House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pfos.


Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I was not expecting to hear a bunch of platitudes from the minister about what happens with seniors generally or of things that are already there. The motion states that there is a problem out there and that the problem needs to have some new thinking. We can talk about the Canada pension plan being secure for many more decades. That is wonderful. We brought that bill through, Parliament considered it and it is now on a secure footing.

However, to say that pensioners well be receiving another $1,000 tax exemption on their pension income, that is fine, but what about the seniors who do not have a pension? We are talking about responsibilities that cross jurisdictional lines, right down to the regional government levels which decide what level of social services are provided.

The whole idea here is that there is only one taxpayer but there are at least three or four levels of government that impact seniors. I do not know whether or not I have seen how the government has been responsive to the plight of seniors. The motion is a good motion in terms of debate but I am not sure how it would be implemented or how it could be costed.

Maybe the minister should have come here and said that maybe we should talk about something like a guaranteed annual income for seniors. Maybe we should talk about eliminating all these different benefits and ensure each piece of the pie is directed or redirected in a way which helps those in our society who are destitute, who do not have proper nutrition, who do not have a proper roof over their head, who do not have access to pharmacare and who may not have the home care that they require to live in dignity.

I wonder if the minister wants to reconsider his platitudes and maybe say something about how we help seniors.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the words my colleague has brought forward do not, in any shape, way or form, tell us about the actions that this government has undertaken. I expressed a few moments ago the actions this government has taken forward in the support that we accord our seniors. We firmly believe that what we are doing is the correct way of giving seniors financial support.

My colleague seems to forget that the former Liberal government's tax record on seniors is a sad story of unfair taxation, poor government policy and blunders that threatened the savings of the elderly in this country.

Let us not forget that the Liberal government repeatedly threatened during the last session to do away with the planned increase of the guaranteed income supplement in the lead up to the election even though Parliament had already passed it. It was the former government and its minister of finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard, that drastically cut payments to provinces, including cutting some $25 billion in health care.

I today stand in the House and I am very proud to be part of this side of the House that has, through our Minister of Finance, developed a series of actions that demonstratively give results.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to acknowledge the hon. member for Pontiac and ask him the following question.

In my riding, 800 to 1,000 seniors are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. I have made a point of tracking them down so that they can receive what they are rightfully owed.

What I find absurd in all of this is that these people who have built Quebec, who have paid their taxes all their lives in Quebec and Canada, do not know that these funds exist for them. These seniors are the most disadvantaged people in society.

In the last Parliament, the Bloc Québécois tabled a bill that would allow these people the retroactive guaranteed income supplement to which they are entitled.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Pontiac whether he intends to put pressure on his Conservative government and the Cabinet so that these seniors are finally granted a fully retroactive guaranteed income supplement, which is money to which they are entitled.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Like many other elected officials here in this chamber, I have taken the same action as my colleague, that is, I have gone to see the seniors in my community and suggest to them that they apply for certain programs. He has done so and it is to his credit. In my view, others should follow his example and do likewise.

As for measures that have been adopted, I repeat that we regard these as extremely important. That does not seem to have been the opinion of the Liberals, who for many years have threatened to claw back the money and even reduce transfers in health and other fields—and they did in fact reduce them. That has had major repercussions not only for seniors, but for society as a whole.

Our actions speak for themselves. These are concrete actions we have taken, which are a firm indication of the direction we are taking to assist the seniors in our community.

I was listening earlier to the hon. member from the NDP telling us about the commitments of a government, of any government, to assist seniors. I will cite here an example from the Société de transport de l'Outaouais. I recall that, not long ago, we put in place, as did the nine other transportation corporations in Quebec, measures designed in particular to—

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I apologize for interrupting the minister, but the time allotted for questions and comments has expired.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook has the floor.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

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.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, my question will focus on the issue of our cities. I probably missed my opportunity with the previous speaker to put this more plainly.

The infrastructure program created by the Liberal Party, with some very good help from the leader of the NDP in a former life, was completely ignored, downplayed and not re-fulfilled. The minister has to read his own budget to see this was ignored.

As my friend opposite knows, many of our seniors are dependent on fixed incomes. Many of them live in cities and are faced with rising property taxes, water charges, sewer charges, and so on, and these charges continue to grow while aging infrastructures are not being improved.

The Conservative government has abandoned the idea of dealing with cities as entities and dealing with them as equal partners at the table. I want to know what the member thinks, without too much prompting, about the future of our Canadian cities as it relates to the fixed costs that seniors have with respect to houses that they own and have paid for in our communities.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, a number of different issues are challenging our seniors today, one being the rise in their property taxes. A lot of different factors affect their quality of life. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has endorsed us overwhelmingly for our plan and for what we are going to contribute back to municipalities.

Dealing with seniors issues involves dealing with them at different levels. What do seniors get to keep at the end of the day? How much of their hard earned dollars are they able to actually keep in their pockets?

We started to address this issue by raising the pension deduction amount so seniors could keep more of their hard earned dollars. They have worked very hard. They have helped to build this country. We need to ensure that in their retirement years seniors are able to keep more of their hard earned dollars and I believe the pension deduction is one good way to start this process.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked to put my question to the hon. minister who spoke immediately before my colleague. However, I will put it to the member who just spoke.

The minister was telling us earlier that the federal government spends $51.6 a year on pension and old age security programs. It seems to me that the government is doing very well out of this.

The hours of volunteer work done by seniors in a year are worth $60 billion. They do volunteer work so that the provincial governments are able to make ends meet. Because of the transfer cutbacks, governments no longer have the resources to pay for the helpers who are needed in hospitals, child care centres, everywhere that people are needed. That includes community organizations that help poor people, the homeless and single mothers, and food banks.

To give $51.6 billion to people who have given their lives to the country does not impress me at all.

However, I would like someone to explain to me why we do not give more consideration to these seniors, when we know that the poverty line has been set at $17,000, and the guaranteed income supplement and old age pension amount to $12,900 a year. That is below the poverty line. Earlier, there was back-patting going on about how the exemption for seniors’ income had been doubled, to $2,000 a year, so that a million and some hundred thousand seniors would no longer pay income tax. The reason they no longer have to pay tax is that they are very poor.

How can anyone smile while saying such things? I would like the member to explain this to me.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the comments my hon. colleague made was about the great contribution that our seniors make in terms of volunteerism in our communities. I would like to thank her for raising that and it just compliments seniors on the kind of work they contribute to in our communities. We all realize that without that kind of work and the kind of volunteerism that our seniors provide in our communities, we would be worse off as individuals and communities as a result.

My hon. colleague also talked about cuts in transfer payments. I recognize that as well. We realize that through the Liberal government in the past, billions of dollars were cut out of social transfers to the tune of $25 billion over the last 10 years. We certainly recognize that and I believe that our government, as a result, will continue to ensure the provinces have enough money to look at those things. We recognize that there is a fiscal imbalance and we will work with the provinces to address that issue.

We also realize that the provinces will need not only money for education but for hospitals and all these other things that in recent years were cut back so dramatically.

We recognize the fact that seniors contribute a tremendous amount to our communities and we need to continue to recognize that contribution. We need to recognize the fact that seniors do a great job in our communities and also help make our communities better places in which to live.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on a motion introduced by the New Democratic Party about the fundamental rights of our seniors, the right to dignity, to respect and to security.

I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

I would first like to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain for her excellent work.

She has brought forward a very comprehensive and very detailed motion.

The NDP has of course long been an advocate for our seniors, the people who built this country. We only have to recall such members of Parliament as Stanley Knowles to recall the tireless advocacy on behalf of seniors in this country.

We saw another example in Nova Scotia just days ago, when NDP leader Darrell Dexter made seniors issues a top priority for our party in that election, as he had done in the previous election where he forced the Conservative government, in a minority context, to remove an insidious provision that penalized seniors who needed access to medications but who were living in homes that provided support.

I am pleased to say that there was an improvement in that situation, very much honouring the commitment made by New Democrats, and I hope that same scenario will play out in Nova Scotia as a result of the recent election there.

We believe that at the federal level what is needed is the adoption of a seniors charter. That charter would include provisions for income security for seniors, for housing, wellness, health care, self-development and proper government services. We believe that such a charter would be a major step in recognizing the needs of our aging population and setting up a framework for action.

I will not develop all of these six aspects, as many of my colleagues have actually spoken at length about their importance in this debate, but let me say that action is needed now, because when it comes to seniors, it is the sad fact that time is a key factor. While we twiddle our thumbs as governments, as Parliaments, and simply talk about an issue but do not act on it, these seniors are aging in place. Some of them never end up with the opportunity to access the very things that we spend time talking about.

Here is an opportunity to move quickly on some key issues facing seniors. I hope the House will embrace it in that spirit. All too often, I find that politicians, and I think we can share this collectively, do not act out of a sense of urgency when we need to. There is a 10 year plan here and a 20 year plan there, but when it comes to coming to grips with the fact that many of our seniors need action now, we stand back. But they cannot afford to wait. They are making decisions each and every day that are very painful.

I know that many hon. members are aware that too many seniors are dealing with an affordable housing crisis. They simply cannot afford the housing they are in. When we talk to them about it, when we speak to them about how they are paying 80% of their meagre incomes just to keep their homes or pay their rents, so often they will say to me, “Oh well, Jack, it's not that bad”. They say they will just cut back on some of the basics and they will get by. They say that the food bank is very helpful. The idea that seniors have to go to a food bank after they have spent their whole lives building this country should be a national shame. It is a national shame.

We need to build affordable housing. That is provided for as a fundamental in the charter.

As well, of course, they cannot afford to wait for a health care system that takes care of them adequately. Time is passing. They cannot afford the cost of drugs and dental care, which too often are put aside by seniors because they simply have to manage their weekly groceries.

We have heard from doctors. We have heard from seniors themselves. How many have we heard from who have said they know the doctor wanted them to take a particular prescription, but it is not covered by any plan they have access to and they just cannot afford it. “We'll get by,” they say. They should not have to be making those kinds of decisions.

When Tommy Douglas talked about medicare in the 1950s and early 1960s, including in this place in the 1960s, he always spoke about how pharmacare ultimately had to become a part of a medicare system. It is so fundamental now to the health that we pursue with the medical profession. I have talked to seniors who have had to literally make the choice between medication their doctor told them they should have, which would reduce their pain, increase their mobility and could prolong their lives, and food, which their doctor of course also recommends that they eat because they have to eat well.

Making that kind of choice is something that no senior in this country, as affluent as we are, as blessed as we are, should ever have to make, particularly when we consider that seniors made sure that our basic needs were met throughout their entire lives.

Here is an opportunity for us to say that right across the country no seniors should ever find themselves in a situation where they are having to choose between food and dental care, or food and drugs.

Dental care is something I came to know quite a bit about when I was in municipal government and chaired our board of health. We were providing a certain kind of dental assistance to students in the schools right across the city. Many of them had plans, though, and what we focused on was the need for seniors, no matter who they were, no matter what income they had, to be able to go to a clinic and get access to dental care. We put that in place. I know there are some other hon. members here who were on council at the time we discussed these matters. It now is in place for the entire large megacity of Toronto.

The numbers of seniors I have talked with who said that the ability to get some basic dental care has improved the quality of their life in their senior years so much has underlined to me that this is something we should be ensuring for every senior in Canada, no matter where they live and no matter what their income might be. Self-esteem and general health are fundamentally affected by dental care, so I am particularly thrilled that in this proposed motion there is a concept of ensuring that dental care, as well as drugs, is available to all seniors.

Today, more than 250,000 seniors are living below the poverty line. This is truly scandalous. Women make up a large proportion of this group, their retirement income being lower because of the wage gap between women and men, and because pension schemes do not make up for time taken off work to rear children or care for family members who are ill, something that, obviously, is usually done by women.

Adopting this charter would provide the federal government with a clear framework for action to assist our seniors. Obviously, however, some things have to be done in cooperation with the provinces. This is important, and it is possible. For example, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan operate very well side by side. We can use that approach for measures that are included today in our seniors charter.

The NDP believes that flexibility should be a key element of any action taken by the federal government. This is fundamental. The idea is not to create duplication. On the contrary, the idea is to help the provinces, including Quebec, that have programs of particular importance for seniors, such as drug plans, for example.

The federal government has the funds that are needed to help the province strengthen those programs. We can also help the other provinces to create these programs.

Finally, our motion also calls for the creation of a seniors advocate. The Conservatives have not appointed a minister to be at the table and be specifically responsible for seniors. I think that is unfortunate, but now it is up to Parliament to take a proactive step. We can do that.

We believe it is essential that the charter be brought to life by an advocate. This person would report every year to the House and could make recommendations about the efficiency and effectiveness of all federal government programs with respect to seniors and their special needs.

I urge all members of the House to support our motion. Our seniors have worked hard enough for all of us for so many years. They deserve our support. It is time that Parliament stood up for them.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to ask the leader of the NDP a question about seniors' incomes. One of the major proposals that has arisen from numerous seniors' groups to increase their take home pay, particularly that of married, middle class seniors, is to give them fair tax treatment.

Right now any family, young or old, that has a single income is taxed at a disproportionately higher rate than those that have a dual income. For example, a retired couple with $60,000 in income earned by one of the retirees pays a much higher rate of taxation than the family next door with two incomes of $30,000.

One way to resolve this unfairness in our tax system would be to allow for income tax splitting, thus allowing the two people to split their incomes and therefore allow their rate to be lowered. I wonder what the hon. member thinks of that policy proposal.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that the priority in our proposals before us today really focuses on those seniors who at the moment are not paying tax because their incomes are so low.

As has been mentioned by some of the other members in the House, we have a shocking situation right now regarding seniors with very, very low incomes, particularly women, and particularly single women who have lost their husbands or are on their own. They have had a lifetime of lower salaries. For some there probably would have been a period of time when they could not be in the workforce so they could raise all of us. The net result is that their incomes are dramatically below the poverty line, a line that we have established is fundamental for basic needs. Even through our own government support programs, if that is what they have to rely on, we do not provide our seniors with enough to reach the poverty line, far from it.

Therefore, I have to say that if we are to make an expenditure or a tax expenditure, our focus would be very much on those very low income seniors who so many of us know are struggling just to get by. That would be the priority.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a preamble to my question, I would like to say that having worked with the member, I have no doubt with respect to the sincerity with which he has articulated his principles and the principles that are driving the motion.

However, I have to ask the member a question. In his role as the leader of the New Democratic Party, he was able to create a budget amendment in the last government that covered $5 billion in everything from the environment to social programs. However, in this particular budget of the government, and given the linchpin importance of the New Democratic Party, is there anything in the government's budget that is serving seniors and that the hon. member can honestly stand up and take credit for?

Having said that, acknowledging that the taxing approach taken in that budget in fact attacks the lowest income earners, with respect to seniors, I would like the member to outline, if he could, how close he thinks he can get to those principles that were entrenched in the New Democratic platform, which talked about 10,000 additional long term spaces, $1 billion annually for home care services and a national prescription drug plan, given that the senior secretariat was dismantled by the government.

How optimistic is he that--

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did have the opportunity to work with the hon. member in municipal government back in the days when, at the municipal level with our meagre resources, we were trying to create some assistance for seniors, particularly with dental care. I appreciated that we were able to work together at that time.

When it comes to the budget of the Conservative government, when the opportunity came to stand and express our views on that budget, our party stood opposed to the budget because it did not meet the tests that we would have established for it. We did not find willingness on the part of the governing party to entertain our ideas. We did not find it with the previous government either until a late stage, but we will not go back into history. We were happy that ultimately we were able to have some useful impact.

We are trying to do it again. This time we are doing it with the concept of a seniors charter that lays out certain principles. If it is adopted by the House, it can then become the measuring stick that we all use to see how all of us here in this place are serving and honouring our seniors with the things they need.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Ahuntsic, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Malpeque, Agriculture.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the NDP motion on a seniors charter for Canadians. I would like to thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for sharing this speaking spot with me. I would also like to thank the member for Hamilton Mountain for her excellent work on this very important motion.

I want to focus on a small but growing group of Canadian seniors, first nations, Métis and Inuit elders. We usually think of the population of Canada's aboriginal peoples as being overwhelmingly young. Although this is true, the life expectancy of first nations and Inuit, in particular, is increasing, even though it is still far beyond the average Canadian life expectancy.

In the next 15 years 57,000 more first nations members will be aged 65 and older and the Inuit population over 65 is increasing at three times the rate of the general Canadian seniors population.

In aboriginal communities elders are regarded as important, productive and creative members of their society. They are essential to the survival of language and culture in their communities.

The problems affecting seniors in the general Canadian population are far worse for first nations, Métis and Inuit elders. For example, the average income for aboriginal elders is between $5,000 and $15,000. This is well below the poverty line and is a shocking number today in Canada. Elders also have lack of access to secure housing.

Many of these problems arise from disputes over jurisdictional authority, disputes between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and no one often claims responsibility for fixing these problems.

Even within the federal government, the departments often do not coordinate their responses. For example, the Auditor General recently reported that mould in housing was an example of where the federal government took take responsibility for the problem. Long term care is an area where the provincial government has responsibility and Indian and Northern Affairs has no mandate to provide it on reserves.

I want to talk about a specific case as an illustration of this, the Anishnabe Long Term Care Centre at Timiskaming, Quebec. In this care facility there are approximately two dozen elders, all of whom cannot stay in their own homes any longer. Without the Anishnabe, these elders would have to go to provincially run long term care centres in surrounding communities where French is the operating language. Yet most of these elders speak either Cree or English.

There is a need for the federal government to step up with its provincial partners to provide the range of care facilities that is required. In this context I want to reference the Assembly of First Nations action plan on continuing care. It talks about some elements that are critical to looking at continuing care. Its vision is to provide a holistic continuum of continuing care services, ranging from home support to higher levels of care under first nations control, reflecting the unique health and social needs of first nations. Services are comprehensive, culturally appropriate, accessible, effective and equitable to those accessed by Canadian citizens.

That is specifically dealing with first nations, but I would argue that Inuit, Métis and other aboriginal people should have access to services that are culturally appropriate.

There are also other critical issues impacting on the health of elders. For example, epidemics such as diabetes mean more first nations, Métis and Inuit elders live in poor health longer than the general Canadian population. More and more these elders will need options that will keep them in their community where the care is culturally appropriate and in their own language, without fighting through multiple layers of bureaucracy.

I want to move to another topic in terms of mental health. A recent Senate report on mental health referred specifically to these inter-jurisdictional problems to which I have already referred. I will quote from the report on the confusion around responsibility. A seniors advocate, as proposed in our motion, would focus on this kind of inefficiency. It states:

The federal government has had ample time to clarify its own role and responsibilities through legislation and to develop policies to reduce interdepartmental confusion. It is time to take significant steps to rectify the interdepartmental fragmentation that contributes to the overall poor health status of First Nations and Inuit.

In addition, the legacy of residential schools also leaves elders with greater mental and physical health burdens than the average population for seniors. The Senate report on Mental Health indicates:

Inuit reviewing the Aboriginal Healing Foundation program see the need to expand it, to have it not only focus on residential schools and the negative impact of those schools relating to abuse but also the negative impact relating to language loss, cultural loss and the loss of parenting skills.

I want to speak specifically on access to government services. The first nations action plan on continuing care looks at the continuum of care for elders and highlights two important areas: the need for culturally appropriate services; and health and human resources training and capacity development.

For elders whose first language may not be one of Canada's official languages, finding care givers who can provide the specialized care in their own language is a real challenge, even for home care services; that is, even if elders have access to secure housing.

Aboriginal peoples in Canada face a huge housing shortage. The Senate report on Mental Health described the effect this housing shortage has on families. It stated:

In many regions, housing shortages have reached crisis proportions in our area. The mental impact on families so crowded that people must sleep on the floors and in shifts cannot be underestimated in our region. Homeless people drift from relative to relative to find a spot for the night.

That kind of overcrowded housing on reserves and lack of affordable housing off reserves means that many elders living in poverty do not have secure shelter. Again, from the Senate report on Mental Health, it stated:

Poverty, crime, violence, addictions, all categories of abuse, overcrowded housing, alienation, abandonment and suicide are all connected to mental and physical well-being. That interconnectivity of mental health issues is often forgotten

We would expect in this day and age that seniors, that elders in communities are given the respect that is their due. They have served their communities for decades. They have contributed in first nations communities and Inuit and Métis communities. They have contributed to the ongoing survival of the culture and of the language. They have provided guidance and teaching to the youth and others. In their declining years, we would expect that they would not have to worry about having enough to eat or having a decent place to live.

It is a shameful comment that in this day and age we are having to have this discussion.

I want to end my speech by returning to our motion and saying, again, how important it will be to have these rights enshrined in a charter to protect elders, to provide for elders and to celebrate elders and their achievements.

I urge all members of the House to join with the NDP to ensure that we have a seniors charter, to ensure that we enshrine those fundamental elements in a charter that say: yes, elders are an important part of our community; yes, we respect the work that they have done; and, yes, they deserve to live their declining years without any worries around those essential quality of life elements that so many of us take for granted.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan


Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the NDP into NDP land, which is Saskatchewan. The reason we have so many Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan in the House is because seniors see that the policies of the NDP do nothing but cause their children to leave the province. Seniors in our province want their kids home. That is the first thing.

The second thing is our criminal justice policy. They want to be safe in their homes. The NDP policies simply do not work. People do not feel safe in their homes. There are home invasions. We have among the highest criminal rates in Canada.

The other problem that has arisen with the NDP is high taxation. That is why we welcome the 1% reduction in the GST. In our province GST is charged on PST, so things like telephone bills and others will benefit from our GST policy. Our five priorities went over well in Saskatchewan.

Although it is an interesting and lofty motion, and there is need to address seniors' needs, did the NDP go through the consultations we did? To be in the jurisdiction of the province to the point of dental and health benefits, I am a little concerned whether we could ever meet what this NDP motion asks.

I also would like to make a correction on the cancellation of the secretariat, which I have been hearing all afternoon. I am tired of hearing about it. We did not cancel the secretariat, which has been so widely proclaimed from the other side of the House.

Perhaps the NDP should think about consulting the provinces a little more before it puts a motion like this before the House. Then they should all come to Saskatchewan for a day and see our seniors. Because of the health districts amalgamating, if seniors have to go into a senior citizen's home or if they have to go for any kind of long term care, they are shipped across the health district.

These are 70, 80 and 90 year old people. They cannot stay in their home communities. There is no respite, no home care for them. This all has to do with provincial jurisdiction, which has not been delivered very well in the province of Saskatchewan, a supposedly rich province. We have both uranium and oil. However, we have an NDP government discouraging that and people are moving out of the province. We have a declining population. We are one of two provinces experiencing this.

I would like the NDP to think about some of their promises, on which they will be unable to deliver.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there was so much in that question, it is a challenge to answer it in the brief time I have available.

First, I would like to indicate to the member that we did extensive consultations from coast to coast to coast. We heard from seniors and senior advocates. We talked to some of our provincial counterparts about the importance of this issue. I believe the motion has been amended to talk about working with the provinces so we can work with our colleagues at various levels of government to ensure the services being provided are the services that are needed.

There are a couple of key points. First, people leaving a province points to the failure of developing an industrial strategy that addresses some of these critical issues in various provinces, in rural and remote areas as well. On criminal justice, it is one thing to talk about locking people up, but we also need to talk about prevention. We need adequate housing and adequate educational and social services programs to address some of the issues that are underlying some of the problems with the criminal justice system.

One of the things we never do is talk about how much it costs the system when we do not do something, when we do not have adequate programs in place for seniors. We are not talking about the cost of the health care system. We are not talking about the cost of the social services system. We are not talking about the cost of the justice system. When we do not factor those costs in, we do not get a true accounting of how a charter like this could be of benefit to seniors.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 15th, 2006 / 5:05 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this motion by the New Democratic Party.

For many years, the New Democratic Party has made a point of making similar proposals designed to centralize decision making in Ottawa, whereas all social programs come under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. This is a commendable motion. Unfortunately, though, with this motion, the NDP is recommending interfering in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.

I would remind this House, as I said earlier and as I am wont to repeat, that health, education, social programs and income security are responsibilities of Quebec and the provinces. Since the early 1970s, Quebec has been asking that income security be managed by the Government of Quebec itself. In December 1995, the former Quebec finance minister said as follows:

Quebec considers the current federal funding framework for social programs unacceptable. It calls on the federal government to withdraw from funding social programs and to transfer to Quebec the tax points it uses to fund its initiatives in this area. This request is a concrete response to the problem of ongoing cuts in federal transfers.

All governments in Quebec, sovereignists or not, have always fought to preserve these jurisdictions, because we in Quebec are quite capable of making our own collective choices based on priorities which are different from the other provinces.

The Conservatives are great defenders of the industry knows best principle, while Liberals and the NDP defend the Ottawa knows best principle. We in the Bloc Québécois believe that Quebec and the provinces can do better, provided that they have the necessary resources.

I should point out that I will be sharing my speaking time with the distinguished member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

In fact, I think that, before going down the road of invading the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, the NDP should deal with problems that fall under federal jurisdiction, as the Bloc Québécois does. A case in point is the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.

The federal government has unfairly deprived, and still does, many Quebeckers among the most vulnerable of our society of substantial income that is owed to them.

In December 2001, the report on the guaranteed income supplement was published by the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons. It stated that more than 270,000 Canadians, 68,000 Quebeckers, and nearly 1,100 people in my riding of Gatineau were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, but were not receiving anything from the federal government.

During the 38th Parliament, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-301 to ensure full retroactivity for those who had been fleeced out of the guaranteed income supplement, instead of the retroactive payments currently limited to 11 months by the federal government.

I personally made this issue a priority in the last election campaign, but my Liberal, Conservative and NDP opponents in Gatineau never agreed to debate this issue with the Bloc. In fact, I made a commitment to the people of my riding to facilitate access for seniors eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

The very next day—I made this announcement just recently—several people from the Outaouais region contacted either my constituency office or my office on the Hill. These were people from Gatineau, as well as from the ridings of Hull—Aylmer and Pontiac.

They were surprised that a member of Parliament was trying to help them. This speaks volumes about what they were used to, and still are used to, unfortunately, from the federalist MPs from the Outaouais.

At the Bloc Québécois, we know full well that it is the role of the member of Parliament to take steps on behalf of the public. We are elected by people in order to help them improve their living conditions and that includes seniors, as hon. members will agree.

I want to acknowledge the excellent work of an intern in my constituency office who helped us a great deal on this issue. I am talking about Marie-Pierre Baron-Courcy, a young political science student. She helped out by contacting all the players who work with or for seniors in the Gatineau riding, for example, senior citizens clubs, the regional Fédération de l'âge d'or du Québec group in my riding, soup kitchens. The purpose of this initiative was to find low-income seniors who were unfortunately unfamiliar with the program because the federal government had not done its job, which is to ensure that every senior, especially the least fortunate, knows about this program. I want to thank her because her efforts and her youthful enthusiasm showed us that this service to the people who built Quebec, to these people who paid taxes to Quebec and Canada their entire lives, could provide them with the help they are entitled to.

I will vote against this motion. As I said, overall it is worthy. However, it does not meet certain criteria that apply in this country. I reject the NDP motion on the grounds that it interferes with Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I am surprised by the NDP's approach, which yet again, despite honourable intentions, fails to recognize the existence of distinct areas of jurisdiction.

We would have rather seen the NDP address an issue that came up in debates in this House: the guaranteed income supplement. We did mention that.

Members of our party also talked about POWA, the program for older worker adjustment, which is a focal point of the Bloc Québécois' demands. Established in 1988, this program enabled eligible workers between the ages of 55 and 64 who lost their jobs because of major permanent layoffs to receive benefits. The program ended on March 31, 1997, under the Liberals, and has not been reintroduced since.

Since the program for older worker adjustment disappeared in March 1997, there has been no income support program specifically for older workers who lose their jobs because of mass layoffs or business closures. This often happens in single-industry areas. Often, both parents in one family work in these factories and suddenly find themselves with no income and no help for either one of them. That is shameful.

I hope that my statement will be seen as a message that the Bloc Québécois wants to help older people and does help them. If the NDP also wants to send a good message, it will join the Bloc Québécois in demanding increased federal transfer payments and the resolution of the fiscal imbalance. That would enable the provinces to make their own choices and, if they wish, set up a social system like Quebec's, which is a world-class model.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the member for Gatineau on his speech. It shows us that there is no longer a party in this House that can truly and constantly defend the interests of Quebec and respect for its areas of jurisdiction.

Clearly the proposal by the NDP, which once again is very centralizing, does not respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. As for the Liberal Party, we have had 13 years of their arrogance with respect to Quebec's jurisdiction. They did not even wanted to acknowledge the existence of a fiscal imbalance. Furthermore, we have a Conservative government that promised a different vision, but we have seen very quickly that old habits die hard, with interference in issues under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. There is talk of creating a Canadian securities commission, as well as establishing clauses, obligations to produce results in order to settle the issue of the fiscal imbalance.

This kind of decision comes up all the time. Actually there is no longer, in this Parliament or in Canada, a truly federalist party that believes provincial jurisdictions should be respected. There are only centralizing parties.

I would like to ask my colleague from Gatineau what option remains for Quebeckers who do not share this vision of Canada, among Quebec’s federalists. What could the Quebec people do then with a view to being able to make its own decisions and to take control of its destiny ultimately?

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all to say it is a confederation is completely false. It is a federation. If it were a confederation, we would have an entity comprised of sovereign states, with each of these states having its own sovereignty and governing itself as it wishes, while having looser agreements with their partners.

In the present federation, where everyone is deemed equal, some are more equal than others. The Canadian government, when created, gave to the provinces powers that were the equivalent of municipal powers and retained the rest. Consequently, whatever did not exist in 1867 automatically falls under federal authority.

In provinces other than Quebec, for example, French schools and services for seniors have been done away with. In Ontario, in the 1990s, they even tried to close the Montfort hospital. The Speaker is very familiar with this situation as he comes from that area. At the time, the federal government said that it was a provincial matter and that it would not get involved, and that it thought that was too bad. All this was permitted in order to walk all over the French fact in this country called Canada.

Thus, we find ourselves with a centralist country. Social services, income—the right to a decent income—education and everything to do with health, are all provincial jurisdictions and represent the greatest costs for society. It is the provinces that assume these expenses and the federal government that has the money. Because of how power has been centralized, the money does not flow to the provinces.

In Quebec, because of our community spirit, we have built a society with models in order to ensure that we can meet the needs of our citizens, despite the federal government. Thank God that we have a distinct territory, a distinct state, a distinct language and a distinct culture. Only the Government of Canada does not recognize the distinct society of Quebec. Well, it is not complicated. We will soon have our country, my friends.

Until that time, we will ensure that every cent that is added to the federal piggy bank is returned to us, Quebeckers—that our invested share is paid back. That could be in a regional debate in which the Outaouais is entitled to 25% of jobs and federal offices, and to everything that is owed to us. Similarly, Quebec is entitled to take back what it has coming via the current tax system, since it is contributing.

Therefore, in the current debate on social services, we would like to demonstrate, once again, that in those areas where we have developed social projects that are important for our population, the money that is in Ottawa must be returned to Quebec for the projects we have implemented, in the spirit of cooperation. However, Canada has never really understood this, because cooperation means cooperation for Canada. This has never been done in terms of the needs expressed by Quebeckers. Quebec is not better than Canada, but it is certainly not worse. It wants the same.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your close attention, as I know you are a proud Franco-Ontarian. You fully understand that it is in Quebec that we will finally achieve respect for the French fact in all of North America. There will be a French-speaking country in North America.

For those who believe that Canada still has some element of the French fact, there will be two such elements: Quebec and Canada. It is in this spirit, in a debate such as this one, that we would like to share with the rest of the country our way of doing things in Quebec, to serve as a model.

Take, for example, the Quebec model for day care. The Conservatives sabotaged it, which is unfortunate. There are even Quebeckers in this government who sabotaged it because they no longer have the interest needed for this file. That is their problem. Later, they will have to answer to their constituents.

Thus, we want our fair share, no more, no less, and we will fight tooth and nail to make it happen.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Marcel Lussier Bloc Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to the question of senior citizens. The matter of their low income has often been raised in the last election campaigns.

It was noted that about 60,000 people who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement were misinformed about their rights. I would like to ask my colleague from Gatineau what he thinks of the retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement to which senior citizens are entitled.

Opposition Motion--SeniorsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, during the 38th Parliament, in the dying days of the crumbling Liberal government, the issue of the guaranteed income supplement, and retroactive payments to seniors in particular, could have been resolved. Had the Liberals agreed to what was put forward at third reading, the guaranteed income supplement and retroactive payments would no longer be a topic of discussion.

The federal government would have made sure that all low income seniors, the most disadvantaged in our society, automatically receive what they have been rightfully entitled to from age 65 on. For them, this would have meant between a few dollars and $6,000 more a year, depending on the individual case.

Canada has a social insurance number system. Canada has an income tax system. Canada can trace someone wherever they are, but it fails to inform the poorest of society, namely seniors, of their eligibility for the guaranteed income supplement.

Those who found out too late should receive payments retroactive to age 65. This is outrageous. I know that you agree with me, Mr. Speaker. It makes no sense to treat people this way in a G-8 country which claims to be industrially advanced, a country with universities and a system that recognizes the importance of individuals.

The Bloc Québécois will pursue its efforts. Until such time as every last cent has been paid back to seniors and seniors have the money in their pockets, we will keep bringing the facts up and working to ensure that these people can get back what is rightfully theirs.