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House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Financial LiteracyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I cannot disagree with my colleague from the Liberal Party more, but what I can agree with is this wonderful motion put forward by the member for Edmonton--Leduc.

I want to congratulate this wonderful member for his work, not only on this motion, but for all of the efforts he has made to promote financial literacy. His leadership on this very important file speaks to the record of Parliament over the last decade that he has been here.

Since his election in 2000, he has become one of the most respected of all the parliamentarians here. He is one of the members to whom new members often go to for advice. He has served as the chair of the industry committee and is currently the chair of the finance committee. As chair of these committees, he has guided very important studies on a number of issues, ranging from supporting Canada's manufacturing sector to improving Canada's retirement system to ensuring oversight over the credit and debit system, and there is so much more. He has also been at the forefront, just recently, of a cross-country tour to conduct some pre-budget consultations. He has been very active in helping all committee members to listen to Canadians and to allow them to make sure their voices are being heard.

I know that I speak for all members of the finance committee, some of whom are here, when I extend our thanks to the chair of the finance committee for all that he has done this fall during those pre-budget consultations as we travelled across Canada.

We need not just take my word for it; here is what journalist Don Martin had to say about the member from Edmonton--Leduc: “[He] remains highly respected by all sides and is the best committee chair on the Hill”.

Financial LiteracyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Financial LiteracyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

I have to agree with journalist Don Martin on that one for sure.

Today the member's motion highlights an increasingly important issue for Canadians, financial literacy. With so many new financial products and choices out there today, including complex mortgage and loan forms, different retirement savings plans, the rise of online banking, online payment systems like PayPal, a growing number of debit and credit card options, and so much more, Canadians must ensure that they have the right tools and knowledge to make the best financial decisions for themselves and for their families. So many new and developing products can make it very difficult for Canadians not only to balance their online chequebooks but also to fully understand the risks, the fees, and the consequences of what is available. That is where strong financial literacy comes in as an important part of the solution.

I would like to share a somewhat lengthy commentary from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that really speaks to the importance of this issue, not only at the individual level, but as part of the economy as a whole. I am going to quote this lengthy commentary:

Financial literacy is an important life skill. Canadians make financial decisions throughout their lives, many of which involve significant risks and rewards. Improving financial literacy helps consumers act knowledgeably and with confidence in managing their personal financial affairs. Informed consumer decision-making, in turn, contributes to the maintenance of a well-functioning and stable financial system and a stronger economy.

Simply put, the better one learns to manage one's own finances the better the economy can work as a whole. When people don't do a good job of managing their own finances it can have dire consequences.

Our Conservative government could not agree more. That is why we are supporting today's motion and its call to continue the work we have done to improve financial literacy here in Canada.

A big part of that work is something we started in 2009 as part of Canada's economic action plan, when we announced the establishment of a task force on financial literacy to make recommendations to create a cohesive national strategy. Over the next few years that task force, headed by Don Stewart, went across Canada to hold open public hearings to hear first-hand from Canadians on this issue.

Thanks to the great feedback the task force received from that consultation, and other research it conducted, it produced a final report called “Canadians and Their Money: Building a brighter financial future”, which was publicly released this past February. That report outlined 30 key recommendations to improve the financial literacy of Canadians, including many referenced in today's motion. I would strongly encourage all Canadians watching at home to visit the website at www.financialliteracyincanada.com to learn more about the work that the task force did and to review the very detailed research it produced, including its report.

The task force report was extremely well received. For example, Social and Enterprise Development Innovations, which is a major Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to helping low income Canadians, applauded the report. It said:

We commend the federal government for recognizing the critical importance of financial literacy. We also commend the diligent and thorough work of the Task Force members, who engaged Canadians in every province and territory in building a much-needed national strategy on financial literacy. There is no better time for government to take the lead in helping Canadians increase their knowledge and skills to manage everyday finances.

As a first step, and as committed to in the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, we will move forward on the first ever financial literacy leader to promote and improve financial literacy in Canada. We are doing even more. We are also providing $3 million a year in new funding to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada to support financial literacy initiatives to help consumers make the best financial decisions to suit their and their families' particular needs.

I am going to take a moment to echo the comments made by the member for Edmonton—Leduc with regard to the FCAC. Its efforts have been tireless in trying to promote financial literacy, particularly among our youth. I commend the member for disclosing to Canadians how they can reach this information, how they can learn from the FCAC by visiting its website.

Today's motion encourages our government to stay focused on this important issue and implement the recommendations of the task force, and we appreciate that.

Only a few weeks ago, the Minister of Finance attended, along with the member for Edmonton—Leduc, a kickoff event for Financial Literacy Month. This is an initiative developed by the Financial Literacy Action Group, a group of seven non-profit organizations all devoted to working to improve financial literacy in communities across Canada. By supporting today's motion, especially by Parliament endorsing Financial Literacy Month, we are showing our appreciation for the group's work and efforts. This is something our American neighbours have already done through a bipartisan resolution unanimously passed in Congress, which hopefully we can replicate here in the House of Commons.

Our Conservative government has been working hard since 2006 to make financial services products more transparent and consumer friendly. We believe Canadians should not need a magnifying glass or a dictionary to read a credit card statement or application. They should not need a lawyer or an economist to understand them.

That is why we have taken measures like protecting consumers with new credit card rules that will require consent for credit limit increases, a minimum 21-day grace period on new purchases, full disclosure for consumers, and that will limit other anti-consumer business practices. We are banning negative option billing for financial products, and of course, shortening the cheque holding period.

In the next phase of Canada's economic action plan we want to build on that record with more consumer friendly measures, such as banning unsolicited credit card checks and moving to protect consumers of prepaid cards.

I thank the member for Edmonton—Leduc for today's motion and his commitment to improving financial literacy.

Other members across the way have stated very clearly how they intend to vote on this matter. I encourage members of the NDP and the Liberal Party to think very hard when they stand to vote, hopefully in favour of this motion.

The member for Edmonton—Leduc has worked hard on this measure for many years. This is a measure that Canadians across the country have asked for and need. As a mother of five, I can assure the House that I want my children to learn from this. I applaud the member for Edmonton--Leduc for moving this motion, for helping me to educate my children, and for helping other Canadians to educate their children. I hope the NDP and Liberal members will support that effort.

Financial LiteracyPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be speaking for 10 minutes about a very interesting subject and a person whom I greatly respect. We can have good discussions and clear and differing opinions, but the member for Edmonton—Leduc is one of the people I most enjoy talking to. In terms of his knowledge, he holds a position for which he is eminently qualified.

He has never made a major error of interpretation. He has never put on airs. I watched him speaking with all the witnesses and he always spoke to them with kindness. He has all the personal and intellectual qualities to hold an important financial position. My opinion of him is the same as that of the member for Saint Boniface. For once we at least have something in common.

As for the member for Edmonton—Leduc's bill, it is a step in the right direction. We have no complaints. We must support his plan to ensure that all consumers and Canadians are better educated and better prepared to deal with all the new financial products, which are numerous and complex. I would remind members of the unfortunate commercial paper crisis. Even the CEO of Scotiabank said that he would not have anything to do with it because he was not familiar with the product. He did not have the qualifications to understand how these speculative instruments were structured. He said that they were so complex that he was ordering his bank not to touch them.

Think of all those who bought commercial paper and were told that the return was strong, that it was the best possible return. All these people suffered major losses. That is what needs to be corrected. We must ensure that people are not totally overwhelmed when they face important economic decisions related to their savings, their future, their pension, the division of matrimonial property, the management of inherited assets, not to mention the choice in comprehensive insurance. Currently, there are too many products available to Canadians, and they are also extremely complex. They are often written in a language that one must already be familiar with. One must be knowledgeable, be quite familiar with this industry and understand the legal terminology that is used.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc tells us that people should be better prepared to face difficulties and complexities and that they should be sure to deal with individuals who will not rob them. Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen many people put their trust in individuals and businesses that literally made fun of them and took all their savings. We must ensure that such events do not happen again.

While this initiative is a worthwhile first step, we should ensure that it is not the only step. There is a path to follow and that path must be followed to the very end. We must not take only that first step. We must go all the way and ensure that people not only understand what an insurance policy is all about, but also know what recourse they have against an insurance company that does not live up to its undertakings. People must also be able to protect themselves against practices that may be legal and honest but that may cost them much more than anticipated, in the case of credit cards.

This is one of the things we should perhaps be aiming for so that people are better able to stand up to big organizations. Two cases in particular come to mind: Nortel and AbitibiBowater. People had put their savings in group pension funds. They thought everything was fine, everything was going well. Still, they did keep watch to some extent, but it was not enough to stop their pension funds from going bankrupt. Those people found themselves with extremely large reductions in their pension plan. When you lose 40% of your main source of income, it means not replacing windows that year or cancelling the little trip south you wanted to go on with the family. You have to give that up. Quite often, it is sad, because time passes and if people cannot do something that year, they will never do it again.

On that point, the member for Edmonton—Leduc does not go far enough. While, with the great honesty he is known for, he says openly and clearly what road we have to take, the motor in his car is not strong enough to get very far. That is our criticism of him and it is on that point that we have reservations.

On the essential points, we are pleased with his speech and we find it interesting. It was given by someone whose intellectual integrity cannot be questioned. But what we can stress, and we will do it constantly and strenuously, and we will not cease to point this out, is the fact that not only do people have to know the products they are dealing with, they also have to be well aware of what remedies they may have. We are asking that financial institutions improve the information about their products. They must also inform people with a certain degree of transparency. They have to tell people that they have had a lot of problems in this regard in the past. They lend to individuals who, too often, because of the risk, are pushed into bankruptcy later.

That information is important. Institutions give out unsolicited credit cards, especially to young people, or press people into getting credit cards. They are offered a credit card at the entrance to a department store. They are told to sign and they will be sent a credit card with a $2,500 line of credit. That does not enable people to be well informed about all of the obligations they are incurring. There needs to be more oversight of the use of credit and financial planning for the future. People have to be more willing to receive that information, and it must be good information. We have to make sure that this information is accessible to everyone when they need it, that it is not just a matter of urging people to be customers, but also to be informed consumers.

I encourage people, and especially the member for Edmonton—Leduc, to keep going down this very fine road.

Financial LiteracyPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank the House for the opportunity to speak to the private member's motion, Motion No. 269, which is sponsored by the member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Before speaking to today's motion, let me recognize the good work that the member has done. I do not think I have any other quotes from Don Martin, but certainly as a member of Parliament since 2009 and in his current capacity as chair of the finance committee, we all respect the great leadership that he shows.

The motion before us today recommends that the government improve financial literacy in Canada by responding to the recommendations of the task force on financial literacy; creating, promoting and continuously upgrading a single source website for financial literacy to increase public awareness and ease access to information for Canadians; requiring federally regulated financial institutions to publicly disclose their contributions to financial literacy initiatives; ensuring the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada works with willing provinces and territories to promote financial literacy to youth through the educational system; and designating November as financial literacy month.

I have to stop for just a minute to say that when I was in Grade 9, I took an elective course in high school, which I remember to this day. It was optional Terry Toller consumer education. He taught us how to do our tax returns. He taught us about stocks. He taught us many things in that class in Grade 9. I am forever thankful for the advice and the educational program that I received. It is still a really important and valuable tool. So, to the degree that schools pick up this opportunity, it is going to be incredibly important.

Certainly, we live in an increasingly complex financial world of investment and credit products whose characteristics and risks have become much more difficult to comprehend. Financial products available to Canadians continue to rapidly expand and the complexity of such products can make it difficult for most of us to fully comprehend the risks, the fees, and the potential returns.

In Canada's economic action plan, or budget 2009, our Conservative government outlined key steps to protect consumers with regard to financial services and products.

First, the government enhanced consumer protection measures dealing with credit cards and mortgage insurance.

Second, and very important for the purposes of today's discussion, we established the task force on financial literacy to make recommendations to create a cohesive national strategy to improve financial literacy in Canada. The task force delivered its final report on February 9, 2011, entitled “Canadians and Their Money: Building a brighter financial future”.

The report, which is available online for public viewing, outlined 30 recommendations to improve the financial literacy of Canadians. The report was very well-received by Canadians. Indeed, here is what the non-profit Canadian organization ABC Life Literacy had to say about the task force's report:

Every Canadian should have the literacy skills they need to live a fully engaged life. The Task Force has strongly encouraged that financial literacy be recognized as an important life skill to help Canadians thrive in workplaces, homes and communities.

The report, like our government, acknowledged that improving financial literacy helps consumers make knowledgeable and confident decisions toward achieving their financial goals.

At the same time, through Canada's economic action plan, our Conservative government has strengthened Canada's financial system and protected Canadians' hard-earned savings.

Financial LiteracyPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member. She will have six minutes when this motion returns on the order paper.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I have tried to get answers from the government on the Canada pension plan disability program many times. The summative evaluation of the program released at the end of the summer revealed some worrisome facts.

According to the report, disabled persons are among the least fortunate in Canada. Compared to the rest of the Canadian population, they are more likely to be unemployed, they are more likely to live below the poverty line and they are often unable to pay for their basic needs such as clothing and food. Canada's food banks have recently reported that a growing number of people who receive disability benefits are using their services. This is truly unacceptable.

I would like to quote one particularly shocking passage:

The study finds that, compared to the 48% of all beneficiaries who started receiving CPPD pension between 1993 and 2004 and whose family income was below the Low Income Cut Off two years after CPPD started, the following subgroups were more likely to be in this situation: those who had mental disorders (55%), those who developed a disability before the age of 34 (68%), those who were separated or divorced (63%), and single parents (73%).

These figures are unacceptable.

The evaluation also gives some troubling statistics. More than half of the applications are denied. Half of the applicants denied still have no employment income after three years. This indicates that these people are truly unable to work because of their disability. They tried unsuccessfully to obtain support from this government and they now live without support, ignored and forgotten. Even worse, the appeal process for the old age security and Canada pension plan programs has become more complex and can take months, even years. The Office of the Commissioner of Review Tribunals is backlogged because it is receiving more and more review applications while the government continues to cut its budget.

What I find even more insulting is that this government also cancelled the long form census and the participation and activity limitation survey, the only survey that collected information about people living with functional limitations in Canada.

The message that this government is sending to the disabled is clear: no help, no support, no improvement of programs. If it stops counting people living with functional limitations, how can this government create better policies? It is inconceivable that Canada, a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is acting this way.

This report offered the government the opportunity to work at making real improvements to the Canada pension plan disability program. Unfortunately, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development chose to set the report aside and make empty promises that it would do more research at a later time. We do not need any more studies. The facts laid out in the summative evaluation provide enough information to take action. We need to take action.

When will this government realize that there is a serious lack of support for people with functional limitations? And will it commit to improving the lives of more than 4 million Canadians?

6:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Montcalm for raising this important issue in regard to the Canada pension plan disability benefit.

First, I would like to point out that the province of Quebec has its own pension plan, known in French as Le Régime de rentes du Québec, which is very similar to the Canada pension plan and has a similar disability pension. If one of my colleague's constituents is deemed to be disabled, he or she would be entitled to benefits under the Quebec pension plan, not the Canada pension plan disability benefit.

That being said, let me point out that no government has done more to support Canadians with disabilities than our Conservative government. For example, we signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and we introduced the disability savings plan along with several other measures to help these people and their families.

The opposition parties have a shameful record of consistently voting against these things that help Canadians with disabilities. The NDP has actually voted against every single initiative introduced by our government to help those Canadians with disabilities. More than 300,000 Canadians have received disability benefits from the Canada pension plan.

As the hon. member knows, the CPP disability benefit provides basic earnings replacement to Canadian workers who have made sufficient contributions to the plan and cannot work regularly because of a severe or prolonged disability.

Ensuring that Canadians receive the benefits for which they are eligible is a priority for the Government of Canada. The CPP disability benefit is certainly the largest federal income security program for working age persons with disabilities and Canada's largest public disability insurance program.

However, to fully understand what is out there to help Canadians with disabilities, we have to look at the bigger picture. The CPP disability benefit should not be considered in isolation. It is only one element of a broader social safety net that supports working age Canadians with disabilities.

Let me give hon. members a few examples of this broader safety net. EI sickness benefits provide temporary income support to ensure workers who need to take time off to recover from an illness, injury or quarantine before they return to work, but I have to stress that the Government of Canada is not the sole proprietor of Canada's social safety net. It is a shared responsibility with the provinces, territories and municipalities, all playing extremely important roles.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, to begin, I would simply like to mention that I am well aware of the Quebec pension plan disability benefit. It exists in Quebec, but not across Canada.

The government has yet to implement an action plan to give effect to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Signing a document is not enough. We need to move forward and make concrete changes for people with disabilities.

My colleague mentioned that CPP disability benefit payments were not meant to be the sole source of income. Yet that is the case for 12% of recipients. I would like to quote from the evaluation: “CPPD accounted for over 80 percent of the income of beneficiaries with less than $15,000 income in 2006.” Let me say that again: $15,000. Those figures are powerful. Saying that the CPPD is not meant to be the sole source of income does nothing to improve the situation.

Why is the government not focusing on real solutions instead of shirking its responsibilities?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, every province and territory has income support programs to help its residents with disabilities. For example, in Quebec there is the social solidarity program. This program provides financial assistance to people with very limited capacity for employment.

While municipalities do not provide income support, they offer a variety of services and programs to help their citizens with disabilities, programs such as accessibility, assisted housing and other such programs.

I should also mention the disability benefits offered through employer-sponsored group insurance plans and private coverage held by individuals.

We want to ensure that Canadians with disabilities have financial security and the opportunity to maximize their potential. We are happy to collaborate with other governments at all levels to make that possible.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, as members know, an NDP motion supported by all parties in the House passed unanimously in June of this year. While I am pleased that our initiative to end seniors' poverty did have support, I have profound concerns because the government has failed to take the NDP motion into account. It seems that the government is only willing to pay lip service to democracy and the seniors struggling to make ends meet.

The government agenda is clear: go full steam ahead and cut $11 billion from programs and services Canadians rely upon; underfund important programs; and continue to cater to big business with unaffordable corporate tax cuts.

Seniors represent one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036. With so many more seniors retiring in the years to come, we need to have social safety nets in place now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty in the future.

The Conservative government is clearly not preparing for the increased number of seniors in 2036 and those who are seniors today will not benefit as they should from the current budget. The government heralds its increase to the guaranteed income supplement, yet that money is nowhere near enough. The most recent budget would provide $300 million per year for a small increase to the GIS, $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples, but this is less than half of what is needed and less than half of what New Democrats asked for it. It will not even come close to pulling every senior out of poverty.

The government's solution to seniors' poverty and access to resources is to offer tax breaks and trumpet the new horizons program. Both fall far short of what we really need, such as investment in home care, investment in pharmacare, increased access to resources, appropriate and affordable housing and investment in geriatric studies. Investments in our communities and in our families are what are needed, not corporate tax breaks.

Most seniors cannot afford to cash in on the promised tax cuts in the budgets because they do not earn enough. The people who are struggling the most, such as seniors, single mothers and those who have lost their jobs, are the people for whom the government should provide help. The government has an obligation to help. Tax credits are of little use to the unemployed, the working poor and seniors struggling on small pensions because they do not have enough income to qualify.

The new horizons program is the only investment the government is making in our seniors. While promotion of community programs is not a bad thing, there are so many more and much smarter ways to invest tax dollars to ensure our seniors are lifted out of poverty, have access to resources available to them and are able to choose to live where they want. Dignity in retirement should be a right, not a privilege.

The government should be prepared to act to lift seniors out of poverty, or will it continue to hide its disgraceful inaction behind meaningless tax breaks and small investments in new horizons?

6:40 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for London—Fanshawe on the issue of seniors' poverty.

Our government is vigilant on this issue and we truly appreciate the contributions of seniors in building our communities across Canada. A key Government of Canada priority is to help Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years. The most important support for making this happen is through a public pension system.

Let me underline that the Canada pension plan is a stable, well designed plan that is portable from province to province. The chief actuary of Canada has confirmed that the Canada pension plan is fully sustainable for generations to come. This year Canadians will receive an estimated $72 billion in benefits through the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.

Canada's strong public pension system has had great success in reducing poverty among seniors from a rate of 21% in 1980 to 5.2% in 2009. Three years ago we increased the GIS earnings exemption to $3,500 from $500. This allowed GIS recipients who chose to work to keep up to an additional $1,500 in GIS benefits annually.

Budget 2011 also announced other measures to improve the financial security of our most vulnerable seniors and expand opportunities for older Canadians.

Beginning in July 2011, seniors with little or no income other than the OAS pension and the GIS have been receiving additional benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples per year, the most significant increase for the lowest income seniors in over 25 years. More than 680,000 low-income seniors will benefit from this increase.

OAS benefits, including the GIS, are adjusted accordingly in January, April, July and October to reflect changes in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index. That way seniors' purchasing power is protected.

The Old Age Security Act contains a guarantee that OAS benefits will not be reduced even when there is a decrease in the Consumer Price Index. In other words, the OAS benefits will never be decreased.

The Government of Canada is providing $2.3 billion annually in tax relief to seniors and pensioners through pension income splitting and increasing the age credit.

Another initiative that is worth mentioning is our government's recognition of the role of informal caregivers as a complement to Canada's health care system. This is why we introduced the new family caregivers tax credit. It will help provide financial relief for caregivers of infirm, dependent relatives, spouses, common-law partners and children. This will benefit over 500,000 Canadians.

This year we increased the new horizons for seniors program by $10 million over the next two years, bringing this year's budget to $45 million. We have also provided $50 million over two years to extend the targeted initiative for older workers until 2013-14.

Since 2006, the Government of Canada has taken action on many issues important to seniors, whether that be providing $400 million over two years under budget 2009 for the construction of housing units for low-income seniors, or establishing October 1 as National Seniors Day, or creating the National Seniors Council in 2007 to provide advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life for seniors and, finally, the federal elder abuse initiative which was successfully concluded in March 2011.

The Government of Canada has taken concrete steps to help seniors and will continue to help Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, the CPP is a good plan, but it needs to be reformed and we have seen none of that. In fact, the only response from the government is another private pension scheme.

The member opposite clearly did not hear my question or has chosen not to answer. Tax breaks are not enough. On this side of the House, we did not vote for those tax breaks because they would do nothing to actually lift seniors out of poverty.

Seniors are being forced to use food banks and their retirement savings, if any, have been depleted by this economic downturn. We need real action, not lip service, and we can afford to do it. We have the means available now. We can and we must make investments because no one deserves to be left behind.

The Conservatives talk, but they do not do. It is time to do something for the impoverished seniors of our country. There is no time left. We need action now.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned before, the government has made unprecedented gains with respect to helping seniors, whether that be increasing the GIS, the new horizons seniors program by $10 million over the next two years, providing $50 million over the next two years to extend the targeted initiative for older workers until 2013-14, $400 million over two years in budget 2009 for housing for low-income senior and establishing a national seniors day and the federal elder abuse initiative. These are all things that this government has moved forward on to show its appreciation for seniors.

The Government of Canada is taking concrete steps to help seniors, unlike the NDP that has voted against all of these initiatives again and again. We will continue to help Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak again on the issue of aviation safety.

On October 18, I asked the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities why we had not seen the government follow up on its commitment to bring on line a full complement of operational inspectors for our aviation industry.

The minister said that I was attacking the integrity of the Transport Canada workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was attacking the integrity of the bureaucracy in the government, which in May 2010 promised us, at the transport committee, that it would go through the process of hiring some 98 Transport Canada aviation operational inspectors who were missing at that time.

The sad state is it is worse. There are fewer aviation inspectors now than there were in May 2010. We have actually stepped backward a bit from that point.

I certainly did not attack the integrity of the inspectors, who are working flat out without a full staff. However, the government, which promised to do this and knew these problems were developing in aviation safety for small carriers across the country, in November 2009, when it delayed the implementation of SMS for small carriers, admitted we had a problem in safety in Canada among small carriers.

The crashes that have occurred across northern Canada in the past 12 months all appear to be operational in nature and appear to be the kinds of crashes that are associated with the operation of an aircraft, not mechanical in nature. It certainly sheds some light on what is happening inside our aviation system.

I was transport critic for this party in the last term. The transport critic before me put the same effort into aviation safety. We understand the importance of it to Canada and to the people who have to fly in small planes in conditions that are fast-changing across northern Canada, where climate change has made the weather systems very uncertain.

The situation now is we have 595 positions in aviation safety across the country and only 382 are filled. This is especially noted in the Prairies and northern regions and in the Atlantic regions. These are issues that affect people flying.

What has caused this issue? The issue has been exacerbated by the government, first, pushing the small carriers into SMS. Then when the government removed them from the SMS system, it did not really put back in the system of oversight that was used prior to that.

Now we have a situation where small carriers are not bound by SMS, yet they do not have the oversight, the on-the-ground inspections that small aircraft carriers across the country relied on to keep their safety standards to a high extent, and this is a bad situation.

The simple message for the government is to hire the inspectors, put the system back in order and give the Transport Canada workers the manpower they need to do the job for Canadians across the country.

November 15th, 2011 / 6:50 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, Canada has one of the safest air transportation systems in the world, a fact recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization. During the last decade we have seen a continual decline in the accident rate. In fact, we recently saw the total number of accidents decline to the lowest recorded figure in 10 years. Those are numbers we can be proud of.

Make no mistake though, Transport Canada officials take every accident seriously. Our thoughts go out to those affected by the tragic accidents in the north. We are supporting the Transportation Safety Board in getting to the bottom of those incidents.

To date, Transport Canada has taken several steps in response to the accidents. We have appointed a minister's observer to support the investigation and to keep the department informed of its progress. We are conducting a post-accident review to verify compliance with aviation safety regulations. We are evaluating if there are any issues that need immediate attention. We are reviewing data to determine if these accidents represent a trend when compared to past years.

I appreciate that now more than ever northern air carriers are faced with many unique challenges. Their services are crucial to the livelihood of many and they do excellent work every day to support their communities. Transport Canada has a robust safety program in support of these operators and verifies the safety of their operations.

The implication that our oversight program is weak is false. We dedicate more than 80% of civil aviation safety resources to oversight activities like inspections. Since 2007, our inspector position totals and staff have increased. What is more, our oversight model is based on a risk approach that allocates resources to the areas where they provide maximum safety benefit.

Our surveillance procedures include planned and unplanned inspections to verify compliance with aviation regulations. These inspections involve on-site interviews with staff and reviews of companies' safety practices. Today, in addition to traditional surveillance methods, our inspectors evaluate the safety systems within companies. Companies go beyond meeting traditional checks and balances and ensure that they tailor their safety and their risk management strategies to their operations.

This approach is a global standard and our work has put us ahead of the world. I stand proud that our experiences can be used as a model for other authorities around the world to follow as they implement their safety systems.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, certainly we can talk about Canada's aviation safety record. We can talk about SMS as being leading edge, but in reality, there is no other country that would institute SMS without proper oversight. This is the question that we have for the government. Why has this not happened?

The Conservatives agreed in 2010 that they would replace and fully complement our operations inspectors across this country, but they have not done that. When it comes to the situation right now in terms of the safety of the travelling public, we can divide it into two groups. Statistically, if we take Canadian aviation as a whole, large carriers that have the internal ability to provide good safety systems are generally safe, but with respect to small carriers, the government agreed in 2009 to back off from SMS with small carriers, and that is where we need the oversight. I wish the government would go ahead with this in a good fashion.

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, Canada's aviation safety record is one of the best in the world. We recently saw the total number of incidents decline to the lowest recorded figure in 10 years. When an accident does happen we do take it seriously. Transport Canada is looking closely at the recent accidents that have taken place to which the hon. member has alluded to determine if there are any issues that need to be addressed immediately. However, it is inappropriate to attack our aviation safety program when it has received international recognition as a world leader.

As a result, the department has continued to work with stakeholders in order to preserve the security and the safety of our system to protect Canadians and to keep our planes in the sky.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:58 p.m.)