House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


The House resumed from January 30 consideration of the motion.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the subject of the old age security program and to discuss support for seniors. Members on this side of the House are always happy to discuss our accomplishments on this very important issue. I applaud the hon. member from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for bringing this motion to the House today and allowing us yet another opportunity to talk about our record.

I know she cares as much about seniors' issues as I do and I can understand why she has left the Bloc Québécois after considering its complete and utter inability to do anything but talk. It has accomplished absolutely nothing in its time in Ottawa and the frustration must be overwhelming. However, she can rest assured that this government is getting the job done.

At the outset I want to say that our record over the past 24 months has been one of action. We have laid out a plan and we are implementing it. This stands in stark contrast to 13 years of Liberal rule where seniors' issues were talked about but little action was taken.

That is not how the government works. On the contrary, just like the hon. member of the opposition, we are truly concerned about the financial and social welfare of our senior citizens and we take action.

That is why we have taken measures to improve the quality of life of seniors. Now, under the government’s leadership, seniors are receiving higher benefits through the guaranteed income supplement and the old age security programs than they ever received under the Liberal government.

One of the first things this government did upon our election in 2006 was to implement an increase to the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, that totalled 3.5% annually for all GIS recipients, including those my colleague across the way specifically mentions in this motion.

We did this again in January 2007. This measure is providing more than $400 extra for a single recipient and almost $700 for a couple.

This amounts to an increase in the GIS of $2.7 billion over five years. That is the type of action the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques was asking for, but the impact is much more positive and affects more seniors than the narrow measures outlined in this motion.

We did not stop there. We have also doubled the tax based pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000. This increase benefits nearly 2.7 million seniors who receive eligible pension income, providing up to $155 per pensioner.

The actions of this government have resulted in the removal of more than 85,000 pensioners from the tax rolls. Certainly that is something to be proud of.

In terms of benefits for seniors, when we contrast the progress of this government with Motion M-383 to apply the money recovered from overpayments to an increase in GIS payments, we see that the estimated increase would be only $1.70 per month for each GIS recipient. That is because overpayments are extremely rare. In fact, my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo mentioned that only a few moments ago on the subject of these payments. That figure will decrease dramatically as a result of our government’s plans to modernize the program.

The Government of Canada has long identified the needs of low income seniors as a key priority. This attention has clearly paid off. Canada's pension system is the envy of the world. Our country's mix of public and private pensions has been universally recognized as a highly effective way for countries to provide for retirement income needs.

However, this alone is not good enough for our government.

That is why we acted to help seniors protect their retirement income savings. In budget 2007, we increased the RRSP-RPP maturation age limit to 71 years of age from 69 so that older persons can shelter their tax-free investments for a longer period. Canadian seniors told us they wanted this done and we listened.

The proof is in the pudding. The incidence of low income among Canadian seniors is among the lowest in the developed world. We have fewer lower income seniors than the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and the United States, to mention just a few. Canada can take pride in this major achievement.

Nevertheless, we are still finding ways to improve the lives of our seniors, not only economically but also in other aspects of their lives. In 2007, our government created the position of Secretary of State (Seniors. She works very closely with the National seniors Council to help identify policies that will respond to the needs of seniors. Unlike the previous government, which made great speeches and then hesitated and dragged its feet about implementing its policies, our government asks seniors what they want and then takes action.

The creation of the National Seniors Council and the Secretary of State for Seniors are examples of our government's deep commitment to seniors' issues. To further illustrate this, we have committed an additional $10 million per year to the new horizons for seniors program, which will help seniors to continue making valuable contributions to their communities and their country.

This program funds projects led by seniors within community based organizations. It is a grassroots approach. Seniors share their skills, wisdom and experience to their benefit and that of the community at large. By funding local projects, the program ensures that seniors have opportunities to participate and thrive in their communities. Many of these projects are designed to reach out to isolated seniors.

The Minister of Finance announced last week that budget 2008 would commit $13 million to fund projects that will raise awareness of elder abuse and fight to ensure that those who built this country are not taken advantage of. The remaining new horizons for seniors program funds will provide capital assistance for community buildings and equipment used in delivering seniors' programs.

Budget 2008 represents the most significant advance in ensuring the economic security of Canadian seniors of any budget in the past decade. Last week, the Minister of Finance announced that this government would increase the earned income exemption of GIS recipients to $3,500 from the current $500.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons applauded the government for having listened to retired people on that score. Sean Sprackett, of Ernst & Young, said that for people receiving the guaranteed income supplement, this budget measure will be a real help.

When it is time to support this budget, I hope the hon. member will recognize the importance of these measures and the extent to which they will help low-income seniors.

Once again, I thank the hon. member for the opportunity to examine new measures to support seniors. This government is interested in listening to any new ideas from all members of the House, because a good idea is a good idea.

While we cannot support the motion, I ask the member to please be assured that we will continue to look at initiatives that seek to improve the well-being of Canada's seniors, because they deserve a government that does more than just talk about the issues. I will point out that the sponsor of the bill actually voted against the budget that would bring in many of these measures that are so important to seniors.

Seniors deserve a government that takes action on the issues that affect them. Under the leadership of this Prime Minister and this government, they finally have one.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am truly delighted to speak in support of the motion by the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques asking Parliament to review the old age security program with a view to putting a system in place that would not require seniors to repay their benefits, and paying the savings the program achieves to guaranteed income supplement recipients, giving priority to single, divorced and widowed seniors.

Many of those seniors are women.

According to a Statistics Canada profile of seniors, in 2005 women accounted for 52% of persons aged 65 to 69 and almost 76% of persons aged 90 or older. Men are catching up to women in their longevity. Between 1981 to 2005, numbers of men between 80 and 84 years increased to 39% of seniors. They had previously been at 37%. By 2021, they could account for 43%.

The motion calls on the government not only to improve the guaranteed income supplement, but also to give special attention to seniors who did not have an opportunity to prepare for retirement.

We are talking about people who have always lived below the poverty line—single seniors who never married, or divorced or widowed seniors, some of whom worked in the home or worked for minimum wage.

So if the government truly intends to help seniors, this motion with give it the direction it needs.

The direction laid out in the motion means allowing seniors who want to continue working, who need to continue working and who are able to work to do so without suffering a financial penalty.

Let us use the scarce resources we have at present, because to all appearances the Conservative government has spent the surplus accumulated by the Liberals when we were in government.

Some seniors would like to be able to continue working part-time without jeopardizing their pensions or their guaranteed income supplement, particularly seniors who live in housing where the cost keeps going up exponentially.

There is a shortage of affordable housing for seniors.

In 2004 the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation told us that even though 2001 census results confirmed that the majority of Canadian households lived in housing that was affordable, uncrowded and in a good state of repair, even though fewer households were in core housing need in 2001 than in 1996, and even though the percentage of Canadian households in core housing need fell from 17.9% to 15.8%, the incidence of core housing need remains high among four segments of the population: seniors aged 65 or over living alone, lone parents with children under 18 living at home, aboriginal households, and recent immigrants.

If the government is really as concerned about seniors as it professes to be and if the government is really concerned about accountability, as it has repeated endlessly, it must be accountable to the seniors of the country, to the seniors of my riding of Davenport, and to seniors of cities throughout the country. It must use those remaining resources to target the seniors who cannot afford not to work without penalizing them financially.

This motion is very similar to that proposed by the Liberal women's caucus and is part of our party's policy.

The Liberal Women’s Caucus Pink Book recommended that seniors be allowed to earn income, including RRSP withdrawals, equal to 10 times the benefits they receive from the old age pension, the OAP, and the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, before having their GIS reduced. Ten per cent of those two benefits would amount to about $1,400.

The Pink Book also recommended that the guaranteed income supplement application form be eliminated. All the information is available on the income tax return.

It also recommended dividing the GIS cheque in proportion to a couple’s income. For example, if one individual earns 80% of the income, he or she would get 20% of the GIS and the spouse would get 80%.

The Pink Book also recommended working with the provinces to eliminate the 11-month limit on retroactive payment that now applies to Canada pension plan benefits. That change means that a person who applies late for CPP would not be penalized.

In conclusion, while I agree with the sentiments in this motion, I would like to ask for the Speaker's indulgence to allow a friendly amendment to the main motion in order to clarify it. The mover of this motion, I understand, is also in agreement with this proposal.

At this moment, I also would like to thank my colleague, the member for Laval—Les Îles, who has worked so hard on behalf of seniors across this country and who also has put forward this amendment.

Therefore, at this stage of the debate, I move the following motion:

That the motion be amended by deleting sections a) and b) from the text.

The new version would read as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should review the Old Age Security program with a view to:

a) improve the Guaranteed Income Savings benefits for elderly single, divorced and widowed individuals; and

b) increase the other income threshold so that Guaranteed Income Savings recipients may receive the equivalent of 15 hours per week of work at minimum wage in their province of residence without penalty.

That is the amendment, which is seconded by my colleague from London North Centre.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty to inform hon. members that, pursuant to Standing Order 93(3), no amendment may be proposed to a private members' motion or to the motion for second reading of a private members' bill unless the sponsor of the item indicates his or her consent.

Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques if she consents to this amendment being moved?

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, although it pains me to do so, I consent.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The amendment is in order.

The debate is on the amendment.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that we support the motion moved by the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques as amended by our colleague from Davenport. We will vote in favour of this motion as amended because, first of all, we believe in it as a political party and because this motion reflects the will of the thousands of seniors we consulted in Quebec.

The hon. member for Repentigny, a Bloc Québécois member, has been making the rounds in Quebec since last fall and meeting with seniors in various forums, as well as social groups that advocate for seniors, particularly community groups. In my own riding, Chambly—Borduas, on February 11, 2008, the hon. member for Repentigny came to meet with over 200 people. I accompanied him to consult them on their financial situation and the conditions they are living in. The motion not only corresponds to their wishes, but above all, it corrects the shortcomings that cause many seniors to live in situations of poverty, situations that are embarrassing for Canada.

At the same time, I also want to congratulate and thank all those seniors’ groups in Quebec and Canada. Particularly in Quebec, we see the leaders of these seniors’ groups who really do take care of our more disadvantaged citizens. On February 27, the day after the budget was tabled Ernest Boyer, the president of FADOQ, the Quebec federation of seniors, said what he thought about it. He said virtually word for word that there was nothing in the budget to help the poorest, most disadvantaged seniors.

This motion is very pertinent, therefore, to the lives of our seniors and to the debate in the House that was just ended by the budget vote. It is appalling to see just how insensitive this government is to the situation in which our seniors find themselves.

I just heard one of our Conservative colleagues saying much the same thing as we do about the compassion we should all have for our economically most disadvantaged seniors. He came to the conclusion, though, that ultimately the Conservatives will not do anything for them. At the same time, how could we forget the words of the Conservative member this afternoon who said that seniors are good and strong and could go to work? One hon. member said this afternoon that they need good, strong people out in Alberta and he knew some over 70 years old who could go to work.

This reflects the attitude toward seniors in the budget, which includes a tax break for seniors who go to work but nothing for those who cannot. We know very well, though, that the seniors who are worst off are those who cannot work because of their age and the fact that their past working conditions left them physically worn out. Not everybody has been lucky enough to have a job that is socially useful but not very physically demanding. Most of the older working people in Canada had employment conditions that compromised their physical condition.

I am talking about people in their early 60s. For example, I have met women who worked in the fishing industry in the Gaspésie and are between 55 and 60 now. Most of them have trouble getting up in the morning because their arthritis is so bad. Why? They worked in water all their lives. We do not work in water here. Anyone with any sense who is aware of the long-term effects of cold water on the body knows that it affects the ends of the nerves, causing them to shrink over time and leading directly to arthritis.

I have been talking about fishers but could mention lumberjacks as well. It is pretty rare to see a lumberjack over 60 who does not have problems with arthritis or something else.

Now that these people have finally stopped working, the government is asking them to go back. In addition to being retrained, they would have to be physically able to work. These are the people we are talking about. There is nothing in the budget to help them, nor even the slightest willingness on the part of the Conservatives.

The motion is very similar to the bill recently tabled by my colleague for Repentigny, Bill C-490, which provides for the automatic registration of people who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

We know that the government has deprived the most needy seniors of an income. In total, the government is holding on to $3.3 billion that belongs to seniors. In Canada, 135,000 people are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement but are not receiving it. In Quebec, there are still 43,000 people in that situation. People who are eligible should be enrolled automatically and receive the money that is owed to them, but the Government of Canada, Liberals and Conservatives alike, refuses to give it to them, even though it belongs to them. This is a very grave injustice.

The Bloc Québécois bill calls for an increase of $110 per month for those receiving the guaranteed income supplement. This supplement has not been raised for a long time. The government proposes about $8 or $10 a month. That is nothing to the people who are in need. An increase of $110 is not a lot, but for them it is still significant. Often, that will determine whether they have to go begging for money.

The bill also calls for full retroactivity for the people affected, as I stated previously, as well as a compensatory period for guaranteed income supplement recipients who suffer the loss of their spouse. We propose that, as a means of adapting to their new financial situation, they would be paid the supplement that their deceased spouse would have received for a period of six months.

In short, our position in relation to the motion before us is complementary to our position regarding the bill tabled by my colleague. That is to say, the motion supports part of our bill.

We must point out the great distinction between the political will to achieve something for seniors and simply making a speech in favour of seniors. We can see that difference in this House, listening to the Conservatives and, in practical terms, reading the budget that has just been adopted. That is one of the reasons we voted against this budget. This budget devotes everything to the debt, to the war, to nuclear power and the oil companies, but shows no compassion for seniors.

Some will argue that I am tying together two debates, but the policy of the Conservatives regarding seniors begins with the issue of the guaranteed income supplement and extends to the treatment of older workers who lose their jobs and receive no income support when their employment insurance has expired.

A famous politician said that a society is judged by the way it treats its children and its seniors.

Allow me to say that the two governments who have succeeded each other at the federal level will be judged very severely in terms of their treatment of seniors. That is the reason why we will be voting in favour of the motion as amended.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, Motion M-383 asks the government to review and improve the old age security program for Canadian seniors. It is high time and we will be supporting the motion.

It is vital that we have this debate because the federal policy with regard to seniors has a number of serious shortcomings which allow too many of our seniors to fall through the cracks. And this will continue unless we make changes.

The Canadian Institute of Actuaries and Waterloo University recently concluded that two-thirds of Canadian households planning to retire in 2030 will not have saved enough to defray their essential living expenses during their retirement.

The Minister of Finance may believe that everyone is able to save $5,000 each year, but that is not at all the case.

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents to a local radio show in Victoria said they could only dream of the day they had $5,000 of discretionary cash.

We clearly need a comprehensive review of OAS and other income supports for seniors, a review that is done regularly so it reflects the changing needs and circumstances that seniors face in different parts of the country.

The Victoria group Women Elders in Action testified before the finance committee last fall that in 2004, 40% of women workers held non-standard jobs commonly offering low wages without security and without benefits. The warning that they should expect to work until 67 or even 73 to achieve some semblance of economic security fits conveniently with the government's desire to have aging workers stay in the workforce longer. It is not surprising then that the only budget provision related to seniors was to get seniors to work longer.

It is these small changes that the Liberals do not mind supporting in the budget because they seem inoffensive, but behind them we have to see the larger project of Tom Flanagan and the Fraser Institute incrementally moving Canada toward a more conservative state. Before we know it, the logical next step will be to delay public pensions to age 70. I am not prepared to start down that road.

The NDP's seniors first motion would take us in the other direction, to protect, respect and support seniors. It passed the House in June 2006 and 20 months later, we have no action from the government, other than a new National Seniors Council which is apparently very slow to act.

Seniors in my riding are exceptionally aware and astute about politics. They know that what we do here in Ottawa affects their everyday lives.

In January, the NDP's seniors critic, the member for Hamilton Mountain, came for a day to Victoria. She and I exchanged concerns with over 150 people, including a very productive session with representatives of Victoria's seniors groups.

We heard during that session that seniors are impacted by a number of big issues, such as the desperate lack of affordable housing in Victoria, the doctor shortage, the sky-high cost of necessary prescription drugs, inadequate home care and long term care to allow them to stay at home longer, and a shameful lack of financial supports for in-home caregivers who sacrifice so much to be there for family and friends in their moment of need.

We heard about a marked decline in service from the federal government ever since Service Canada replaced specialized support staff with expert knowledge on seniors programs.

We heard how the federal government does a poor job of informing seniors about their eligibility for CPP, income support and the disability tax credit. Fifty thousand seniors missed out on old age security and other supports in 2004, and close to one million Canadians who are eligible for the disability tax credit simply do not know about it.

I hosted a workshop on the disability tax credit last fall and as a result, some individuals are now receiving benefits they would never have known existed.

We heard how the federal government is refusing to pay back seniors for an error in calculating the consumer price index which shortchanged countless seniors on their CPP and income support payments. As it is, we know that seniors get a bad deal from inflation calculations that do not reflect the real cost of living increases they face. Now the government refuses to account for its own mistake. We also heard calls to move toward including alternative and complementary medicine in health care plans.

Most of these problems are well-known because they have been raised by seniors for a long time and by the NDP, but we still have no action.

These needs are just some of the reasons it is also important to support the incredible work by seniors organizations across Canada that try to help seniors deal with these issues.

Communities across Canada have groups like Victoria's New Horizons groups, Greater Victoria Seniors, Silver Threads, Seniors Helping Seniors and Oak Bay Volunteer Services. I could spend my whole 10 minutes telling this House about the tremendous and invaluable work done by these groups in Victoria.

Seniors organizations have told me over and over again that they need long term core funding to more effectively and efficiently provide the services that seniors desperately need.

The current project-based scheme imposed by the federal government forces these largely volunteer run groups to spend far too much of their time and energy applying for grants instead of delivering programs.

The worst part of the system is that the groups are not allowed to apply for the same project from year to year. They are forced to come up with new proposals every 12 months instead of continuing and extending their proven projects to reach more and more seniors in need.

Just yesterday the Canadian Public Health Association released a report from its 15 member expert panel on health literacy stating that 88% of Canadian seniors would benefit from stronger health literacy skills, that is, the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Carolyn Altridge, a retired RN in Victoria, told me that she regularly sees errors made in taking medication, with enormous costs to seniors' health and to the whole health care system overall.

Among the CPHA report's solutions were community grassroots initiatives such as the ones promoted and provided by Victoria's seniors organizations and centres. The very groups that could help address the health literacy gap are the ones the government is starving.

These are not start-up NGOs. They have been in business for years. They know the community and they know what works. They do not need seed money to become independent organizations. They need stable, long term funding to do their work of helping seniors stay independent as long as they can.

In some cases they have had to hire a full time employee just to manage the onerous application and reporting process to the federal government.

No one is saying that these groups should not be accountable for their funding, but simply that they should have some time left after filling out all the government forms to actually deliver the programs. They should be trusted by the government to know what works best in their field, instead of being micromanaged.

They are major on the ground solutions to many of the problems I mentioned today, including that of health literacy, and I firmly believe that respect for our seniors has to start with respect for the organizations that represent and serve our seniors.

It is an insult that the budget only mentions seniors in the context of getting them to work longer. If we mean it when we say that seniors deserve to retire with dignity and respect, we have to start showing it. This motion is the beginning of making some much needed changes to the old age security system and my colleagues and I will strongly support it.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to draw these two hours of debate to a close, first by thanking all our colleagues who spoke and shared their points of view. Although we do not all hold the same opinion, this democratic exercise will at least have had the advantage of allowing citizens, seniors in particular, to see what their representatives truly stand for.

Canadians will also have had the opportunity—unfortunately, in one sense—to listen to the Conservative nonsense on two occasions. And I would like to say to Canadians that one never gets used to it, although that is no consolation. I will never get used to the fact that a government with the means does not have the will to safeguard Canadians against poverty and to help them live with dignity.

My motion contains possible solutions. It asks the government to accept the principle of a program review, based on specific, although not exhaustive, suggestions that will stop us from aggravating the poverty of our most disadvantaged seniors.

In the budget adopted this evening, the government included an exemption on the first $3,500 of income in calculating the guaranteed income supplement. This exemption is certainly modelled after the last part of my motion, although it is quite a bit less generous.

However, the problem has to be seen from a wider angle. The new measure in the budget will help seniors who want to continue working, but the budget contains nothing new for single seniors living in poverty.

The government had the resources to give them a significant increase that would at least have brought them above the poverty line.

My motion is supported by the signatures of more than 7,000 people throughout eastern Quebec, who want the people in charge of the program and the people in Parliament to think about the extremely distressing situation of seniors who are receiving the guaranteed income supplement. The voice of the people is speaking.

I want to repeat one aspect of my speech that I believe to be important. When I spoke to my motion, I tried very sincerely to raise the tone of the debate above partisanship.

I believe I succeeded, up to a point, but unfortunately the Conservatives have been using this place for two years to engage in self-aggrandizement instead of genuinely discussing how they could make a lasting improvement in the lives of the people for whom they are responsible, and in particular seniors.

It is absolutely scandalous, given that there are thousands of seniors living below the poverty line, that the Conservatives would dare to brag that they have done a better job, in their own opinion, than previous governments.

Although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources said at the outset of her speech, and I quote, “...we welcome any input from the opposition”, she set about trying to tear down the suggestions I made, as her colleague did tonight as well, but more than anything, she went on about what she said was “good news”, that Canada has the lowest poverty rate among seniors in the world.

Not only will seniors living on the guaranteed income supplement find nothing for them here, but they will be insulted to hear things like that being said.

I am not concerned about the fact that the poverty rate for seniors is the lowest in the world, I am concerned about the fact that there is still poverty in a country as rich as this. The Conservative government is putting all its energy into reducing the debt, but if that debt is the lowest in the world, why not work on truly reducing poverty in this country?

My opposition colleagues have offered constructive criticism. Some of them wanted to quantify seniors’ lost earnings, others had problems with certain terms used, and the Liberals presented an amendment and I accepted it because it did nothing to detract from my original motion or the essence of that motion, which is obviously to improve guaranteed income supplement benefits and allow for 15 hours of work.

Beyond the words, beyond the terms, beyond the possible solutions that have been suggested, there is the intention and there is the action that can be taken. That is what my motion is about: tackling the entire problem of poverty among our seniors by providing them with dignified, honourable, decent benefits that are worthy of the name.

In conclusion, I would like to say that this motion can be achieved, it is realistic, and it is time to act. I would like once again to thank the member who seconded my motion, the member for London North Centre.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members



Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 5 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find unanimous consent to see the clock at 6:30.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is it agreed?

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:25 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in order, I hope, to get a clearer answer to the questions I asked about the scheming for a government appointment.

The House of Commons could do without the jeers of the hon. members opposite. It could also do without the smugness that surrounds the Conservative government.

Canadians have a right to clear, unequivocal answers from their elected representatives. They are responsible to the House and the people of Canada for answering clearly and accurately for their actions.

We all remember the O'Brien affair. I will summarize what happened.

In the last mayoralty race in Ottawa, candidate Larry O'Brien allegedly approached his rival Terry Kilrea. Why? To dangle before him the possibility of getting him a job on the National Parole Board and paying some of his election expenses in return for Mr. Kilrea’s withdrawal from the race. The two men exchanged emails about this.

The Ottawa Citizen has followed this saga and helped identify the main participants in it. Apart from the two principals, the following names have surfaced: Ms. Heather Tessier, who is Mr. O'Brien’s niece, a former executive assistant for Mayor O'Brien, and, according to the Ottawa Sun, a former executive assistant to the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton and Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.

The Minister of the Environment apparently met Mayor O'Brien at Hy's Steakhouse.

Mr. Dimitri Pantazopoulos has long been close to the Conservatives and is the president of Praxicus Public Strategies. He is said to have approached Mr. Kilrea in this matter. According to The Ottawa Citizen, he mentioned a possible job but said it would have to wait until after the election.

Mr. John Reynolds was the co-chair of the Conservative Party’s 2006 election campaign. He supposedly spoke with Mr. O'Brien about this but claims he never pursued the matter.

Mr. John Light is the political assistant of the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton and the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. He supposedly said that Mr. O'Brien’s campaign team was secretly working to persuade Mr. Kilrea to drop out of the race.

Mr. Doug Finley is the chief organizer of the Conservative Party of Canada. He is said to have been responsible for drawing up some kind of an offer.

Mr. Kilrea signed an affidavit explaining his version of events, and he even agreed to undergo a polygraph test, the results of which were positive. The Ontario Provincial Police investigated the matter, and Mr. O'Brien was charged.

During a question period last October, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons denied having offered an appointment or anything else. However, in an affidavit, Detective Sergeant Mason of the Ontario Provincial Police said that Mayor O'Brien had asked Terry Kilrea to drop out of the mayoral race if O'Brien could make an appointment happen. According to Mr. Kilrea, he received a call a few hours later from Mr. O'Brien, who told him that John Reynolds had put his name on a list. Parliamentary assistant John Light told police that Doug Finley was in charge of preparing an offer.

In November, the Liberal Party asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to look into the actions of the Minister of the Environment and other members of the Conservative Party.

This affair throws the government's lack of transparency into sharp relief. The Minister of the Environment knew that an offer had been made, but he did not do anything to stop it. The minister has his head in the sand and is pretending to see nothing, know nothing and hear nothing.

Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like to repeat my question: How can the Minister of the Environmentclaim that his hands are clean when he did not inform the authorities as soon as he came into possession of this information?

6:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I suppose if it is Tuesday night and late show proceedings are on, it is an invent a scandal night courtesy of the Liberals.

The member opposite wanted some clarity. Let me be perfectly clear. An appointment for Mr. Kilrea was never considered. An appointment for Mr. Kilrea was never offered. An appointment for Mr. Kilrea was never granted.

There is no scandal. Case closed.

6:30 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, last December, OPP Superintendent Dave Truax told the media that he would transfer the files from the O'Brien case to the RCMP. The following day, the OPP quickly released a statement saying that the files would not be transferred to the RCMP.

What happened during those 24 hours? Who used their influence to reverse that decision? What role did the Minister of the Environment play in this whole thing? His chief of staff admitted that he phoned the OPP.

Shockingly, the Minister of the Environment got involved not once, but twice in the election campaign, when he decided, on his own, to suspend federal funding for Ottawa's light rail project in the middle of an election campaign.

I repeat my question: How can the Minister of the Environment claim to have had nothing to do with this?

6:35 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, quite clearly, only the Liberals would consider it a scandal where a patronage appointment was not made.

With respect to the involvement of the OPP, only the Liberals could invent a conspiracy theory blaming the OPP, when they find out that the minister was not involved.

No scandal. Case closed.

6:35 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to use this adjournment debate to return to an issue I raised last November. I denounced the Service Canada advertisement in which two retired people literally bump into a Service Canada counter on a curling rink. When I saw that commercial on television, I was outraged that the Conservative government was spending fantastic amounts of money on advertising instead of allocating that money to really helping seniors. We are aware that there are still a great many seniors who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but do not know it. If we looked for them perhaps we would find them.

Despite the surplus available to the government; despite its obligation to redistribute that collective wealth, the financial situation of thousands of seniors whose only income is the combined old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits continues to get worse. As we know, thousands of seniors are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but do not know it. In fact, they are being deprived of it. Even though the government has made some changes in its procedures, it is not enough.

The government must employ the resources necessary to reach these people who could receive the guaranteed income supplement. Service Canada staff should be out on the ground to find these people and help them fill out the forms. This is local work that demands a serious and sustained effort. The staff certainly will not find destitute seniors in curling rinks.

The government must administer public funds prudently and without seeking to advance its political interests. Taxpayers' money should go to those who need it and not to advertising agencies.

When we think of the insufficient benefits, when we know that seniors whose only income is those benefits are living below the poverty line, and that thousands of people who are eligible are not receiving benefits, that kind of waste on advertising is unacceptable and shameful.

Who could serious claim that such advertising is effective? It does not deal in any way with the problems of older people, whom it is exploiting.

From the Auditor General’s report of November 2006, we have learned, and I quote:

Human Resources and Social Development Canada and Service Canada have limited information on why potentially eligible seniors do not apply for the GIS. The two organizations also lack data collection mechanisms that would reveal whether outreach activities translate into applications received.

That being the case, how can the Conservative government have gone on blissfully believing that the ads would really connect with those seniors? Why did the Conservative government not take more effective measures to ensure that it would reach seniors in need?

In the end, the formula is the same from one government to the next: look like it is doing something without actually doing it or intending to achieve results. Not only is that upsetting, it is unacceptable.