Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today in support of Bill C-38 and to explain the necessary changes to the old age security program.
I appreciate as well the opportunity to stand in the House against the NDP and the opposition's tired tactics of delaying, which only serve to threaten Canadian jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.
The changes proposed to the OAS program in Bill C-38 would secure the retirement benefits of future generations, making the program sustainable for the long term.
When these changes were first announced in economic action plan 2012, the Calgary Herald recognized the importance of these measures as part of our government's broader plan to protect Canada's fiscal future, saying:
It's a budget item that seems both responsible fiscally.... The firm-but-reasonable OAS strategy is in fact representative of the budget's overall tone.... Canada has shown great economic strength relative to world powers in Europe and the Americas since the fall of 2008, and continued leadership on that front is important.
The numbers tell us that we have to confront our fiscal and demographic realities to serve the best interests of all Canadians, both now and into the future.
The recent census confirmed that Canada has more seniors than ever before. My riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has one of the larger concentrations of seniors, and it is going to continue to grow as a retirement area.
The population of Canadian seniors is expected to keep growing in the coming years. By 2030, less than 20 years from now, almost one in four Canadians will be 65 years of age or older, compared to one in seven today. The number of OAS recipients is expected to almost double over the next 20 years, from about 4.9 million in 2011 to 9.3 million by 2030, when the last of the baby boomers reaches 65.
The annual cost of the old age security program is projected to increase from approximately $38 billion in 2011 to over $108 billion in 2030. OAS is the largest single social program of the Government of Canada, and it is 100% funded by tax revenues. Today 13¢ of every federal tax dollar is spent on old age security. If no changes are made, in about 20 years that will grow to 21¢, or one-fifth of all federal tax dollars spent.
At the same time, Canadians are living longer and healthier lives. With the growing number of seniors who will be collecting OAS for longer periods of time, the total cost of benefits will become increasingly difficult to afford for tomorrow's workers and taxpayers.
We cannot stand idly by. We will not stand idly by. We cannot allow the old age security program to continue on its current path. That is why we are taking action: because we want to ensure that future generations have an OAS program they can count on in their older years.
Before I talk about the proposed changes, it is important to clarify that those seniors who currently receive OAS will not lose a cent and will not be affected.
The most important change we are proposing is to increase the eligibility age for the OAS pension and GIS from 65 to 67 by 2029, with a gradual increase starting on April 1, 2023. In essence, it will be phased in over six years.
We are giving advance notification and a long phase-in period to allow Canadians ample time to adapt their retirement income plans and to smooth the transition to the new age of eligibility. We think our phased-in approach is both fair and reasonable.
Two other changes to the OAS are being proposed: proactive enrolment and voluntary deferral.
Starting in 2013, we plan to begin proactive enrolment of OAS benefits to eliminate the need for some eligible seniors to apply for their OAS pension and the GIS. This measure will be implemented over a four-year period and will reduce the application burden on many seniors as well as the government's administrative costs.
On July 1, 2013, we also plan to allow for a voluntary deferral of the OAS pension. This would let people delay receiving their OAS pension by up to five years, up to age 70, in exchange for an enhanced monthly pension, similar to what is happening in CPP.
This new measure will provide people with more flexibility as they plan their transition from work to retirement. Not only will it increase flexibility for older workers, but the option to defer has also been welcomed by small business owners across the country.
Ben Brunnen, chief economist with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, has been clear that this represents a win for Canadian business by saying:
The OAS changes help remove disincentives and create choice for older workers to stay in the workforce, which can have a big impact on the labour market—especially for a smaller company.
Let me return to the age of eligibility and be absolutely clear about the timeline: current OAS pensioners will not be affected by this change, nor will people who are close to the current OAS age of eligibility. People aged 54 or older as of March 31, 2012—in other words, those born on or before March 31, 1958—would be eligible to apply for the OAS pension and the GIS at the age of 65.
We will ensure that certain federal income support programs that end at age 65 are aligned with changes to the OAS program. This would include programs for veterans and low-income first nation seniors on reserve. This will ensure that individuals receiving benefits from these programs would not face a gap in income at ages 65 and 66.
We will also consider the situation of people between 65 and 67 who receive disability or survivor benefits from the Canada pension plan. These benefits typically stop or are reduced at age 65, when the recipient becomes eligible for old age security. This will be discussed with the ministers of finance of the provinces and territories, who are joint stewards of the CPP, during the next regular review of the program.
Our government has been clear that the proposed changes would not affect the Canada pension plan, as the CPP and OAS are two separate programs. The Chief Actuary has confirmed that CPP is financially sound and fully sustainable for generations to come.
The OAS program cannot continue in its present form. Once again, as we have said, it is becoming unaffordable and needs to reflect demographic realities, and that is why we are changing it now. If we refuse to acknowledge these realities and simply sit back and do nothing, the OAS program would become unsustainable, as it would if the opposition parties had their way.
Conservatives are convinced that the only just and practical way to relieve the cost pressures on OAS is to increase the age of eligibility. As the Government of Canada, it is our obligation to make responsible and prudent decisions for Canadians of all ages over the coming decades. Not only is it our obligation to make responsible and prudent decisions, some of them tough decisions, but we are up to the task. Through our actions, that is exactly what we are doing.
Back when OAS was first put in place, the average age of a male was 67 to 68 years old and the average age of a female was 69 to 71 years old, depending upon which figures one looked at. However, today those ages are 80 and 83. We are living longer, and that is a good thing, but programs like this need to be looked at and changed from time to time.
Many countries in the world have already made these changes or are looking at making these changes. I think it is high time that Canada did the same thing. This policy would put us in good shape for seniors down the road. My sons, when it is their time, will have a healthy OAS there for them.
However, if we do not deal with it, I fear they will be looking at something that is reduced or gone altogether.
I will leave it at that. I look forward to any questions.