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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

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-France Interparliamentary Association respecting its participation at the 38th annual meeting of the Canada-France Interparliamentary Association held in Paris, Normandy, Pays de la Loire, France, August 31 to September 7, 2011.

National Vitamin D Day ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-388, An Act to establish a National Vitamin D Day.

Mr. Speaker, abundant scientific research in the past decade has underscored the vital role of vitamin D in boosting immune response and reducing the risk of serious diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis and even viral infections such as the flu. The B.C. Cancer Agency recommends 1,500 international units to reduce the risk of cancer. A recent study suggests health care savings in the billions of dollars by increasing Canadians' levels of vitamin D.

This bill would expand the initiative by municipalities from Vancouver to St. John's. It would establish November 2 as National Vitamin D Day. Everybody ought to know.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Electro-Motive DieselPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from several of my constituents and members of the community in regard to the lockout of Electro-Motive workers by Progress Rail, Caterpillar.

The company refuses to negotiate in good faith. It has asked the workers to take a more than 50% cut in their wages and a significant cut to their benefits. It is seeking to undermine their pensions that they have paid into all of their lives.

The workers are petitioning the Government of Canada to investigate the conditions of sale of Electro-Motive to Progress Rail, investigate the bad faith bargaining by Progress Rail, award employment insurance benefits to locked out workers and request that a constructive dismissal package be made available.

These workers have devoted their lives to making this a profitable corporation. Profitable it is; $1.14 billion in the last quarter and profits are up 60%. These workers need and demand justice.

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from people all over Ontario who are concerned with the proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon Township in Dufferin County. If implemented, it would be the largest open pit quarry in Canada at over 2,300 acres.

The petitioners are concerned with a number of things. The proposed mega-quarry threatens the Grand and Nottawasaga river watersheds, including various freshwater fish species. The petitioners are asking that the Government of Canada conduct an environmental assessment under the authority of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act on the Highland Companies' proposed mega-quarry development

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who have indicated their concerns about global warming. This group represents the Canadian interfaith call for leadership and action on climate change.

The petitioners recognize that we are in a serious situation in our country, that we have seen such change in our climate and that it impacts on all Canadians. They are asking that governments get involved and take this issue seriously, do what needs to be done to deal with climate change and not wait until things get worse than they already are.

On behalf of the individuals who have signed this petition, I am asking the government to take what is happening within our environment much more seriously and to put in place some kind of leadership to deal with global warming.

ImmigrationPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I present a petition that deals with the Minister of Immigration's super visa. Members may recall the minister announced the super visa back in November of last year. It is turning into a super disappointment.

The petitioners call upon the government to look at ways by which the super visa could be made more universal for individuals who do not have the money to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada for a visit. The health insurance requirement is unrealistic. It is adding great problems in terms of people being accepted.

The petitioners call upon the government to re-evaluate and change the super visa so that the multiple entry visa can be more affordable to all individuals who are living in Canada.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 2nd, 2012 / 10:10 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

moved:

That the 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.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.

Today's motion is about seniors' poverty. The NDP has taken a clear position on the conjectures and hypotheses about old age security that the Conservative Party leader raised during his speech in Davos. We need an open, honest, transparent debate so that we can start working together right now to plan changes to old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, and all other aspects of Canadian pension plans. Our seniors need us when they retire.

I would like to give a brief overview of the pension plans and the social safety net in place for seniors in need. First, there are people who work and who have the opportunity to participate in a registered pension plan. Some people also have the opportunity to put money in an RRSP or in another fund that enables them to save for retirement. Naturally, we are pleased that they can do so.

Then there is the Canada pension plan. This plan is offered to all Canadians and provides them with income when they retire. However, this plan is not always enough to keep seniors from living in poverty. In that case, seniors have access to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. These programs help seniors live in dignity and keep them from suffering a life of poverty. That is why we are concerned about the vague remarks the Prime Minister made in Davos recently. If old age security is either cut or delayed, this would have very serious repercussions on our society.

I would now like to read an email I received from one of my constituents this week.

This constituent wrote, “Should the electoral headlines have read “[Prime Minister] to cancel OAS, CPP”, he would never be sitting in the Prime Minister's chair today. I am a self-employed worker owning a small business. I already bear the burden of constantly increasing costs and reduced profits. Five years ago my household budget for food was $700 monthly, and we are currently down to $400. We have no dental plan, no private medical insurance, no RRSPs, no company or private pension and I am 58 years old. As I age, I have fewer breaks, less services, no corporate tax cuts and now I am threatened to have no pension.“

I think what this person is trying to tell us is that he is worried because he was promised certain things, because he has worked his entire life and he is seeing cuts to programs and services. Of course, he will definitely have access to some sort of income when he retires, but he is right to worry about his retirement in a few years.

The issue of poverty among seniors should concern us all, and we cannot cuts programs arbitrarily. We need to have an open debate, which we will do here today. I look forward to hearing the intentions of all the members. For instance, if we were to push back the age for receiving old age security, this would primarily affect the most financially vulnerable seniors. What kind of impact would that have? If we look at old age security as an isolated program, there would be a number of negative effects and the most vulnerable seniors would suffer. But let us look at the overall picture.

Poverty among seniors affects many other things, for example, our health care system. Seniors who do not have enough to eat, who do not have heating and cannot pay for medication use our health care system more, which merely transfers the problem somewhere else. Here is another example. Some people can continue to work until they are 67. Good for them. Some of them want to do so. But some cannot. Remember that when we are talking about old age security, for example, we are talking about seniors who do not necessarily have RRSPs or a registered pension plan. We are talking about seniors who are the most likely to live in poverty. These seniors worked all their lives on their feet all day as cashiers; they worked in warehouses and factories. Their arms are tired and they have likely sustained a number of injuries. Perhaps they will be able to continue working at 65, but most likely they will not.

What will happen to these seniors who are unable to work longer? They will have to seek assistance elsewhere. Where? They may have to seek social assistance from the provinces, for example. What is the government doing once again? It is transferring the problem and sticking the provinces with the bill. This is not the way to find a real solution to a problem or to overcome a societal obstacle. We have to look at the bigger picture, seriously consider the issue, have a debate and listen. All parties in the House must be heard, but so must the people who work with seniors every day. We must listen to seniors who have needs. We must listen to the future generations. We have been talking a lot about these future generations since the beginning, and I am going to come back to them.

I would like to mention the choice that we, as a society, are facing today. Clearly, the government has plans to change programs that help seniors. We still do not know how. We hope that we will know soon and we hope that we will be able to participate in a discussion before the government presents us with a fait accompli. However, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are saying that this is a crisis situation. First, they are using skewed data that make the situation seem much more alarming than it actually is. They are also saying that this is a crisis situation for future generations, a situation that is not viable in the long term. They are presenting these cuts as though they are the only solution. However, such is not the case. We have a choice. It is not true that we must cut services and programs. We can do something different. We have a choice. We have resources and we have alternatives.

What the NDP is saying is that we should first start a dialogue and listen to what people and experts have to say. Then we could start improving the Canada pension plan. This would require a little more investment, but as I was saying earlier, we are not necessarily getting further ahead by cutting services or programs since we will end up paying the price in the long run and it will be a high price. Why not look at the big picture and see where we can make strategic investments in order to reduce the overall cost? There are other solutions.

What is often presented to us as an inevitability, a result of the economic crisis or the aging population, is not an inevitability. It is a choice among so many others that the government is making. It is important to address this.

I would like to say a few words about the so-called best interest of future generations. We are told at every turn that the population is aging and that we have to do something for the sake of future generations. Allow me to say that I am part of that future generation. I do not intend to retire in the next few months or the next few years. Increasing the eligibility age for old age security does not affect me in the short term, but I am still worried. I am part of the future generation and I do not want these cuts to programs and services.

I believe we have a social choice to make today. Are we going to make further cuts to social programs and social services? Are we going to widen the gap between the rich and the poor? I say no. No, because that is not the Canada I want to grow old in. As a member of these future generations, I say we should think this through and make informed decisions that will benefit everyone.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this particular NDP motion.

In his recent speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister suggested that, as a broad part of the social transformation, the Canadian retirement system should undergo significant changes. Government documents distributed to the media suggested at that time the possibility of changing the eligibility to collect OAS from 65 years to 67 years.

Following the Prime Minister's speech, which set off alarm bells across the country, the government quickly started backtracking on its own materials. Out came the almost obligatory cover statement assuring Canadian seniors that there would be no changes to the present benefits currently received by Canadian seniors. In addition, the government also repeated that the Canada pension plan was fully funded and in need of no change.

All I can say is that this is a rather classic tried and true Conservative tactic, “Don't worry, seniors, we'll never sell you out. You'll be just fine. It is your kids and your grandkids, those generations behind you, who will have to face the burden of our cuts, but don't you worry. You're okay”.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister and the government, Canadian seniors are not buying any of that. Conversations I have heard over the last few months, from government circles, from certain academia and from the mainstream media, seem to have been telling Canadians to prepare to work until 70 years of age.

These trial balloons remind me of a bully who, with a clenched fist, says that people will need to work until they are 70 years old. Then he smiles and says that they should not worry because he is just kidding. He tells them that they will only need to work until they are 67, and then, of course, people are supposed to feel relieved at that point. Somehow, Canadians are supposed to believe the government is doing them a favour. I can tell the House that the government will not do our seniors any favours when it comes to their pensions.

Instead of tearing down our cherished retirement security program, New Democrats have been working hard for three years putting together a retirement security program designed to ensure that all Canadians are able to retire with dignity. To that end, we propose the phase-in of a doubling of the CPP over an extended period of time so that generations to come will have more of a sense of a foundation on which to retire.

Part of our plan would eliminate poverty among seniors by increasing the guaranteed income supplement. New Democrats will also create a national pension insurance program to protect existing pensions paid for out of premiums from the plan's sponsors.

New Democrats want to further protect existing pensions by ensuring that pensioners are among the creditors who are paid out of a company's remaining assets when it goes bankrupt.

What do we get from the government? We get talk of forcing seniors to work longer, a pooled registered pension plan that provides no security and, worse, the PRPP would have Canadians investing their retirement savings in the very same marketplace that caused such catastrophic losses in the value of RRSPs and other pension funds.

Unlike the CPP or private savings, the OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on retirees' work history or their participation in a registered pension plan or other savings plan. OAS, along with the GIS, has, over the years, made impressive gains in lowering, although not eliminating, poverty among seniors. Full OAS is based on residency and is available to Canadians who have lived here a minimum of 40 years. Partial OAS pensions are pro-rated for Canadians who have spent less of their lives in Canada. For example, if a person has lived in Canada for only 20 years, he or she would receive half of the monthly benefits, or, if a person has lived in Canada for 10 years, he or she would receive a quarter of the monthly OAS benefits.

Unlike CPP, which is funded through equal contributions from employers and employees, OAS and GIS are paid directly from government general revenues. High income seniors must also pay back some or all of their OAS benefit. The guaranteed income supplement is entirely means-tested and available only to our poorer seniors.

I will now talk about our more vulnerable seniors for a moment. Economist, Andrew Jackson, and others have noted that raising the age of eligibility by two years would especially impact low-income older workers. Today, people whose income is in the bottom 20% of the workforce, and I hesitate at this, they tend to die earlier than those in the top 20% because of the lives they live. Half of all lower income men, on average, will collect OAS-GIS cheques for a meagre 10 years.

Raising the retirement eligibility by two years would also have a negative impact on persons aged 65 and closing in on 65 who are in poor health and have difficulty working. At what cost? The latest actuarial report on the OAS-GIS projects that the number of recipients will increase from 4.9 million today to 9.3 million in 2030. However, the increase in total cost that is projected is actually much more modest. Today's current level of 2.5% of GDP would become 3.5% in 2030. That is because our economy will continue to grow.

I would suggest that a cost of under 1% of GDP is a very small price to pay for maintaining basic retirement levels for all Canadians, especially the one in three seniors who have low incomes. Because many of these low income people are senior women who are not part of the paid labour force, the OAS and GIS are particularly important retirement instruments for them. Senior women are less likely than senior men to draw income from CPP, private pension plans, RRSPs or employment earnings. This makes universal programs like OAS-GIS particularly important to female seniors.

In 1927, when J.S. Woodsworth first envisioned OAS, he believed it was essential to have such a program to address seniors' poverty of the day. Today, we are being told by the government that the old age security program is unsustainable. Essentially, the government wants to restructure the entire Canadian retirement system because of what we see as a clearly affordable, short-run, short-term demographic change. This resulted from the gradual retirement of baby boomers, which actually started last year in 2011.

According to the government's own reports, the anticipated growth in cost is driven largely by the retirement of the baby boomers. Its own reports do not describe any longer term issues of sustainability. Therefore, in the long run, the current system is clearly affordable and will even be a smaller share of the budget than it is today following the decline in baby boomers. Simply put, in the medium run, this is a cost increase that Canadians can clearly afford.

While speaking at Davos, the Prime Minister scolded our European friends for their spending, so let us look at that for a moment. According to the OECD, total public social expenditures on pensions as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 4.7% in Canada. The equivalent average in OECD counties is more than 7%. Even crisis countries, such as Italy, pay 14%. Canada, in relation to that, pays one-third of what Italy pays. Australia, France and Greece spend roughly 12%. Germany, Poland and Portugal spend roughly 11%. Therefore, such comparisons to the troubled eurozone are simply not appropriate and are only used to create fear for our time-tested Canadian programs that they might be unsustainable.

In addition, it should also be noted that the Canadian public pensions, OAS, GIS and CPP, are not overly generous when compared to other OECD countries. In fact, a recent study ranks us 20th out of 30.

The Prime Minister's priority is to spend billions of dollars on corporate tax giveaways while cutting support to Canadian seniors, particularly women, and that is wrong. We should be taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not making it worse by slashing the eligibility to OAS. New Democrats have been meeting with seniors' groups to talk about how seniors will be affected and work on the best ways to oppose these reckless Conservative cuts. A better option for Canadians is to expand the CPP.

In closing, in response to the Prime Minister's triumphant speech, economist Jim Stanford asked, “If Canada has been so wonderfully successful, why must we take money away from Canadian pensioners?”

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, the member has been here a number of years, as I have. I know that he sometimes speaks and then does not follow through with action.

I am wondering if this particular case is going to be the same as before when the Federation of Canadian Municipalities identified $123 billion in infrastructure deficit and this Conservative government and the Prime Minister brought in $45 billion in economic stimulus and infrastructure investments across the country, and the NDP and the member in particular voted against it.

We brought in income splitting for seniors and the NDP voted against that. We brought in increased benefits of $2.3 billion per year for seniors and the NDP voted against that. We brought in the family caregiver tax credit, which the Canadian Caregiver Coalition thought was wonderful, and the NDP voted against that. We enhanced the GIS for over 680,000 seniors and the NDP voted against that.

The Prime Minister has been clear that it is not going to affect seniors, but is the member doing the same thing again?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Speaking of diversionary tactics, Madam Speaker, the member talked about $123 billion in infrastructure. We would be thrilled if the government invested in infrastructure. We would be thrilled if it had a plan. It does not seem to.

The member talked about why we choose to vote against particular issues. When the government introduces omnibus bills and puts budgets together that are hundreds of pages in length and have many things in them that are detrimental to Canadians, the government can expect us to vote against them.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, in Manitoba over 7,000 seniors rely in part on food banks in order to sustain themselves. They are having to make difficult decisions quite often, whether to buy prescription drugs or food. At a time when one would think the government would be trying to lift seniors out of poverty and improving the quality of life for seniors, the government is saying it is committed to putting more seniors into poverty by making changes, such as increasing the age from 65 to 67.

I am wondering if the member would like to comment in terms of more seniors going into poverty because of government decisions today.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, that is a very important question. If the government increases the eligibility by two years, it is going to take $5,500 per year out of that income block for seniors. The people at the lower end, the people who are already on social assistance in our provinces are going to remain there two extra years. Social assistance pays far more, on average, across this country. The government would be taking $10,000 from the neediest of Canadians if it did this.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for his excellent speech. I would like him to comment on the Conservative government's timing of this debate as well as its decision to drop this bomb in Davos before a group of millionaires and billionaires.

What does he make of it? We know that the statistics, taken from actuarial reports dating back to 1990 that were trotted out by the government, have been available for a long time. There is no excuse for not having included this issue in the government's platform. It makes us wonder about this hidden agenda—

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I must allow enough time for the answer.

The member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek has 30 seconds left.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, in my office I am getting phone calls from very angry seniors. They are saying very bluntly that had this been in the budget, had this part of it been in the platform in the last election, they would not have voted Conservative. They are absolutely offended that the Prime Minister would make these kinds of announcements outside Canada, on the world stage.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Souris--Moose Mountain.

I stand here in the House to provide some clarity on a significant demographic shift that is happening in our country. I will provide some detail on that in a moment, but first let me be very clear with the House and with Canadians. Over the past few days, the opposition has created, and indeed perpetuated, fear and confusion among Canadians. They are intentionally misleading Canadians, and particularly our seniors, about the old age security program and I would like to put an end to that today.

Let me confirm right now that our government will ensure the security of retirement benefits for Canadian seniors and for future generations. Specifically, as I have said in the House many times, seniors who are currently receiving benefits will not lose one cent because of any potential changes. Any changes to OAS will be implemented gradually and with substantial notice for all concerned.

We will not jeopardize the well-being of our seniors. We want to protect the OAS and ensure that it is sustainable for future generations. Therefore, we are changing some measures in order to protect Canadians' pensions in the long term.

Let me put this in context. It is no secret that Canada's population is aging and that this is going to bring significant changes to our society. These are changes that we need to think through and that we need to prepare for right now.

Why is Canada aging? There are two main factors. First, our birth rate is low. In fact, it is less than the level needed to replace ourselves. At the same time, average life expectancy for each individual has gone up. The average Canadian can now expect to live to 81 years old.

When it comes to longevity, our country ranks among the world's leaders. We are living longer than ever and we are enjoying more years of good health as we get older. However, with fewer people being born and more people living longer, the age structure of our population is being significantly reshaped.

By 2030, 25% of the population will be over 65, compared to the current 14%. This new reality will have a serious impact on the labour force. With fewer workers, our productivity will decline, which could slow down our economic growth.

With fewer workers to pay taxes, we will also face a shortfall in revenue. A shrinking tax base means it will be harder to finance our unfunded social programs. Looking to the longer term, that means some programs, like OAS, will soon become too expensive and unsustainable if not addressed.

This is not a short-term problem, nor does it have anything to do with deficits or deficit reduction. Frankly, the issues with old age security sustainability will come into play long after we have achieved balanced budgets, but they are tomorrow's challenges that need to be addressed today.

Any important decision needs to be assessed carefully and implemented responsibly. We all make important decisions every day, at home and at work, for ourselves and for our families. Some can be made at lightning speed, reactively, and they really do not make a dent in the grand scheme of things, but others take longer to make. We need to look at all of the angles and assess all of the facts. Some decisions cannot be made in a snap because the future is involved. We have to plan or invest for those moments down the road.

As a government, when we talk about potential OAS changes, we are talking about prudent planning for the future, for the long term. It is one of those decisions where we will examine all of the angles and assess all of the facts. In doing so, our job is to take time today while we still can to think about how we can introduce changes gradually that will improve Canada in the future.

It is our job to figure out how to ensure the sustainability of programs that Canadians cherish, like OAS. The opposition, of course, has the luxury of ignoring these looming challenges, but our government does not. We will not sacrifice seniors' benefits in the future for the sake of recklessly keeping our head in the sand, as the opposition would have us do.

I promised some detail when I started my speech this morning. I would like to paint a picture of the present versus the future.

Today there are four working Canadians for every person who is retired. By 2030 that will be cut in half to only two working Canadians for every retiree. With fewer citizens working there will be less revenue to invest in programs for retired Canadians. Here is the kicker: the estimated cost of OAS will nearly triple. Half the people will be paying three times the price.

I want to pause at this point to make an important distinction between OAS and CPP, the Canada pension plan. When I talk about retirement benefits today and their cost, I am not referring to the Canada pension plan. The CPP is 100% funded by contributors. It is paid by employers, employees and the self-employed through premiums.

In the 1990s, important changes were made to the CPP to address the potential impact of the aging population. Now it is secure and it is sustainable; in fact it is rock solid for at least 75 years.

In contrast, OAS is 100% funded by tax dollars on a pay-as-you-go basis. There is no reserve; there is no fund. Since it was created in the 1950s, the OAS has never been adjusted to reflect our aging population, nor has it been updated to incorporate the fact that people are living longer and collecting OAS for a longer period of time.

It has not been changed to address the fact that very soon there will be an unprecedented number of Canadians retired and eligible for OAS. The outdated nature of the OAS program becomes important when we return to the point that taxpayers fund it each and every year.

This means that today's Canadian workforce pays for today's OAS recipients. And tomorrow's Canadian workforce will pay for tomorrow's OAS recipients.

Today, OAS is the largest single transfer that we make to Canadians, at around $36 billion a year. By 2030, it will be $108 billion, nearly triple the cost. The number of basic OAS pension beneficiaries is expected to almost double. The per cent of GDP expenditures will increase to 3.14%, in 2030, accounting for billions of dollars in increased costs. By that time, as I mentioned, we will have fewer Canadians contributing to the tax base and active in the workplace, compared with those retired. With those dramatically changing costs and statistics, the current OAS program will present a tremendous burden on tomorrow's workforce and taxpayers if it stays the way it is.

Our government holds the responsibility for protecting future generations, whatever the opposition may believe. This is not a crisis that we invented. I am very disappointed that its only apparent interest is in deliberately misleading and confusing Canadians on this issue. It is clear that the opposition is not interested in facing reality. It is also clear that it is not interested in proactively discussing Canada's long-term challenges and opportunities.

The opposition's irresponsible approach to Canada's finances would, quite frankly, put the entire OAS system at risk. Actions speak louder than words and its flawed actions today and over the past few days show that it does not have the best interests of Canadians at heart.

The motion would indicate to hard-working Canadians that the opposition prefers to play tricks and games in the House. It prefers to ignore the facts that hundreds of experts are confirming. It prefers to ignore the changing landscape.

As I close, I want to acknowledge the Canadian seniors who built our great country. We are not considering change for the sake of change. We are considering change because it is in the best interests of Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened very closely to what my colleague opposite said in her speech, particularly when she was talking about our seniors' quality of life. She said that seniors have an average life expectancy of 81 years. The maximum old age security benefit is $540 per month. I do not know if there is anyone here who would be able to make ends meet on $540 a month, particularly given the cost of food and rent. That is absolutely unbelievable. How can seniors live with dignity and enjoy quality of life on $6,481 of old age security a year?

Why is the government giving big oil billions of dollars instead of investing in quality of life for Canadian seniors?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Madam Speaker, OAS was never designed to be a complete retirement income in and of itself for seniors. It was to be in addition to the Canada pension plan and in addition to individuals' own savings. For those seniors who are at the poorest level, there is also the guaranteed income supplement to raise them out of the lowest poverty line.

OAS is only one part of our retirement income system. We also have RRSPs and the TFSA program. As is being debated this week, we are looking for the pooled retirement savings programs, which would be of benefit to millions of Canadians who now do not have access to employer funded pension schemes.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Madam Speaker, the words of the minister and the Prime Minister are now written in stone. We need to find out if their actions are written in stone.

I want to ask the minister a very direct question. Is there any intention to either create a change in policy or in legislation to the Old Age Security Act, as it applies to the guaranteed income supplement, to limit the use of optioning when it comes to the withdrawal of registered retirement income funds?

The minister has said that no current beneficiary of the OAS, which, by implication, includes the GIS, will have any benefit or any opportunity of a benefit reduced or cut in any way.

We know there is a requirement of the government to make a technical amendment to the Old Age Security Act for the allowance of optioning as it applies to RRIFs to be a legal initiative. It is, however, the policy of the government to allow that. Will that be retained? Will there be a technical amendment to the OAS Act in the upcoming--

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. minister.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Madam Speaker, as the hon. member said, the Prime Minister and I have both been very clear, here in this House and elsewhere, that no senior who is currently receiving old age security benefits will lose a penny. We have also been clear that those who are near retirement will not be affected by any changes that are being contemplated. Not only that, we will ensure that those who are in my age bracket or even younger will have sufficient time to plan for these changes to their own retirement. We want to ensure that we are sustaining the old age security benefits that currently exist, not just for this generation of retirees but for generations to come.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I represent the riding of Kelowna—Lake Country in the Okanagan which, in the last census, had the oldest demographic and the highest number of seniors in Canada in the census' metropolitan areas. Therefore, this issue is very near and dear to my constituents and I appreciate the fact that we are looking at this issue to have sustainability for future generations as well.

My colleague clearly said that the facts are that our population of seniors is doubling. Basically, there will be two times as many people who are beneficiaries. Costs are going up three times and at the same time—