Motion No. 307
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the contributions that the baby boom generation has made in building Canada; (b) affirm its support for the Old Age Security program; (c) commit to maintaining the sixty-five year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act; and (d) recognize that Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a program designed to help low income seniors, are inextricably linked and ensure that they continue to have identical ages of eligibility.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the matter of old age security. I would like to acknowledge the very hard and determined work of the hon. member for York West, the Liberal Party critic for pensions. My motion is a direct response to a petition signed by tens of thousands of Canadians who are troubled by the decision of the Prime Minister to change the age of eligibility for old age security.
I will outline a number of facts today.
A little under a year ago, someone made a promise. He made that promise during the last election. Here is what he said, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one.
It was the Prime Minister who made that promise. It is important to note when the Prime Minister made that promise. Was it when he called Canada a northern welfare state? Was it when he said that Atlantic Canadians suffer from a culture of defeat? Was it when he said that he would not touch income trusts? Was it when he advocated for a two tier health care system? Did he say it when, as part of his firewall plan, he called for Alberta to set up its own pension plan and, in doing so, rejected the very notion of a national system of pensions? Or, was it when he said, “providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility”? No, the Prime Minister made the promise not to touch pensions on April 11, 2011, just three weeks before election day.
Two months ago, the Prime Minister announced in Switzerland that he intended to institute massive changes to old age security and, in consequence, mandate massive changes to the guaranteed income supplement as well. In less than 10 months, after getting his majority government, he broke his promise to seniors and future generations of pensioners.
Here is another fact. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, almost 4.4 million Canadians are in receipt of old age security. The vast majority of those seniors live pension cheque to pension cheque. Those of us here, I would suggest, will not need to worry about our retirement. We will not be living pension cheque to pension cheque. None of us here in this chamber will depend on the old age security to maintain a decent level of living when we retire. However, for millions of Canadians, the old age security and guaranteed income supplement provides them with a pension to live, not in comfort, but to meet the basic needs of food, heating oil and medication.
The Prime Minister gave his word and then broke his promise and it will be most vulnerable who will suffer. It will not be members here, but women, low income seniors and persons with disabilities.
Here is another fact. A report issued by the Prime Minister's own government tells us that current seniors whose income is less than $20,000 rely heavily on old age security as well as the guaranteed income supplement. The two are linked. The government will change the age for old age security to age 67 or higher. What will happen to the guaranteed income supplement? Changing the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 or beyond also means that the GIS will be affected as people cannot obtain the GIS unless they are in receipt of old age security.
On Friday afternoon I received a frantic letter from the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, sent on an urgent basis, asking me to consider an amendment to remove any reference to the age of 65 in the motion before the House. Of course, the minister's suggestion is completely unacceptable. The Liberal Party will not accept any change that will raise the age of eligibility for old age security, period.
The present pension system works, it is not broken and any suggestion otherwise is simply not true. The current pension system provides all Canadians access to old age security and further provides those seniors who have little or no income beyond old age security the guaranteed income supplement.
I know many seniors whose entire income is based on the present system. To suggest, as the Prime Minister has, that future seniors already living week to week can now suddenly invest that extra $10 they might have into a RRSP or some other private investment plan is, to be generous, a joke. However, it is not a laughing matter. It is very offensive.
We also know that women disproportionately rely on the guaranteed income supplement more than men. Twenty-four per cent of all women who are senior citizens qualify for and rely on the GIS.
A change of two, three or four years in eligibility may seem insignificant to us but to people who continue to live in a cycle of poverty waiting an extra two to four years is a lifetime. Yet, the government is spending billions on prisons, billions on fighter jets, adding new members of Parliament to the House, all the while unravelling our pension system.
However, this all makes sense when we read what the Prime Minister once said, “providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility”.
Furthermore, the argument presented by the Prime Minister to justify this broken promise is anchored in the idea that old age security is suddenly unsustainable. When did he first come to that revelation? Did he think that pensions were unsustainable last April when he promised not to touch them? We must remember what he said. He said, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one”.
Edward Whitehouse of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and an international expert on retirement and pensions said, “There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pensions ages in the foreseeable future”.
Jack Mintz, the government's own research director for the working group on retirement income, said this past January:
The overall view that was taken about our pension system in total, when you look at Old Age Security, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, as well as Canada Pension Plan, was that it is relatively financially sustainable.
Last April, the Prime Minister promised to leave pensions alone and now he is suggesting that old age security is unsustainable. We know that is not true. We now know that assertion is blatantly false.
The man he appointed as Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, told the truth when he said that the OAS was in fact sustainable. Jack Mintz told the truth when he said that old age security was sustainable. Edward Whitehouse of the OECD told the truth when he said that there was no pressing need to increase the age for obtaining the OAS pension. Who is not telling the truth and for what reason?
The OAS is sustainable and will be sustainable into the future. Last April, the Prime Minister believed old age security was sustainable too. We know this because he told Canadians, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one”. It really is disgraceful to give one's word and then break it and to do so based on manufacturing a crisis.
The Conservatives like to go on about its strong, stable, majority government but they did not seek a mandate to tear asunder a critical element of our social safety net. They did not seek a mandate to change the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67 or maybe 69 or more.
The Prime Minister told Canadians last April that he would not touch their pensions but this coming Thursday, budget day, he will officially break that promise and fundamentally alter the covenant made decades ago to support Canadian seniors.
I am aware that I am not permitted to suggest that the government lied or that it acted dishonestly for those comments are unparliamentary. However, when a prime minister makes a promise during an election, a promise to seniors and to future pensioners, to leave those pensions as they are and then announces after the election that he will make massive changes to old age security, then one must simply leave it to Canadians to figure out the value of his word.