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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

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Service Canada; the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, Health; the hon. member for Beaches—East York, National Defence.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased not just to be able to follow the excellent speech by my colleague from Scarborough Southwest, but also to speak to the opposition motion, because this matter has been a serious concern for several months, since we unfortunately heard the news being announced abroad.

Since we began working on this file and talking to our constituents about it, I have had the pleasure of having a visit from two members of our caucus— the members for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin and Pierrefonds—Dollard—who have done an excellent job on this matter. They visited my riding to attend a town hall I organized on old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and raising the retirement age.

The government is claiming that the opposition is fearmongering. But our constituents are bringing their concerns to us and we want to voice them in the House.

In raising their concerns, our constituents made many very pertinent points that contradict the government's illogical arguments.

I will use this opportunity to share some of these points. As I represent these people, it is very important that I express their opinions.

I would first like to talk about the guaranteed income supplement, which is also affected. Very little has been said about it. However, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 affects not only old age security but the guaranteed income supplement as well. Although the GIS is an important tool for seniors, it is not adequately funded. According to the comments we received, many seniors live below the poverty line. As our late leader, Jack Layton, said so well during the last election campaign, it would cost very little to raise seniors' income above the poverty line by increasing the guaranteed income supplement. We have to bear this in mind.

There are several aspects to the guaranteed income supplement, but when my two colleagues and I met with Canadians in the beautiful city of Beloeil, they specifically spoke about the steps required to obtain the guaranteed income supplement. You do not receive it automatically. Paperwork must be completed. It is funny, because the government always says that it wants to cut back on paperwork. Yet, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out. You have to make sure that you check the right box and do not make a mistake, otherwise the process becomes very complicated. In some cases, constituents have to seek the help of their member.

What the people present highlighted may seem separate from the issue of raising the eligibility age, but on the contrary, it is very much related. The reason for this is simple: any discussion about the complications involved in accessing the guaranteed income supplement makes you realize that raising the eligibility age only adds to the problem. That is the message people were trying to get across. The situation is already not ideal for these people, and the NDP has for some time wanted to address a number of problems with the pension system. There are already a lot of problems, and the government simply wants to add more complications and more problems. My colleagues' and my constituents find that unacceptable.

Since the beginning of this debate, my colleagues have quite eloquently discussed the idea of a private pension plan. This issue was also raised at the forum. For example, it is perfectly commendable to invest in an RRSP. I congratulate those people who are able to do so, and I encourage them. However, it must be acknowledged that there are also people for whom this is impossible.

I would like to see my colleagues opposite tell the former employees of Nortel to invest in an RRSP. We saw what came of the situation and we know the losses that these employees suffered. I would like to see the Minister of Transport tell the former employees of Aveos to invest in an RRSP. They no longer have jobs. They lost their jobs, and we have seen this government's contempt for their plight. All of this is interrelated. This issue is very much relevant. This is what our constituents told us.

The government wants to raise the age of eligibility. It wants to make it harder for people to get old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, and at the same time, it is not helping people who need jobs invest in other ways that would enable them to retire.

I have other examples that people shared during the town hall, and if I have time, I will share them here. I would like to talk about another very important subject though. As a young MP, I feel that this is a very important issue.

There has been a lot of talk about people over the age of 50, and I would like to thank my colleague who made that point earlier today. Many people under the age of 54 will be affected by the government's policy, people who are now 53 or 54 and who are nearing retirement.

People who work as labourers—work than can be very physically demanding—cannot really remain in the workforce beyond the age of 65, if they even remain in the workforce that long to begin with. I do not want to reiterate all of the points my colleagues made because, as I said, they explained their points very well. However, some jobs are so hard on people's bodies that they have to retire earlier.

Other situations could force someone to retire at or before age 65, for example, certain family situations. Accordingly, further raising the age at which people can take advantage of the services they have paid for is a bad idea.

This is another important point. I do not wish to make too many asides, but this is an important aspect that some people pointed out to us. People have paid for this system, whether it be young people, people close to retirement or people who have already retired. They have invested in the system and are entitled to receive their fair share.

To come back to what I was saying, we are talking about people who are not in a position to invest in private pension plans for all kinds of reasons. As I said, it is great if people can, but that is not the case for everyone. The Government of Canada, however, should govern for everyone and take everyone's needs into account.

I did not hear any ideas about educating young people about investing in their retirement. They already have debt when they are in school. Students with debt are not thinking about investing in their retirement. They are thinking about completing their studies, finding a job and paying back their debt. Of course, those three things unfortunately take priority over investing in their retirement. These are things that the government should be taking into account, but unfortunately, it is not.

Some young people do not even have a job and are unable to do post-secondary studies. We have reiterated that a number of times in this House in our questions to the government, our speeches and our contributions to the debates. The youth unemployment rate is astronomical compared to that of the general population. If memory serves me correctly, the youth unemployment rate is twice as high, at roughly 14%. At that rate, it is safe to say retirement investment is not the priority for young people. Their priority is to find a job in order to have the means to invest in their future.

Even if they manage to find a job, there is a good chance that it will be part-time and pay minimum wage. I am not disparaging those jobs. They have their place. People have to try to find a job, but at the same time—we cannot deny it—when people work part-time, for minimum wage or both, they are not really thinking about how to invest in RRSPs. They are not really capable of doing so.

Even if they meet with a financial advisor at a bank, financial advisors do not accept clients who earn less than a certain amount. In that case, young people are unable to find the necessary help, help that the government is not willing to give them.

I am running out of time. I would just like to reiterate that I am very pleased to have been able to share what I was told at a town hall we organized on this issue in my riding of Chambly—Borduas. It was a very useful exercise. I am very pleased to have been able to share these concerns and those of future generations who will be extremely adversely affected by this ill-conceived policy of the government.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

London North Centre Ontario

Conservative

Susan Truppe ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite mentioned that this vow concerned them. It concerns us as well, which is why we need and must do something to protect OAS.

My constituents in London North Centre understand that we must do something now in to ensure that Canadians will be able to collect in future years.

“The fact of the matter is Canadians are getting older. Demands on the system are getting greater. The costs are going up”. That is from Patricia Croft, economist, The Bottom Line, CBC The National. She also said, “Just about every other G20 country has raised the retirement age. Why should we be any different?”

Could the member opposite indicate why he refuses to look at simple demographics and understand what is going on?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to experts like the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Before the members on the other side express their contempt, I would like to point out that very recently, in another matter, we saw that his calculations were not all that bad. They even support the calculations done by the Office of the Auditor General, which is highly respected. It was one of those officials who told us the system was sustainable. Actuarial calculations have also shown this.

If the system is sustainable, I am wondering why these changes need to be made. Certainly there is demographic change coming, but the experts said this system was still sustainable. I am sure those experts are educated and intelligent enough to take that demographic change into consideration. I therefore support my party’s position, which is the right position for our fellow Canadians.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Chambly—Borduas on his speech. It was very important. In particular, he has highlighted a serious problem of disparity between generations, which, as he pointed out very clearly, does not erase the problems associated with certain occupational groups.

Before I became a member of Parliament, I had the pleasure and honour of being a warehouse labourer for many years. I saw some of my fellow workers develop major physical problems. It was very easy to predict that some of my co-workers would be unable to keep going to the age of 60 or 65 if they continued doing the work they were doing.

Given that some of our young people are also going to be facing health problems that will prevent them from working until they are 60 or 65 or even 67 years old, I would like my colleague to talk a little more about this unfairness to certain generations, in spite of the fact that it has been widely shown that the system could have been sustainable.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

In fact, when we talk about health, the same thing applies to both young people and people closer to retirement.

It has been said, but I am going to say it again, because it is a very important point: when someone does physical labour, work that is physically very demanding, they are not always able to do it, if I refer to the things I heard said at the town hall held in my riding, which I mentioned earlier. I had the opportunity to speak with one of my constituents who had in fact worked at a job that was very demanding physically and who was no longer able to work and had to retire.

Just before retiring, he lost his job. Now he is looking for another job so he will be able to retire. The only jobs available to him are jobs that are also very demanding physically. I am not denigrating those jobs, as I said, and it is very important to point this out, but when someone over the age of 50 loses their job, is no longer able to make an adequate living, and is also approaching retirement age, it is absolutely appalling for the government to bring in a policy that is going to do them even more harm.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

I have the privilege of representing a wonderful riding, the riding of Etobicoke North, the community where I was born and raised. We are proudly one of the most multicultural ridings in the country and I invite everyone to experience our diversity, gifts and richness. Sadly, we also have our challenges. Recent statistics show that almost 20% of our residents are not yet citizens. Our families face family reunification challenges and language and job barriers. Almost 25% of our families are headed by single parents who work two and three jobs just to put food on the table. Almost 20% of our riding is engaged in manufacturing, the second highest percentage for the entire country.

I am sharing this because we need real investment in our families and in our community, particularly during tough economic times. What we do not need are broken promises.

The Prime Minister campaigned in the last election, saying that Conservatives would not cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions, and that was job number one. It is time for the Prime Minister to practice what he preaches and demonstrate to Canadians that he is committed to protecting their pensions.

Since being elected, no other issue, a move that would cost our seniors tens of thousands of dollars in support and impose additional financial burdens on the provinces, has caused such outrage in my community. Single moms ask how the Prime Minister can do this, that he promised not to touch pensions. They have children and have to work. How will they pay for their children's education? They have no money to put away for retirement. What will happen to them?

Humber College students are saying that once they graduate they will have no job, that it is not fair. They ask how the government came up with the number, that is just arbitrary. They ask why they are being treated differently by their country. Grandparents come in wanting to know why their grandchildren are being targeted by the Government of Canada.

It is not just my community. Canadians from coast to coast to coast are outraged and demand that the government take its hands off their pensions. Results of a poll for Global News indicated that 74% opposed reforming old age security and an astounding 81% of women were against the idea of raising the age of eligibility. Another survey showed 70% of Canadians felt that our country's social programs and seniors' benefits were not overly generous and 68% disagreed with increasing the retirement age.

Since the government is refusing to listen to the voices of Canadians, perhaps it will listen to a recent poll by CARP, which regularly asks its members how they would vote if an election were held tomorrow. The day after the Prime Minister's speech about pensions, support for the government dropped 10%.

I want to be very clear. The government raising the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 years of age is not necessary and it is not needed to maintain the sustainability of the old age pension. Let me explain.

Experts from the OECD, leading universities and the government itself have all said that our OAS program does not face major challenges and there is no pressing need for change.

Moreover, Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that the OAS is sustainable beyond the year 2082. Payments today cost 2.4% of our national GDP. When the baby boomers max out in 2031, that percentage will climb to 3.1%, but then drop off again. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's findings show, contrary to what the government has been saying, that there is no coming OAS crisis.

It has been said, “They're trying to create an artificial crisis when the figures clearly show the pension system is sustainable. I think the government lacks credibility”.

The reality is that Canada's pension system is in far better shape than the European's and there is no need to raise the retirement age. Edward Whitehouse who researches pension policy on behalf of the OECD and the World Bank found, “The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes”, and “there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pensions in the foreseeable future”.

Thomas Klassen, a York University political professor, who co-authored a 2010 report on Canada's pension system, said:

I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised...when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis...I think there’s got to be a lot more evidence that there’s a problem, and I don’t see that evidence.

Kevin Milligan, a University of British Columbia economics professor, is also of the view that there is no OAS crisis.

The House of Commons finance committee studied the pension issue in 2010. Mr. Whitehouse appeared as a witness and discussed his research. He said:

—Canada's pension system is looking good on the measures of adequacy. It is also looking good on measures of financial sustainability....Canada does not face the same financial sustainability problems as many other OECD member countries do, particularly in Europe and among the east Asian countries, Japan and Korea, whose populations are aging most rapidly.

At the end of its study, the committee's final report did not recommend raising the age of eligibility for OAS or reducing benefits.

In stark contrast to this evidence, the Prime Minister continues to repeat that Canada's aging population threatens social programs. Specifically he has said:

—everybody understands that there are demographic realities that do threaten the viability of these programs over the longer term. We will ensure that these programs are funded and viable for the future generations that will need them.

Yet again, research and evidence is being overshadowed. This is part of a growing theme with the government. Instead of listening to non-partisan experts, the government will do everything to shut down the facts that contradict ideology. The truth is that the Conservatives are trying to balance their books on the backs of Canadians and to pay for their extreme ideological agenda.

Professor Klassen said that he suspects the federal government has concluded that reducing OAS costs is an easy way to save money over the longer term because it can be done without negotiation with public sector unions.

Canadian workers have paid taxes their entire careers, expecting that these benefits will be available to them when they turn 65. Raising the age for OAS will mean that some seniors will have to stay longer in the workforce, whether they are physically up to it or not. More than half of old age pensions go out to seniors earning less than $25,000 a year. Seniors poverty rates could rise by one-third. That is just not right, not in a successful country like Canada.

Expert evidence is that OAS will not cause the federal budget to crash. Instead of pushing through something during this session of Parliament, the government should publish a white paper that lays out a problem that needs to be solved, along with a range of possible solutions that Canadians can consider.

My constituents in Etobicoke North want real options for improving their pension outlook for the next several decades. Only people who depend on OAS to stay out of poverty will have to put off retiring. Higher income earners, those whose OAS is already clawed back through their taxes will not be affected. I wonder if the government members really think this is a fair and equitable solution.

I am absolutely opposed to the idea of raising the OAS eligibility and find the unnecessary changes reprehensible. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has made it clear that the economy is strong and that this is a false crisis. Canadian voters were misled since the Conservatives never mentioned they would make cuts in the last election campaign.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the obligations we have in this chamber is to be factual in the statements we make. In my colleague's speech, she said that this initiative would cost our seniors tens of thousands of dollars of support. Nothing could be further from the truth. She knows that.

This initiative will not impact one senior by 1¢. This initiative is not even beginning to be implemented until 2023 and will not be fully implemented until 2029, 17 years to be able to plan adequately for future retirement.

I cannot understand, quite frankly, how the Liberals can support this NDP motion. Everybody knows that sooner or later other people's money runs out. There is just not enough to go around.

How long will the member ignore the reality that today we have four workers for every OAS recipient and by 2030, we will only have two? How can this possibly be sustainable for the long term?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 26th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am always factual. I always depend upon the evidence. I have stuck to the evidence from the OECD, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and some of our top university professors, who all say there is no crisis in this country. Let me give members some more evidence.

The well-respected Don Drummond, a former senior federal finance department official who is now advising the Ontario government, has said Ottawa will have to give Canadians “a hell of a lot of notice” before changing the eligibility year for OAS. He suggested a 20-year time period, if not 25 years. He said:

If you’re 47 years old today, your life cycle of earnings is kind of set right now by what you’ve already done. It’s not giving you a heck of a lot of time.

That is evidence.

This is about our future, our children and our grandchildren. The government is changing the rules.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I couldn't believe it when I heard the member from Kitchener tell seniors that at some point they are going to run out of spending other people's money, as though they were living off the taxpayer, that is, of course, unless one is the Minister of International Cooperation.

I would like to make a comparison. Her joyride in a limo at the Junos cost $5,000, which is more than many seniors get in the guaranteed income supplement. It is a sense of entitlement that a minister like that can hit taxpayers for $5,000 for one night at the Junos to pretend she is Eddie Van Halen. Meanwhile the Conservatives are telling seniors, “You know what? We're tired of you having other people's money.” What an insult to the seniors who paid into that system their whole lives.

I would like to hear my hon. colleague explain what she thinks of the Conservatives' sense of entitlement.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, I would like to repeat that these changes are absolutely reprehensible.

I recently attended an inaugural CARP meeting in Etobicoke. Over 300 people came out. They were worried about the cuts to OAS. They were worried about their children and their grandchildren. They were also worried about their health.

I have a question I would like to pose to the government, which inherited a legacy of balanced budgets, but took us into deficit before the recession ever hit and now is trying to pay off the deficit on the backs of Canadians. If the government really believes our aging population is a problem, why does it not recognize, for example, that dementia is one of our greatest health and economic threats? Currently it costs $15 billion a year and in 30 years it will cost $153 billion. Some 1.1 million Canadians will be affected. The World Health Organization is asking for every country to develop a nationwide dementia strategy. The government is not taking action because it is a cost. You are trying to make savings on the backs of Canadians.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before I resume debate, I just want to remind all hon. members that their comments ought to be directed at the Chair rather than at their colleagues in the House.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the most unpleasant traits of the Conservative government is its refusal to have an intelligent debate about the impact of its policies on Canadians. Instead of responding to objections, it carries on as though there were none. I will use the example of pensions, which is the subject we are discussing today. The Liberals will support the NDP motion.

The government says that because of the aging population, Canadians will no longer be able to afford the old age security program unless eligibility is gradually increased from 65 to 67. We should remember that this program provides $540 a month in benefits to recipients with an annual income of no more than $70,000. The Conservative government says that Canadian taxpayers are not rich enough to guarantee a monthly income of $540 to seniors who are 65 and 66. This is a very serious decision that the government is making. Forcing sick, tired or disadvantaged Canadians to work two more years for a government cheque of $540 a month is cruel, unless there are legitimate reasons for doing so.

The following is a series of questions that the government has not tried to answer today any more than it has previously. First question: why another broken promise? Aging is a well-known phenomenon. All the relevant information was available during the last election campaign. Why did the Conservatives and the Prime Minister hide their intentions? Can we have an answer?

Has someone in the government read the studies by the Chief Actuary, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and the OECD, which show that despite an aging Canadian population, funding for the old age security program is sustainable today and in the future? If a minister has read these studies, what does he or she think of them? What does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development think of them? And what about the finance minister? And the Prime Minister? Why does he refuse to ever answer this question? Canadians are entitled to an answer.

The government is always bandying about the same figures. The annual cost of old age security should increase from $36.5 billion to $108 billion by 2030. How much does the government hope to save by pushing the retirement age back to 67? According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the cost in 2031 will be $98 billion, regardless. If we accept the government's twisted logic, the retirement age would have to be pushed back not to 67 but to 70, even 75, to keep the cost of the program at around $40 billion. This logic is twisted because the government is not taking into account the growth of the economy. The government's figures need to be considered in relation to the size of the economy, which is also going to grow over the next two decades.

The Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada estimates that the cost of federal benefits for seniors, in terms of the gross domestic product, the GDP—which is currently at 2.2%—will peak at 3.1% of GDP in 2030, before dropping.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer essentially came up with the same figures: the cost of federal benefits for seniors will reach 3.2% in 2036, before dropping.

Does the government agree with those figures? If the cost of old age security is not expected to go up by more than a percentage point over the next 20 years relative to the size of our economy, then the program is sustainable in the long term.

The government keeps saying that other OECD countries have raised or plan to raise the retirement age and that Canada should therefore do the same. However, the government is ignoring the following argument: those countries have been more generous than Canada toward their seniors and have not engaged in the same kind of careful management and had the same foresight as we have. That is why those countries can no longer fund their public pension programs.

In Canada, the Liberal government had foresight and engaged in careful management. That is why the pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement will remain viable for years and decades to come.

In an oft-cited report entitled “Canada's retirement-income provision: An international perspective”, the OECD estimates that public spending on Canada's pensions amounts to 4.5% of GDP, which is much lower than the OECD average of 7.4% of GDP.

The OECD forecasts that in 2060, public spending on Canada's pensions will represent 6.2% of GDP. In relative terms, 50 years from now, benefits for seniors will cost Canadian taxpayers less than they cost the average OECD taxpayer now.

The OECD concludes that pension plan viability is not a major concern for Canada. It adds that no foreseeable financial pressure justifies raising the pension eligibility age:

--there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.

Are the Office of the Chief Actuary, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the OECD all wrong? If the government thinks so, then it should say so and prove it. Let the government stop evading the question. I challenge my Conservative colleagues to show that I am wrong about these studies, which they probably have not read. I invite them to read those studies.

We would like some answers, please. Canadians are entitled to some answers. Otherwise, Canadians will have to assume that the government knows it is wrong and wants to penalize Canadians by making them work two extra years in the future for no good reason.

The Liberal opposition is committed to taking a responsible approach and maintaining the OAS eligibility age at 65 through the sound governance and foresight that have characterized Liberal governments of the past and will characterize Liberal governments of the future.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the interesting thing about this debate is it concerns the demographics of the baby boom. The baby boom in Canada did not sneak up on us. We have seen it coming for decades. Knowing that the population is aging and will peak with people who were born in 1964, one of the first things the Conservative government did when it took office is it cut the GST by two percentage points. Each point took $6 billion of revenue out of the federal coffers. That is $12 billion of federal revenue gone. It then cut corporate income tax, which took another $10 billion a year at least. There were approximately $22 billion taken out of the $280 billion annual budget. The Conservatives did this knowing that we have, according to them, a looming demographic challenge.

In addition, last fall I challenged the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to increase the number of people we let into Canada every year from the current 250,000 to approximately 300,000 to deal with the demographics that we are facing, in that we will need more people to support older people. The government said no.

Knowing that there is a demographic challenge coming, why would the government refuse to increase the number of immigrants coming to our country to support retirees? Why would it cut federal revenues at a time when we need that money to support old age security? I would ask my hon. colleague to comment on whether he thinks that is an example of prudent fiscal management and sound government planning.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, even with the mismanagement of the Conservative government, the experts, the OECD, the PBO and the Chief Actuary, conclude that the OAS is sustainable for the coming decades. We do not need to editorialize very much about the bad management of the Conservatives. The OAS remains sustainable, thanks to the sound and prudent management of the Liberals. That is what we did. We made sure that the OAS would remain sustainable for the future for Canadians.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the comments from the opposition today. I have a quote from David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada. He said:

--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....

He also said:

I would just hope that not everybody on the opposition side of the House is crazy. There’s lots of people there that understand full well that there’s a big problem here.

My question for the member opposite is, is he crazy or is he saying that the former governor of the Bank of Canada is wrong?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

What is very sad, Mr. Speaker, is that we have had a daylong debate and the Conservatives quoted only one expert. It is always the same quote.

They are parroting the same quote.

This quote is not substantiated by a study. It is the opinion of somebody we all respect but it is only an opinion.

Is the Conservative government telling Canadians that it will penalize their future on the basis of one quote by one expert when my Liberal colleagues, my NDP colleagues and even the Green Party have an avalanche of studies? Everybody has quoted a lot of experts and studies but the Conservatives have only one quote and they repeat it again and again.

I would ask my colleague to read the OECD study and--

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order because I cannot let this pass. We have been quoting experts all afternoon, not just one.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

That is a point of debate rather than a point of order.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I challenge my colleague to quote these studies and table them in the House.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East.

I will begin by acknowledging the good work that the member for London—Fanshawe has done in bringing this matter before the House for a very serious and timely debate. The motion we are debating today reads:

That this House reject the government's plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years even though the current system is financially sustainable.

I believe it is very important for us to talk about this and to raise the issue with all Canadians about where the government is taking the future of our country. The government says that current seniors will not be affected but it fails to mention that seniors in 2023 will absolutely be affected.

I will focus on my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, which is a very beautiful place to live. It is also a very attractive place for seniors because in parts of my riding housing has been affordable up until this point and many good services are available to seniors. We have a higher than provincial average of seniors living in Nanaimo—Cowichan. Because of that, over the last several weeks I have held a series of round tables and panel discussions. I want to read into the record some of the comments that seniors had from one end of my riding to the other.

Before I do that, one of the things that was raised by seniors in the discussions was that the government had the wrong focus in wanting to raise the age of eligibility to collect old age security and guaranteed income supplement from 65 to 67. They say that the government should instead be focusing on other priorities. For example, the fact that today the maximum allowable amount of old age security and GIS combined is $15,270. In many parts of the country, and in my riding in particular, it is very difficult to actually live on that amount of money given the rising costs of fuel, food and all the other expenses.

I want to take members on a tour through my riding. In February, we had a round table in Lake Cowichan and many seniors, caregivers, family members and business people attended. I will read just a couple of the comments that came out of this.

With regard to pensions, seniors said that many seniors were asset rich and cash poor, meaning that they often had a house and property but very little income. In fact, what income they had was eaten up by the fact that they had to pay for maintenance and taxes and often were forced to sell their homes.

They also said that communities needed increased accessibility for those with mobility challenges. There could be joint co-operation between all levels of government to put into place adequate sidewalk ramps and automatic doors to businesses. For example, they had suggestions, not just criticisms. They suggested a retrofit tax credit or grant to business owners to continue to keep businesses accessible to seniors and their families.

They also reminded us that seniors are actually the boomerang generation in this day and age. Children are coming back to live with their parents because they cannot get adequate jobs. Of course, the NDP has a long history of calling on a job strategy that creates liveable wage jobs in our country.

The people of Lake Cowichan also said that it was no surprise that demographics were changing. Everyone in this House has known that the baby boomers are aging but all levels of government have not adequately planned for supporting a growing senior population.

We had another round table in Chemainus in February where the seniors pointed out that overlapping federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions leads to complications in providing health care for seniors. Although health districts do coincide with regional district boundaries, they do not match up with federal government boundaries. Seniors often access health care services from a number of different communities that are not connected. This leads to breakdowns in communications and unnecessary confusion and delays. That is a very important issue because by the time seniors reach out for help they are often facing a crisis. We need to coordinate those services that are available and the information that is available for seniors.

In my riding in British Columbia, we had a serious flood a couple of years back and one of the things the seniors pointed out was that our emergency infrastructure, as it relates to seniors, was inadequate. There are few mechanisms in place to help seniors in the case of a natural disaster or even extreme weather conditions. A number of years ago, we ended up with 48 inches of snow over a couple of days and seniors were trapped in their homes.

In Chemainus, seniors pointed out that we needed to look at existing infrastructure and volunteer resources in the community and consider how we could build on this work to better serve the needs of seniors. It may be easier to build it within existing organizations but pointed out the ongoing cuts that the federal government has made to organizations that support volunteer organizations.

In Ladysmith in March, we had a lively discussion around transportation. However, the seniors there pointed out that, although the government touts that there are tax credits available, many seniors do not pay taxes because they do not have enough income. They suggested that perhaps the government might want to look at the livability, the amount of old age security, GIS, CPP to which people have access. They also pointed out that it becomes a challenge for a couple with regard to housing when one of them has to move in to long-term care and the other individual is left to maintain the home, because a large percentage of the couple's income may be used to pay for long-term care.

Mill Bay Shawnigan Lake is another very beautiful part of the south end of my community. Seniors there pointed out that seniors' poverty was on the rise and was expected to continue on an upward trend. They said that OAS rates have not kept pace with the cost of living. Many seniors do not have private pensions but rather rely on our public retirement system for their retirement security, which is inadequate.

One problem they identified and which others have spoken about is that the federal government does not have a standard measure of poverty. Depending on which day of the week it is, we will have a different discussion, whether it is low income cut-off or some other measure. So it allows us not to have a consistent conversation.

They also say that many seniors are forced to retire due to health problems or disabilities without adequate financial support. This also contributes to their concerns about raising the old age security age from 65 to 67.

They also say that old age security and GIS payments are spent in the community in which they are paid. If people live in Shawnigan Lake Mill Bay, the odds are they are shopping in the local grocery stores with their old age security and GIS because they do not have transportation to go to any other part of the community.

In Gabriola, another beautiful part, they point out that there is no public transportation and that seniors are at the mercy of their neighbours and friends to drive them around. They often have to go off-island to get services. They also point out that it is very difficult on the money they get to afford medical expenses like glasses, food and dental care. They say that any potential changes to old age security not only affects seniors but also young people in terms of finding employment because older workers will be forced to continue to work longer even though their health may be an impediment to that. They also say that the gap between the rich and poor is a fundamental issue, which is exacerbated by government policies. It is up to people to hold their governments accountable and seniors should not be expected to move away from their communities, where they have often lived their entire adult lives, in order to access services.

In Duncan in March, we had another round table where we talked about the fact that rental housing affordability was a very serious problem for many seniors. In parts of my riding, very little rental housing has been built for a number of years.

They also pointed out that 80% of elder care was provided by families and friends. It is estimated that $25 billion worth of care is provided by families. However, there is a real cost to this. It is not just these volunteer hours. The fact that people are doing caregiving duties also means that sometimes they need to reduce their own work hours, which will ultimately affect their pension. This is a loss of income for poorer families. There is increasing pressure on families to do this elder care because there are not other resources available. Sixty-one percent of family caregivers say that they experience stress as a result of their caregiving duties and stress has been linked to a number of other health problems.

In Nanaimo, we talk a lot about the fact that respite care, residential care and other services are not available, as well as transportation.

There are recurring themes throughout this. However, the government's response to dealing with our aging population is to change the age of when we can collect pensions, instead of dealing with things like health care, housing, adequate pension incomes and with all of the other issues that are facing seniors and their families.

I did not have time to talk about the fact that seniors are often the caregivers of their grandchildren because their families are in dire financial straits.

If the government is serious about doing something for seniors, it needs to address some of these serious issues that seniors across this country and in Nanaimo—Cowichan are talking about.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I noted that the NDP opposition motion today conveniently left out the fact that the proposed changes to the OAS will not be implemented until 2023, in the initial stage, and not fully implemented until 2029.

I heard my colleague indicate that she conducted a number of round tables throughout her riding to hear from seniors. I ask if she was careful to point out to those seniors that these projected changes to the OAS will not affect any current seniors or anyone who is approaching that, presently 54 years of age or older. Has she taken the time to point out that these changes will not affect the seniors who she was meeting with at that time?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely did point that out to my constituents, and I mentioned it in my speech. What the seniors said is that the government is penalizing young people because seniors would have to stay in the workforce two additional years, from age 65 to age 67, before they retire. That would mean younger people cannot move into some of those other positions.

Seniors have also pointed out the fact that this is a downloading to the provinces. What they see happening is that it would put an increasing tax burden on the province's workers because they will have to pick up the costs. What happens to those seniors who at age 65 cannot work any longer and have to go onto the income assistance system? That is an extra cost to the province. The young people who are working in the province of British Columbia will have to contribute to those costs.

Of course I brought it up. That is the responsible thing to do.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech and the way she mapped out the realities for seniors in Canada today.

Sometimes I wonder if the members opposite live in a pleasantville world where seniors have all sorts of disposable cash to shoot around and therefore we can bump up the eligibility for OAS.

We have a serious issue in Canada around affordability, but we also have a serious issue with the current government, which cannot seem to get its fiscal issues together.

My hon. colleague has mapped out and provided economic reasons as to why this plan absolutely does not make sense. For a modest increase in premiums, we could double CPP.

Could my hon. colleague could give us a sense of some alternatives to what has been proposed here?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government will often talk about the need to increase productivity in this country. We would absolutely agree. If it is interested in increasing productivity, one of the measures it might want to look at is the kind of support it provides to caregiver families, because families who are having to look after aging parents are having to take time off work when mom or dad needs to go into the hospital or get to a medical appointment. They are reducing their work hours because they simply do not have the funds or resources available to utilize services such as respite care. We know it is far more productive and efficient to keep seniors in their homes longer. Providing home support to seniors actually affects the acute care system because there are many seniors taking up acute care beds because they cannot stay in their own homes. Therefore, we could actually improve economic productivity by looking after the caregivers. We could reduce health care costs by taking seniors out of the acute care beds.

There are a lot of answers out there if the government would only pay attention to the seniors who brought forth some very good suggestions as solutions.