Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to the motion by the member for London—Fanshawe, who likely does not know that my grandmother of 85 years is actually a constituent of hers. I do not suppose she voted for the member, but I thought I would add that as a bit of feedback.
This is an important issue. The riding of Huron—Bruce, as many people know, is in southwestern Ontario and home to a great number of seniors. It has a beautiful shoreline north and south of Lake Huron, just north of Grand Bend and Southampton. It is home to a great number of seniors who have worked hard through their years and now enjoy retirement in a beautiful area that includes both Huron and Bruce counties.
In looking at what the government has done for seniors, I can think of one program right off the bat that has helped a lot of seniors, the new horizons program. This program involves a great number of seniors in our communities, whether in health programs that get them physically active or one, for example, that makes a building in the community more accessible. The new horizons program is very welcome and has had a significant impact in the riding of Huron—Bruce and, of course, all the others throughout this country.
Another great program this government has worked on at length, and specifically in this case with the Province of Ontario and counties or municipalities, is affordable housing. This is a great equalizer for seniors. Here, I can think of an affordable housing project that was approved, in conjunction with the province, for the riding of Huron—Bruce in the municipality of Huron East. It is a great program for affordable housing for seniors.
Yes, on one side, it is important that at-risk seniors have a safe and bankable Canada pension, old age security and, if they qualify, the supplement to top up their incomes. On the other side, too, on the expense side, it is also vitally important to have safe and affordable housing for seniors.
I know our government has worked hard with all provinces to have affordable housing projects in place. It may surprise those watching today, and even some of the members opposite, that a lot of the dollars allocated in previous budgets for new affordable housing projects or for refurbishing existing ones were voted against by the opposition. We hoped they would support those projects, but in fact they voted against them. They also voted against the dollars for the new horizons for seniors program. That was also unfortunate, but be that as it may, it happened.
When we look at our initiatives for affordable housing, our government has been there for seniors, and if we look at the new dollars in this budget for the guaranteed income supplement, certainly the $300 million is welcome. The opposition had an opportunity in March to make a statement to at-risk seniors saying whether it wanted $300 million more allocated to seniors for the guaranteed income supplement or to spend that money on an election. The opposition, oddly enough, voted for an election and now is back at the table asking for more money. It is a little passing strange that this is the way it thinks, but we are getting used to it. I am nearly in my third year here and am certainly getting used to these initiatives.
I think back to when I first arrived here in October 2008. In 2009, when the committees were struck, I had the great opportunity and privilege to sit on the human resources committee, which was in the midst of a study on poverty in Canada. It was an important study of a committee that travelled from coast to coast, looking at all forms of poverty and low-income situations, how they arose and in what communities programs were working well, as well as a road map to lift all seniors and Canadians out of poverty.
While I was thinking of what to say today, I realized that every single opposition member of that committee did not get re-elected. Be that as it may, it is a fact. It could be looked at as a referendum on what Canadians thought we were doing for those at risk in providing needed funding. Whether for social transfers, health transfers, or working agreements with provinces for affordable housing, our government was there.
If one thinks of other measures to help those most at risk improve and make their lives more meaningful, one can look to social transfers and health transfers. This government has consistently increased dollars to provinces for health care at 6% a year since 2006, and the same for social transfers. These are great investments that help those most at risk by equalizing things.
The ironic thing for those listening at home is that they we will start to see a trend. The opposition voted against this. The opposition sitting in the House right here today voted against each and every dollar allocated for this.
The government and the Conservative Party of Canada are certainly here for all Canadians. We are here for those who find themselves in low-income situations. We are here for those who find themselves in what would be defined as poverty. We will continue to be there for them.
Another thought of mine in this discussion is that the issue is not where one is at in one's retirement years, as far as low-income or poverty is concerned, but perhaps the 40 years leading to it. What we have done as government, what we have done in our methodology, is to try to help Canadians steer clear of poverty.
The government, initially through Status of Women Canada and later through Human Resources, funded a program to identify at-risk youth in my riding through the organization Rural Response for Healthy Children. These at-risk youth, including those who had had a child at an early age or young families who were having financial issues, were helped through Rural Response for Healthy Children to learn basic budgeting 101. This was a tremendously popular program in the Huron portion of Huron—Bruce, and it spread.
Once other counties heard about this program, they wanted it. With funding through Status of Women, the rural response organization did programs in Perth, Middlesex and Bruce counties. There were about half a dozen counties in which did a train the trainer program so they could deliver this information to the most at-risk youth, who perhaps did not even know how to write a cheque or open a bank account. They informed them of the most basic things, including setting up a budget for a household to ensure that the youth could live within their means.
So, yes, we have programs providing dollars for those in their senior years, but we are also taking proactive measures to help people have a little more.
I have a quote from a young lady, who is symbolic of those we are trying to reach. She said:
When I came into this session I was scared. My husband took care of the finances and never told me what was happening. We were always getting calls from creditors and we stopped answering the phone. I never had enough money to buy food, formula and diapers. I was pregnant again and didn't know what was going on or how we were going to survive. Then I took this training and I started asking questions about our money and where it was going. At first he was mad about it and then I explained that I had taken this training and what I learned. Then he wanted to find out what it was and came to some sessions with me. Now we work together on our household budget and we can finally say we don't owe anyone any money now. After two years we can pay all of our bills on time, we are better partners, more loving and kind to each other, better parents and two months ago we started a savings account. It may be only $10.00 a month but to us it is the world. Thank you so much for offering this training to me and my family and for supporting us along the way. Things will never be as bad as they were and we have RRHC to thank for it.
That is a good news story. That is being proactive. That is working with those who are at risk and setting them up for a great future. Yes, it is only $10 a month, but it will be $50 a month and then it will be $100 a month and things will grow. That was a program through Status of Women. We were fortunate enough as well to have a program through Human Resources, and we called it budgeting 2.0 or 102. This is a program to help people manage their finances, whether they have a dollar or a million dollars.
One of the main techniques was to get these young families to start thinking about their children's education and, although it may be 15 or 20 years down the road, to learn about registered education savings programs, to learn about the programs available to families to continue to build their savings.
These are some of the initiatives that I give our government great credit for, initiatives that oftentimes we do not see in the news and do not hear about. These investments are not in the hundreds of millions. This investment with these two programs was likely $200,000 over three years.
The point is that there is not one silver bullet for solving our issues of poverty among seniors and young families, but it is about a whole array of programs and partnerships to lift all those who are poor.
There are some impressive facts about Canada. Among the developed world, the developed nations, we have the lowest rate of poverty among seniors. That is something to be proud of. Of course, we would love to have zero poverty among seniors, to have no poverty among them at all, but we have not got there yet. We as a government are working hard. Sometimes we are working hard in spite of what the opposition members do with their votes, but we are committed to this.
We have also had other programs in the last number of budgets. We had the targeted initiative for older workers. This has been a tremendous program. There is even a work-sharing program. I see in my community, in my riding of Huron—Bruce, a number of small manufacturers with older workforces that have used work-sharing. This has allowed our older workers to stay employed and employable, and as we are coming through the recession, this has allowed them to maintain their jobs as they approach 60 or 65, or even beyond, if they choose to work into their further years.
Our government should be commended for the work it has done. I think back to the study we did on the human resources committee and the testimonials we heard from a great number of delegates. Our goal as a government is to lift all seniors out of poverty.
It is also important that we continue to grow our economy, so we can continue to support increased transfers for health care, so we can continue to provide the transfer payments to provinces so that they can provide the necessary social programs.
I can think of another great program that is just starting in our community. It provides dental care to young people whose parents are low income, so they can have a healthy lifestyle. All of us know that good dental hygiene leads to good health.
The federal government has introduced a great number of programs. There is a trickle down effect to our counties and local municipalities as a result of the social transfers. They are vitally important. We are going to continue to make those investments.
I can think of a great number of programs that have had an impact, for example, our retirement homes. We have funded programs through our economic action plan. We were fortunate enough to fund a program jointly with the province and the county for a retirement home in Bluewater municipality. This will provide seniors, even those low income seniors, with an opportunity to live out their remaining years in dignity, in a beautiful place.
Members should look at all our government has done in five and a half years and what we continue to do. Not that long ago a previous government slashed transfers to the provinces, which put pressure on the provinces, the municipalities and the counties. They could not deliver these services.
We have gone through the greatest recession and depression in my lifetime. This government chose to continue to deliver to the provinces and the municipalities, so that those at risk would not be left behind. They were able to continue to provide the services that they provided in the past, and that is vitally important.
Back in the nineties, the previous government slashed programs and those most at risk, those most vulnerable, were hurt the most, were impacted the most.
We will continue with our programs. Through our stimulus programs, through our economic action plan, we have made great investments in our municipalities. This will make life better for those at risk, for those low income Canadians.
I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to speak to this issue. It is one that I am passionate about. If all of us in the House work together, we can make a difference in a great many lives of seniors and those at risk.