House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. I wish to point out to the hon. member that we have rules preventing us from addressing colleagues in the House to criticize them or to make allegations of bad conduct. I would ask the hon. member for Laval to get on with her speech.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

1:20 p.m.


Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to discuss Bill C-301 concerning seniors who have been disappointed by this government. They thought they would be getting the Guaranteed Income Supplement in its entirety with the full retroactivity they were entitled to.

Since the end of 2000, we have discovered how many people were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. Just look at how many people my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain was able to inform about their right to the supplement. Unfortunately, they are entitled to a mere 11 months of retroactivity when they should be entitled to full and complete retroactivity.

The government boasted about wanting to give seniors an additional $18 a month in the guaranteed income supplement effective January 2006 and another $18 a month effective January 2007. For the next five years, this government will invest $2.7 billion for this additional money, while it currently owes $3.2 billion to the seniors we found who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.

Despite the fact that the government would currently have people believe that if there is an election, if the government falls, seniors will not be entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement, we all know that is not true. It is their most fundamental right. Bill C-43 has already been passed, confirmed and is already in effect. I do not see why we would want to start up the fear campaigns again and upset seniors, who have already suffered enough and are still suffering because of this government.

The suicide rate in seniors 65 and older has gone up by 85.4%. It is unimaginable not to acknowledge those who fed us, fed our bodies, spirits and souls during the depression, during unbelievable crises, people who sent children to the war of 1939-45, people who went to that war, to the war of 1914-18, the Korean War, people who fought for this country, veterans' spouses, women who are now 85, 90 or 95 years old. Today, we do not acknowledge them, yet they were the ones who gave us the system, the wealth and the opportunities we have today.

I find it very hard to believe that, with the surpluses mentioned earlier this week, which the government is promising for the next five years, it does not have money to correct the situation and give back to these people what is owed to them, before they die. Will it take as long as it did with the hepatitis C issue? All of a sudden, on the eve of an election campaign, the government decided to sign the papers, after we had been discussing the matter for a year in the House.

Enough is enough. Seniors need that money now, not in five or ten years. They need it right away. Currently, some of them are living in their home or apartment, and they have nothing to eat. Some must choose between buying their medication at the end of the month or paying their rent, between heating their apartment or paying their rent, between eating or getting their medication.

In a former life, I was a community activist. As members probably know, I worked with seniors' organizations. As part of my work, I often had to visit elderly people in their homes. If only hon. members knew about the distress of many of them, if only they understood how important it is to help these people, perhaps we might get the government to reverse its decision and act more responsibly.

When I visited seniors to see how they were doing and assess their needs, I would open the pantry—where dry food is kept—and find only crackers and cans of pet food.

But these elderly persons had no dog or cat. When a person must feed on dog or cat food because it costs 99¢ a can, we know that our society has a major problem.

In fact, this government had an opportunity to show that it wants to be fair and decent with seniors before we introduced a bill, before my colleague had to rise to present a bill to ensure that the rights of these people are respected. Instead, the government chose to invest in provincial jurisdictions, in armament and in goodies for companies, while letting down seniors.

I have no idea of what my colleagues can buy with an additional $18 per month under the guaranteed income supplement, but I personally cannot buy anything. I cannot pay any bill with that amount. It is appalling.

Let us not forget the fact that, these days, seniors have to spend over 30% of their income on housing and pay much of the cost of their prescriptions. They are no longer able to travel by bus or other public transit, but rather have to take cabs, a service they can hardly afford. When they need to go to the hospital or any other appointment, they have dig into their wallets yet again. They are denied the paltry amount that would make a difference in their lives. This government is denying seniors a sense of security and serenity in their golden years. I find this abhorrent.

I want to read an excerpt from a letter I got from a senior citizen about the GIS:

As a senior, I fail to understand the federal government's attitude in this regard. This week, the Minister of Finance announced a series of election goodies, each better than the last.

Clearly, seniors are no longer fooled; they know the truth. The letter continues as follows:

Given the billions announced, I had hoped that the government would take this opportunity to right an egregious wrong done to seniors who should have received the GIS for a number of years. But no, nothing, not one dime.

I received another statement. However, since I only have one minute left, I will read a beautiful poem entitled The Grasshopper and the Minister :

Her endless round of work complete,Madame was much dismayed When, on retirement, it appearedThat she would not get paid.Although she much deserved some help,And all her life had worked,Her pleas upon deaf ears did fallAnd she was truly hurt.The freshly minted ministerIgnored all she had done,And though they were her rightful due,Of payments there were none.“But what about my kids,” she cried.“Is no allowance made?Without them you would all be lost, And others would need aid.”“What did you do all day at homeWhen others were out earning?We can't support the likes of youWith economy downturning.”Those who held the purse strings were a heartless lot it's clear“You never filed the form”, they said.“You're on your own, my dear”.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment on Bill C-301, introduced by the Bloc member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. It pertains to the monthly guaranteed income supplement .

Our country recognizes the tremendous debt that we owe our seniors. Theirs was the generation that survived the Depression.

Quebeckers deplore the atmosphere that appears to reign in this House. I personally respect dissenting opinions. I listened attentively to the Bloc member who spoke for ten minutes, without attempting to interrupt her. Another Bloc member—for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, if I am not mistaken—is constantly interrupting me, however. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask him to treat me with the same respect.

As I was saying, theirs was the generation that survived the Depression, went to war to protect our liberty and built the Canada and Quebec we know today.

To address their evolving needs, this government makes significant investments across a full range of seniors' programs, from health care to income security, from retirement savings to assistance for their caregivers. We currently spend about $67 billion a year on seniors-related programs.

Seniors, particularly those with lower income, are a top priority. We believe that Canada's poorest seniors deserve a better quality of life and more money in their pockets. That is why we are addressing the immediate needs of low income seniors by increasing the guaranteed income supplement by 7%.

It is the GIS that provides low-income seniors with a fully-indexed benefit to ensure a basic level of income throughout their retirement years.

We will invest $2.7 billion, and the promised improvements will be fully in place in less than two years. The GIS will go up by more than $400 a year for a single senior and by almost $700 for a couple. Over 1.6 million seniors will benefit from the increase—most of them women.

This increase represents the biggest income hike in a generation for Canadian seniors who need it the most.

In Quebec, about one million seniors benefit from Canada's retirement income system. Half of them are low-income seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement.

Through Social Development Canada's outreach program, the government is helping Quebec seniors, particularly those with low incomes, become more aware of all the benefits they are entitled to.

Let me give you an example from the northern part of the province. In northern Quebec, many seniors live in small, isolated communities, posing a particular challenge to the outreach team. That is why outreach has forged a strong partnership with the regional government of Kativik. This aboriginal government oversees 14 communities from the Kuujjuag region of northern Quebec. The government's local employment officers are helping the most vulnerable citizens of this remote region apply for benefits.

By working closely with the regional government, the outreach team is helping to overcome the barriers presented by geography and, more importantly, to establish trust.

Over the past year, our outreach efforts have also focused on working with community groups. Our goal is to partner with these groups to contact Quebec seniors where they live, where they play, and where they work because there are seniors who do work even if it is just a day a month or part time.

By working with a growing team of partners, Outreach has been able to take advantage of the “multiplier effect” and reach many more seniors than it could on its own. Partners include the Fédération de l'âge d'or du Québec, the farm women's clubs and women's centres.

Let me give you another prime example of partnership in action. Outreach has teamed up with Quebec's vocational training centres to reach the most vulnerable seniors right in their own homes.

Under this program, we are training caseworkers to understand our programs, particularly the guaranteed income supplement. Remember, these caseworkers are in direct contact with our poorest seniors, visiting them in their homes and developing close, trusting ties. They are quickly becoming one of our greatest allies in boosting awareness of our benefit programs.

To date, Outreach has conducted training sessions with 25 vocational training centres, sending more than 450 caseworkers into the field and reaching more than 4,500 seniors at home. Its success is growing as it develops new sessions to target more aboriginal communities.

The Government of Canada, through this outreach program, is making every effort to reach the seniors who may qualify for the GIS and encourage them to apply.

Through the Outreach program, the Government of Canada is making every effort to reach the seniors who may qualify for the guaranteed income supplement and encouraging them to apply.

We are also reaching out to Quebec's ethnic communities—through ethnic associations and community newspapers—to find seniors who may have fallen through the cracks. We are even taking to the airwaves, on the TV show La Belle Vie , to broadcast details of seniors' benefits across the province.

Since 2002, over 75,000 letters and personalized application forms have gone to seniors throughout Quebec, to inform them about the availability of the guaranteed income supplement. This has resulted in almost 50,000 new GIS recipients.

The federal government will continue to inform Quebec seniors of their rights to collect the GIS by attending seniors fairs and functions. What is more, we have been simplifying and will continue to simplify our application forms to make it easier for seniors to fill it out or to get help to fill it out to receive the supplement if they qualify. We want all seniors to get the benefits to which they are entitled. We all want the best quality of life for our seniors.

The Government of Canada is ensuring the necessary supports are in place, so that all seniors can live with respect and dignity. Providing seniors with income assistance is just one of the ways this government is working to strengthen Canada's social foundation.

For all these reasons and more, I cannot support Bill C-301.

If passed into law, the bill would bog down Canada's retirement income system in reams of red tape. It would create an undue burden on the system, from both a fiscal and technical perspective. And without the checks and balances found in the current application process, it would lead to increased fraud and abuse.

With respect to retroactivity, I think it is more important that this program be totally consistent with existing provincial income supplementation programs. On the issue of retroactivity for one year, there is no discrepancy between this program and the provincial programs, which are income supplementation, security or support programs.

The Bloc Québécois contends that one year retroactivity is shameful. I would like them to tell me when they made the same remark to the Government of Quebec.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Betty Hinton Kamloops—Thompson, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-301, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act, monthly guaranteed income supplement.

At the beginning I would like to make it very clear I have some serious reservations about some of the things that have been happening lately. The Liberals claim that spending outlined in the supplementary estimates will be lost if an election is called before Parliament is able to pass the supply bill. Examples of the spending cited by the Liberals include a pay raise for the military and the increase in the guaranteed income supplement.

I would like to make it very clear for all seniors that this is not the case. This is not true. They will not lose the guaranteed income supplement. The money was voted on by Parliament early last summer as part of Bill C-43, the budget implementation act. It never needs to be voted on again. Rest assured, this will take place for every senior in Canada, regardless of the rhetoric they may hear due to a pending election.

The bill before us today amends the Old Age Security Act to allow eligible pensioners to receive a monthly guaranteed income supplement without having to make an application every year. It also repeals the restrictions respecting retroactivity. I applaud any legislation that enhances the quality of life for Canada's seniors. The intent of Bill C-301 does this. Although a few details require a review, I am quite prepared to support the intent of the legislation and look forward to it being discussed in committee.

Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is something that should have been done a long time ago, but it was not. Therefore, let us get moving forward with this and make it happen.

We continually see the Liberal government making every attempt to extract every last nickel from Canadian taxpayers. A perfect example is the attempt to freeze income trusts and the resulting uncertainty for investors. This uncertainty has cost seniors money that they are dependent upon. These responsible seniors have invested in money for their retirement years and the government cannot stand not having its hands in their pocket. Liberals feel they are entitled to a portion of the pie. They are not and they should be ashamed of itself.

Canadian seniors now live in fear that their nest eggs will be eroded by the government's indecisiveness on income trusts. Because the government has cast a shroud of uncertainty over them, Canadian seniors deserve to see this bill go forward for further study. There must be some degree of certainty for seniors.

Seniors and low income families are facing unprecedented hikes in home heating costs this winter and it is incumbent upon the government to mitigate these increases as much as possible. While Bill C-66 seeks to do this, we all know what happened in a similar circumstance five years ago when deceased persons and prisoners received cheques while many in desperate need received nothing.

Under Bill C-66, single seniors must be receiving the guaranteed income supplement to get their paltry $125 in assistance. I would suggest that very few seniors are aware of this fact and are expecting this assistance from government. Imagine their disappointment when they discover, because they did not fill out a form to receive GIS, that they will not receive any assistance.

This brings me to another point. It has been reported that between 300,000 and 380,000 eligible seniors do not receive the guaranteed income supplement because they do not know if they are eligible for it. Why is this? Many do not understand the eligibility requirements. Nor do they understand they must apply for it annually.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “guarantee” as “a formal assurance that certain conditions will be fulfilled”. There is no guarantee that they will receive the supplement. There is no guarantee that they will receive the home heating rebate. The only guarantee seniors have is the incessant paper work required to get what is rightfully theirs.

As shadow minister for veterans affairs, I know all too well the hoops that veterans are required to jump through to get a disability pension or any of the benefits to which they are entitled.

Imagine having the double whammy of being a veteran and a senior, and trying to deal with the bureaucratic quagmire to get even the smallest bit of assistance? Instead of enjoying their retirement in dignity and comfort, many Canadian seniors are struggling to meet the most basic of life's needs.

It is incumbent upon us as a nation to ensure that those who helped build this nation live out their lives in relative comfort. Neglecting to ensure that seniors eligible for the GIS are receiving it has other repercussions as well. They are also losing out on the programs offered by many provinces, such as prescription drug plans, other income supplements, heating oil subsidies, and home care assistance programs that are available only to individuals receiving GIS. This is unacceptable.

It has a trickle down effect. When eligible Canadian seniors do not receive their guaranteed income supplement for whatever reason, they also lose out on other services that are essential to their quality of life.

This legislation would enable automatic processing of the guaranteed income supplement based on information from the Department of National Revenue, thus ensuring eligible pensioners receive their monthly GIS and without the annual application. I support this measure without question.

There are other aspects of this bill that require and deserve further investigation. With respect to the retroactivity, we need to look at how far back this would go, who it should apply to, and how it will be implemented. They are all important questions that need to be studied and this can be done best at committee.

I would like very much to see this bill go to committee, so it can be carefully examined and given the detail it needs. We need to ensure that it is a strong and viable piece of legislation that endures the test of time, as have our seniors. They deserve no less.

I am certain this legislation can be reinforced and strengthened for the benefit of our seniors. The need is unquestionable. As the Conservative critic for veterans affairs, I have consulted with seniors across Canada and can say unarguably that there is a broad consensus from coast to coast to coast that seniors need to automatically receive any and all benefits as they become eligible.

Let us not deny seniors their rights. I ask that we as elected representatives do what is right and necessary to ensure that those individuals who helped build this nation receive what is rightfully theirs.

For clarification, I will repeat my earlier statement. There is no need for any senior citizen to worry about the loss of GIS income if an election were to proceed. Those are scare tactics that are being used in a very unconscionable way against one of the most vulnerable groups of Canadians in this country. This money was voted on by Parliament early last summer as part of Bill C-43, the Budget Implementation Act. It never needs to be voted on again and it is assured for the seniors of Canada.

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Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-301 as put forward by my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

I want to begin by recognizing and paying tribute to the dedication and commitment that my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain has shown to this issue. He has been tireless and has not given up in the face of adversity. Where many would have tired from running into the brick wall, he has persisted, and I appreciate him giving us this opportunity to have this debate today.

As the member for Winnipeg Centre, I also want to recognize and pay tribute to a former member from my riding of Winnipeg Centre, who we can safely call the father of the Canadian pension system. In 1925 the member for Winnipeg Centre, J.S. Woodsworth, was the founder and first leader of my party, then called the CCF. In fact, in those days it was called the Independent Labour Party.

J.S. Woodsworth was in a minority government situation with William Lyon Mackenzie King. In exchange for supporting Mackenzie King's government, he obtained a letter to the effect that to get the Independent Labour Party's votes, Mackenzie King would bring in an old age pension plan.

It is ironic that only a few years before this, the Government of Canada wanted to send J.S. Woodsworth to prison for his role as a leader of the 1919 Winnipeg general strike. However, in 1921 the good people of my riding sent him to Ottawa to be their member of Parliament, and within four years he had negotiated a pension plan for Canadians.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention another member who represented the riding of Winnipeg Centre from 1942 to 1984. That was Stanley Knowles, who many people will recognize not only built on the work J.S. Woodsworth had done but had the Canada pension plan indexed so it would grow with inflation.

The people of Winnipeg Centre are very cognizant of who was the champion of their pension system. I think they would appreciate, in the twilight days of the 38th Parliament, that we are again seized of the issue of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, thanks to my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

The government has known for years that 380,000 seniors who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement were not getting it because they never applied. It knows this because of income tax records. It has known full well who these individuals were and even how much they were eligible for, but it never told them.

When we learned this, partly through the research of my colleague, we were shocked. These are the poorest of the poor. To be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, one's income has to be around $12,000 a year. That is to get the full income supplement. These are desperately poor seniors.

The excuse the government gave was it would be a violation of their privacy rights for Revenue Canada to inform HRSD that certain individuals were eligible for the plan. What an absurd notion that anyone would complain the government misused privileged information in order to give seniors a benefit.

A glaring contradiction exists. If people collecting employment insurance cross the border, the border crossing officer tells EI that these people are leaving the country and the individual should not be because they are collecting benefits. Therefore, the government does not mind violating a person's privacy to rat them out, but it will not violate a person's privacy to give them a benefit. That was absurd. I reject that position and I condemn the government for that position.

Now we have heard the parliamentary secretary, a Liberal from Montreal, say that one of the reasons the government does not want to provide the retroactivity that is called for in Bill C-301 is because the government is worried about opening the floodgates to fraud. Are the Liberals serious? Are they seriously trying to maintain that it is a bad idea to give seniors money that is rightfully theirs because they are worried about fraudulent activity?

These are desperately poor Canadian seniors. If that is the barrier, let me dismiss that out of hand immediately. The government should go back to the drawing board to try to come up with a more credible excuse because that one is spurious.

I do not think we should be having this debate today. I believe the two things that are called for by my colleague's bill are eminently justifiable. The first thing is that eligibility should be based on one's income, not on whether or not the proper paperwork has been filled out. In other words, the guaranteed annual income supplement should be guaranteed, not subject to crossing the right t 's and dotting the right i 's. That is the first point my colleague makes.

The second point he makes is retroactivity. In those cases where people come to the realization that they have been eligible for the guaranteed income supplement for a number of years and, for whatever reason, failed to apply, that benefit should be retroactive to the date they became eligible, not 11 months as stipulated under the Old Age Security Act. It may be three years or five years, who cares? We should give them what they are owed.

Members can just imagine what a difference that would make in a senior's life. Let us think of the constituents we are talking about here, the poorest of the poor of our Canadian seniors, the people the social safety net has left behind. Imagine that small influx of money. It may be $20,000 or $30,000 in some cases, if the retroactivity went a few years. It is not a huge amount of money but it would improve the quality of life for those seniors in their remaining years. It would seem like a windfall to them and it would not break the bank of the federal government, as my colleague, the Liberal member from Lachine, would have us believe.

Let us go through the barriers thrown up by the Liberal government in trying to argue against these eminently good ideas.

First are the privacy provisions. I put it to members that any senior who was eligible for a benefit and was not getting it would thank someone for informing the officials that they were eligible and would not be filing any complaints with the Privacy Commissioner that somebody violated their right to privacy.

In terms of worrying about fraud, I do not even think that deserves my time here. Eligible seniors would come forward and make it known that they were making application for this benefit and the government should deal with it as any other eligibility for a government program.

The last thing concerns the retroactivity being an undue burden on the federal government. We have just learned it has a $13.5 billion surplus. Liberals are flying around the country as we speak in a spending spree that is hitherto unprecedented in this country. A Roman orgy of spending is going on as we speak. Am I being told that we cannot find enough money to provide for the basic needs of seniors to survive, to pay them the money that was owed to them, money that, by trickery and deceit, was kept away from them?

I do not say that to be romantic or to use exaggerated language. It was by deceit that these people were denied the benefits to which they were entitled. I can defend the use of that language because the Government of Canada knew who they were, and has known for years that they were eligible, and failed to tell them. If there is any fraud taking place here it is on the part of the Government of Canada for not doing the right thing for the senior citizens who were eligible for this benefit.

I am glad we are using this day, maybe one of the last sitting days of this 38th Parliament, to do something to augment the quality of life and the standard of living of our seniors. I compliment my colleague from Saint-Maurice--Champlain for bringing it forward. I will be voting with enthusiasm for this bill and out of respect for those who came before me representing the riding of Winnipeg Centre.

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Private Members' Business

2 p.m.


Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been looking at this matter in considerable detail for some time.

I would like to first of all assure the public that the Government of Canada shares this objective and is taking the necessary steps to ensure that Canadian seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

Like most, if not all, Canadians, the members of my party believe we need to show our gratitude to the seniors in our communities for all they have contributed through the years, which has made Canada the great country it has become.

I can also assure my colleagues that seniors, low-income seniors in particular, are a priority of this government. We are, for instance, well aware of the commitment of the Minister of Labour and Housing, who has worked so hard to improve the RRAP program and other similar programs to ensure that seniors may remain in their homes as long as possible. We are very much aware of this.

I have just heard an NDP member say that people ought to be able to receive benefits even if they have not applied for them. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Anyone who has worked on similar cases in his or her riding must know that sometimes seniors are in receipt of a lump sum payment at some point during the year.

This may be a source of income they were not expecting, and could be any amount that improves their quality of life: a new pension or a new benefit to which they were not entitled earlier. This will, of course, disqualify them.

When it comes time to apply at the end of the year, they do not do so, because they know their income was higher in the current year. That is why many people do not apply.

We cannot say this happens in every case where a person has forgotten to apply for the supplement. That is ridiculous. Both cases certainly exist. However, to claim that no one's income changes throughout the year, as the hon. member who just spoke suggests, is absurd. Things can change. My income is about to change if the government falls.

That said, the Guaranteed Income Supplement for people of low income will help meet their immediate needs, if they apply for the supplement, of course.

Every year in my riding, I send a mailing to my constituents. We arrange information sessions and help people fill out their forms. Nonetheless, some people are forgotten and we know that. However, we are working on increasing the number of people wanting to apply for benefits. I think we have succeeded in many cases.

In his bill, the hon. member is asking for an element of retroactivity. On the eve of an election it is easy to want to give money retroactively to large groups of the public. Far be it from me to attribute motives. However, if my colleagues opposite think about the interests of seniors as often as they say they do, then I invite them to come up with another option.

In a few days, they will get ready—I hope not—to trigger a mid-winter election. Some 750,000 Canadians, mostly seniors, will be out of the country and practically all of them will therefore lose their right to vote.

These same hon. members are telling us today that they have seniors' interests at heart. I am not running in the next election. I would not want to lose my right to vote because I happened to be out of the country. Of course this could be a theoretical right. For instance, a person might live in Daytona Beach in the winter. We are told they can go to Miami to vote—the distance from Daytona Beach to Miami is the same as Quebec City to Windsor—and that that is reasonable, but what happens to these 750,000 Canadians does not matter.

I suggest that people should think about it, because this is about to happen.

Apparently, this bill is an effort to help. While not knowing everything, I do know a thing or two about parliamentary procedure. Everyone knows that this kind of bill requires a royal recommendation. This bill will not even reach third reading. I challenge hon. members to find one person knowledgeable in parliamentary law who can tell me otherwise. It cannot be done. A royal recommendation is required, and the member knows it. In fact, the bill's title is in italics, indicating that it cannot be passed at third reading.

Claims are being made to want to help, when it cannot be done. Next week, we will be forced to vote, knowing that it is pointless. The bill cannot be passed because it cannot get a royal recommendation. Such is parliamentary law. This is not my invention. The Constitution was written quite a while ago, and the British parliamentary law that we are familiar with applies. No one even considered amending the Constitution to change that. It is the prerogative of the Crown, the governor in council, which means the government, and no one else.

Even as a member supporting the government, I cannot propose that measure myself. I am a member of the Privy Council, but that does not allow me to do it, either. A royal recommendation is required. It is therefore up to cabinet to adopt a royal recommendation, and that is then submitted to the House. This is not a private member's bill from the opposition that can go to third reading. We all agree on that.

Some may claim today that we will get this bill passed. They can try to convince the public of that, but the reality is far different. There are some 10 or 12 bills like this on the order paper. They are all bills that cannot be considered at third reading. Everyone in this House is getting riled up about getting this bill passed, saying that if a critical mass of MPs votes in favour it will be passed. Really now. We know very well that the Speaker would rise at third reading stage to say, “I regret to inform the House that the motion, lacking royal recommendation, cannot be put to a vote”. That is more or less what you would have to say at that point, Mr. Speaker. Not that I want to put words in your mouth, but I have some idea of how the procedure works.

So, whatever claims are made, there is a difference between wanting a bill to be passed, saying it will be passed, and actually doing it. Hon. members know the difference. If they really want to take concrete action. let them stop trying to deprive our seniors of their right to vote, as the NDP, the Bloc and the Conservatives may be plotting together to do.

What amazes me about this is the support of the Conservatives. It is all very well for the other parties to say that seniors never vote for them any way, whether in the dead of winter or not, so they are not particularly bothered. That is one thing, and I can, unfortunately, almost understand that reasoning. Not completely, however, because I feel a voter must never be deprived of his right to cast a vote, even if he does not vote for us. What I do not understand at all, however, is the Conservative Party's willingness to be a party to this. I have the impression that the ones who will pay the price for this will, in fact, be the Conservatives over there.

There can be no division at third reading on the bill we have before us. I am sure of that, because there is no royal recommendation.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The mover of the motion now has the floor for five minutes to reply and end the debate.

The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Old Age Security Act
Private Members' Business

November 18th, 2005 / 2:10 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too, like the member speaking before me, am probably making my last speech. I am familiar enough with the standing orders for having sat in and chaired the Quebec National Assembly and been a member here since 2000. The arguments the government has raised will not convince seniors that it cannot give them back their money. That is very clear.

I am not asking for new money, but rather what belongs to them. This bill was not introduced last week. It has been before Parliament for over a year. If this is in fact my last speech, I will have the great pleasure of telling seniors that I at least got this far. With the help of the NDP and the Conservatives, we could give them the $3 billion taken from them. It was not perhaps done on purpose. However, the people the other members working on this and I met were well aware of the fact that it was for those who had not been informed that we were calling for the reimbursement.

Jane Stewart, the minister at the time, acknowledged the situation, improved it and provided more information. She told me, however, that it was impossible for her to pay the people back retroactively. Why? If I owe the government money, how is it that it can claim the money from me retroactively as far back as five or ten years and make me pay a penalty? That is perfectly legal. It is a whole different matter, however, when seniors, living in miserable conditions I can attest to, forgot it or were not told of it and realized five years later that they had been owed money for five years.

The government did not want to be robbed, but seniors are not robbers. Without saying where they are to be found, I will say the robbers are readily recognizable. These people are not robbers. They simply lacked information. In fact, we were put onto the trail by a Toronto journalist. It was not even our idea. He discovered that a number of seniors were short of money, when there was money here in Parliament that belonged to them. This money was wasted. Look at the sponsorship scandal. We can see where the money went. It was wasted. You should be ashamed.

When they say that—

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2:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. I want to remind the hon. member that he must address the Speaker of the House. I do not think he is suggesting that I should be ashamed of anything.

I give the floor back to the hon. member.

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Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand that you are not ashamed and I am not ashamed of you. I will speak to you directly, but about people I am not proud of.

They are bragging that of the $3.2 billion, they will be giving out $2.7 billion over the next five years. By then, those to whom the money is owed will be gone. The government will say it was being generous to give out $2.7 billion of the $3 billion that did not belong to it in the first place. Perhaps, since the government is so generous, it will throw in a bouquet of flowers and an apple turnover. And then brag about. I think this is very sad.

There is a story I have told many times and I will close by telling it again, since it illustrates the situation well. A woman, 88 years old, from Sherbrooke had 8 or 10 children. She lived out her golden years on $6,000 a year. At the time of her death she was owed $90,000. The government says that a backlog of paperwork is preventing it from handing out the money. That is why that woman from Sherbrooke did not get her money. I find that very sad.

If this is indeed my last speech, I want to address seniors. Please, watch your government more closely, stop being had, and look out for your own interests because the government here in Ottawa is not doing so.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members