House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and I am actually amazed. I will not be supporting this private members' bill and this is why.

We spoke a little while ago about some of the problems with immigration and illegal workers. The problems are a direct result of failed Liberal attempts to correct a system that had good intentions, but we know where good intentions often lead and what is often paved with good intentions.

My parents came from another country. They understood what the rules were. They also understood that should they take their parents along, they had an obligation.

In light of what we saw with the last proposal, that we change our immigration policies and in light of those as a direct result of failed Liberal attempts, what does the member expect would be the outcome when people are not expected to make a contribution? What could we expect next? What policy would they bring forward to try and correct that kind of a mess that we would be headed into?

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to respond to that question.

I grew up in Chatham, Ontario. It is where I got my values. I remember when I was a young girl of about 17 years that the Czechoslovakians were coming to Canada and people in my family and others were scraping together furniture and clothing for them. We do not have to do that any more. Our economic situation is not the same as it was. My great-grandmother did not have any pension. Should everyone today be denied a pension because the people before us did not have one?

This is progression. That argument is similar to people who say that their kids do not need a new school, that they went to a school of a certain condition and if it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for their kids. It is not that kind of attitude that makes this country grow.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it appears to me there are many reasons for providing assistance through our old age system. They need more money and I hope that day will come, but it is a way to honour those who have thrived and survived through thick and thin to bring this great country to the point it is at today.

If someone has lived here three years or less, I do not think it is a sign of that. I really object to that kind of proposal. I have not even heard what kind of an impact this would have economically on the entire system.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member should know that the clock has run out, but I will allow her equal time.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, you are kind. I know the member for Wild Rose has a heart as big as his personality. I would be more than happy to discuss this bill with him when we are out back.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement). I want to thank my hon. colleagues for their contributions on this important issue.

The bill proposes to lower the residency requirement from the current 10 years to three years. For several reasons this proposal is unacceptable for the government and I will outline the reasons.

I want to start my discussion of old age security by stating that Canada's public pension system is widely recognized as one of the best systems in the world and is often duplicated by countries wishing to set up public pension programs of their own.

The old age security, OAS, portion of our pension plan is an integral component of the system. It is of the utmost importance that we show prudence and forethought when proposing sweeping changes the likes of which this bill proposes.

The Government of Canada has a fully functioning public pension system. One part of it pays benefits to Canadians who have paid into the program like the Canada pension plan. Other parts, like the OAS, are not contributory and therefore they are offered to all seniors in this country, as long as they have a minimum 10 years of residency in the country. This does not seem unreasonable.

In fact it is the responsibility of the government and of all Canadians to ensure that the people who built this country are taken care of in their old age. It is for this reason that the length of residence in Canada has been the program's central eligibility criterion since its inception in 1952.

The OAS is not income based or contributory, or based on one's nationality or country of birth; it is simply residency based. This requirement is intended to establish a person's attachment and his or her contribution to Canadian society, the economy and his or her community over his or her lifetime. It is reasonable to expect that a person live in Canada for a minimum period of time before being granted the right to a lifelong public benefit.

Many other countries have functioning public pension systems as well, and the Government of Canada has endeavoured to sign agreements with these other countries. We have done this so that new Canadians from other countries with similar public pension systems have the ability to use time spent in their country of origin and the contributions they have made in their communities to help meet the minimum residency requirement for Canada's old age security program.

The proposals put forward in this bill would require years of renegotiation with some 50 countries, the same as they took years to sign in the first place. Did the member for Brampton West consider this in the drafting of her bill, or was this just an afterthought? Unfortunately the opposition members have continued their trend of proposing changes to programs without fully understanding what the ramifications of these changes would be.

What is most shocking is that this bill has been proposed by a Liberal, a former parliamentary secretary. She should know that not only would the bill cost billions of dollars and put the long term viability of the old age security program in peril, but that it would take years of negotiation with more than 50 foreign governments with whom we have signed agreements.

There are only two options here: the member did not know this, which means she did not do her research and the bill does not deserve to pass on that alone; or she knew and did not care, which means she has put forward this bill for political purposes to score cheap political points.

I note with interest the comments made by the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale when she suggested in the House that the proposals contained in Bill C-362 were required to offer support to new Canadians.

I just want to reiterate the comments made earlier by the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington whom I believe made a very valuable point. It is Canada's new government that put forward the largest increase in settlement funding for new Canadians in the past decade. It was not the Liberals. It was the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who created the foreign credentials referral office. The Liberals did not do it. In all of their 13 years of majority rule, the Liberals did not do it despite their talk.

I also notice that this particular bill was not proposed when the Liberals were in power. Canadians, and especially new Canadians, know who is getting the job done for immigrant communities, and it is the Prime Minister, not the previous Liberal government.

Canada's new government has looked to support seniors with several initiatives aimed at helping older Canadians, specifically older Canadians who are surviving on small incomes. These were implemented in a responsible manner after careful study of all relevant facts.

These changes include the commitment of $19.5 million for the new horizons for seniors program. We are providing tax relief by allowing pension income splitting for pensioners, providing tax relief by increasing the age credit by $1,000, and increasing the guaranteed income supplement maximum benefit. This initiative alone benefits more than 50,000 seniors. Budget 2007 raised the age for maturing RRSPs and pension plans to 71 from 69.

Bill C-36 is an act which makes several reforms to improve access to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. It expands the compassionate care benefit, making more Canadians eligible to take care of loved ones in their hour of need.

The record of the Conservative government speaks for itself. We have acted to protect the pension program for seniors. We have a lengthy list of accomplishments on this file and we will not abandon our prudence for political gain. Furthermore, we have a record that is unparalleled when it comes to support for new Canadians.

The Liberal record tells another story. The Liberals have proposed a bill here today that would not only put the long term viability of the old age security program into peril but would also require years of renegotiation with more than 50 foreign governments.

The opposition has not done its homework and that is simply unacceptable. The government must and will act responsibly when it comes to protecting the seniors pension programs and the responsible thing to do is oppose the bill.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying earlier when I was asking the hon. Liberal member a question, I was surprised by this bill presented by the Liberals, but, at the same time, I am pleased it was presented and I do not understand why the Conservative Party is refusing to support this bill. This is a matter of justice for seniors. When it comes to matters involving seniors I think we ought to be particularly attentive because they often experience injustice in our society.

Nonetheless, the bill does not change matters much. The bill simply reduces from ten years to three years the residency requirement for entitlement to a partial monthly old age security pension. That is not much.

The current ten-year residency requirement places undue hardship on recent immigrants who are seniors in that they are unable to adequately access old age security benefits. The bill on old age security would simply change a few sections of the act. The proposed changes would amend the sections that refer to ten years and replace ten years with three years. That is not asking much, so I wonder how anyone could be against it.

The definition of “specially qualified individual”, which indicates the number of years of residency required to be entitled to benefits, would be changed and ten years replaced with three years.

It seems obvious to the Bloc Québécois that Bill C-362 would facilitate access to the old age security program for new immigrants who are seniors. The quality of life for seniors often depends on the care they can receive. This quality of life also depends on their income. New arrivals are also entitled to dignity. The Conservative Party does not seem to realize that.

As well, it is clear that Bill C-362 introduces certain measures to amend the Old Age Security Act that do not affect Quebec's jurisdiction. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports this bill in principle.

Allow me to put this into context. In the past few years, the Bloc Québécois has noticed that seniors are among those in our society most affected by the federal government's cuts to transfer payments. The quality of life of seniors often depends on the care they can receive and this quality of life also depends on their income.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has always harshly criticized the irregularities in the guaranteed income supplement program, which guarantees low-income seniors additional income.

Bill C-36, which received royal assent on May 7, 2007, hopefully resolved some of the accessibility problems in the system, but it did not resolve the issue of giving beneficiaries the full retroactive amount. This what the Bloc Québécois was calling for, but it was not included in the bill.

Bill C-362 would extend the accessibility of the old age security program to recent immigrants who are seniors, by decreasing the Canadian residency requirement from 10 years to three years.

I would also like to briefly remind the House how Bill C-36 amended the Old Age Security Act. Bill C-36 received royal assent on May 7, 2007. It amended the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act. The amendments include ongoing renewal and clarity of legislation, simplifying the reporting of income for couples and seniors, and consistent benefit entitlements.

There was also a proposal for common amendments to both the Canada pension plan and old age security. These provisions had to do with electronic services, the collection of interest charges and the sharing of information. However, a contentious issue concerning accessibility remained for Canadians and the Bloc Québécois opposed increasing the restrictions on new citizens who have immigrated to Canada.

The Bloc Québécois believes there cannot be different classes of Canadian citizens—which the hon. Liberal member recognized earlier—no matter what their background. The Bloc Québécois believes that being a Canadian citizen should be enough to access the guaranteed income supplement. Some clauses of the legislation posed a problem by creating different classes of Canadian citizens, for instance, a person in respect of whom an undertaking by a sponsor is in effect as provided under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—the sponsor system. Those clauses excluded new Canadian citizens who were still being sponsored.

The Bloc Québécois asked the committee to amend the bill so as not to restrict new citizens' access to old age security benefits because of the sponsor's obligations under the Immigration Act. The Bloc Québécois believes that once a person becomes a Canadian citizen, the sponsor's obligation should automatically end.

The sponsor's obligations generally begin as soon as the sponsored person obtains permanent resident status, and they end at the end of the sponsorship period. In some cases, that can be a long time—as long as 10 years. That has to change. According to the act, the obligation cannot end prematurely, even if the sponsored individual becomes a Canadian citizen. Moreover, neither separation, nor divorce, nor moving to another province ends the obligation. The obligation stands even if the sponsor's financial situation becomes difficult.

As I mentioned earlier, it is important to note that the Liberal Party voted against the Bloc Québécois' proposal last February. Now we are discussing an issue very similar to the ones debated in the context of Bill C-36, which just received royal assent. Bill C-362 does not address sponsorship of newcomers, but it does address other categories of newcomers who are not sponsored.

The changes Bill C-362 proposes are minimal. The main change is to reduce the residency requirement for entitlement to a monthly partial old age security pension from 10 to three years. The number 10 is simply replaced by the number 3. The bill amends other sections of the act simply to bring them in line with the definition of a “specially qualified individual” so that the act can apply.

Who is affected by this bill? There are various categories of newcomers and potential immigrants to Canada. Unfortunately, as I just mentioned, sponsored immigrants, permanent residents and new citizens who are still being sponsored are not affected by the amendments made by this bill. They would have access to old age security after three years for spouses or 10 years for other individuals, as is currently the case after sponsorship.

Newcomers who are affected by the bill include skilled workers, businesspeople—the three categories are investors, entrepreneurs and self-employed workers—asylum seekers and refugees. I believe that Canada accepts 25,000 refugees each year.

Because of globalization and the fact that we live in a global environment, the Bloc Québécois thinks that Canada must be flexible about citizenship and the services offered to newcomers. Given the increase in exchanges between countries, there should be mechanisms in place to allow for greater human mobility, as well as measures already in place to help the disadvantaged.

The position of the Bloc Québécois is the following. We are aware that Bill C-362 will facilitate access to the old age security program for recent immigrants who are seniors. Since the quality of life of seniors often depends on the care they can receive—as I said earlier—this quality of life is dictated by their income. Newcomers also have a right to dignity. Moreover, we believe that Bill C-362 introduces certain measures amending the Old Age Security Act that do not infringe on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. However, I would like to point out that a great deal of work remains to be done. It is deplorable that, for all these years, the Liberal and Conservative governments neglected, muzzled and ignored seniors, the most vulnerable individuals of our society. First, the Liberals ignored this group of disadvantaged individuals and preferred to allow the flight of capital to tax havens, the reduction of debt and cuts to Quebec and the provinces. Next, the Conservatives favoured tax reductions rather than providing immediate support to the workers who helped build today's society.

Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois was there to ensure that our most vulnerable seniors would have a voice in government. Thanks to many interventions in the House, committees and the media, the Bloc Québécois was able to keep in the forefront a group of individuals who were not a government priority. Seniors are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but without full retroactivity because of various notable government mistakes. We will continue to fight against the federal government in order to—

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, a citizen is a citizen. A citizen who is a senior has been living in Canada, pays income taxes, GST and property taxes, Therefore, why do some seniors qualify for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement and others do not?

Six months before their 65th birthdays, seniors living in Canada have something to which they can forward. They can apply for old age security and on their birthdays they receive a cheque. No matter what their income levels, they receive a monthly pension cheque.

Some seniors come from countries that have social security agreements with Canada. They could be in Canada for a year, or three years or five years, and they may or may not be citizens. Even after just being in Canada for one year, they receive the old age security. That is fine. We totally agree with this. If that senior is in need of extra support, that senior can combine the Canada pension plan and receive the guaranteed income supplement if the level of income is below a certain poverty line.

Seniors who come to Canada from countries that have no social security agreements with Canada, even though they could be working, contributing to the society and paying their taxes, do not qualify for old age security even though they have been in Canada for five or eight years and are Canadian citizens. That is not fair.

Ordinary Canadians expect the Canadian pension system to be fair. They expect some social justice and equity. They feel that all citizens should receive old age security, no matter what country they come from or how long they have been in Canada.

The bill in front of us would change the residency requirement from 10 years to 3 years, and the NDP supports that proposal. We understand there is a historical problem that dates back to 1977. The NDP has spoken out about this injustice for many years. After all, the founder of the whole concept of old age security and pension was Tommy Douglas, the former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. We have always envisioned that old age security and pension would cover all seniors living in Canada. We know that quite a few seniors live in poverty.

We understand that approximately 17% of seniors live in poverty. This is almost one in five seniors. Of these folks, 71% are women and 29% are men. Twice as many women lived with low incomes, and these women are seniors. Many of them have contributed, but are unable to receive old age security.

We have noticed there has been massive support from the community. We want to thank the member of Parliament for Surrey North. She has moved a motion in Parliament to remove this unjustified 10 year residency requirement. The motion is also in front of Parliament right now.

There are also other groups such as the Alternative Planning Group and Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network forum, which represents African Canadian Social Development Council, Chinese Canadian National Council, Hispanic Development Council and the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians. They are pushing the Canadian government to be more flexible and accommodating in treating immigrant seniors as equal members of the Canadian family by eliminating the 10 year residency requirement.

We also received a Vancouver city council resolution, approved on March 15, 2005. It says:

THAT Vancouver City Council request the Federal Government to ensure pension equality for all Canadian senior citizens, regardless of their country of origin and whether or not that country has a social services contract with Canada...

We also received from the Women Elders in Action group whose pension conference recommended that every individual, who was a permanent resident of Canada, at age 65 be entitled to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement and that these pensions needed to at least meet the low income threshold cut-off levels to reduce the potential abuse of elders.

A seniors summit at the Vancouver Declaration also stated that we needed to change the rule so immigrants would be eligible for pensions. We have seen petitions with 10,000 signatures in support of eliminating the 10 year residency requirement.

We know there is massive support out in the community. We know it does not require a large amount of money to level the field so there is equity. That is why I do not quite understand why the Liberal members of Parliament a few months ago did not support the amendment at the committee on human resources when we were debating Bill C-36 on pensions.

I recall the Bloc had a motion which was supported by the NDP. Given this is a minority government in a minority Parliament, with the support of the Liberals that amendment would have been passed at committee. Because Bill C-36 is a government bill, it would have come back to the House of Commons. We would have had this old problem fixed. Never mind the 13 years of the former Liberal government never dealing with this problem.

Right now what we have in front of us is a private members' bill. We are supporting it. However, we thought the opportunity with Bill C-36 was a missed opportunity.

Let us collectively vote in favour of this private member's bill and change the residency with regard to old age security so seniors do not have to live in poverty. They would qualify for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Let us get the private member's bill to the human resources committee and have it come back to the House for support so we can right this historical wrong.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement), introduced by my colleague from Brampton West. The intent of the bill is to amend the act to reduce from 10 years to 3 years the residency requirement for entitlement to a monthly pension.

As my riding of Beaches—East York is extremely diverse, with a large immigrant population and a high number of seniors, the bill would have a very positive impact on my community.

The current system intends to be universal but it actually discriminates against many older immigrants who have come to our country to seek a better life. The discrimination currently in the Old Age Security Act leaves many senior immigrants living in an impoverished situation from which they cannot get out.

We on the Liberal side of the House believe in helping those living in our country who are disadvantaged, which is why it was the Liberal governments that established: the OAS Act which created the old age security pension in 1952; the Canada pension plan and the QPP in 1966; the guaranteed income supplement for low income seniors in 1967; a publicly funded national health care program in 1968; and, restructured the Canada pension plan to ensure its sustainability in 1998.

In 2005, the guaranteed income supplement for low income seniors was increased by $2.7 billion over two years. This was the first non-cost of living increase since 1984. Bill C-362 would be the next Liberal achievement in supporting seniors.

The current system excludes many seniors from the benefit of OAS, especially new Canadians. Because of the 10 year residency requirement, it is not at all uncommon for Canadian seniors to go without the benefits of OAS for many years. This bill would achieve equality among seniors. Ten years is too harsh and can cause undue hardship to the most vulnerable seniors. Reducing this requirement to three years to keep in line with the citizenship requirements is a necessary change.

Seniors can meet the citizenship requirement, thereby becoming Canadian citizens, but because they have not lived in Canada for 10 years they do not qualify for the OAS. Therefore, this creates two categories of Canadian citizens: ones that get old age security and ones that do not. I believe this to be unacceptable.

Several groups have come out in support of Bill C-362. They include: Seniors Network BC; the Seniors Summit, which in its Vancouver declaration stated, “Change the rule that immigrants are not eligible for pensions for 10 years”; the Women Elders in Action is a group of women who have been active on this; Vancouver's city council has made its position very clear; the Alternative Planning Group/Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network forum in Toronto on May 6, 2006 representing the African Canadian Social Development Council, the Chinese Canadian National Council, the Hispanic Development Council and the Council of Agencies serving South Asians called on the government to be more flexible and accommodating and treat senior immigrants equally by eliminating the 10 year residency requirement through an amendment to the Old Age Security Act; and, finally, the Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network has also made representation.

All of those organizations work very closely with immigrant populations and they see, on a day to day basis, the hardships that this particular rule imposes on people. These organizations are credible and they have people who work at the grassroots on a regular basis. They have done many studies and are at the forefront of our social services programs.

Those organizations are telling us that what they see happening is not only unfair but undemocratic. This is one of the many reasons that I support this bill. Having worked as a volunteer in immigrant settlement programs myself for many years, I know of the difficulties that some of these seniors face and the need to rectify it.

According to Statistics Canada, there are 4.3 million people over the age of 65 living in Canada. The total number of seniors receiving old age security and the guaranteed income supplement is stated at 4.078 million people, according to Social Development Canada. This means that there are over 206,000 seniors living in Canada who are not receiving old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. This is no small number.

With little or no support other than their families, many of these seniors are living in poverty. It is time for us to do something about it. Many of these seniors do not meet the 10 year residency requirement even though such benefits are given to seniors through social agreements with countries within one year of their residency in Canada. We have a lot of reciprocal agreements with many countries around the world in terms of pensions that go to those countries from Canada and pensions that come from those countries to Canada. However, there are many countries with which we do not have those agreements, some of them because they do have not much of a pension structure for their own citizens.

I believe that when these seniors get here and become Canadian citizens they should not be penalized. They should not be unable to receive a pension of any kind and thereby be condemned to live in poverty for many years. Many of these seniors are deprived of the basic necessities of life due to the residency requirement, as we have said before.

The former Liberal government expressed its unequivocal support and commitment to resolve this very important issue. It is important that we address the issue of poverty among Canada's seniors and immigrant seniors. After one becomes a Canadian citizen, there should be no residency requirements to stop one from receiving the old age security.

The current policy discriminates between two citizens, with one getting the whole array of old age security benefits and the other not getting them. When an immigrant comes to Canada and has to wait three years to get his or her Canadian citizenship, he or she should not have to wait another six or seven years to meet the requirements for old age security benefits. It is discriminatory. That is why I thank my colleague from Brampton West for introducing Bill C-362, which I of course support.

In my own riding, I have had many meetings with constituents who are facing this kind of problem. Almost all of them will express that while they and their families want to and will continue to look after each other and support one another, and the children obviously will continue to support their loved ones, there is the reality of the situation, in that sometimes families lose jobs.

As well, many immigrants are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. When their elderly parents are not able to receive assistance after they become citizens, it makes the burden on the family that much greater. Their requests to me have been for us to assist in this area. I am very pleased that my colleague has presented this bill, because I think it would in fact resolve a great many of those problems. These people would be very happy to hear that we are working on trying to address some of these issues.

I understand that there are some people who say that this is too short a period and that the seniors who possibly would receive these pensions would not have made any major contribution to Canada's economy. We must remember, however, the children who are here with them. Many of these citizens actually work part time, because that is the only way for them to make a living, and they will continue to do so. Also, their children, grandchildren and others are making major contributions to our society.

This is really an investment in a healthy family, because parents and grandparents stabilize immigrant families. They assist in many ways, in keeping peace in the family, in helping the parents in terms of looking after the children, and in providing a generational continuity within that community.

It is very important that these seniors continue to come to Canada, join their families and become part of their families so that these families do have that generational stability and the grandchildren have the ability to spend time with their grandparents. Family reunification is fundamentally important. I believe in it very much. I support this bill because it does the right thing.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have this opportunity to make some remarks on Bill C-362 and the reasons why this government is in favour of maintaining the old age security program in its current form.

For more than half a century, the old age security program, OAS, has been a significant part of Canada's public pension system. OAS has provided benefits to Canadians aged 65 and older based solely on their years of residence in Canada.

The rules of eligibility are very simple. In order to qualify for OAS benefits, a person has to be 65 years old and have resided in Canada for at least 10 years after the age of 18. A full pension is payable after 40 years of residence in Canada. Once an individual is eligible for OAS, the door is open for them to receive other income-tested benefits such as the guaranteed income supplement or GIS.

The Old Age Security Act came into force in 1952. Since that time, the act has been reviewed and updated on many occasions. One particularly important change occurred in 1977, when partial OAS pensions were first introduced. Before that time, a person got either the entire pension or nothing at all.

The 1977 changes meant that eligible persons could receive a partial pension. That was based on their actual number of years living in Canada.

These changes also allow Canada to conclude reciprocal social security agreements with other countries. This means a person can qualify for the OAS with less than 10 years of residence in Canada as long as that person lived or worked for a certain number of years in their country of origin and as long as Canada has an agreement with that country.

Unlike the public pensions in some other countries around the world, Canada's OAS program has no qualifying conditions relating to citizenship. As long as a person resides in Canada for a minimum period of time, that person is eligible for a lifelong benefit based solely on residence and not on citizenship. This is no small benefit, considering the fact that the program is funded entirely out of general tax revenues.

Unlike the situation in many other countries, in Canada a person does not need to have worked to qualify for the OAS benefit. A person who has no previous labour force attachment--for example, a woman who has looked after children her entire life or a person who has a permanent disability and therefore could not enter the workforce--is still able to receive a pension with no penalty.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

An hon. member

And rightly so.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

My colleague has said, “and rightly so”, and of course he is right. That is the appropriate thing for a pension of this nature.

Instead, we have a policy in Canada of 10 years' residency in order to be eligible. Why is this done? It is done because the Canadian public and their governments believe it is important to encourage ties to Canada, and to have beneficiaries contribute to our communities, to be eligible.

This is not a new thing. It should come as no surprise to either the sponsor of this bill or her colleagues in the Liberal Party. They either supported the status quo for 13 years while they were in government or they never thought it was a big enough priority to depart from their policies at the time.

It seems to me that it is a reasonable policy goal to ensure that the OAS program remains financially sustainable for many years to come. We should be very attentive to any attempts, such as the current one, to substantially change a well-established policy in a way that could impose significant new burdens on Canadian taxpayers.

The minimum residency requirement of the program is designed to recognize the contribution seniors have made through their participation in Canadian society and Canada's economy during their lifetime, whether or not they were members of the workforce, but contributions they had to be present in Canada in order to make. It is an acknowledgement of the current arrangement that Canadian society as a whole has a responsibility to share the quality of life that we enjoy today with those who have built this country into what it is today.

By asking the government to reduce the residence qualification period for the OAS program, my colleague opposite is asking us to change a policy that is not only fair but has stood the test of time through changing immigration patterns and successive governments.

It is worth nothing that the current policy has also withstood the test of two charter challenges. Twice, the Superior and Federal Courts have ruled that the qualification requirements for length and time of residence in Canada for old age security do not discriminate against applicants on the grounds of national or ethnic origin. I repeat: the courts have ruled twice that this policy is not an attack on immigrant communities, notwithstanding the charge made by the member for Brampton West in introducing this bill.

I want to point out as well that the proposed changes to the bill would cost as much as $700 million annually. This figure would surely increase with inflation and would make it very difficult to pay for the--

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When Bill C-362 returns for study by the House, there will be five minutes left for the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)