Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this place today to speak to Bill C-36. I should let you and members of this place know that I am pinch-hitting for my colleague, the parliamentary secretary to the minister, who is storm stayed in the bowels of Pearson airport with many of our other colleagues.
In any event, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this very important bill. I say it is important because Canadians, particularly seniors, look to our excellent public pension plan for the income security they need and deserve in their retirement years.
It is important for Canada's new government as well. This legislation is part of the commitments we made to Canadians during the last election.
Delivering on that commitment is a way in which we reinforce the trust Canadians have in their government. This is an important change. Canadians are happy to have a government that is following up on what it promised by getting it done.
This bill is also important because it strengthens the public's faith in the government's capacity to serve as a good steward of the Canada pension plan and the old age security program.
Canada's population is aging at an unprecedented rate. The number of seniors is expected to double in the next few decades. It has been urgent for some time that governments develop the policies, programs and services that will meet the evolving needs of seniors, both for today and in the future.
Our government, through Bill C-36, is doing just that. We introduced a number of important amendments to the old age security and the Canada pension plan. At this stage of the bill, it is important to acknowledge the progress we have made.
While this government and the Prime Minister have shown tremendous leadership in delivering what we promised, I am pleased to acknowledge the cooperation of all parties in providing input on the bill before us today. I want to thank each member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for their excellent work and collaboration in advancing this bill. While there were some proposals that did not make it into the bill, we are all better informed by the contributions of the members for Chambly—Borduas and Hamilton Mountain.
Ultimately, the bill we have before us benefits Canadian seniors and long term contributors applying for CPP disability. I think they will pleased with the collegial work that took place on their behalf.
I was watching the news on Tuesday night, and in fact, right after the committee's consideration of Bill C-36. There was a segment on the latest Statistics Canada report entitled “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. The news story was very positive. Seniors in Canada today are healthier. They are living longer. They are much more active. Many are exercising three or four times a week. And seniors well into their seventies want to keep working.
Seniors have a powerful voice, and this government is listening. What resonates with me is their strong belief in remaining able and active members of Canadian society. I was so proud when at the end of the news report a man said, “I have my old age pension and I have my Canada pension plan...what more do I need?”
We as parliamentarians should not rest on our laurels. We have a responsibility to ensure our pension programs remain stable, sustainable and generous. I believe, and I think members of this House would agree, that we are accomplishing exactly that through this bill.
This bill comes from Canadians. They were the ones who, through their letters, their emails, their meetings with us and their organizations, made a point of saying that they needed these changes. They are changes that will make a difference in their lives, changes that will alleviate some of their frustration and changes that recognize their unique circumstances. They are changes that make sense to all members of Canadian society and treat them all fairly while ensuring that we maintain their trust in their public pensions by remaining fiscally responsible, transparent, and accountable, accountable to them, the seniors of this country.
Our public pension system is something we can rightly take pride in. It plays a vital role in ensuring the economic well-being of millions of Canadians. Public pensions deliver over $54 billion to Canadian seniors each year.
We are proud of the fact that our pension system has been an important part in dramatically reducing the level of poverty among seniors. In 1980, almost 21% of seniors lived on low incomes. Today that number has dropped to less than 6%. Like our health care system, our public pension programs are part of the Canadian way of life. They are defining features that we all cherish.
This bill will improve the delivery of pension benefits for seniors and enhance eligibility for Canadian pension plan disability benefits for long term contributors to the plan. Frankly, it will improve access.
My biggest sense of pride as a parliamentarian, and I am sure this sentiment is shared by all parliamentarians, comes from participating in a democratic process whose end result makes a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians. These changes go a long way to doing just that.
In particular, the proposed lifetime application process for the guaranteed income supplement means that seniors will never have to reapply for the benefit each time their income increases or decreases. This will greatly ease the frustration of certain seniors and will ensure that those who file their income taxes will receive their benefit in a timely manner.
When a person applies for his or her old age security pension or Canada pension plan, that person is establishing a relationship with us that will last for the rest of his or her life. Expanding the group of third persons who can assist seniors with their pension benefits means that extended family members will be able to play a more active role and assist their loved ones whose first language is not English or French or who may have trouble reading or writing. I think seniors will very much welcome this change.
However, easing eligibility rules for long term Canada pension plan contributors will assist thousands of individuals to qualify for disability benefits in future years. This means that applicants with a long history of attachment to the labour force who become severely disabled can count on CPP disability to be there when they need support. I am particularly pleased that this important change is a result of federal-provincial-territorial collaboration.
Clearly, we always need to need to do more. I want to thank my colleagues and the witnesses who appeared before committee, who offered excellent suggestions on ways in which to improve our outreach activities and who acknowledged that legislative changes only go so far. There is clearly a responsibility, aside from our legislation, to get the word out to explain our pension programs and to work closely alongside community groups.
Seniors are valued members of our society. They are the reason we enjoy our country as we know it today. After their lifetime of hard work, we want to ensure that seniors can continue to have a good quality of life without having to constantly worry about their financial security. They deserve our utmost respect and consideration. We have an obligation to ensure that public pensions respect their needs.
Ultimately, I think this bill goes a long way in effecting the kinds of changes that seniors need and have asked for. I am grateful to all members for their support in moving forward on this bill expeditiously.