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—