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House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animal.

Topics

Canada's Performance 2001Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table in the House, in both official languages, the report entitled “Canada's Performance 2001”.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Excise Act, 2001Routine Proceedings

December 6th, 2001 / 10:05 a.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Liberalfor the Minister of National Revenue

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-47, an act respecting the taxation of spirits, wine and tobacco and the treatment of ships' stores.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts relating to Chapter 16, Health Canada--First Nations Health: Follow-up, of the report of the auditor general, October 2000.

I would also like to present the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts relating to Chapter 21, Post-Secondary Recruitment Program of the Federal Public Service, of the report of the auditor general, December 2000.

Finally, I would also like to table the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts relating to Chapter 9, Streamlining the Human Resource Management Regime: A Study of Changing Roles and Responsibilities, of the report of the auditor general April 2000.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts requests that the government table a comprehensive response to these three reports.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Fontana Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration entitled “Hands Across the Border: Working Together at Our Shared Border and Abroad to Ensure Safety, Security and Efficiency”.

I take this opportunity to thank members of the committee for their hard work in putting forward 67 recommendations that we believe will help our nation, our relationship with the United States and our international community in dealing with security threats at our borders, but more important, how we can continue our fine tradition of immigration and refugee protection in this country.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests the government to table a comprehensive response to this report.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 123(1) I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations concerning the revocation of subsection 15(5) of the Northwest Territories Reindeer Regulations, C.R.C. 1978, c. 1238.

The text of the relevant subsection of the regulations is contained in this report.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

moved:

That the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities tabled on Tuesday, March 4, 2001, be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, last Tuesday we tabled in the House the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. This report addressed a particular aspect, one that is of extreme importance, particularly for seniors.

I would like to start by thanking those who worked on this committee. Regardless of party affiliation, it was my impression that the work done, at least every time I was there, was extremely efficient and extremely important. Non partisan too, I might add.

I also wish to thank all the witnesses invited to appear before the committee. They came to share their views with us on a problem that affects close to 20% of seniors, the most vulnerable members of society. I therefore wish to thank them for enlightening us and also for showing us just how inhumane the Department of Human Resources Development is sometimes, too often in fact.

They showed us how, after taking over the contents of the EI fund, the government cheated workers of the income they deserved after paying into the fund to protect themselves from unemployment. Hon. members are well aware of this, as it has been much discussed here in the House. Some $42 billion have disappeared out of the fund in question and found themselves in the government's general coffers.

There is one thing even worse than that, which the committee also addressed: the fact that the department is depriving the least advantaged members of society of their entitlement. They are not asking for charity. This is something to which they have been entitled for many years.

Hon. members may well ask why they are being denied the guaranteed income supplement?” The reason given is that they cannot be contacted. The TV is constantly showing us advertising and propaganda, boasting of how beautiful and great Canada is. They are pushing all manner of things.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

But not that.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Yes, but not that. Perhaps such advertising would not even reach those people.

This represents a minimum of $3.2 billion. Some 20% of seniors are among the most disadvantaged.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Our relatives.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

They are our relatives, your relatives, Mr. Speaker. In each family, there may be someone living in such precarious conditions and who, after having contributed greatly to our country, have become aged, sick and alone. Some may be illiterate, unable to understand the information they are given. These people are going through a difficult situation. We have not made the effort to contact them and pay what they are entitled to. The amounts due to these people vary between zero and $6,000 a year.

It is generally acknowledged that 270,000 Canadians, and among them 68,000 Quebecers, are eligible for those benefits. They have a basic right to it.

This is not charity on the part of the government.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

They are entitled to those benefits.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

They are entitled to those benefits, as my hon. colleague just said. These people have contributed to building this country. They are now in their later years and as seniors they deserve better than what they are now getting. Sometimes, these people have never worked outside of their home. Many of them are mothers and are still able to fix the Christmas dinner.

They have never filed an income tax return, and they wonder why they should, having nothing to declare and living on a strict minimum.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

They often have less than the minimum.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Sometimes even less than the minimum, as my colleague just said. Some of them are natives, people living in remote areas, small communities. Again, they may be illiterate. Let us not forget that in Quebec, since the beginning of the quiet revolution of the 1960s and even before, not everyone had the opportunity to get an education—

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

Nor the means.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Not everyone can read a report as complex as the one provided to apply for the guaranteed income supplement. There may be people who know neither one of the official languages. Included in this group of people I am referring to, who are being deprived of essential income, are some who know neither of the official languages.

Some of them may be sick and have a disability. I think that this is the case for most of them, the majority of the people I am talking about, the people we are trying to reach to help them, not with charity, but to help them claim what they are entitled to.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

Give them what they are entitled to.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Indeed, give them what they are entitled to. I am sure that we all know someone who, after the age of 65, has found themselves in a precarious situation, or is in poor health, precisely because they worked to build this country. They have become vulnerable.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that you too will find the situation scandalous. Since 1993, at least $3.2 billion has been saved on the backs of these people. When we mention billions here in the House, it sounds like two or three billion dollars is not that much, because we hear so many figures quoted so often.

Personally, what I do in order to understand, is come up with an image. I try to simplify the number; I try to give it an order of magnitude. Three billion dollars is three thousand million dollars that the government has put in its coffers and that it is using to brag about how well it has managed public finances, and even brought down the debt. However, the Minister of Finance must know that by reducing the debt by $3 billion, there are $3 billion that the poorest in our society—

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

They have paid for it.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Right, they have paid for it, and they were not the ones that put the government in debt. This is a scandal that must be exposed.

There is also the homeless in Montreal, Quebec City, and other large cities in Canada. I saw pictures from Vancouver, and other places last winter—

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

And in Northern Ontario.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

I also saw cases in northern Ontario. Just go and see the homeless; these people have done nothing to earn such a predicament. Very often they were neglected at a time when they most needed help from society. I am sure there are a lot of homeless persons among those 270,000 individuals.

According to me, the committee has brought to light one of the worst scandals ever seen at Human Resources Development Canada. However, other people also find themselves in difficult situations. This scandal is just as bad as the looting of the employment insurance fund.

There are $42 billion in that fund. In this case, the amount is $3 billion. They have lowered the debt. They brag about how efficient they were. In order to lower the debt, they cut funds to provinces and particularly the funds meant for health care in Quebec. It is utterly unfortunate.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

It is not true.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

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.