to expect that a senior citizen can make application for benefits or have a family member or friend do it on his or her behalf? Indeed data from the Department of Human Resources Development show that the vast majority of pensioners apply not just on time but well in advance of their 65th birthday.

Providing a one year retroactivity period is not only reasonable, it is consistent with the retroactivity periods of other related programs. Even within the OAS legislation guaranteed income supplements and spouse's allowance payments can be paid retroactively for only one year.

As well Canada pension plan benefits which many OAS pensioners receive may also be paid retroactively for just one year. Indeed the two different retroactivity periods have been a source of confusion for CPP and OAS clients and have been very difficult to explain.

Furthermore the amendment would also include a special provision for those individuals who fail to apply because of incapacity which could occur because of serious illness. For these people the bill would allow unlimited retroactivity back to the point that the incapacity began.

This approach to retroactivity for OAS benefits is fair and reasonable and I am sure hon. members will see it as such. To relieve any concerns hon. members may have about this change, there will be a grace period until April 1995. This will enable anyone over the age of 65 who may not have applied for their OAS pension up to now and who could qualify for more than 12 months of retroactive payments to apply under the current rules. This approach is fair, reasonable and I am sure hon. members will see it as such.

I would like to turn to another provision which could cause concern to those not properly informed. This is the amendment to the Old Age Security Act which would remove the existing timeframe restrictions for the recovery of overpaid moneys to OAS, GIS and spouse's allowance clients.

The current legislation allows overpayment benefits to be recovered only if they are discovered and recovery is started in a very short time after the overpayment is made. The provision does not apply in cases of fraud or wilful misrepresentation.

However those situations aside, the restrictions of the existing provisions mean that each year millions of dollars in overpayments must be written off even where the pensioner could easily afford to repay the overpaid amount. It is important to mention that the act already has provisions allowing overpayments to be forgiven if the recovery would cause hardship, the amount is small, or there is no reasonable hope of repayment.

Another proposed provision in this bill would also allow overpayments to be forgiven if they occurred as a result of an error on the part of the OAS administration. The policy for recovery of overpayments also allows for the negotiation of a schedule of repayments to ensure that no hardship would occur to the pensioner.

I should also add that another amendment in the bill would allow Revenue Canada information to be used to verify GIS and spouse's allowance income statements at an earlier stage in the annual process for applying for income supplements. This has been the main source of GIS and SPA overpayments.

The taxpayers of Canada expect us to spend their tax dollars wisely, but Canadians are also compassionate. This amendment would be fair to the taxpayers of Canada while at the same time treating pensioners who have been overpaid fairly and compassionately.

The Department of Human Resources Development is required to collect very personal information from its clients in order to determine if they are eligible for benefits. The responsibility for safeguarding this information has never been taken lightly. Indeed, keeping such information privileged has been so important to the department that many of its legislative provisions have been even more stringent than the Privacy Act.

These tight restrictions on the use of CPP, OAS and UI client information, while guaranteeing Canadians privacy, have prevented justice from being done in one very important situation. I am speaking about investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The existing provisions of the OAS and CPP legislation allow confidential client information to be released only after a criminal charge has been laid. With respect to UI that legislation prohibits the release of some kinds of client information while in other instances the legislation is vague about such release.

Often the identity of the individuals who have been identified as suspected war criminals cannot be confirmed. This has meant that the RCMP has not been able to conclusively establish the existence and location in Canada of many of the individuals in question and therefore cannot lay charges.

The amendments contained in this bill would allow OAS, CPP and UI data to be used by specific and very restricted individuals within the RCMP for the investigation, prosecution and extradition activities undertaken in Canada in relation to war crimes and crimes against humanity. This information would be used in Canada only. In no instance would confidential client information be made available to foreign governments or agencies and in no instance would the RCMP have access to client information for other than this purpose.

The last thing the government wants to do is erode individuals' rights to privacy, but this right has been used as a cover by those wanting to evade prosecution for unspeakable crimes. The Government of Canada and indeed Canadians no longer want our right to privacy to be used as a shield by those who do not want to be held accountable for crimes they committed against humanity. This amendment would help ensure that it is not.

Finally, there is one more amendment that I want to clarify for hon. members. This is an amendment to the Old Age Security Act and Canada pension plan that is consequential to an amendment being proposed by the Solicitor General. This would allow the Department of Human Resources Development to provide information on the OAS and CPP benefits being paid to pensioners who are incarcerated in federal penal institutions. The intention is that these individuals would be charged room and board based on their income. This information would allow the Solicitor General to receive accurate information from the Department of Human Resources Development on the amount of these moneys so that a fair charge could be made.

Is it right that prisoners receive free room and board at the same time that they may be accumulating income from federal benefits that may also be paid from the public purse? I do not think so and neither do Canadians. Pensioners who are not criminals have to pay for their own accommodation and other needs. It is only fair and indeed responsible that those of penal institutions do the same, especially when they are receiving federal benefits at the same time.

In conclusion, I hope these explanations have helped to clarify the rationale for a few of the amendments contained in Bill C-54 and I give hon. members the information they need to be able to explain them to their constituents. It is my distinct honour to support this bill.

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4:25 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-54, an Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Chidren's Special Allowances Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act, introduced by the Minister of Human Resources Development. This legislation contains amendments to several acts that are extremely important to the economy of Quebec, and to Canada's as well.

Furthermore, it gives us an opportunity, as members of the Bloc Quebecois, to explain our position on social security reform. On several occasions we have made it clear where we stand on these programs, and Bill C-54 is another opportunity for us to show that we support social programs and that we are prepared to defend the interests of those who are affected by this bill.

I think it is important to realize, as I said earlier at the beginning of my speech, that this bill concerns people who receive old age security benefits. This means they are 65 years of age and over. People in this age group may be less aware of their rights and obligations under this legislation, and they may also be more vulnerable than young couples or people in their thirties or forties who can find their way through the legislative maze. That is something we should not forget.

However, in this bill, I am particularly worried about the fact that certain government agencies will have access to information on beneficiaries. The government already had legislation that authorized communication of this information to certain agencies, but Bill C-54 has expanded this authority to include agencies such as Canada Post, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Commissioner of the RCMP, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, Members of Parliament and persons designated by the minister as health care professionals.

This authority is very broad. It means giving a large group of people access to a very extensive data bank. That is why, at this stage, we moved an amendment to ensure that no one will abuse this information, bearing in mind that these people are among the most vulnerable in our society and that there is always the possibility that someone could, not necessarily use the information to blackmail them, but use it improperly.

The amendment we are suggesting is very simple. It says that we refuse to support the bill on second reading because it does not provide for any sanctions under the Criminal Code for anyone who discloses personal information on beneficiaries to sources not authorized to have access to privileged information.

Where I come from, we always say: "Too strong, will not bend". I think a chapter could be included to really ensure that whoever has access to such information will pay careful attention to how it will be used.

This is what our reasoned amendment is about. I will tell you, in my speech, about another reasoned amendment we could have tabled but did not. This amendment also deals with an important matter.

I must say right away that I am not against the bill as a whole. On the contrary, I think it contains some valuables clauses and principles that will make certain things easier. But we must always be very careful with this kind of legislation.

Let us look at certain changes together. Some of these set limits regarding access to information, as I said earlier. They introduce time frames concerning the return of benefits to save money. I have no problem with that.

Others deal with technicalities concerning benefit repayment. They change the appeals system and enable the minister to acquire assets. I have a little problem with that, but I will address it later on.

All in all, the Minister of Human Resources Development saw fit-and we are behind him on this- to make the benefit scheme and plans for the elderly easier and more flexible. Contrary to what the minister claims, as have several other ministers during question period, we do not systematically object to any government proposal. If he listened more carefully, he would realize that we do support some of this government's initiatives, as I said earlier.

At any rate, before dealing with the bill per se, I think it is important, in fact essential, to take a look at the situation of the elderly, because it is not quite as rosy as the government seems to believe it is.

I think I should remind the minister of certain figures. For example, in 1992, the average income of elderly families was $39,439, as compared to approximately $56,000 for other families. Also, and more importantly, the average income of the single elderly was $18,434, as compared to $25,000 for other single individuals. Moreover, some 21 per cent of seniors, or 625,000 seniors, are considered as low-income earners. While this number remains mind-boggling, it must be pointed out that it has gone down over the past decade. The number of low-income seniors has decreased while it has increased in the general population.

However, the proportion of low-income people among seniors is consistently higher than in the general population. So we can see that the situation of seniors deserves special attention and compassion going beyond the Canadian finance minister's obsession with the deficit, but this can improve with time. People in exceptional situations need exceptional, but not drastic, solutions.

Over the years, the federal government has come up with several ways to help seniors. There are the two main programs, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan, as well as some tax measures such as the guaranteed income supplement, spouse's allowance, survivor benefits and disability benefits. All these measures are designed to ensure the well-being of seniors.

It must also be noted that since the Liberals took office, Quebec's welfare rolls have swelled up by 30,000, and that the Minister of Human Resources Development's social program reform will make the situation worse. Employment development requires much more than an infrastructure program. The thousands of jobs the Liberals boast of creating are almost all temporary.

Before we scrutinize Bill C-54, it is important to look at the tendency shown by the government in its first budget, however slim it is. We must remember that the past tells us about the future. The measures in the last budget call into question all the social programs Canada and Quebec have put in place in the last 30 years.

The last budget sets the tone for the government's direction. This little test by the Minister of Finance involves cuts to unemployment insurance and, of special concern for seniors, to the age credit.

The Minister of Finance made the decision to reduce the age credit, so that all taxpayers aged 54 and older can claim a tax credit amounting to 17 per cent of $3,482 at the federal level and 20 per cent of $2,200 in Quebec. This credit is non-refundable, that is, it can be deducted from taxes payable but the excess portion cannot be refunded. Any unused portion can, however, be transferred to one's spouse.

The combined federal and provincial tax reduction averages about $950, while in Quebec the reduction is around $1,050. The change brought about by the last budget aims to reduce this credit for seniors whose net income is over $25,921. The applicable threshold for other credits is based on one's income. The amount of that threshold will be indexed according to the fraction of the annual consumer price index increase which exceeds 3 per cent. As I said earlier, the credit will be reduced by an amount equal to 15 per cent of the part of an individual's net income which exceeds $25,921. That credit will completely disappear when a person's income reaches $49,100.

These measures raise questions. Does the government consider that a senior with an income of $25,000 is a rich taxpayer? That measure does not target the rich; once again it affects the middle class and, this time, more specifically the older people who belong to that group.

The feeble attempts to reduce spending are made at the expense of the poor, the unemployed, the welfare recipients and the middle class. We cannot say it often enough. The more we repeat it, the greater the chances the minister will finally understand.

The government has difficulty understanding what fairness implies. In fact, this government seems to adhere more to the notion of unfairness. After all, where is the fairness in this double standard whereby, for the 1993 taxation year, old age security pensioners whose net incomes exceed $53,215, see their pension clawed back at a rate of 15 per cent, which gradually increases to the point where the whole pension is clawed back for pensioners whose income reaches $83,215?

Moreover, in his social policy reform, the Minister of Human Resources Development excluded programs for seniors. However, the fate of our seniors is sealed in the budget of his colleague, the Minister of Finance.

On page 41 of the Budget Plan, the minister says that: "the government will[-] release in the coming months a paper which will examine the challenges and the opportunities posed by Canada's aging society. The paper will examine what the aging society will need in terms of services and what, if any, changes are required to the public pension system to make it financially sustainable". This leaves the door open to a lot of things.

He goes on saying: "The paper will also examine what, if any, changes should be made to the tax treatment of contributions to, and income buildup in, registered pension, profitsharing, and retirement savings plans".

If the Minister of Finance is going to take care of senior citizens instead of the Minister of Human Resources Development, we can conclude that the Liberals are seeing senior citizens as economic factors, just like interest rates, rather than a productive human resource. And that should worry us.

Now, as to the bill and its main cost cutting measures, I must say that it is comforting to see that the government is trying to put some oil in the gears of a very heavy bureaucratic machine. These are the positive aspects of the bill, the ones we can agree with.

It is nice to know that those applying late for their pension will be able to get up to a year's worth of payments. That is a good thing although, in the case of OAS, this is a reduction from five years to one. As well, clients can be forgiven OAS benefit overpayments that are the result of an administrative error or erroneous advice from department officials. This too, I think, is fairer.

In addition, the timeframe restriction for the recovery of guaranteed income supplement overpayments will be removed. I find this a bit dangerous. If the errors were made by civil servants and the situation is allowed to drag on for several months, several years, this is dangerous for the person at the point where the government notices the error and claims its due, the overpayment. No limitation is mentioned, however, and this needs to be looked into. If I were an older Canadian, this would worry me. I would want to ask the department how this would be dealt with.

In addition, we are told that the government hopes to recover 1 to 2 million dollars with this measure. The Minister of Human Resources Development will also be able to postpone payment of benefits pending a review or an appeal. This sets off warning bells. It is an opportunity ripe for patronage. What will go on? The minister reserves the right to postpone certain payments, certain decisions. I do not like things that are not clear and this point is not clear.

Claimants could thus be deprived of benefits that they need to live, and that are often their only source of income during this entire period.

There are a series of clauses of a somewhat technical and administrative nature that I will not dwell on, given that we are in agreement. I think that if there are any points on which we do not agree and that should be raised immediately, I will do so.

First of all, the government is saying that it has reduced the period of retroactivity from five years to one in order to increase consistency between the Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan programs.

It must be noted that every time such concern arises, the result is a downward adjustment. It boils down to the government making even tighter the qualifying conditions for programs for the elderly. Therefore, the government will have to explain how the existing provisions on old age security benefit overpayment do not provide it with adequate protection.

As it stands, the act provides that the government may go back up to two years. Eliminating this time limit would enable the government to recover anything between one and two million dollars, as I said earlier. Considering that beneficiaries are afforded protection against potential mistakes by civil servants, these two provisions seem to be in contradiction. This clause would really need to be clarified so as to not generate a conflict between citizens 65 and older and the government.

I must reiterate in this House that people over 65 years of age tend to be less inclined to put up a fight. They may be less affluent and more vulnerable in this respect. Perhaps the govern-

ment will take advantage of this situation to claim repayment of benefits whenever it feels like it.

Moreover, in case of appeal, the minister could defer payment. But the minister himself admits that a major portion of beneficiaries have no income besides old age security benefits. That being so, many beneficiaries could finds themselves in an extremely difficult situation when this provision is put into application.

At the end of the day, while they will not have a substantial impact of recipients in general, these provisions nonetheless reflect the direction this government has taken since coming to power, that is to say, to cut in social programs.

I also have reservations about a few other provisions and one, in particular, whereby clients required to repay to Revenue Canada amounts claimed from old age security using the revenue-tested reduction rate will be able avoid repaying by asking that benefit payments stop. This should be clarified in the bill, to facilitate the interpretation of the act.

I mentioned earlier that we had moved only one reasoned amendment, while we might have moved two. At least, we considered the possibility. I think it would have provided the government with a great opportunity to include some kind of safeguard in this bill. With everything that is now going on in the House, with everything that we want to cut-and when I say "we", I mean the government-with everything that the government wants to cut, in wide swarths, billions and always in the same direction, of course. But there were times when they frightened elderly people in Quebec, on several occasions; the federal government frightened seniors-In the 1980 referendum, they said, "If you vote for sovereignty," even though that was not the question, "the PQ and the sovereignists will cut your old age pensions".

That was the time for the federal government to put a provision in the law, in this law, in Bill C-54, to guarantee this income for people in need, to put a clause in the law saying: "We guarantee that you people 65 and over who need your pension will have it, whatever cuts are made in social programs; we will not cut your family income and we guarantee these old age benefits for you". But no, there is nothing like that in the bill.

If I were a senior, I would be worried about that. I would call the department to find out what is going on. "Why do you not guarantee this sum of money? We need it. In many cases, it is our only source of income".

No, there is nothing.

That being said, I think that I have presented enough material to show that on the whole, Bill C-54 has some good features, but it should be amended to make it more humane, fairer and more equitable for everyone.

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4:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened attentively to the member's speech. It is obvious that he has looked carefully at the legislation and is speaking well on behalf of his constituents.

I did want to raise a couple of points, however. I would like to hear the member's comments because I get the sense that there was an indictment that the government was somehow going after seniors. This is an unwholesome way to put the issue.

As we all know, the finance minister's last budget included a clawback in the old age exemption for seniors. That meant that once seniors had an income over the $25,000 level it started to be reduced until they reached just over $49,000.

To help explain the situation or understand the equity of the situation the member could have indicated that the clawback mechanism that is applied to the old age exemption is exactly the same clawback mechanism that is applied to the child tax benefit. That is the tax benefit that replaced the family allowance system we had for many years. That means people with children who made over $25,000 all of a sudden started losing that child tax benefit as well. That happened in the prior year.

What is worse for families with children is that last year they also lost the exemption for their children on the income tax return. As a father of three, I know how much that cost me as well.

One thing we have to ask ourselves is that if there is a cut in the old age exemption, is that simply an issue to do with seniors? I think not. When there are changes to the benefits levels that Canada can extend to its citizens, it is not just the people who enjoy them today, it is also the people who were hoping to enjoy them tomorrow. That means that I will never get an old age exemption. I have already lost a child tax benefit that most people ahead of me had taken advantage of.

All of a sudden we have to consider that any changes in the tax structure or in the deductions of the tax credits do not simply affect those who are presently benefiting from those benefits but also those who are to come later.

Last night the finance committee had a round table for some six hours with economists from right across the country. If members want to hear some draconian measures they should listen to some of these economists who, the member might be interested to know, were saying across the board cuts of 5 per cent or 7 per cent on everything, all programs.

Those kinds of things I do not think we will see this government embrace. There are certainly major changes that have to be made but they have to be done in a way to make absolutely sure-I know the member agrees and I know the government is

of this view-that those in most need are always taken care of in Canada, the best country in the world.

I would be interested in the member's comments.

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4:50 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to answer that question. I, too, will ask the hon. member a question by repeating what he has just told me. With what he heard in committee, I wonder who leads in this government. Is it the economists, the IMF, the actuaries? Who leads in this government and where are they going?

Bill C-54 gives me some idea of where they are heading. As I said earlier, they are cutting some very wide swarths and starting to squeeze old age pensions. This is what they are doing today, but what will they do tomorrow? That is why I feel we must be wary of this bill. It must really be examined from all angles to see what is happening in this department.

I am being told: "The hon. member seems to think that this bill attacks seniors or others". I not only think so, I am sure of it. Reducing from five to one year the deadline for claiming benefits seniors were previously entitled to is an attack on seniors. Second, waiving overpayment requirements is another attack on seniors. The government could turn around five years later and ask you to repay the $300 and change, plus interest, you received every month for five years. I think that seniors have a right to be concerned about this bill.

Seniors are also justifiably worried, in my opinion, about the fact that several departments would have easy access to information. The most serious oversight is that, as I said earlier, the bill does not guarantee that people aged 65 and older will get their old age pensions.

The burden of proof is being reversed. Talking about sovereignists and about Quebec, they tell us: "If you become a sovereign country, you will lose your old age pension". But I am telling you that if we stay in Canada-if we decide to stay in Canada, but I hope not-seniors may not collect old age pensions either and I think it is something they will keep in mind when it is time to vote and to really think about this issue.

I think I have given the hon. member enough explanations to show that Bill C-54 is indeed the beginning of an attack on the needy, on those aged 65 and older. That is why we, in the Bloc Quebecois, are concerned, why we proposed a minor reasoned amendment to at least ensure that the information will be put to good use. This is one shortcoming of Bill C-54.

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4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Kootenay West-Revelstoke: Pearson International Airport.

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4:55 p.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, the issue being debated today is of great interest to this government, since it concerns our seniors.

Bill C-54 essentially aims to improve services to those who benefit from various old age security programs. These include basic benefits, spouse's allowances and, of course, the guaranteed income supplement. It must be noted that this bill does not change the content of those programs.

It does not change in any way the amount of the benefits received by seniors. The purpose of this legislation is essentially to make life easier for the recipients by reducing duplication and the paper burden, something we talked about during the last election campaign. I was very pleased to hear the Official Opposition critic recognize the improvements contained in this bill.

Like us, the hon. member realizes the importance of streamlining as much as possible the procedures and the paper work for seniors to be eligible for benefits. The amendments tabled today will allow some 1.4 million seniors to receive their pensions with a minimum of red tape.

This is a very concrete example which confirms the government's will to streamline the federal administration and make it more accessible for its clientele. The reorganization of income security programs is in response to a growing demand for government services during this period of budget constraints. It is expected that, by the turn of the century, the number of Canadians benefitting from the Canada Pension Plan, the Old Age Security Pension as well as other income security programs will have increased by 40 per cent. During the next three years, social security reform will offer new technologies and services. The main purpose is to provide an efficient response to the needs of Canada's aging population and the government's growing number of clients.

This new approach will make it easier for clients to deal with the bureaucracy. In our client-service centres, employees will be able to make decisions immediately, thanks to all the information that will be available to them. This will obviously cut down on the time needed to process applications, and we will be able to tell clients the date of their first payment.

Furthermore, seniors will be able to communicate information changes, including a change of address, by telephone, using the touch- tone key pad. In the case of clients who prefer more personalized service or do not have a touch tone telephone, employees will be available to answer their questions without delay.

Annually, nearly 1.4 million seniors, the majority of whom are women, have to reapply in order to continue to receive their guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowance. The

department cannot authorize payments for the new fiscal year until an application for renewal has been filed and approved.

Every year in April, as many as 100,000 pensioners do not receive their benefits on time for various reasons, either because they applied late or because information on their applications had to be checked. Since only seniors on low or modest incomes are eligible for these benefits, any delay in benefit payments may cause problems for the recipients.

In the case of many seniors, income amounts hardly change from year to year. A substantial proportion of recipients of GIS and SPA have no source of income other than their pension. It would be possible to simplify the renewal process for a large number of pensioners. However, no exceptions can be made under the current provisions of the Old Age Security Act. All recipients must file a new application every year. From now on, however, in the case of certain recipients, the minister will be able to waive the obligation to file annual renewals of applications for GIS and SPA.

The minister could, for instance, waive the requirement for a full year. He could also extend payment of a benefit based on estimated income until updated information is available from Revenue Canada. In this way, there will be no need to interrupt payments of GIS and SPA to seniors. Individuals applying for the first time would, of course, have to file an application in any case.

The changes will be implemented gradually in order to prevent any disruption for pensioners and to ensure smooth management.

The present legislation allows the release of confidential information to some departments, provided that certain rules are adhered to. There is no doubt that the management of senior citizens' programs is getting more and more complex. Therefore, good management requires that relevant information be shared and circulated among departments, but according to a given set of rules. For example, if there were better access to information, Canada Post could make available to us its knowledge of new techniques which would accelerate the processing of cheques to clients. However, the present provisions on the sharing of information prevent us from buying services from Canada Post.

According to the new provisions, personal information will only be made available according to very strict procedures. Clearly, as a government, we will continue to protect all confidential information on our clients. To that end, the legislation contains very strict guidelines on the release of information to third parties.

We even have special provisions where criminal charges are involved. Information will only be made available under certain conditions, in this particular case if criminal charges have been laid against the person or if the government is under order from a court to produce documents.

Anyone making available personal information under circumstances not covered by the legislation will be guilty of an offence. This shows that the government is taking the protection of personal information very seriously. Moreover, the legislation provides for penalties for every violation of the rules.

As you can see, the government has been particularly attentive to the protection of personal information on our clients, which is only natural.

I sincerely believe that our opposition colleagues should trust the government in this matter. We live in a free and democratic society based on a fundamental principle which I respect, namely the rule of law.

It goes without saying that when lawmakers produce a bill, they should leave no room for discretionary powers which too often lead to arbitrary decisions. It is therefore very important to understand that even though this bill allows for some disclosure of information, it seeks first and foremost to protect senior citizens. When I say to protect senior citizens, I mean two things. First, to protect them against arbitrary decisions and, second, to protect them so that they have easier access to government services.

Indeed, this bill is aimed at making life easier for all senior pensioners. I repeat that neither the level of benefits nor the eligibility criteria have changed. The benefits these people are receiving now have not been touched. All we are doing is proceeding with an administrative reorganization in line with what I call the new evolutive federalism, a cost-effective federalism which tries to forge ahead and eliminate overlapping, in co-operation with the various stakeholders, namely the provinces, because we keep in mind that the overriding preoccupation of every government should be, first and foremost, the taxpayers' best interest.

I must tell you that in the particular context of this bill, the best interest of senior citizens, whom the party I belong to has always protected and will continue to do so, is taken into account. This bill illustrates the commitment of our party to this important segment of our society whom I call our builders. We are showing them that we care.

We believe that this bill is a fundamental piece of legislation and that it will provide senior citizens with the best protection possible.

As a matter of fact, we believe it is the only way to prove our gratitude for their great contribution to the well-being of the Canadian population as a whole.

I will conclude by saying again that, in the past, some governments have tried to reduce the deficits at the expense of that group in our society. Now, according to the basic principles established by the Liberal Party that I represent, I can tell you

that we will never touch the pensions of our seniors, we will never modify those pensions nor will we ever act in any way to reduce their incomes.

If there is a reform, I suppose it will affect more directly coming generations, people of my generation. Senior citizens who now receive benefits from the government, be it pensions or others, have earned them with their work. They have worked to build this country and it would be immoral to start cutting into what we owe them.

When I see members of Opposition acting as scarecrows and trying to scare those people by telling them that the government is trying to reduce the deficit at their expense, I think this is pure and effective demagogy. I repeat: We will not touch pensions. What we do, we do in the interest of taxpayers. We protect them and offer them better access by allowing information to circulate more freely.

On the other hand, of course, as in any bill allowing the release of information, we have established parameters that have been examined very closely. Certain parameters will allow the release of information if this serves the interest of taxpayers and other parameters will forbid such release. Those parameters will be rigorously enforced in cases where there is no need to release information.

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October 20th, 1994 / 5:10 p.m.


Tony Valeri Liberal Lincoln, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on his excellent presentation this afternoon. Can he comment on the type of work the constituency offices actually do, how the amendments that will be brought forward in Bill C-54 will actually help us as members of Parliament to provide a more effective and efficient service, especially to our retirement constituents? In April we received many calls because of changes the retirement population has to comply with when filling out these applications.

If the hon. member could expand on his experience with his constituency office, the kind of work he does during that time and how these amendments would lend themselves to providing a more effective delivery system to our retirement population.

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5:10 p.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. Of course, providing information is a fundamental activity. As the hon. member said, it has an impact at the level of our constituency offices. It goes without saying that, when we meet seniors in our electoral ridings, their questions are often varied and deal with various government departments. Seniors may come to us with health problems or problems in their dealings with Canada Post, Veterans Affairs or the Department of Justice.

It is obvious that, with a piece of legislation making communications between departments more flexible, where authorized to do so by the taxpayers, it will be much easier for us to obtain information from departments for one thing. The work of these departments will also be made more efficient by the fact that they will not have to access the data bank and request permission to have access to the information. Since it will be so provided in the legislation, departments that meet the prescribed requirements will have access to the information.

In concrete terms, this means that the taxpayers are bound to come out on top. As I like to point out now and then, our duty is indeed to serve the public, and personally, I will be able to serve the taxpayers much more effectively, efficiently and quickly.

In fact, by raising this question, my colleague puts his finger on the core issue of the access to information reform, he touches on the whole philosophy underlying this bill, a philosophy mainly centred on maximizing the efficiency of the federal administration.

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5:15 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I found the member's speech very interesting, especially one phrase. The phrase was trust the government. I would like to be able to do that. To many degrees we must trust the government and in many instances we can trust the government.

I was particularly impressed with an earlier member opposite who seemed to be more in line with what the Reform Party was thinking about, taking a position that was consistent with the constituents rather than with the party position at that time. For a while I was wondering whether he was going to walk across the floor or whether he was going to stay where he was. I appreciated that.

I really want to come back to this member's statement when he asked us to trust the government and understand that the purpose of the bill was to protect services to make sure that the pensioners get their pensions and things of that sort. I certainly commend him for doing that.

I am very concerned about the future of the pensions that will be available for our seniors. Of course we do not want to cut their benefits. How does the member opposite intend to make an efficient system distribute money that is not there? How is he going to guarantee that there will be adequate money for the pensions to be paid out? We could have the most efficient system in the world. We could build the best car around, but if there is no gas for it the car will not go any where.

Therefore I ask the member opposite where is the money coming from that he says will be available? He says that they will not touch the seniors' pensions that are there, particularly not those who are getting the benefits now. Does he not realize the benefits that are currently being received by pensioners are coming out of the contributions that are currently being provided? How will he guarantee that will be the case later when

there will be more people taking benefits than those who are contributing to the plan?

There is no actuarially significant foundation for the Canada pension plan as it is at the present time. Could the hon. member explain in a little more detail how he intends to make sure that we can trust with confidence the government?

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5:15 p.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. When we talk about trusting the government, you need only take a glance at the opinion polls in Canada to see that the Liberal government enjoys the support-

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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5:15 p.m.


Martin Cauchon Liberal Outremont, QC

I see that it hurts when people tell the truth, but the Liberal government has most people's support.

Now for the question of where we will get the money to continue paying pensions, I said that the Liberal Party is committed to protecting seniors and old age pensions and that is what we will continue to do. If there is ever a reform, it will be for later generations and not for those who today are collecting the benefits to which they contributed.

We as the Liberal Party and the government are acting responsibly. We are making a social choice based on respect for those who built this federation.

Basically, I find it quite odious that such a question can be raised today. Clearly, the answer depends on a social choice, a logical social choice. Of course, if the Reform Party were in power, a party which is obviously suffering from the ostrich syndrome and all they do is try to make cuts everywhere, society would have no services. This government promised something in the election campaign and that is what we are doing: to be a responsible government which will attack the deficit while continuing to meet our obligations and maintain services for everyone. I want to tell you that seniors are a priority for us and we will respect them.

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5:20 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-54, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act, the Canada pension plan, Children's Special Allowance Act, and the Unemployment Insurance Act. While the acts which the bill amends represent a significant portion of the federal component of Canada's income support system, the amendments are classified as minor administrative changes. Bill C-54 seeks to improve administrative efficiency.

The Reform Party is supportive of efforts by the government to streamline the delivery of services to the public. Any streamlining is more than welcome. What Reform members would ultimately like to see is an immediate overhaul of the programs to ensure long term financial sustainability for Canada's entire social security system.

The massive debt that has accumulated and the interest payments needed to service that debt taken out of every year's budget have been increasing yearly. The portion of the federal budget pie that goes toward social programs has been shrinking as a direct consequence of the federal debt and the accompanying interest payments. That is why the Reform Party constantly states that the debt is the nation's number one problem and is the greatest threat to our social programs.

Our position has been misinterpreted, misconstrued and misrepresented. We have been portrayed by government and those on the left as ogres with axes in our hands, ready and willing to swing those axes any time we get near social spending. This characterization is grossly unfair.

What Reformers have realized and realized over a year ago is that if we continue on the road of excess debt and borrowing our social programs will by necessity have less and less of the federal pie every year. The longer we ignore the debt problem, the worse the situation becomes for our social program.

The Minister of Finance, in his two-day presentation to the finance committee, presented a good analysis of the way in which the debt affects our economy, our standard of living, our social programs, and it was all for the worst. The minister outlined how the debt begins a vicious circle. I would like to quote from page 3 of the presentation the minister made on Tuesday, "Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate":

Interest on the debt is doing more than shackling our finances. It is putting a damper on growth and jobs. Lenders looking at our debt demand a premium. That means higher interest rates. Higher interest rates dampen consumer spending and business investment, hurting potential growth and jobs. That in turn reduces the revenue government receives and increases our spending on social programs, increasing the pressure on our deficit. Those higher interest rates in and of themselves also add to our debt charge as we borrow to pay for the higher interest. Those higher levels of debt then put more pressure on interest rates to rise. And the vicious circle goes on and on and on.

I commend the minister for attempting to lay aside partisan politics in his analysis of the effects of the debt. He can expect constructive support and guidance from the Reform Party for viable efforts to control the deficit. He can also expect calls from this party that his own target of 3 per cent of the GDP, a deficit of approximately $25 billion in two years, is simply unacceptable. It is also unacceptable by his own analysis of the negative effects on the debt. For the sake of long term financial sustainability of our social programs the government should set a goal of zero deficit by the end of this Parliament.

The Liberals ran and by many accounts won the election on the issue of job creation. Their main proposal was the $6 billion infrastructure program intended to simulate job growth in the entire economy. The Liberals saw the program as the key to restoring hope and dignity to those on government assistance.

Reformers on the other hand have consistently put forward the view that the best stimulant for job creation and decreased government dependence is a serious attack on the deficit and the debt. By reducing our deficit we will be setting in motion positive effects that will create jobs which will in turn provide less demand on some of our social programs.

I want to quote the Minister of Finance once more on this subject:

Facing up to the debt challenge is the keystone of a responsible economic policy. If we fail at that, we will fail at everything else. It is not a question of focusing on jobs or the debt. It is question of focusing on both. The debt stands in the way of the growth we seek; in a very real way, it limits our economy's ability to create jobs. The fact is that we will not get the quality of growth we need to generate jobs we want until we gain control of the debt, until we have broken the back of the deficit.

I must applaud the government on the progress it has made in its thinking on this subject. In the first few months of Parliament the Reform Party's views on the debt and cutting of spending were characterized as letting people starve. Now our views are being repeated and strongly emphasized in the process by the Minister of Finance.

My point in talking about the debt is trying to explain its effect on social spending, the so-called vicious circle I referred to earlier. For just as there is a vicious circle for high debt and excess borrowing, there is also a good or a positive circle if we reduce the debt.

The lower the deficit and the debt, the lower the interest rates. Lower interest rates mean more consumer spending, business investments and increasing growth in jobs. That in turn increases employment and decreases reliance on social assistance giving people the opportunity and the dignity to work. The decreasing reliance on social assistance means less pressure on social programs and less pressure on government revenues.

Cutting the deficit is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. That end is stronger growth, increased employment, decreased dependence on government and perhaps, dare I say it, lower taxes. However reaching these goals requires cutting spending and any real cuts in spending will include cuts in our social programs.

We in the House should be honest and recognize that the present social security reform discussion the minister of human resources has started is not only about reform but is also about saving money. Unfortunately after a year in the House it is only a discussion paper. It would be more preferable to be an action plan.

The most basic, most effective way the government could save money in this area without hurting the most unfortunate in our society is to target our social programs toward those in the most need. Applying the concept of universality to every social program we have simply undermines the long term financial sustainability of our social programs.

Another basic principle that should be applied to social programs is that they should be meant to be temporary measures to help those who are down, not permanent measures to create an unhealthy dependence on government.

In conclusion, the best course of action the government could take to ensure the survival of our social safety net is to upgrade its deficit reduction targets and to design social programs to target those most in need.

Social Security ProgramsGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.