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.