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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

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I must give the hon. minister time to respond. There is only 30 seconds left for a response or comment.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Madam Speaker, it is exactly the kind of people that my colleague represents so well who are interested in this. Seniors today need not worry that there will be any impact on their retirement income as a result of the changes we are contemplating. We will protect their current and future retirement income and that of their children and grandchildren.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to correct the record on what is a misguided, misleading opposition motion.

I can state with certainty that the changes being contemplated for the old age security have nothing to do with deficit reduction. Because of the long notice period and the gradual phase-in period, any changes to the OAS will happen long after Canada's return to balanced budgets. For opposition members to suggest otherwise is reckless, misleading and speaks ill of their understanding of this issue.

To avoid the rhetorical excess that appears to have consumed this debate, I will add some facts to this discussion.

We will provide a lengthy notice period before any changes occur. As the minister has stated, seniors who are currently receiving benefits will not lose a penny by the changes being contemplated. The old age security program is an important feature of our retirement income system. Together with the guaranteed income supplement, it helps alleviate poverty among seniors by providing a modest base upon which they can build. This is a universal program for all people over age 65 who have resided at least 10 years in Canada.

I stress from the outset that the survival of the OAS is a priority for this government. That is why we are acting now to ensure this critical social program that Canadians have come to rely on is and will be affordable for current and future generations. We will not turn a blind eye to the numbers that illustrate this looming crisis. We will not continue the unfortunate trend of past governments in ignoring this pending challenge until it is too late to act. Instead, our government will take action.

We have a proven record of balancing the economic interests of Canada with the compassion Canadians expect from their government. That is why Canadians gave us a strong majority mandate in the last election to guide Canada through these fragile economic times. Thanks to the strong leadership of our Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, Canada can approach this democratic challenge from a position of relative strength. Many of our OECD counterparts do not have the flexibility afforded to Canada because of the strength of our fiscal picture.

We have also been consistent over the past six years of our mandate in our support for our most vulnerable seniors, providing fiscal support, such a GIS top-up announced in budget 2011 and implemented over the summer months. I say that to drive home the point that we are committed to ensuring that social programs remain sustainable for future generations and continue to be available for the most vulnerable individuals. We are ready to take action now and make the tough decisions that are necessary for Canada's future because it is the right thing to do.

On January 26, at the World Economic Forum, the Prime Minister once again demonstrated Canada's economic leadership on the world stage. In his speech, which outlined how Canada would make the transformations necessary to sustain economic growth, job creation and prosperity, he demonstrated a vision that stretches beyond the next election cycle and the immediacy of politics in this place.

It is my hope that all members of the House will see the need to ensure that Canada makes the necessary economic choices now to prepare for the demographic pressures we will face in the future. The issue of the demographic shift is one that is well-known to world leaders. Unfortunately, it is evident that some countries have been unable to avoid their own crisis, sometimes through lack of leadership or political courage, for which their populations are now paying a very heavy price. That will not be the case here.

Thankfully, our Prime Minister has the foresight to explore changes now well in advance of any future crisis. In less than two decades, close to one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65, a drop from one in seven today. Meanwhile, the number of Canadians below age 65 will remain almost flat. The result is that by 2030 we will be living in a country with the same number of workers but with twice as many seniors.

Furthermore, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will increase from 4.7 million to 9.3 million over the next 20 years. By 2030, OAS program expenditures will triple to $108 billion from $35.6 billion in 2010. Here it is important to remember that OAS is the largest statutory program in the federal government. Finally, by 2030 the number of taxpayers for every senior will be two, down from four in 2010.

This is not a short-term problem: it will affect many generations to come. As a government, it is our responsibility to future generations to ensure that this type of growth is addressed. At the same time, we will ensure that any changes will not affect current recipients. Therefore, any seniors currently receiving benefits as well as those nearing retirement will not be affected.

We are raising these issues now to be transparent and open with Canadians about the road ahead. We are considering these important steps now to ensure the viability of OAS for future Canadians. It is the right thing to do.

We are currently engaging the public on this issue through our debate here, at the kitchen tables of the nation and across the airwaves. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We cannot misinform Canadians for our narrow political gain. Unfortunately, this has not been the case to date.

There may be some misunderstanding as to how the OAS system works. All OAS benefits are paid from taxes collected that year. This means that any benefits that cannot be paid from taxes collected that year will have to be borrowed.

Canadians understand that continued deficit spending is not a viable alternative. Beyond our own history, the economic crisis in Europe serves as a fresh reminder of the dangers of debt financing.

By acting responsibly now we can address this issue of intergenerational fairness and ensure that our children and their leaders are not forced into unacceptable financial choices because of our actions. We want to ensure that the OAS will be there for future generations. We have a responsibility to future generations to take action now to secure their future as well as our own.

The situation, thankfully, is not the same with the Canada pension plan. The chief actuary recently reviewed the CPP and pronounced it actuarially sound for the next 75 years.

Some confuse the CPP with OAS when they are talking about retirement. Many people are familiar with the CPP simply because of the deductions off their paycheques every month. They do not realize that hidden in the income tax deductions is another pension contribution.

Let us be clear in this debate that when we are talking about sustainability, we are only talking about the OAS system and not the CPP.

Demographic changes are putting pressure on our retirement income system and on many other programs. This has been clearly documented by many experts.

All of us, young and old, cherish our future and want to grow old knowing that we have a secure one. It is this security that this government is committed to providing to every Canadian at every stage of life. This government will act to ensure that our programs are viable for generations to come. Sadly, we are not seeing the same foresight from the opposition. Instead, we see the tired politics of fear and misinformation. Such wilful ignorance of the facts in the face of demographic trends that have been known for decades is disappointing to say the least.

We have an opportunity here to look beyond this sitting, to look beyond this session and this Parliament to the future of our nation. The trends are clear; the facts are unmistakable. Now is the time.

The opposition motion before us here today is sadly misinformed. It does not provide a solution to the demographic challenges our nation faces. For these reasons, our government cannot support it. I would ask that all members of the House do likewise.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 2nd, 2012 / 11 a.m.

NDP

Sana Hassainia NDP Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, the member spoke of crisis and compared Canada's situation to that of other countries. I suppose he was talking about Greece or Italy. I would like to point out that public spending on pension plans is an estimated 4.7% of Canada's GDP. In the countries he mentioned, it is 12% to 14% of GDP.

Why raise the spectre of crisis and make cuts to a program that is essential but still inadequate?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it is not a crisis, but it is time to look at the facts and to deal with them responsibly and in advance.

The reason it is not a crisis, as it may be in some other countries, is that we have done the planning for our economy to continue and to ensure that there are jobs with people who pay taxes. We have also looked at the most vulnerable by ensuring that we have programs in place to take care of them in their time of need. We want to make sure that these programs continue now and into the future.

We would ask the members of the New Democratic Party to support us when we put provisions forward, like the increase in the guaranteed income supplement, like the increase in the age credit, and like income splitting and a number of initiatives to help ensure the protection of our seniors and the enhancement of their benefits. Unfortunately, the members opposite voted against those measures for whatever reasons, reasons they would know. However, I would ask them to join us in looking forward into the future to ensure that these programs can be preserved.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, the problem is that they are getting people worried, sparking a totally superficial crisis, and pitting one generation against the others. The Quebec seniors' federation, FADOQ, has released numbers that speak volumes. FADOQ has 265,000 members. All Quebec MPs have seniors in their ridings. According to FADOQ, the average retirement age is 59.9. If the retirement age is raised from 65 to 67, the provinces will have to bear the additional burden of providing social assistance to many people for an extra two years. This will cause a lot of anxiety. Instead of pitting generations against one another, let us look to the future and see what we can do for people aged 60 to 65, such as implement tax incentives.

Why is the government manufacturing a totally superficial crisis and pitting generations against one another? Why is the government scaring people, particularly society's least fortunate?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, if there is any fear being perpetrated it is by the misinformation and the position taken by the opposition parties, including with respect to this particular motion.

I think it is prudent to look at the demographics that will emerge in the future. We have clearly said that any proposed changes will be well past the balancing of our budget and will go into the future. I think it is important and prudent that we look past political rhetoric and deal with the issue in a responsible way that will ensure that the system will be protected now and into the future for the present and future generations.

What we will not do is what the previous Liberal government did and cut $25 billion from transfers to the provinces and balance the books on the backs of the most vulnerable, on the backs of seniors, and in lieu of health care and education. We will not do that.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I represent a riding, Simcoe—Grey, that has many seniors who have built this country and are continuing to volunteer as seniors, such as Paul Ruppel, Bill McDougall and others.

The member commented on how the government is acting responsibly to deal with both seniors as well as young people in this country. Could he outline the things this government has done since 2006 to support seniors in this country?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, unfortunately, I will not be able to fully address that in 30 seconds, except to say that we have taken a number of steps and initiatives to help both the seniors and the younger generation. However, NDP members have voted against each and every one of those initiatives. Thus is interesting that they take the position they are taking today.

I can only say that we will be there for the seniors, the vulnerable and the young people now and into the future.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is with real sadness this morning that I listen to all of this talk about political rhetoric and the rest of it. This is such an important issue for millions and millions of Canadians. This is something that we should all have been working on together.

We all know that the population is aging; this is nothing new that just popped up yesterday. We as a party have been working on retirement issues and moving these things forward. To be standing here blaming each other for political rhetoric, fear-mongering, and all the rest of it is sad. It is sad because there are thousands of people watching, listening to every word and worried now about what they are going to do in their future. Seniors today have a hard enough time coping with retirement at 65, never mind going to 67.

If this is the direction we are going in, I do not think this is a day in which anyone is happy. Not only did our groundhog see his shadow and tell us that we were going to have six more weeks of winter, but I also think it is an ominous reflection of the kinds of shadows we are dealing with here in the debate today.

On January 26, the Prime Minister stood in front of the world, not here in Canada, because I am sure he would never have had the courage to stand up to some audience in Canada and make the kinds of comments he did. He had to go over to Switzerland to make those kinds of comments there. Whatever he was trying to prove over there, I am not sure what it was. When he was telling them what they needed to do to clear up their debts and so on, one of the things he forgot to mention was that Canada did all of those things. We got our house in order years back. It was all under the prudent leadership of Liberal governments. He opposed all of that, including the CPP. At one point he wanted to privatize the CPP because he did not think we needed it either.

During this diatribe in Davos, the Prime Minister let one small detail of his own design float out. He suggested that Canada's old age security pension plan would have to be changed forever. Specifically, after the Conservatives had money for $6 billion in corporate tax cuts, $30 billion for untendered jets, another $1 billion for fake lakes and gazebos, the Prime Minister decreed to the world, not just to Canada because he did not want Canadians to know, that Canada's lowest income seniors would have to tighten their belts. After giving away all of that money and umpteen millions on a bunch of other stuff, he did not have the courage to come here and make that announcement in Canada, telling seniors they were going to have to tighten their belts after all they have done to build the country we are enjoying.

I will just provide a bit of background because people sometimes forget why we have and how we got some of these programs. Our old age security was first created by a Liberal prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, in 1927. Back then even he recognized the fact that seniors' poverty was rampant and totally unacceptable.

In 1952, again, another Liberal prime minister, Louis St. Laurent, expanded the program because he felt it was unfair for the provinces to have to deal with so much poverty when it came to seniors.

Then in 1967, Liberal PM Lester Pearson created the guaranteed income supplement, again to reduce the incidence of extreme poverty among our seniors, because we recognize that when people get to their senior years those are not the years when they should be eating macaroni and cheese three times a week.

Then in 1975, again in response to seeing too many seniors in poverty, Prime Minister Trudeau created the spousal benefit.

For 90 years, successive Liberal governments have worked to build and maintain an old age security pension system that would make sure that seniors could live with dignity. Even today, in spite of all of that, we are still not doing enough because we still have seniors living in poverty. In fact, if they do not have a private pension, the most they will get is $15,000. Try living today on $15,000. I still consider that to be poverty.

We wanted to make sure that the provinces did not have to deal with these issues alone. We wanted to show the world that we had a heart when it came to the very people who built the country so that we and our children and grandchildren could enjoy it, not cast seniors aside when they are 65 and no longer able to work, never mind now moving the age to 67.

However, on January 26, the Conservative Prime Minister took the first step toward reversing all of those things.

The Prime Minister said that raising the qualifying age for the OAS will have no real impact. He did not stop to think about the triple effect it would have on umpteen other levels of support, like the provincial drug card. People do not get the provincial drug card unless they are getting OAS, and they cannot get GIS unless they are getting OAS. If seniors are receiving OAS, lots of our municipalities give them municipal tax breaks in a variety of ways to help seniors move along.

Between 1965 and 1968, Liberal Prime Minister Pearson recognized that having to work to age 70 was far too difficult. Many of the people in those days were farmers, people who were working all day at heavy jobs and their backs and their physical bodies would not carry them to age 70. That was why the age was moved down to 65. We cannot ask people to work until they are 67 years old, never mind 70 if they are in hard jobs where they are standing on their feet all day. Their health just will not carry them.

We understand that. Our seniors deserve better than poverty during their golden years. There was a time when we thought the Prime Minister actually understood that too.

During the April 12 leaders debate in the most recent election--which I remind people was only eight months ago; it may seem like a much longer period some days, but it was only eight months ago--the Prime Minister said that he would not cut pensions. Canadians believed him, sadly. We told them not to trust him, but that was not the way it went. Canadians did trust him, just as they did with income trusts and some of the other things he said he would not touch, but the next day he turned around and did exactly the opposite.

Perhaps the surprise should not have been so great. After all, it was the Prime Minister who campaigned against the CPP and said it should be privatized. At that time he vowed to create a super savings account so Canadians could invest all their extra money for retirement, as if all Canadians have a lot of extra money.

I wonder how much extra money a 66-year-old widow with an annual income of less than $20,000 might have to invest. The average Canadian family that is trying to survive on a $40,000 or $50,000 income does not have any extra money to put into a pension either.

I will mention a few of the facts, according to the government's own numbers.

Twenty-four per cent of all women over the age of 65 qualify for GIS. That means they have an income of less than $16,300 per year. I wonder how much money our Prime Minister can invest in his various retirement plans, but he has lots of money, contrary to many Canadians out there today.

Over the next decade, 4.5 million Canadians will turn 65, and of this group of people, 92% will qualify for the OAS. In 2009, for all of the OAS recipients with an income under $20,000, the OAS and GIS accounted for 50% of their total income.

The numbers paint a very simple picture. If the Conservatives carry through with their threat to take away the OAS, even phased in over time, they will be dealing a crushing blow to the seniors of tomorrow in this country.

Why is this on the table? In the last election the Prime Minister said that seniors' pensions would not be touched. Now he says that the economy just cannot afford to lift seniors out of poverty, that we just have to keep them working longer and harder.

Setting aside all of the money that has gone into jets, jails and gazebos, that is very short-sighted, given the fact that all of this has happened in the last eight months. It was not as if everybody woke up and suddenly found out that we have an aging demographic and we have to do something, so we should go after the OAS and penalize that group of people.

The economists are telling us clearly that it is a sustainable program. Edward Whitehouse, who researches pension policy on behalf of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank, says the analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension scheme.

In Europe, in Greece and Italy, many of them have very rich pensions. It is a real pension that they have. What we have in Canada, and the minister made a point of that, we call it a pension, but it was always meant to be very modest. It was not meant for people to live on.

Part of the challenge that is facing all of us is to make sure that people understand that when they get to be 65 and they get the OAS and GIS, that is not meant to be all of what they are to live on. They are supposed to have been supplementing those programs, but unfortunately, most Canadians think that is the pension.

When compared to countries like Italy and Greece, and I certainly hear a lot about how they have great pensions, that is not the system we have. We have a job on our hands of making sure that people are educated to understand their need to invest in the various programs, which are quite limited.

There is talk about our heads being in the sand and not planning for the future. On this side of the House, we have been working very hard on this issue. A plan was recently adopted at the national Liberal convention to bring forward a companion program to the existing Canada pension plan, similar to what is now being offered by the OMERS, which is a program for those who are in municipal politics in Ontario. People can add on to their Canada pension plan as a companion piece. It is not a payroll tax, which is what the NDP is proposing. It is a companion plan to people's existing Canada pension plan. All that is needed is a social insurance number. People do not have to be working to put the money in. It is for homemakers, farmers, the self-employed. It is helping Canadians prepare for the future.

That is the kind of thing that has to be done. That is the kind of involvement that should have all parties working to help Canadians prepare for the future. We all know the demographics. We all know that changes are coming, but we should not go after the most vulnerable in order to make those changes.

Governments have choices. All of us in government or wherever we are have choices to make. Our choices are clearly to help people, to help the poorest of the poor, not to penalize them. There are lots of areas where budgets can be balanced without having to balance them on the backs of seniors and future seniors of this country. We should look at some of the choices that government has made in the past and make some different ones.

I want to talk about how this affects women in particular. Some women get married and drop out of the workforce to care for their children. Sometimes they have to care for parents. A man who works in construction for his entire life may have a wife who goes in and out of the workforce, and always earns somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 because she is never employed long enough because she is caring for her children or elderly parents, a sick husband or whatever. When she turns 65, she has next to nothing when it comes to CPP because she was not in the workforce long enough or with a high enough salary.

Most women do not max out on their contributions to CPP. Men do, if they are fortunate, but not the majority of women, unless they are career women. I am talking about average women who take time out of the workforce to have children and leave and return to the workforce a couple of times. When they turn 65, a husband and wife, for the most part, are living on $16,000 a year. If the husband dies, all of a sudden the woman is living on $10,000 or $11,000 a year. These are not magical things I am saying. If members do not have people with lives like that in their ridings, they are very fortunate, but they are welcome to come to my riding and speak to many people who live that life. As we plan to make changes for the future, which I hope involves all of us as parliamentarians, to help Canadians better prepare for the retirement, I hope we move forward with positive things.

The other sad part about this is the issue of trust. We get smeared all over the place because we are politicians and people say that nobody can believe a word we say. The Prime Minister clearly outlined that he was not going to make cuts to seniors' pensions and people trusted him. People need to be able to trust their legislators and parliamentarians at all levels of government, the Prime Minister especially. Even if he decides to do this for the seniors of tomorrow, it is a big move to change it from 65 to 67. It is going to have huge impacts. I am not talking about little things. It is a sad day for Canadian politics when that happens.

We are talking about working together and building this country together. We are not trying to increase poverty. That is why we are bringing forward a supplementary Canada pension plan. As I said earlier, it is a companion piece to the current Canada pension plan which would be easily administered, would have low management fees and would be secure. That would help the seniors of tomorrow have a much better retirement and would put less onus on the government.

Remember that at a $65,000 income the OAS is clawed back. That means fewer Canadians would end up in the poverty levels of the people we are dealing with today. Today we are dealing with many people who never had opportunities to get a higher education, so by and large, if people have good jobs, they are earning a higher level of money. This means they will be paying more taxes, which also means they will be less apt to draw the OAS and the GIS. But that takes investment in the kinds of programs and plans so that all Canadians have access to this.

I know that everyone is feeling the pressure of this kind of a discussion. I would hope that my colleagues on the other side would stand and fight on behalf of all Canadians to make sure that we are doing the right thing as legislators and that we will not have more people in poverty at a time where the challenges are out there for all of us.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, this morning I have listened to members say that we need to take the time to come up with alternatives and that is why we are starting early. In the House this week time allocation was moved in order to hurry along some very ill-thought out ideas on how to help people prepare for their old age with the pooled registered pension plan fiasco, which is what I would call it.

In my riding there are senior citizens who have to use food banks, who cannot survive now. We have heard the government say that it is trying to address poverty for the senior citizens of the future. What could the government do to make sure that seniors can live in dignity today?

Before this debate started, I received letters from young people in my riding. Every one of them talked about addressing seniors in poverty. What could we be doing today to lift seniors out of poverty?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, clearly my colleague is in close touch with her constituents.

When we were knocking on doors in the last two elections one of the things all of us heard from seniors and senior organizations was they were asking for more. People who are age 65 today did not have access to great jobs. Again, many of them are women who are struggling for a variety of reasons. They are telling us that they need more today.

We are not hearing the government say it is going to increase the allocation of what seniors are getting today. We are hearing about increasing the age limit, possibly decreasing the clawback to $60,000. That is not the way we need to go. We need to go the opposite way by investing more so our seniors have a better quality of life and do not have to live in a garage or someone's basement apartment because they cannot afford anything else.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the comments of my colleague across the way and I heard how wonderful the Liberal Party was in the past and how its members have done wonderful things to ensure the financial stability of the country. We know in fact that they actually cut $25 billion from the provinces which was done directly on the backs of the provinces and citizens, including seniors.

We also heard the member talk about trusting the Prime Minister. My recollection is another issue regarding the Gomery inquiry where funds were missing under one of the Liberal prime ministers.

I also heard the member talk about a companion pension plan. It is my understanding that the provinces do not want any kind of companion pension plan.

Should we not be looking far enough ahead to ensure that all citizens who should be eligible for old age security will get it?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I would love to take on every one of those questions, but I would need another 20 minutes. If I cannot have that, then I will have to be really quick with the answers.

When we came into power in 1992, after the previous bunch over there, we had a $43 billion deficit. The country was already being referred to as a third world country. In and around the world that would have really had an impact. Instead, we made the cuts necessary. In 1995 the CPP was reinforced. The reason it is on great stable footing is because our prime minister and Paul Martin put it on that footing.

I hope those guys on that side of the House will have the guts to stand up and fight for their constituents.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, I commend the work done by my colleague from York West. There is no point in repeating the insanity coming from the other side; there are enough dinosaurs over there to make another Jurassic Park movie. In reality, we took control of the situation. Some even said Canada was going bankrupt. Now we need to look ahead: the Conservative Party has once again run up a deficit.

What I care about is making sure that we can improve people's quality of life and help young people feel hopeful about the future, without scaring those who gave everything to build this country.

My question is very simple. Given that my colleague also has experience at the municipal level and the fact that integration is a reality at that level, can she tell us what it would mean, for the people of her riding, to increase the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and increase the burden on the other relevant authorities?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, one thing we want to see happen is people working together, not pointing their fingers.

Part of the very groundwork that our pension has been based on is the whole intergenerational issue so people do not have to feel they are paying for other people's pensions. We all contribute and it is something we all share. It is what unites us as a country, because we care about each other as we move forward.

All of these issues need a lot of planning and in-depth looking into, which is why I go back to the companion plan to the Canada pension plan. It would allow homemakers to put some money aside. All they would need is a social insurance number and they could have a pension plan. I could put $50 into my daughter's companion CPP plan, while she is home raising her children. Then I would know she would have something when she reached 65 and would not have to live her life in poverty like today's seniors.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, what was the member's reaction when she listened to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development who spoke in this place about half an hour ago? She talked about the fact that there was a shortfall in revenues in our country. The shortfall of revenues is because the government has given away $16 billion annually in corporate tax breaks to profitable companies. It is not even tied to supplying jobs.

Now the government expects the shortfall of revenues will have to be adjusted by moving the age of retirement eligibility for seniors, which is absolutely beyond belief. The government talks about us being reckless, but it has been absolutely reckless.

I would like to hear the member's response to that.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I was hoping the minister would reassure us that the government realized, with the backlash it has felt, that it would not be a plan it would pursue this morning. I was disappointed to hear the minister say differently.

Clearly the government knows what it will do. It will turn around and make that change, unless all Canadians continue to go after their members of Parliament on that side until someone has the courage to break rank and starts to stand up for the seniors of tomorrow and against the insanity, which I know they are walking themselves into.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Madam Speaker, we are talking about old age security. I remind the member that in the previous Parliament one of her colleagues, Ruby Dhalla, introduced a bill to reduce the residency requirements from 10 years to 3 years for the old age security program.

In the 39th Parliament, another member brought in a bill and it actually passed, with the support of opposition members, in spite of the fact that Conservative members voted against it.

Could she tell us if that is still the Liberal position, to support a reduction of the residency requirement to exacerbate the problem that we are facing here?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, that never had anything to do with the Liberal government. That was an individual member of Parliament.

On this side of the House, we believe in having democracy and being able to express the concerns of people. It never came to a vote and it was never supported by us. The Conservatives used it to circulate it all over the place as if it would have been. We do respect democracy in individual MPs who want to put something on a piece of paper reflecting their constituents' voices. We have some freedom on this side of the House, contrary to that side.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

I rise here today to defend the rights of the people of my riding, Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. These Canadians, including men and women from Thurso, Brownsburg, Saint-Placide and Lachute, will be affected by the Conservatives' attack on old age security.

My riding is definitely not the only one to lose industries, but my constituents have been hit hard, because they are losing their jobs. Plus, young people are leaving the region because of the shortage of opportunities for work and education. Problems accessing health care are also not unique to my riding, especially considering our aging population. There are many ridings like mine, and I urge all families and all workers from those regions to rise up against what this government is proposing, that is, reducing the deficit by attacking people's pensions.

Like many of the cuts proposed by the government, the planned attack on OAS and the GIS is very insidious because it is directed against the most vulnerable Canadians. In fact, this measure affects those already dealing with poverty, illness, advanced age and, at times, disabilities caused by aging. This is a particularly despicable attack because those who will be most affected are middle-class workers and the poorest Canadians. They work at physically demanding jobs and often cannot continue working until 65, let alone 67. It is also difficult for the disabled and those suffering from chronic illnesses to work past the age of 65.

It is obvious that increasing the retirement age and making cuts to social solidarity programs for seniors will harm the less fortunate, especially women and particularly single mothers. The Conservatives have an unfortunate habit of attacking those groups in our society who have the greatest difficulty being heard. By actively attacking these groups, the Conservatives are ignoring the problems of seniors, women, the less fortunate, aboriginal peoples, people who need employment insurance and a number of other groups. Because of the Conservatives' attitude, we should not be surprised that they are trying to attack those who will retire in the future. These groups often believe that they do not have a voice. But they do have a voice in this House. The people of my riding can depend on me. People in every Quebec region have a voice thanks to the NDP.

According to Statistics Canada, the median income in Argenteuil and Papineau is 10% to 20% lower than in the rest of Quebec even though household size is the same. Families in my riding are not rich like the big businesses that have been given tax breaks by the Prime Minister and have then moved a staggering number of jobs outside Canada.

That is the situation for many workers in my riding. Young people from the region are leaving because there are no jobs. These young people do not have access to higher education. Although the region is not far from major centres, the public transit system that would give them access to colleges and universities is either inadequate or non-existent. As a result, young people are leaving the region and cannot take care of their aging parents.

The median age in Argenteuil and Papineau is about 10 years higher than in the rest of Quebec and will continue to increase in the future. The average income after taxes is approximately $17,000 and decreasing as a result of the economic situation affecting Canada and the world. People like the ones in my riding are in dire need of support from programs such as old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.

Income inequality continues to grow in Canada. No one can really predict what type of long-term damage the economic crisis will cause for Canadians. We absolutely must not play sorcerer's apprentice with social solidarity programs because they have been helping retirees with modest incomes since the 1960s.

In my riding, those are the fallouts.

First, I will speak for the women of my riding. I sit on the Status of Women committee and we have spent the past three months studying senior women. Anything that hurts our seniors, hurts our senior women the most. Women are substantially poorer than men, both in my riding and across Canada. Fourteen per cent of single women live under the poverty line and a staggering 52.1% of single women with small children live below the poverty line. The reasons for this are systemic and not that complicated. EI, parental leave and pay equity are needed to close the gender gap, but what this means to my argument today is that women are far less likely than men to benefit from CPP, private pensions or RRSPs. Women are not the top income earners in the country since so much of their contributing labour is unpaid.

There are far more senior women than men. Women live longer than men. The fact that senior women are much poorer than senior men has deeper roots. This makes OAS and GIS so important to women.

Women today need to understand that the factors that plunge them into poverty in their old age are systemic and require structural solutions.

We assume that our public health care system will give all seniors what they need to stay healthy. I thought this, too, until I studied the case of elder abuse. I learned that of all the forms of health care offered in Canada it is seniors' care that is not necessarily covered under the Canada Health Act. Long-term care, both in home and in facilities, is not necessarily covered, and the exorbitant costs of pharmaceuticals, wheelchairs and walkers are also not provided for. Of all the forms of health care in this country, it is seniors who suffer the most from a two-tiered, inequitable system.

When a senior's income hovers around $18,000 a year and the children have left the hometown because the factory has closed down, for that senior to lose any part of his or her OAS and GIS will be a major blow that will necessarily plunge the individual below the poverty line.

Here is another thing that plunged the workers in my riding below the poverty line. When Fraser Papers closed in Thurso, Quebec, it declared bankruptcy, which meant that it was legal for it to divest itself of all workers' pensions. The fact that the company declared bankruptcy is dubious enough since the major financial corporation that owned the controlling shares of Fraser Papers is Brookfield Asset Management, a company that continues to turn huge profits on Bay Street today while it thanks our Prime Minister for its tax breaks. These workers, who invested in their pensions throughout their entire lives, lost them entirely through a corporate sleight of hand. We need to pass the NDP bill that would protect pensioners such as those.

Now I must now go to those pensioners, who have already lost so much, and tell them that they can no longer rely on their OAS and GIS.

Until the Prime Minister looks the hard-working people of Thurso and the women of my riding in the eyes and offers them a way out of the poverty they are facing, it is deplorable to talk about needing to shrink the deficit because of changing demographics.

Let us speak about demographics. The Prime Minister likes to remind us that the population is changing. Yes, we are aging. That is a fact we must prepare for. What he fails to say is that poverty among seniors is also on the rise and, according to forecasts, will continue to rise. Middle-class jobs are disappearing and being replaced by low-paying jobs that are often only part time. People who work in these low-paying jobs, who do not get enough hours and do not receive any benefits, will not be adequately protected by employment insurance. The rich are getting richer. The government is rushing to invest in big business and grant tax breaks to the wealthy, while the poor continue to sink deeper into poverty.

The Conservatives' threat to old age security is another measure that will increase inequality. This is not the time to invest in oil and in fighter jets. It is not the time to impose an austerity budget.

The Conservatives are questioning our ability to invest in social programs. I would respond by asking them these two questions. How can we not invest in social programs? What could be more important than the health, security and dignity of Canadians?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Sana Hassainia NDP Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent analysis of the situation.

I would like to take advantage of the fact that my colleague is a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women to ask her how old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are important retirement vehicles for women in particular.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned briefly in my speech, it is often women who do not work in jobs with benefits that allow them to save for pensions. Women make 50% of what men make. Therefore, drawing on the implications of that, it is women who benefit overall from GIS and OAS.

Also, women tend to live longer. The majority of seniors in this country today and in the future are and will be women, so it does affect women disproportionately.

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, while we have pension challenges in Canada, we do not have a crisis. A study was undertaken for the federal Department of Finance in 2009 by the head of the social policy division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The finding was that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its pension schemes. The study projected that spending on public pensions will increase from the current level of 4.5% to 6.2% by 2060. In comparison, 27 European Union nations were spending 9% in 2009.

Does the hon. member think that people should be able to expect that the rules under which they made their retirement plans will still be in place when they retire?

Opposition Motion—Old Age SecurityBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, it is extremely important to point out that the OAS and GIS are easily sustainable and are actually projected to decrease in cost relative to the size of the economy in the long run. We should not be considering this the time to cut back. What we should be doing is taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not by making it worse by slashing old age security. We need to be able to tell all generations that they can live in dignity in their old age.