moved that Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is the second time we have had second reading, which is a great opportunity for me to respond to some of the misconceptions about the bill.
I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement).
Bill C-362 was introduced in the House by me on October 25, 2006, and its aim is as simple as it is important. It would amend the Old Age Security Act to reduce, from 10 years to 3 years, the residency requirement for entitlement to old age security.
I introduced the bill because it would eliminate a grave injustice in Canada's social security system, an injustice presently causing great harm to seniors across Canada and to the families and communities to which they belong.
All Canadians believe that the elimination of poverty, especially among those most vulnerable in our society, should be the top concern of the Government of Canada. I have no doubt for a second that all members of the House recognize in their hearts and minds that the bill deserves our full support.
It is my sincere hope we will set aside partisan concerns and work together to improve the well-being of a great many seniors, families and communities all across Canada.
In my remarks today I have three goals. First, I will correct a common misconception about old age security. Then I will identify and clarify the grave injustice that Bill C-362 would eliminate. Finally, I will explain why the bill warrants the support of every member of the House.
Since first tabling Bill C-362, I have received correspondence from a number of Canadians living throughout the country. Most Canadians who take the time to write do so in order to express their support for the bill. However, there are those who write to express their opposition.
After reviewing the correspondence, it has become clear to me that they share in common a misconception about the true nature and the intent of the old age security. Because members of the House may also share this misconception, I would very much like to identify and correct it here and now.
The misconception is this. Some Canadians think old age security was introduced by the Government of Canada as a kind of reward to seniors for their lifetime contribution to Canadian society, to the economy and to their communities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Old Age Security Act was tabled in the House of Commons in 1951. A careful review of the debate at the time indicates that it was introduced principally as a matter of social justice and was motivated by a genuine concern for the needs and welfare of Canadian senior citizens, whatever their contribution may or may not have been to society.
Furthermore, since 1951, successive Canadian governments, on behalf of all Canadians, have made a number of important changes to old age security, including the introduction of the guaranteed income supplement, inflation protection and a definition of the word “spouse” that recognizes and includes common law partners.
According to Human Resources Development Canada's online history of Canada's public pension system, these changes were motivated by the desire of all Canadians to help those persons and groups most vulnerable to poverty, including women, low income workers and disabled persons. In other words, old age security is not a reward for service rendered. Rather it is motivated by a sense of justice and a recognition that no Canadian, especially seniors, should live in poverty.
The sense of social justice, which motivated old age security, is also reflected in the way the Government of Canada funds the scheme. Unlike the Canada and Quebec pension plans, which are funded by contributions from each person over his or her working life, old age security is presently funded from general tax revenues. This means old age security is funded from the taxes of every person living and working in Canada right now, not 10, not 15, not 20 years ago, regardless of their country of birth.
Furthermore, old age security income is itself subject to tax, so ultimately only those Canadian seniors most in need receive any old age security income. We fund old age security in this manner because Canadians believe we all have a duty to earmark some of our earnings each year to eliminate poverty among our seniors, whether we have lived here six weeks, six months, six years or 60 years.
Let me say it again so there is no misunderstanding. Old age security is not intended to reward seniors for services rendered; rather, it is intended to ensure Canadian seniors will not live in poverty.
Having now clarified and corrected an important misconception about old age security, I will now identify and clarify the great injustice Bill C-362 is intended to address and remedy.
Presently, the Old Age Security Act requires a person to reside in Canada for 10 years before he or she is entitled to receive old age security. Although the old age security program is intended to act as the cornerstone of Canada's retirement income system, this residency requirement excludes many seniors from its benefits. Indeed, because of a 10 year residency requirement, it is not uncommon for a Canadian senior citizen to go entirely without the benefits of old age security for many years.
In effect, the residency requirement creates two different classes of senior citizens: those who qualify for old age security at 65 and those who do not because they have not lived in Canada for 10 years.
As a result, the residency requirement also creates two different classes of families and communities within Canada. There are those families and communities whose seniors receive the benefits and peace of mind of old age security at age 65, and there are those families and communities that do not and as a result are required to take on a burden of responsibility that other families in Canada are not also expected to bear.
The net result is that the 10 year residency requirement for old age security treats a whole group of Canadians as second class citizens. This, as I am sure we can all agree, is unacceptable.
It should also be noted that the 10 year residency requirement also adds insult to injury by targeting, inadvertently, I think, some of the most economically vulnerable seniors in Canada. As some members of this House know, in some cases seniors can circumvent the 10 year requirement and qualify for old age security if they emigrate from countries that have signed reciprocal social security agreements with the Government of Canada.
These agreements allow for the coordination of the two countries' social security programs. They make the benefits portable between the two countries. They normally exist because both countries provide social security plans with similar benefits. As a result, in many cases the very reason no reciprocal agreement exists between Canada and a particular country is that the other country is unwilling or unable to provide comparable social security.
This means that those persons who may need old age security the most, because they emigrated from countries with little or no social security, must go without old age security here in Canada even after they have become Canadian citizens. I am sure we can agree that this as well is unacceptable.
To summarize the injustice this is intended to address, there is the fact that the 10 year residency requirement for old age security treats a great many Canadians as second class citizens and denies benefits to those seniors most in need of assistance. If we also recall that poverty is epidemic among our seniors, and especially among women and new Canadians, there is only one sensible and decent conclusion to be drawn: the 10 year residency requirement is unjust and unacceptable and must be changed. That is exactly what this bill aims to do. Canadian citizenship is certainly sufficient to entitle a person to old age security. It takes three years to apply for old age security.
I want to conclude my remarks today by explaining why this bill deserves the support of each and every member of the House.
First and foremost, Bill C-362 deserves the support of every member of the House as a simple matter of decency. However people may choose to make sense of the notion of decency, whether they prefer to talk of a principle of fairness, or equality of opportunity, or the equal dignity of all persons, the underlying sentiment remains the same: a person should not be made worse off than others arbitrarily.
Unquestionably, the 10 year residency requirement arbitrarily prevents a great many senior citizens from receiving old age security benefits. This creates undue and unjust hardship for them, their families and their communities. There is no good reason that justifies the imposition of this harm on so many Canadians. The only truly decent thing to do is reduce this residency requirement to three years, as my bill proposes.
Bill C-362 also deserves the support of every member of the House because of the immeasurable contribution made by seniors across Canada to our families, our communities and our country each and every day.
Seniors, thanks to their lifetime of experience, provide immeasurable support and guidance to us all. Not only do seniors help us to remember and understand our history, our values, and our identity, they very often help alleviate the very real pressures of raising a family in today's fast paced society. There is, for example, no better child care than that provided by a loving grandparent.
However, seniors will not be in any position to offer us guidance, wisdom and support if they themselves are trapped in abject poverty. So by securing the economic well-being of all seniors, ultimately we do a service to all Canadians.
Bill C-362 also deserves the support of every member of the House because in supporting this bill we formally recognize that all Canadian seniors deserve to live their entire lives with a sense of dignity and self-respect. No person, and certainly no member of the House, would ever want to face a choice between abject poverty and a life of absolute dependence on family and friends. By guaranteeing a certain basic level of support for all Canadian seniors, we guarantee a lifetime of dignity and self-respect for all Canadians.
Finally, Bill C-362 deserves the support of every member of the House because Canadians all across the country want us to address the very real injustice faced by so many seniors and their families and communities.
On the whole, Canadians are a decent people. Without exception, whenever possible we strive to do the right thing and to right wrongs whenever we encounter them. To even the most casual observer, the injustice of an arbitrary 10 year residency requirement is a wrong that needs to be corrected.
Finally, in closing, I want to remind members of the House that Canada has been, remains and always will be a country of immigrants. Even today, Canada has one of the highest per capita rates of immigration in the world, with roughly 17% of our population foreign born and another 30% descended from earlier generations of non-British or non-French immigrants. It should also not be forgotten that the British and the French were themselves immigrants at one time. Moreover, research indicates that within the next 20 years immigration will account for all our net population and labour force growth in Canada.
In my view and the view of a great many Canadians, every single one of our recent immigrants and future citizens deserves a social security net that encompasses a person's entire life. While it is certainly tempting to say that we need to provide this kind of social security as a necessary exercise in marketing, that is, we need to do it if Canada wants to attract and retain the best and brightest immigrants, I think there is a deeper and much more meaningful motivation. We owe it to all Canadians as a matter of decency, the kind of heartfelt decency that motivates and unites every person in this great and caring country of ours.