Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. It gives me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the many seniors in Victoria whom I met last December and this January. I met seniors who advocate on behalf of other seniors, like those in the Greater Victoria Seniors organization or the seniors at the James Bay New Horizons Society. These seniors are worried about their pensions and their ability to cope with inflation.
Seniors make up 18% of greater Victoria's population. There are approximately 55,500 seniors and of that number approximately 5,600, largely women, are living in poverty. It is disgraceful that our seniors in Canada and in Victoria have to live month to month. That should not happen in Canada.
This bill is largely a housekeeping bill to modernize the administration of benefits, with several clauses on interest amounts owing to Her Majesty. It is a lost opportunity to make substantive changes in the lives of seniors. It was an excellent opportunity to fix some of the problems facing seniors. I would like to speak to a few of the issues that were raised with me.
Speaking about the bill's provisions on the interest on amounts owing to Her Majesty, there is nothing in this bill about the interest on amounts owing to pensioners from miscalculations on old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and CPP between July 2001 and March 2006, when it was fixed, as my colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, pointed out to the minister. For that, it seems, we are going to have to wait and to continue to badger the Conservative government to get action for redress.
There are over four million seniors who rely on OAS, GIS and CPP for their incomes. While past changes and some increases in payments have helped alleviate some of the most dire poverty faced by many Canadian seniors, there are still too many falling between the cracks of our support systems in Canada. In fact, 165,000 seniors have no income other than OAS and GIS benefits.
I also want to raise the issue of the income disparity between men and women that my colleague has just referred to. The income disparity throughout their lifetimes is of course reflected in women's retirement income. Women's lesser wages and varying degrees of participation in the labour market affect their contributions and thus payments from CPP.
As an example, I would like to stress that data demonstrating gender differences in coverage show that the average monthly retirement pension paid to pensioners aged 65 to 69 was $533 for men and only $299 for women in that year. Nothing in this bill addresses this issue. There have been many reports providing some solutions to this problem, as has been pointed out by many speakers before me.
There is nothing in this bill, either, to address the under-subscription of OAS and GIS. It is necessary, still, to apply for these benefits. Many seniors who are either not able to apply or not well enough informed lose this important source of income. This is not insignificant. The sums in question are considerable. The 50,000 seniors who were eligible for OAS but did not apply in 2004, for example, sustained a total income loss of $250 million per year. It is often women who fail to apply for these benefits.
Last year, Parliament adopted the seniors charter. If we want to do more than pay lip service to the rights enshrined in the seniors charter, we must begin to explore all possible means of creating better income security and well-being for those who have worked hard all their lives.
Recognizing some of the problems faced by seniors in B.C. and their inability to advocate on their own behalf, 15 seniors' organizations formed the Seniors' Advocacy Steering Committee in British Columbia. Echoing the seniors charter, they passed a motion asking for the establishment of a seniors' advocacy group. We ask the Conservative government to support the motion and to begin by creating a seniors advocate, as already approved by Parliament. This simply complies with the will of Parliament.
There is a demonstrated need for public education and awareness initiatives on the rights of seniors, as we have already pointed out. There is a need for an ombudsman for seniors with respect to all government services and programs.
We know, for example, that there is a need to better coordinate provincial and federal programs. I would like to give a specific example from Victoria. Some of my constituents report that they are regularly advised by the provincial government to apply for federal CPP disability instead of the provincial disability program. However, people on CPP disability have been refused access to at least two programs that are available to those on provincial disability, for example, the homeowner grant that helps to pay a portion of property taxes and the monthly bus program.
This illustrates that an ombudsman or a seniors advocate could help to bridge those gaps. Seniors should not be denied these services just because they are on federal or provincial disability. It is cases like these, as I have said, that demonstrate the need for a seniors advocate.
We must put words to action. We recognize older Canadians as creative, active and valued members of society. We know what contributions they make in each of our communities to social cohesion, family support, mentorship and community volunteering. We have enshrined the right to income security for every senior living in Canada. I believe that it is time to pass to action through amendments at the committee level. I hope the committee will review some of the problems that have been raised, take them seriously and review, for example, the existing process for receipt of income support.
It is also time to act on a national home care program. I know from speaking to some seniors in my community that they want to live as independently as possible for as long as possible. The absence or the cost of home care, which is prohibitive for many people, force them into higher cost facilities or into hospital.
It is time for the government not just to pass simple administrative housekeeping bills, but to really give follow-up with serious action and to redress and correct the reality that many seniors in Canada are living in poverty and isolation. That should not happen. Their contribution calls for more fairness for all.