My colleague asks whether it is a Conservative or a Liberal riding. I think the Annapolis Valley is in a Liberal riding. Ms. Burrell says:
As a volunteer at the local food bank, I regularly see the huge amount of volunteer support that is needed to help impoverished members of our local community deal with the fact that their basic needs greatly exceed the amount of funds they receive, often through holding numerous part time minimum wage jobs. I understand there is nothing in the budget to address the need for good paying regular employment. Having worked for a brief time at a local blueberry farm picking blueberries for commercial purposes, I was shocked at the number of seniors who needed to supplement their limited incomes with such hard work. The amount of money received after hours of hard labour is usually well below the minimum wage. The exhaustion from the work by the seniors was obvious, as they struggled to meet a reasonable quota for their labours as the day wore on. If the OAS qualification is increased to 67, I fear how much more stress there will be on the bodies of the seniors who already are barely able to make ends meet without having their joints and backs give out totally. The budget needs to address the concerns of the vulnerable; it does not, and instead continues to feed the corporations' tax reduction, which even business leaders agree has no clear relationship to job creation.
I can think of no more eloquent testimony to the fact that Canadian families deserve better than what the government is putting forward in this budget.
Ms. Burrell is pointing out what we are hearing from so many people in the manual professions: that this attack on old age security will provoke incredible hardship among seniors who are already struggling to make ends meet and who have to go to local blueberry farms in order to put food on their tables. We are not talking about people who are wealthy and who are vacationing in the Bahamas.
We are talking about real, live Canadian seniors, people who work with their bodies. The government is now forcing them to work two more years or live in poverty. What a choice they are being given. What an appalling, inappropriate use of government resources which says that seniors will be forced to make a choice. It is double Jeopardy. The seniors can either live in poverty, eat cat food, and if they are lucky keep a roof over their head, or they can go work at a blueberry farm to get through to the age of 67.
If people are wondering why NDP MPs bring so much passion to this debate and question period, whether we are younger or older, and why we bring such passion to this issue of raising the retirement age two years, it is because of the kinds of comments we are getting. People understand what the impacts are. They understand that what is being done with the government's irresponsible actions, forcing seniors out into the blueberry fields, is absolutely, totally unacceptable.
We have been steadfastly raising these concerns on the floor of the House of Commons because Canadians deserve to be listened to by the government. They deserve better than what the government has in store for them.
I am going to move on to more comments that have been received. I have some other comments I will make a little later on. Following along, this is from the riding of Windsor—Tecumseh, which is represented by the NDP House leader, a fabulous MP who works very hard. What this Canadian, Patricia, says from Windsor—Tecumseh is the following:
“Rest assured; I will take your reply to my retired friends and neighbours, who also share my concerns over the OAS, some of us being single or divorced with only our own pensions and savings to survive on. In discussions, some have mentioned that the government is worried not so much as to the actual monthly pension cheque but the cost of prescriptions to the 65 and over group that is pushing up the cost of the OAS. I can certainly understand that. I currently buy my own prescription coverage and am aware of the cost of a few medications, even with partial coverage. Where to lay the blame in this case? Is it with the government, pharmaceutical companies, or doctors? I guess we'll leave that in the hands of our elected officials. Thank goodness my elected official is the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.”
This is yet another senior Canadian who is raising concerns about the issue of OAS and how the government has handled it. Yes, when we raise the question of pharmacare and pharmaceutical costs, the reality is that it is the fastest-rising component of our health care system. The government is not dealing with it adequately, not putting in place the measures that would actually bring the cost of prescription drugs down. Our former leader, Jack Layton, said for years and the current leader, the member for Outremont, has also said that what we need is bulk purchasing of medications. That lowers the cost. It has been done in other industrialized countries. It lowers the cost of medication. It relieves the stress and pressure of the cost of medication on the health care system.
The government has not done that. It has enlarged patent protection, which has increased profits. The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry sector in North America, but at what cost? There are huge profits on the one hand, and then on the other hand, there are Canadian seniors who try to scrape together the money to buy the medication they need. As my colleague, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, mentioned yesterday, with the CETA agreement that is being negotiated, the costs and pressures on our health care system are going to expand exponentially. We are talking about many billions of dollars more that taxpayers will have to pay for the same products. All of it goes to what is excess profit. It is not being used for future research. It is being spent on marketing. When the Patricias of this country step forward to say this is a real concern, the government should be listening.
I will move on now to a constituent in yet another Conservative-held riding. This is another constituent of a Conservative MP, who is writing to the NDP because she believes her views will not be represented. She starts off by saying:
The NDP is doing a fantastic job in the House. Please keep it up. You're giving voice to so many Canadians who thought they had no voice.
She has attached a letter that she hopes I will find the time to read in the House of Commons. We certainly feel that this time is important, and I am going to take the time to read her letter from Calgary, Alberta. We want to hear it, absolutely. The member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing is absolutely correct that we want to make those views known on the floor of the House of Commons.
Some Conservatives have suggested I should just sit down and let them talk, let the Conservatives talk all day with their Prime Minister's Office's talking points. We are saying no way. We are going to bring those points of view of Canadians to the floor of the House of Commons.
So, the letter starts:
“I would like to make it known to all members of Parliament that, as an Albertan, I do not subscribe to the policies and ideologies of this government. I know, as a constituent in Calgary, my opinion on the recent budget would not be voiced if this opportunity was not given to me by the NDP. As an Albertan, I resent the assumption of the Conservative government that we all support an agenda that would be detrimental to our environment and to the future of our children. I believe there are many green alternatives to the one taken by this government that seems to favour big oil.
“The budget priorities of the Conservatives will lead to reckless development of the oil sands by foreign companies, such as PetroChina, with little regard to health and environmental damage.
“In addition, this valuable resource will be sent outside Canada, as will associated jobs that could have been created in the refining industry.
“It is obvious that this government is only interested in short-term financial gains for those who financially support their electoral campaigns.
“Budgetary cuts to environmental programs and the muzzling of scientists also illustrate this government's disregard for the future of Canada and of our children. Climate change is a great concern for many Canadians, and this government has blatantly ignored and, indeed, hampered action by not only its own departments but by concerned environmental groups, which it has attempted to demonize by grossly overfunding their oversight.
“I am extremely worried about the future of my children in such an environment of government disregard for democracy, the environment, fairness and truth. The Conservative budget only serves to deepen my concern.
“Thank you for this opportunity to voice my concerns. I have many more concerns about this government, but not enough time, as a hard-working Albertan, to list them all.”
We say to this constituent that we share her concern.
As the fabulous member for Edmonton—Strathcona just whispered behind me, and I think it is worth saying into the record, many Albertans share the view of this constituent.
Also, many Albertans admire the work of the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, who has been a tireless voice in this House of Commons for the people of Alberta, speaking up each and every day.
Moving on, we have another comment from an individual from the province of Quebec. That individual says:
“I would like to send my support to you in the NDP in how you're defending a vision of Canada based on the concept that the economy must be in service to people and not the people in service to the economy. So many elements of this budget exemplify a belief that Canadian citizens must serve the economy; for example, the finance minister's and the government's changes to the immigration policy, suggesting that Conservatives are content to build Canada's society based predominantly on someone's perceived ability to fill a job vacancy rather than the previous and more global set of criteria used to allow the 200,000 people waiting in the backlog to apply and be given a positive response to their request to come to Canada.
“Let's not even talk about how inefficient it is to be basing this policy on assumptions about the workforce and job market when we know how quickly this scenario changes. It sounds to me that the finance minister is acting like an employment agency and not thinking in the larger social scale of building our society.
“The NDP understands something that the Conservatives also know is true, but Conservatives have made the ideological choice to ignore, and that is that greater and greater income disparity hurts our community and, after all, this is what we are: a country, yes, but a community first and foremost.
“Please continue to defend a vision of Canada that I believe even most supporters of the Conservatives would be found to adhere to. We are a community. We need to work in a way that balances the needs and strengths of one region with the others. I do not see evidence of this in the Conservative budget at all, and I thank the NDP for standing to defend a fair vision of our country.”
We thank her, as well, for her comment.
Moving right along, this is from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. My colleague, the fabulous member for Newton—North Delta, is applauding and of course we like to hear from our folks at home. It is a very important thing when we hear from home, and that is why when I kicked off debate I read into the record a number of comments from my constituents in Burnaby—New Westminster. We feel very acutely the responsibility of representing our constituents. Today, yesterday and Friday, we have been representing our constituents solidly in the NDP but also, perhaps a bit sadly but because of necessity, we have been representing the constituents of many Conservative members of Parliament, who may not be bringing these views forward. We are ensuring their views are known.
This gentleman lives in another Conservative riding, and here again we are hearing a comment from a constituent of a Conservative member of Parliament. He says:
“I live in a very Conservative riding. Unfortunately, as nothing has been done for unemployed and underemployed deaf citizens, I find that I can't support the budget. The budget emphasizes jobs, but for whom? Certainly not for deaf or disabled Canadians. The unemployment rate for deaf citizens hovers around 60%. While the defence minister goes riding around free in a helicopter, deaf Canadians are frustrated with an economy which places the emphasis on money more than people.
“Why can't we have an economy that puts people first? The budget here obviously promotes greed. Certainly we need a balanced budget but it must make huge allowances for people in need and not just push environmentally ruinous pipelines through British Columbia, the province I know and love.
“The Prime Minister may be an economist, but he certainly is not a people's man. He does not understand that we all live on this earth only once. Why punish people with this horrific budget? I hope that he will go back to school and get some sensitivity training.”
I would like to say thanks in American Sign Language. That is how we say thanks for sending in his very important message from the deaf community in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
I am going to move on to somebody from Scarborough in Toronto. This individual writes to her NDP MP. She says:
“The OAS cut is a big mistake. It won't be long before there will be means testing and only the very poorest may get anything. What we need is a national housing program now. Our cities are now unaffordable for people coming up, younger people, immigrants and such.”
And she thanks her local NDP MP for having the opportunity to speak out on the budget.
I am going to move to a few other comments we have received around the issue of the Katimavik program being cut. That is something that a lot of younger Canadians in particular are giving voice to. It is important that we provide their voice in the House of Commons.
The first is from the riding of Ottawa Centre, which is represented by a dynamic NDP MP whose riding includes this House of Commons.
Ms. Sullivan says the following: “I was fortunate enough to participate in a Katimavik leadership program in 2005-2006. It was an incredible experience, one that I can say without hesitation shaped the person that I am today. I learned many things while in Katimavik, not the least of which are confidence, tolerance and responsibility. I am completely opposed to cutting funding for Katimavik. It would be a tragedy to lose this program that has benefited countless Canadians and hundreds of communities across the country”.
Here are some other comments, this time from Ms. Dorner in Maberly, Ontario: “Thank you for speaking up to defend the Katimavik program. I'm sure that my own member of Parliament, who is Conservative, does not represent my views on the government's wish to scrap the program. I can tell you that experiences in Katimavik are very broadening experiences. I not only spent time in three different parts of the country, but I met and befriended many people from all backgrounds and walks of life. I was able to do worthwhile community service work while gaining work skills and generally developed a much better understanding and appreciation of the country as a whole. Thanks to my Katimavik experience, I was able to learn to communicate well in French, a skill I now use daily in my work in a federal crown corporation. More recently, two of my children have been Katimavik participants, with similar positive results. For the sake of our young people and for unity in our country, keep the Katimavik program alive”.