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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

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

We have heard a great deal today about the OAS, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that just this past June, we all made a commitment to lift every senior out of poverty. To date, the government has taken no action on that NDP motion and has demonstrated complete disregard for seniors living in poverty in Canada. The Conservatives have touted tax breaks and income splitting but neither of those helps those in this country living in or near the poverty line. Tax breaks do not help the poor because their incomes are too low to benefit from any tax break.

Now the government is shifting gears. Instead of ignoring the poor, it is making suggestions that the poor should be the ones to pay for the financial mismanagement of the Conservative government. By suggesting cuts or other such changes to the OAS, the government is chipping away at the security of seniors in this country. Asking the poor to pay while giving tax breaks to the rich is despicable, unacceptable and unfathomable. The rumblings of changes to the OAS show complete disregard for the motion passed unanimously in this House last June. The government is well aware that the OAS and GIS are critical to keeping seniors above the poverty line. The government's own responses to the petitions calling on the Conservatives to end seniors' poverty trumpet how successful the OAS and GIS have been in reducing the levels of poverty among our seniors. I do not understand why the Conservatives are trying to create more challenges. Clearly, they do not even believe their own rhetoric.

Over the past couple of weeks, as the NDP seniors critic I have received many emails and letters from seniors across the country reacting to the Prime Minister's suggestion that there may be changes to old age security. People are outraged and insulted, but most of all they are terrified of what the future may hold.

I have heard from seniors living at the poverty line, who are wondering how on earth they will make their monthly payments and afford to buy food if their OAS is cut. Seniors have shared their fear that they may have to return to work but they have no idea what kind of job they would do. They have no skills for some of the jobs out there.

I heard from Nortel workers who have not only lost their jobs but also lost significant portions of their pensions and are relying on the OAS when they turn 65 just to make ends meet.

People wrote to me concerned about how this would impact first nations who already live in some of the worst living conditions in Canada. How can they be expected to take yet another hit?

I heard from seniors who have been forced to sell their homes because they do not have the money to keep them. They cannot keep their homes because of the reality of retirement.

Our seniors are worried that any changes to the OAS would push them over the edge into poverty.

I heard from one senior who was actually forced to move to the country, far from friends and neighbours, because he could not afford to live in the city on his meagre pension. For rural seniors, finding work is not an option. Unemployment is high and competition is fierce for the few available jobs, which are often seasonal. Services for seniors are reduced in rural areas, further adding to the burden of making ends meet. Changes to the OAS would be doubly detrimental to them.

People have carefully tried to plan for retirement at age 65. Making changes to the GIS now would have a significant and negative impact on their lives.

Many of those with health problems are already struggling to keep working until they reach age 65. If the government plans to raise the age of receipt of OAS to 67, this would be a significant burden, in particular for those with little CPP or other pension savings and who are forced to rely on OAS and GIS. The people who rely on OAS are for the most part those who have struggled their whole lives. The reason they have not saved is that there is no money to save: every penny has been spent on the necessities of life, in raising kids and getting by.

I had people point out in no uncertain terms that changes to the OAS should have been brought up during the election.

What is proposed by the government is a future that is bleak for retirees. How can the Conservatives pretend, just eight months after the last election, that they were taken by surprise by this so-called crisis in the funding of OAS? The scramble that followed the announcement at Davos and the suggestion that changes will be a few years down the road and seniors now will not be affected is a tactic that will divide future and current seniors.

I also have letters from younger people in their forties and fifties who are concerned about what access to OAS they may have when they are ready to retire. They are afraid for their retirement and they see that the government is looking to divide Canadians.

The politics of division will not work this time. People have written to me and have pointed out the economic benefit of the OAS to all of society. Seniors on OAS spend all of their money in their neighbourhoods. That is money we invested in our economy. OAS is not a burden on the economy. It is an investment in our economy.

A constituent in my riding of London—Fanshawe has called the government and its actions an abusive act on the average working person. I could not agree more.

I wish to be very clear. The money for OAS is readily available. We have the money to lift seniors out of poverty in the present and the money to address additional expenses the government will face in the future as our population continues to age.

Instead of investing in Canada, the Conservatives chose to saddle the treasury and Canadians with corporation tax giveaways that will not create and have not created a single new job.

Seniors represent one of the fastest growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from about 4.2 million to 9.8 million from 2005 to 2036. With so many more people retiring in the years to come, we need to have the social safety net in place now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty in the future.

The current government is clearly making the wrong decisions regarding how to care for the increased number of seniors in 2036 and its plan falls far short of what we really need.

We need investment in home care and in pharmacare, increased access to resources, appropriate and affordable housing and investment in geriatric studies. Investment in our communities and in our families are essential.

Our actions now will have an impact on how we treat our seniors in the future. If we fail to invest and make plans for and aging population, it is our own retirement that will be in jeopardy. Future seniors will not have the choice to age in their homes and will not have access to the care that they need. The concerns for the future are very real.

Today, only 38.5% of Canadian workers have workplace pensions and nearly one-third have no retirement savings at all. More than 3.5 million Canadians are not saving enough in RRSPs for what used to be called their “golden years” and 75% of workers are not even participating in a registered pension plan.

Clearly, the notion that retirement savings can adequately account for retirement through purchases of RRSPs does not work and urgent government action is needed.

It should further be noted that private retirement savings are concentrated in a small percentage of families. According to Statistics Canada, 25% of families hold 84% of these assets, while three out of ten families have no private pensions at all.

In total, more than a quarter of million seniors live below the poverty line and, since the mid-1990s, incomes of seniors have reached a ceiling. Now there is a significant gap. Seniors' incomes have increased by about $4,100 while other Canadian households' incomes increased by $9,000. The situation is even more pronounced among seniors living alone.

Seniors have worked hard all their lives, have played by the rules and now they simply want access to the programs and services that their hard-earned tax dollars helped to build. They saved that money, made that money available and now they demand that it be made available to them in their time of need.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Willowdale Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, our government has been clear that we support seniors. We introduced pension income splitting and the new tax free savings account. In my riding, good friends, like Mr. Bob Weeks, spent an entire lifetime building his own house.

As I said, there are four pillars of a retirement income: one, the principal house; two, the CPP; three, the RRSP; and four, the OAS.

Why did member vote against the GIS increase and the funding for low-income seniors' housing?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will point out a number of issues. Pension splitting is only good for a couple with reasonable assets. If one is single, there is no one to split with. Tax benefits are non-refundable. It makes absolutely no sense to have them because they mean nothing to those with incomes so low that they cannot get the benefits.

In terms of the OAS and the question regarding why we rejected the budget, of course we rejected the budget and we will continue to reject budgets that give $60 billion to the most profitable corporations in this country while cutting and slashing the benefits that the people of this country have paid for, have earned and deserve.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech and her compassion. According to experts, the problems being put forth by the government are more apparent than real. The birthrate was three children per woman in the 1950s. It is now about 1.5 children, which is actually less than the population replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman in the absence of immigration. These facts are already included in pension system projections.

Maintaining pension systems is not so much a matter of actuarial estimates but rather a matter of governments having the political will to keep public pensions alive and well.

I would ask the hon. member if she would outlay what she thinks are the critical questions that should be asked in a national debate on pensions and whether raising the age of eligibility for OAS from age 65 to age 67 is a fair and equitable solution.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my esteemed colleague raises some quite important issues in terms of some of the actuarial estimates in regard to what is available and what is not. She is correct when she says that pension plans have built in the reality of this surge in the number of seniors.

We also know that 2.4% of our GDP right now is for OAS so our seniors can live in dignity. By 2030, it is estimated that will rise to a peak of about 3.2% and then will decline. Essentially, what will happen is that the government will tell everyone that it cannot afford to give them a proper retirement and will reduce the amount they receive. Then, in 2030, there will be a resurgence in terms of government funding. However, we can bet that there will not be a resurgence in the amount given to seniors in terms of OAS. In fact, by 2030 and beyond, they will continue to live in poverty and continue to be ignored.

Right now, 250,000 seniors in the most affluent country in the world are living in penury. That is a disgrace. That is what this debate is about.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to defend the seniors in my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and in Canada. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for introducing this motion, which is very important to me, today.

I would like to start by reading the motion because the government has clearly stated that it is going to reject it. I would like to explain to my fellow citizens what the Conservatives are going to reject today.

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.

It seems that the Conservatives want to balance the deficit on the backs of Canadian seniors and that the age of eligibility for old age security will be increased from 65 to 67, as we have heard. The government will not consider the reduction and elimination of seniors' poverty in its next budget and will allow the threat of poverty to hang over Canada's seniors.

On Monday—three days ago—I was in my riding because a round table on seniors was being held. The Notre-Dame-de-Grâce community council called upon the public to help resolve the problems faced by seniors. The main issue was poverty. There are three organizations in my riding that take care of seniors: the Table de concertation aînés de Lachine, the Table de concertation pour les besoins des aînés de l’Ouest-de-l’Île and the Conseil des aînés et des aînées de N.D.G. They are all concerned about the same thing: poverty.

Their action plan involves improving transportation for seniors. Seniors want more affordable transportation since they do not have the means to pay to take the bus. The action plan also involves making seniors aware of existing organizations and services that can provide them with financial assistance. Once again, we see that seniors are having difficulty making ends meet. This is the Table de concertation aînés de Lachine's action plan. Rather than taking the time to read the whole thing, I will simply say that all the reports and mission statements of the consultation committees for seniors in my riding talk about poverty.

Today, we are asking the government to take this into consideration and to help the seniors in our ridings. It is not right to prevent people who worked hard their whole lives from living in dignity.

There were about 20 seniors and 20 observers at the round table I attended on Monday, and they were all scared. The government keeps saying that we are trying to scare the public. On Monday, my constituents did not know that we were going to have this opposition day today. It was not the opposition that was scaring them; it was the government's proposal. To tell older people that their old age pension is going to be delayed by two years, that is serious and very negative.

The Montreal Health and Social Services Agency has released a number of statistics on this recently. For instance, the number of seniors living below the poverty line is proportionally higher in Montreal than anywhere else in Canada: 36% of seniors live below the poverty line, compared to the Canadian average of 19%. That is almost double. Furthermore, 48% of female seniors without a spouse tend to have a low income. The use of food banks by people over 60 has doubled since 1995.

People come to my office and ask me how I can help them. All I can say to them is that, unfortunately, the government simply dismisses any motions that could help seniors in a tangible way, like the one we are presenting today.

I repeat: 48% of female seniors without a spouse tend to have a low income. As we know, most women over 55 spent most of their lives at home, raising children. Their husbands were the bread winners. So they have less income. More women than men have a low income, because they did not contribute to CPP, a private savings plan or an RRSP, or they receive nothing from former employers.

They are expecting the government to thank them for founding our society, for having children and for building our communities. Instead, they are abandoned at retirement age. I cannot accept this. I want the government to listen to us and to really read the motion instead of saying no right from the outset. I will read the motion once again. It is shocking to be told that it will be defeated.

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.

What I cannot accept is the idea of increasing the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67. Throughout the last session, the government tended to pass the buck to the provinces to balance its budget.

In my riding, which is part of Montreal, many 60- and 61-year-old seniors are on social assistance and must wait until they are 65 to receive the old age pension. Today, the provinces are being told that the eligibility age will be pushed back to 67 and that they will have to provide social assistance to these people for two more years.

An organization in my riding, the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation (CEDEC), published a report entitled A Profile of English-speaking Mature Workers Residing in the Greater Montreal Area. In Montreal, we must deal with the challenge of anglophones who have difficulty finding work. Imagine someone who only speaks English, is 62 and is looking for work. That is tough. I understand this and I even understand the employer's point of view. I cannot deny that there may be less incentive to hire a 62-year-old who will be retiring soon. These people have a great deal of difficulty finding a job, and CEDEC works hard to help them with their job search. Now, we are telling these people, who are having a hard time and are forced to go on social assistance, that they will have to wait two more years because they have a hard time finding a job and that the Canadian government is abandoning them by increasing the eligibility age for OAS.

I have a very hard time accepting that. I want to know how this government, which is supposed to be closer to the people—or so I would hope—can refuse to help seniors who have contributed to society their whole lives.

Today I am appealing to the government's human side. I am asking the government to reconsider its decision and support the motion moved by my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard. I want to be sure the government understands that we are talking about living with dignity, a concept we have been hearing about for a long time. We have been hearing more and more about dying with dignity. Dying with dignity is not just about the last few months of life one spends in a hospital; it is about being in one's sixties and finding life a little more difficult, finding it a little harder just getting around in the winter. We all know what winter is like in Quebec. Last Wednesday, the farm women's association I visited told me that there were not many people in attendance because of the winter. Seniors have a hard time getting around when it is icy, so it is difficult for them to have a social life.

We are asking the government to help these people, but it only replies that it needs to reduce the deficit in its next budget, that it has goals to achieve between now and 2015, that it has cut taxes, that it gave money to its friends in big business and that it is really sorry it cannot help seniors because it has to balance its budget instead.

In closing, I would ask the new government to reconsider its position and support my colleague's motion.

I hope to soon be able to tell my constituents that the government has listened to reason and has decided to help them.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. Why is she criticizing our government's foresight in ensuring the sustainability of the old age security system for future generations, including her own generation, which is concerned about its future?

We simply want to ensure that future generations will have the same old age security system that exists today. Why does my dear colleague not take that into consideration?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. I will answer him by quoting Edward Whitehouse, who leads the team analyzing pensions within the OECD, who said that according to his analysis, Canada is not facing major challenges in terms of the financial viability of its public retirement system.

He added that long-term projections show that the public retirement benefits are financially viable. In his opinion, the aging population will naturally cause increased spending on public pensions, but the rate of increase is lower than in a number of OECD countries and the starting point is better. He also says that the earnings-related public plans—CPP and QPP—have built up substantial reserves in order to cope with these later-stage expenditures.

It is easy to see what is happening. It is not a matter of foresight; it is a matter of saddling seniors with the debt burden.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure we have all been receiving emails and phone calls about the issue of pensions and the Conservatives' misguided approach to pension reform.

I just spoke to someone from Guelph. He mentioned that the Conservatives are spending tens of billions of dollars on new prisons when crime rates are going down and spending tens of billions on jet planes without getting a second price. Then he reminded me that we are getting 30 more MPs unnecessarily, renovating the West Block so we can move there and spending tens of millions of dollars renovating this House to accommodate 30 more MPs. He reminded me about how misguided the government's priorities are.

Would the member speak about the misguided, misdirected priorities of the government and why the Conservatives should not be placing the future burden of debt on the backs of seniors?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is precisely what I was saying in my speech. I thank my hon. colleague. I do not understand it, either, and I deplore it. This government can never find money for voters, for ordinary Canadians and for seniors, but it can always find money for its friends. That much is clear. It makes no sense for the government to help large corporations and prisons.

I said the same thing about prisons. I used to teach in a prison and I can say that we do not need more prisons. We need programs in our prisons to facilitate rehabilitation. That is what the NDP has always supported and will always support. It is not normal for a government to spend money on a bunch of programs like prisons, the F-35 jets and corporate tax cuts. Several analysts said that cutting taxes was a bad idea. The upshot is that the government is going to raise the eligibility age for old age pensions, because there is no more money; it was spent elsewhere. That is a poor excuse.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord for a brief question.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, many things do not make sense in this debate. Earlier we heard from the hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, one of the only Conservatives elected in Quebec. He should understand the question I am about to ask.

In this case, who gets the bill? My colleague talked about this earlier. We know that anyone who loses two years of benefits will turn to social assistance. In that case, who will pay for this at the end of the day?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question. As I said in the last part of my speech, the idea was to send the bill to the provinces. That seems to be the Conservatives' answer to dealing with their budget and their deficit. I think it is a very bad idea. We know this is already causing problems, in Quebec and Ontario in particular. I think the provinces are going to refuse once again to pay these bills for two more years.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 2nd, 2012 / 1 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my honoured colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville.

I appreciate being invited to participate in the debate regarding the old age security program, or the OAS, as it is commonly known. This discussion provides the perfect context to clear up some of the confusion, the miscommunication and misinformation that surrounds the issue of seniors' poverty.

I would like to start by assuring everybody that the Government of Canada recognizes financial security as a factor that has an obvious impact on our seniors' quality of life. As the Prime Minister has said, any seniors currently receiving benefits as well as those nearing retirement will not be affected.

Our government is vigilant on this issue and we truly appreciate the contribution seniors have made and continue to make in building our communities in Canada.

A key priority for the Government of Canada is to help Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years. We know that seniors are concerned about the economy and maintaining their standard of living in retirement. That is understood. This is an issue that has come into even greater focus in light of the demographic shift that we are experiencing.

It is no secret the Canadian population is aging. Events around the world and our aging population make it clear that the government needs to make responsible decisions to ensure that social programs are sustainable.

In 2011 the first baby boomers reached the milestone of turning 65. At the same time, Canadians are living much longer than ever before. Canadians can enjoy one of the longest life expectancies in the world at close to 81 years old. Taken together, these phenomena are profoundly affecting our country. The result is that the age structure of the population is changing so that there is a higher proportion of senior citizens.

There is a demographic projection we will hear quoted many times today that in less than two decades, close to one in four Canadians will be over age 65. To put it into some context, the proportion of seniors in Canada currently stands at one in seven.

There are obvious financial implications to living longer, as more seniors begin to rely on retirement income for longer periods. As a government we have done a great deal to ensure that Canadians have financial security in their later years. As I stated before, it is one of our key priorities.

The most important financial support we provide to seniors is through the public pension system. This system is highly regarded internationally, and for good reason. It has played a very significant role in reducing lower income rates among seniors. In fact, the incidence of poverty among seniors in Canada has dropped from a rate of 21% in 1980 to 5.2% in 2009. This is one of the lowest rates in the world.

We describe Canada's retirement income system as being made up of three pillars. The first pillar is one that dominates our discussion today, the OAS. The Canada pension plan, CPP, is the second pillar. The third pillar consists of personal savings, including employee pensions, registered retirement savings plans, tax-free savings accounts, as well as other savings and investments.

As members are likely aware, the government is seeking to build on the third pillar. To do this we recently introduced Bill C-25 to create the legislative framework for the establishment of pooled registered pension plans, PRPPs. PRPPs would provide the majority of Canadians who do not have workplace pensions with access to well-registered, low-cost, private sector pension coverage.

Let me revisit the first two pillars, OAS and CPP. Together these two public pillars are designed to provide a modest base upon which to build additional retirement income. This year Canadians will receive close to $72 billion in benefits through the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, GIS.

It is true that these benefits do not come automatically. All Canadians have to apply for them. That is why we have taken steps to inform Canadians about their eligibility for these benefits and to help them through the application process.

Through HRSDC and Service Canada, our government is using direct mail, information campaigns, partnerships and community organizations to reach seniors who may be eligible for OAS and GIS.

Some of these efforts are aimed at seniors who are particularly hard to reach, such as those who are homeless, those who live in remote communities, immigrant seniors, aboriginal seniors, seniors with disabilities and those who do not speak either English or French.

We issue more than 600,000 application forms to Canadian seniors who are not yet receiving their CPP or OAS to encourage them to apply. Every year, we mail out thousands of pre-filled applications to people we think may qualify for GIS and the target group changes every year. Most GIS recipients now only need to apply once in their lifetime and have their benefits automatically renewed simply by filling out their annual tax return. As members can see, we are making great efforts to reach out to low-income seniors and to inform them about their benefits.

Speaking of benefits, I will speak a little more on the GIS.

As I said, the GIS provides extra support for seniors with little to no income and has a great success in reducing poverty among seniors. Our efforts to combat senior poverty does not stop there. In our last Speech from the Throne, we pledged that the government's low tax plan would permanently enhance benefits for Canada's most vulnerable seniors. We honoured that pledge last year by providing the largest GIS increase in 25 years. This measure will help Canada's lowest income seniors out of poverty. More than 680,000 low-income seniors are benefiting from this increase. These seniors are now receiving additional GIS of up to $600 for a single senior and up to $840 for couples.

In 2008 we increased the GIS exemption from $500 to $3,500. The earnings exemption allows low-income working seniors to keep more of their hard-earned money. This year we are providing more tax relief for seniors and pensioners, saving them $2.3 billion.

The measures I have just outlined demonstrate that the Government of Canada is taking concrete steps for seniors. We are actively helping Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their latter years. This is an ongoing effort for us because it is a key priority.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to sit in the House and listen to my colleagues across the aisle talk about the amazing things they have done for seniors, while at the same time the Prime Minister goes to another land and at a very fine podium shakes the country by making an announcement that he is going to be transforming our pension systems.

In my community I have seniors living in poverty today. Yes, they were shaken by that announcement. People in my community, whether in high school, and I have quite a few letters from them, or whether they are in their twenties, thirties or forties, are worried and they have every reason to be. We have seen the actions of the government to undermine our very strong public pensions, throw confusion around the OAS and try to change it at this time.

What answers does my colleague have for seniors who are living below the poverty line in his community right now? What answers does he give them when they say they are living in poverty?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague acknowledging the great work the government has done to help seniors so far.

As I have mentioned, there have been increases in GIS and the levels of qualification before taxes are paid, et cetera. Great things have been done. As members can tell, the reduction in the number of people who are actually in the low-income bracket has been reduced dramatically. In fact, it is the best among some of these countries.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in Manitoba over 7,000 seniors 65 years of age and older have to go to food banks. Quite often they have to make a difficult decision whether to buy prescription drugs or put food on the table.

At a time when there is this need for seniors to be provided the resources necessary to have a dignified lifestyle, we on this side of the House expect the government to recognize that and improve things such as the GIS. However, the government is bringing in fear in regard to taking away pension and benefits.

As opposed to being able to collect a pension when one is 65, the government is now suggesting it be moved to 67, thereby affecting hundreds of thousands workers today who are in that age group of 55 to 62. Thousands of workers from Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and other provinces will have to put off retirement for at least another two years.

Why has the government made such a low priority of our seniors? It feels that it can have all the resources to spend on increasing the number of politicians inside the House, or spending billions on jails, or billions on a jet that has been grounded by many other countries. What is with the priorities of the government?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, our priorities are quite clear. We have done a significant amount for seniors. The level of poverty among seniors is one of the lowest in all of the countries in the west. There are great things that need to be done. We need to secure the future of the OAS system, which needs to be adapted. It cannot just stay as it was in the past. That is what is under review.

Clearly what is happening is the fearmongering is coming from the opposite side, not from our side.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion tabled by the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard suggests that the government is turning its back on Canadian seniors. This is absolutely false.

This government is doing exactly the opposite. We are standing up for Canadian seniors. This government remains committed to ensuring the retirement security of all Canadians. Indeed, let me assure the member that our government will ensure that seniors maintain all the benefits they currently receive.

Achieving this goal, however, will not happen through wishful thinking. Our aging population will have profound implications on all aspects of Canadian life, including our retirement income system. That is why this government is determined to ensure the long-term strength of our economy. Only in this way can we protect the well-being of both current and future generations.

For the benefit of the House, I would like to elaborate on how the government is responding to the challenge of a demographic shift. In particular, I would like to set Canada's challenges into an international context. As members know, there are three pillars to Canada's retirement income system. There are the old age security program, the Canada pension plan and, finally, personal savings, which include employer pension plans.

There are no concerns with the viability of the Canada pension plan. In the 1990s, in light of our aging population, the government made major changes to ensure the program's financial sustainability. As a result, the CPP is on a secure and sustainable path.

There are, however, major concerns with the affordability of the old age security program. Just as we once refined the Canada pension plan to protect future generation, the time has come to examine the OAS. To do anything less would betray the hopes and dreams of Canadians for a secure and dignified retirement. The stakes are high and the government will not gamble away the economic security of older Canadians by failing to act.

Let me reflect first on why reviewing measures to protect OAS in the long term are so necessary. Our population is aging. Over the next 20 years the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will jump from 4.7 million to 9.3 million people. That is a staggering increase in a relatively short period of time, and it comes with a high price tag. The annual cost of the OAS program is expected to triple between 2010 and 2030, from $36 billion to $108 billion.

At the same time, as our senior population is rising, our working population is falling. This is the crux of the issue. Unlike the Canada pension plan, the OAS is financed primarily through taxes on working people. By 2030, the number of taxpayers for every senior will have dropped in half, from four to two. Fewer people working means less revenues and higher costs.

This is not a recipe for sustainability. Unless we act decisively and responsibly, the old age security program will impose an increasing burden to future generations, which in turn challenges the ability of the government to continue delivering its important benefits to our seniors. That is why our government is determined to take balanced and fair action now to protect the well-being of current and future seniors. This government will take responsible actions in recognition of the changing demographics so we can have sustainable programs to support all Canadians in the future.

I stress the word “fair”. Any changes to the OAS program would not affect current retirees or those close to retirement. They would also give others sufficient time to adjust and plan for their retirement. Let me be absolutely clear. People receiving OAS and GIS right now will not lose one cent.

Canada is not the only country with an aging population. It would be useful to examine how other industrialized nations are responding to economic stresses on their retirement income systems and what we can learn from them.

Take the case of the United Kingdom. In 2011 the U.K. proposed to accelerate changes to pension reforms that were approved a few years ago, as events around the world made it clear that governments needed to make responsible decisions to ensure social programs remain sustainable. For Canada, this reaffirms our belief in a balanced, fair and responsible action. Any changes to our old age security program will be well planned and gradual. We will work hard to get it right the first time.

I will use Australia as an example. You may know, Mr. Speaker, a review panel recommended increasing the age of eligibility for the old age pension from 65 to 67. Naturally the proposals provoked much debate. What is interesting, however, is that seniors groups actually supported an increase in the retirement age. They understood, given the country's aging population, that changes were inevitable. Canada can learn a lot from the Australian experience. The government is convinced that Canadians will understand what is at stake and therefore support reforms to our old age security program. No doubt today's debate will be the first of many. Canadians appreciate our country's fiscal realities, unlike the opposition parties that continue their campaign of fear, with half truths and disingenuous comments.

Japan's experience also shows why public awareness is so important. Back in the 1990s, a major study reached a significant conclusion. Many Japanese in their 50s believed that public pensions would not be around for their retirement. Given this clear understanding of what was at stake, there were major concerns after Japan raised the age requirement for a basic public pension.

Closer to home, the United States passed pension reforms back in 1983 and is considering new increases in the retirement age. A recent proposal is being supported by reform advocates and actuaries for one simple reason. Since Americans are living longer, they need to work longer. This, too, is a lesson that Canada should take to heart.

The opposition falsely accuses the government of fighting the deficit on the backs of our country's seniors. Unlike the Liberal Party before us, we will not cut transfers to individuals or provinces to balance our budget. This is not about deficit reduction. This is about securing the pensions of Canadians for today and tomorrow. We cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore the demographic realities facing us. We must meet the challenge square on and protect our old age security program as other countries around the world have protected theirs.

As we move forward, our government will work to protect the financial security of all Canadians, while ensuring that the social programs remain sustainable for the long term. That is why I will not support this motion and I recommend that all members of the House do likewise.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the speeches all day and we hear the government side talking about fairness. If it is about fairness, what is so fair about giving $6 billion of corporate tax cuts to the biggest corporations, like banks and big oil companies? We know that big corporate tax cuts do not create a single job. What is fair about that? Would it not be fairer to ensure that we lift every senior out of poverty? Seniors are the ones who built our country.

Could my colleague really tell us about the government's plan to change this? Is it really on the side of the big corporate tax cuts to big banks and oil companies or is it on the side of the most vulnerable, which is our seniors?

I would ask him to answer this specific question. Could he guarantee the government will not increase the age from 65 to 67 for accessibility to OAS?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member started off by talking about tax cuts. Every economist will tell us that tax cuts do create jobs. The private sector creates jobs and jobs are what will secure Canada's economic future. Jobs allow more people to pay into a system through taxes that will, in turn, provide these benefits that Canadians count on. It is economics 101.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to invoke an old-fashioned concept. It is the concept of trust. This is a very important part of the relationship between the government and the governed. Eight months ago in an election campaign, we heard the Prime Minister promise that he would not touch transfers to individuals. Eight months later, on the road to a majority government, he had a conversion. Now he thinks he can do what he wants. What will that do to the trust, if there is any left, between this government and the people of Canada?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the question of trust was answered on May 2. The Canadian people trusted us with a strong, stable, national majority government to deliver on the priorities for Canadians, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have not cut one red cent of any payment to any Canadian that deserves a payment on any issue. We have not cut one red cent to any province. In fact, we continue to significantly increase transfers to the provinces under the Canada health and social transfer. That is trust, and that is why we have maintained the trust of the Canadian people and why we will continue to maintain their trust.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, let us look at the track record of the Liberals. When they had an opportunity, and they knew that this issue would arise, they did nothing. It is the same as on the environment, they did nothing. Their solution now is to stop fixing buildings that need repair. Their solution is to let criminals out of prison, not to punish them. That makes no sense. The NDP's solution is to increase taxes on Canadians. That is not the solution.

Would the member share what this government's position is on helping seniors and answer why the opposition is opposed to helping seniors?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the proudest moment in my new term as a member of Parliament was the day this Parliament, at least our side of it, voted in favour of the largest increase in the guaranteed income supplement in 25 years. This government put low income seniors first for the first time in 25 years. I am proud to be a member of Parliament for a government that stands up for seniors.