Mr. Speaker, the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, is intended for old age security. OAS, pensioners who have little or no income other than their basic OAS pension. Accordingly, the determination of the entitlement to the GIS benefit is based on income and marital status. The GIS is targeted towards low-income seniors. It is income-tested to ensure that the highest benefits are provided to the lowest-income seniors.
In response to (a), the administrative policy changes introduced in May 2010 were small and technical in nature. In general, an individual’s GIS benefit is re-calculated every year in July, based on their previous year’s income. Under the Old Age Security Act, there exists an “option” provision that allows pensioners to have their GIS benefit based on an estimate of their current income, in very limited circumstances when there is a drop in income as a result of: a cessation of employment income; or a reduction or termination of pension income, for example, , liquidation of a RRIF, or the insolvency of a pension fund. Its purpose is not to exclude income from the calculation of the GIS benefit. The change that the May 2010 policy introduced was intended to better clarify under which circumstances the "option" provision could be used in relation to RRIF.
In response to (b), since its inception in 1967, GIS benefits have been calculated on the basis of income as defined under the Income Tax Act, ITA. This includes, among others, Canada pension plan, CPP, benefits, employer and private pensions, as well as registered retirement savings plan, RRSP, and RRIF withdrawals. Amounts from a savings account are not considered as income under the ITA. Therefore, given that the GIS is an income-tested program, withdrawals from a RRIF are considered as an income in the calculation of GIS benefits while withdrawals from personal savings accounts are not.
In response to (c), the decision was made by officials at the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada without the knowledge of the minister or minister’s office staff.
In response to (d), departmental officials regularly review all policies and programs to ensure that they are in the best interest of Canadian citizens.
In this particular instance, the minister cancelled the change once it was discovered that the change had been made and that it could have unintended consequences.