House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


The House resumed from May 8 consideration of the motion that Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2008 / 11 a.m.


Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add my comments on Bill C-490. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about our government's record on seniors' issues, because we actually have a record worth talking about.

That is why we have taken measures to ensure that OAS and GIS continue to meet the needs of seniors. This government was elected to take responsible, measured actions to support Canadians, and we have to look to the future when considering changes like the ones outlined in the bill.

Our government is very much aware of the significance and the importance of a program such as old age security. The program is an integral part of our social safety net. It is important for all Canadians and must be accessible by all Canadians for years to come.

It is also the responsibility of this government to manage these programs so they will continue to exist in the future. This is a responsibility that I think members of the Bloc in some respects have set aside, although maybe as members of the opposition they do not have the same concerns as Canadian taxpayers.

I would like to touch on three areas around OAS and the GIS. First, there is the increase in the monthly GIS payment. The bill proposes to increase the monthly GIS payment by $110 per month.

I commend the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan for his compassion in wishing to find ways to alleviate poverty among seniors, but the proposals outlined in the bill will not meet those objectives. In fact, quite the opposite may happen. This would bankrupt the program so that it would no longer exist for future generations of Canadian seniors.

Although it has been said in the House on many occasions, it is worth saying again that Canadian seniors have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Their income has more than doubled over the past two decades.

It is also important to remember that Canada now has one of the lowest levels of poverty among seniors of any country in the industrialized world. It has dropped from 21% in 1980 to less than 6% today.

We have lower poverty rates than our G-8 partners. Our social safety net is already the envy of the world. This is something the government will protect for future generations.

Certainly it is not time to stop working to reduce seniors' poverty further, because even one senior living in poverty, as we often say, is one too many. That is why this government acted when we were elected to increase the GIS by 7%. We did this again in January 2007. These measures are providing all single recipients of the GIS with an additional $430 per year and $700 more per couple per year.

These increases will raise the total GIS benefit by more than $2.7 billion over the next five years and benefit more than 1.6 million GIS recipients, including more than 50,000 seniors who were not eligible for the program under the previous Liberal government.

This government heard from thousands of seniors from across the country in the lead-up to budget 2008 and we heard that more and more of them want to remain in the workforce. They want to do it to stay active in their communities, to make a little extra cash to have some fun or to spend it on children, grandchildren or family, or just to do something for themselves.

Seniors' groups also told us that their members would love to continue working, but under the previous Liberal regime they could not do it without having their hard-earned benefits clawed back. There was little incentive or initiative to go out to earn a little extra for the things they wanted or, quite honestly, just to keep active and be involved. That is why this government increased the earned income exemption to $3,500 from the previous Liberal system, which allowed only $500 in earnings before benefits were withheld.

This important change will allow GIS recipients to keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in their GIS benefits: $3,000 more before benefits are withheld. I note that the Bloc actually opposed this in the last budget.

The second issue I want to talk about is the unlimited retroactivity. My colleague across the aisle also proposes that we bring in unlimited retroactive payments of the OAS-GIS for eligible beneficiaries. I would remind the House that currently these benefits are payable retroactive for up to one year from the month of application.

This period of retroactivity is not unusual. In fact, it is consistent with the retroactivity provisions of most other international jurisdictions. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits have been designed to help low income seniors meet their current needs, not to compensate them for past needs.

Yet the government does make exemptions to the basic one year limit to ensure seniors are treated fairly. If the person was incapable of applying, was given bad advice, or if the mistake is an administrative error, the government will ensure that people get the benefits they are entitled to.

I would ask the House to consider the long term ramifications of this bill. In fact, this government and this House need to be very concerned regarding the ramifications of this bill. The costs of the retroactivity provisions alone could be in excess of $6 billion per year. This government cannot and will not take a risk like that with such an important program for seniors.

This government makes significant efforts to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. GIS applications are sent to low income seniors who do not receive OAS and GIS benefits.

Our efforts have resulted in an additional 325,000 low income seniors receiving the benefit who were not getting it before. With the GIS increase, as I mentioned before, for 50,000 new eligible seniors, plus the 325,000 who now get benefits under the Conservative government, that is significant.

Through Bill C-36, we have also enabled seniors to make a one time application for the GIS and receive it whenever they become eligible as long as they file a tax return.

These are reasonable actions which will ensure that OAS and GIS programs exist well into the future.

Last is the issue of the elimination of the requirement to apply for GIS benefits. The proposal to eliminate the requirement to apply for GIS benefits is unfortunately not workable. Formal application is needed since the information available from Canada Revenue is sometimes insufficient to determine eligibility. For example, not available in income tax returns could be information such as updated marital status and also residency in Canada.

The onus remains on the individual to make the initial application, but with the single lifetime application that this government introduced in Bill C-36, the process has become much easier and friendlier for Canadian seniors.

We can all applaud the stated goal of the bill and certainly the member for Alfred-Pellan for his desire around Bill C-490, but unfortunately it will not meet the goal and will put the future of this necessary program on the line.

For that reason, I cannot support it. I can assure this House, however, that we will continue to work hard and provide a bright future for all Canadian seniors.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate and discussion on Bill C-490.

Bill C-490 provides for an increase in the amount of supplement to be paid monthly to a pensioner and for the payment of a pension and supplement to a person who ceases to have a spouse or common law partner by reason of the spouse's or common law partner's death. It removes a requirement to make an application for a supplement and allows for the retroactive payment of supplements.

I tend to support the idea of removing the requirement to make an application or to at least have some less bureaucratic way of ensuring that seniors are getting the benefits to which they are entitled. Some seniors get distressed in these cases or may not be fully conversant with the law. I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but we need to provide all the support and assistance we can to seniors to make sure they receive the pension benefits to which they are entitled.

Perhaps a process could be put in place to facilitate that, but I have a large problem with seniors who have not taken advantage of their benefits because they did not know they had to fill out an application. I see some of those seniors in my office from time to time.

I am not quite sure about the retroactivity provisions that are called for by the bill. That could be a bit difficult, but nonetheless I want to congratulate the member for opening up this discussion, because Canada's seniors have made an enormous contribution to the social, cultural and economic fabric of Canada.

As a result of their efforts, Canada is considered one of the best countries in the world in which to live. Our generation is receiving the benefit of their efforts and generations beyond us will benefit in the future.

In spite of this contribution, many low income and middle income seniors in Canada living on fixed incomes are financially stressed. Old age security payments and the guaranteed income supplement have not kept pace with the living costs seniors are facing today, notwithstanding regular inflation adjustments and increases that our Liberal government put in place through the GIS and, in fairness, that the Conservative government has put in place as well.

I have heard the arguments from the other side, and I think research would tend to show that on balance seniors in Canada do quite well, but it is equivalent to the summation that if we have our heads in the fridge and our feet in the fire, our average temperature is fine.

We still have some low income seniors who are struggling. Certainly in my riding, which we could characterize as a blue collar riding and where the mean family income is below the national average, many seniors who come to me, especially those on fixed incomes, especially women and especially widows, say that they are really having difficulty keeping pace with the costs they are facing.

This is a problem. It caused to me do some research into the question of whether it would be feasible to set up a cost of living index that was particularly unique to the basket of goods and services with which seniors in Canada are faced. I did some independent research and there also is some research already out there.

For example, a 2002 McMaster University study in the “Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Report”, showed that in explaining the changes in expenditure patterns after the age of 65, most of the major differences that are observed among age groups are a consequence of declines in income after retirement.

At the national level, the study found that while the all-items CPI did generally track closely to the inflation experienced by seniors, there were some notable variances in food and shelter expenses. These are the two items that are frequently brought up to me by seniors, who say they are spending far too great a percentage of income on food and shelter.

The rule of thumb with respect to shelter is that no more than 30% of a person's income should go toward it. Many seniors in my riding, in fact constituents of all ages, are spending 40% to 50% of their income on shelter.

According to the Department of Social Development, the last evaluation of old age security was completed in 1992. As reported by the Auditor General of Canada, the 1992 evaluation report concluded that, in terms of adequacy and earnings replacement, the program was “generally” fulfilling its role within the retirement income system.

However, research conducted by myself concluded that the old age security has consistently lagged behind wages during the period from 1991 to 2003.

The 2004 report of the Prime Minister's task force on active living and dignity for seniors, chaired by my colleague and soon to be member of Parliament again, Tony Ianno, states that:

Generally speaking, Canada has seen a trend where growth in wages has exceeded growth in prices.

Old age security recipients' benefits fall behind the rate of growth seen by the working age population.

A Library of Parliament research report prepared in February 2006, at my request, noted that no effort has been made to establish a consumer price index targeting seniors. Further, independent comparative analyses that I have completed have concluded that cost pressures on seniors have risen at a much higher rate than current old age security inflation adjustments.

While I laud the member for putting forward this private member's bill, it would appear that it probably will not have the support of the government, primarily for reasons of cost, which is not the right criteria necessarily, unless it would bankrupt the government and put the old age security into a non-sustainable position.

Creating a cost of living index specific to seniors would not be that difficult to implement. It would weigh the cost of products and services to which seniors are exposed and it would be updated annually. It would be that cost of living index that would be used to increase the old age security and the GIS annually, rather than this generalized cost of living index, which represents the population as a whole, the basket of goods and services to which Canadians generally are exposed, but does not really reflect the basket of goods and services that our seniors are faced with, seniors who built this country and deserve our respect and our support.

I recall meeting a senior widow in my riding and her family who are the salt of the earth. Her husband had worked in construction for 50 years and, regrettably, passed on. She lives in their small bungalow and raised a family of three. They are all doing well and contributing to society. She was struggling severely. What a tragedy for that woman, who lost her a husband and raised a family, all of whom had contributed and are contributing so much to Canada, was being pressured to move from her small, modest home to something not really appropriate.

While the bill before us is a step in the right direction, and I appreciate its intent, we could do something more significant and more achievable for seniors by creating a cost of living index that would reflect the cost of the goods and services that they face. The index would then be used to increase the old age security and the GIS annually, instead of this generalized cost of living index.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in debate on Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), on behalf of the NDP caucus and as the critic for seniors and pensions.

I fully support this bill. In many ways, it is the companion piece to my own bill, Bill C-336. Whereas my bill seeks to enhance the ability of pensioners to access their CPP benefits retroactively, the bill before us today deals specifically with the guaranteed income supplement. Both are fundamentally about fairness for seniors and both are long overdue in their adoption.

The bill before the House today simply seeks to accomplish four things. First, it would no longer require seniors to apply for the guaranteed income supplement. This is an absolutely essential piece. By the government's own admission, there are currently 135,000 seniors in Canada who are eligible for but not receiving the GIS. Why? Because even if they were aware of the program, the application process is unduly complex and many seniors lack the language or literacy skills to avail themselves of the benefit.

What has the government done about that? Instead of pursuing aggressive outreach to inform seniors of their entitlements, the Conservative government has redesignated positions at Service Canada so that experts, whose only role it once was to assist seniors to find their way through the maze of CPP, OAS and GIS, have now been replaced with generalists to deal with everything from boat licences to employment insurance. In-depth counselling for seniors no long exists.

If we are not prepared to help seniors access the benefits to which they are legitimately entitled, then why do we not make it as easy as possible? Bill C-490 would accomplish that goal by taking away the requirement to fill out an application in order to receive the benefit. It makes perfect sense.

The Department of Human Resources and Social Development, which administers the GIS, is allowed to exchange information with the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA collects the tax returns of seniors and therefore the government already has the information that it needs to determine whether a senior is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

In case anyone still believes that this kind of information exchange may violate a senior's privacy, I would remind members in this House that Canada's Privacy Commissioner told the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that “Section 241 of the Income Tax Act specifically authorizes CCRA to disclose taxpayer information for the purposes of administering the Old Age Security Act”.

The GIS, of course, falls under the Old Age Security Act.

The government suggests that the application process is nonetheless necessary because there may be seniors who do not wish to receive the guaranteed income supplement. I cannot imagine that any such person exists in Canada.

The guaranteed income supplement is a means tested program that goes only to the neediest seniors. It was brought in as a measure to attempt to deal with poverty in the older adult population. Does the government really believe that seniors who have worked hard all their lives, who have played by the rules but are now finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, would turn down such desperately needed financial assistance? It is nonsense.

However, even if such a person did exist, I am sure it would be easier for the government to deal with the handful of applications from those who wished to discontinue their benefits than to deal with the tens of thousands of new applications that currently need to be filed every year. The government's argument here simply does not cut it.

What about those 135,000 Canadians who still are not receiving their benefit? The government says, and I quote from the parliamentary secretary's intervention earlier in this debate:

We make every effort to ensure that eligible low income seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled just as soon as possible. ...we work with community and seniors' organizations to reach the vulnerable seniors....

I have the great privilege to work with one of those organizations in my home town of Hamilton. It is the Seniors and Poverty Working Group, which dedicates itself to assisting and empowering the most vulnerable seniors in our community. On shoestring budgets, the dedicated volunteers and professional members of our group do phenomenal work with and on behalf of seniors. In fact, they have taken a leadership role in exploring ways to ensure that seniors are made aware of their financial entitlements.

The group organized a series of public meetings and train the trainer sessions that had a profoundly positive impact both on individual seniors and on community capacity building through the collaborate community based nature of the process. The aim was to ensure that every senior who is entitled to the GIS would be made aware and assisted with their applications.

The Seniors and Poverty Working Group believes that to do anything less is to perpetuate the systemic neglect. However, that is the point, we are talking about systemic neglect. Our system of government has the ability to correct that neglect simply by doing away with the application process.

Community groups should never need to use their scarce resources to backfill gaping holes in the government's implementation of its own program. They simply are not funded or resourced for that. The fact that they are doing it anyway speaks volumes about their profound commitment to the right of every senior to retire with dignity and respect.

When community groups actually find people who were not aware of their entitlements, they cannot even help them to claim their full entitlement. The GIS can only be received retroactively for a period of 11 months. A system designed like that is clearly not a system designed to lift seniors out of poverty. What a disgrace.

If seniors owed the government money, the Canada Revenue Agency sure would not limit itself to 11 months of retroactivity. It would hound seniors until it had every last cent owning to it. So it should be for seniors, and the bill before us today would achieve that laudable goal. It would allow for full retroactivity for unpaid pension amounts.

Right now in Canada, almost one-quarter of a million seniors live in poverty. Even the ones collecting the GIS are still not receiving income that is high enough to lift them up to the poverty line. That is hardly a retirement with dignity and respect.

That is why the third component of Bill C-490 seeks to raise the GIS by $110 per month. The Conservatives say that such an increase, combined with full retroactivity, would simply cost too much. They put the figure in the billions of dollars.

Let me get this straight. The government can find $2 billion to continue subsidizing the big banks and polluters but it cannot find the money for the neediest seniors in our country? This is not about a program costing too much. This is all about a government that cares more about its wealthy friends than it cares about the people who built our country.

Conservative MPs should be ashamed of themselves. If they got their heads out of the tar sands long enough to actually notice what is happening in communities across our country, they would realize that by denying seniors an adequate standard of living, they are also denying them hope.

Let me quote, as others have done, from the National Council of Welfare, which stated:

poverty is not just a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion. When people cannot meet their basic needs, they cannot afford even simple activities, such as inviting family or friends to dinner occasionally or buying gifts for a child or grandchild. Poverty leads to isolation and social exclusion, which in turn lead to other problems, such as poor health, depression and dysfunction. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope.

What message are we sending to seniors when we are refusing to lift them up to the poverty line? This is not good public policy. It is not even good fiscal management. It is simply meanspirited. The government's objection to the final part of Bill C-490 makes that a abundantly clear. It proposes that a surviving spouse be entitled to receive his or her deceased spouse's pension payment for six months. It hardly seems unreasonable to allow people time to mourn their loved ones.

Many will have to make decisions about whether they can continue to live in their homes and keep up their bills. To give them a little time for those decisions after the devastating loss of a spouse is simply the compassionate thing to do. The six month extension of the deceased spouse's GIS simply shows a bit of humanity to seniors.

However, the government is not often accused of being compassionate. Instead of accepting the proposals of Bill C-490 and taking pride in having done right by seniors, its approach to dealing with the GIS is telling seniors to get a job.

In their last budget, the Conservatives announced that seniors could now work and earn up to $3,500 before their GIS would be clawed back. Nothing defines the differences between the Conservatives and the NDP more clearly. The Conservatives want seniors to retire in the uniform of a Wal-Mart greeter. New Democrats want seniors to retire in dignity and respect.

I cannot wait for the votes to be counted on this bill. For every member of the House, the question will be, “Which side are you on?” I know NDP members will be voting in favour of the bill but this is a private member's bill where all of us can cast our votes free of party discipline. Conservative MPs will be able to vote their conscience. I cannot wait to see which side they are really on.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important debate. I would like to begin by saying that I think this bill to amend the Old Age Security Act, specifically the guaranteed income supplement, deserves not only to be debated here in supreme good faith, but also to be adopted unanimously.

Before diving into the debate, I want to thank two members of the House for their work. First, I would like to thank my colleague from Alfred-Pellan, the sponsor of the bill, which he has spoken for with great enthusiasm and conviction. I would also like to highlight the extraordinary work of our colleague from Repentigny, who is right here with me this morning.

This bill started out with broad consultations conducted by my colleague from Repentigny. As such, this bill is a response to the real difficulties facing seniors and to their desire to escape the situation in which the Canadian government has placed them. The Canadian government is indeed responsible because it is in charge of redistributing revenue to share the wealth and ensuring that social programs help society's most vulnerable.

I also want to thank organizations in my riding that are dedicated to the wellbeing of seniors, such as the seniors' clubs in Richelieu, Otterburn Park, Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville—which has two—Marieville, Maria-Goretti, McMasterville, Saint-Mathias and Beloeil, of course, as well as the Saint-Basile-le-Grand club, La Gerbe Dorée, the Amis de la Vallée-du-Richelieu and the Bassin de Chambly seniors' foundation.

Organizations in my riding all agree. I am using my riding as an example because this applies to all other ridings. Seniors' organizations and the community groups that exist to help them all agree that this injustice cannot go on.

Just this morning, the Trois-Rivières Le Nouvelliste reported that the Trois-Rivières branch of FADOQ, the Quebec seniors' association, is asking all parliamentarians to con, excuse me, consent—though seniors have been, quite literally, conned—to give their unanimous consent to this bill.

This morning, my two colleagues and I went to the Prime Minister's office. I had to leave a little early to rush over here to give this speech—my colleagues have just returned. We went to his office to present 1,000 more postcards from seniors who are calling for the guaranteed income supplement, under the changes made by Bill C-490. These 1,000 postcards are in addition to the 10,000 others sent to the Prime Minister's office by the Bloc in February, by the member for Repentigny, the member for Alfred-Pellan and myself. In total, that makes 11,000 postcards that have been delivered directly to the Prime Minister's office, in addition to all the others sent through the mail.

Furthermore, this morning we gave the Prime Minister a few hundred resolutions from organizations that represent tens of thousands of seniors in Quebec, concerning positions, recommendations and motions adopted by these organizations. Why has this become such a movement? Because there is a serious injustice.

Rarely does a bill mobilize so many and affect so many. This goes beyond just seniors, since when seniors experience difficulties, others around them often suffer as well.

As I was saying, I could not stay the whole time, but my two colleagues were welcomed in English. French, the second official language, is being ignored, just as the rights of seniors are being ignored. My colleagues opposite voted against a Bloc motion to ensure official languages are respected in Quebec for workers under federal jurisdiction. It is not surprising that these workers' rights are being ignored; our rights are being ignored right here in Parliament.

I shared that little aside because it shows the contempt that exists towards rights that have been recognized by laws or regulations. These rights are not respected by this government, and were not by the previous one either.

I will briefly go over the content of the bill, because I would like to have time to talk about the positions of the two main federal parties.

First, this bill seeks to correct a huge injustice: the poorest seniors in our society have been deprived of their basic right to receive an income supplement when they do not have sufficient income to live decently. I am talking about a bare minimum.

Many seniors live in isolation. Sometimes, they have no choice, because they cannot read or they live in remote areas or they lack the means to communicate or they have not been informed of their rights.

In 2002, there were 83,000 such seniors in Quebec and some 200,000 in Canada. In 2003-04, the Bloc was able to reach quite a number of people, but today, 42,000 people in Quebec and 123,000 in Canada are still not receiving the guaranteed income supplement. These are not insignificant numbers. However, the supplement could at least be paid to people who file income tax returns. All the government would have to do is use the returns to have the guaranteed income supplement paid automatically to these people.

By not doing so, the government has been able to liberate—not to use a more forceful and accurate word—$3.3 billion from these people's pockets to date. This is extremely serious. We are talking about the poorest members of our society.

Bill C-490 corrects this injustice, but also adds $110 a month to the guaranteed income supplement. This is not much, but it can at least bring a person's income up to a decent level that allows him or her to live.

The bill also provides that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can receive the deceased person's benefit for six months, while the surviving spouse puts his or her affairs in order.

The bill also provides that the guaranteed income supplement be paid automatically, as I said earlier. I believe this is essential.

One of our main roles here is to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable people in our society. We are seeing members letting party politics get in the way and opposing seniors' rights. When we steal from seniors—this is their money—we are committing a serious crime that affects their pocketbooks. Yet, there seems to be no problem investing in military equipment, oil companies or nuclear power.

I see that I have only one minute left. I would like to conclude with this. In 2005, Bill C-301 was unanimously passed at second reading. We asked that Bill C-301 be fast-tracked in the same way that the bill about veterans' income had been. It was the Liberal Party that stood in the way.

Given that the Liberals are singing the same tune today as they were in 2005, I would ask them to be consistent until the end and vote as we will. I also ask the Conservative party, which is saying that the country will be driven to bankruptcy with—

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I regret that I must interrupt the hon. member.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my delight to enter into the debate on Bill C-490, which proposes some amendments to the Old Age Security Act.

I have thought long and hard about income for seniors after they are no longer gainfully employed. One of the questions I have always asked is, should a retiree's income be totally as a result of savings and investments the individual has made over his or her lifetime, or should it be totally paid for by the taxpayers in a current regime and money that is collected by taxation is transferred to the seniors of the day, or should it be some combination thereof?

I am quite convinced, in having studied this over the years, that we need to have a combination. We have to have a regime in which, through tax measures and other government initiatives, people are encouraged to save a certain amount for their own retirement income.

I used to teach math and finance at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, but I also taught exponentials. Those were the wonderful days when we went from slide rules to calculators and we could do these fancy computations. I remember one time challenging my students, who were then in their late teens or early twenties, that they should consider putting money away at that age for their retirement. I gave them a problem to solve. I will shorten the situation here, but at that time, a pack of cigarettes cost about five bucks and I told them to put away the equivalent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day over their lifetime, from age 20, when presumably a person would be starting his or her employed service, to age 65, when the person retired. At that time interest rates were really high, around 18% for mortgages and a little less for savings accounts. I said that properly invested, they could get 10% on the investment.

The students computed this. First, we had the mathematical problem and in a class of 40 students, I heard about 20 different answers after they had computed the formula. So, we first reconciled the number, and the number in the end was $1.3 million. I asked them if they knew what they had computed. I gave them the formula, and then I told them the story of the $5 per day over 45 years. It totalled $1.3 million just for saving the equivalent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day. Many of the students whom I meet and who remember me say, “You never smoked, did you?” I say, “No”. Then they say, “So how are you doing? Where is your $1.3 million?” I say, “I gave it to my wife.”

It is an interesting question, how we should look after the needs of seniors.

It is totally fair to say that under this government the financial position of seniors is much better than it has ever been. As my colleague previously mentioned, over the last 10 or so years, the income of seniors in this country has actually more than doubled. The OAS and the GIS, the Canada pension plan, and of course, the ability to put money away into RRSPs during one's early life and shield it from taxation until it is withdrawn are all wonderful measures that enable people to look after themselves to the degree that they can when they reach retirement age.

Of course, there is also a segment of our population which cannot or do not do this. We live in probably the best country in the whole world for people who either have not had the ability to save for their own future or have just been careless in not doing it. We have in Canada in our wonderful taxation system and our social programs the ability to provide at least a minimal income for people who have not done this.

I remember that my grandfather, who brought his family to this country in 1923, always put away a little. They were a poor family. There were 10 kids in the family. They worked very hard on the farm. Sometimes their crops were poor. They worked with animals and they had huge gardens to feed themselves.

But my grandfather always put a certain amount of money away and I remember my dad saying, talking about his dad, “My dad wasn't all that smart”. I asked, “How's that?” He said, “He always saved his money instead of spending it on meeting the needs of his family. He looked ahead and he planned for saving. Then when he finally did retire, lo and behold, he was ineligible for some of the social programs of the day because he had too much income. If only he would have done, as all the other equally poor neighbours in Saskatchewan did where we grew up, and like all of the other neighbours did and spent the money that the family needed. Some of them even went on vacation with their extra money, they did not save it. When they retired, they had such a low retirement income that they were eligible for the supplement”.

Therefore, I think that is another issue that needs to be addressed. I do not think that we should punish people who plan for their own retirement.

Nevertheless, I must speak a little about Bill C-490. This is a bill which takes certain measures to increase the amount of income that seniors would be eligible for and other measures. I would like to speak briefly about a few of those things.

First, it must be recognized that our government has taken some substantial measures to improve the lot of seniors. Not only have we increased the amount of pension, both the Old Age Security and the GIS that people are eligible for, we have followed the same formula as was done by governments previous to ours and in some cases we have enhanced it.

There is one which is not often mentioned when we talk about people's financial well-being. In this country, everybody, seniors and those still in the workforce alike, have seen huge decreases in the amount of their taxation. They have more disposable income, seniors included, especially because of the fact that the rates of taxation have gone done and the thresholds have gone down.

I think members will remember very well in the fall of 2007 when in our economic statement the finance minister announced that he was increasing the basic amount by $1,000 from $8,600 to $9,600. That means another $1,000 that everybody, including seniors, can earn before they pay any tax at all. If the income of a senior is based simply on some investment income or on some income from pensions and so on, and if that amount is relatively small, percentage wise that is a huge decrease in tax payable and similarly then, a considerable increase in the amount of money that is available at their disposal.

The economic statement went on to predict and to announce, and our government will do this, on January 1, 2009, just a scant seven months away or thereabouts, that the basic exemption is going to go up again to $10,100. When we increase that amount, that is a very significant percentage increase in disposable income for seniors.

Of course, we have not even talked about the reduction of the GST from 7%, to 6%, to 5%, which again, not only seniors but everybody who is earning wages and earning income, has the ability to pay.

Therefore, I think of Bill C-490 and I see that the measures in it are certainly well intentioned, but I believe that we must as a government look at the big picture. The idea of retroactivity for seniors who did not apply is a fine idea, if we want to do that to make people feel good, but as a government we also have to be fiscally responsible and the cost of that is estimated to be close to $6 billion, which could throw a serious wrench into our economic works.

In conclusion, we cannot support this bill because of that and other measures that are included in it. One thing that our government has done with respect to notice is if in the income tax system we recognize that individuals, when they file their income tax, if they are eligible, we send them a notice so they can apply and receive what they are entitled to.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

There being no one rising, I will now cede the floor to the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan, who has five minutes for rebuttal.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the short time I have left, I would like to set the record straight regarding certain arguments I heard during the two hours of debate on the bill I introduced on December 5, 2007, Bill C-490 concerning the Old Age Security Act and specifically the guaranteed income supplement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development lavishly congratulated her government for increasing the GIS by $18 a month in 2006 and 2007. I would remind her, once again, that people who receive it are still $110 below the low-income cutoff. That is what is important in this bill.

According to the parliamentary secretary, the increase of $110 for GIS recipients would not go to the seniors who need it most. What a ridiculous argument. It seems that no other response could be found.

How can a government be so insensitive and deliberately force our seniors to continue living in poverty? If she were to meet with seniors, they would tell her just how difficult things are for them and that they do not understand how the government can let them live in such conditions.

With respect to the full retroactivity called for by the bill, the parliamentary secretary referred to the very high cost involved, which could go up to $6 billion. I would like her to provide the details of that estimate, because the Bloc Québécois, which has a much better reputation when it comes to predicting budgetary surpluses, estimates the cost at $3.1 billion.

I think it is shameful that the parliamentary secretary should use such an argument against disadvantaged people who have had their money taken from them. Yet her government recently spent $17 billion on military equipment, plans another $96 billion in military spending and offers hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts to rich oil companies by granting them accelerated capital cost allowance for the oil sands. Even worse, the government had a surplus of $11.6 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008. It therefore could have allocated the money needed to implement this bill, as the Bloc Québécois was calling for.

During the debate on Bill C-301 on full retroactivity, in October 2005, my former colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain alluded to the work the committee had done on the GIS in 2001, when it was said that 270,000 people, including 68,000 Quebeckers, were not receiving the GIS. The government was being criticized for not paying them their due after they registered. On what grounds did the government appropriate that money?

I read with interest the speeches that were made at the time and still apply to the current bill. I could restate the same arguments the hon. Conservative member for Niagara West—Glanbrook did, but I will quote just a few passages. “Amending the Old Age Security Act to ensure that eligible pensioners receive their monthly guaranteed income supplement is, quite simply, an issue of fairness,” he said, and later, “We have a duty to help—not neglect—the seniors who helped build this country.”

I remind the House that all the Conservative members voted in favour of that bill, including the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, as well as the Conservative member for Leeds—Grenville, who has spoken out against the current bill. It should be noted that all political parties voted unanimously in favour the bill at second reading.

I am calling on all hon. members to support the bill before us today. As it did in 2005, this matter concerns us all, regardless the political party we belong to. Any MP who pays attention to the public is well aware of the difficult situation many seniors find themselves in. The government, which provides help and support when the need arises on the international stage, must not neglect its own seniors.

No one can reasonably oppose the principle of this bill. I therefore invite all my colleagues to support it during the vote at second reading. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities will then have the opportunity to further investigate the four themes of the bill and make any necessary refinements.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

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11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members



Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


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11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


Old Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 4, 2008, immediately before the time provided for private member's business.

Suspension of SittingOld Age Security ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The House is suspended to the call of the Chair. I serve notice that I will recall the House in about three minutes.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:59 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:02 p.m.)

The House resumed from May 30 consideration of Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders



Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to engage in the debate on Bill C-50. I will look particularly at the issue as it pertains to Part 6, which deals with changes to the Immigration Refugee Protection Act.

I will preface that by saying immigration has been the lifeblood, continues to be the lifeblood and will be the lifeblood of our country. We know in the next five years 100% of our net labour growth will be met by new immigrants. This is where we will have to look for growth. It is important for us to be cognizant of the demographic challenge we face as a nation.

I will go back a bit in the historical perspective, because there are a lot of things that are wrong with the bill.

First, the very fact that such huge, major changes to the Immigration Act are in a budget implementation bill is totally wrong. We heard in the House and across the country that it was not the way to deal with the legislation, to the extent the finance committee referred that section of the bill to the citizenship and immigration committee.

The committee unanimously passed a motion saying that part 6 pertaining to immigration should be struck from the bill because the changes contemplated would be major and would really determine, in a very real sense, the future of our country, the future population make-up of the country.

I said I wanted to go back and talk a bit about history. I remember when we changed the Immigration Act back in 2001. The changes proposed and ultimately adopted were ones that the citizenship and immigration committee itself opposed at the time. The reason we did that was we ended up with a very elitist point system. It essentially meant that many of the people the economy actually needed would not get into the country because of our immigration policies in terms of people applying to our country as economic class immigrants.

I want to underline that those changes were driven by the bureaucracy. I suppose it made their jobs easier, but it did not address the needs of our immigration system. One of the real disconcerting things about that, and as I said the bill was driven by the bureaucracy, was that we developed an elitist point system, which focused on education and abilities to speak the language.

By education. I mean university degrees or the ability to speak French or English. Those were the primary drivers of that point system. Under that point system, people like Frank Stronach of Magna International would never have come to Canada. Frank Hasenfratz, chairman of Linamar, who employs well over 10,000 people, would never have come to Canada. John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of the our country would not have come to Canada, nor would Tommy Douglas. Wayne Gretzky's ancestors would not have come to Canada. Mike Lazaridis, the gentleman who invented the BlackBerry, which all members of the House like to use, would not have come to Canada because the system was too elitist.

When the committee tried to deal with the issues, when we tried to deal with the backlog, when we tried to deal with applying the new point system to ensure did not apply to people already in the queue, we were misinformed by the bureaucracy. This should be a real concern. It was not until the Dragan v. Canada case in the Federal Court, which dealt specifically with the issue, did we find that only was the committee misled by the bureaucracy, but governor in council was misled as well.

There is a basic problem with the way we make decisions around immigration issues. I have been on the citizenship and immigration committee since 1998, and during that time there have been seven immigration ministers. With seven ministers, the committee really did not have an opportunity to learn the file. The decision was, for the most part, and this has been my experience, driven by the bureaucracy.

The proposal in the legislation is not being driven by the present minister because she is a brand new minister. Her record of achievement includes being the first minister in a decade to miss our immigration targets of 240,000 to 265,000 people. She is also the minister who has created a record backlog in the refugee determination system. She is also the minister who denied the reality of lost Canadians, saying there were hundreds of people involved. Then we found out there were actually hundreds of thousands of lost Canadians, which necessitated the legislation. It is under the present minister that the backlog has grown by huge numbers. There was not a large backlog under the previous government.

The bill would remove certainty from people wishing to come to Canada. It would change dramatically the rules of those who play by the rules and qualify for entry. Instead of saying a visa would be issued to these folks, the legislation would say that a visa may be issued to them.

There are problems in our Immigration Act, but they are all fixable. The way we are proceeding, under a budget implementation act, without the scrutiny it should receive, we will not make the right decision any more now than we did in 2001. We are making the wrong decision now and it will totally destroy some of the good things in our immigration system like transparency and objectivity. Our system underlines a premise that has been copied by Australia, New Zealand and England. The United States is looking at it now.

We have to develop a points system that would mesh with what our economy needs. Under the proposed legislation, carpenters, or electricians or labourers, who we need, would not get in the country. These jobs are available all across Canada.

I travelled with the citizenship and immigration committee three times across Canada in the last five years. One thing that has become clear is the fact that there is a real disconnect between what the economy needs and what individuals we allow to come in under the points system.

It would be impossible for me to outline all the changes that I think should be made. I agree with most of the witnesses who appeared at committee. We can make changes that are transparent. We can make changes that will deal with the needs of the economy. We can do this with certainty.

The system we are devising would make us dependent on thousands of temporary foreign workers, yet the people at the lower end of the skill set would be unable to bring their families with them. This is reminiscent of the time when the Chinese were brought into our country to help build the railway in the late 1800s. When the railway was finished, we tried to get rid of them. We do not want to go down that path again.

We need an immigration system that is realistic. We need an immigration system that not only reflects family reunification, but also reflects what our economy needs. We can also make better use of humanitarian clauses as they relate to refugees.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I have a very high regard for the Liberal member. I know he is an honourable person. When I ask the following question, I hope he treats it as a very direct question from me.

I do not agree with a lot of what he said, and that is fine. This place is about that. It is a place of debate.

What I do not understand is if his colleagues in the rest of his party are of the same mind as himself, what we can expect in terms of a vote from his party? There is all this talk about voting strategically and all these things, and that is fine. However, this place should have something to do with principles.

I know the gentleman is a man of principle, as I like to think of myself as being. Could we anticipate that all the concerns he has expressed and those expressed by other members of his party will be reflected in the way they vote tonight?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member says that he does not agree with what I said, but what I said was pretty well true as the message relates to the immigration system. I am sure if my colleague across the way heard all I said and if we could be involved in a dialogue, I am sure he would agree with me.

I voted along with my colleagues on the citizenship and immigration committee against Bill C-50. I voted for the report. I expect I will do that again.

My positioning in the House, where I stand and sit, is exactly because I have voted the way I said I would on particular issues.

If some of my colleagues engage in strategic voting, then I guess the determination has been made by my party that they do not want to trigger an election on this issue because they think there is a more appropriate issue on which to trigger an election. I am really mindful and concerned of the political games that the government has been playing with this issue.

As soon as Bill C-50 came down, and I have said it publicly and in the press, I said that the government was looking to do a little immigrant bashing. The Conservatives saw what happened in the province of Quebec in the last provincial election. They saw the position advanced by the ADQ. They also saw the reaction to the reasonable accommodation debate in the province of Quebec. I believe the government made a conscious decision not to deal with legislation on immigration, but to take advantage of those feelings, hoping that it might win it a few more seats.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the hon. member has been punished by his Liberal leader for taking principled stands in the House of Commons. In no way should members of the Liberal Party be allowing Bill C-50 to go through. The Liberal Party should be standing with the NDP, as is the Bloc, to block the legislation. It is a question of immigration fairness.

Given that the Liberal Party has said it is opposed to Bill C-50, will the member press his leader to have Liberals in the House vote and stop this bill? If the Liberal Party votes against it, the bill is stopped.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have made representations of those kinds. Whether they succeed or do not succeed will be obvious when we vote on the bill.

Also, the Liberal Party does not have the same kind of luxury as the New Democratic Party or the Bloc have in not being the official opposition. If we vote against the legislation, we know there will be an election and that is a determination for the leader to make.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps no other area is indicative of the kind of incompetence we have seen over the last 20 years as the immigration area.

Essentially, under the former Liberal government and under the current Conservative government, we have seen chronic underfunding in immigration, which has led to huge backlogs developing.

The immigration system is a lot like the health care system. If we underfund it, if beds are not in place and if we do not have doctors and nurses staffing a hospital, then an adequate degree of health care cannot be provided.

That is exactly what we have seen from this chronic obsession with corporate tax cuts that has developed, particularly over the last 15 years.

The Conservatives and Liberals have been falling over each other trying to see who can give the biggest corporate tax cut to the most profitable companies in Canada without any exchange of jobs or any positive economic repercussions, which I will come back to in a moment. We have seen underfunding in immigration that has led to a crisis in the immigration sector.

The member for Kitchener—Waterloo said that this was a recent development, that the hundreds of thousands of people in the backlog in the system is a result of recent Conservative policies.

The Conservatives have mismanaged and botched this file enormously but to be fair to them, 700,000 of the over 900,000 people who are now in backlog in the system come from the former Liberal government. That chronic mismanagement, that underfunding, that inability to adequately staff consular offices and embassies around the world so we can adequately deal with the immigration work the government must be dealing with, started under the Liberals. We have seen mismanagement from the former Liberal government and mismanagement from the current Conservative government, and that has led to this backlog of nearly one million individuals.

What is the solution? The NDP has been saying very clearly what the solution needs to be. We need to invest in the immigration system so that it functions, in the same way we need to invest in the health care system. The government has to stop this appalling obsession with bigger and bigger corporate tax cuts, which has led over the last 20 years to two-thirds of Canadians earning less now than they were in 1989.

That strategy, that one note band that we have seen under the Liberals and the Conservatives, clearly has not functioned. We need to reinvest so that we have a federal government and government institutions that are functioning effectively. Instead of doing that, we have the Conservatives trying to rewrite the rule book. They realize the backlog is too long so under Bill C-50 in the immigration provision they give the minister dictatorial powers to simply delete names from a list.

Does that make any sense whatsoever? If the backlog is a problem, we give the minister power to delete names. That is essentially what the Conservatives are offering.

They have another strategy. They want to turn the immigration system from encouraging family reunification and encouraging building communities. In my community in Burnaby—New Westminster, the bulk of the community has come from immigration over time and those families who have reunited here in Canada have helped to build and underpin the growth of our communities.

Instead of doing that, the Conservatives have decided that they want to import temporary foreign workers at lower wages and not subject to health and safety standards, essentially indentured servants. They will be brought in by companies but if they quit or are fired because of appalling working conditions, they will be sent home.

That is not how Canada was built. I had hoped that we had learned the lessons of the 19th century and the appalling racism that existed then but, no. We see the Conservatives trying to re-enact the kind of indentured servitude that we saw in the past.

The NDP is opposing this legislation because it simply does not make sense. The Conservatives lack managerial capacity. It is obvious from the fact that the Minister of International Trade now holds four ministerial portfolios because there is nobody, outside of himself, who is considered by the Prime Minister to actually have the ministerial competence to handle a ministry.

The Conservatives, obviously, are unable to effectively manage government institutions. We see the net result of that in the government's great strategy. The brain trusts, the rocket scientists in the PMO have solved the problem. They want to give the minister the power to delete names from the list and then we no longer have a waiting list.

We can extend this to other areas as well, such as health care. Why do we not just delete sick patients from the list and then all of a sudden the Canadian population would be much healthier? The Conservative approach to management boggles the mind. When we say “effective Conservative management”, that is an oxymoron.

We have a bad bill. We have a bill that does not deal with the backlog and the chronic underfunding in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. It simply gives the minister power to delete names and bring in temporary foreign workers. The NDP rises in the House and says that it will fight this bill on behalf of new Canadians from coast to coast to coast because it is bad policy and it is bad for Canada.

The folks who actually caused the immigration backlog, or most of it, the 700,000 names that were on the backlog list until January 2006 under the Liberal watch, they say that that they opposed to the bill but that they will let it go through. Some members will speak against it, and some principled members, like the member from Kitchener, will actually vote against it, but the leader of the Liberal Party will let this bill go through. It is absolutely appalling.

If the Liberals recognize that this is a completely wrong-headed approach to dealing with the crisis of underfunding in the immigration department, then they should have the courage of their convictions to stand in the House of Commons and vote against this bill. They should follow the lead of the NDP and the member for Toronto—Danforth and say that this is bad for Canada and that they will vote against it.

We know that will not happen because we have seen, over the past year, time and time again, the Liberal leader prop up and support the Conservative government on all issues, not just on immigration and on the budget, but on the security and prosperity partnership and a wide range of issues. On the war in Afghanistan, we saw the Liberals as simply an appendage of the Conservative government. That is just not good enough.

Members of Parliament are elected to stand in the House and vote. Members of Parliament are elected to take principled stands when we know a bill is bad for Canada and that it will harm this country and the approach we have had on immigration which has helped to build better communities across this country from coast to coast to coast. When we know a bill is bad it is our job to stand in the House and oppose it. The leader of the Liberal Party, however, will not oppose any Conservative policy that has a confidence vote attached to it. The Conservatives essentially have free rein.

In the few moments I have remaining, I would like to deal with some of the myths and misconceptions that the Conservatives have put out about Bill C-50. One of the things the Conservatives have said is that they have welcomed more people to Canada. That is not true. In fact, the landed immigrant status numbers have gone down.

However, what has happened is an explosion of temporary foreign workers, indentured servants, who are being brought into Canada on a temporary basis if they are on good behaviour with their companies. As we have seen in many cases, people are working 70 or 80 hour weeks with no overtime and are often being paid below minimum wage. They are not subject to health and safety standards. If they speak out about being paid minimum wage or below minimum wage they could get shipped back home. It is simply not true that the numbers have increased.

Bill C-50 contains nothing to deal with the fundamental mismanagement that we saw under the Liberal Party and now under the Conservative Party. It contains nothing to deal with the fundamental truth that neither of those parties are very good managers. It is for those reasons that the NDP will rise in the House and oppose the bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of dealing with the numbers, an important concept for us to understand is that we let in about 250,000 immigrants a year. About 300,000 to 400,000 people wishing to come to Canada make application. As long as we have a mismatch between the number of people wishing to come here and the number of people we actually let in, we will have a growing backlog.

Last year the government said that it brought in 430,000 newcomers to Canada. If all those people coming into Canada were immigrants that would have helped to deal with the backlog. However, the problem was that about 190,000 of them were people with temporary status, about two-thirds of them were temporary foreign workers and one-third of them were foreign students. Had we applied the whole 430,000 to deal with the backlog, we would have made a dent. Instead, we have bumped up the numbers by close to 100,000 people in terms of the backlog itself, even though we brought in an extra 190,000 people.

I agree with my colleague across the way. This is really dangerous. Will Canada become a country of temporary foreign workers or will we bring in people who will make an investment and help us build a country? Will we be bringing in temporary foreign workers, the ones on the lower end who are in a virtually indentured situation, a servitude situation where if they step out of line they will get booted out of the country, or will we bring in people who have many skills? For those lower skilled workers, however, the government is proposing to give them temporary permits so they cannot apply for landed status. Does my colleague have a comment on that?