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 #113 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.

Topics

The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—PensionsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Pursuant to an order made Thursday, April 26, 2012, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion of the member for London—Fanshawe.

(The House divided on the motion which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #186

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion defeated.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, during the recent debate on pensions, it was said that seniors will have more problems because of the intention to raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67 years.

We are truly worried about this. What will seniors do during those two years? We already know that seniors are in a delicate position. Many seniors live in poverty, and it is hard for them to get by.

The government wants to raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. These people do not necessarily have the means to live for two years without an income. Not everyone can continue to work after the age of 65. I know that the fishers in my riding would find it very difficult to keep working. The fishers and the people who work in the processing plants will have a very hard time continuing to work after they turn 65. It is already very difficult for them to keep working past 55. Unfortunately, they do not have a “freedom 55” plan like some people in the rest of the country. These people do not have the luxury of stopping work at 55.

Quite frankly, I wonder what this government plans to do for people who are 65 and cannot go on working. They no longer have the means or the physical strength to continue working in factories and processing plants. They simply cannot go on.

So I ask the government: what are these people going to do? For those two years, people will be forced to either continue working and perhaps endanger their health and safety, or ask for social assistance.

Either way, this downloads the costs onto the provinces. If we shift the costs to the provinces, are we really saving anything or is this a false economy?

I have a few questions for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety or the minister. They might be able to shed some light on what is going to happen to these seniors who are unable to work past the age of 65. Do we really want to shift responsibility for their fate onto the provinces? Is this really a question of transferring costs from the federal to the provincial level? What is the federal government's game plan? What does it want to do with our seniors?

7 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, sadly, the opposition continues to mischaracterize the necessary changes we need to ensure the sustainability of the old age security program.

Let me be very clear. No seniors currently receiving benefits would see any reduction to their benefits. The changes we are making would be begin in 2023 and would gradually, over a period of six years, raise the age of OAS eligibility from 65 to 67 years. This would give Canadians a chance to prepare, which the opposition seems to ignore.

The opposition also refuses to acknowledge the facts in this debate. While people are living longer, our birth rate has been falling. By 2030, for the first time ever, we will have more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 20. The number of seniors will double over the next two decades. This is not unique in the world. The United Nations reports that, in 2005, 10% of the world's population was 60 years or older. By 2050, that proportion will more than double, to reach 22%.

Today, we rank 27th in the list of countries, in terms of average age. These are facts that the opposition cannot ignore. By 2030, Canada is projected to be the eleventh oldest country in the world and the eighth oldest of the 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, countries.

This is a staggering increase in a relatively short period of time, and it comes with a high price tag. Again, it is something the opposition obviously does not understand.

The annual cost of the OAS program is expected to triple between 2010 and 2030, from $36 billion to $108 billion. At the same time, our seniors population is rising. The ratio of working-age Canadians to seniors is expected to fall from 4:1 in 2011 to 2:1 in 2030.

Our government is making responsible decisions so that OAS will be sustainable for generations to come. We are also giving Canadians a very good chance and a long period to prepare for this change.

When the opposition has a chance to support seniors, it votes against our measures every time. This is responsible government making responsible decisions, and we ask the opposition to support it.

7 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find the parliamentary secretary's arguments engaging, but they are wrong.

We are saying we are giving people more time to prepare for their incoming poverty, and that is not an acceptable position for any government to take, to give people more time to prepare so they can become poor and unsatisfactorily supported by their government.

The real question here is: Is there any need to do this? If we speak to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the answer to that is no.

We are creating a false argument. The government is trying to spread fear among the Canadian population when none is required. This country is an old country. It is a mature enough country to understand when it is being sold a bill of goods.

The government really needs to speak to real accountants and not just ideologues and see what it can do to help seniors. The NDP has a clear platform on how we want to help seniors. We are looking forward to the day in 2015 when we are going to actually start putting that into effect.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is ducking the issue. If we are interested in job creation, economic growth and the financial well-being of Canadians, we have to address the future affordability of OAS.

It is the responsibility of the federal government to think of the future and to act in the long-term interests of all Canadians. Private sector economists, financial institutions and former Bank of Canada governors have confirmed that we must act now to make the OAS program sustainable.

Unfortunately, the opposition parties have chosen the low road. Baseless fearmongering and wilful ignorance of the need for change does not serve the interests of Canadians. We will not follow the opposition approach of sticking our heads in the sand and pretending we are oblivious to the upcoming changes. We have to face up to the reality that there will be fewer workers for the number of retirees.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House representing the riding of Davenport in Toronto on this very important issue. This is one of the most important issues that people in my riding face. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has noted that the lack of affordable housing, the shortage of rental housing, is the number one issue affecting municipalities from coast to coast to coast. That includes large urban centres, small towns and rural municipalities.

I rise this evening on the issue of housing because we continue, during question period, to get answers from the government regarding its lack of a plan for affordable housing. We have the Minister of Finance hectoring Canadians and telling them that their household debt is too high. He does not go into one of the reasons that their household debt is so high, which is because of plummeting wages, but we will leave that for another day. He says that Canadians need to reign in their household debt. At the same time, the Minister of Human Resources says we have solved the affordable housing crisis, that we have solved the crisis of the lack of affordable rental stock in Canada, because interest rates are low and Canadians can simply buy a house.

That answer just does not cut it. I am here tonight to allow the minister—or the minister's associate, as the case may be—to provide an answer to the House and to Canadians for whom the issue of affordable rental housing is not just an esoteric question but a question of daily struggle.

In January, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities came up with a three-point plan, which it presented here in Ottawa. This was a really pragmatic approach to the lack of rental housing. The federation had really taken a look at it; it had taken a look at the way the government is oriented toward market solutions, and it came up with three proposals. One was the building Canada rental development direct lending program to stimulate investment in new market-priced rental units. The second was the rental housing protection tax credit to preserve rentals and stop the serious erosion of existing low-rent properties through demolition and conversion to condominiums. The third was the eco-energy rental housing tax credit to encourage and help landlords to retrofit their buildings. These were three very practical, very prudent, very sensible suggestions.

There was not a single word about this in the budget. Therefore, I would like to ask the government why there was silence on the most important issue facing Canadians from coast to coast to coast, affordable housing? Why was it left out of the budget?

7:05 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Davenport frequently does ask questions of our government in regard to housing.

In fact on February 6, he suggested that the Minister of Finance's concern with household debt levels was inconsistent with statements by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development in support of home ownership.

I want to assure the House that no such inconsistency exists. Our approach is balanced and sound with the goal of ensuring that Canadians from all walks of life and all parts of the country have access to housing that meets their needs. Whether through rental housing or home ownership, the vast majority of Canadians are able to meet their housing needs in the marketplace. We recognize that this is not possible for all Canadians.

That is why we have policies in place to support the full range of housing options: home ownership for those who can afford it, rental housing for those who need or prefer this option, and housing assistance for those whose needs cannot be met in the marketplace, including low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities and first nations people on reserve.

In addition, our government, through CMHC, has invested an estimated $12.5 billion in federal housing assistance since 2006, investments that have improved living conditions for thousands of low-income Canadians and helped to build stronger communities from coast to coast to coast.

We continue to invest heavily in housing. This year, through CMHC, the Government of Canada will invest approximately $2 billion in housing. Of this amount, $1.7 billion will be spent in support of almost 615,000 households living in existing social housing. Because the hon. member asked specifically about Toronto, I would like to point out that an estimated 267,200 households in Ontario, living in existing social housing, receive this support.

In addition, communities across Ontario are also benefiting from the three year federal investment of more than $240 million provided under the investment in affordable housing funding that is aimed at reducing the number of Ontarians in housing need.

Our government is working hard to ensure that people in Toronto, in Ontario and in communities across the country have access to safe, suitable and affordable housing.

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her efficient answer.

I wish that our world here in Canada looked the way her speaking notes make it look. The fact of the matter is whatever the heck the government is doing around housing, it is just not working. It is like saying we have a leaky roof, so we put some gaffer tape over half the hole, and we are looking after the roof. That is not the way this is going to work for housing.

Housing is not like any other issue that Canadians face. This is a basic key determinant of health. That is not in dispute by anyone.

My hon. colleague talked about the investments the government was apparently making. The federal agreements for much of our social housing stock are expiring. They are going to begin to expire shortly. This is going to threaten the viability of about a third of Canada's social housing stock.

I want to ask my hon. colleague, how does she square the circle? Those agreements are expiring. Those people are wondering what they are going to do with their affordable housing. The government has so far provided no answers, no certainty to hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have invested more than $2 billion under Canada's economic action plan to renovate existing, and build new, social housing across the country.

We continue to provide $1.7 billion a year in support of almost 615,000 households living in existing social housing. We are also delivering on our 2008 commitment to invest $1.9 billion over five years in housing and homelessness programs. We are spending about $407 million annually to address housing needs on reserve.

We will continue to work with provinces, territories and other stakeholders to deliver made-in-Canada affordable housing solutions. We have specific funding for affordable housing for seniors, the disabled and for those off-reserve and on reserve. We did all of this in spite of the opposition parties that voted against us every single time we tried to help people. Unfortunately, the NDP does not have a lot of credibility on this issue because of its voting record.

PensionsAdjournment Motion

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I asked for this late show to follow up with the minister regarding the question I asked in the House about old age security. The minister quoted from a speech I made in which I said that we need a plan in place and we need the structures in place to deal with this dramatic shift in our country's demographics. The minister said that she agreed with me. If she does indeed agree, I would encourage her to continue to convince the government to reverse its decision to change the age of retirement from 65 to 67.

As I have already said, we need a plan in place to ensure there is adequate investment in the security of seniors, because there will indeed be more seniors. To prevent poverty and ensure dignity in retirement, we need to make investments and budgetary decisions now that will properly support our aging population.

Big business tax breaks, jails for unreported crimes and fighter jets costing billions do not meet the needs of Canadians as they look ahead to retirement. These are not the smart investments that will maintain our social safety net.

Old age security is sustainable. We can afford it. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has made it clear time and time again that no changes are needed. Because of the government's wrong-headed decisions, it is seniors who will suffer in the future.

A report just released by the NDP found that OAS and GIS make up more than half the income for about 1.2 million seniors, or 28%. For females, it is about 38% who get more than half of their income from OAS and GIS. For 510,000 seniors, or 12% of Canada's seniors, OAS and GIS make up more than 75% of their income. These are all individuals with incomes under $20,000.

Females make up 80% of those for whom OAS and GIS make up 75% or more of income. Of those for whom OAS and GIS make up 75% or more of income, 89% do not have an employer pension. Right now about 34,000 persons who are 66 or 67 are currently poor; without their OAS and GIS, about 129,000, or 95,000 more, will be poor. Without OAS and GIS, the poverty rate for these seniors increases from about 6% to 25%. The loss of OAS and GIS for senior households who have someone aged 66 or 67 would increase their poverty rate to nearly 40% in Atlantic Canada and to 50% for single females.

Surveys of recent retirees suggest that many seniors are not in a position to simply work two more years in response to changes to old age security. This population is unable to work for two more years.

I would say that any plan to change OAS is absolutely unacceptable. The government needs to take poor seniors into account when it does its budgeting, but it has not done so. This country cannot afford to make changes to the OAS and leave more and more seniors living in poverty.

PensionsAdjournment Motion

7:15 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the member opposite, even in her own words, understands that the government needs to act in a responsible and forward way to secure the financial future of seniors. It is disappointing that the NDP appeared to either not understand the situation with OAS or refused to acknowledge it.

The fact is that Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than past generations and we will be relying on retirement income for longer periods of time. As David Dodge, who is the former governor of the Bank of Canada and deputy minister of finance said, we need to address the fiscal problem of old age security. He also said that denying it would not make the problem go away. He said that we are “15 years late in getting started...and, because labour participation rates will start to fall later this decade, we're up against the wall”. We need to ensure that our retirement income system can adjust to this trend and stay strong and sustainable for generations to come, and that changing demographics do not affect the affordability of the OAS program.

As I said earlier, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will increase from 4.7 million to 9.3 million over the next 20 years. Consequently, the cost of the OAS program will increase from $36 billion per year in 2010 to $108 billion per year in 2030. OAS is the largest single program of the Government of Canada and it is funded 100% by annual tax revenues. This is a situation that must be addressed and it takes government leadership to do that. Again, it is disappointing that the NDP members do not acknowledge this.

Right now there are four working-age Canadians to every senior and by 2030 this will shrink to two. This is the issue. If we were going to ignore the coming demographic changes, we would simply be passing the buck to a future Parliament and to future generations, including our children. The choice would be to raise taxes to such an extent that they would cripple our economy or parliamentarians would be forced to do the unthinkable and examine the very sustainability of this program. We refuse to allow this to happen. We will make the common sense changes now, with a lengthy notice period, to ensure the sustainability of this program.

I will clarify once again that no current seniors will lose a penny because of these changes. The gradual increase to qualify for OAS from 65 years of age to 67 will begin in 2023 and finish by 2029. This is over 11 years away. The opposition should stop playing politics, stop fear-mongering and support our common sense changes to ensure the very sustainability of this very cherished social benefit.

PensionsAdjournment Motion

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has nothing to do with common sense. This is about undermining our social safety net. This is about pitting one generation against another. Yes, there will be more seniors. We have known that for 40 years. What has been done? Nothing. The Conservatives have undermined health care, affordable housing and now they are undermining the old age security system.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer made it very clear. Yes, it will cost more but as we have an increased number of seniors we will also see an increase in our gross domestic product. Right now it costs 2.3% of GDP to support seniors. By 2030, it will be 3.3%, about the same as in the 1990s. By 2030, it will begin to decline right back down to where it is now, with a further decline to 1.4%.

This has nothing to do with supporting seniors of the future. It has everything to do with the fact that the government does not believe in being government, it does not believe in our social safety net and it does not believe in Canadians.

PensionsAdjournment Motion

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, that was a little extreme but thankfully Canadians have elected a strong, stable Conservative majority government because of our economic track record and because they trust us to take care of the economy of the country. After hearing that tirade, I think it is very obvious why.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the Chief Actuary, the number of basic OAS recipients is expected to almost double over the next 20 years. According to the opposition, who will pay for that? I guess the opposition members think that money will appear out of thin air. This will change and this change will affect the ratio of workers to retirees increasing the burden on working Canadians to an unsustainable level.

Again, sticking one's head in the sand and denying the facts will not make them go away. Sadly, the opposition refuses to acknowledge the realities of our aging population and instead is playing political games.

In 2023, which is 11 years from now, we will gradually raise the age of OAS eligibility from 65 years of age to 67 years of age. We are making these changes to ensure the sustainability of the program for future generations of Canadians.

PensionsAdjournment Motion

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:23 p.m.)