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House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

International Bridges and Tunnels ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

International Bridges and Tunnels ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.

Medicine Hat Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Social Development

moved that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today in my new role for the first time to talk to Bill C-36, a bill that proposes amendments to two of our foundational social programs, the Canada pension plan and old age security.

At the very outset, I want to begin by thanking the opposition parties for their support for the legislation. I think it enjoys broad support because it really does strengthen both the Canada pension plan, through improvements to allow people to get their disability pension, and old age security, through improvements so people will automatically receive guaranteed income supplement as their income rises and falls. I will say more to that in just a moment.

This is part of a larger agenda the government has to affirm our support for the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. These are extraordinarily important parts of Canada's social safety net. Even more to the point, they really do in a way show our government's commitment to seniors and our determination to ensure we do everything we possibly can to stand up for Canadian seniors who have done so much to build our country.

It is no exaggeration to say that because of the efforts of those who have gone before us we stand today in this great chamber. This country is built on a tradition of supporting human rights and democracy and ensuring we do everything we can so all Canadians get a fair shake, that they get an opportunity. For those people who, for whatever reason, can no longer participate in the labour force, they will still enjoy some support from the government and will have a decent standard of living.

I think fair-minded members on all sides of the House understand the importance of those kinds of social programs, and that is certainly true of the new government and the Prime Minister as well. In fact, the Prime Minister has gone to some lengths to underline his support for seniors by appointing a new secretary of state for seniors, Senator Marjorie LeBreton. I am thrilled to be working with her as she works with seniors, listens to their concerns and finds ways to support the programs that serve them.

Before we get into the actual amendments, it is important to point out just how important these programs are. The Canada pension plan today serves three million Canadians. It is one of the cornerstones of our social programming for seniors. The old age security goes to four million Canadians. The guaranteed income supplement goes to 1.5 million low income seniors, who are mostly women.

The Canada pension plan and old age security pays out $50 billion a year. GIS pays out $6.2 billion a year. We understand, as Canada's new government, how important those programs are. We want to build on those programs, make them better and make them stronger so we have them today and in the future. In fact, as I speak of the future, I need to point out that we are facing some big challenges as we go forward today. Roughly 12% of Canadians are seniors. In 25 years those numbers will double. It is very important that we have strong and sustainable social programs going forward.

The point of the amendments today are twofold. We want to modernize and streamline how benefits are delivered, and that really brings me to the first amendment.

The amendment has to do with changing the rules surrounding old age security so when seniors apply for it, they will only ever have to apply once in their life and at the same time will automatically receive the guaranteed income supplement if their income warrants it.

These amendments will change the rules so in the future we will take tax information from peoples' tax forms and use that to help us determine who should get guaranteed income supplement.

Today it works this way. If seniors are a recipient of the guaranteed income supplement and all of a sudden their income rises, making them ineligible for guaranteed income supplement in the following year, they will then have to reapply the year after to qualify if their income falls again.

These changes, supported by my friends in the opposition, will end that, and that is important. Seniors have more important things to do than spend a lot of time filling out paperwork to reapply. In some cases the sad fact is that people do not reapply and do not receive benefits for which they are eligible. These changes will largely end that. It will mean that seniors will automatically requalify should their income fall below that threshold according to their tax information. This is extraordinarily important. This really modernizes an important piece of legislation.

The government acknowledges as well that not everyone fills out a tax form every year. We will continue to do the outreach we are vigorously doing today to ensure that seniors are aware of these programs and that they understand how they work so if they do qualify and have not filled out a tax form, they can still get the guaranteed income supplement.

The other amendment that is very important has to do with the disability portion of Canada pension plan. As we know, the Canada pension plan, through the disability portion, provides thousands and thousands of disabled Canadians with an income supplement, which is critical for them to manage and maintain a lifestyle. The changes that we are proposing in the legislation will make it easier for disabled Canadians to qualify for Canada pension plan disability. As the rule stands today, we have to be contributors for four of the last six years we pay into CPP before our disability makes us unemployable and takes us out of the labour force.

We propose to change that from four years to three years. We project this will bring another 3,700 people into eligibility for Canada pension plan disability by the year of 2010, plus another 1,000 of their children, according to the data we have at present. This will ensure that more people, who cannot qualify because they have been knocked out of the workforce early by their conditions, will now be able to receive this important disability pension. This is a very important step. It demonstrates that Canada's new government is committed to helping people with disabilities.

Not long ago I was in Vancouver where I sought a meeting with Rick Hansen, who is a well known advocate on behalf of disabled Canadians. He was first made famous as the “Man in Motion” when he travelled the world in his wheelchair to draw attention to the devastating impact of spinal injuries. He has since established a foundation and has become a tremendous spokesman and an inspiration for people around the world on issues of disability. He is doing a tremendous job of drawing attention to these issues. He gave me great insight into the challenges that people in the disabled community face, and we will use those to help us guide our government as we move forward.

As someone who represents the community of Medicine Hat, which has twice as many seniors as the national average, I understand the challenges that seniors face. I think all members understand that and appreciate the contributions that the seniors who have gone before us have made. Many of today's seniors are people who have gone through the Great Depression, the second world war, Korea and the social unrest of the 1960s. They have seen and done a lot of things. They have raised families. In many cases they have gone without so their families could have a higher standard of living and a chance to have an education. We really do owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Bill C-36 underlines the importance that the government places on recognizing the contributions of seniors. That along with some of the other steps we have taken to raise the age credit, to allow pension income splitting, to cut the GST are all indications of how important we see the role of seniors in society today. We want to recognize them with this important legislation.

I thank members on all sides for their support of the legislation. I commend the legislation to the House and trust that it will pass quickly so we can deliver these important changes to seniors and to the disabled as soon as possible.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, we share in my colleague's, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, recognition of the contribution of the seniors who have, as he has pointed out, played a significant part in the history and the development of Canadian society. They did this at a time when we had many challenges, not only on a global scale, but internationally.

Could he let us know a bit more about how those seniors who worked very hard as individuals, as families, as parents, contributing not only to the next generation but to our country? We have to ensure that tradition is passed on to this generation and the next generation.

Maybe the minister could give us a little more information, fill in a little more about how, as baby boomers move on to become seniors, that will benefit all Canadians?

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I state the obvious when I say the contribution of seniors is extraordinarily important, but maybe it is so obvious that sometimes we take it for granted.

We live in the best country in the world. That did not happen by accident. Many countries in the world have a wealth of natural resources, just like this country does. Many countries have enjoyed relative periods of peace, but not every country enjoys the standard of living that this country enjoys. Not every country enjoys a commitment to human rights, democracy and ensuring that we look after our neighbours, like this country does. That reflects the values of the people who went before us. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Any time we make a contribution today to making things better in this world it is because we build on the foundation laid down by the generation that has gone before us.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would not like this question and comment period to be solely for friends of the government and government members. That is why it is important that members of the opposition be able to put other questions to the minister concerned.

For the moment, I would like to draw the minister’s attention to a subject that is very important for the people of Quebec and for seniors throughout Canada. I refer to the guaranteed income supplement. Unfortunately, a great deal of money has been, I would dare to say, withheld and in the end these people have not seen a single penny of this money. But they were entitled to it. Now, I believe that they deserve some social justice. These people who are hard up, who need this money, deserve to recover that money that quite simply passed under their noses.

I would like the new minister responsible for this matter to tell us what he intends to do about the error that was made concerning seniors and the guaranteed income supplement.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, obviously some of the things that have occurred in the past are part of what motivates the legislation. The legislation is really designed to do everything we can to ensure that people who qualify and are entitled to guaranteed income supplement automatically get it.

This will not fix every possible situation where people are entitled to it and do not get it. However, we are taking the most important step we can to reach as many seniors as possible so we do not leave anyone behind who does qualify according to income, but yet, because they are not aware of it, do not apply. This is an important change that starts to address some of my friend's concerns.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, one of the advantages of being here for a while is that we get to hear people when they were in different positions in the House of Commons.

I remember when the Reform Party's environment critic said that global warming was a myth. I remember its agriculture critic saying that marketing boards were not a good system for the markets and that we needed to get rid of marketing boards. Those two things have now changed.

I also remember hearing that particular minister, when he was the finance critic for the Reform Party, talking about the Canada pension plan and how it needed to be radically changed or eliminated and maybe let the people use the money they invest in the Canada pension plan in a private RRSP.

Now I hear the minister, on his road to Damascus, saying that the Canada pension plan is a very important vehicle for seniors. I congratulate him for that because he is absolutely correct.

Last year Statistics Canada made an error in calculating the certain percentage of CPP compared to OAS. Many people have been asking whether the government will correct that error and allow the certain percentage of CPP-OAS contributions to increase more than the 0.5% they have received, in fact the 1.5% to the 2% that they have been asking for, which is the correct Statistics Canada figure.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government commitment was to increase these amounts according to the published inflation numbers from Statistics Canada, which is what we have done.

However this government has moved in other ways to ensure that seniors are allowed to keep more of their income. One of the most important changes and one that sometimes people do not consider to be part of social programming is the cut to the GST. Approximately 30% of Canadians who do not pay income tax benefit by the cut in the GST, and that certainly applies to seniors. It goes some distance to helping them cope with the everyday difficulties of making ends meet. That is only one of a number of initiatives that this new government has undertaken, but we are doing what we can to ensure that seniors enjoy a better standard of living.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin today by saying how thrilled I am to have been asked by our leader to assume the position of critic for seniors, Canadians with disabilities and the social economy. Seniors and Canadians with disabilities are some of the most engaged citizens we have in this country. I look forward to working with them and to ensuring the solutions they have been working on for a long time will be presented to the government. In my experience as chair of the subcommittee on persons with disabilities, I hope this can be a non-partisan issue in which we do the most we can for our most vulnerable Canadians.

As is shown by the combination of the bill presented today, the issues around full citizenship, the ability to contribute and the issue around income security are things shared both by seniors and persons with disabilities. It will be extraordinarily important for us to understand the complexity of this and the need for the government, the provinces and the territories to work together. I think all of us who have worked in this area know that one of the real problems has been the gridlock involved in the fact that income security and human rights can be seen as a federal issue, but the supports and services are very much provincial and territorial. It becomes a real problem if we cannot work across government departments and across jurisdictions to do what the people who need us most know needs to be done.

The Canada pension plan is the basis of Canada's retirement income system. As the minister has said, there were many irritants and difficulties in the administration of that. We are grateful to the minister for bringing in these changes that will make the application of these benefits much simpler. As we know, it provides the retirement pension, disability benefits, benefits for survivors, children's benefits and a death benefit. As the minister alluded to, in 2005-06, four million people received benefits totalling $25 billion.

We know that the Liberal Party is the party of income security. Lester Pearson and Paul Martin Senior brought in the CPP program in the first place. It was the policies of Prime Minister Chrétien and the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, that stabilized the pension funds and guaranteed a secure public pension system for the next 75 years.

It is also important that we mention the issue of guaranteed income supplement, old age security and the retirement benefits under the Canada and Quebec pension plans which provide our senior citizens with monthly taxable benefits. For seniors without other income, the amounts received from these programs are, unfortunately, very modest.

The guaranteed income supplement was first introduced by the Liberal government under Lester Pearson in 1967 to help improve living standards for lower income seniors. The GIS is a monthly benefit paid to residents of Canada who receive full or partial OAS pensions and who have little or no other income.

I am pleased to see the proposal to waive the requirement for a renewal application for the GIS once an initial application has been made. Many seniors forget to reapply for their GIS or are late in their reapplication which results in a decrease in income for the following year. Administrative process should not be an obstacle to deserved benefits and I am glad to see that the government has recognized that.

I am proud to state that the Liberal government increased the guaranteed income supplement for seniors by $36 per month for single seniors and $58 per month for couples. This was a $2.7 billion investment that directly benefited 1.6 billion Canadian seniors. Unfortunately, as all parties in this House have recognized, there are many difficulties in ensuring that all seniors who qualify for GIS apply for it and receive it.

Many seniors fail to apply for GIS because they have no taxable income or they have health problems, mental or physical limitations, or literacy and language barriers. In fact, estimates by policy analyst, Richard Shillington, in 2001, with the help of Susan Pigott at St. Christopher House in Toronto, suggested that 320,000 eligible Canadians were not receiving the GIS and associated spousal and widow's allowances.

Under the last Liberal government there was a fantastic partnership between Human Resource Development Canada and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency which helped provincial organizations and grassroots volunteers to educate seniors about the GIS. There is no point having a program that seniors do not know they can access. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure everyone entitled to a program gets what they are entitled to, which means serious efforts must be made for outreach and education.

I hope the government will undertake a similar initiative to ensure that seniors are knowledgeable about the supports available to them. Failing to reach low income elderly people with funds that can make the difference between comfort and privation is a serious concern.

In 1997, the Canada pension plan was restructured to respond to the growing needs of an aging population, to ensure its viability and to stabilize contribution rates. Experts said that, as a result of those changes, the CPP would be viable for at least another 75 years.

As a family doctor, I can testify as to how important the changes are in this bill in terms of the flexibility in the Canada pension plan disability. It is a huge deal to someone who has become slightly disabled and whose attachment to the workforce has become less regular. The difference between qualifying with three out of the past six years as opposed to the previous four out of the past six years is huge to so many Canadians.

The Liberal record on income security is clear. Although I am supportive of Bill C-36, we must hold the government to account on this issue.

If the Canadian retirement income system is to work, it is essential that everyone contribute as much as he or she can for as long as he or she wants to or can.

Afterwards, when it is time to rely on the community, everyone will be confident that he or she will be considered and treated with respect and dignity; and each person will have a real sense of belonging.

That means that we have to avoid bureaucratic nightmares. Canadians must be able to receive what they are entitled to without a lot of administrative red tape.

We on this side are supportive of all of the proposed amendments: the simplification of access to and delivery of benefits of the OAS, the ongoing renewal, the agreements to co-administer similar provincial benefits to simplify the reporting of income for couples and seniors and the OAS-consistent benefit entitlements, the OAS clarity of legislation and the proposed amendments to the Canada pension plan, both the full funding and the CPP tri-annual review, the long term contributors Canada pension plan disability, and the CPP business transformation amendment, the administrative amendment as well as the proposed common OAS-CPP amendments.

The provision for electronic services is hugely important now and the charging of interest, I think, is an important provision, as well as the penalty provisions and the information sharing.

In 1918, Dr. Charles Hastings, the physician responsible for public health for the city of Toronto, said at the American Public Health Association that:

Every nation that permits people to remain under the fetters of preventable disease and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness; and, who endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible the development of a sound mind and body, is trampling on a primary principle of democracy.

That being said, we know that both seniors and persons with disabilities are still fighting the major challenge of poverty. Income security programs must ensure that income is secure. It is extraordinarily important that when we are evaluating these income security programs we are always asking the question: does this Canadian feel that his or her income is secure and that he or she will be able to continue with his or her housing?

I think it is really important that we continue to listen to fabulous organizations like the National Advisory Council on Aging and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. These partnerships have been very important in setting the priorities from the bottom up and in listening to the Canadians who will be most affected by the policies. I believe the bill today shows that the government is listening, or at least is doing what we as a government have heard before.

With seniors the fastest growing age group in the country and the increase in their numbers in the last 10 years being enough to populate mid-sized Canadian cities, we have to understand that we also must look carefully at the disaggregated data in terms of where poverty exists. And the poverty exists for women.

The Daily, Women in Canada 2005 published July 10, 2006, reported as follows:

Older women tend to have lower incomes than men because they participate less in the paid labour force, and, if they were employed, their wages were less on average. In 2004, about one in five senior women had never worked outside the home. Further, because women live longer they are at greater risk of running out of savings over their lifetimes.

According to a new study, senior women suffer much more financially from widowhood than do senior men. Over a 10-year period, senior widows saw their income decrease in the five years after the death of their husbands, while widowers` income increased in the five years after the loss of their wife.

It is going to be extraordinarily important as we go forward to make sure that we continue to bring together these uncoordinated income based programs, according to the National Advisory Committee on Aging and its report, “Aging in poverty in Canada”. It is this multitude of uncoordinated federal, provincial and territorial income based programs that is a nightmare for our seniors.

At one time, my twinned riding was Calgary Centre. There, we can look at the Kerby Centre and how it began by having a kiosk that seniors could come to in order to find out what level of government handled each program. If we look at that centre, we can begin to see that if we create programs from the bottom up and listen to seniors, we can start to bring these things together, as I hope this bill begins to do today.

In the worst case scenario, sometimes the cumulative effect of additional income may well be a net loss of an income. Seniors with low incomes are trapped due to the disincentives mentioned. They are discouraged from earning additional income to make their lives more enjoyable, or indeed, they may no longer qualify for subsidized housing or for the additional benefit. I think it is extraordinarily important that we as governments and as Parliament understand that the devil is in the details and that the net losses or the incomes from our programs have very real people attached to them in terms of their stories and whether they are actually better off or worse off. It is extraordinarily important that we listen again to these people who know best and hear their priorities for action.

The National Council on Aging has said that we must increase the GIS so that the combined GIS and OAS benefits are equal to or greater than the low income cut-off. We must correct the GIS shortcomings and decrease the number of late applicants and not unduly penalize them.

We must, as we have said, improve the coordination of income based programs and ensure automatic or compulsory sharing of pension rights under the Canada pension plan, employee pension funds and retirement savings plans following divorce or legal separation.

Again, our partnership with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities brings to our attention the fact that, with the aging of the population, people with disabilities make up a growing proportion of the Canadian population. One-third of aboriginal Canadians are living with a disability. Canadians with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than other Canadians and they face exclusion from quality education, employment and participation in their communities.

The first step in combating poverty and exclusion is to ensure that people have access to disability related supports and services. This is something that we as parliamentarians and the federal government need to do in partnership with our provincial and territorial partners. This is just too complex for us to allow people to fall through the cracks and for us not to work together to understand that it is only in consultation with persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities that we are going to get this right.

CPP disability deals only with Canadians who had a previous attachment to the workforce. We learned in our subcommittee that to go forward we need to ask, first, if a person can work and, second, whether that person would be able to work with appropriate training or education. If the answer to both these questions is no, then the federal government needs to work together with the provinces and territories and find a secure income for these people. CPP disability was only ever designed as an adjunct and it is still only those who had a previous attachment to the workforce who qualify.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living are calling on the federal government to show committed leadership and principle to overcome poverty and the exclusion of Canadians with disabilities.

Again, it is so important. I have some concerns that both the Minister of National Revenue and the Minister of Finance do not understand how important that technical advisory committee was on things like disability tax credits. To have disbanded the advisory committee that we fought so hard to put in place means that we will get it wrong when it comes to coordinating the net benefit to Canadians with disabilities.

The technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities has said:

Going Forward...Priority should be given to expenditure programs rather than tax measures to target new funding where the need is greatest.

The technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities, which was eliminated by the minister, conducted consultations with provincial and territorial administrations and the community of persons with disabilities.

It is really important to listen to them in terms of how they would evaluate their success. I believe they are asking us to look forward. They are asking us to reduce by half the annual income gap between Canadians with and without disabilities, to reduce by half the poverty rate of adults with disabilities, to reduce by half the labour market participation gap between Canadians with and without disabilities, and to reduce by half the non-reimbursed costs faced by persons with disabilities.

As we go forward, I encourage the minister to look at the extremely important and extraordinarily good report of the Subcommittee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities from the 37th Parliament and see what we learned in our report entitled “Listening to Canadians”. There were eight recommendations. I hope the minister will look at those recommendations and will bring together the kind of flexibility that it is going to take to actually incorporate into our society persons with cyclical diseases like mental illness, HIV-AIDS and MS.

There is a lot more to do, because we have to work together on the quality of life of all Canadians, on their dignity and respect. How we treat our most vulnerable is indeed the measure of a society. Together with the expertise of the seniors and the persons with disabilities of this country, I hope we will go forward. This bill is just one tiny step.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech and also for supporting this very important bill. As I listened to the member go through the different points on why she was supporting Bill C-36, I could not help but think that she certainly does understand how important this bill is.

Bill C-36 really takes us forward in serving our seniors in the future with some of the changes that are being made. Albeit some are technical, they will certainly make a difference.

Most of all, we are talking about some of the seniors who, unfortunately, we find difficult to reach with regard to the guaranteed income supplement. The member spoke to that. I would like to know if she has any suggestions on how we can reach the people who do not know about the guaranteed income supplement. We know that because this is income tested, we can use Revenue Canada, but I am wondering if she can make some suggestions as to how we reach the percentage of persons who are not able to get the guaranteed income supplement because they do not know it is available.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there is now evidence to show that if we do everything we can to get every Canadian to file an income tax return, we could then find out who is entitled. That is because of this agreed upon partnership between the tax system and HRSD. I think that becomes a really important partnership, but I also think that in terms of the community we have come to understand that social isolation is as detrimental to Canadians' health as smoking,

We must do whatever we can to get seniors participating in places like St. Christopher House or the Kerby Centre in Calgary, the places that have the supports and services. If we can get seniors connected in the community, not only is it good for their health, but it is good for their income in terms of how they then come to find out about these things they are properly entitled to.

I think that it is probably that two-way approach we need. One way would be to encourage all Canadians to file an income tax return, because they may be surprised and get something back. As well, we must really, throughout the country, try to do everything we can to give this sense of belonging that we know is extraordinarily important for peoples' health, particularly their mental health and well-being.

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4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and he startled me somewhat.

I do not know if the same thing happened in the rest of Canada, but I do know that, in Quebec in particular, when the situation arose because the government did not wish to identify the individuals and the research regarding the guaranteed income supplement--which deprived many seniors of income to which they were entitled--we did everything to contact them. I wonder if my colleague agrees with me in this regard.

I also wonder what solutions will be adopted to ensure that seniors who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement will receive it. Although I am very concerned about the guaranteed income supplement, I am much more concerned about aboriginal Canadians who worked and, as we know, who often live on a regular basis in so-called isolated communities.

In the bill before this Parliament, will mechanisms be implemented? Can my colleague list the means that will be implemented to contact these aboriginal individuals who are entitled not only to the guaranteed income supplement that they do not receive but also to an old age pension for which they have not applied.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I too am worried about the quality of life of aboriginal Canadians. Through a true partnership with them and also because of their leadership, we will find a solution to this problem.

Furthermore, housing and income security are very important to all Canadians. We can only discuss income after having covered the cost of safe housing. I believe that this applies to aboriginal peoples and to all Canadians.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask a question concerning aboriginal people. In “Pensions In Canada: Policy Reform Because Women Matter” produced by Women Elders in Action in Vancouver in December 2004, it talks about the fact that first nations women who have lived a traditional rural life were especially vulnerable to economic hardship. The average annual income of an aboriginal woman is $13,300 compared to $19,350 for a non-aboriginal woman. As well, discrimination, childhood poverty and lower educational achievement exacerbate their already poor economic status into old age.

I know that in part this bill deals with housekeeping, but again, first nations, Métis and Inuit women are largely absent from the discussion in terms of how they would access Canada pension, old age security and any kind of livable income. I wonder if the member could speak specifically to that.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. One of the problems with the Canada pension plan is again the attachment to the workforce that is required and the fact that women's attachment to the workforce tends to be much shorter because of child bearing or whatever. Also, women who have stayed home to raise their children, including aboriginal women, end up having much less at the time of retirement and, as we have seen in some of the other studies, particularly if their spouse dies.

So many papers have looked at how we will ensure the income of women, whether with spouses, without spouses or whatever, and how we would go forward on this. Our responsibility to aboriginal people and aboriginal women in particular is clear. We are not there yet and it will only be in consultation with elders and aboriginal women that we will sort out a system that would work for them.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member well knows, we have many elderly women who have looked after elderly veterans for a long time and as she knows very well, many veterans' pensions, for example, are usually clawed back or deducted from other sources of income. Thus, when the veteran passes on, the spouse is only left with 50% of that reduction. That puts that individual into a big hole.

The last thing any of us in the House want to see are those caregivers, who looked after our greatest heroes, slipping into dire poverty. Could the member comment on that? What would her party recommend in order to alleviate that serious financial problem for the caregivers of our greatest heroes?

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has worked a lot on these issues and I think that it is going to be hugely important as we go forward, that we get that particular problem rectified.

I cannot help but remind the new Canadian government that I believe it was the widows of veterans who were successful in their court challenge. It is for issues like this that we actually do need the court challenges program. Sometimes there are things that are just quite unfair and some of these widows are the people whose voices have not been heard.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House and speak to Bill C-36.

First of all I would like to say that I am very proud to transfer the file on seniors and persons with disabilities to my new colleague from Repentigny, who I think will defend this file with as much enthusiasm, passion and determination as I did, and as all my colleagues of the Bloc Québécois who held the file before me have done.

This is a very important bill, which for us in the Bloc Québécois answers some of the requests that we have been making for many years and certain demands that we have concerning seniors, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society.

However, I have to say that there are still some shortcomings in this bill. As in all bills that interest us, we have done our homework. We have been in touch with the various seniors’ associations, the various organizations of seniors in Quebec and even some in Canada, to check with them and their representatives whether the bill was satisfactory in their view, if it met their needs, their concerns, and whether we could go ahead and support it.

At the outset, when we had the first information session, I was very pleased to see that finally this request made for so long concerning the guaranteed income supplement had been met, that is, that the supplement should become automatic, that people should have to apply for it only once and then it should become automatic.

From the first day, I was ready to say yes, to support this bill, to fast-track it and pass it right away so that people could start receiving their income and money in time for Christmas, so that they would be pleased to see that the guaranteed income supplement had become automatic.

I reminded myself that we should never be in too much of a hurry and that we have to be very careful, even if sometimes something looks like an excellent solution overall. Indeed the automatic GIS was the good news we had been waiting for for nearly ten years.

However, other aspects of this bill, which could harm seniors and might be negative for them, told us we had to be careful before giving our assent too quickly, because we wanted at all costs to be right concerning the guaranteed income supplement.

This shows once again that when the Bloc Québécois deals with an issue that affects Quebeckers and Canadians and a segment of society that is very vulnerable and fragile, it pays attention to what it is doing and the decisions it makes. We are very careful. I think it is worth it.

We certainly support this bill in principle. It is hard to be against virtue itself. However, the hon. members will recall a few years ago my colleague Marcel Gagnon, who is no longer in the House, defending this cause with great determination and courage. He toured all of Quebec and even some parts of Canada. He defended the guaranteed income supplement and the need to find people to whom it was owed. We managed at the time to find about 40,000 of the 68,000 people there were in Quebec. We suspected that there were 68,000 people just in Quebec who were entitled to the GIS but were not getting it because they did not know it existed. We found 42,000 of them. This means that there are still 24,000, 25,000 or 26,000 who have not been found yet.

What is being done for these other people who have not been found yet for all sorts of reasons? They are people who never applied for the GIS because of a physical or mental health problem, a physical limitation, illiteracy or a linguistic barrier.

Some citizens were even deprived of considerable amounts of money and did not get the GIS even though they were entitled to it. The Department of Human Resources and Social Development apparently had difficulty contacting particularly disadvantaged clienteles such as people who have never worked outside the home, people who do not file income tax returns, natives, residents of remote communities, people with few literacy skills, people who do not read or speak either official language, people who are handicapped or ill, and finally, the homeless.

When we think of all the people involved, we have to wonder whether this bill will give use the tools we need to contact them and give them the money they are owed.

As I said earlier, we consulted various organizations and groups that work with seniors in Quebec. One of them, the Conférence des Tables régionales de concertation des aînés du Québec, took time to read the bill, study it and send us their thoughts on it.

It should be remembered that this is a rather large association that includes most Quebec seniors, since it is made up of Quebec's 17 regional round tables. As we know, Quebec is divided into 17 regions. This is the only group that covers all of the Quebec territory. It also has a key link with the Quebec seniors council and helps it fulfill its mandate by supporting its initiatives in the regions. We also know that the conference and the round tables are the primary contacts of the Quebec Minister of Family, Seniors and Status of Women. This is important. When these people talk, or when they look at a bill, we listen very carefully to what they have to say.

We can already tell the House that, for a long time now, regional tables for seniors had been asking to group together applications for old age security and guaranteed income supplement, so that a single application would be necessary for those who are entitled to both amounts. This is what Bill C-36 purports to do, and we are very pleased about that. As for the changes to the disability insurance, we think that this insurance is well adjusted to today's labour market.

There was nothing either on the fact that interests can be collected on overpayments—which is normal—but the government should also pay interest on the money that it owes to pensioners, because this is also as it should be. If one wants to get something, one should be prepared to give something. This works both ways.

Clauses 11 and 25 make it possible for a larger number of third parties to have access to personal information on the contributor. This raises privacy issues and requires the establishment of strict rules to ensure a monitoring process, so that not everyone has access to such information. It is a good thing that the requirement for spouses or common law spouses to provide information on their income or family status was abolished, when that information is already provided by the other spouse or common law spouse. This will make it simpler to file income tax returns. However, there is no indication of the Canada pension plan, the old age security benefits or the guaranteed income supplement being indexed. It is also most unfortunate that there is no retroactive measure regarding the guaranteed income supplement.

FADOQ is another seniors group in Quebec that serves hundreds of thousands of people, which is not a small gathering that can just be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of seniors belong to this group. Their concerns are the same, but we believe there may be room to make other changes to the Canada pension plan.

Among other things, they are saying that the measures proposed in Bill C-36 only concern the continued renewal of the guaranteed income supplement application and not the initial application for receiving the GIS for the first time.

The purpose of the bill is not to reduce the number of seniors who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, but to reduce the number who do not receive it. However, in Canada in 2003, despite the progress made in the past few years, 37,000 seniors who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement still had not received it. These uncollected benefits totalled $204 million in 2003, for all of Canada—$204 million! Since the guaranteed income supplement is used as an eligibility criterion for a number of other programs, non-participants also miss out on the benefits the provinces and territories give to low-income seniors.

In Laval we have 40,000 seniors 65 and older of whom 38% are over 75. That is a significant number. In other words, many people who are over 75 are likely entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. It is not always easy to find these people since they are not used to asking for services; they are used to taking care of themselves.

Another problem is the fact that Bill C-36 says nothing about the clawback of old age security benefits imposed since 1989 on high income seniors, whereby they have to give some back. With respect to those seniors who have already reported high incomes and seen their pension clawed back after filing their income tax returns, the federal government seems to take for granted that their income level will remain unchanged, and advance pension deductions are made the following year. This means that, while these seniors do receive a monthly pension, the amount received is reduced based on the previous year. Members know that the income of seniors often varies, which makes this practice unworkable. Some seniors have told us that such a measure was likely to deprive them of a part of their income to which they are entitled.

At present, seniors who foresee significant changes in their income have to file pro forma tax returns with the Canada Revenue Agency. It might be simpler and more appropriate to have them report their income directly to the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, since that is the department responsible for administering the old age security program.

Since the late 1990s, the FADOQ, Mouvement des aînés du Québec, has been calling for the OAS clawback rate to be lowered, as it reduces excessively the income of retirees who have managed to put a little money aside. The FADOQ even suggested increasing the threshold in personal income beyond which benefits may be clawed back through income tax.

In spite of all these shortcomings and oversights, the Bloc Québécois recognizes the very exciting measures contained in this bill. We will support the bill in principle, so that it can be referred to committee, where it can hopefully be amended to some extent to make it even more exciting for our seniors, who are for the most part disadvantaged people.

Given that Bill C-36 will make it easier for disadvantaged seniors to benefit from the guaranteed income program by allowing for automatic application renewal and payment of the guaranteed income supplement to couples on the basis of only one spouse's income tax return; given that Bill C-36 enables seniors who are faced with a sudden drop in their employment or pension income during the fiscal year to apply for the guaranteed income supplement using an estimate of their employment and pension income; given that Bill C-36 explains and clarifies sections of the Old Age Security Act to correct inconsistencies; and, finally, given that Bill C-36 makes changes to the Canada Pension Plan—which does not affect Quebec and its constitutional jurisdictions—we will support this bill in principle.

However, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to broadening restrictions on new Canadian citizens who immigrated to this country.

To the Bloc Québécois, there cannot be different classes of Canadian citizens, regardless of how they came to be here. Every citizen has access to the guaranteed income supplement.

The following clauses pose a problem by creating different classes of Canadian citizens: 11(4), 19(3), 19(6)(d)(ii), 20 and 21(9)(c)(ii), which refer to persons in respect of whom an undertaking by a sponsor is in effect as provided under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These clauses exclude new Canadian citizens who are still being sponsored.

The committee and the Bloc ask that the committee amend the bill so as not to limit the rights of new citizens, as referred to here. The obligations of the sponsor, who vouches for and looks after a person who has immigrated here, generally take effect as soon as the sponsored person obtains permanent resident status. This commitment cannot be terminated, and it remains in effect when the person obtains Canadian citizenship, separates or divorces, or a moves to another province. It would remain in effect even if your financial situation were to deteriorate.

Can we allow ourselves to leave seniors destitute, simply because the person who was supposed to sponsor them has suffered a loss of income or has lost his or her job? Many textile factories are closing their doors because the government did not think to support the textile industry. Furthermore, many people will not have work in certain areas, such as at Bell Helicopter, because the government did not bother to confirm with the United States whether something could be done to ensure that people from various cultural communities could obtain the contracts offered by Bell Canada.

Many other jobs are being lost in the wood products and forestry industries. People born outside of Canada often hold these jobs. These people often act as sponsors of another individual whom they have helped come here. Unfortunately, and through no fault of their own, they can no longer properly take care of the senior whom they have taken into their home.

Will we simply leave these people in need, in difficult situations, because the person hosting them is also having difficulties? In my opinion, we must pay attention and ensure that everyone who decides to live here has a decent minimum income.

The Bloc Québécois also recommends that the committee examine the obligation to pay the full retroactivity. Last year in this Parliament, in 2005, we decided unanimously to reimburse individuals and give them full retroactivity. What has happened since then? A government, a new government, which had voted in favour of the motion of my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain, has now decided that it will not respect its commitments.

We are asking the government to pay the full retroactivity, or at least that the committee study the obligation to pay the full retroactivity and to not limit it to 11 months, as provided by law regarding the guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowance. This policy would allow for retroactive payment covering the full period of eligibility.

The Bloc Québécois will also ask that the Privacy Commissioner testify with regard to the broadening of the third-party group to which the contributor's personal information may be forwarded. We will also ensure that amendments to the current regulations will not restrict the scope of the guaranteed income supplement. We will continue our longstanding fight against the government to have it put in place all the elements required to ensure that seniors who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement have access to it.

With regard to interest on overpayments, we will ensure that this bill treats all taxpayers fairly. Finally, we will ensure that the time limit in which the government may reclaim overpayment of benefits is proportional to the period in which individuals may seek a--

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order please. 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 Acadie—Bathurst, Court Challenges Program; the hon. member for Mississauga South, China.

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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my colleague's comments because, like her, I attended the same briefing. We were both absolutely committed to achieving meaningful results for seniors. Like her, I found there were serious flaws with the bill, despite the fact that we share a commitment to make it easier for seniors to access the GIS.

I was also listening to our colleague from St. Paul's earlier. I was not here in previous parliaments, but I know that the member was and I wonder whether she could reflect on the comments of the member that she understood the studies on disability issues from the 37th Parliament. We are now in the 39th Parliament. She understood the problems with the GIS in 2001. It was her party that was in government then.

The member opposite was here at that time. I wonder if she could explain the Liberal government's complete inaction on these very serious issues that have increasingly thrown seniors in our country into poverty when there was absolutely no need to do that. The member will probably share my view that the Liberals have found religion on this issue a little late.

I am glad to see that this bill at least will get the support of most parties in the House, at least so that the GIS will be accessible for the seniors in our country who need it very much.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

It seems to me that sooner or later, all parties that have been in power in this House have found religion with respect to the guaranteed income supplement. The New Democratic Party agreed to join us in proposing full retroactivity for those eligible; the Conservative Party also agreed and voted with us; the Liberal Party voted with us. The parties all vote for what is right when it suits them. When they are in power and it no longer suits them, they forget that they voted for what is right.

I realize that there are now many members of this House who support the guaranteed income supplement. I hope that their support will not be in vain, that it will really happen this time, and that people will have access to the money they should have received a long time ago.

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4:40 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, as I listen to the debate, I understand some of the concerns that members have, but this particular bill would be so beneficial to all of our seniors. Passing this bill could solve a lot of the problems that have been created because of past mistakes.

We are debating beyond the scope of the bill. We want to get the bill through. We are not trying to do something that would be unfair to seniors on low incomes. As was said by the minister and other members, we are trying to help seniors access these support systems more easily. They are in line with what provinces are doing with retroactivity. They are consistent with federal and provincial income support programs such as the one in Alberta, the Ontario guaranteed income supplement and Quebec's family allowance.

I am not sure if this is where the debate should go. The debate should be focused on making it understood how important it is for seniors to have the bill go through as quickly as possible.

We could not consider retroactivity without having some cost analysis. I wonder whether the member in making the suggestions in all the different amendments she has made has made any cost analysis. It would close down the debate if we had to think of how much this might cost us.

I wish the member and all members would think about how important it is to get the bill through so that we can start working on other seniors issues.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not doubt the good faith of my hon. colleague from Blackstrap. I know how important the issue of seniors is to her and how familiar she is with their plight.

I understand the need for a cost analysis of our proposed amendments, but the bill first has to be brought to committee so that its substance may be discussed. Then, the issue of a cost analysis and what it might entail can be addressed.

In the past year alone, the government saved $204 million because, for many years, some seniors did not have access to the guaranteed income supplement they were entitled to. How long has the government been pocketing this kind of money, which should have been paid to those seniors who were entitled to it but never got it?

That has to be taken into account. The individuals to whom this money is owed have given their all. Several of them are war veterans. Several have had very little money on which to raise their family. Several have managed to put their children through school in spite of very serious financial difficulties. They have made it possible for us today to have a health system, an education system and all that we need to realize our potential. It would be only normal and reasonable for seniors to live out their later years in dignity, with the respect they are owed.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on her remarks, which were not only very generous but also very sincere. She has just been appointed status of women critic for the Bloc Québécois. That is a great honour that our leader bestowed on her.

In her previous comment, she touched on the impact of the lack of women-specific measures, women having a longer life expectancy than men. I would like her to elaborate on that.