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.