Madam Speaker, I am pleased to lend my support to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors.
The bill has been put on the table by my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer. I want to extend my congratulations to him. I know he cares very much about this issue. In particular, he is constantly raising issues involving seniors, and I appreciate his commitment to this.
As all members will know, any serious private member's bill demands a tremendous amount of time, research and energy on behalf of the sponsor as well as the staff and the House to prepare that bill.
Bill C-449 seeks to fill an important niche and is clearly no exception to this rule.
Before I continue, I should clarify why I believe seniors issues are, in general terms, so important to the future of the country and its long term prosperity.
Statistics Canada estimates that Canada's population over the age of 65 could reach an unprecedented 10.9 million by 2036. With this, as the Canadian population continues to age, new financial and logistical challenges will emerge for them as well as for our country. That is only 26 years away. If we fail to address these future realities today, we are only setting ourselves up for a crisis in the future, a crisis that is easily avoidable.
Bill C-449 is an out of the box way of starting to address these many factors one step at a time. Put another way, with this change, this proposal is what I would call enabling legislation. It could kick off the debate and give the Crown new and innovative options to really address issues such as transportation costs, isolation, public transportation and seniors quality of life.
The issues around quality of life for seniors is something about which all of us in the House care very much. We want people to look forward to retirement as a time of enjoyment for them. Things like free transit would offer opportunities for seniors to get out in those hours between, let us say, 11 o'clock and two o'clock, whatever the slowest period of time would be. Buses are going down those streets empty. Why not allow seniors to go on the bus at that time, or whatever mode of transit is in their communities? This would provide them the opportunity to be out mixing and socializing with other people.
Canadians are also known globally as a compassionate and caring people. Despite this, though, the reality is there still remains poverty in a country as rich as ours, particularly in the population over the age of 65.
We already know that poverty is a major problem for many seniors. We know that over 200,000 seniors still live well below any respectable poverty line, something that most Canadians find to be utterly unacceptable. I think all of us in the House continue to work toward reducing that so no senior lives below the poverty line. As a goal, I expect that many of us, certainly as Liberals, want to see that issue eliminated, so we could have a level of income that all people would receive.
By addressing transportation costs and public availability, we will have taken a small step down a very important road toward improving the lives and overall health of seniors. It seems so simple and, in many respects, it can be simple.
It is also worth mentioning that Statistics Canada data shows that seniors with access to regular and reliable transportation tend to get involved with charitable and community causes at a far greater rate than do their counterparts without that access. Again, we are talking about access to many avenues, access to wellness programs, access to community centres, where seniors can go and spend an afternoon with their friends playing cards, or bingo or whatever. It gets them out. It helps them to avoid depression. It improves their health immensely.
This means that in addition to fighting seniors isolation, increasing access to reliable transportation would have a very positive impact on a community. Service groups need volunteers and volunteers are the lifeblood of most of our communities. If we can do it, why would we not help seniors who help us?
In the same line of thinking, we also know that reduced mobility in seniors is generally linked to a lower household income. Again, I have great concerns with the notion that poverty continues to be a major factor in seniors' health.
My colleague who spoke earlier raised the issue of poverty among seniors and so on umpteen times in her comments. If I were to buy in to everything that my colleague said earlier, I would believe that we have an enormous amount of poverty in our country. We do not have an enormous amount of poverty but more than is acceptable. Those are the kinds of things that we need to be changing. Initiatives like this are the kinds of things that would help people who are living below an achievable amount.
I am greatly concerned by the notion that poverty is a major factor, as I said earlier. We need to start looking at the issues holistically if we are ever going to resolve them. Bill C-449 may seem minor, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Also, given that the passage of Bill C-449 would prompt the minister to start addressing the serious problem of transportation deficiencies, we may also start making inroads on other related matters. For example, because of health or mobility limitations, many seniors are forced into a life of isolation. Studies show that loneliness, deterioration of mental and physical health, and the general worsening of one's quality of life, are all byproducts of isolation provoked by factors such as transportation deficiency for seniors.
As I have already said, Bill C-449 does not outright devise a solution, but clearly thrusts the issue onto the national table for debate. As my party's critic for seniors and pensions, I am certainly supportive of having this debate sooner rather than later.
I would also be remiss if I failed to address the financial consideration of the legislation. As I have already said, Bill C-449 would require an expenditure of public resources but it would only underscore a public policy shortcoming and encourage a resolution to the same.
I believe one of the strengths associated with Bill C-449 is the fact that it would permit the minister to establish a phased-in, multi-faceted approach to this very real problem. It would permit the need for a responsible fiscal framework to be a guiding factor in the government's response, but it would require a response.
For the past several years, the government has opted to ignore these problems, but that is unacceptable and must stop. Bill C-449 is key to this.