Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words about this very important initiative targeted at our seniors across the country. I think, right off the bat, it really is a no-brainer. It is something we should have done a long time ago.
I know that it has been brought forward on a number of occasions. Members of this House from different parties have brought forward similar bills before the House only to be defeated by the government of the day. That was at one point the Liberals and now we have the Conservatives. Although it is good today to hear from the Liberal member who just spoke, from the wonderful Welland area of Ontario, saying that he thinks this bill should be supported. I definitely think so as well.
One of the things that we as members of Parliament run into, when we go back to our constituencies on weekends from this place, are seniors who come to our office to share with us how difficult it is for them to gather the few pennies that they have and make ends meet. It is a tough problem to have to deal with because there really is not much out there by way of support above and beyond the very modest amounts of money that seniors in this country receive through the CPP, OAS and GIS.
I suspect that as we move forward in the economy that we are now looking at, and we are talking about it in some great detail here today, that there will be fewer private pensions available for people because that is just not what corporations are interested in doing these days, never mind indexing those pensions.
When looking at the CPP, GIS and OAS, we should do everything that we can to make absolutely certain that anyone who is entitled to a pension under the Canada pension plan actually gets it. I remember the first time I was presented with this by a senior. Richard Shillington has championed this cause for a number of years. He has done the math and understands this better than anyone I know. He has spent some significant time trying to educate me about it. He tells me that there are over an estimated 130,000 individuals in Canada who still are not applying for and getting their GIS.
That does not make any sense. We pay into Canada pension during our working life and would expect that it would be automatic once we reach 60 or 65. We would assume that we would get that and everything we are entitled to, that we would not have to fill out an extra form to qualify further for the supplement that is entitled to the really low income seniors.
I believe that in Quebec it is automatic and that once people apply for Canada pension, if they qualify for the extra GIS, it comes and they do not have to continue to reapply. I want to commend the government for actually making that small change just recently where people do not have to reapply every year for this benefit.
However, the fact that we have to apply in the first place means that there are literally hundreds of thousands of seniors out there who do not get it because they do not know it is available to them or they do not know enough to apply. We as parliamentarians and people who have been given responsibility for leadership in this place should be doing everything possible to make sure in the first place that people who qualify are entitled and get what is coming to them.
I want to move on to another piece of the bill which is the retroactivity of the GIS when people do not get it in the first place. I was astounded when I was first told that if seniors discovered later in life that they were entitled to this benefit that in some instances, the CPP itself but the GIS particularly, they could apply to receive retroacticity, but they could only get retroactive money for 11 months even though they may have qualified for 5, 10 or even 15 years in some instances. That is all they would get.
So here we have folks who, if they had applied, would have been getting this money, money that they were entitled to, but because they had not applied and because of the rules that we have in place governing this fund, they do not get a lump sum to reflect that which they in my view are owed.
I think that is criminal and I stack that up against somebody who is found to owe the government money over a number of years and all of a sudden it is discovered. There is no limit to the retroactivity there. Every penny plus interest is collected in that instance, and if one does not pay it, one could end up doing time. Why the government thinks it can get away with continuing to perpetrate this behaviour on seniors, on the people who actually built this country, at a time when they need it most, when they are most at risk of falling into poverty, is beyond me.
Therefore, I certainly would be in support, aggressively in support, of making sure that any money that is owed is given retroactively to the time when the person first qualified for it and was entitled, and that there be interest on top of that so that they are made whole, so that they are not left in a position where they in fact are now less well off as they would be if they had been getting this in the first place over those years. This only makes sense.
Having a provision to also provide some small support to a widow or a widower once their partner or spouse passes on is also a very good idea. Anybody who has been through a funeral with a family member, a parent or a spouse, will know that that whole experience is very expensive and getting more expensive with every day that goes by. A little bit of money, based on what was owed a spouse through the CPP and the GIS so that the spouse might find himself or herself in a position of not falling into poverty even further because of losing a spouse, makes a lot of sense to me as well.
I am trying to understand why the government would not see this as a no-brainer, why the government would not be automatically inclined to say, “Okay, let us do this because it makes sense. It is the right thing to do”. In my view it is the legal thing to do because people are owed this money. Why would the government not do that? Why would the previous Liberal government choose not to do it and why would now the Conservative government not see this as within the program? I am thinking that it is probably because it thinks it is going to be too expensive.
We again had that conversation here today about the priorities and choices that we make as government. We have seen, over the last two years, the government make a decision to spend literally $200 billion in a tax relief package that is going to go primarily to big corporations, financial institutions and the oil industry.
What would be wrong with taking a small percentage of that and making sure that our seniors are looked after out in our communities across the country? Those seniors would take every penny of that and spend it in the communities in which they live, on food, on clothing, on paying their rent. It would stimulate the economy of those communities.
It is not like we are putting money into a big black hole someplace. This would be an investment, an investment in our seniors, an investment in the communities in which they live, an investment in the lives of all of us as we watch these people who built this country trying to do better than they are at the moment.
Certainly, we commit our caucus to being behind this bill and voting for it, and we encourage the Conservatives to support the Liberals and the Bloc in doing the same.