Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the voters of Laval who participated in the democratic process, particularly those who placed their trust in me for a second time. I would also like to thank all of the volunteers who helped me throughout the campaign. Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on the honour bestowed upon you in your appointment as Deputy Speaker of this House. I would also like to give my regards to an 86-year-old Vancouver woman whom I had the pleasure of meeting. She confided in me that her greatest wish in life now is to learn French. Ms. Margaret Davies, I raise my hat to you.
Several things were missing from the Speech from the Throne. However, I would like to devote my time here today to talk about our seniors. In the throne speech, only nine words were dedicated to the 5,598,223 Canadian seniors and the 1,448,719 seniors in Quebec. Those nine words were, "It will work to improve the security of seniors". Only nine words to recognize the five billion volunteer hours worked by Canada's seniors. Economically, that corresponds to a financial contribution of $60 billion annually. Only nine words to recognize that 77% of seniors made charitable donations in 2004, totalling $854 million.
The population of the world is undergoing extremely significant and profound changes that are unprecedented in human history. In 2050, there will be more seniors than young people in the world. The increase in the number of seniors will affect family relations, intergenerational equity, lifestyles and family solidarity. It will also have an economic impact on health, medical care, family composition, living conditions, housing and immigration.
Demographic changes will affect politics, the vote structure and representation, because seniors read, watch the news and stay current. More seniors vote than any other age group.
If we want to have a healthy democracy in years to come, young people also have to get involved and start learning about politics and keeping up with the news.
In 1950, there were 12 people in the labour force for every senior. By 2000, this ratio had declined to nine to one, and in 2050, there will be only four labour force participants for every senior. This will directly affect the social security system. That is why the UN has held three major conferences on aging in the past 25 years.
The most recent conference, which took place in 1999, focussed on implementing principles developed in 1994. These principles call for giving seniors greater autonomy, creating conditions to improve their quality of life, enabling seniors to work and lead independent lives, creating health care systems and economic and social safety nets for seniors and introducing social support systems to make it easier for families to care for seniors.
The Bloc Québécois includes these values in its platform. This is increasingly important, because in 2001, 44% of seniors in Quebec had incomes under $15,000 and 80% had incomes under $25,000. The guaranteed income supplement accounts for 20% of the incomes of people who earn less than $15,000. This is not very much. Retired women have incomes ranging from $11,000 to $17,000. The guaranteed income supplement is very important to them. Out of their incomes, seniors have to pay rising amounts for housing, which represents between 21% and 30% of income, as well as for food, transportation and taxes. People who earn $15,000 a year pay taxes. These four items account for roughly $20,000 annually, and that does not include medication.
In Quebec, 58% of low-cost housing is occupied by the elderly. These people are very poor and have no financial or other resources. This is why I am so surprised that more was not said on this matter in the throne speech. The Canadian Council on Social Development states that:
Economic security refers to an assured and stable standard of living that provides individuals and families with a level of resources and benefits necessary to participate economically, politically, socially, culturally and with dignity in their community’s activities. Survival is more than just mere physical survival and includes a level of resources that fosters social inclusion.
With an income of $11,000 or $12,000 per year and all manner of expenses totalling $10,000, there is not a lot of money left over to be part of the social network. Yet, 19% of seniors live just below the low income cutoff. Despite all this, the former government did not deem it advisable to refund the Guaranteed Income Supplement, with full retroactivity, to those seniors entitled to it.
We know that in 2001, some 68,000 seniors in Quebec and 270,000 seniors in Canada were deprived of income as high as $6,600 a year. Thanks to a broad operation put in place by the Bloc Québécois, 42,000 of these seniors have been found so far. These efforts represent roughly $190 million that have been redistributed to the least fortunate in our society.
The fact remains that the seniors who were duped by the federal government still need to be reimbursed. My colleague, Marcel Gagnon, who is now retired, presented Bill C-301 calling for full retroactive payment to seniors who were entitled to it. On November 23, 2005, the hon. members of this House voted unanimously in favour of passing the bill at second reading in order for the government to reimburse the $3.2 billion it has owed seniors for a number of years now.
In short, this Speech from the Throne includes only nine words to acknowledge those who built Canada and Quebec; just nine words to acknowledge those who defended our rights and freedoms during two great wars; nine words to acknowledge those who, despite having major financial difficulties, made many sacrifices in order to feed and educate their family; nine words to acknowledge those who continue to take part in our lives and agree to babysit our children at the last minute, to do our laundry when our washing machine is on the fritz, to cook our roast beef when we are too busy to do it ourselves.
I am referring to my mother, Jano Demers, to whom I am eternally grateful. Thank you, maman. It is true that when we have a busy schedule we often have to call on our elders to get us out of a bind.
The Speech from the Throne includes a mere nine words to refer to all these hours spent passing down our history—to us, to our children and to our grandchildren.
Eight words are not enough. This government must do better than that. It must ensure that seniors can live out their remaining years with dignity and respect. The government can do so by ensuring that those who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement receive it and by paying $3.2 billion in retroactive payments to those who have been cheated in recent years. The government must ensure that the old age pension and guaranteed income supplement continue to be fully adjusted for inflation and the specific realities that seniors must face. It must offer the option to opt out for compassionate leave with full financial compensation in Quebec, which already has the health and social service infrastructures in place to support caregivers effectively. It must act quickly to establish the program to assist older workers.
Lastly, it must do everything it can to adapt government services and crown corporations to the reality of our seniors.