Mr. Speaker, before the House adjourned yesterday I said that New Democrats would support Bill C-36 going to committee but that we strongly felt that a number of issues in the bill needed to be addressed.
Many seniors in my riding are facing dire circumstances and, in terms of livability and affordability, this would have been an opportunity to look at some other measures within the bill. It was a chance to actually fix some of the problems that are occurring with CPP and OAS.
I also want to talk about housing. I have heard some heartbreaking stories from seniors in Lake Cowichan in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan who have told me that when it comes time for a couple to go into assisted living or long term care the couple is often separated. One member of the couple needs to move to Duncan where the person can get the care that he or she needs. We now have a senior travelling from Lake Cowichan to Duncan on a daily basis to look after his or her loved one. That is just one of the many issues facing our seniors and we need to look at where we are investing our energy.
A group of women in British Columbia called Women Elders in Action, WE*ACT, has put together a very good document about pensions in Canada, “Policy Reform Because Women Matter”. One of the things it talks about is that a quarter of a million seniors are living under the low income cut-off. Many may ask what low income cut-off means.
The low income cut-off is the most consistently used measure of poverty in Canada. Several years ago Statistics Canada found that average Canadian families were spending about 50% of their total income on food, shelter and clothing. It arbitrarily estimated that families spending 70% or more of their income, 20 percentage points more than the average on the basic necessities, would be in dire circumstances.
Let us think about the fact that 70% of our income would go to what most of us would consider the basic necessities. We have a significant number of women in Canada who are living under the low income cut-off. In Canada I would suggest that it is probably something that most of us would find unacceptable.
Canadian men and women work hard all their lives and when they reach the age of 60 or 65 they fully expect to retire with some dignity and to have access to a pension that ensures their quality of life, which means that they do not have to struggle to have their basic needs met, like food, security and shelter.
According to WE*ACT, from 1990 to 2000 about 65% of people receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement were women compared to 35% of men who tend to rely more heavily on occupational pension plans and RRSPs for income.
I need to re-emphasize that figure of 65%. We have a significant number of women in this country who, once they reach the age of 65, are living in desperate poverty. Many of these women have spent much of their working life in low wage jobs or in non-standard employment which is a lovely word to describe the fact that women are often in part time, seasonal or contract employment. This means that they have never had the opportunity to contribute to a private pension plan and therefore are totally reliant on Canada pension, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. As well, many of these women have had employment gaps and do not have the full years of entitlement.
Some drop-out provisions have been made but many of these women have also been looking after aging parents or have had the primary responsibility for child-rearing. The fact that they have been in non-standard employment, low wage employment or part time employment significantly affects the quality of their retirement years. In addition, women traditionally outlive their spouses so they often end up single and relying again on substantially reduced pension plans.
Why would this matter? I acknowledge the fact that many men who retire are also poor but a substantial amount of research talks about where women go so does the rest of the community. In the WE*ACT report, according to Esping-Andersen there is a strong case for a woman-friendly social contract because improving the welfare of women means improving the collective welfare of our society.
With this opportunity to look at CPP and OAS, it would seem critical that we actually look at the people who are living in these dire circumstances in our society.
This report from 2004 made about 23 recommendations and a number of these recommendations were never acted upon. The report included a recommendation for reforming the public pension system to ensure people had adequate living conditions. Some of the recommendations talked about private occupational pensions, some taxation considerations and the need for indexing, and then some overall recommendations around policy changes to support these other changes.
A number of things are really important, and I will not read the full details, but they talk about providing education on all aspects of pensions that is accessible and understandable to women of all ages. They talk about providing problem solving counsellors for people who have questions or concerns and a 1-800 number that is easily accessible and, I might add, staffed because we know Canadians are struggling to access the 1-800 numbers provided by the government services. People often have lengthy delays in accessing information. They also talk about providing seniors with a list of government programs for which they might qualify upon making application to receive the pension and ensuring they are informed of all future changes to pension policy in Canada, including analysis of the differential impact on men and women.
We also need to look at affordable child care, adequately paid maternity leave, parental leave and so on, but we also need to look at pay equity so that by the time women reach the age of receiving CPP and old age security they have been in jobs that recognize the value of women's work. It would be timely to revisit the important pay equity report that came out a couple of years ago but which has never been implemented.
Although New Democrats will be supporting this going to committee, we see that there needs to be some substantial changes to this legislation to ensure that fairness and affordability are there for all Canadians when they retire.