On the contrary, it is absolutely true. The member will have the opportunity to speak when his turn comes. It is disturbing to see such a situation when we hear the government brag about Canada being the best country in the world. It is incredible.
The report now before us makes recommendations. Some will ask why these people did not fill out the application forms to ask for the income supplement they were entitled to.
First of all, most of the time, that application form is impossible to find. Let us try to imagine that we are 70 years old, that we are sick, that we have some very serious problems and that we are all alone in the world. One day, we learn that we are entitled to an income supplement we are not receiving. So we ask ourselves how to get it.
We pick up the telephone, dial the 1-800 number and wait. We are then told that to get service in French we have to press one, to get service in English we have to press three, and to get all kinds of information we are told to press this or that number. One thing is sure: at that point, the person stops pressing numbers and gives up. It is extremely difficult to get the form when it should be easy to obtain it, considering the clientele that we are dealing with.
I am 65 and I spent a large part of my life filling out forms. I once was a manager responsible for a certain territory. My work required me to fill out forms and prepare balance sheets. When I see a form like this one, I get uncomfortable before even picking up a pencil to fill it out. It is an impossible task. It is extremely complicated. It is as if the form had been drafted in such a way as to discourage people from filling it out. It is difficult to find and almost impossible to fill out for people who are in that situation.
A journalist asked me if I thought this was done on purpose. I do not dare say that I believe so, but sometimes I think it is. We are going through times when cuts are being made everywhere. There are areas where it is more difficult to make cuts. When cuts are made in the health sector at the provincial level, including in Quebec, people can protest. They can complain to try to change things.
But it is easy to keep 270,000 people in the dark by not telling them what they are entitled to. These people will not come to protest on Parliament Hill. They are not able to do so. Very few people are prepared to help them. Fortunately, this week I met Ms. Bourdon, who joined me at a press conference. She looks after elderly people throughout Quebec. Her organization has branches all over the province. The people in these branches are prepared to work to track down beneficiaries, to find those who need that money and who are owed that money, so as to inform them and help them fill out the forms.
I think we will see an operation aimed at relieving seniors who are in a precarious situation, because some people will be kind enough to help them. I myself will tour Quebec to meet with these people. With my Bloc Quebecois colleagues and all those who are willing to co-operate, we will organize something aimed at informing people so that they can get their money. We will tell them that the government will not be giving them money out of charity since they are entitled to that money.
It is possible to simplify the mechanisms to get the application form. It is possible also to make it almost automatic. Some things are absurd. Why would anyone, sick and 68, 70 or 72 years old, have to apply to get the minimum? Surely it is possible to make that application automatic. It is possible also to eliminate administrative excesses.
Oddly enough, the principle of communicating vessels between departments works better when there is money to be collected. However, when there is money to be given, the government says there are no communicating vessels between departments, that one department's secrets cannot be disclosed to another.
I have no doubt that if these 270,000 people had owed money to the government, instead of the other way around, the government would have tracked them down today. It would have found a way. Of that I have no doubt.
The committee did an excellent job. It submitted recommendations to the minister. What people need to know is that, should a parent or a friend turn out to have been entitled to this money for the past five years, they will only receive retroactive payments for 11 months. This is quite awful. When they go after me for owing taxes, I am not asked to pay up for just 11 months. They want the full amount owing, even it is five years' worth.
The committee feels that this 11 month cut-off is shocking. If someone can actually get their hands on the form and find someone to help them fill it out, and then realizes that they were entitled to $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 annually over the last two, three, four or five years, it is unbelievable that the maximum period for retroactive payments is 11 months. Why? Because someone is poor? Because they are vulnerable? This is a double standard.
When it is a case of taxpayers owing money, the government is not shy: there is no limit on retroactive payments. But when it comes to giving seniors their due, a limit is imposed. The committee recommends that this cap on retroactivity be dropped. If a person was entitled for three years, they should receive retroactive payments for the full period of entitlement.
I hope that the minister, who told me yesterday, in response to a question I asked her, that she was studying the report, will do so quickly. There is someone who is prepared to help her study it. This is a unanimous report, supported by both the Liberal Party members and members of other parties on the committee.
I ask the minister to show a bit of decency. Let us study the report, change things,and find a way to give the most vulnerable members of society the amount to which they are entitled.