House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wanted to be recorded as voting in favour of the bill.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member was registered as voting in favour.

The House resumed from May 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-201, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division of the motion at second reading of Bill C-201 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #67

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

It being 6:25 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 10 consideration of the motion.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, the introduction of Motion No. 300 is ambitious and broad, displaying a deep desire by the author to stand strong for our seniors population. In my opinion, the motivation behind such a motion comes from the complete and utter abandonment of seniors by the government over the past three years.

I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention the income trusts flip-flop by the finance minister, a decision that ripped $35 billion from Canadian investors when it was announced on October 31, 2006.

To refresh the memory of the members of the House, income trusts, the income of which millions of Canadians relied on for financial support, were targeted because of the phantom tax leak. Never mind that the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada backed up a major independent study that found there was no income trust tax leakage, the finance minister obviously knew better.

At the end of the day, insurance and corporate lobbyists proved to be more important to the government than our seniors population. This was just the beginning of a long line of slaps in the face by the government.

People do not have to take my word for it, let me reference the study that was just released by the Senate's committee on aging, entitled “Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity”. The findings are damning. Seniors face serious gaps in health care, housing, transportation and support systems.

One of the things the committee said it learned is, “Current income security measures for our poorest seniors are not meeting their basic needs”. Even more disgraceful is the statement in the final report that states, “The basic income levels provided by the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement do not even meet the poverty line”. Let me repeat that; they do not even meet the poverty line. Yet the government sits there, day after day, and promotes the minor concessions that it claims are supporting seniors.

Among the many recommendations made by the committee to the government is to ensure the financial security of Canadians by addressing the needs of older workers through pension and income security reforms. More specifically, the report recommends that the government increases the Canada pension plan benefits and bolsters the guaranteed income supplement. It also recommends that the government looks more closely at the idea of providing a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians.

As usual, this motion demonstrates that it is the Liberal Party that is taking up the cause against a sea of inaction by the current regime.

Just yesterday, there was an article in the Guelph Mercury paper that called our finance minister the Alfred E. Newman of Canadian politics because of his “what me worry” type of attitude. This is because of actions like travelling to Europe and telling the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce in London, with a straight face, that relatively speaking this is a mild economic recession.

It is very easy to contrast this kind of record with that of the previous Liberal government.

In the last Liberal budget, in the year 2005, significant investments were made to seniors' programs, from health care to income security to beefing up seniors' savings capabilities. In 2004, the Liberal government pledged to increase the guaranteed income supplement by $1.5 billion, and in the 2005 budget, the figure was up to $2.7 billion.

There are plenty of great ideas and policy suggestions that could help guide the government towards supporting our seniors, for example, the recent suggestion by the C.D. Howe Institute to create a new savings vehicle called the Canada supplementary pension plan, or CSPP. It would be designed to respond to the estimated 3.5 million workers, 25% of the working public, who are on an inadequate retirement savings track.

The latest numbers of our seniors population, or those who are on the verge of becoming seniors, are staggering. There are 14.5 million Canadians who are 45 years of age or older, representing 42% of the total population. There are 4.6 million Canadians over the age of 65, making up 13.3% of the Canadian population.

The reason this motion tries to cram so many issues together is that seniors have been left without any sense of security, particularly in these troubling economic times. The motion has been written to inspire a government that is unable to recognize the realities of what seniors are facing. It has been written with the hope that it will galvanize action towards a population that will dominate the Canadian landscape in the decades to come. Mostly, though, it has been written because there is currently no leadership on this issue.

However unrealistic my colleague from the Bloc may be in packaging these issues into one, I can sympathize with her. I, too, encounter seniors every day in my riding of Newton—North Delta who are desperate for their issues and concerns to be taken seriously.

Let me conclude by putting a few open-ended questions to this Prime Minister.

If the Prime Minister cannot or is unwilling to take a genuine interest in the fate of seniors, then who else is at risk of falling through the huge cracks in the Conservative government?

More importantly, if betraying seniors is something your government considers as standard practice, then how can Canadians trust the government to offer an adequate response to their issues?

These are questions that everyone, particularly seniors, should carefully think about the next time they step behind the curtain to cast their ballot.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my views with the House.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate this evening in the debate on Motion No. 300, which calls on the government to enhance access to, and the level of, GIS benefits for Canada's poorest seniors.

Let me say at the outset that I fully support this motion. In many ways it mirrors the provisions of the NDP's seniors charter, which I had the privilege of introducing on behalf of our caucus in the last Parliament. That charter guaranteed the right for seniors to an adequate income so they could live their retirement with the dignity and respect they deserve. That motion passed with the overwhelming support of a majority of members in the House.

Ironically, the Conservatives supported my motion while the Bloc unanimously voted against it. Yet here we are with the Bloc underlining the importance of my motion by echoing its intent with a motion of its own, while the Conservatives are suddenly opposed. It is enough to make anyone's head spin.

However, the bottom line is that we have spent a lot of time in this chamber talking about the current economic downturn. We have talked a lot about the need to protect and create jobs. We have talked a lot about the need to support communities through infrastructure funding, and we have talked a lot about the need to improve employment insurance. We have not spent nearly enough time talking about the impact this economic crisis is having on seniors, the truly innocent victims of this recession.

Even prior to the market collapse of last October, seniors were increasingly finding it difficult to make ends meet. They have worked hard all their lives; they have played by the rules. But everywhere they turn, and with every bill they open, they are paying more and getting less. Now those financial difficulties are being compounded by the global recession and the government's inaction to protect Canadian seniors from its most devastating impacts.

None of the three pillars of our retirement income support system are strong enough to withstand the impact of the economic storm without government assistance. The first pillar, of course, is workplace pensions. Defined benefit pensions were already faltering in Canada long before the current crisis hit the market. However, they were not faltering because of excessive costs, as most employers would want us to believe, rather they faltered because there was a lack of planning on the part of employers to pay for them. Without a doubt, defined benefit plans cost money.

However, few safeguards were in place to put aside pension investment windfalls in good times. Instead, during times when markets were booming and returns from investments were rolling in, employers opted for contribution holidays instead of saving the windfalls for the inevitable rainy days ahead. Today it is not just raining, the monsoon season has arrived.

As company after company closes its doors or seeks CCAA protection, workers are living in fear that their workplace pensions will not be there for their retirement. That is why I introduced the workers first bill as my very first piece of legislation after being elected. That bill would ensure that workers' wages, benefits and pensions would receive super priority in cases of commercial bankruptcy. If we really want to ensure that workers can retire with dignity and respect, we must ensure that they have an adequate retirement income.

My bill, as well as a federal employer-funded system of pension insurance, is essential to achieving that goal. While the sustainability of workplace pensions is crucial, it is important to note that only about one-half of Canada's seniors population receive some income from workplace pensions, and those incomes account for only about 30% of all retirement income received. Despite the important contribution that workplace pensions have made to the well-being of older Canadians, we must focus as well on the other two pillars of Canada's retirement income system, which are private and public pensions.

Private pensions are individual retirement savings vehicles such as RRSPs. Seniors were devastated when they saw their life savings and dreams disappear in the stock market crash of October. The sustainability of workplace pensions was suddenly thrown into question. For those who had RRSPs, the value of their retirement nest egg plummeted. And for those who were already on RRIFs, they were doubly disadvantaged because the minimum withdrawal requirements meant they would be eating deeply into their capital.

The Prime Minister's response was that Canadians need to hang in there and ride out the storm. But seniors, by definition, do not have a lifetime to wait. They do not have earnings with which to replenish their savings, nor do they have the years required for their investment losses to be made up by market gains. They need the government's help now.

The best place for the government to intervene is in the third pillar of Canada's retirement system, and that is public pensions. Public pensions include the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. The only one of the three that is universal is the OAS.

I have a motion on the order paper that calls on the government to increase the OAS immediately by 15% retroactive to January 1 of this year and to index it thereafter. Moreover, a second motion of mine calls on the government to link both CPP and OAS to standard of living levels to ensure that no senior needs to live in poverty.

The third piece of the puzzle is the motion that is before us today, which deals specifically with improvements to the guaranteed income supplement.

First, it would no longer require seniors to apply for the GIS, which is absolutely essential. By the government's own admission, there are currently 135,000 seniors in Canada who are eligible for but not receiving the GIS. It is incumbent upon us to help seniors access the benefits to which they are legitimately entitled, and it is easily done. 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 it needs to determine whether a senior is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

The second issue that Motion No. 300 addresses is the fact that the GIS can only be received retroactively for a period of 11 months. A system designed like that is clearly not designed as a system to lift seniors out of poverty. If seniors owe 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 owing. So it should be for seniors, and the motion before us today would achieve that laudable goal. It would allow for full retroactivity for unpaid pension amounts.

However, even those seniors who are collecting the GIS still are not receiving an income that is high enough to lift them out of poverty. That is hardly a retirement with dignity and respect, which is why the third component of Motion No. 300 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 big oil companies 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 took their heads out of the tar sands long enough to actually notice what is happening in communities right across our country, they would realize that by denying seniors an adequate standard of living, they are also denying them hope.

The National Council of Welfare stated, “Poverty does not just mean a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion. When people can't meet basic needs, they also cannot afford simple activities like inviting family or friends to dinner on occasion or buying gifts for a child” or grandchild.

It goes on to say that poverty leads to “isolation and social exclusion” which, in turn, “lead to further problems with poor health, depression and dysfunction. Poverty can quickly rob people 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 mean-spirited. The government's objection to the final part of Motion No. 300 makes that 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.

Yes, many will need to make decisions about whether they can continue to live in their homes and continue to keep up with their bills and giving them a little bit of time to make 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 Motion No. 300 and taking pride in having done right by seniors, its approach to dealing with the GIS is telling seniors to get a job. The only budgetary reform aimed at seniors was the Conservatives announcement 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 motion. For every member of the House the question will become which side are they on.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the motion introduced by my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot calling on the government to make changes to the guaranteed income supplement in order to enable our seniors to live in dignity.

In December 2007 I had the honour to introduce a bill that proposed similar changes. I was certain that, out of respect for our seniors, parliamentarians could not possibly be against a bill that would enable our seniors to live better.

The point was made that our seniors deserved our recognition for the efforts and sacrifices they had made to build the society we have today. Yet the Conservatives, who themselves condemned this injustice when they were in opposition, all opposed improving the living conditions of our mothers and fathers.

Since 1993, the Bloc Québécois has been trying to make the government admit that it has shortchanged our seniors. It is pathetic that the Liberals and Conservatives support Bloc Québécois initiatives when they are in opposition, yet when they form the government, they find all sorts of crazy reasons to oppose the same initiatives.

The Bloc Québécois toured Quebec in 2007, in order to have a better grasp of the situation of Quebec seniors: their present standards of living, their everyday needs and fears, both now and for the future. We were able to hold discussions with them on the causes of poverty and the solutions proposed by the various levels of government, as well as to learn what they thought about Quebec society.

The findings of our tour were developed into the recommendations in this motion. Of course, our tour findings were not our only sources; we also consulted with associations, federations and seniors' groups all over Quebec.

The motion by the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot wholly reflects the four themes of the bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois in December 2007. These were: automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement; a $110 monthly increase in the guaranteed income supplement; full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for those who have been shortchanged; a compassionate extension of six months for guaranteed income supplement recipients whose spouse has died.

On April 17, it was announced in an email that the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Canadian seniors enjoy the best possible quality of life.

These fine words appeared over the signatures of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister of State for Seniors.

Does the minister realize that the number one factor contributing to well-being among seniors is financial power? It fosters independence, breaks through isolation and provides greater security. Income is one of the most important determinants of health and is the foundation for access to appropriate housing and transportation in order to maintain independence.

Yet the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and all her colleagues voted against the bill on June 4, 2008. One hundred and fifteen Conservatives rose to say no to our seniors. One hundred and fifteen Conservatives chose to leave our seniors in financial insecurity.

According to the National Council of Welfare, poverty is not just 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. Social isolation is one of the key factors in depression. It leads to ill health and discouragement. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope.

A $110 increase in the amount of the guaranteed income supplement would only to bring recipients up to the low-income level, or what was once called the poverty line.

Full retroactivity for unpaid pension benefits would also prove that this government does not operate on a double standard.

If citizens owe 10 years' worth of income tax, the government can collect that money. The six months of compassionate deferral is to acknowledge the surviving spouse's problems and suffering. It is to acknowledge the sudden change that has just taken place in the daily life of a senior. It is to acknowledge that, although the person now lives alone, the government is committed to him or her, considering its obligations, to ensure the person can maintain a good quality of life, out of compassion.

Automatic registration at age 65 goes without saying. With all its sources of information, the government knows exactly when an individual turns 65. Every individual must register for the Canada Pension Plan six months before they turn 65 in order to receive benefits. Furthermore, through reports filed with Canada Revenue Agency, the government knows the financial situation of every Canadian.

In speeches during the debate on the motion moved by my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Conservative members boasted about the budget and the assistance they are providing to the most vulnerable in our society.

I say bravo to the Conservative government's budget decision to increase the age credit amount and all other tax credits, but does the government know that, in order to benefit from tax credits, one must pay income tax? Does it truly believe that someone living below the poverty line can really benefit from such credits?

I say bravo to the Conservative government's budget decision to allow income splitting, but that still requires a decent income. Does the government believe that a person who receives only the old age pension and guaranteed income supplement benefits from splitting this small income?

I met with hundreds of seniors in my riding of Alfred-Pellan to discuss the bill I introduced in December 2007 and which was very similar to today's motion M-300. I can say how happy they were to know we were looking after their interests. They are appreciative of the fact that we want to help improve their situation.

They told me that automatic registration for the guaranteed income supplement was necessary because the instructions on the forms are in very fine print and because they do not always understand the questions asked about CPP, QPP and RRIFs. They also told me that it is unfair that, after their file is reviewed, retroactive payments cover up to a maximum of 11 months. They also told me about their poverty and the dependence imposed by the government.

These meetings allowed me to understand that our seniors have but one dream and that is to live in dignity.

I would like to take this opportunity to again congratulate my colleague for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot who is taking over from all the members who worked on this file before her. She is a hard worker who is dedicated to helping our seniors by presenting this motion. I am calling on all members to support the motion. It is our shared responsibility. Every member who is at all in touch with his constituents cannot be indifferent to our seniors' need for dignity.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

May 13th, 2009 / 6:50 p.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for being allowed to add my voice to this debate on Motion No. 300. This motion, of course, proposes that the government introduce legislation to amend the Old Age Security Act respecting the guaranteed income supplement.

We all share the aim of doing what we can to help our country's seniors enjoy a better quality of life. Despite some of the protestations we hear from across the way, I believe there is a common underlying element within the House that wants to support seniors. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for all their contributions to building, and in many cases, safeguarding our country.

Indeed, Canada already has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the industrialized world and is recognized as a global leader in that regard. A big part of this success is due to the guaranteed income supplement, which is the focus of our debate today.

As recently as 1980, more than 21% of older Canadians lived below the poverty line. By 2006, that figure was less than 6%. Since then, our government has taken numerous additional measures to further assist low-income seniors.

I remind the House that, since taking office, our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement by 7% over and above the regular indexing for inflation. As many of our seniors continue to work, we have also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500. That is a whopping 600% increase.

Not only have we increased the guaranteed income supplement benefits and left more money in the pockets of Canadian seniors, we have made it easier for low-income seniors to access these benefits. As a result of our government passing Bill C-36 in the last Parliament, seniors now only have to apply for the GIS once and will continue to receive benefits as long as they are eligible and file income tax returns.

To help seniors who may not be aware that they qualify for the GIS, we also send out applications to low-income seniors who do not currently receive the supplement. This measure taken by our government has put these benefits in the hands of an additional 328,000 low-income seniors.

That is not all. We have created a minister of state for seniors and appointed Senator Marjory LeBreton to fill that position. She is doing excellent work to promote the interests and protect the well-being of older Canadians.

We have also set up the National Seniors Council to advise us on seniors issues of national importance. By tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of our older citizens, we ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the changing needs of Canada's aging population.

It was also our Conservative government that, in budget 2008, announced an investment of $13 million over three years to increase awareness of elder abuse. As we know, that is a significant problem in our society today. What we have done is provide seniors with assistance in dealing with abuse.

The Minister of State for Seniors recently announced 16 new projects across the country to combat elder abuse, from physical abuse to financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under our new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative.

Since its beginning, the new horizons program has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada, helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities. Indeed, my own riding of Abbotsford has been and continues to be a beneficiary of this unprecedented funding for new horizons.

Perhaps most notable is the fact that our government has also provided more than $1 billion, not million, in tax relief to Canadian seniors each year by allowing pension income splitting and increasing the seniors' age and pension income credits.

However, I can assure hon. colleagues in the House that we are not finished yet. As Canada's economic action plan made clear, we are taking additional steps to protect seniors during these challenging economic times. We are adding over $300 million to the $1.6 billion in targeted tax relief that our government already provides to seniors for the 2009 tax year.

This includes $200 million in tax relief by reducing the required minimum withdrawal amount for 2008 from RRIFs. This change recognizes the impact of deteriorating market conditions and that impact on seniors in our country.

As well, we are increasing the seniors' age credit by another $1,000 per year for 2009 and beyond, further increasing the amount of money that stays in seniors' pockets.

The increase in the age credit builds on our government's previous tax relief for seniors and for pensioners. For example, we doubled the amount of the pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000, and we had already earlier increased the age credit by $1,000 in our 2006 budget.

We are getting things done for seniors, and recognizing that many older Canadians want to continue to work and recognizing that Canada needs their experience and their talents, we are also investing an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers. We also changed the program criteria so that smaller cities with populations of less than 250,000 can also participate.

Before I conclude, I would like to take a moment to comment on the specific proposals contained in today's motion. It is important to note that GIS benefits can already be paid retroactively for up to one year. This reflects what is being done in many other jurisdictions, and in fact, exceeds jurisdictions such as Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and even Australia and New Zealand.

So we are getting the job done for seniors. We are being fair with how we deal with their financial needs.

It is always interesting to note the duplicity of the Liberals in the House. Members may recall that the previous Liberal government, over 13 long years, opposed the motion before us, as we do today. Yet today they are standing up in the House to support it.

Only three and a half years ago, on November 18, 2005, during debate on a similar bill, the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said:

...I cannot support Bill C-301.

If passed into law, the bill would bog down Canada's retirement income system in reams of red tape. It would create an undue burden on the system, from both a fiscal and technical perspective. And without the checks and balances found in the current application process, it would lead to increased fraud and abuse.

That was back in 2005. Today her colleagues, the Liberal members in the House, are actually getting up and saying that they now support it, because they are no longer in government, so they do not have to be accountable. They do not have to place this motion within the context of an economic action plan.

Here is what the former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the social development minister said, again during debate on Bill C-301:

I completely agree...that this bill, if passed, would unreasonably burden the governmental retirement system administratively, technically and financially. There is nothing dishonest about that...Without the application process and income verification, the system would be open to abuse.

Again, that is the Liberals speaking three years ago and today saying something quite different. Today the Liberals have flip-flopped. Suddenly something they were never prepared to do before when in government becomes perfectly okay when they are no longer in government. That is duplicity.

In closing, let me make a couple of points. The costs of this motion are incredibly high to the taxpayers of this country. The estimated price tag for this motion is $6 billion. Yet the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc have pulled this out of thin air and said that they want us to implement it. Who will suffer? It is the hard-working taxpayers and families of this country. These proposals, while perhaps well intentioned, really do not reflect the fiscal and economic reality in Canada today.

Our government has taken and will continue to take significant, meaningful and realistic steps to help low-income seniors and to improve their quality of life. We have made huge gains in assisting our seniors to improve their quality of life, and I encourage members opposite, first, to put aside all their partisanship and their game-playing and to join us in actually doing the work of our government and supporting seniors who need it the most.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, the member opposite called for justice, and I am here to talk about justice. Several years ago, an older person came to my office with a retroactivity case. That person owed money to the department responsible for pensions and old age security. The department was asking for three years' worth of payments. The mistake was made because of a coding error in the department.

But they did not ask the individual to reimburse one year's worth of payments; they asked for three. When members opposite talk about justice now, I find their statements abhorrent. They say it would cost $6 billion, and that that would be too much.

How can they give oil companies $2 billion worth of tax breaks every year and buy over $17 billion worth of military equipment over the past six years, yet not help society's poorest, the seniors who built Quebec?

I wish to thank certain Bloc Québécois members who helped me with this motion. I thank my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, the Bloc Québécois seniors critic, for her support and help with this motion. I would also like to congratulate my colleague from Laval, who seconded my motion, as well as the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan, who was the original instigator of this idea. This is the third time the Bloc Québécois is bringing forward this idea.

When they were in opposition, the Conservatives supported the principle of this motion. The member across the floor spoke at length about the fact that the Liberals had gone back on their word. I would now like to talk about how the Conservatives have gone back on their word, since when they were in opposition, they supported the principle of this motion. We are talking about increasing, by $110, the monthly income of the most vulnerable people in Quebec and Canada, about continuing the benefits for a period of six months to a surviving spouse, about automatic registration for people over 65 who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, and about full retroactivity for payments. These are concrete measures that would really help our seniors.

The measures proposed by the Conservatives only help people who pay income tax. Furthermore, just because someone eats one meal a day does not mean that individual will not die of hunger because he or she eats every day. We in the Bloc Québécois want to help people to be able to eat three times a day. It is not a matter of simply putting them in survival mode, allowing them to eat just once a day and telling them that that is enough and they will not die.

Moreover, every time there is an election campaign, we hear the Conservatives and the Liberals make election promises to help seniors.

I also want a commitment from the Liberals. Why? Because if we are talking about retroactivity, it is because the Liberals created this situation. Basically, when they were in power, they did not inform seniors that they were entitled to a guaranteed income supplement.

I do not want the Liberals to act like firefighters who light fires now only to put them out after they are already lit. Their current position on the matter is not clear.

I would also like to invite the Leader of the Opposition to send a message to all his party members so that we have unanimous support for this motion that will help seniors throughout Quebec and Canada. We all have seniors in our ridings. Every member in this House is affected by the motion I am tabling today given that all have seniors in their ridings and have at least one person living below the poverty line who needs this measure.

The 35,000 people we are looking for do not all live in my riding. There are some living in every Quebec and Canadian riding and I know there is at least one in each of the 308 ridings represented in Parliament.

I would also like to say to the Conservatives, who speak of recognizing the Quebec nation that, if they recognize the Quebec nation they should also acknowledge the fact that, in 2007, a unanimous motion of the National Assembly of Quebec supported the demands of seniors.

I am not alone in this battle. Seniors' associations support us and are asking the government to help them. The government should not help just poor seniors, it should help the most needy. The purpose of this motion is to help those most in need.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues will not abandon seniors in need.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members



Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Guaranteed Income SupplementPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 27, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

7:05 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, in March I asked a question of the Minister of Public Safety on whether he would agree to implement the recommendations made by Commissioner Sapers in his report on the tragic death of Ashley Smith, who died cold, alone and uncared for in a Kitchener prison. Ashley Smith was a native of Moncton, New Brunswick, in my riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

At the time, the minister thanked the commissioner for his work, but did not give an answer regarding the implementation of the recommendations. We understood. The report had just been released, but that was in March.

I will refresh the parliamentary secretary's memory with respect to the 16 recommendations. I will highlight them and ask why there has not been a formal response.

The first recommendation is that the recommendations emanating from the National Board of Investigation and the independent psychological report produced by Dr. Margo Rivera should be implemented. As well, I have information of which the parliamentary secretary should take note. The grieving mother's representative has asked for a copy of the latest and last psychological report done by Dr. Margo Rivera on the level of treatment received by Ashley Smith before her untimely death and has been refused access to that.

A number of the other recommendations deal with what should be done in our corrections facilities so an event like Ashley Smith's death does not happen again. They include: the Correctional Service should group its women's facilities under a reporting structure independent of the regions; the Correctional Service should issue immediate direction to all staff regarding the legislated requirements to take into consideration the condition of each person under its care; and the Correctional Service should immediately review all cases of long-term segregation where mental issues are a contributing factor.

In my province of New Brunswick, the ombudsman, Bernard Richard, has prepared a report on the Ashley Smith matter. As well, mental health issues are paramount. What is the government doing about those mental health issues that are so prevalent in the death, in the case, in the life of Ashley Smith?

Second, on March 4, the grieving mother's representative made public a letter to the minister, requesting that the corrections investigator, Mr. Sapers, finish the work that he started and move forward with respect to what happened in Ashley Smith's situation. It is only in determining what happened in Ashley Smith's situation that the corrections system can be bettered with respect to those with mental health issues in the care of our corrections facilities.

When was there a response to the March 4 letter from the grieving mother of Ashley Smith? On May 6. Is that the respect we accord to the grieving mother of a victim who died in such an awful way?

Finally, what happened to access to the video of Ashley Smith's last moments on Earth? The grieving mother's representative has been refused access to it. The Access to Information Act erroneously records information dealing with many levels, one of them being national security.

When will the government show that it cares about what happened to Ashley Smith and do something about all the other Ashley Smiths out there in the system?

7:10 p.m.

Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Madam Speaker, I rise to respond to the question raised in the House on March 4, 2009, by the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe regarding the recommendations made by the Office of the Correctional Investigator following the tragic death of Ashley Smith.

I would like to highlight that this government has been working with both officials from the Correctional Service of Canada and the Office of the Correctional Investigator to address the areas of concern identified by Mr. Sapers to ensure that his recommendations are appropriately addressed.

As one may recall, in the 2008 federal budget, the Government of Canada announced that the service will receive $16.6 million annually in permanent funding, commencing in 2009-10, to enhance institutional mental health services, in particular to screen offenders for mental disorders at admission. This will improve the continuum of care provided and the correctional results for federal offenders, including women, with mental disorders.

The Correctional Service of Canada has already taken action to prevent deaths in custody and to address many of the recommendations raised in the correctional investigator's report. Although the service has assessed offenders at intake for some time, in 2008, it implemented an enhanced screening process for mental health problems and suicide risks upon an offender's admission into federal custody. Referrals are then made, where necessary, to mental health professionals to ensure appropriate interventions occur.

The Correctional Service of Canada is developing alternatives to the use of long-term segregation for offenders with mental health issues who are not certifiable under provincial mental health legislation and who do not consent to treatment. This includes a review of the capacity to address the needs of women offenders with mental health and behavioural needs. Short- and long-term strategies have been developed on service, support and accommodation needs for women offenders identified in this group.

The policy related to segregation has been amended to explicitly include a role for the chief of health care and psychology. The Correctional Service of Canada approved the implementation of a one-year pilot project, a mobile interdisciplinary treatment assessment and consultation team, to support women's institutions in the management of women offenders with substantive mental health and behavioural difficulties. This team is mandated to provide advice and expertise to operational sites and regions on the integrated management of high-risk, high-needs women.

Health care staff will ensure that health information is shared with the case management team when it is relevant to correctional decision-making, particularly in cases related to institutional placements, transfers, administrative segregation and disciplinary measures. This service revised its grievance policy in 2008 to ensure that complaints and grievances submitted by segregated offenders are identified daily, monitored regularly, classified properly and provided with the priority they merit. All high-priority grievances for segregated inmates will be forwarded to the warden without delay.

The service invited provincial and territorial coroners and chief medical examiners to a meeting in March 2009 to discuss how to better address the issue of deaths in custody and to review its plans for action for moving forward. The Correctional Service of Canada is also taking significant steps to increase its services and support for high-needs women offenders. As part of training efforts to better deal with high-needs women offenders, it has developed mental health training for front-line staff and managers who work in women's institutions.

Previously, in 2004, the Correctional Service of Canada developed a mental health strategy in Canada's prisons to improve its capacity to deliver mental health care to offenders in institutions.

7:15 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, there was no answer to the question of why it took two months to respond the grieving mother's representative. There was no answer to the question about what happened to access to the video of the last moments of a grieving mother's daughter's life. Access to a video of Ashley Smith's last moments were denied to the grieving mother, and access to a comprehensive report by Dr. Margo Rivera with respect to the psychological treatment given to Ashley Smith was denied.

There is a saying that if one does not know what one has done wrong, one cannot correct things. Mr. Sapers went far. He has more work to do. Why will the government not let Mr. Sapers continue and finish his work? Why will it not regard the grieving mother's wishes with more respect?

7:15 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, ensuring appropriate access to professional mental health services is a priority for both the Government of Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada. The Government of Canada has taken action on this issue, and the service is fully committed to implementing appropriate and effective measures to help prevent deaths in custody.

To this end, the service has implemented a number of measures in response to the recommendations set forth by the correctional investigator. It is working to address the many issues and challenges that women offenders face and has taken steps to increase its services and support to high-needs women offenders. The Correctional Service is committed to improving upon existing practices and procedures as they relate to mental health services that contribute to the improvement and maintenance of offenders' mental health and adjustment to incarceration and assist them in becoming a law-abiding citizens.

As I previously mentioned, an action plan has been developed to respond to Mr. Sapers' recommendation following his investigation into the incident. The Correctional Service has already implemented and is in the process of implementing a number of measures in this regard.