Mr. Speaker, I would like to note that I intend to share my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.
Today, I have the unfortunate duty of rising in this House to denounce the government’s actions in an area that is of great concern to the NDP: the rise in poverty among our seniors. When I was elected, I was glad I would be working together with all members of this House, regardless of their political affiliation, with the goal of imagining a Canada where every individual would have the guarantee of a minimum quality of life, and where people can live with respect and dignity.
Our seniors, the people who built this country, who fought tooth and nail to provide us with a secure future and create a social safety net, where individuals care about one another, are disillusioned today. My constituents are unhappy with the proposals made by the government last week. I am outraged at the unspeakable lack of respect and courtesy the government has shown for the public. I think the decision to tell us about things that are to be done in our country in a speech given in a foreign country, to strangers, with no prior consultation with the Canadian public, is despicable. It shows a lack of courage.
Our seniors, people who have lived through economic hard times and through disastrous conflicts, chose to help one another, to work together and to take responsibility for one another. They chose to invest in people so that together, they could meet the challenges ahead of them. That decision meant that more people had access to education, better health and better living conditions. The old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs were developed to ensure that no senior would be in need, regardless of how vulnerable their finances and their health might be.
These programs were not developed for just one generation; they were to become a cornerstone of Canadian values. Growing numbers of seniors are now living below the poverty line, and their families cannot bear the economic burden of looking after their parents because they are having trouble making ends meet themselves. Rather that ensuring that we care for one another and bringing people together, the government is dividing us. I think this is very sad, when we look at the dreams our seniors had for us and how much they invested in those dreams. The government is not consulting and is driving blind, without guideposts and without an accurate knowledge of the opinions of the other citizens of this country who deserve to be heard. I see no indication of any such respect in what the government is doing.
The figures are blatantly clear: disadvantaged seniors who are currently receiving old age security and the guaranteed income supplement have less than $15,000 a year to live on. The poverty line in urban communities is $18,000. I think we can make the connection. At present, disadvantaged seniors are living in unacceptable conditions, and that situation is not going to improve, because the cost of living is going up every month. I regularly hear the horror stories that my senior constituents witness or experience. Every month, they have to make impossible choices between paying the rent, buying food, paying for their prescription drugs and investing in a means of transportation.
There are simple solutions to relieve this burden, such as investing in social housing and public transit infrastructure. In Quebec, there is already a shortfall of 50,000 affordable housing units, and the situation is not getting any better.
Cuts to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are also a concerted attack against gender equality. The median income of senior women is only two-thirds that of senior men. Given that Canadian women do not always benefit from pay equity, this discrepancy will continue to exist for a number of years. These women are our mothers and grandmothers. They made sacrifices to give us a better future.
I find this government's lack of respect for them revolting and intolerable. I am asking the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance directly what measures they have planned to combat these inequalities and why they think that cutting services will help senior women living in poverty. The role of each government is to make choices that reflect its vision for our country. The current government is offering us a disastrous vision.
The government decided to invest billions of dollars in jets.
With the omnibus bill, huge costs will be downloaded onto the provinces—costs that will endanger their financial health—for an unproven program. The government gave large corporations billions of dollars in tax breaks without any guarantee of job creation. It is giving billions of dollars in subsidies to oil companies, which are part of the richest industry in Canada.
Our seniors are a good investment. They deserve subsidies as large as the ones given to big business. Seniors are active members of our community who have already given so much and who still have a lot to give if we help ensure that they have acceptable living conditions.
The NDP has a more positive vision of our future. In fact, we want to double the pension plan in order to guarantee that no senior has to live in poverty. That is why we tabled a motion on this subject in June. I find the fact that the Conservatives are now backtracking to be hypocritical, given that they originally supported this motion. It is a complete betrayal.
Organizations in my riding are very upset about this step backward. Gilles Tremblay, president of the Blainville 50+ centre, said:
Seniors are having to downsize their living quarters to make ends meet. People cannot live comfortably or for long like that. We have contributed to our communities, and we can continue to contribute our experience. We have to be given the means to do that.
Josée Collard, who is in charge of La Popote à Roland in Blainville, which has been helping seniors in need for over 35 years, said:
As the leader of a group of Blainville seniors whose average age is 77, I see how hard it is for people in their golden years to find the resources that meet their needs. They have trouble getting to appointments with their family doctors, they need accessible, specialized transportation to get to their health care appointments, they need personalized after-care following hospitalization or surgery. They often have to spend so much energy and money on these things that they get discouraged and gradually become more isolated.
In closing, I would like to remind the House that we, too, will be seniors one day.
Let us show today's seniors the respect that we hope our children will show us.