Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today and talk about the motion dealing with the social and economical issues and the well-being of seniors.
Coming from the riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook, which is located in the Niagara Peninsula, the Niagara-Hamilton area is host to the second largest seniors population in the country, behind Victoria, which is why it is an issue that has always been near and dear to my heart.
I want to commend the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain for prompting this important debate on issues of seniors.
As the member knows, our new government stands up for seniors. We have a great respect for the wisdom and experience seniors have to offer and we realize they are the keepers of this wisdom. They have helped to build this country. They have spent their lives raising their families, saving for their retirement and building this country into one of the most enviable nations in the world.
My colleagues and I are proud, in turn, to help support Canadian seniors to enjoy their later years without being overburdened by the concerns of their income, health, housing or their general well-being.
Many seniors are now on fixed incomes and yet their cost of living is anything but fixed. The cost of electricity is rising. The cost of home heating fuel is rising. The cost of drugs and other medical costs are rising, as well.
Seniors today are actively participating in society and in the labour force more than ever. We welcome their contributions and we will continue to look for and apply opportunities to foster their increased involvement.
We all know that seniors have played and continue to play a vital role in our society. Their contributions to the labour market have led to Canada's strong fiscal foundation today. Canada's new government applauds their efforts and hard fought gains and will fight to preserve them.
Canada's seniors are also to be thanked for the rearing of today's skilled and educated workforce, which will ensure our future prosperity. Today, while they are enjoying their golden years, the earned wisdom and talent of our seniors secures the admiration of all Canadians.
Our new government is unwaivering in its view that the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are fundamental guarantees of income security in retirement years. We will never reduce those benefits, not now and certainly not in the future.
As part of our commitment to the continued sustainability of Canada's income security system, the federal government will be working with the provinces to examine the possibility of allocating a portion of future federal surpluses to the Canada and Quebec pension plans.
We believe that seniors, who have sacrificed to save for their retirement and have paid into pension plans, deserve our government's support, which is why the 2006 budget helps seniors in many ways. Budget 2006 increased the amount of pension income that could be sheltered from income tax from $1,000 to $2,000. This measure, effective for the 2006 and subsequent taxation years, will benefit nearly 2.7 million seniors who are eligible for pension income. Furthermore, it will remove an additional 85,000 pensioners from the tax rolls.
Effective July 1, the GST will be reduced by 1%. This tax relief will help our seniors save all year round with every purchase they make.
Public transit is often the only means of transportation for seniors. Our government has eased these costs in budget 2006 by making transit passes and tickets tax deductible and making them more affordable for seniors. All transit users, including commuters, students and seniors, will qualify.
The Government of Canada continues to work in partnership with provinces, territories and many other organizations to promote the well-being of seniors, with a strong focus on cross-jurisdictional issues, such as safety and security.
In recent years, for example, elder abuse has become a priority issue for all of our governments. In fact, today is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Studies suggest that between 4% and 6% of the elderly have experienced abuse in their home and that they are also at risk in institutions, such as hospitals and nursing homes. We realize that raising public awareness is a key tool in response to this abuse and neglect in later life. In this regard, we have collaborated with our partners to develop a public education kit on elder abuse that is currently being distributed across Canada.
We are also working with provincial and territorial governments to establish elder abuse awareness days, local strategies and new legislation to further protect seniors from a crime that is all too often overlooked.
While these programs promote health and well-being, self-development and social inclusion among older Canadians, our new government also respects the rights of seniors to speak out and to influence the federal policies and practices that shape their lives and the lives of their families.
It is with that in mind that I had the opportunity last year under the direction of our Prime Minister to conduct round tables across the country in every province to get a chance to talk to seniors firsthand. One of the things that came back time and time again from seniors was that they were very appreciative of the fact that a government in waiting would take the time to talk to seniors about issues that were important to them. They said that it was seldom that they had a chance to talk about some of the issues that were important to them.
It was because of working with our colleagues across the country in various provinces that we were able to come back and make suggestions which were reflected in our campaign promises to reduce pension deductions and also establish a seniors council. These are things that were done to help build a strong foundation as we move forward on seniors issues because they are very important.
As I said, we continue to listen to these voices. They are expressed through ongoing relationships with representative groups.
In order to ensure that there is accountability for how seniors are treated and to ensure that seniors have a voice in government policy decisions, our government will appoint a national seniors council, which is, once again, one of the recommendations that came out of consultations with seniors across the country in terms of what was important to them.
The council will be made up of seniors and representatives of seniors and seniors organizations to advise the minister responsible for seniors on significant issues affecting them.
It is up to each and every one of us in the House to ensure the needs of older Canadians continue to be met. I say once again, I think so often what happens is that we take a top down approach to government. We decide that we think we know what is best. Very clearly, in establishing a seniors council, ordinary Canadians know what is important. By collaborating with them and working with them in terms of issues that are important to seniors, we can make more effective policy. We can make a larger difference in terms of the lives of seniors.
On the standing committee on human resources and social development, we have had all-party support unanimously across the board, working with the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP, to look at the issues of not only skills, the shortage of skills and mobility but older workers. I think this is an encouraging sign.
This fall we will cross the country to talk to various groups once again to find ways where we can be more effective and support seniors on some of the challenges that they have.
As we continue to consult with individuals and key stakeholders, seniors organizations and seniors themselves, I believe that over time we will continue not only to develop good policy but we will be able to do the right thing. I think that is what seniors really count on us to do. It is to do the right thing and not just to talk about doing things but actually to implement and be true to our word.
In closing, we have the duty to help and not neglect these wisdom keepers who have helped build our great country. This new government has already, in a short period of time, kept so many of its promises. It will continue to do the same thing over the course of the next weeks and months. We are certainly looking forward as a government to keeping our commitments and certainly as they relate to seniors.