Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak on behalf of the people of my riding of Châteauguay—Saint-Constant and denounce the terrible budget the Conservatives have delivered.
I must denounce this budget, which proves in black and white that the most vulnerable members of our society are not a priority for the Conservative government—far from it.
There is no tax credit improvement for informal caregivers, the majority of whom are women. There is nothing to improve the guaranteed income supplement, while poverty strikes more women than men, especially among seniors.
Many of my colleagues have already explained how this budget has once again missed an excellent opportunity to meet the various needs of the people of Quebec.
Personally, as the Bloc Québécois critic for seniors, I can very easily demonstrate how the measures for the well being and security of Quebec's seniors represent some of the most pitiful aspects of the new Conservative budget.
As in previous budgets, the Conservative government still appears determined to completely ignore the demands of seniors. It has confirmed once again its insensitivity and utter unwillingness to do anything for our most vulnerable seniors and informal caregivers.
One of the most important seniors' organizations in Quebec, the Fédération de l'Âge d'Or du Québec, better known as the FADOQ network, has bitterly noted that seniors have been completely left out of this federal budget.
Nothing for low-income seniors. Nothing for caregivers. Nothing for experienced workers. Nothing for home care. Nothing for 160,000 Canadians who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement but are not receiving it. These are the highlights of the last federal budget which, once again, ignores the needs of seniors. The FADOQ network [which has more than 270,000 members] has every reason to believe that the government...is putting seniors last and that the deficit reduction will be carried out at the expense of seniors.
The Conservative government has not addressed any of FADOQ's demands with respect to the guaranteed income supplement. This situation is completely unacceptable.
For its part, the Association québécoise des retraité(e)s des secteurs public et parapublic (AQRP) believes that the federal budget only offers a consolation prize to Quebec's seniors by creating a seniors' day because:
...they did not announce any improvements to the guaranteed income supplement (GIS) to ensure that the income of Quebec's seniors is at least at the poverty line.
This is a sad description of our seniors' situation, but a realistic one.
The Bloc Québécois holds the same views of the Conservatives' appalling budget, which illustrates this government's chronic lack of compassion.
This government is trying to deceive seniors and hoping to make them believe that it really cares about their needs.
Our seniors are old enough to know better. They have seen right through the charades of this insensitive Prime Minister.
What is in this budget to make the lives of seniors and caregivers any better? The folks at FADOQ said it best: next to nothing.
It is not hard to figure out. First, the new horizons for seniors program is getting a mere $10 million over two years.
Second, some particularly imaginative people will argue that seniors are going to benefit from the tax breaks announced by the government, but that measure was in the 2009 budget. This government seems to enjoy recycling old news.
Third and last, the budget adds insult to injury by creating a seniors day. Sure, it is a nice idea, and the Bloc Québécois supports it because we owe it to our seniors to take the time to express our gratitude publicly.
However, it will also provide a perfect opportunity to criticize the government's failure to respond to our seniors' expectations. Thousands of low-income seniors know that a special day for seniors does not put food on the table.
In fact, how are they supposed to celebrate their special day without enough money to do so? What these men and women want is the same thing the Bloc Québécois has been asking for since 2001 when it found out that over 68,000 senior Quebeckers who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement were not receiving it.
Since then, the Bloc has been calling for a $110 monthly increase in benefits, automatic registration of persons 65 and older who are entitled to this supplement, continued guaranteed income supplement and old age security payments for a period of six months for a bereaved spouse, and full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors who have been short-changed.
Since this is International Women's Week, I want to point out that these measures would primarily affect women, who make up 56% of the senior population and a significant majority of seniors living in poverty.
Recently, during the Bloc Québécois' prebudget tour, seniors also spoke about the need to improve the spouse's allowance and the surviving spouse's allowance, two measures that once again concern mainly women. These allowances are crucial so that recipients can have a decent standard of living when their spouse dies.
But the Conservatives, true to form and preoccupied with boosting the banks' and western oil companies' bottom line, chose to ignore Quebeckers' unanimous support for increasing the guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowances.
Even worse, this Conservative government is worrying seniors with its announcement that it will review Canada's retirement income system this spring in order to fight the deficit. This shows a truly appalling contempt for the elderly and especially for women, who are very much affected by all the measures that benefit seniors and informal caregivers.
All in all, this empty budget is a public relations exercise, with dozens of little measures to please everyone. There is every indication that the middle class, workers and maybe even seniors will pay for the deficit caused by the economic crisis that hit us so hard in 2009. Even though the poorest members of our society are still being hit hard by the effects of the crisis, the Conservative budget shamelessly ignores them.
By refusing to increase the guaranteed income supplement and introduce an assistance program for workers 55 and older, the government is turning its back on necessary measures. While the poor are being left to their fate, the government is refusing to make the rich pay. Meanwhile, the rich are giving themselves generous bonuses.
Unless the government makes substantial amendments to this budget, the Bloc Québécois will vote against it, because it is not fair to Quebec. I am certain that when the next general election is held, our friends opposite are going to pay dearly for ignoring our seniors. I will do everything in my power to ensure that the Conservatives can never again openly express their contempt for seniors, women and the poorest Quebeckers in our society.