Mr. Speaker, the days have long since past when individual Canadians had to rely only on themselves, their families and their community for support during times of either unemployment or old age. Instead, the federal government has created the complicated system of tax funded programs of support, often called our social safety net. Like any other net it is full of holes, some of which are intentional but some of which merely represent aspects of serving the public which were not anticipated when the original legislation was drawn.
Bill C-54 represents the most recent efforts of the Government of Canada to mend some of those unintentional holes in our national safety net. It pertains to several major pieces of legislation, including the Old Age Security Act, the Canadian pension plan, the Children's Special Allowances Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act.
The fact that it covers such a large amount of earlier legislation makes one suspect Bill C-54 will be complicated. In that regard the suspicion is correct. Several members of Parliament have spent many hours studying and digesting what the government has proposed here.
According to the legislative summary provided by the economics division of the Library of Parliament research, the government intended Bill C-54 to achieve the following goals: to improve service to clients of these major income support measures; to better co-ordinate programs, administration and the actual delivery of service; to eliminate some inconsistencies between old age security and the Canada pension plan programs;
to reduce administrative costs, and to save some trees and some time by reducing duplication and paper burden, both for the departments and their clients; and finally, to help members of Parliament to better serve our constituents.
These changes will have wide ranging impact since they are expected to benefit some 1.4 million seniors and save the taxpayer about $10 million annually. Of course, nearly all Canadians, including those in the Reform Party of Canada, would approve of these goals. We all want more efficient government, fewer program duplications and reduced federal expenses. As one might expect, however, it is how the government proposes to undertake these much desired improvements that has led some of us to propose amendments to Bill C-54.
The first section of Bill C-54 deals in clauses 1 through 24 with the Old Age Security Act. I must report to this House that my constituency office frequently receives complaints from seniors who are caught up in the red tape of the Old Age Security Act sections.
People receiving the spouses allowance, SPA, and the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, are required to reapply every single year preventing any payments from being made when the new fiscal year begins each April 1 until those applications have been received and approved. Single handedly that requirement imposes real hardship on the very Canadians this legislation was aimed at helping, namely low income seniors whose cheques are often delayed, for example if some bureaucrat decides that information on the application must be verified.
The simple fact is that the income of these least well off seniors does not change much from year to year. Therefore it seems to me to make far more sense to require only that seniors must report changes to their yearly income. No report received means there is no change.
On behalf of those seniors I personally congratulate the government for eliminating the very irritating and generally unnecessary piece of red tape. However, the question is not that simple.
A House committee has been at work on Bill C-54. The result of the committee's work is a series of proposed amendments which this place has been treating in groups for the purpose of organizing the debate.
Clause 23 of that first section of Bill C-54 is the subject of amendments, or Motions Nos. 5 and 6 proposed by the Bloc Quebecois as well as Motion No. 7 put forward by the Reform Party of Canada.
Clause 23 deals with overpayments that people may have received. Our position regarding Motion No. 5 is that when Canadians receive payment to which they are not entitled, they should pay the amount back except in those circumstances such as hardship or death, which already appear on page 10 of the bill.
Regarding Bloc Motion No. 6, we oppose it because we believe that department officials should stand behind their advice and be accountable regarding our tax dollars. This unaccountability by the bureaucrats and in some regards the politicians has gone on far too long.
Regarding Motion No. 7, the Reform Party's concern primarily relates to keeping the minister accountable to Parliament. This has been overlooked for years. It is time that the minister started to accept some of that accountability.
Motion No. 7 asks the minister to report annually to this House regarding overpayments in either Canada pension plan or old age security, providing details of their cost to taxpayers. A parliamentary committee would then study this report and make its recommendations regarding what the minister could or could not remit the following year.
Motion No. 7 has the great advantage of keeping the department and its minister accountable to the Canadian people through members of Parliament who are the people's elected representatives. What I am saying here is opposite to that which the member on the other side said a few minutes ago. We in the Reform Party say maybe it is time that MPs started to buckle down and do some work on their own to help the minister out and not just to pass it off.
Very often even in my own riding of Okanagan-Shuswap I hear complaints from voters that civil servants and bureaucrats can do whatever they want with no accountability to the people who pay their salaries. It is an ongoing complaint and not only in my constituency. I am sure hon. members on the other side have had the same thing happen. They must hear it at the parties they go to or from the friends they associate with. It is an ongoing concern in Canada that has to be addressed.
We must take every responsible opportunity to correct this situation, where both bureaucrats and the courts run this country instead of having a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Too often we have government of the Ottawa mandarins for their own purpose, or governments of the lawyers and the judges, all too often to protect the rights of the criminals rather than to defend the interests of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens.
Until we can bring accountability back into this House we will always have this complaint from our constituents. It is unnecessary. It is something we must address and I believe Motion No. 7 is the first step in a long process.