This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (elder abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for York West has 15 minutes remaining, following by a 10-minute question and comment period.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to add to my comments in regard to Bill C-36.

Bill C-36, the “protecting Canada's seniors act”, sounds good and has a great title but delivers very little. It is very similar to many other pieces of legislation in that the government puts great titles on them, but in effect we have to look at what they accomplish at the end of the day.

It is rather remarkable that with such a broad title, the bill itself is one paragraph and only changes sentencing considerations. Again we are into that same continuing mode of how we can punish people rather than how we can prevent some of these things from happening.

It is just one sentence. That is all it is in the context of what the change is. It is too little, too late. Given that Bill C-36 only proposes a change in sentencing, the bill does not actually protect seniors, which is what I think is what many of us in the House, the government included, are probably concerned about, and it only comes into effect once a crime has been committed. That is too little, too late. This bill does nothing to prevent crime, nor does it protect seniors from becoming victims of crime, which is something that I believe many of us would like to see looked at on a more serious level.

It is also worth mentioning that bias on the basis of age is already a sentencing factor in section 718.2 of the Criminal Code. Bill C-36, unfortunately, adds nothing new. We already have the opportunity. Again it sounds as if we are addressing something, but we are not.

Bill C-36 is far too broad. The language in this legislation is broad and vague. While I am not a lawyer, I have been here long enough to understand that “broad and vague” means that there will be considerable court time and legal wrangling before any provision is going to take hold and before it is able to help anybody.

Victimized seniors do not have the time or the resources to wait. I would have preferred to have the government deliver a far more targeted and comprehensive piece of legislation that would look seriously at this issue. We need to focus less on sounding as though we are doing something positive and focus more on actually doing what is necessary to help protect vulnerable seniors.

I am also troubled by the fact that Bill C-36 requires evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim. Just imagine how difficult that is going to be, because a lot of this is emotional abuse that comes in addition to, for example, financial abuse from misappropriation of funds from a senior or whatever. Evidence that it has had a significant impact is going to be very difficult to prove.

Let us imagine having to prove that a criminal offence committed against someone caused an impact on them. It probably has a lot to do with the emotional impact it would have, especially on an elderly person. Seniors living in poverty will have to figure how they are going to prove in court that one of their children or a caregiver was abusive to them. The seniors are going to have to go and give evidence to that fact.

Why should any senior be required to have to prove that a crime against them has injured them? Surely every criminal act has a significant impact on any victim, whether the victim is elderly or not. This should be understood as a basic, fundamental principle in our Criminal Code.

Let us try to keep our eye on the ball on this issue. I understand the need to prove that a crime occurred, but forcing seniors to provide proof that they have been victimized in this manner runs counter to seniors' interests. In many cases they are very vulnerable people who have gotten to a particular time when they are not as confident as they would have been in their earlier years, and there may be the added challenges of poverty or poor health; putting them in the position of having to convince a court that they have been victimized really seems to go against what all of us want to achieve.

The bill effectively requires a judge to consider both the health and financial situation when sentencing. To do this, one could easily require evidence to be given for both. This means that a court would have to probe into areas that were not necessarily matters at trial, and which the senior involved does not wish to speak about or have become part of the public record. In reality, Bill C-36 could easily put seniors who have already been victimized into a situation where their finances and medical records become the subject at a public trial.

In simple words, this legislation is inadequate. The provision of Bill C-36 only becomes active once a crime has been committed. Our focus needs to be on prevention of crime, whether we are talking about young people throughout Canada or elsewhere. It should be about prevention and not just about punishment.

The bill presupposes that the abuse has been reported to police, which is often not the case, that there has been a trial, which again often is not the case, and that the matter is criminal, which is seldom the case. In areas such as wills, estates, contracts signed under duress, and other important civil matters, this legislation is clearly silent.

What could we do on this issue?

If the government is serious about preventing elder abuse, it should be focusing on the following areas. It should address the low rates of pay typically available to caregivers. Quality care choices would go a long way toward reducing abuse of seniors. It should allow financially for family members to care for loved ones. It should reverse the lack of regulatory oversight of institutions. This is a significant problem in Canada. It should promote proactive educational efforts and monitoring of elder abuse. It should provide more resources for affordable, quality seniors housing. Most important, the government should not slash the primary income source for most seniors, the old age security, OAS. Never mind slashing it; we are talking about moving the eligibility age to 67 years which would make people work longer and wait longer.

The Liberal Party believes that vulnerable seniors are in need of protection from elder abuse, but Bill C-36 unfortunately does not accomplish this. Measures should be adopted to prevent elder abuse before the crime occurs, and that does not mean spending who knows how many millions of dollars on TV ads, but what we can do to prevent it from happening.

Clearly we need to protect our vulnerable seniors. While this Criminal Code change is supportable, it is a far cry from what is actually necessary to protect Canada's seniors who surely merit more than a questionably effective change to one paragraph in the Criminal Code.

We need to ensure that seniors are protected against abuse. While I understand that this is no easy feat, I would have hoped that the government, with all the talk and words it bounces around, would have done more than just introduce a change to one paragraph in the Criminal Code to penalize after the fact.

We need to be investing far more resources before these issues happen and make sure that our seniors have a better quality of life. This starts with the OAS and GIS and with the proper dollars and cents. Seniors also need safe, adequate housing and access to affordable quality caregivers to look after them and ensure that they are not subjected to elder abuse, which is something we are all very concerned about.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to bring up a point that arose several times in my colleague’s presentation, which was that one paragraph is not enough in the bill that has been introduced and that we support. That paragraph is actually quite short.

Some more “modern” abuse, for example aggressive telemarketing, can be even worse when it targets seniors. We know about cases, including in my riding. These are recent cases involving certain companies and certain political organizations in Canada.

Should cases like that be addressed in detail in a future bill so it is clear?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, a variety of things could be put into that piece of legislation which are not there.

It is interesting that the member raised the issue of telemarketing. It is a problem for many people, but especially for the elderly who get phone calls telling them all kinds of different things. They get very alarmed. It is something that needs to be looked at more aggressively. It can be very abusive to older people, especially if they get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a bank or someone is trying to sell them something. They get phone calls telling them that they could save all this money with another way to heat their homes. It is probably completely fraudulent. Those are all forms of abuse that we need to more seriously address.

If there were an opportunity to amend Bill C-36 in that way, it would be welcomed.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I know my colleague has a special place in her heart for seniors issues. In listening to her in regard to Bill C-36, I believe she cares enough to look at the bill and recognize there are many things the government could have done to address the issue of elder abuse both directly and indirectly. It could have made a real difference. Elder abuse takes many different forms.

For the Conservatives to have been in government for a number of years and then to come up with this, it is interesting. There is a bit of irony here. We have this relatively simple, straightforward bill and yet we have the action the government is taking in regard to OAS, increasing the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 years. I would suggest that in time that will put more seniors into poverty, which will lead to more elder abuse.

Maybe the member could comment on that.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I found it quite interesting that the government put forward this bill at a time when we are dealing with the proposed change from age 65 to 67 years regarding OAS. For many that is another form of abuse.

The president of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said at a recent round table that many of the disabled in Canada look to age 65 when they can get out of poverty. Many of them are living on a minimum amount of income and barely can make that do. They are probably living on $8,000 or $9,000 a year. When they reach 65 years old, if they have no other income, they will get the OAS and the CPP, or whatever, which would probably bring their income up $2,000 or $3,000 more. They look to being 65 so they can get out of poverty. That is such a condemning comment from the president of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

When we are talking about elder abuse, that is another form of abuse. The government will be forcing people, maybe not today's seniors but tomorrow's seniors, to wait until age 67.

There should be more investment in housing. If we had more seniors' housing in Canada where people had a safe place to live, they probably would be less vulnerable to the kind of abuse that a lot of us have heard about. Educational opportunities could be provided for them. They should be provided with money so they can get out into the community and take advantage of the health and wellness opportunities, such as going to local community centres. Having that social interaction would reduce elder abuse because people would be interacting with one another. Those are opportunities for seniors to continue to contribute to society, which I know many of them want to do.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I had the honour of being a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women with my Liberal colleague. We heard a number of witnesses in the course of a study on the abuse of older women. We had witnesses tell us that there had been cuts to women’s rights organizations.

Since my colleague spoke about prevention, which could also improve the situation, I would like to ask her whether she thinks cuts of this type have damaged the situation—

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member from York West.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

April 27th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague and I sat on a committee together and did some reasonably good work on a report which at some point will be tabled in the House. The report could have been much stronger and much more effective, but we did not have the time to go into those kinds of details.

The organizations throughout Canada that are having their funding cut are the same organizations that would have been dealing with seniors, that would have been there in a very proactive way to help people to prevent the issue of elder abuse.

Spending millions of dollars on fancy TV ads does alert people to the issue of elder abuse, but what do we do to prevent it? Bill C-36 would not prevent any of that. Investing in many of our community organizations that would be alert to where seniors are, what is going on with them and what is happening in their lives would be helpful. Seniors need someone to talk to about their concerns, such as about money missing out of their bank accounts and possibly family members abusing their privilege. It often happens. Unfortunately, much of that funding to many of those organizations is being cut.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I have worked with the member on issues relating to seniors and pensions over the last number of years. She knows the file fairly well.

One of the things that occurs in this place quite regularly is members on the government side talk about all the things they have done for seniors. They list a number of things they have done, but most of those things seem to apply to the more affluent seniors, the seniors who already have full pensions or some resources saved over the years.

It seems to me the Conservatives have missed the mark, that they are not taking care of the lower income seniors to any degree at all. I would like to hear the member's comments on that.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I have yet to see the government do much for those who are at the lower end of the spectrum, whether they be seniors or families in general.

Clearly, it is the more affluent Canadians, the more affluent seniors for whom the government is much more in tune to doing things. It leaves a whole segment out of the picture. Almost 50% of Canadian seniors live on less than $25,000 a year. That gives me grave concern, as I know it does many of our colleagues.

On the issues of elder abuse and poverty, it takes away the pride in our country when we find out how many seniors are suffering and are living on $12,000 to $14,000 a year. Maybe in the future things will be different, but clearly forcing people to work until the age of 67 before they get their pension is not an issue of sustainability, it is an issue of choice.

When a party is in government, it makes all the choices it wants, and it will have to stand before the electorate and justify those choices.

I will be able to stand with our party in saying that we believe people should get their pensions at age 65. If people want to work, God bless them, they should be able to work as many years as they want, but that should be their choice. We will continue to support people getting the pension at age 65, and given the opportunity to form government, we will make sure it stays at 65.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, what does my hon. colleague think about the NDP's proposal to increase the guaranteed income supplement so that no seniors should have to live in poverty?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, the guaranteed income supplement, the OAS, the CPP and the spouse's allowance were all initiatives introduced by Liberal governments. I can only say thank goodness for all of that. Thank goodness for the foresight of Liberal governments and Liberal prime ministers that brought in the kind of programs that would reduce the number people in poverty.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, after the last comment, I cannot help but interject at this point. Yes, the Liberals did bring in OAS but OAS was proposed by J.S. Woodsworth in 1926. Yes, they did bring in the Canada pension plan but that was suggested by Stanley Knowles in this place. That is just an example of how we have worked together over the years on these files. However, for the Liberals to take exclusive credit for it, I find that quite interesting.

The NDP supports the bill but with reservations. There are changes that will do some things to protect seniors but there is so much more. How do we define supporting and protecting seniors? There is a lot more to it than laying charges.

We made proposals during the 2000 election campaign in reference to seniors, and further on in my remarks I will speak to that a little more.

My generation looked for the good in people, and in those days we found it. However, to some extent I think the same people of that generation are now failing seniors, their parents. Oftentimes we find that because of the aging process, the number of illnesses seniors have and, in some cases, even the outcome of medications, these have caused them to slow down in their thinking process and, to some degree, even act a little like children. Members may recall, with their parents, as with mine, and others as we were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, that our parents were very patient with us. They listened to us, helped us to develop and they protected us. Now it is our turn because some of our parents are very much like the children we once were and we owe them that return of patience that is lacking in this fast paced society.

The government can legislate some things and put in punitive laws that will punish people for the mistakes they make but as a society we need to look into this matter even further.

In my role as a parliamentarian, I often try to bring to this place some of the life experiences I have or family members or friends have because we need to bring the discussion down to the place where it is actually happening. We have a forum here where we discuss things and oftentimes the rhetoric or debate gets heated and there are a variety of things that impede us from telling the true stories of Canadians. In this case, I will tell a bit of the story of my own mother.

My mother, through a series of illnesses and needing prescriptions with fairly strong chemicals in them, as she aged we could see her mental capacity start to diminish. For a variety of reasons, I had not seen her in a number of years. She was on the east coast. In fact, I had been estranged from her from the age of 12 to the age of about 40. Just prior to my reconnecting with her, she had been in a nursing home in New Brunswick, which we found out had her sleeping in the laundry room in the basement and there was some evidence that perhaps she had been chained to a laundry tub. Fortunately, I had cousins back east who discovered this and moved her to a much finer place in Saint John, New Brunswick. I commend the New Brunswick government of the day because at that time there were processes in place that when she got into the newer facility its prices were fairly high and she did not have the resources to cover it all and that government provided assistance. Therefore, the remaining about 10 years of her life were lived out in relative comfort and in the hands of provincial workers in that registered nursing home who gave her the kind of support and care that we should be giving to all parents.

When I go from consideration of what happened to my own mother in this instance, I start looking at what happens to other seniors. Elder abuse takes lots of forms.

I was just recently assigned a new critic area but I previously was the critic for pensions and seniors and I held 47 meetings on pensions in my community over a three year period. My travel has taken me to a variety of places. I was in Elliot Lake where I spoke with a 75-year-old woman who was trying to get by in her own apartment on her own means. She was making $1,160 a month if I remember correctly. She took me aside because she did not want her neighbours and friends to know that she was worried about how the HST in Ontario would affect her. She had a hydro bill of approximately $2,000 a year and was looking at paying roughly $150 more a year. While that appears to be a small number to most of us, it was a huge amount for her. How can we not call that elder abuse?

Three hundred thousand seniors across this country live below the poverty line of $22,000 a year. I have heard the figure $25,000 a year but most seniors are making in the area of just over $15,000 a year. If people are making $1,100 a month, they need to pause in terms of where they are living, how they are living and what choices they are making.

The New Democratic Party repeatedly questions the government about the choices it makes. We as parliamentarians need to back up and really give serious consideration to the choices that our seniors have to make when they are living in poverty.

I was standing in line at a pharmacy waiting for a prescription a while back and there was a young man ahead of me. The young man was living in poverty and he had to make a choice. He had serious back pain and needed a muscle relaxant and something to address the pain itself but he could not afford both prescriptions. He had to make a choice. Seniors are like that except that their choices are far more fundamental. They must choose between eating or buying a prescription. A lot of things in the province of Ontario happen to be covered but not every senior in every place in this country has that kind of protection. Some seniors have to make choices as to how to dress.

Over the years I have gone into the homes of family and friends whose elderly parents have passed away and they are starting to distribute their parents goods, perhaps to some poorer people in the community. However, when they open the closets they find one or two dresses or a coat not fitting for Canada's weather. They wonder how they missed that? How as a society did we miss that?

We need to back up and look at choices. The government has made a necessary choice with this legislation and part of that necessary choice is to ensure that there is acknowledgement of and punishment for people who abuse. However, we need to stop and think about this for a moment. We need to think about seniors who are dependent on a child or a friend to take care of them. My wife goes regularly to London from Hamilton to take an aunt to a grocery store or to medical appointments. However, we need to think about those seniors who are dependent on someone who abuses them. They have another choice to make. What do they do or say if they lose the only support they have in the community?

In the last election campaign, the NDP members talked about things that we could do within our communities to help seniors stay in their homes, such as pharmacare, and to ensure they are protected. We talked about things that would make the choices for seniors somewhat easier. We talked about a $700 million boost to the guaranteed income supplement, which would have equated to about $200 a month for people in the worst case situation, 75% of whom were women who stayed at home to raise their families and never managed to get into the Canada pension plan. All they had was OAS-GIS of roughly $1,100 a month.

When we said that the GIS should be increased by $200, the response from the government was an increase of the $50 that I referred to before. Yes, it was something. We hear the litany of things that have been done. I mentioned earlier that some of the things that have happened here seem to address the so-called needs of more well-to-do seniors. However, we need to bring the focus back to where it belongs. We need to take care of our most vulnerable first. However, in Canada today, sadly, our seniors are among the most vulnerable.

During the election campaign, the New Democrats made a number of proposals. We talked about an elder abuse hotline. Can seniors talk about the abuse that is happening to them without naming names? Is there some way of getting mitigation between the fact that if they report that family member or that friend specifically, that family member or friend could face some kind of charge and, thus, they would be very reluctant to do it? Or, is there some way to manage this thing or to help them through a hotline that they could call? We also talked about an elder abuse consultant. The Government of Manitoba has worked with this type of initiative and I understand it has been very successful.

However, we also, like the government, and it is not often I compare us with the government, talked about changes to the Criminal Code of Canada to ensure there were appropriate sentences for the perpetrators of this elder abuse. Contrary to the thinking of the government, the NDP does agree that we need to put consequences into place for seniors' abusers, which is why we are supporting this legislation from the government.

I would like to reference a report from the ad hoc parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care. It indicates that between 4% and 10% of seniors experience some kind of elder abuse in their lifetime.

We often talk, and rightly so, about battered women and how one in four is battered. We have statistics here that are very close to that. This is almost like a silent situation that has been there for years. I guess most of us do not want to believe that somebody could actually strike a senior. However, beyond the physical, there is the mental abuse. I guess I would have to commend the government. I do not like the expense it has incurred for the TV ads that show elder abuse because I think the money could have been more appropriately used. However, we do see in those ads the mental anguish caused by the browbeating of a senior just by the use of words.

When I was a younger person, before I grew up in many ways, I used to actually shout people down. I did not realize I was doing it. I never thought about the damage I was doing. When I reached about 18 years of age, I kind of grew out of that and went on. However, I look back at my own personal shortcomings from to time to remind myself that seniors can sometimes try our patience because they cannot communicate their feelings well or they get frustrated because they do not understand things, which takes me to another place just for a moment or two.

I have referred to the times I have travelled across the country to hold 47 town hall meetings on old age security. Can members imagine what the last seven were like that took place after the OAS announcement? There was about a two and a half week period where nobody knew what the government was going to do. Day in and day out, members of the NDP would ask the government whether it was going to increase the age. Our former interim leader would ask repeatedly whether it was a yes or a no but there was no response. There was just evasiveness.

Seniors were saying that they heard their Prime Minister give a speech in Davos, Switzerland. In fairness to the Prime Minister, he did not say in that speech that he would change OAS eligibility. However, the PMO's speaking notes to reporters did, which caused consternation.

In the House we would ask about it and there would be no response. At my meetings, people would come up and ask me what was going to happen. I would reference the fact that in 2009 we had looked at OAS and at CPP, that we had Don Drummond from TD Bank at the time, Mike McCracken and other people like that who all said that CPP was funded for 75 years and that OAS looked perfectly sustainable.

My response to them was that we did not know what the government had in mind at this point in time, but we realized there would be an interim period. It would not affect people today and we agreed with the government on that. However, a lot of the people still did not quite comprehend. They were fearful. They were frightened by the mismanagement and ineptitude of how this was handled. It took two full weeks before there was a fairly definite statement by the finance minister in a scrum. He said that the government may change it in 2020 or maybe 2025. The shift that occurred in the meetings was that people aged 45 to 55 said okay, but the ones within the window wondered if it would affect them.

A great concern, though, going back to seniors, is why the government allowed for that two-week window of fear for seniors, which was totally unnecessary. If it had a plan, I thought we would have heard about it in the election, but we did not. If the Prime Minister had a plan in Davos, he should have said so and he should have been definite. Then seniors would have known and we would not have had that problem.

When I held the seven meetings, the first words out of my mouth to seniors were that they did not have to worry about OAS, that they were safe. Sixty to seventy per cent of the people in the room were seniors already on pension and that gave them a sense of relief, but it took too long to do that.

The report I referenced before the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care had a number of other recommendations or highlights in its report. It said that any senior could become a victim of elder abuse regardless of gender, race, income or education. We have learned that about abuse over time, whether it is child abuse or spousal abuse. Oftentimes, it has to do with the status of people's income or sense of well-being because there might be a risk of the so-called breadwinner being laid off. There is a variety of things.

My generation was called the sandwich generation. My kids are in their 40s. Sometimes kids leave home and come back. Parents are pleased to help them, but on the side they have their mother or father or the spouse's mother or father and they are squeezed. That kind of pressure is added to any family, whether it is budgetary or just plain emotional. People are dealing with a level of fear.

Seniors have issues of their own. They are fearful of life out in the community because, as they age and become more fragile, fear develops. There are the young people who have to move back home because of economic circumstances. Then people have their own lives with which they are trying to deal. When we put all that together, sadly, in some instances, there is a response that leads to elder abuse.

Seniors, as I have come to learn over the years, are a very proud group of people. They have worked very hard for their country, they have done anything right and they have come to this place in their lives. If somebody abuses them, they feel shame. Victims often do. That is why victims oftentimes will not report it. They feel shame that perhaps their sons or daughters have done something to them that no son or daughter should ever even consider doing. That stops the victims from responding. I referenced earlier the suggestion from the NDP of having a hotline to deal with such things.

There is another word that does not get used too often, which is the love of the abusers, their children or someone close them. I also referenced earlier the kinds of impairments some seniors have that interfere.

The other area we need to look at, which I referenced with the situation with my mother, is how the so-called caregivers deal with the various cutbacks in services, mainly at the provincial level to be fair to the government. A senior perhaps living alone used to have many hours of care available. I know one senior in the Hamilton area, a friend of mine, had one bath a week by a caregiver. I think the maximum was two. Those caregivers are dashing from home to home. It is not like they do one job and then relax. They are stressed and, sadly, their response to that stress is negative to elderly persons.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I know he cares and is passionate about these issues.

My constituency has one of the largest number of seniors in the country, people over the age of 65. In fact, we have 9% or 10% more women in my constituency than men, and that is primarily made up of widows, women seniors above the age of 65 and a huge number of women above the age of 85.

Income support is a huge challenge. For that generation, it is a particular challenge because years ago many did not work outside of the home. These seniors lack CPP or any private pension, and often were widowed with very little additional support.

It is a challenge to our governments at all levels to respond to these needs. We increased, which I fought quite hard for this in last year's budget, the guaranteed income supplement. I know many would have preferred more. I think there was an acknowledgement that it was pretty tough economically for these women.

We have also taken substantial measures on health care. When I go door-knocking at many seniors' residences, the number one concern for people when it comes to the services they get from the government is quality health care. That is why we have sought to balance the budget, to take some difficult decisions and at the same time to honour our commitment to increase by 6% our transfers to the provinces. I know the member opposite remembers a time when it was different, when there are cutbacks and not increases.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I know the riding the member represents, not to the degree he would, but it is in the national capital region. A lot of the folks in the national capital region have been here for a number of years and have had families. Their spouses or they have worked in the public sector and have had the benefit of good public service pensions to help them.

I would suggest that it has some of the problems that are in other ridings, but I think it is to a lesser degree. I will use my community of Hamilton as an example where we have a more than 20% poverty rate, and much of that is seniors.

I commend the minister if he pressured his government friends on the increase to the GIS. I just wish it had been a little more effective and been more. Again, it is a matter of choices. When the government brought in the budget that gave a $50 a month increase, it had a choice. Corporate tax rates were being changed at the time, to the tune of billions of dollars.

The government made the choice to proceed with those tax breaks that went to corporations that were profitable. It was not even helping the corporations in trouble. Our estimates of the cost to give $200 a month to those 300,000 people was approximately $700 million. Axe a corporate break at that time and it could have been done.

I am not using this as a measurement of someone's commitment to his community or to the elders in his community. I am pleased the minister is paying attention to it. However, those choices have to be made in a different fashion.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the government side, but I want to emphasize what I think are three very important issues that seniors face today.

If we were to canvass our constituents, we would find that health care is the number one issue. One of the greatest expenditures for seniors is in the whole pharmaceutical area. It is a huge concern. They feel that the government has really dropped the ball or that it has not listened as those costs skyrocket. We have too many seniors trying to decide if they should be buying the food they require or sacrificing their diet in order to get their pharmaceuticals. This is something the Liberal Party has been bringing to the government's attention for a number of years, and we will continue to do so.

We could talk about the whole issue of personal safety, which includes elder abuse. It is of critical importance. Not only do seniors want to feel safe with their family members, but in the community as a whole. Seniors want to feel they can walk outside. They want feel comfortable with the health care workers who visit their homes and so forth. The vast majority of the time that is the case. Seniors want to feel comfortable, knowing that their future income needs are going to be taken care of. That is one of the reasons why the Liberal Party has come out so squarely against the increase in age from 65 to 67.

My question is very specific. I believe we underestimate the amount of elder abuse in Canadian society today. Would the member agree that this is an issue that has to be given much more attention?

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree with many of the aspects that the member said, but in point of fact elder abuse has been something that we have been silent on as a society.

One of the points the member mentioned was that of seniors feeling safe in the community when they are out and about. I mentioned how when they become fragile, seniors are more concerned about the things that could happen to them.

We have a government that has come in with mandatory minimums and a variety of provisions to change the laws of our country to protect seniors or to put people away for a variety of crimes. On the other hand, in the prisons we are taking away those services that are provided to prisoners to help them modify and change their lives and points of view so when they come back out of that facility, they have the ability to correct their behaviours.

We have to put moneys into those areas in advance where there is a better understanding of the needs of our communities so people are less inclined to go ahead with the kinds of abuses that we see.

Protecting Canada's Seniors ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my understanding is that in this bill, the goal is to provide more severe punishment for those who abuse seniors, especially when they are particularly vulnerable, and I agree with that.

On the other hand, I am having some trouble understanding another aspect. In my view, for such unfortunate situations, the first thing should be to try and prevent them. This bill contains nothing about prevention. I believe that everything possible should be done so that seniors never have to suffer such violence in the first place.

For example, might it not have been possible to introduce measures to prevent informal caregivers from becoming exhausted? The fact is that violence is often inflicted by someone close. Should help be provided to informal caregivers to combat that? Can more be done to combat poverty?

Does my colleague believe that this bill needs a section on prevention?