Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Edmonton East for bringing forth this motion. I want to read it at the beginning so people watching will have an idea of what the motion is about. It reads:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.
I would expect that the motion will in fact pass. It comes out of a number of initiatives the government has taken in support of older workers and retraining in the workforce.
I want to note that the member for Edmonton East, when he made his presentation on October 4, 2010, gave some statistics that I found rather interesting in his speech. He indicated that in 1900, over a century ago, Canadian men had a life expectancy of only 47 years, while women could expect to live just under 3 years longer.
When the first old age pension was brought in by the federal government in 1927, payments began at the age of 70. On that basis, most Canadians would not live long enough to collect the pension as the average life expectancy was, by that time, 59 years for men and age 62 for women.
As indicated, under the Canadian pension plan, the pension was introduced in 1927. I want to make some observations about that, because after World War I, there was increased urbanization in Canada and industrialization. It led to an increase in demand for old age pensions. I had statistics on pensions in other countries. There were a number of countries had pensions in place before 1935.
The member for Winnipeg North will be pleased to hear that in 1916, Manitoba, our home province, was the first province to pass a Mothers' Pension Act to provide a small but assured income to widows and divorced or deserted wives with children to support, deemed the worthy poor.
Within five years, all provinces from Ontario west had similar legislation called public assistance. This help was based on a means test and constituted a modern version of the English poor law.
This will show how things really have not changed over the years. In 1919, the federal Liberal Party pledged to pass legislation on health insurance, contributory old age pensions and unemployment insurance, but alas, none of these promises were kept. At that point, the British North America Act was cited as the main impediment. The reality is that business interests which funded the two major parties at the time were a hindrance.
It was 1927 before the old age pension did in fact become law. It came about during the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, but the introduction was based on a promise to the two Labour MPs at the time, J.S. Woodsworth and A.A. Heaps. It provided a maximum, by the way, of $20 a month, and it was subject to a means test.
I have a copy of the letter which was sent to Mackenzie King in January 1926. I spent some time early this morning reading Hansard from 1927. It was a very interesting experience.
The letter was sent to both the Liberal leader, Mr. King but also, as an equal opportunity group I gather, it was decided to let the Conservatives have a chance at it too. It reads as follows:
Dear Mr. King:
As representatives of Labour in the House of Commons, may we ask whether it is your intention to introduce at this session legislation with regard to (a) Provision for the unemployed; (b) Old Age Pensions. We are venturing to send a similar inquiry to the leader of the opposition.
We must remember that it was a minority government and the leader of the opposition was Arthur Meighen. The Conservative leader was unwilling, even if it meant getting his hands on the government, to support either proposal at the time. Woodsworth and Heaps, the two labour representatives, accepted Mackenzie King's offer to pursue old age pensions and gave him their support. When his government finally won a majority in 1926, Mackenzie King followed up on his promise to Woodsworth and Heaps by introducing legislation that became the Old Age Pensions Act in 1927.
The battle for old age pensions goes back many years, from the time the act was originally discussed, passed and implemented in other jurisdictions. It took a minority government situation to force the Liberals to promise to bring in the--