This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it a privilege for me to speak to the motion. I am so proud of that my party is forcing a debate in Parliament over such a critical issue that does not just affect a few people in our society, but will have an impact on the full population.

There seems to be many sides to this debate. I have been intrigued by some of the arguments I have heard today.

Let us take a look at some of the facts. The facts before us are very simple. I am sure my colleagues across the aisle will be able to understand them.

The fact is the Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that there is no need to do this. He has examined the budget and there is no need to raise the retirement age.

Another fact is the report from the OECD also commends Canada and recognizes the health of our pension planning. It also does not see the need for any action to be taken.

Let us go on to people that my colleagues across the way will really respect, and that is their cabinet. Before becoming a majority government, their cabinet did not think there was a problem. In fact, when a study was done on the whole area of pensions, it did not propose any changes to raise the retirement age.

Let us get to the Prime Minister. He did not see this as an issue before the election. During the election, he made a commitment that his government would not touch pensions.

Then let us look at another fact that we keep having thrown at us, which is we are unaware of the changing demographics. I have been aware of the changing demographics for a long time, as have Canadians. I think high school students started to study the changing demographics in the 1970s and 1980s. That is one of the basic things we do.

I am one of the baby boomers, as are many of us in this room. We are proud of that baby boomer generation. There is this kind of mythology being pursued by my colleagues across the aisle that taxes are only being paid by those who are working. They use numbers that only so many people will be working and this many people will not be, but they forget to say we are nation that has been built on immigration.

When we have shortage of workers, we bring people in from other countries, just as many of us have come. Many of the cabinet ministers have roots in other countries as well. Their ancestors came as immigrants. In the same way, Canada will continue to rely on immigrants for our nation building. We are very proud of that. When those people arrive, they pay taxes because they become Canadians and they work here.

Also retired people pay taxes. Let us not say this huge number of people, the baby boomers, are going to retire and then assume that we are not going to be collecting taxes from them. I can assure members that we tax our seniors above a certain income as well.

When we look at all of this, we begin to realize that my friends across the aisle are trying to mislead the public. We absolutely understand, now that the government has clarified, after months and months of silence, that it is going to be bringing in the 65 to 67 in a gradual manner.

I have met with seniors. They know they will not be impacted, but they are worried about their children and grandchildren, and so they should be. They know what is like to work and to save. They see their young children and grandchildren unable to get decent paying jobs for years and years. They see their young children ending up with huge educational debt.

Now they are being told, “By the way, you are going to have to work longer.” I have heard my colleagues say it does not mean people have to work longer; they are just not going to get OAS, but unfortunately, not everybody is independently wealthy, as some of my colleagues may be, and these people actually rely on OAS. The people who rely on OAS are the ones who are the most vulnerable in our society. If we had a mandatory state-run pension fund, there would not be a need for OAS. Even when OAS was implemented, it was done to lift seniors out of poverty.

It is also hypocritical. There are MPs sitting in the House who we know are going to be drawing fairly good pensions. I absolutely believe MPs, like other Canadians, should get pensions, but surely it is a bit hypocritical of us to sit in this hallowed House and start attacking other people's pensions when we are aware of our own situations. An hon. member who spoke recently is 32 years of age, and after only seven years in Parliament, he is already sitting on an annual pension of $33,000, which he can start collecting at age 55. At the same time, we are telling the most vulnerable citizens, the ones who do not have private pensions or huge investments and dividends, that they now have to work until they are 67. Where is the fairness in that?

Canadians are very fair-minded people, and they are looking at the hypocrisy of this situation. Once again I wonder why the government is moving on this agenda at this time. I believe it is ideologically driven. It is trying to force people to save money. I have constituents in Newton—North Delta who are are in their 40s and 50s and who would love to be able to save for their retirement, but they are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet for their everyday household expenses and to put their children through school. This is going to have an impact on people who have not been privileged to work in steady jobs or have pensions from work-related sources. We are talking about hundreds and thousands of Canadians who do not have access to those kinds of pension plans. The government is punishing those who are already disadvantaged. It is punishing hard-working Canadians.

I met with a young woman in my office the other day. I say “young”; she was in her 50s, but to me, at this stage, 50 is very young. She was telling me how she is a single mom of three. She has two children in university and is able to work two jobs full time because of the way she divides up her week, but she said she still hopes she can find something more. I had to ask her how she could do this. That is when she burst into tears and said she now also has the government telling her she cannot retire at age 65 and has to work until she is 67. She said, “I do not think I can last until I am 60. I am exhausted.”

We also have to think about all the people who have disabilities. What are we going to be saying to them? As it stands now, at the age of 65, they get to switch over to OAS. That is what happens. Now we are telling them they are going to get nothing at that stage. If they get something, then we will be downloading more costs onto the provinces. One of the basic principles Canadians value is that we look after each other. Surely we want to be judged as a society by how well we look after our young, our sick, our disadvantaged and our seniors.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there are very few issues that have had the type of impact that this issue has developed across the country when the government made the decision to increase the age of eligibility for OAS from age 65 to 67. Overwhelming numbers of Canadians across the country, of all ages, have looked at the government's actions and are really starting to challenge the government. They are saying this is just not right.

Canada as a nation has great wealth, and to be treating our seniors with such lack of respect when it comes to retirement has caused a great sense of disappointment. These programs have been in place for many years. Liberals administrations from the past have put in programs such as the GIS and the OAS, and Canadians have grown to rely on these programs.

I ask the member to provide confirmation on this particular point. As a direct result of the government's action, because of this policy change, there is no doubt that more seniors will be living in poverty in the years ahead. Would she not concur with that fact?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very well thought out question. It does not take rocket science. Actually, I think children in grade 1 would be able to understand that with this legislation, there will be more seniors living in poverty.

Whether I speak with elementary school kids, secondary school kids, people at my town hall meetings, or those who have come to raise concerns with me when I am grocery shopping or standing by a soccer field, this is what I hear from them. They do not want to see their seniors having to struggle the way they are seeing some of our seniors struggling in my riding. I know they are struggling in my riding. We are seeing that right across.

That reminds me that the budget officer actually said there was enough money in the system to make improvements for our seniors right now. The government, based on that, has decided to make it worse for seniors. Why do they not like seniors?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her impassioned speech. On March 10, a public consultation on old age security was held in the riding of Joliette. Many people came out to learn more about this issue, even though the consultation was held late on a Saturday afternoon. Some people also wrote to us.

I would like my colleague's opinion. It is scandalous to cut retirement income without offering an alternative solution. Millions of people will end up living in poverty. How does my colleague propose we help these people? They are quite worried.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that is a question that a lot of Canadians are asking: what are the policies of our current government? Is it a race to the bottom when it comes to wages for working people? Of course, now we are going to be allowing foreign temporary workers, but employers can pay them a lot less and get away with it. In the same way, the government is saying that it is okay to force seniors to work longer.

By the way, there are many seniors who will want to work longer, and that is their option right now. We are not saying that people should be forced to retire.

Old age security is not $30,000 a year, but a very small amount of money, something like $500 a month. When we really look at it, it is less than $7,000 a year, and now the government is saying people have to wait two more years. I do not know about others, but some of my constituents started to work when they were 18 or 19 and feel they are already done by the time they are 55. Their bodies are telling them they are done.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to promote the reasonable and necessary action our government is taking to ensure a sustainable old age security program. We are making these changes to give Canadians certainty in their retirement planning by ensuring this cherished social program will be there for future generations.

I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

To begin, let me answer the question the opposition members still do not seem to understand: why are changes to the OAS program necessary? The answer is quite simple: these changes are being made to ensure the sustainability of the OAS program. If we do nothing, the costs of the OAS program are projected to rise dramatically, from approximately $38 billion now to $108 billion in 2030. How do we know this will happen? Canadians are living longer and healthier lives.

In 1970, life expectancy was 69 years for men and 76 years for women. Today, some 40 years later, it is 79 years for men and 83 years for women. What is more, the oldest members of the baby boomer generation, the largest in history, turned 65 last year. The impact of these boomers' retiring over the next two decades, combined with the increase in life expectancy of Canadians, will result in twice the number of seniors in Canada.

The OAS program is the Government of Canada's single largest program. Financed from general government revenues, OAS provides benefits to most Canadians 65 years of age and over.

The maximum annual OAS pension currently stands at $6,481, and it is adjusted on a quarterly basis, based on increases to the consumer price index. Additional support for low-income seniors is provided through the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, which has a maximum annual benefit of $8,788 for single seniors and $11,654 for senior couples. Low-income spouses or common-law partners of GIS recipients and low-income survivors may also receive support through the allowance and the allowance for the survivor programs.

To provide some idea of the program's scope, 4.9 million individuals are currently receiving benefits. This will double to over nine million by 2030.

Let us look beyond the program's vital statistics to examine its past and where it is going.

The old age security program was established at a time when Canadians were not living the long, healthy lives they are now living. Projections show that the cost of the program will grow from $36 billion in 2010 to $108 billion in 2030. That same period will see the number of working-age Canadians per senior fall from 4:1 today to 2:1 in 2030. This compares to the 1990 ratio of five working-age Canadians per senior. That is quite a shift.

OAS is the largest single program of the Government of Canada, and it is funded 100% by annual tax revenues. Let me clear on this point. The benefits that were paid out this year to our deserving seniors came exclusively from the taxes that were collected this year. This is why the ratio of workers to retirees is critical to understanding why we must act now to ensure the sustainability of this program.

Today we spend 13¢ of every federal tax dollar on the old age security program. If we do not make changes now, in about 20 years that share will grow to 21¢ on every federal tax dollar spent. That is exactly why the changes announced in budget 2012 are necessary: to ensure that the OAS program remains on a sustainable path. These modifications will ensure that the OAS program remains strong and is there for future generations, as it is for seniors who currently receive these benefits.

What will this mean for Canadians? First and foremost there will be no reductions to seniors who are already collecting OAS benefits. These changes will not begin for another 11 years. Starting on April 1, 2023, the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS will gradually increase from 65 to 67, with full implementation by January 2029. Anyone who is 54 years of age or older as of March 31, 2012, will not be affected.

In line with the increase in age for OAS and GIS eligibility, the ages at which the allowance and allowance for survivors are provided will also gradually increase from 60 to 64 today, to 62 to 66 starting in April 2023. Regarding the allowance and the allowance for survivors, anyone who is 49 years of age or older as of March 31, 2012 will not be affected.

Let me stress again that this will occur in 2023, 11 years from now. The 11-year advance notification and the subsequent 6-year phase-in period will allow more than ample time for those affected by these changes to make the necessary adjustments to their retirement plans.

The government will ensure that certain federal programs which are currently providing income support benefits until 65 are aligned with the changes to the OAS program. We are taking this step to make sure that individuals receiving benefits from these programs do not face a gap in income at the ages of 65 and 66.

We are also examining the impact of the OAS program changes on CPP disability and survivor benefits.

We have also committed to reimbursing the provinces for the net cost of raising the OAS eligibility so that there will be no additional cost borne by the provinces. This is in stark contrast to the previous Liberal government, which changed many programs and left the provinces to pick up the tab.

I would like to take a moment to focus on some of the great OAS program modifications announced in budget 2012 which have received far less attention so far.

To improve flexibility and choice in the OAS program for those wishing to work until later in life, the government will allow for the voluntary deferral of the OAS pension for up to five years starting on July 1, 2013.

We should think about the people I spoke of earlier, those who are enjoying longer, healthier lives and who may be considering extending their careers. This is a trend we are already seeing when it comes to the average age of retirement. This measure will give these individuals the option of deferring their OAS pension to a later time, and as a result, they will receive a higher monthly amount. However, I should add that GIS benefits which provide additional support to the lowest income seniors will not be adjusted.

The details of these actions are spelled out in the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity bill which was introduced this morning and will implement various provisions of the budget.

Our government will also be improving services for seniors by putting in place a proactive enrolment effort that will eliminate the need for many seniors to apply for their OAS benefits. This measure will reduce the burden on many seniors of completing applications for benefits for which the government knows they have qualified.

As an added bonus, this automatic process will reduce the government's administrative costs, which I would observe is what sets our deficit reduction strategy apart from our predecessor's in that we are improving services to Canadians while reducing the cost of administration. Proactive enrolment will begin next year and will be fully implemented by 2016.

In summary, it is the responsibility of the federal government to think of the future and to act in the long-term interests of all Canadians. Sadly, the opposition has refused to acknowledge the realities of our aging population in order to play political games.

Private sector economists, financial institutions and former Bank of Canada governors have confirmed that we must act now to make the OAS program sustainable. That is exactly why I cannot support the opposition's motion.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, those who support increasing the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67 say that the new rules will not be applied right away and that people will have enough time to prepare for the changes. I guess they mean from an economic standpoint.

However, think about those who do physical labour, construction workers, steelworkers who work outdoors, winter and summer, those who work on their feet their whole lives at a grocery store, and those who spend their lives at a factory job, on a concrete floor. At age 65, these people are already absolutely exhausted. It is hard for them to work that long.

Has the government considered any measures for helping those who are already physically exhausted to prepare for the change in retirement eligibility from 65 to 67? The government should not wait 10 years to come up with a plan to help them, because these people will not be in better shape in 10 years than they are now.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is advance notice of 11 years and a 6-year phase-in period with respect to the changes. This would allow time for Canadians who would be affected to make the necessary changes to their retirement plans.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have raised this question previously with other members of the governing party and I will put the same question to the hon. member.

She stated that she is thinking of future generations. The obvious question to ask is, did her government consult with younger generations? Did the government, in consulting, present a variety of alternatives? Did her government do an analysis of which sectors of the economy, which members of society, in particular women, who are the highest rate of Canadians living in poverty, would most likely be hurt by making them wait two more years to receive their pension?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer that question by referring to a comment made by our colleague across the way, the hon. member London—Fanshawe, who said, “Action now is critical. We need a plan in place. We need the structure in place to deal with this dramatic shift in our country's demographics”.

We agree with that comment. We agree because we know that we must work hard to ensure that OAS, Canada's largest single program, remains strong and is available to those future generations, not just for those who are approaching retirement but for those who will be retiring later. That applies to women and men. We are going to ensure that the program is available for future generations of seniors.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my hon. colleague's opinion, what would happen if we did not implement this OAS sustainability plan? What would the future implications be?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a great question. This is a very serious issue, one which we are taking very seriously.

Today we spend 13¢ of every tax dollar on the OAS program. By 2030, this will grow to 21¢. If the changes are not made now, this program is not going to be sustainable for future generations.

The former governor of the Bank of Canada, David Dodge, said that we are up against a wall. That is exactly the truth. We have to do something now to protect those future generations. This is a vital program that is cherished by all Canadians. We must work to ensure it is sustainable for future generations.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to debate the motion on old age security moved by the member for London—Fanshawe. I would like to begin with a quote from the hon. member whose motion we are debating today:

Issues facing seniors are only going to intensify as more Canadians reach their senior years.Action now is critical – we need a plan in place, we need the structures in place to deal with this dramatic shift in our country’s demographics.

I am pleased that she understands why the government needed to act in a reasonable and forward-thinking way to secure the financial future of our seniors. However, I must admit I am a little puzzled, given the text of this motion, as I can only assume from her enlightened comment that she will be supporting this government's plan to “deal with this dramatic shift in our country's demographics”. Again, those are the words of my hon. colleague who moved this motion.

It is for this reason that on March 29 in the economic action plan 2012, the Government of Canada took the first necessary steps to ensure the OAS program remains sustainable for generations to come. The demographic challenge we are facing will leave Canada with the lowest ratio of working-age Canadians to seniors in our nation's history. Our reasonable changes will not reduce a single penny from any senior's pension. The age of eligibility for OAS will gradually increase from 65 to 67 years starting in 2023 and will be fully implemented in 2029.

People who are close to retirement, that is, people 54 years of age and older as of March 31 of this year, will not be affected by this policy change. We are providing Canadians with a lengthy period of notice in order to adjust their retirement saving plans. Our changes will ensure OAS is put on a sustainable path so it is there when Canadians need it.

As David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada and former deputy minister of finance said, “We are at least 15 years late” in dealing with this issue. He said, “it's been well understood for a long period of time”.

The demographic clock is ticking. There is no time to turn a blind eye to this issue. As legislators, it is our duty to look to the future and to take the necessary action now to ensure the long-term prosperity of our great nation.

This is not an issue of how much money will be saved, but rather of how we will ensure the viability of the OAS program in the long term. We want to ensure that these cherished social programs will be there for future generations when they need them most. Thanks to the changes we are proposing, Canadians can have confidence that OAS will continue to be sustainable for generations to come.

The facts on OAS are clear. The number of Canadians over the age of 65 will increase from 4.7 million to 9.3 million over the next 20 years. Consequently, the cost of the OAS program will increase from $36 billion per year in 2010 to $108 billion per year in 2030. OAS is the largest single program of the Government of Canada and it is funded 100% by annual tax revenues.

Let me be clear. The benefits that were paid this year to our deserving seniors came exclusively from the taxes that were collected this year. This is why the ratio of workers to retirees is critical to understanding why we must act now to ensure the sustainability of this program. In 1990, the ratio of working-age Canadians to the number of retired Canadians was roughly 5:1. Today, this ratio has shrunk to 4:1. By 2030 it will be reduced to only 2:1.

If we do not make changes, 21¢ of every tax dollar will be committed to the OAS program by 2030. That is a huge increase from the 13¢ of every tax dollar the program costs today. This would represent about one-fifth of every federal tax dollar to fund a single government program. This increase in cost would have dire effects on other government priorities, such as health, defence and public safety.

The only other option would be to significantly raise taxes, an option that would cripple Canada's international competitiveness and, by extension, our prosperity as a nation. It is our priority to ensure that the Government of Canada continues to have the fiscal room to make the right choices for all Canadians now and in the future. The time for action is now.

All members in this place know that government debt, inaction and complacency can choke an economy. We must not allow ourselves to be forced into a situation where we are faced with a choice between the country's financial security and our commitment to aging Canadians who have worked long and hard to build this great country. Our actions in the past amply demonstrate our commitment to seniors. I will give some examples of what our government has done for seniors.

We increased the guaranteed income supplement, commonly known as the GIS, in 2006 and again in 2007 for a total of 7% over and above regular indexation. In budget 2008, we also increased the GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500 so that GIS recipients who work could keep more of their hard-earned money. Under budget 2011, our government introduced the GIS top-up for those most in need. This represents an increase of $300 million annually.

As of July 2011, seniors who were eligible for GIS received additional annual benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This represents the biggest increase in the GIS in 25 years. It is improving the financial security of more than 680,000 low income seniors across Canada.

We also made it easier and more straightforward for older Canadians with low incomes to access the benefits by introducing automatic GIS renewal. All they need to do is file their annual income taxes. We are providing more tax relief for seniors and pensioners, saving them $2.3 billion per year.

The results are clear. The incidents of poverty among seniors in Canada has dropped from a rate of 29.4% in 1978 to 5.2% in 2009, one of the lowest rates of low income amongst OECD countries.

As I have just demonstrated, the Government of Canada is taking concrete steps to help seniors. We are committed to retirement security for Canadians and we have done much more than the previous Liberal government did to reinforce that security over the past few years.

It is precisely because we want to protect the old security program that we are introducing these modest changes. Nearly every OECD country has taken steps to ensure sustainability of their public pension systems, including the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden and Japan. We are not alone and we are not waiting to take action.

Unfortunately, all we are seeing is wilful ignorance from the members of the opposition. It is particularly concerning that the Liberals intend to support this motion. It was their own finance minister, Paul Martin, in the mid-1990s who proposed changes to the retirement income system to ensure the long-term sustainability of these benefits. Unfortunately, the Liberals lack the principle to ensure the long-term interest of our seniors and our country. That is why Canadians have rejected their failed approach and elected a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government.

We have a duty to our constituents and our country to rise above petty partisan politics and the short-term mindset of perpetual campaigning. This is why I reject the partisan nature of this motion and will be voting against it.

I urge my colleagues across the way to think beyond their narrow self-interest and do what is best for the long-term prosperity of our nation and to support the government's common sense approach by voting against this motion.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, people I care about who are not quite 50 and have children used to work for companies that have closed their doors. These people have had to find new jobs, jobs that often pay much less. They are very worried about how they are going to manage to save enough money for retirement when their children are heading to CEGEP and university.

I would like to know what the government is doing for them. They will not even be able to retire at 67 because they will not have had the means to prepare for retirement.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, of course I would like this program to be sustained. It is a key program. However, the fact is that the number of Canadians over 65 collecting OAS will increase from 4.7 million to 9.3 million in the coming years if we do not act. The fact is that this program will only be implemented in 11 years and will be fully implemented by 2029, 17 years from now, which is enough time to plan for the future.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would challenge the member on a number of his points. However, suffice it to say that at the end of the day there are hundreds of thousands Canadians across this land who are very upset with the government. They believe the government has deceived them.

In the last federal election, the Conservatives did not say a word about increasing the age from 65 to 67 and now they have brought down this policy that will have a profound impact on seniors across this land. Ultimately, it will lead to more seniors living in a poverty. This is something the Liberal Party does not support and we have taken the position that it should be reinstated back to the age of 65.

I wonder if the member will be bold enough to take this to the doors in the next election and say that the Conservatives want people to retire at 67 as opposed to 65. Based on the responses I get from my constituents and other Canadians, the government has made a bad mistake here. I would advise the member--

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the hon. member who Canadians are upset with. The result of last year tells us very clearly who Canadians were upset with.

The hon. member says that we are cutting from seniors. We are not cutting from seniors. The fact is that no reduction, not a penny, is being made to seniors' pensions.

An OECD study entitled, “Pensions at a Glance 2011”, states:

If life expectancy continues to increase, as most forecasts show, then significant increases in the effective retirement age are required to maintain control of the cost of pensions.

We are taking action to ensure this program is sustainable and remains sustainable.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

I am happy to speak today to the New Democratic opposition day motion to have this Parliament oppose the increase in age of eligibility for old age security.

As I travel throughout my riding and speak with constituents, there is no issue that is more important than the matter of income security for our seniors.

A caring society must take care of our seniors.

However, earlier this year, in front of billionaires in Switzerland, the Prime Minister first broke the news that the Conservatives would raise the age when Canadians can retire and receive their old age security from 65 to 67. Predictably, an uproar ensued. Is it any wonder the Prime Minister wanted an ocean between himself and some upset seniors?

Economists have flatly rejected the Conservatives' claim that today's OAS will become unsustainable. At the peak of the baby boom retirement wave, the share of GDP spent on OAS will increase by less than 1% over today's level and then decline again.

What this really is about is priorities. The Prime Minister will ask Canadians to work two more years without OAS to pay for his skewed Conservative priorities, including the failed F-35 fighter jets, his costly prison agenda and more corporate tax giveaways.

The Conservatives are playing with numbers and manufacturing a crisis. The stated rationale is that the change would put the OAS program on a sustainable path. The Conservatives are using a temporary increase in OAS and GIS costs as an excuse for permanently cutting back on a remarkably effective and affordable social program.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Officer says that Canada can afford to let its seniors retire at 65 with the country's old age security pension intact.

While old age security and guaranteed annual income expenditures will grow with more seniors, so, too, do government revenues. By 2030, the size of the economy will be more than double and budgetary revenues will double. The burden goes up and then goes down, so there is no crisis.

Do members know who is really concerned about these changes besides our seniors? Younger families are concerned. The Prime Minister is asking future generations to bear the weight of his upside down priorities.

We need to remember that the OAS is part of our heritage and it is sustainable.

The NDP has long championed public pensions. Founding members of the CCF, which later became the NDP, J.S. Woodsworth and Abraham Heaps, pressured the Liberal government of the day to introduce Canada's first public old age pension in 1927. Since then, we have pushed to make these plans more effective, as well as being instrumental in the introduction of the GIS and the CPP. The Canada pension plan is in good shape. Not only can we look after our seniors, we must.

The NDP wants to expand the CPP through an increase in premiums and raise the guaranteed income supplement for seniors living in poverty. We need to remember that the age of eligibility is an important tool to prevent poverty among the most vulnerable seniors, including many with disabilities. It means that 50,000 social assistance recipients would be forced to live in poverty for two more years if the age requirement were changed. The lost income to Canadian seniors from this change will be significant. It will mean a loss of roughly $30,000 to the poorest seniors over these two years and roughly $13,000 over these two years for Canadians who only receive OAS.

Currently there are nearly five million seniors collecting OAS and 1.7 million seniors collecting GIS. One in three Canadian seniors already receives the GIS.

I have spoken to the residents of a number of communities in the Nickel Belt riding. Their main concern, no matter what their age, was retirement security and pensions.

After three years of economic turmoil, the Conservative government increased the amount of old age security benefits by a measly $1.50 a year, despite the fact that 225,000 seniors live below the poverty line. The cost of living is rising and bills are piling up. Now that they are being forced to pay HST on heating oil, many seniors are no longer able to make ends meet.

The Prime Minister's plan is not only inappropriate, it is insulting. It is our seniors who, through their hard work, made Canada a wonderful country. They deserve to live with dignity. We can take care of our seniors and put measures in place for future retirees. There are solutions, but the Conservatives do not have the political will to implement them.

I am very concerned about the problems that seniors are facing, whether it be with regard to retirement security or access to home care or health care. I am determined to put forward concrete, practical and achievable solutions because our seniors deserve nothing less.

Let us be clear about the OAS and its importance to Canadians. Unlike the CPP or private savings, the OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on a retiree's previous labour market participation or participation in a registered pension or savings plan. In the words of the Canadian Centre for Police Alternatives, the OAS and GIS are the basic building blocks of the public universal system, which makes up the anti-poverty part of the system.

This delay in receiving OAS until age 67 will not only increase poverty in general, but will be particularly felt by senior women, especially those who are alone. Many senior women were not part of the paid labour force earlier in their lives. OAS and GIS are particularly important retirement instruments for them. Senior women are less likely than senior men to draw income from the CPP, private pension plans, RRSPs or employment earnings. New Democrats will not support the Conservatives' mismanagement of the economy, which will end up harming seniors. The eligibility age for OAS and GIS should be kept at age 65.

The OAS and GIS are quite sustainable and are actually projected to decrease in cost relative to the size of the economy in the long run. During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister hid his plans to cut support for seniors; however, the NDP has always been clear. We want to improve retirement pensions, not weaken them.

The NDP has met with seniors' groups to talk about the effects that this measure will have on seniors and to discuss ways to oppose the Conservatives' ill-considered cuts. The best option for Canadians would be to enhance the CPP, as the NDP has been saying for a long time. A modest increase in premiums would make it possible to fund the NDP's project, which involves doubling CPP benefits for all Canadian workers. This would provide real and sustainable retirement security for Canadians.

What is the agenda of the Conservatives? Why was this policy announced in Europe and not in the 2011 election campaign?

The Conservative 2011 election platform stated, “We will not cut transfer payments to individuals or to the provinces for essential things like health care, education and pensions”. On June 7, 2011, the Prime Minister stood in the House and said, “This government has been very clear. We will not cut pensions”. So much for the promise of the Conservatives. Not campaigning on this crucial issue is simply unacceptable, but the Conservatives not only hid their agenda, they misled Canadians by repeatedly claiming they would not cut pensions.

The real issue is whether, as a society, we care for our seniors. New Democrats believe this is a priority for Canada.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the demographics are clear. We have heard a tremendous amount of thoughtful comment today on the position of OAS and its sustainability long term.

Let me read a quote by David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, who stated:

—we’re at least 15 years late in getting started in raising that age of entitlement for CPP, OAS and the normal expectation as to how long people would work in the private sector with private-sector pension plans. That’s absolutely clear, and because labour participation rates will start to fall later this decade, we’re up against the wall.

This is not a partisan voice or a Conservative voice. This is someone of eminent qualification and respect. Would the member opposite please comment on David Dodge's comments.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I am not mistaken, I believe David Dodge was appointed by the Conservatives.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

James Bezan

Liberal, Liberal.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Anyway, the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer, and I stress independent, says the complete opposite. He says that OAS is quite sustainable. All of our research says the same thing, that it is quite sustainable as it is today. The only other voice, the so-called economist, the Prime Minister, says that it is not sustainable.

It is so easy for the Prime Minister to cut pensions when he and his front bench are not affected. If he wants to get serious about cutting pensions and raising the age of eligibility, he should start by cutting the pensions of his front bench members and raising the age where they can collect pensions.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we should be very clear on this. It was the Conservative government that in essence created this fictitious crisis. There is no crisis facing our seniors in terms of numbers and so forth. This is all something which the Conservatives have made up.

The bottom line is Canadians as a whole believe in our old age supplements and pensions and want the government to leave it alone, to leave it at age 65. There is no justified need to increase it from 65 to 67.

Tens of thousands of Canadians from across the country have signed petitions, emailed or called. They are trying to send a very strong message to the government, and that message is very simple: what it has done is wrong. They are asking the government to reduce it back to the way it was. There is no reason to increase it from 65 to 67.

I take it that my colleague to the right of me agrees with that assertion.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do agree with that statement. This is a crisis that has been forced upon us by the Conservative government.

If we want to talk about crises, maybe we should talk about the F-35s. We should talk about building prisons that we do not need. We should talk about $16 orange juice. Those are crises. However, the OAS is not a crisis. It is manufactured by the Conservatives.

I can assure my colleague that when the NDP becomes government in 2015, we will lower the age back to 65.