Madam Speaker, we are basically going to speak about a transition—the transition from the prevention of and sentencing for mistreatment to proper treatment. We are going to ensure that people are entitled to decent, respectable service.
The New Democratic Party is not against this bill, quite the contrary. It can see the first steps—but only the first steps—of a policy to protect our seniors. What specifically does this bill propose? It recommends a hotline for abused seniors, which is a very good thing. The problem is that we do not want to force people to telephone, and we cannot compel them to blow the whistle about their abuse. That is the major problem with this service: the fact that people have to make use of it.
Unfortunately, all too often, the people who abuse seniors are their close relatives or people on whom they depend. They depend on them to do their shopping or housework or to take care of them. It is not easy to report someone who is so badly needed. That person is very often the only one they know. So, the service is viable as long as people call and as long as the people who call have access to some other resource to replace the person who is abusing them.
Creating positions of consultants who are specialists in elder abuse is another option. There is already a project in Manitoba that has had good results. In fact it is not enough just to report someone; the situation has to be improved. Specialists in elder abuse can refer the person to the appropriate service. They can ensure that the person finds the services that are available in the community.
Very often, a number of volunteer services are free of charge. Demand for these services is high. But for them to be effective, the first step has to be taken. These consultant services will be a necessary resource and that is great.
The Criminal Code must also be amended so that elder abuse is considered an aggravating circumstance and leads to sentencing for a crime. Showing contempt for a senior, insulting a senior and being impatient with a senior is not a crime, but it is abuse. Treating seniors like children and considering them intellectual rejects, depriving them of their freedom of choice in making decisions about their finances, the way they dress or some other matter is not a crime. On the other hand, to the person who is going through this, to the person who is insulted, belittled and despised, this is abuse. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code will not change anything. It cannot fix offensive behaviour. The Criminal Code is not meant to do that.
You understand all the limitations of this legislation. It is a first step, a very small first step. We support it, but we note and stress the fact that it does not go far enough.
In my riding, there is the CLAVA, the Laval committee on abuse and violence against seniors. This service encourages seniors to stand up for their rights. It accompanies them during court proceedings and provides training on what elder abuse is. These people tell us that every senior may become a victim of abuse, regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, income or level of education.
These things are not relevant. It is how isolated seniors are that determines the extent to which they are victimized. That is the key issue.
There are meals on wheels services in Laval, Sainte-Thérèse, Rosemère, Bois-des-Filion and Lorraine. Often, the meals on wheels staff provide not only meals, but also a welcome change from the isolation. These seniors are visited once a week by a person who looks at them, listens to them, checks to see whether their home is well maintained, whether they are eating well, whether they have medication and are taking it. Of course, care is also taken to listen to the seniors to determine whether they have been mistreated, beaten, or stolen from. The volunteers take note of all this information. They break the isolation. This is probably a much more precious gift than the food they bring. It is essential.
Often, the people that use this service really appreciate being visited by someone who sits with them over a cup of tea or coffee, who is approachable and who makes them feel listened to. It is so important that the isolation be broken. It is also an opportunity for the seniors to share information that they would not share over the telephone. Seniors will talk with someone who visits them once a week, but they will not tell a policeman or someone from a helpline that their child is disrespectful, that the landlord is stealing from them, or that their electricity has been cut off. Only someone who has an intimate relationship with the elderly person can get this kind of information.
It is important to understand that there are things that can be done to prevent abuse. Isolation may also be linked to poverty. Seniors who do not have the money to go out to dinner with friends once a week feel isolated. That is economic isolation. It is called social exclusion and is the result of not having enough money.
There is also the matter of housing. When an elderly person lives on the third floor and has arthritis, it is understandable that they avoid going up and down the stairs as much as possible. Housing can be a form of isolation. If a person’s home is not adapted to their deteriorating physical health, they may feel isolated.
Pharmacare is a major issue when it comes to poverty. Serious consideration should be given to establishing a national pharmacare plan. It would save a lot of seniors from having to make choices: between housing and drugs, food and drugs, clothing and drugs. It would save them from having to choose to restrict the use of a certain drug or from needing to chose, for example, their arthritis drugs at the expense of their diabetes drugs. Canadians should not have to make these choices. That is something else to consider.
We support the notion of a helpline. It is a first step and a worthwhile initiative. It would be a mistake, however, to set up a helpline and then cut back on meals on wheels services. That would not make sense.
Any investment in the prevention of elder abuse must not be about doing away with the services that currently exist and replacing them with lesser ones. The helplines must be additional services; they must not replace services that already work well.
We support the consultant positions, particularly since these consultants can direct seniors to services in the voluntary sector. That can sometimes also result in people becoming volunteers themselves. They can be active if they have help to break out of isolation, to break out of poverty.
We want to facilitate access to adapted social housing and prescription drugs for seniors. We also want to eliminate poverty and isolation, because they are what make it easy for seniors to become victims. Obviously, raising pensions is one part of that. What needs to be done is not cutting pensions in future, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 and saving $10 billion, and then saying the government is going to invest $25 million in telephone lines. That makes no sense. Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement combined have to provide an income that, at a minimum, is equal to the poverty line.
It makes no sense for seniors who have only these two sources of income to end up below the poverty line. That is encouraging poverty. It means accepting that people should have to go to food banks. It means making them limit the drugs they decide to buy, make do with substandard housing and move out of a home that suited them for something smaller and not as comfortable. That is unacceptable.
The combination of old age security and the guaranteed income supplement must at a minimum be equal to the poverty line. Anything else is quite simply accepting poverty and giving up on fighting it.
Long-term home care is also important. They are going to raise the cost of health care. The population is aging, and the older people are, the more health care they are going to need. Limiting health transfers to 2.5% is not the way to solve this problem. At some point, we are going to have to accept that if people in fact need medically necessary services, we have to give them to them. This is not the time to start scrimping. That is unfortunately how it looks to us.
We are going to keep saying that right now, taking away people’s drugs and their safe housing because of the economic restrictions imposed by the government is a form of abuse. Accepting that we have seniors living in poverty is abuse.
Trying to combat abuse by putting in a phone line while cutting the things that are essential to people is a form of abuse. Cutting $200 million from social housing for seniors, cutting growth in the health insurance plan, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 and limiting growth in the guaranteed income supplement—if that is not abuse, it is knowingly and intentionally agreeing to an increase in poverty, and that is a form of abuse.
We are also going to have to face an economic challenge. It is necessary to provide the services and have the means to pay for them. It is possible. It can even be easily achieved. There is a lot of volunteer activity. It has to be encouraged. It does not cost very much and it contributes a great deal, particularly in terms of human kindness. It provides human contact. People do not just want a public servant providing the service. They want to meet people they trust, people they like, and people they want to talk to. Socializing, talking to someone from time to time, not being stuck in front of a television—all this is useful in the fight against abuse.
Social housing co-operatives can also be a big help and are not necessarily that expensive. The construction of co-operative housing also lets seniors know that they will be paying part of the cost of that social housing.
The advantage of co-operatives is the enormous stock of housing available once the building has been paid for, once it has been built with a minimum down payment from the federal government, because the people will have paid their rent and paid the mortgage. Not only will this housing be available at a very affordable price, but it can be adapted to the seniors’ situation, giving them the ability to move around the rooms in their wheelchair, with an accessible bathroom, door handles that are not round but simply replaced with hooks, and space to allow a wheelchair to fit under the kitchen sink. These ergonomic changes are essential for people with diminishing independence. And we will be able to build it.
Of course, when $200 million in funding for social housing is cut, a lot of harm is done. The government cannot claim to be fighting poverty among seniors and then turn around and take away $200 million. And saving $600 million by making cuts to the guaranteed income supplement is also not particularly useful in the fight against poverty.
The government is not even talking about a prescription drug plan. The only thing it is willing to talk about is curbing the rate of growth in health insurance transfer payments.
I am sorry, but on one hand the government is sending a message saying that it is going to fight elder abuse, and on the other, it refusing to take responsibility for something that could lead to increased poverty among seniors. The government needs to be consistent. There is no consistency here.
We are going to support this bill, but I can guarantee that we will not be supporting the budget. We will support this bill as a first step in showing Parliament's collective will to fight poverty and reduce violence. As I have said, nothing in the Criminal Code punishes bad manners.
We are willing to fight something, but it must be understood that, for seniors, being insulted by one of their children hurts as much as being beaten. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code will not be able to do anything to prevent that. It will be necessary to collectively ensure that seniors are not always left on their own, that they still have an active life, and that they still have the means necessary to have an active life, from a financial point of view, as well as in terms of medical support and access to drugs and health care.
We will have to make sure that seniors are able to receive family members and friends in decent living quarters where they feel totally at home and comfortably sheltered. People want to be able to live independently; they do not want to live in a dormitory or hospital room where people can come and go as they please. They want to live at home. They want to live in their own home as long as possible. Everyone agrees that seniors have an attachment to their home.
We need to take steps to ensure that they can enjoy this home. We need to do it without necessarily overhauling the whole budget. We are not talking about billions of dollars, but simply a number of societal choices.
I am now ready to answer any questions my colleagues may have.