Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have tabled a watered-down budget that lacks originality and fails to meet the needs of Canadians, namely the growing needs of seniors.
One of Canada's biggest successes is its retirement income system for seniors. Who are the architects of this success? The Liberal governments of course. The old age security program, the Canada pension plan, and the guaranteed income supplement are all Liberal accomplishments. And it was Liberals who established the new horizons program.
The Liberal government implemented a number of initiatives for seniors: the creation of a national seniors secretariat; the expansion of the residential rehabilitation assistance program; the creation of a compassionate care benefit; the creation of a home care fund and a tax credit allowing family caregivers to claim medical and disability related expenses. And let us not forget the health agreement to transfer $41.3 billion to the provinces for all Canadians, but especially seniors.
The Conservatives claim to have the interests of seniors at heart, but they have abolished the secretary of state for seniors position. Is that what it means to pay attention to seniors? No.
Under the Liberal government, there were fewer seniors living in poverty. The number of people 65 and older with low incomes went from 11% in 1993 to 5.6% in 2004. Those are positive results.
Canada's population aged 65 and older is growing. According to Statistics Canada's 2007 yearbook, this segment of the population reached 4.3 million in 2006. It is now 2008 and this population is not shrinking. It represents 13% of the Canadian population and it is predicted to reach 27% by 2056. Furthermore, the fastest growth will be in the segment of the population 80 and over.
In 2006, the Quebec polling firm Ipsos Descarie conducted a poll in collaboration with the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the Quebec seniors council. The poll used different selection criteria, in particular age, with respondents having to be 55 or older. Nonetheless, the results were quite interesting and the findings can apply to Canada's population.
This poll paints a portrait of Quebec seniors. Who are they? They are mostly urban dwellers and a high percentage own their own homes. Only 8% live in a seniors residence. According to Statistics Canada, 93% of seniors lived in private households in 2001, but this percentage tends to decrease after the age of 85.
Although a high proportion of seniors live with a spouse, many women seniors live alone. Seniors in rental accommodation tend to live alone.
A Quebec humorist, Yvon Deschamps, said that it was better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick. How wise he was. The Quebec poll indicated that those with the lowest incomes tended to worry more about their health or their financial situation or the fact that they were aging alone. Health and one's financial situation are the main concerns but low-income individuals tend to worry more about those two issues.
Today, most Canadian seniors are in better shape financially than their parents. The creation of the Canada pension plan—by the Liberals—has made it possible for many workers to contribute and to draw pension benefits. According to Statistics Canada:
Seniors are now getting a smaller proportion of their total income from government transfers such as Old Age Security benefits, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Spouse's Allowance than in the early 1980s. Still 97% of seniors received income from one or more of these sources in 2005, and these sources accounted for 32% of senior women's income.
There are fewer poor seniors today than there were 25 years ago, but there are still too many. Not everyone has contributed to public and private pension plans, and not everyone has access to such plans. I am thinking of self-employed workers, seasonal workers and especially women, who are often forgotten.
The Confédération des syndicats nationaux or CSN states that 60% of workers work for a company that does not have a pension plan. Government of Quebec data indicate that in 2004, the average total income of women aged 65 or over was $19,600, while for men it was $31,500.
Too many seniors, especially women, are living in poverty. They have to make do with low fixed incomes and deal with steady increases in the cost of rent, energy, drug insurance premiums, communications and transportation.
Finding affordable housing is often a major problem for seniors. Affordable social housing is often allocated to poor families, and seniors tend to be forgotten.
The National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation has called on the government to continue implementing heating subsidies for seniors and low-income families. It is also asking the federal government and housing associations to provide appropriate, affordable housing for seniors in need. In addition, the CSN has asked Quebec to pressure the federal government to shoulder its responsibilities for social housing.
Government of Quebec data reveal that nearly half of all seniors receive the guaranteed income supplement, which is a serious indicator of poverty among seniors. In addition, one owner in seven spends 30% or more of his or her income on housing, while nearly half of all renters do.
The Ipsos-Décarie poll reveals that 4% of respondents aged 65 or over say that they are not retired but work part time. If we add the respondents who say that they are retired but work full time or part time, that represents 9% of individuals aged 65 or over, or nearly one person in 10. This is a large group of potential workers.
Not everyone works because of financial considerations. “Pensioners holding jobs say they do so primarily to fill their spare time or because they enjoy their job too much to leave it.” How can we retain these potential workers? What other accommodations can we make in terms of taxes and our labour laws to allow young retirees who can work and older retirees who wish to work part-time to do so?
Seniors are generally happy and devote a large part of their time to leisure activities. The more active you are the more likely you will be happy and healthy. We have to promote the creation and adaptation of sports equipment and facilities. We should also think about extending the child fitness tax credit to seniors.
Many seniors do volunteer work. According to Statistics Canada, women between the ages of 65 and 74 spend more time on unpaid work than men. According to Ipsos-Décarie, the highest proportion of volunteers is found in the 60 to 69 age category.
Ipsos-Décarie also found that one respondent out of five was an informal caregiver, of whom 22% were between the ages of 60 and 69. On average, respondents spent 7.1 hours of their time each week as informal caregivers and one in four caregivers spent even more than 15 hours per week in that role.
As I am being told that my time is running out, I will end with a few proposals for future discussion with respect to helping seniors.
We should fund the development of a national strategy for informal caregivers; establish a department for seniors; develop a national strategy for older workers; expand the new horizons program; invest more in social housing and affordable housing for seniors; increase amounts paid to widows by the government; increase the period of compassionate leave; provide subsidies to help recipients of the guaranteed income supplement to cover rising heating costs; increase the guaranteed income supplement; invest in public transportation by offering free travel to seniors who use it in off-peak hours and on week-ends, as well as making accommodations required for reduced mobility.
I thank my colleagues for their patience.
The Liberals will have more empathy and compassion for Canada's seniors, the—