Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to debate on M-307. It is a subject that is very important to my constituents. Judging from the correspondence my office has been receiving from people in Halifax West, it is an issue that is very much on the minds of Canadians.
Let me begin by thanking the hon. member for Charlottetown for introducing M-307, and the hon. member for York West, the Liberal Party critic on pensions and a champion for thousands of Canadians on this very important file.
I am reminded that M-307 is the result of a petition signed by tens of thousands of Canadians who believe the neo-Conservative government is trying to disenfranchise them. Many Canadians believe their country is now in the hands of a mean-spirited government intent on punishing the very seniors who spent their lives building this country.
I am sure many Conservative backbenchers feel the same way but they are afraid to voice their true feelings for fear of invoking the wrath of the minions over at the PMO. I do not know what lines Conservative members are feeding the folks back home, but I do know what my office has been hearing from Canadians. Let me share a few of the heartfelt sentiments I have heard. I hope the hon. members will listen carefully and take seriously these comments from real people who are going to experience real impacts of this budget.
One says, “Moving the age to 67 would have a real impact on my mom. She's a single woman and a low-income earner.” There is a real Canadian with a real concern. Another one says, “I became a widow at the age of 40. I'm on disability and do not have much money in RRSPs. I find it difficult to pay my bills now. I don't know how I'll manage with a two-year interruption of income.” This is a very scary situation. That is a real problem. Some people express confusion and anxiety over the OAS changes. One of them says, “There is a concern because I'm currently on Canadian pension disability. I need to know if that will continue until I am 67.”
Perhaps in this debate, if Conservative members are going to claim they have a response to this, let them tell the House if they can point to a section in the bill that deals with this in some fashion, or a section that deals with the people who are currently on social assistance or provincial programs. Which section will provide provincial governments with the funds they will need to provide that kind of assistance for two more years, when they are already hard-pressed in terms of finances?
Another person notes, “I have spent my entire working life paying into CPP, only to hear at this point in my life that my retirement goals are not aligned to the Conservative government's fiscal agenda? I am fortunate enough to hold a good job, and I will work harder to prepare, but I can only imagine the panic of individuals who are not employed or minimally employed. What will these Canadians do, and how many more impoverished seniors does there need to be for the Prime Minister to get the message? Shame.”
This is a very important point about people who are not employed or are minimally employed, who are relying on a variety of social programs. I think of people who have work that is very physical or difficult. I think of women who have worked their whole lives, 35 years perhaps, in fish plants, standing on concrete floors, their hands in cold water all day long. The government feels it is no problem for them to work two more years after they are 65.
Is that not a problem? Is there nothing to worry about? Should we not be concerned about those kinds of people? Is that really a government that considers the reality of people living in this country every day, especially people who are older in our society?
I am reminded of the old adage that a society should always be judged on how it treats its weakest members. History will indeed judge the government and the Prime Minister appropriately, as a government that was always there to assist its rich and powerful friends and contributors, but told the rest of the people, bootstrappers, to fend for themselves, a government that said, “They can look after themselves”.
The Prime Minister, a year ago, made the following promise, “We're not going to cut the rate of increase in transfers for health care, education and pensions. That is job number one ”. Those are not my words. That is the line the Conservative leader fed Canadians in the last election campaign.
That was the election campaign in which he also said he had a contract to buy F-35 attack jets and they would only cost $16 billion. That is what he told Canadians. This is the same Prime Minister who also promised seniors he would never tax income trusts and quickly broke his word. He broke faith with Canadian seniors and imposed a tax on income trusts, totally contrary to what he had promised. This is a Prime Minister who was hanging out with his rich, elite pals in Switzerland when he decided to drop a bombshell on seniors and wipe out the dreams of thousands.
One of my constituents, describing the chaos and confusion that the initial OAS announcement caused, said the following in an email to my office, “We struggle with trying to understand how we are in this state of confusion over the OAS. We struggle to find a balance in our day to day lives despite...the chaos....All this information came to us via...the media with minimal reassurance from...the Prime Minister, who started all this fuss while grandstanding in a foreign country.”
Those are not my words. That is a person in my riding who wrote to me concerned, worried, frustrated and confused, asking why on earth a prime minister of Canada would make an announcement about pensions for Canadian seniors in Switzerland, at a meeting with the richest and most powerful people in the world. What was that about? Was he trying to show off and say, “Look at what we are doing. You are going to love this one”? Was that it?
Madam Speaker, you can see why I appreciate having a few minutes today to talk about the old age security program. I urge all members to look into their hearts, do the right thing and support this motion. They should tell the government that it should (a) recognize the contributions that the baby boomer generation has made in building Canada, (b) affirm their support for the old age security program, (c) commit to maintaining the 65-year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act and (d) recognize that the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs, both designed to help low-income seniors, are inextricably linked and ensure they continue to have identical ages of eligibility. That is what Liberals are asking with this motion. Those are reasonable requests if we think about the future of the country and are concerned about the future of our seniors, especially low-income seniors.
Fifty per cent of the people who receive OAS earn less than $25,000 a year and 40% earn less than $20,000. That is who we are talking about. Those are the people, not making big money, not in easy jobs often, who are being asked by the government to work two more years, to wait two more years, to do without for two more years. What kind of a government is that?