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House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the member's colleagues in the House.

The member only had 10 minutes. I know that if he had 12 minutes, he would have wanted to go on and remind Canadians that the three pillars we have talked about, old age security, CPP and guaranteed income supplement, although supported by many in the New Democratic Party and some who were seated in the New Democratic Party, were brought in by Liberal governments. If he had 12 minutes, I know he would have wanted to mention that.

I want to ask him about what was said in a scrum yesterday, and that was why the opposition was being so exercised when there was no legislation for the change from age of 65 to 67. It is not out there yet.

I would also ask my colleague to comment on this. We have seen closure executed so many times in the House under the government. Where there is smoke, there is fire. When the comments were made in Davos, we can certainly expect to see legislation coming forward. Therefore, our responsibility as opposition is to ensure that Canadians know what is coming down the pike.

Does my colleague share that nervousness, that concern of what may be coming from the government next?

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can tell my colleague that the phone in my office is ringing off the hook with concerned senior citizens. In the absence of any concrete details from the Prime Minister, just this law, this scattergun comment that leaves all possibilities open, there is serious concern throughout the land. It is a reckless and irresponsible way to introduce a subject regarding social policy.

We have a right to know what is in the mind of the Prime Minister. First, we have a right to know the scale and the scope of the problem as the government sees it and if there is any evidence that there is in fact an actuarial emergency, as it would have us believe. Second, we have a right to know what measures and what concrete steps it is proposing so we can do our due diligence and represent the people who elected us to ensure this is done in such a way that it does not impact people negatively.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas, Post-secondary Education; the hon. member for Montcalm, Persons with Disabilities; the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, The Environment.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise, like always, out of a sense of pride to address important issues in the House, but also with a great sense of frustration on behalf of a lot of Canadians who are very worried about their retirement futures.

They have watched the Prime Minister trial balloon this notion, this idea, that there is a crisis in the Canadian pension system. They understand the issue of the aging demographic. Canadians are serious people who understand these issues. They want government to be honest with them and to provide real solutions.

When the Prime Minister trial ballooned increasing the age of qualification for the OAS from 65 to 67 years of age in Davos, he frightened a lot of Canadians, a lot of people who look toward their retirement age of 65, people who have, in many cases, worked their entire lives in labour or in a trade, who have saved enough so they can take care of themselves with some level of dignity post-65, providing that they also receive the OAS. They are shocked, surprised and are very fearful of what their future looks like.

They are people who have done all the right things. They have worked hard. They have saved money. They have planned for the future and they fear that just as they are within reach of that future, the Conservative government is threatening to pull the rug out from under them and to, in a very callous way, destroy their future retirement.

Today, the Minister of Finance confirmed that the upcoming federal budget would include cuts to old age security. This, despite the fact that the Conservatives promised in the last election not to cut transfers to individuals or pensions. This, despite the fact that the old age security program, as it is set up currently, is in fact sustainable. The Globe and Mail wrote this week:

Expert advice commissioned by the federal government contradicts [the Prime Minister's] warnings that Canada can’t afford the looming bill for Old Age Security payments....research prepared at Ottawa’s request argues Canada’s pension system is in far better shape than the Europeans’, and there’s no need to raise the retirement age.

As we have heard, the federal government currently spends about 2.4% of GDP on OAS payments. In 2030, we are told spending on OAS payments will rise to about 3.14% of GDP.

The amount we spend on OAS clearly fluctuates with demographics. For example, in 1992, federal spending on OAS represented 2.72% of GDP.

The expected rise in old age security between now and 2030 can be manageable. It is simply a matter of priorities. After 2030, spending on OAS as a percentage of the economy is expected to fall once again until it is even below today's levels.

The Conservatives do not like it when we talk about future government spending as a percentage of the economy or a percentage of the GDP. The Conservatives want to scare us with nominal numbers without considering what our ability would be to actually pay.

This is not surprising, because the Conservatives do not like evidence. They prefer making decisions based on ideology, not evidence, and they often ignore the facts when they make decisions.

For examples, yesterday the Minister of Public Safety told parliamentarians to ignore the statistics that showed that crime rates in Canada continue to fall.

Yesterday the chief economist at Statistics Canada quit because of the Conservatives' habit of placing ideology ahead of facts, evidence and statistics.

Yesterday the Conservatives quietly made data from Statistics Canada available for free on line, but since the Conservatives got rid of the mandatory long form census, the data is really quite worthless, so they would not be able to continue selling it anyway. Nobody wants to buy data that is not statistically credible or pertinent.

Now the Conservatives are trying to scare Canadians into believing that the OAS system is somehow about to crumble.

I would like to share with members what the experts are saying on this issue.

Thomas Klassen, a political scientist who recently published research on Canada's OAS, has said:

I haven't heard any academic argue that there's a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised a few days ago when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis... because I don't know where that came from.

From a column in The Globe and Mail earlier this week:

Kevin Milligan, a University of British Columbia economics professor who co-authored another of the supporting research papers prepared for Ottawa, is also of the view that there's no OAS crisis. He says the government's use of statistics showing the cost of OAS will climb from $36.5 billion in 2010 to $108 billion in 2030 is not meaningful because of the impact of inflation.

He says that we should be using percentage of GDP numbers instead. He says:

As an economist, I would never characterize things in terms of nominal dollars in the future because it's hard to put those in context. I don't know what we'll be paying for a litre of milk then.

Meanwhile the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said measuring OAS payment as a percentage of the economy is misleading Canadians. Somehow, looking ahead to 2030 and, instead of putting it at a nominal value, putting it into real terms as a percentage of GDP was somehow misleading Canadians. To the contrary.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance is misleading Canadians when she speaks in nominal numbers for 2030. Everybody else who is obviously taking the cost of the OAS as a percentage of GDP is then providing Canadians with important information. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance actually said “We're talking in dollars. Talking in terms of percentages is misleading”. Sadly, it is not the first time that the parliamentary secretary for finance has been confused by the expression of government expense as a percentage of GDP, but I digress.

Further, in terms of the fact that there is no evidence of a real crisis, the government's own report concludes that our pension system, including OAS and GIS, is sustainable. I will quote from this report called “Canada's retirement-income provision: An international perspective”. Edward Whitehouse states:

The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes... There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.

Again, this is from a report commissioned by the government. It commissioned experts to provide it with expert advice based on evidence.

According to this report, the current system is working well:

Canada's public retirement income system provides strong protection for interrupted work histories without unduly affecting incentives for people to work and to save.

Even if there were a crisis in the sustainability of the OAS or our pension systems, one would think that if the government were going to try to strengthen the pension plan to ensure it was sustainable, it would do it in a way that was progressive and fair. This is what the Liberal government did in the 1990s with the CPP, for example, to ensure that it was sustainable for generations in decades ahead.

We have established that there is not a crisis. The Conservatives are doing this for ideological reasons. Even if they felt there were a crisis one would think they would want to be progressive and fair and ensure that the most vulnerable would not be affected most severely by those changes. In fact, to the contrary.

The Conservative government was able to find billions of dollars to enable income splitting which, if affordable, is fine. Yet income splitting disproportionately benefits middle and upper income Canadians. The Conservatives found billions to help with that.

This move, raising the age of qualification for the OAS, would disproportionately hurt low-income Canadians. Forty per cent of OAS recipients get by. They struggle to survive on less than $20,000 per year. More than 50% of OAS recipients make less than $25,000 per year. What kind of government, if it were in fact faced with a crisis of sustainability in our pension system, would solve it by hurting the poorest of the poor?

It is also anti-rural, anti-small town and anti-Atlantic Canada. Rural Canada, small-town Canada and Atlantic Canada have more seniors than urban Canada. That is the reality. Parts of Canada, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, are doing very well. They had the vision, foresight and wisdom to put oil and gas and potash under the ground. However, large parts of Canada are struggling. The Maritimes, large parts of Ontario and Quebec, and a lot of rural communities are struggling. We are struggling to keep rural communities alive. In the three counties of Hants county, Kings county and Annapolis county, we have lost almost 7,000 full-time jobs since August 2008. We have seen unemployment rates go from about 5.5% to over 8% in the last three years. We have seen families struggling just to make ends meet. Small businesses are going broke. They cannot survive if people cannot afford to go to their little restaurant or to shop at their little store. Do not be fooled when the government talks about how well the economy is doing. If we break it down by region, if we break it down between urban and rural, there is a lot of hardship in Canada right now.

This threat to increase the age of qualification for the OAS would make things worse in rural Canada, small-town Canada and Atlantic Canada.

For example, in Nova Scotia, we have the highest percentage of seniors in the country as a percentage of our population. Seniors comprise 16% of the population in our province. The median income for seniors in Nova Scotia is $21,290 per year. That is almost $2,000 less than the Canadian median income of $23,110 for seniors.

In Nova Scotia, OAS represents 24.6% of seniors' income. That is much higher than the Canadian average of 21.1%.

We have established that this is a regressive step. It is bad for low-income Canadians, Atlantic Canadians, Nova Scotians and rural Canadians. It also bad for single women. For women, the OAS and the GIS are more important, in many ways, than the CPP or the QPP. Unlike the CPP, the OAS and the guaranteed income supplement cover Canadians who have taken time away from the workforce. For example, people who have stayed at home to take care of their children or who have persistently had lower paying jobs or long-term unemployment. I mention the GIS because, the way our system works, we cannot qualify for GIS unless we qualify for OAS. Raising the qualification age for OAS would be doubly regressive. Not only is OAS there to help low-income Canadians, but the GIS is absolutely essential for the lowest income retirees.

According to the 2009 report, “Government and Retirement Incomes in Canada”, by Michael Baker and Kevin Milligan, again a government-commissioned report, by the ages of 60 to 64, employment income represents 40% of income, on average, for men but just 28% of income for women. We know that generationally, particularly in the past, a lot more women were doing work that was not compensated in a monetary sense, important work, but work that was not part of the financial system or part of the formal economy. Meanwhile, 23.9% of women aged 65 received GIS, compared with only 19.6% of men. We know that the GIS and the OAS are even more important to women than they are to men.

The Conservatives' policy on income splitting, which I mentioned earlier, predominantly helps well off, single income couples. Now the Conservatives are getting ready to attack low-income families and single women who rely on OAS and GIS when they turn 65.

It is unfair to women. It is unfair to low-income Canadians. It is unfair to rural Canada. It is unfair to Atlantic Canada. It represents an off-loading to the provinces, without any discussion or consultation. The cutting of OAS, raising the age of qualification from 65 to 67, will force thousands of low-income seniors onto provincial welfare rolls.

The feds are downloading these costs, similar to how they are downloading prison costs. We know that the prisons will cost the federal government billions of dollars. We are also finding out that there will be billions of dollars imposed on provincial governments.

I am hearing from constituents in my riding of Kings—Hants, which is of course a rural Nova Scotian riding, a riding that would be hit hard by this kind of regressive step. Fred Rhymes from Centre Burlington has contacted us. He retired early because of his health. This is a guy who worked hard. He saved carefully all his life. His savings were hit badly during the financial crisis. He is now counting on OAS to fill in the gaps when he turns 65. He is very concerned about what the government intends to do. It has been trial ballooned in a callous way. Now we understand there will be some clarity in the budget.

Another fellow who called us was Bryan Draper from Port Williams. Bryan has said that OAS and the social safety net must be there for the Canadians who need it. He referred to the gap between rich and poor and the fact that it is widening. This is not just a Canadian phenomenon. The reality is the gap between rich and poor is growing around the world.

In fact, it is ironic. The Prime Minister was at the Davos conference of the World Economic Forum. Global leaders from countries around the world actually said that the gap between rich and poor is growing and needs to be addressed. Klaus Schwab said in the opening remarks that it is critically important that we address the gap between rich and poor.

I talked to somebody about this a couple of years ago. A business person with a lot of money said that Marx may have been wrong about communism, but he may yet prove correct on capitalism if we are not careful.

People like Warren Buffett, who is no slouch when it comes to business, is saying the gap between rich and poor is wrong. He actually asked the people working in his office to tell him what percentage of their income they were paying in income tax, on a voluntary basis. He found out that his cleaning lady was paying a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does. This is Warren Buffett, hardly an anti-capitalist.

This is not a question of ideology. This is a question of civility, of doing what is right and changing our tax system and our social system to be fair. It is not just a question of the economy. It is a question of the sustainability of our society. To have the Government of Canada, this Conservative government, threatening to make it worse makes me very frustrated.

I had another note from a constituent who said:

My wife and I are two of the many Canadians who have made financial plans for retirement on the assumption the OAS would be there for us at the age of 65.

Thousands of us who have worked hard and done the right thing will be badly hurt by any wait required for OAS.

Finally, on the politics of deception, the Prime Minister knew that this demographic shift was upon us. The world has known this. Everybody who has been looking at public policy knew this. Why did he not talk about it during the election? Why did he not give Canadians the straight goods that this was a problem? Why did he tell Canadians that he would not, and he was absolutely unequivocal, cut transfers to seniors during the election? Canadians deserve to know the truth. They can handle the truth. They deserve honesty from their government.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is this: Is there a demographic shift or not?

At the end of the member's speech he mentioned there is. At the beginning of his speech he mentioned that there is no long form census and then questioned all kinds of things about long-term planning. I wonder what kind of long-term planning the member is talking about. Is he talking about the long-term planning the Liberal party used before it drained $50 billion out of the employment insurance fund and then left it empty? By the way, those were contributions by employers and employees.

Is this the kind of wisdom the members opposite are talking about?

I guess my question for the member is whether Canadians should take his assertion about there being no long form census right now, which in fact there is, as many of them were filled out and returned to Statistics Canada, as an example of the validity and truthfulness of his speech?

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Respectfully, Mr. Speaker, I do not think anyone in the House understands what the hon. member just asked, except perhaps the hon. member. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and try to pick some scintilla of logic out of that.

I will start off with the long-term planning issue he raised. I am very proud that it was a Liberal government that not only inherited a $43 billion deficit, a record high deficit at that time, until recently when this Conservative government was able to beat that record, but also paid down that deficit and over $100 billion of the national debt, giving the current government the best incoming fiscal situation of any incoming government in the history of the country.

Beyond that, the Liberal government in the late 1990s strengthened CPP and made it sustainable for generations. While it was doing that it was criticized by the Reform party and the Canadian Alliance Party for taking steps to make the pension plan sustainable.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Where were you then, Scotty?

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I was certainly not a member of the Reform party, I can say that much.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

You certainly weren't a member of Liberal party, either.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Beyond that, it was the Reform party that was opposed to that. It is ironic that the Prime Minister took credit at Davos for having a great pension plan when in fact he was against the measures taken to give Canada a great pension plan.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 2nd, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is asking Canadians to once again trust bankers, trust stock markets, and to pad the wallets of stock brokers. It is asking Canadians to gamble their futures once again.

The Conservatives are peddling the PRPP pension dog food, and maybe they would like to sample some themselves. Therefore, I would like to ask the member for Kings--Hants if he would join me in suggesting that the Conservative MPs give up their guaranteed MP pension and trade it in for a pension traded on the open market. I will, if they will.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' plan with the PRPP can help some of the people who can afford to pay into a PRPP, but it is not as big a step forward as I think the Conservatives are representing.

My biggest concern with the PRPP is that the fees are going to continue to be higher than they ought to be. The fees for the industry in Canada are way too high and the reality is that a better alternative is to have a voluntary supplemental CPP.

The NDP would like to make it compulsory. My concern about that in the short term is that with high unemployment, we should be very careful not to increase payroll taxes or premiums at this time. However, I think its intention of having a strong, long-term public pension alternative for Canadians is well founded.

The reality is that having a voluntary supplemental CPP, with its very low fee structure, would actually help keep the PRPP fees lower because it would provide some competition. Therefore, we could actually make the PRPPs more cost effective by offering another alternative, and that is a voluntary supplemental CPP.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Kings—Hants spoke at length about the Prime Minister's strategy to manufacture a pension crisis to find a way to pay for how the Prime Minister has deteriorated the tax revenue base of the country.

What is the Prime Minister's long-term game plan? In a letter to Premier Ralph Klein in 2001 he mentioned that the province should do the following:

Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan offering the same benefits at lower cost while giving Alberta control over the investment fund.

That was the Prime Minister's view at the time. He added:

Pensions are a provincial responsibility under section 94A of the Constitution Act. 1867; and the legislation setting up the Canada Pension Plan permits a province to run its own plan—

What does the member for Kings—Hants really think the long-term of the Prime Minister is? We know what he is doing on health care where he has frozen the funding. He sent his Minister of Finance to do that.

Is there another game plan of the Prime Minister that we have not yet seen?

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Malpeque is quite right that the Prime Minister's agenda is a laissez-faire, hands-off one, with a smaller, meaner, leaner federal government that lets the provinces fend for themselves. That is fine if one is in a rich province, but if we look at the way the Canadian economy is working right now, the gap between have provinces and have-not provinces has never been greater. We are seeing that on an ongoing basis.

Our current recovery, whatever recovery there is, is being driven by natural resources, by oil, gas, minerals. If provinces have those it is fine. If they do not and the dollar goes up, it crowds out other value-added stuff that could fill the gap. Never before has it been as important that we have a federal government that recognizes the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder with all Canadians regardless of the region they live in.

This is the most dangerous time to have a government led by a prime minister who believes in that winner takes all, and to heck with the rest of them, approach. We have to watch this every step of the way, in representing a province like Nova Scotia or Atlantic Canada. We are going to defend our people.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am always shocked to hear the Liberals and the Conservatives alike defend pension plans that are administered by the private sector. At the beginning of the week, I read the comments of one analyst who said that, at this time, private pension funds are being suffocated by current conditions and the low interest rate, and by the fact that it is very difficult to get decent returns from the stock market.

So, how can my colleague support a solution that would exacerbate the problem, rather than advocating, as we do, a solution that relies on a safe, public, proven and strong system, as even the government recognizes?

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I partially agree with my colleague, because the public pension system does have a role to play and we support that system.

When the Liberals were in power, we brought in some changes to guarantee public pensions in the long term. That was a priority for our government. At the same time, however, we recognize the role of the private sector. We have no problem with people investing in the stock market, since this is a market economy.

I think my colleague is looking for a reason to disagree with me when, in fact, we agree to some extent, because we fully support the need to strengthen our public pension system, particularly for people with low incomes, more vulnerable people, women, people who live in rural areas and in the Atlantic provinces. We must work together.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to this important motion. I will be splitting my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.

I want to acknowledge in particular the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for her very good work in bringing this motion forward. I also want to mention two other colleagues, the member for London—Fanshawe, the NDP seniors critic, and the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, the NDP critic for pensions. New Democrats have been raising the issues around pensions and seniors for the many years I have been in the House and we will continue to do so.

For the interest of people who may be just tuning in, I want to read the motion that we are debating. It states:

That this House reject calls by the Prime Minister to balance the Conservative deficit on the backs of Canada's seniors by means such as raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and call on the government to make the reduction and eventual elimination of seniors' poverty a cornerstone of the next budget.

I am going to focus on a couple of aspects of this motion. As the NDP critic for poverty in the House, I have a number of things I want to include in my speech today.

One of the things we have heard from the members opposite is that the country simply cannot afford to look after seniors as they age. The Canadian Labour Congress has done some analysis of the projected figures, which I quote:

As a share of GDP, the program cost is forecast to increase from 2.36% in 2011, to a peak of 3.14% in 2030, after which year the cost will fall. In other words, the cost of the program as a share of national income will increase by 33% from 2011 to 2030, even though the number of seniors will increase by 90%.

Many other analyses have been done on the affordability of the program as it currently exists, and the numbers simply fly in the face of the Conservatives telling us that we cannot afford to look after seniors.

Why should we be concerned? I mentioned at the outset that I wanted to talk about poverty. There is a direct link between poverty and the state of health of Canadians, whether they are seniors, young people or middle-aged people, and there is a tremendous amount of work being done on the social determinants of health. Although I do not have time to go into all of the determinants, I want to quote from an article on this:

The primary factors that shape the health of Canadians are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices but rather the living conditions they experience. These conditions have come to be known as the social determinants of health....

Canadians are largely unaware that our health is shaped by how income and wealth is distributed, whether or not we are employed and if so, the working conditions we experience. Our health is also determined by the health and social services we receive, and our ability to obtain quality education, food and housing, among other factors.

And contrary to the assumption that Canadians have personal control over these factors, in most cases these living conditions are--for better or worse--imposed upon us by the quality of the communities, housing situations, work settings, health and social service agencies, and educational institutions with which we interact.

This article talks about 14 different social determinants of health, and they include the following, which are a direct link to seniors as well: income and income distribution; unemployment and job security; early childhood development, which I will discuss later; food insecurity; housing and the social safety network.

Therefore, when we talk about the income that seniors receive, we are also talking about their health and well-being. That is why it is really important that we not delay income for seniors by two years, as the trial balloon that was floated by the Prime Minister would.

When it comes to income, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has also prepared a brief. It talks about the adequacy of benefits as they currently exist without any tinkering by the Conservatives. It indicates:

—the maximum annual income a single individual could receive from OAS and GIS combined in the July-September 2009 quarter is about $14,000. However, Statistics Canada’s 2008 after-tax low-income cut-off for a single individual in a major urban area with a population of 500,000 or over was $18,373. Even for smaller urban areas in 2008, the after-tax LICO [low-income cut-off] was above $14,000—

Just based on those figures alone, we can see that seniors who are just getting old age security and GIS are already living below the low-income cutoff.

If they start pushing those numbers up, what are those seniors between the ages of 65 and 67 going to do? These are seniors who qualify and many of them are at the low end.

If the Conservatives are serious about supporting seniors and future generations, what is needed is a real plan to address poverty reduction. I call on the government to support the NDP Bill C-233, the poverty elimination act, which would directly take on some of these issues.

The Canadian Labour Congress has done an analysis on poverty and ill health. In its paper, “Implications of Raising the Age of Eligibility for Old Age Security”, it states:

Raising the age of eligibility for OAS/GIS from 65 to 67 would likely result in a very significant increase in poverty for persons aged 65 to 67, unless they were able to find an alternative source of income. That is possible for some, but many older workers in their 60s are in ill health or are engaged in providing care for others.

I know many members in their sixties have parents who are in their eighties. We often talk about the sandwich generation, people who are caring for children or perhaps grandchildren. Many seniors are caring for their grandchildren. They could also be caring for their elderly and aging parents who often are in ill health by the time they are in their nineties.

It continues:

Raising the age of eligibility for OAS/GIS would mean that non-working, low income seniors on provincial social assistance and disability programs would have to wait to transition to OAS/GIS, raising social assistance costs for provincial governments. Costs of providing drugs and essential services to low income seniors unable to pay on their own would also increase.

We have seen the government's track record of downloading to the provincial governments. This is another way it would download to the provincial governments that are already struggling to meet some of their demands, whether it has to do with infrastructure, housing or drug costs.

The paper goes on to say that not everyone can work longer. Part of the argument we hear is that we have a labour shortage and we need to push the retirement age up to 67 so we can address that labour shortage. If the government is talking about addressing the labour shortage, it should invest in training and apprenticeships. It should look at immigration if it wants to deal with some of those labour shortages. The labour shortages are no surprise. We have known for 15 or 20 years that we were going to have critical skill shortages in some of the apprenticed trades. Where is the government's plan to address that? It is absent, missing in action. We are hearing that from all kinds of people. Whether it is pulp mills, other parts of the forestry sector or mining companies, there were all kinds of predictions of skill shortages.

Why are we not training, for example, first nations, Métis and Inuit to address some of those skill shortages? The money simply is not there.

The paper further states:

It is argued that eligibility for OAS/GIS discourages older Canadians from remaining in the workforce, and that we need to keep them working to avoid labour shortages.

In point of fact, the reality is that Canadians are already staying in the workforce much longer than was the case even a decade ago.... [O]ne in four (24%) persons, aged 65 to 70, is already still working, up from 11% in 2000. That rate has been trending sharply upward for a number of reasons. Some are working longer because they want to, and they find work interesting. This is most often the case for higher income workers. Others are working longer due to inadequate retirement savings. The trend to working well past age 65 will likely continue.

There is sufficient information to counter the government's argument that we cannot maintain the current old age security and GIS system to ensure that seniors can retire with dignity, and with an income that is already inadequate, we do not want to make it worse for them.

I would encourage all members to support this very important motion that was brought forward by the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard and to actually support seniors in their retirement.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the record in this House that it is the Conservative government that has increased extraordinary amounts of transfers to our provinces to ensure that they have the money they need to work. I would like to read some quotes into the record. This one is from May 4, 2000:

I do not need to remind anyone in the House that the Liberal government devastated health care in Canada by making draconian slashes to health care, by reducing health care funding and by putting health care in a crisis in every province....

Who said that? It was the member for Kings—Hants.

As well, there is this statement:

Shifting the burden to provinces for these services was the easy but cowardly way to accelerate deficit reduction....The Chrétien—

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I do not think it is relevant or fair to this debate that the member is trying to read in comments about what someone said earlier today. If she has a problem with what was said earlier today, she should have asked a question then. Her question should be on this speech. She should focus her issues on what she heard in this debate.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair would encourage all members to keep their comments related to the matter before the House and to proceed in that fashion.

The hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, it absolutely is relevant because the opposition is fear-mongering to Canadian seniors today that this government is going to be taking money out of their pockets. That is absolutely not going to happen. We have been very clear about that.

However, it is the member for Kings—Hants in 2002 who said that they did cut the transfers to--

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The time for the member for Newmarket—Aurora has expired.

The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of points.

Whether the government has increased provincial transfers or not, the fact is that the government is continuing to download other services and programs to the provinces. The government is simply not coming clean about how much it will cost the provinces for prisons and how much it will cost if the government changes the retirement age. The provinces need to be at the table on those things and negotiating with the federal government.

The members opposite keep talking about fear-mongering. I need to remind them that it was the Prime Minister who raised the issue about contemplating changing the age of retirement from 65 to 67. We did not come up with that number; the Prime Minister came up with it.

The Conservatives need to come clean on if they are going to do it, when they are going to do it, and which people who are approaching retirement are going to be affected. Will it be people who are currently 50, 55, 60, or 63? Who is going to be affected? Just tell us.

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the opposition parties are being accused of fear-mongering because of this discussion around pensions. For anybody who has watched this Parliament and paid attention since there has been a majority Conservative government, I think they would have seen time and again that when the Conservatives want to do something, they just go ahead and do it. They have invoked closure a record number of times. They say there is nothing on the books yet about increasing the age to 67, but we know that when they decide to do it, it will be rammed through.

The important aspect of this debate today is to make Canadians aware of what is going on here. We need to make Canadians aware of the Prime Minister's long-standing agenda.

Does the member concur with the train of thought that we have to ready the Canadian public for what is coming down the pike from the Prime Minister?

Opposition Motion--Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have seen closure on debate 13 times in this House and we are barely into a sitting. We only had an election in May, but closure has been invoked 13 times already.

In committees, matters that have been traditionally spoken about in public are being done behind closed doors, in camera. The public cannot hear what members are saying. They cannot see how members are voting. They cannot see the outcome of a debate that all Canadians should be concerned with. Canadians should be very concerned.

The Prime Minister floated this number in Switzerland with no consultation with the provinces, with no discussion with members of this House, with no consideration for the kind of impact it would have on seniors who are looking at retiring and not knowing now what the future holds.

The Prime Minister has a responsibility to let Canadians know very clearly and unequivocally what the government is planning to do.