Madam Chair, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with the House actions taken by the government to help ensure that older Canadians have the supports they need to enjoy a good quality of life and a secure sense of well-being.
Our government recognizes the important contributions seniors have made and continue to make to both the economic and social fabrics of our nation. Seniors are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Recently, David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, issued his report, “Growing Older—Adding Life to Years”. The report highlights the state of Canadian seniors' physical and mental health, as well as their economic and social well-being.
The good news is that Dr. Butler-Jones came away from the study with an overall positive outlook on Canada's aging population. He noted that people, by and large, are actually aging well. He says aging is a vibrant time and while sometimes there are infirmities along the way, people live life well, are engaged in their communities and contribute to society. It has never been better, says Dr. Butler-Jones.
This very encouraging observation is met with the reality, he says, that as Canada faces a larger older population, efforts made toward healthy aging need to be managed in more effective and meaningful ways. This is precisely what the federal government, in collaboration with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, intends to do.
The federal government also intends to ensure that older Canadians have necessary financial supports. We understand that financial security largely contributes to a secure sense of well-being. That is why, since 2006, this government has implemented several key measures to reduce the tax burden on seniors.
To date, our government has provided more than $2 billion in annual tax relief for seniors. That is more than $2 billion each and every year. Some of these measures include implementing pension income splitting; increasing the age credit twice, first in 2006 and then again in 2009, benefiting more than two million seniors; doubling the maximum amount of pension income that may be claimed under the pension income tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, which removed 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls completely; increasing the allowable earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500; allowing registered retirement income fund annuitants to reduce the minimum amount required to be withdrawn for the 2008 tax year by 25%; and increasing the age limit for registered retirement savings plans from 69 to 71 years of age, allowing more flexible, phased retirement arrangements.
As we can see from that long list, we have been working hard to deliver real financial benefits for Canadian seniors, but our actions have not stopped there. Our government introduced the tax-free savings account, which is especially useful for seniors as withdrawals from it are GIS exempt. Today, over 90% of seniors are receiving support from the GIS and OAS, which provides over $33 billion in assistance to seniors each year.
As well as increasing supports, we have improved service delivery to better ensure that seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled. The application processes for the Canada pension plan and old age security have been simplified and updated, allowing seniors easier access to these important supports.
Furthermore, by introducing automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement under Bill C-36 in 2007, eligible seniors no longer have to reapply for this benefit every year. While these financial supports and the delivery of these benefits are important, we have made significant progress in a number of other ways.
In 2007, our government created the role of Minister of State for Seniors to be a voice for older adults at the cabinet level. That same year we established the first ever National Seniors Council, which provides advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors. This fall the council held round tables across the country to gain perspective from Canadians on retirement and labour force participation among seniors and on intergenerational relations. The council will produce a report and recommendations on these topics in the spring.
One of the NSC's past studies was on elder abuse, an issue that this government takes very seriously. In budget 2008, we committed $13 million over three years to the federal elder abuse initiative to help educate all Canadians to recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse. With an aging population, it is important that Canadians be aware of this type of mistreatment and be empowered to stand up and to speak out.
Through this initiative, we are working with the provinces and territories as well as professional organizations and community support groups to take measures to help prevent the exploitation of older Canadians. One way that community groups are helping to get this message out is through funding from the new horizons for seniors program, a program so successful and in such high demand that we increased its annual funding to $40 million in budget 2010, so that seniors can continue to be provided with opportunities to be active and engaged in their communities. The new horizons for seniors program also assists seniors to be active leaders and mentors in their communities. They are best able to achieve this through programs that foster inclusion, good nutrition and physical activity.
Bill C-40, which creates National Seniors Day on October 1 of each year, received royal assent just last week. This day will give Canadians an opportunity to collectively celebrate the continued contributions of older Canadians.
I would like to commend my colleague, the Minister of Finance, who has been working hard with his provincial and territorial counterparts to help ensure that older Canadians continue to enjoy a sound, reliable retirement income system. I can assure members that this federal government wants seniors to continue to help create a vibrant and successful Canada. We want our policies, programs and services to encourage and support seniors to remain active, healthy and engaged in their families, workplaces and communities.
We remain committed to ensuring that older Canadians receive the benefits to which they are entitled, that they stay financially secure in retirement and that they remain free from abuse and hardship. We also remain committed to ensuring that Canada is prepared to deal with the demographic shift that is upon us. Right now one in seven Canadians is a senior. In the year 2031, it will be one in four. The so-called boomer apocalypse will have profound impacts on the social and economic fabrics of our nation.
We need to be honest with ourselves and each other as leaders, policy makers, policy influencers, advocates and Canadians that the choices we make today will not only affect the baby boomer bubble but also our children, grandchildren and their children. It is our responsibility to ensure that we leave them a Canada that is just as strong and vibrant as the one we have enjoyed.
Our government will lead in preparing for the future with the well-being of seniors and of all Canadians as our goal.