Mr. Speaker, I will start by underscoring our government's commitment to improving the well-being of seniors and our continued efforts to address their needs now and into the future. For this reason, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-326, an act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act (biweekly payment of benefits).
I am certain the notion of paying Canada pension plan and old age security benefits to seniors on a biweekly rather than a monthly basis was proposed with the best of intentions. However, our government's priority is reducing administrative costs to ensure the maximum amount of seniors benefits.
The government recently undertook a significant exercise, the deficit reduction action plan, to reduce duplication, overlap and redundant processes across government to ensure the greatest value for taxpayer dollars. We recently implemented a one-for-one rule to reduce government red tape. Not only will this transformative measure reduce the bureaucratic administration of government, but it will reduce the cost of businesses and create jobs and growth.
Clearly, members can tell that we are passionate about reducing the size of government and reducing redundancy within government. As a result, the government cannot support a bill that would increase the administrative costs of government by tens of millions of dollars in this time of fiscal restraint.
The old age security program and Canada pension plan are the first two pillars of Canada's retirement system. As such, they provide significant income security to Canadians in their senior years. Indeed, our public pension system is projected to provide Canadians with close to $72 billion this year alone. When month-to-month circumstances do not change, as is the case with retirement benefits, the practice of paying all benefits at the end of the month is the most efficient. This practice is also consistent with other income support methods both in Canada and internationally.
For the sake of contrast, I would point out that the employment insurance system is different. The EI system is meant to support individuals in a time of transition and, as such, is highly reactive to changing circumstances of those individuals. As a result, EI is paid in two week increments.
This is quite different from retirement programs that are largely set out once an individual applies initially and rarely have the benefit rates re-evaluated.
Changing the frequency of benefit payments may seem like a simple administrative task, Mr. Speaker, but it is fraught with consequences. The current system works well, allowing for efficient administration, as well as an efficient use of tax dollars. A bi-monthly payment schedule would put this efficiency at risk.
Consider the number of players involved in the delivery of all benefit payments. Service Canada works in partnership with Public Works and Government Services Canada and Canada Post and the banks coordinate the financial transfer of benefit payments. Each organization has its own work plan around the payment dates that take place on the third last banking day of each month. This is not to say nothing of the provincial and territorial governments that provide top-ups, tax credits and other benefits that are tied to monthly calculations for these payments.
Apart from the system costs of amending two acts of Parliament, changing the frequency of benefit payments would demand additional resources of all the players involved. Frankly, it would be difficult to justify the significant costs.
However, there are deeper issues at stake here. The changes proposed by the bill fly in the face of profound socio-economic changes effecting the country.
Like many countries, Canada is in the midst of a major demographic shift. Our population is aging. On the one hand, Canadians are living longer and on the other, we are having fewer children. These significant changes are making the total costs of OAS benefits increasingly difficult to sustain and afford for tomorrow's workers and taxpayers.
The chief actuary forecasts that the number of OAS recipients will nearly double from 2010 to 2030, from 4.8 million to 9.3 million individuals. Today, there are four Canadians working for every retired person. In 2030 the ratio will be two to one. In essence, about the same number of workers as today will be supporting twice as many seniors by 2030.
In this light, it is our view that the benefits to seniors of an increased flexibility in budgeting are outweighed by the extra cost shouldered by the taxpayers. Simply put, the changes proposed in Bill C-326 are not good value for money, not in light of our need to ensure the very sustainability of OAS for future generations. This is why our government plans to increase the age of OAS eligibility from 65 to 67, to ensure the sustainability of the OAS program.
Our government has the best interests of seniors at heart, both the seniors who receive public pensions today and those who will count on them in years ahead.
However, should any doubt remain, I would like to remind the House of the government's actions on behalf of current generations of seniors.
Since 2006, this government has provided $2.3 billion in annual tax relief to seniors and pensioners. We have introduced pension income splitting and doubled the pension income credit. We have also invested significantly in affordable housing. These changes were introduced in spite of the opposition's attempt to vote them down.
What is more, we have targeted the needs of low-income seniors through a variety of measures related to the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS.
First, seniors no longer have to apply to GIS every year. Automatic renewals exist, linked to their income tax return each year.
Second, in addition to raising the GIS twice above indexation, we introduced a top-up benefit to help the most vulnerable seniors. This represents a $1.5 billion investment over five years, the largest increase of the GIS for our most vulnerable seniors in a quarter century.
Third, our government is committed to Canada's economic action plan 2012 to proactively enrol seniors in OAS and to ensure that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled. This measure further enhances the financial security and well-being of more than 680,000 seniors across the country. As of last July, single seniors entitled to the GIS will receive an additional $600 of annual benefits and couples will receive $840.
Finally, through budget 2008, we introduced the GIS exemptions earning, from $500 to $3,500. This enables working GIS recipients to keep up to another $1,500 of their benefits each year.
Our government is committed to improving the quality of life of seniors, and continues to seek ways to address their needs now and in the future.
To that end, we take our role as custodian of the OAS and CPP very seriously. Any changes to these programs, no matter how minor, are examined carefully to assess their potential impact, not just on seniors but on all Canadians.
We have reviewed the changes proposed in Bill C-326 and believe they cannot be justified in our current fiscal reality. Nor can we justify the risk of changes posed to the efficiency of service delivery that would be imposed at this government level, on the provinces and the other service providers.
For these reasons, our government cannot support the bill in this time of fiscal restraint, and I urge the hon. members in the House to join me in opposing it.