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.