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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

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, what I voted against was a bad budget.

That is what we are looking at as we look at a package of priorities throughout the budget, and that is what I did not support. This budget does not serve Canadians; in fact, the Conservatives' priorities are to spend billions of dollars on corporate tax giveaways while slashing services that families rely on in Canada. That is what I voted against, and that is what I see happening here in terms of the change to OAS eligibility from age 65 to age 67. That is what Canadians are speaking to me about through letters, through emails and through talking to me. That is what their concerns are. This is a question of priorities. This is a question that Canadians feel the Conservatives have not got right.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 26th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, we are talking about seniors, which is a good thing. However, the government is attacking future generations instead. Our youth are already paying more for their education and housing and to provide for their families, and now their future is being jeopardized.

Young people have been taken hostage by this government. They see how the government is destroying Canadians' social safety net little by little and ensuring that those who have enjoyed benefits that have been in place for decades will be the last to do so. The fair Canada we have known is no more. The message is clear.

I would ask my hon. colleague what we can say to our youth, who will have to work longer to pay for this slashing of the social safety net.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague raises two questions there. Besides the message, it is also the consultation.

The government has not consulted with Canadians. It has definitely not listened. Experts commissioned by the government to review the OAS told the Conservatives that there is no crisis with the current public pension and that it is sustainable, but the Conservatives now are planning to slash the OAS. It is a very unfortunate message that we will have to tell Canadians: they are now going to have to work longer and continue to work harder before they get the pension that they have worked for and contributed into all their lives. This is now going to be a less affordable situation for very many Canadians. As the Canadians who wrote into me are saying, they may have to choose between health care and the medications or food they need just to survive.

That is a very unfortunate message, and it is not the right message that we should be delivering to seniors, the people who built Canada.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I do not doubt that the member is getting calls and contacts from people about this concern. We hear again that we are talking about seniors. In fact, we are not talking about seniors today, but about future generations. Do members not see that it is our responsibility to encourage them and help them understand that we are planning for their future? This is not ideological; it is protecting their future.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, this is affecting people 54 years of age and under, who are heading into retirement very soon. This is something governments knew was coming. This is not happening today; we have known about the demographic shift for decades.

The real issue is priorities. It is a question of priorities. Many Canadians are telling me that the Conservative government does not have the same set of priorities that they feel strongly about. That is what they want to see in their pension plan, in budgets and in the priorities of Canada.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take a quick second to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam for his exquisite pronunciation of my riding's name.

I rise today in this House to defend the rights of my citizens in Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel—and I did say rights—because, on this side of the House, we insist that retiring with dignity is a right. The consequences of the Conservatives' attacks on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement will seriously harm my constituents' ability to enjoy this right.

This House represents a vast country. We have many rural ridings that are feeling the effects of a struggling economy. A large number of jobs are disappearing from rural areas and so are our young people, because of the lack of professional jobs. These ridings often include isolated places where it is difficult to access health services and the population is aging fast.

As MPs, we should not be reducing the deficit by stealing Canadians' pensions. In my riding, the average annual net income is $17,000, and it continues to decrease because of the recent economic problems in Canada and abroad.

Thus, my constituents would benefit the most from old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Furthermore, we owe it to them. Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are the cornerstones of our public pension system because they provide guaranteed measures to combat poverty.

Not only are the Conservatives stealing two years of future pension from Canadians but they are also targeting the most vulnerable. What is more, they are doing it for reasons that do not make any sense. Canada's old age security program is not experiencing a financial crisis. The latest actuarial report from the government indicates that the OAS and GIS represented 2.37% of the GDP in 2011. This percentage will experience a minimal increase to 3.16% in 2030 but will then drop below the current level to 2.35% of the GDP in 2060, which shows that there is no long-term viability problem for those affected by these changes.

It has been strongly established that the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs are effective and economically sound. Clearly, the government's statements are unfounded. Its position is not supported by any statistics or serious research. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are making cuts to the government agencies that could provide a solid basis for decision making.

It is true that the population of Quebec and Canada is aging. As I said before, this phenomenon is even more apparent in my riding. In my riding, in the Argenteuil and Papineau regions for example, right now, the median age is 10 years higher than in the rest of Quebec. What is more, this statistic is expected to continue to increase until 2026. Yet, growing older is not a crime. The people who will be retiring soon have worked just as hard as those in previous generations. They deserve a decent retirement at the very least.

The fact that the population is aging does not make the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs unsustainable. The government is fearmongering despite the fact that there is no causal link between the two factors. The facts tell us two things: first, the cost of the old age security program and the guaranteed income supplement is expected to drop in the long term; and second, the cost of poverty among seniors is astronomical, from both an economic and social perspective.

Like many of this government's austerity measures, this attack on the most vulnerable Canadians is despicable. In fact, this budget cut is attacking those who are most vulnerable for a number of reasons: age, illness, poverty and disability.

The middle class and the less fortunate will be hit hardest by this because they are the ones having trouble making ends meet. They cannot afford to save more money.

They work at physically demanding jobs, and because their jobs are so difficult, they are unlikely to work until they are 67. Quebeckers and Canadians with chronic illness or disabilities will also suffer because they cannot always work past normal retirement age.

The median income in Papineau and Argenteuil is 10% to 20% lower than in the rest of Quebec, but household size is about the same. Goodies for big business and cuts to economic development services will not help my constituents. They are farmers and small business people who dedicate their lives to their work, help create jobs and diversify my region's economy. Old age security is the least we owe them.

I do not understand how the Conservatives can play at sorcerer's apprentice with social programs that work. Reputable economists across Canada agree that OAS and the GIS go a long way toward helping seniors escape poverty, but that more should be done.

We also know that people living below the poverty line are more likely to be victimized. All of the evidence shows that poverty makes people more vulnerable to violence, abuse and neglect. The government claims that it takes crime against seniors seriously. But its actions on this issue suggest otherwise.

The modest income guaranteed by the public system is a more effective defence against abuse than the expensive punitive measures that the government wants to introduce. Having to wait two more years for a public pension means two more years of uncertainty and risk for these vulnerable seniors.

In closing, I would like to congratulate my colleague from London—Fanshawe and my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard for their work on this file. I would also like to thank my colleague from London—Fanshawe for moving today's motion. She is a heroic defender of Canada's seniors, and I truly appreciate her work.

I urge all members of the House to realize that we are on the brink of doing irreparable damage to the financial security of seniors in Quebec and Canada. I truly hope that all members will support this motion on behalf of their constituents who depend on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement in their later years.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, in her speech, my hon. colleague mentioned that these changes will affect the most vulnerable Canadians. Would she comment on how these changes will impact those vulnerable Canadians and how Canada's New Democrats would approach this situation in terms of a strong pension plan?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question gives me the opportunity to say that if elected to government in 2015, New Democrats would return the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS to 65 years. Instead of cutting services and spending billions on corporate giveaways, New Democrats would use practical affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not making it more restrictive. The NDP has long argued that a better option for Canadians is to expand the CPP.

My colleague also asked about who would be affected, who are the most vulnerable. I spoke about my constituents in general, those who are hard workers, those who are disabled, those who live in poverty, but also specifically, we are talking about women. OAS and GIS are important sources of income for female seniors. More than half of the income for 1.2 million seniors, or 28% of seniors, comes from OAS and GIS, but for female seniors it is 38%. That is because women are not necessarily in the workforce as long as men are. Some mothers stay home to take care of their children. As a result, this affects the benefits women receive. They also live longer. They will be experiencing greater poverty as a result.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the debate all morning. Some New Democrat MPs have quoted from letters and so on from Canadians across the country.

The question I had as I was listening to them was whether they are correcting the record and actually telling people the whole story. Some people have some misconceptions. Some of them are 65 or 67 years of age right now. Those people would not lose any benefits and yet they were of the understanding that this would affect them.

Do New Democrats actually tell people the whole story, that we are actually protecting the system for young people who will be looking to it for some security?

The Institute for Public Sector Accountability stated:

The problem remains, and may get worse as the demographics of the country change.

For those in the workforce and coming into the plan, they too must understand the new realities and make greater financial sacrifices today for their long term retirement benefits.

We have to do the responsible thing. There is an obligation on the part of members on the opposite side to tell Canadians the whole truth.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my colleague noticed, but I am a young Canadian. I am part of the generation that is supposedly being helped by these changes.

I have news for the Conservatives. They claim that these changes are necessary to ensure the pension system is viable for future generations, such as myself. However, it is quite to the contrary. It will hurt my generation.

Young Canadians today not only are facing record high levels of unemployment, which tends to reduce income levels later in life as well, but they are also facing extremely high levels of student debt and rising housing costs. This is eating up most of their savings which means they cannot put away extra money for their retirement.

I would also point out that it is the Conservatives who are misleading Canadians, because they are saying that it is not sustainable over the long term. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer indicated that OAS and GIS are entirely sustainable in their current forms.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Richmond B.C.

Conservative

Alice Wong ConservativeMinister of State (Seniors)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nepean—Carleton.

I rise today to respond to the motion put forth by the member for London—Fanshawe. We oppose this motion.

It is imperative to reiterate some facts and be clear about them.

No current recipients of old age security will see any reduction in their benefits because of these proposed changes. These changes will gradually increase the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67 years starting in 2023 with full implementation by 2029. This means our government is giving Canadians up to 17 years to plan and adjust accordingly.

Unfortunately, it appears that members opposite continue to take a head in the sand approach to the whole issue of OAS sustainability.

Our Conservative government is acting now to ensure the sustainability of OAS for future generations, for our children and our grandchildren. That is why we have come up with a reasonable plan to ensure all Canadians can continue to count on OAS for a more secure retirement future.

I do not believe anyone can dispute that our government is committed to ensuring seniors have the highest possible quality of life. I am proud of the work we have done to strengthen Canada's retirement income system, and more broadly to help address issues that matter to seniors.

As a result of actions taken by our government, seniors and pensioners will receive $2.5 billion in additional targeted tax relief this fiscal year. We have introduced pension income splitting and have increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs. As a result of these actions, 380,000 seniors have been removed completely from the tax rolls. What does this really mean to the seniors I have met across this country? It means that more money will go directly into their own pockets to spend or save as they see fit.

Sadly, if it were up to the opposition parties, they would have raised taxes on all seniors, not reduced them. Whether it was a job-killing carbon tax, an increase in the GST or any number of other tax increase proposals put forward by the opposition parties, one thing is clear: if either the NDP or the Liberal Party were in power, the cost of living for Canada's seniors would be higher.

Enough of pointing out the obvious, negative, damaging effects the opposition would inflict on Canada's seniors if they were in power; rather, I would like to continue the discussion on how our government has delivered, and will continue to deliver, for seniors.

We have strengthened the support of the retirement income system and invested in a GIS top-up benefit for Canada's most vulnerable seniors. In fact, it was the single largest increase to the GIS in over 25 years. What did the opposition do? Once again both parties voted against it. In total, this top-up provided additional annual benefits for more than 680,000 low income seniors.

Going back a little further, in budget 2008 we increased the amount that can be earned before the GIS is reduced to $3,500, so that recipients can keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in GIS benefits. Once again, as they have been known to do, almost as if they were in a coalition, both parties voted against this measure.

The CPP was modernized in 2009 to make it more flexible for those transitioning out of the workforce and to better reflect the way Canadians currently live, work and retire.

We built a better framework for federally regulated registered pension plans, including ensuring that an employer fully funds benefits, even if the pension plan is terminated. We expanded pension options with the introduction of pooled registered pension plans for millions of Canadians who have not previously had access to a large-scale, low-cost, professionally administered company pension plan.

Shifting gears for a moment, I would also like to discuss what many consider to be the greatest policy innovation in a generation to help Canadians save for their retirement, the tax-free savings account, TFSA, which we introduced in budget 2008. I do not think I need to tell members which way the NDP voted, but I will anyway. That is right. Again, the NDP voted against it. That is shameful because the TFSA is particularly beneficial to Canada's seniors, as withdrawals from a TFSA do not affect income supports such as the age credit or OAS and GIS benefits. The TFSA also benefits seniors by giving them a savings vehicle to meet their ongoing savings needs.

As well, there have been several other initiatives that have demonstrated our support for seniors. We have eliminated the mandatory retirement age for federally regulated workers unless there is a bona fide occupational requirement. This allows the choice for Canadians to decide how long they wish to remain active in the workforce. We have also provided $400 million over two years for the construction of new housing units for low-income seniors. Since 2006, we have provided $220 million into the targeted initiative for older workers. This program is a federal-provincial-territorial employment program that provides a range of employment services for unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities. I am proud to report that about 75% of older workers who participate in the TIOW go on to find new employment. That is something we can be proud of.

I have just listed the unprecedented support our government has given to seniors since 2006. Let me highlight some other positive changes that were announced in our most recent budget. We announced our government will be working with a third-quarter project to assist seniors who are looking for jobs. For example, our government has for the first time introduced proactive enrolment for OAS benefits. These changes, which will start in 2013, will reduce the obligation of many seniors to apply for benefits and help ensure seniors receive the benefits they deserve.

Unfortunately, we have heard the same fearmongering and misinformation from the opposition about the sustainability of the OAS. Whether it be through misleading and confusing op-eds sent to local newspapers or partisan mail-outs and petitions that misrepresent the facts, the opposition parties have engaged in a reckless campaign of misinformation aimed at scoring cheap political points. We have heard a lot of questions about the savings associated with the proposal. Such questions miss the point entirely. We are taking these actions to ensure the survival of this benefit for future generations. We are implementing these measures to give predictability and certainty to those preparing for their retirement.

It is particularly hypocritical of the Liberal Party to be grandstanding on such an issue. This was the same matter that Paul Martin attempted to change in the mid-1990s to ensure the sustainability of this benefit. Unfortunately, the Liberals lacked the conviction to show real leadership and decided to pass the buck to a future generation and a future government to make the tough choices in the long-term interests of our nation. It is no surprise that Canadians elected a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government.

I would ask my hon. colleagues across the way to put aside their partisan blinders and to think of the long-term sustainability of this program. There is a greater interest than their perceived short-term political gain in considering this issue.

We need to act now to provide Canadians the certainty they need to plan for their retirements. We have heard from many private sector economists and the chief actuary, as well as pension and financial experts alike. They agree that the increased demand of a rapidly aging population is going to threaten the sustainability of the old age security program.

I would ask opposition parties to get their heads out of the sand and to stop their wilful ignorance of the very real challenges that face our nation because of an aging population and to join with the government in voting against the motion.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just have one question. Did the government consult the provinces before changing the age to 67? We all know that the provinces will have to cope with the two years that seniors are not going to receive money.

For now, the economic burden will be downloaded onto the provinces and they will have to deal with it. The money that this government refuses to invest for seniors will have to be invested by the provinces.

Why is this government not assuming its responsibilities, instead of chucking them onto the provinces?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Conservative Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is exactly what the government has done. We have already made it clear in our budget that any net loss that might incur to provinces and territories because of the changes will be compensated by our government.

There are 11 years to discuss this. We will keep working on this in the next provincial and federal government meetings.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has suggested that she has solid information and knowledge of the government's intentions with regard to the old age security program and the GIS program. She has suggested there will be no changes to any current recipient.

I would like to ask the honourable member this, since she has personal and intimate knowledge of the government's intentions. The current policy of allowing the optioning of registered retirement income funds for the purposes of the calculation of GIS has currently been deemed illegal by the Tax Court of Canada. It has said that within the Old Age Security Act there are no provisions to allow for the optioning of RRIF income, yet the government continues to do so. It has suggested that if the government were to ban this practice, according to policy, it would be negatively impacting current recipients of old age security and GIS benefits.

Is it the intention of the Government of Canada to amend the Old Age Security Act to allow what it is currently doing under policy to occur statutorily by an amendment to the Old Age Security Act to allow the optioning of RRIF income for the purposes of the calculation of eligibility to the GIS program?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Conservative Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the question we are debating right now is whether we should extend the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. That is what we are debating right now.

Let us listen to what some of our economists have said.

“What is less reasonable is the quasi-hysterical and downright demagogic reactions from opposition critics to what was a fairly modest proposal”. That was from the Montreal Gazette.

Here is another quote. “Without any changes, Canada will be hard-pressed to provide any social or institutional programs beyond seniors' income supplements and health care.” That was in a Star Phoenix editorial.

Another quote says, “opposition parties' efforts to panic Canadians that the...government is targeting seniors are as disingenuous as they are dangerous”. That was in a Star Phoenix editorial.

Another quote says, “The fact of the matter is Canadians are getting older, the demands on the system are getting greater, and the costs are going up”. That was said by Patricia Croft, economist, The Bottom Line, CBC The National.

All these quotes just confirm that our move is in the right direction.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, in order to project the future, Winston Churchill always suggested looking to the past. If we are to project the future costs of the old age security program, we must look to the increase in costs we have experienced in this program in recent history.

When the Government of Canada introduced old age security, in roughly 1950, the age of eligibility was 70 and the average life expectancy was 69. That meant that the average person would not receive any old age security. People would not live long enough. Today, one can receive old age security at 65 and collect it until the average end of life, age 82. That means a 17-year average period of collection for a given Canadian. The massive increase in costs that result from this demographic reality are obvious.

In 1975, for example, there were seven working people for every single senior. Now, there are four working people for every single senior. That trajectory will not only continue over the next two decades; it will accelerate.

This is the point where we take the recent history and project it into the future in order to see ahead and look a little further down the road. Within 20 years, the cost of OAS will triple, the number of people receiving it will double and the number of workers supporting each retiree will fall by half.

Why will this occur? The first and most obvious example is that baby boomers are going to retire. This large bubble of population demographic has travelled through the age categories and is about to reach its period of golden years when the people are too old to work and are expected to collect from the system in the period after their retirement.

There is a second reason why the costs will go up. That is that the life expectancy of that larger group of people is increasing. That means that the duration during which that larger group of people is collecting OAS will lengthen.

I did some interesting research through Statistics Canada data and found that the average life expectancy is growing by 47 days each year. That means that people who die today at their average life expectancy will be about 47 days older than the people who died last year at their average life expectancy. Every year that goes by, the average person lives almost 50 days longer. Therefore, in 2031 the average person will live to about 84. That means, under the current eligibility for OAS, a person could collect for almost two decades.

This was a program that was created with the expectation that the average person would not reach the age to collect it at all, and over the last half century, because people are living longer and because the benefit has been made more generous with the eligibility age lowered to 65 from 70, there is already a very long time during which someone can collect this benefit.

We can understand, with the increase in recipients and the relative decline in contributors, that the cost of the program is going to rise. That is exactly what the research demonstrates.

Using information from a report by Christopher Ragan at McGill University, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute calculated, “...by 2040 Canada would face a $67 billion deficit (in today’s dollars) based on current policies and demographic change”. The same institute stated that the old age security program will account for one-quarter of total spending by the federal government by 2030.

It goes on to state:

The federal government currently spends about 15 per cent of all spending on OAS/GIS and that’s supposed to be go up to about 25 per cent. But if you’re going to put up spending on that by 10 percentage points of everything the federal government spends, you’re going to have to either put up taxes or make some cuts somewhere else.

Just to visualize, for every $1 that the Government of Canada spends two decades from now, 25¢ will be spent on OAS and income support for our seniors. That will mean less money for health care or higher taxes for working families in Canada. To summarize, when there are more people collecting from and relatively fewer people paying into OAS, we have eventual shortfalls. It is like a glass of water. One can only drink out of the cup what is poured into it. If there are relatively fewer people pouring into the cup and relatively more people drinking out of the cup, eventually somebody goes thirsty. That is why we must take action now to avoid such a drought.

We have a Prime Minister who, in the spirit of John A. Macdonald, seeks not short-term tactical political advantage but has the capacity to look a little farther. It is clear that there is no political advantage to the Prime Minister in making this change. It has given the opposition a great opportunity to attack the government and fear-monger with seniors, but the Prime Minister did it anyway because he is prepared to accept the short-term political cost in order to advance the long-term national interest of the nation. He is doing exactly what Germany and Australia have done, which is to gradually and with great notice increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, a two-year increase over a gradual period of time.

The opposition says that it opposes this approach but has no suggestion on how it would make up the cost differences that we expect due to these demographic and mathematical realities. It also proposes a 45-day work year for employment insurance, which means that somebody could work for 45 days and then collect employment insurance for the rest of the year. It has supported a Liberal bill that would make newcomers eligible for OAS after only living in the country for three years. Those proposals would cost billions of dollars and the only proposal that the opposition offers to pay for it is to increase taxes on business.

Here is the problem with that. It comes back to pensions again. The reality is that the pension system in this country is heavily reliant on those same businesses that the opposition seeks to tax. I will give one example. The Canada Post pension plan for unionized postal workers is invested in the big businesses that the opposition wants to tax. The top five holdings as of last June were TD Bank, Royal Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources, banks and oil companies, the twin villains in any left wing storyline. When we increase taxes on those companies, it is an accounting fact that they have less money to pay in distributions to their shareholders, the largest of whom happen to be pension funds that provide for seniors who worked as unionized, often blue collar people, and expect to collect a dignified retirement as a result of the after tax profitability of the companies in which those funds are invested.

We are taking responsible action to protect our safety net, to keep our economy strong and to create jobs. That is the vision of the Prime Minister. Does it take courage? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech. Although it was meant to be reasonable, I did hear some absolutely absurd things. For instance, he said that shareholders will receive less money because pensions have to be paid. It is a question of priorities. Would we rather give priority to all individuals, or only to those who have a lot of money?

My colleague said that the Conservatives are responsible and that they are taking measures. The first question we need to ask is this: if this issue is so important, why did this government not hold a public debate before making a decision?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the question of whether or not to hold a public debate is a public debate in itself. The answer is therefore the same as the question.

He also asked about the shareholders of these companies that he wants to tax more. Of course, all of the cornucopia of benefits that his party wants to sprinkle across the population it claims will come by just taxing businesses.

Who are these shareholders that he would ultimately be taxing? One of them is the Canada pension plan. Members of the NDP claim to support the Canada pension plan but that has $18 billion invested in domestic equities. Domestic equities are Canadian companies. The only benefit that the Canada pension plan gets from investing $18 billion in those companies is on the after tax profit of those enterprises. If we increase the taxes, the benefits are reduced. The Canada pension plan would be poorer if we start taxing its assets at a higher rate.

What the NDP and the Liberals are proposing every time they wag their finger at successful Canadian businesses and promise a tax increase is nothing less than a new tax on public pensions. It is a tax on the pensions of unionized workers at places like Canada Post. These are mathematical facts. The member cannot argue with the laws of gravity.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary a question that my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville tried very unsuccessfully to ask. It is a very simple question.

The OECD, the Chief Actuary of Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have all said explicitly that OAS is sustainable over the long term. This is partly because Canada's pensions are less generous than in other countries, so that they can be sustainable, notwithstanding the aging of the population.

With those three authorities saying clearly and explicitly that OAS is sustainable, why do government members continue to say the opposite?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately for the hon. member, here is what the OECD study on pensions, entitled “Pensions at a Glance 2011”, actually said on page 47:

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.

That was from the OECD. Those are the facts. The member referred to the OECD and I have told him what it said.

What the hon. member fails to address in his question is how pension funds, which are overwhelmingly invested in successful Canadian businesses as the principle source of income for those funds, would make up the gap if his party, along with the NDP, were to increases taxes on the earnings of those companies? He should indicate to the pensioners across this country why he wants to tax their pensions at a higher rate and how he expects them to make up the difference.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.

I want to bring to the attention of the House that this is only the first of many changes that need to be made to our pension system if the Conservatives are to have their way. This is only the beginning of what will be an ideologically-driven reduction in the amount of benefit that individuals would expect to receive from their government after working a lifetime in Canada and expecting a reasonable ability to retire.

I am one of those baby boomers who is the problem. We were constantly being told that, as a result of the improvements Canada was making to our standards of living, as a result of automation and as the result of all kinds of advances in medicine and in science, not only would we have an easier life, with fewer working hours in each week, but we would all be able to retire earlier and that we should not have to worry about retiring later.

The Conservatives are ensuring that those advances are being stopped and, in fact, they are moving backward. They want to take the country backward and that is so wrong.

I am the opposition deputy critic for persons with disabilities and the Conservatives have not yet said what they intend to do to the Canada pension as it pertains to persons with disabilities.

Two individuals from my riding, who are both on a Canada pension disability pension, have written to me. They are younger than the age at which this change to the OAS will not affect people. Therefore, they will be affected by the change in OAS. They have already realized that they will have an enormous gap in their income because their Canada disability pension ends at age 65. They are both permanently disabled, cannot work and cannot do anything to change their situation. Their income is such that they do not have enough money to save more for their retirement. The Conservatives have said over and over again that they are giving people plenty of notice so they can save more for their retirement and bridge the gap between 65 and 67. However, those two individuals and many more across Canada are not able to do that. Physically and financially, they cannot manage between 65 and 67.

What is the answer? There is no answer from the government. Its answer is to give the provinces some money. Those individuals would be forced to apply for welfare when they turn 65. We are telling our disabled people in this country that they now must accept a lower standard of living. That is in violation of our signature on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and that is unacceptable to this side of the House.

That is one of many side effects of the government's single-minded, ideologically-driven agenda of reducing what the government gives back to its citizens. This is not about some crisis in the aging of our population. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that it is sustainable in the long run.

All of the figures show that this baby boom generation is a temporary blip but the government is proposing to make a permanent change to Canada's retirement system. We cannot and we should not move backward and take the country backward with each step of the current government.

The member opposite suggested that a person's life expectancy is growing and he used the number 82. Eighty-two is really only the number for females. It is considerably less for males. However, let us say that life expectancy is growing. Part of the reason life expectancy is growing is that we are investing money in our medical system. The current government has decided to stop increasing the amount of money we invest in our medical system, limiting it instead to increases relative to inflation.

That will have the impact of shortening our lives, in particular, those people who are in the 20% lowest category of income who already have a lifetime that is shorter by 20% than the rest of Canadians. We are telling those people that it is too bad, so sad, that they are going to have to work two years longer. They cannot as they are physically unable to.

The government has failed once again to warn Canadians that this is but the first salvo in what will be a domino effect of moving to age 67 for the old age security system. That system is the underpinning of every other retirement system in the country, save and except for those individuals who make way too much money to need the OAS. Those individuals who are making more than $120,000 a year in their pension do not need our protection. However, the government has created a domino that will affect every individual who makes less than $120,000 a year. They will need something to make up the difference between 65 and 67 or they will have to wait until 67 to retire.

The government has not said yet, but I am sure it will, that it intends to change the Canada pension plan to make it dovetail with the OAS. Has anybody here had any on that debate? Have we had any discussion on the Canada pension moving to age 67?

It necessarily must follow. We cannot leave a gap and say that one set of pension plans has an age of 65, but the underpinning of all of them has an age of 67. It does not work. Financially it does not work, societally it does not work and it does not work in determining what one's retirement will be. One cannot now plan for retirement at age 65 when a big chunk of the money is missing between 65 and 67. Therefore, not only would the Canada pension plan have to change, and the government has not said anything about how it would do that, but all employer pension plans would have to change.

Employer pension plans are based on what a person can reasonably expect to live on when they turn the age of retirement. The age of retirement in every employer pension plan is 65. That will have to change to 67. The normal age of retirement that is stated in almost every employer pension plan in the country, and I have dealt with lots of them, is 65. However, it could not continue to be 65 if the other income support that it depended upon disappeared. Therefore, it would have to become 67 years of age.

This is another creeping piece of the puzzle of how the government would force all young people to wait to retire at 67 and work an extra two years. They would have a 45-year work life instead of 43. We are going backward and we do not want to do that.

Employer long-term disability plans all end at 65 or death, whichever comes first. Now those employer disability plans would have a gap between the age of 65 and 67. What are those individuals supposed to do? Will the employers magnanimously start paying more money into those disability plans in order to continue to pay people until 67? I highly doubt it. I think there would be blood on the street before that happened.

Will the employer life insurance plans, which all end at 65, suddenly become amended and end at 67 so the life insurance plans would continue? Will provincial welfare plans, which now end at 65, be suddenly amended to end at 67?

The government has said that it would help the provinces. However, we have a government that is saying that it cannot afford to keep this system up, but it has lots of money to hand the provinces so they can keep the system up. There is a bit of hypocrisy going on there.

Finally, the provincial disability plans have exactly the same problem as the Canada pension plan and disability plan in that the provincial disability plans end at age 65. Therefore, if someone says that we can change OAS without changing the Canada pension plan, employer plans and all the rest, they are either lying or dreaming in Technicolor.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada has to deal with an aging population. Right now, there are four workers investing in pension plans for every pensioner. However, in 20 years, there will be only two workers for every pensioner.

The actuarial tables show this. We need to plan for the future.

Seniors today are not being threatened by anything that is being proposed, but the opposition is recommending that we do nothing.

If we do nothing, it will cost taxpayers a lot more to pay for the benefits they want to have. Who will pay for that? Businesses, through higher taxes? What exactly are these businesses? Businesses are the pension funds. Who should pay for these additional costs?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, we do have a plan to solve this crisis, and it is not a crisis, but a blimp or bump. Part of the spending of the government is on guaranteed annual income supplements. If, as we suggest, the Canada pension plan were to be doubled, as it should be, it would end those guaranteed income supplement payments to a lot of seniors and that would reduce the government expenditures by enough to continue the system.

We do not need to move the ages from 65 to 67. What we need to do is ensure that the systems that are in place are sufficient to provide people with a standard of living at age 65. Right now those systems include a lot of government support and we suggest that the Canada pension plan take over some of that slack. This then would actually improve the government's financial position when the baby boom generation finally exits the earth.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on a comment that was made by the previous presenter, the parliamentary secretary. He asked why people were complaining that there was not a public debate when there was one. I remind the House that the only reason there is any public debate is because we, the official opposition, have called the public debate.

What is equally reprehensible to the actual amendment the Conservatives have made to access to old age security is the way in which it has been done, and Canadians have resoundingly spoken out against it. This issue is only second to the top priority of Canadians, which is protecting public health care, another area where the government has refused to conduct a public consultation.

Does the hon. member believe it would be more appropriate to table such an amendment and then open it up, over many months, for direct consultation of Canadians on a variety of options and the pros and cons?

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe this is too big an issue to be tossed away in a comment in Davos, Switzerland by the Prime Minister and then become buried as part of a much larger budget. This issue will be rammed through by the government in the passage of its budget because it has a majority. There is no attempt to have the dialogue with seniors, and not just seniors but with the children of seniors. I do not think our seniors want to leave the country worse off than they found it, but that is what the government will do.

I do not think this dialogue needs to be with seniors only. It needs to be with their children and their children's children. We will not have that dialogue when the budget is rammed through in the next few days.