Mr. Speaker, it is with regret and a lot of bitterness that I rise today to denounce the Conservatives' plan to increase the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement from 65 to 67 years of age, even though the plan is financially viable.
I said that I am rising with regret because, just like us, the majority of Canadians believe that the Conservatives should never have started this debate. On March 29, when the 2012 budget was tabled, the government sparked shockwaves among the elderly and Canadian workers; yes, shockwaves, nothing less.
The Conservatives are using a temporary rise in the cost of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs as an excuse to make cutbacks in this remarkably effective, affordable, and essential social program.
The Conservatives’ plan is to gradually increase the eligibility age from 65 to 67 from 2023. The measure will be fully implemented by January 2029. Thus, on March 29, as they watched this government deliver an irresponsible budget, Canadians aged 54 and under learned that, after having worked for several decades for the benefit of our country, they will have to wait two long years more before being able to think about a well deserved retirement.
The NDP has been standing up for these public pension plans for a long time. Early last century the CCF, the NDP's predecessor, put ongoing pressure on all governments of the day and got them to introduce the very first public old age pension plan in Canada in 1927. Since that time, we have fought tirelessly to make this plan more effective, and we played a key role in getting the guaranteed income supplement and the Canada pension plan adopted.
Currently, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are major sources of income for the elderly, especially women. Approximately 5 million seniors receive old age security benefits and 1.7 million seniors receive the guaranteed income supplement. For approximately 510,000 seniors, that is 12% of Canada’s elderly, the old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits account for over 75% of their total income. Imagine if you were suddenly deprived of 75% of your income; I do not know how you would get by.
Women account for 80% of the people who derive over 75% of their total income from the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs.
If they did not have access to old age security benefits and the guaranteed income supplement, approximately 100,000 newly-retired Canadian seniors would slip below the poverty line. The poverty rate for seniors would more than quadruple, increasing from 6% to 25%.
Is that really what the Conservatives want for our seniors? Is that how they reward the people who built our nation? I would really like to know. That is not what Canadians want and it is not what we are all about. The men and women of this country want their seniors to have decent living conditions.
That is not a priority for the Conservatives. They prefer to increase the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement by two years and erode the living conditions of our seniors.
Therefore, we must ask the following questions: how will 65-year-olds survive in 2029? Why are the Conservatives increasing the age of eligibility? According to their arguments, the increase will make the old age security program sustainable. However, that is false.
Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are very viable. In fact, it is expected that the cost of these programs will diminish in the long term relative to the size of the economy.
Professor Thomas Klassen of York University is an expert in pension plans and retirement. He is one of the many experts who do not agree with the change in the eligibility age. He said, “I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised a few days ago when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis...there’s got to be a lot more evidence that there’s a problem, and I don’t see that evidence.”
Let us talk about the evidence. The government's most recent actuarial report indicates that old age security and the guaranteed income supplement represented 2.7% of GDP in 2011. By 2030 it will be 3.16%, but then it will fall to 2.3% of GDP in 2060, which is below the current percentage.
The gradual increase in the costs of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs until 2030 is due to the baby boomers retiring. We all know this; it is no surprise to anyone. All of the actuarial reports on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement have been saying it since 1988. I was three years old; that is a long time ago. Some of my colleagues here were not even born yet.
The Conservatives therefore cannot claim not to have been aware of these rising costs during the 2011 election campaign. That was one year ago.
The Conservatives, moreover, never addressed that subject during the election campaign. No Conservative candidate ever said anything about wanting to make seniors work two more years in order to survive. Yes, that is what I said: to survive.
The loss of income resulting from the Conservatives’ plan to raise the eligibility age will be a deciding factor in how Canadian seniors are to live. It will result in losses of about $30,000 a year for the poorest seniors over those two years, and about $13,000 over two years for Canadians who receive only old age security.
The Conservatives do not think this is a problem, because they think Canadians just have to work longer.
Some workers are physically unable to continue working after a certain age.
Twenty-five percent of retired people say they retired for health reasons. For Canadians with an annual income under $20,000, that proportion rises to 38%.
That means that about 25% of seniors retire involuntarily. Those Canadians are quite simply not able to work two more years.
What the government is telling us with this insane plan is that the poorest and most vulnerable Canadians will have to work longer than the others, in spite of their health problems or their physical condition.
A few days before the budget that sealed the fate of workers under the age of 54 was tabled, I held a public forum in my riding on the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs with my colleagues, the members for Pierrefonds—Dollard and Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who at that time were the critics for seniors and pensions. I met with more than 70 worried people, very worried people. They included young and not-so-young people, all of them upset about what the Conservatives intend to do. At that point, however, there was still hope.
In my riding, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, there are a lot of jobs in agriculture and industry. Those jobs are physically very demanding. We cannot ask workers who are 65 years old, who have worked at physically demanding jobs all their lives, to keep working two years longer before they are eligible for a program they are entitled to and have contributed to all their lives.
One person especially touched me when he told me how sometimes it was not the will to work that was missing, it was the body that had limitations. That man and all the people who were there said they believed that other solutions could have been considered, so as not to keep creating a gulf between rich and poor, as the Conservatives are so fond of doing.
Those people, like the financial experts, are asking the Conservatives to rethink their position on raising the age of eligibility.
But the Conservatives do not listen to advice they do not like, and they do not listen to Canadians.
That is why the NDP will continue to stand up so that Canadians of all ages—and yes, I am saying all ages—can live with dignity.