Madam Speaker, it is with real sadness this morning that I listen to all of this talk about political rhetoric and the rest of it. This is such an important issue for millions and millions of Canadians. This is something that we should all have been working on together.
We all know that the population is aging; this is nothing new that just popped up yesterday. We as a party have been working on retirement issues and moving these things forward. To be standing here blaming each other for political rhetoric, fear-mongering, and all the rest of it is sad. It is sad because there are thousands of people watching, listening to every word and worried now about what they are going to do in their future. Seniors today have a hard enough time coping with retirement at 65, never mind going to 67.
If this is the direction we are going in, I do not think this is a day in which anyone is happy. Not only did our groundhog see his shadow and tell us that we were going to have six more weeks of winter, but I also think it is an ominous reflection of the kinds of shadows we are dealing with here in the debate today.
On January 26, the Prime Minister stood in front of the world, not here in Canada, because I am sure he would never have had the courage to stand up to some audience in Canada and make the kinds of comments he did. He had to go over to Switzerland to make those kinds of comments there. Whatever he was trying to prove over there, I am not sure what it was. When he was telling them what they needed to do to clear up their debts and so on, one of the things he forgot to mention was that Canada did all of those things. We got our house in order years back. It was all under the prudent leadership of Liberal governments. He opposed all of that, including the CPP. At one point he wanted to privatize the CPP because he did not think we needed it either.
During this diatribe in Davos, the Prime Minister let one small detail of his own design float out. He suggested that Canada's old age security pension plan would have to be changed forever. Specifically, after the Conservatives had money for $6 billion in corporate tax cuts, $30 billion for untendered jets, another $1 billion for fake lakes and gazebos, the Prime Minister decreed to the world, not just to Canada because he did not want Canadians to know, that Canada's lowest income seniors would have to tighten their belts. After giving away all of that money and umpteen millions on a bunch of other stuff, he did not have the courage to come here and make that announcement in Canada, telling seniors they were going to have to tighten their belts after all they have done to build the country we are enjoying.
I will just provide a bit of background because people sometimes forget why we have and how we got some of these programs. Our old age security was first created by a Liberal prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, in 1927. Back then even he recognized the fact that seniors' poverty was rampant and totally unacceptable.
In 1952, again, another Liberal prime minister, Louis St. Laurent, expanded the program because he felt it was unfair for the provinces to have to deal with so much poverty when it came to seniors.
Then in 1967, Liberal PM Lester Pearson created the guaranteed income supplement, again to reduce the incidence of extreme poverty among our seniors, because we recognize that when people get to their senior years those are not the years when they should be eating macaroni and cheese three times a week.
Then in 1975, again in response to seeing too many seniors in poverty, Prime Minister Trudeau created the spousal benefit.
For 90 years, successive Liberal governments have worked to build and maintain an old age security pension system that would make sure that seniors could live with dignity. Even today, in spite of all of that, we are still not doing enough because we still have seniors living in poverty. In fact, if they do not have a private pension, the most they will get is $15,000. Try living today on $15,000. I still consider that to be poverty.
We wanted to make sure that the provinces did not have to deal with these issues alone. We wanted to show the world that we had a heart when it came to the very people who built the country so that we and our children and grandchildren could enjoy it, not cast seniors aside when they are 65 and no longer able to work, never mind now moving the age to 67.
However, on January 26, the Conservative Prime Minister took the first step toward reversing all of those things.
The Prime Minister said that raising the qualifying age for the OAS will have no real impact. He did not stop to think about the triple effect it would have on umpteen other levels of support, like the provincial drug card. People do not get the provincial drug card unless they are getting OAS, and they cannot get GIS unless they are getting OAS. If seniors are receiving OAS, lots of our municipalities give them municipal tax breaks in a variety of ways to help seniors move along.
Between 1965 and 1968, Liberal Prime Minister Pearson recognized that having to work to age 70 was far too difficult. Many of the people in those days were farmers, people who were working all day at heavy jobs and their backs and their physical bodies would not carry them to age 70. That was why the age was moved down to 65. We cannot ask people to work until they are 67 years old, never mind 70 if they are in hard jobs where they are standing on their feet all day. Their health just will not carry them.
We understand that. Our seniors deserve better than poverty during their golden years. There was a time when we thought the Prime Minister actually understood that too.
During the April 12 leaders debate in the most recent election--which I remind people was only eight months ago; it may seem like a much longer period some days, but it was only eight months ago--the Prime Minister said that he would not cut pensions. Canadians believed him, sadly. We told them not to trust him, but that was not the way it went. Canadians did trust him, just as they did with income trusts and some of the other things he said he would not touch, but the next day he turned around and did exactly the opposite.
Perhaps the surprise should not have been so great. After all, it was the Prime Minister who campaigned against the CPP and said it should be privatized. At that time he vowed to create a super savings account so Canadians could invest all their extra money for retirement, as if all Canadians have a lot of extra money.
I wonder how much extra money a 66-year-old widow with an annual income of less than $20,000 might have to invest. The average Canadian family that is trying to survive on a $40,000 or $50,000 income does not have any extra money to put into a pension either.
I will mention a few of the facts, according to the government's own numbers.
Twenty-four per cent of all women over the age of 65 qualify for GIS. That means they have an income of less than $16,300 per year. I wonder how much money our Prime Minister can invest in his various retirement plans, but he has lots of money, contrary to many Canadians out there today.
Over the next decade, 4.5 million Canadians will turn 65, and of this group of people, 92% will qualify for the OAS. In 2009, for all of the OAS recipients with an income under $20,000, the OAS and GIS accounted for 50% of their total income.
The numbers paint a very simple picture. If the Conservatives carry through with their threat to take away the OAS, even phased in over time, they will be dealing a crushing blow to the seniors of tomorrow in this country.
Why is this on the table? In the last election the Prime Minister said that seniors' pensions would not be touched. Now he says that the economy just cannot afford to lift seniors out of poverty, that we just have to keep them working longer and harder.
Setting aside all of the money that has gone into jets, jails and gazebos, that is very short-sighted, given the fact that all of this has happened in the last eight months. It was not as if everybody woke up and suddenly found out that we have an aging demographic and we have to do something, so we should go after the OAS and penalize that group of people.
The economists are telling us clearly that it is a sustainable program. Edward Whitehouse, who researches pension policy on behalf of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank, says the analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension scheme.
In Europe, in Greece and Italy, many of them have very rich pensions. It is a real pension that they have. What we have in Canada, and the minister made a point of that, we call it a pension, but it was always meant to be very modest. It was not meant for people to live on.
Part of the challenge that is facing all of us is to make sure that people understand that when they get to be 65 and they get the OAS and GIS, that is not meant to be all of what they are to live on. They are supposed to have been supplementing those programs, but unfortunately, most Canadians think that is the pension.
When compared to countries like Italy and Greece, and I certainly hear a lot about how they have great pensions, that is not the system we have. We have a job on our hands of making sure that people are educated to understand their need to invest in the various programs, which are quite limited.
There is talk about our heads being in the sand and not planning for the future. On this side of the House, we have been working very hard on this issue. A plan was recently adopted at the national Liberal convention to bring forward a companion program to the existing Canada pension plan, similar to what is now being offered by the OMERS, which is a program for those who are in municipal politics in Ontario. People can add on to their Canada pension plan as a companion piece. It is not a payroll tax, which is what the NDP is proposing. It is a companion plan to people's existing Canada pension plan. All that is needed is a social insurance number. People do not have to be working to put the money in. It is for homemakers, farmers, the self-employed. It is helping Canadians prepare for the future.
That is the kind of thing that has to be done. That is the kind of involvement that should have all parties working to help Canadians prepare for the future. We all know the demographics. We all know that changes are coming, but we should not go after the most vulnerable in order to make those changes.
Governments have choices. All of us in government or wherever we are have choices to make. Our choices are clearly to help people, to help the poorest of the poor, not to penalize them. There are lots of areas where budgets can be balanced without having to balance them on the backs of seniors and future seniors of this country. We should look at some of the choices that government has made in the past and make some different ones.
I want to talk about how this affects women in particular. Some women get married and drop out of the workforce to care for their children. Sometimes they have to care for parents. A man who works in construction for his entire life may have a wife who goes in and out of the workforce, and always earns somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 because she is never employed long enough because she is caring for her children or elderly parents, a sick husband or whatever. When she turns 65, she has next to nothing when it comes to CPP because she was not in the workforce long enough or with a high enough salary.
Most women do not max out on their contributions to CPP. Men do, if they are fortunate, but not the majority of women, unless they are career women. I am talking about average women who take time out of the workforce to have children and leave and return to the workforce a couple of times. When they turn 65, a husband and wife, for the most part, are living on $16,000 a year. If the husband dies, all of a sudden the woman is living on $10,000 or $11,000 a year. These are not magical things I am saying. If members do not have people with lives like that in their ridings, they are very fortunate, but they are welcome to come to my riding and speak to many people who live that life. As we plan to make changes for the future, which I hope involves all of us as parliamentarians, to help Canadians better prepare for the retirement, I hope we move forward with positive things.
The other sad part about this is the issue of trust. We get smeared all over the place because we are politicians and people say that nobody can believe a word we say. The Prime Minister clearly outlined that he was not going to make cuts to seniors' pensions and people trusted him. People need to be able to trust their legislators and parliamentarians at all levels of government, the Prime Minister especially. Even if he decides to do this for the seniors of tomorrow, it is a big move to change it from 65 to 67. It is going to have huge impacts. I am not talking about little things. It is a sad day for Canadian politics when that happens.
We are talking about working together and building this country together. We are not trying to increase poverty. That is why we are bringing forward a supplementary Canada pension plan. As I said earlier, it is a companion piece to the current Canada pension plan which would be easily administered, would have low management fees and would be secure. That would help the seniors of tomorrow have a much better retirement and would put less onus on the government.
Remember that at a $65,000 income the OAS is clawed back. That means fewer Canadians would end up in the poverty levels of the people we are dealing with today. Today we are dealing with many people who never had opportunities to get a higher education, so by and large, if people have good jobs, they are earning a higher level of money. This means they will be paying more taxes, which also means they will be less apt to draw the OAS and the GIS. But that takes investment in the kinds of programs and plans so that all Canadians have access to this.
I know that everyone is feeling the pressure of this kind of a discussion. I would hope that my colleagues on the other side would stand and fight on behalf of all Canadians to make sure that we are doing the right thing as legislators and that we will not have more people in poverty at a time where the challenges are out there for all of us.