Mr. Speaker, in Motion No. 12 I move the following amendment: That Bill C-54 be amended by deleting clause 38, which reads as follows: "Where a decision is made by a Review Tribunal or the Pension Appeals Board in respect of a benefit, the Minister may stay-that is what it says-payment of the benefit until the latest of-there are three choices-( a ) the expiration of the period allowed for making an application for
leave to appeal to the Pension Appeals Board, ( b ) the expiration of the period allowed for making an application under the Federal Court Act for judicial review of the decision, and ( c ) where Her Majesty has made an application under the Federal Court Act for judicial review of the decision, the month in which all proceedings in relation to the judicial review have been completed''.
Why delete clause 38? Because the purpose of this amendment moved by the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, is to prevent the government from suspending payment of benefits during appeals, since these appeals arise from the government's failure to manage these programs satisfactorily. Senior citizens should not have to pay for the government's incompetence.
Clearly, the government wants to discourage senior citizens from filing appeals, since some people do not have the resources to tide them over this waiting period. Clause 38 of Bill C-54 provides no guarantees for adequate financial security for seniors.
In the report by the National Advisory Council on Aging, as I said before, the disposable incomes of seniors were as follows: the income of families where the head of the household is a senior is 60 to 80 per cent of the income of other Canadian families, depending on the standard used and the region.
In 1989, the average income of families where the head of the household was a senior was only $37,462 or 72 per cent of the income of families where the head of the household was under 65. In 1989, the average income of single persons aged 65 or over was $16,316, while the average income of single persons under 65 was $23,080. A single person, for the purposes of this clause, is a person who lives alone or in a household where he or she is not related to the other members of the household.
Single persons, whatever their age, tend to have relatively low incomes. Consequently, the gap between seniors and the rest of the population is not quite as wide for those who live alone as it is for families, but it is still significant.
By allowing himself to stay payment of the benefits during a review or an appeal, the minister is depriving recipients of money they need to live on, as it is often their only source of income.
Seventy-two per cent of retired women and 50 per cent of retired men receive old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. Only 5 per cent of seniors make more than $50,000. The life expectancy of seniors has increased. We must ensure that their extra years of life are satisfactory.
By tightening the conditions under which seniors can appeal what they consider an unfair decision, the government is trying to discourage them by reducing their income. Yet, the government itself admits that old age benefits are the only source of income for a considerable proportion of recipients.
Let us keep in mind that the federal government has already decided to reduce the deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable by lowering the age credit. As a result, all taxpayers aged 65 and over can apply for a tax credit equal 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 to say, it applies to the tax payable, and the excess portion cannot be refunded. The unused portion of the credit can, however, be transferred to the spouse.
On May 31, 1994, I rose in this House to oppose reducing the age credit. I reiterated that the feeble efforts to reduce spending were being made on the backs of the most vulnerable. During that speech, I also asked the minister responsible for seniors a question about the plan to install voice mail to answer inquiries from seniors.
The minister simply told us about the speed of the proposed service. I explained that many seniors are reluctant to use such a service and that they express this opinion on a regular basis. If you ask seniors how clause 38 will affect their decision about whether or not to appeal a decision, the answer is clear: seniors will not appeal because, for most of them, old age benefits are the only source of income.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, cannot remain silent and let the government reduce the deficit on the backs of seniors. Clause 38 of Bill C-54 must be deleted so that the government will not be able to stay payment of benefits during the appeal process.