Mr. Speaker, I will pick up the challenge put forward by the member about the importance of our seniors to society as a whole.
There is a wide spectrum of things we all do as elected officials to reach out to get a better understanding of issues of our country. It does not matter where we go, the issue of seniors needs to be given special attention. Not only do I think about seniors during election time, but I also think of seniors between elections. I have constant dialogues to try to get a better understanding of the different things government can do to provide not only a better future for the seniors of today, but also for the seniors of tomorrow.
I understand what the member is proposing in his private member's bill. I appreciate the initiative private members take to allow for a debate on what they perceive as important issues in their constituency, and in fact for all Canadians. Therefore, I applaud the member for bringing the bill forward, but I do not necessarily agree with it.
There is a better way of dealing with seniors and the way in which money is withdrawn out of RRIFs. I have found the current system effective. It seems to have stood the test of time. I know members opposite would argue that times are changing and people, on average, are dying at an older age, and that is true. However, I do not think the arguments I have heard this afternoon have changed my opinion.
I appreciate the member making reference to Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the role he played on the issue of pensions. It clearly demonstrates how this policy has proven to be the most effective when we put it in a holistic attitude of how we best deal with pensions. The private sector does play an important role.
When I speak with the seniors I represent, pension issues that consistently come up are primarily dealing with the CPP, GIS, and OAS. It is very rare that I hear many comments regarding RRIFs. Now, it does happen. If my memory serves me correctly, I can honestly say that I cannot recall someone from my constituency pointing out that there is a problem with this and that this really needs to be acted upon. I have been at this for a number of years, in excess of well over 20 years as a parliamentarian, close to 19 years in the Manitoba legislature and approaching six years in this beautiful chamber. What a privilege it is to be here.
When the member says that we should be sensitive and listen to what seniors tell us, I recognize the importance of the many different ways in which a senior can retire, have an income, and often supplement an income.
That is one of the reasons I spent a great deal of my time earlier today debating the budget and talking about some important initiatives that the government has already taken. It is important that we recognize that. The member appealed to the Prime Minister and government members to think about what seniors have to say. I believe we have been very aggressive in dealing with important issues related to seniors. I will highlight a few of those initiatives. One is that my colleague made reference to the guaranteed income supplement.
Maybe before I get to that, I will provide some background, if I can. The lifestyles of seniors vary immensely in virtually every riding. Every member of Parliament, no doubt, would be able to comment on the degree to which lifestyles among seniors vary. There are those who have, for a wide variety of reasons, a fairly high standard of living—it depends on how one defines the word “standard”, but I mean from a financial point of view—compared to those who are more challenged.
We could talk about the snowbirds. There are thousands. Winnipeg has a large number of snowbirds who go south. It is great that they have the financial means to do that and I would not want to take any of that away from them, but there are those who are a bit more challenged, and then those who are extremely challenged. I made reference to this in a speech earlier. There are many seniors in Winnipeg North who have to make decisions on whether to buy the medications that they require and their doctors tell them they need or to buy food that they also require.
The fees for ambulance services are astronomical. These are the types of real issues that seniors are talking about. When the member asks about seniors and whether Liberals are really listening to seniors, I want to assure the member that not only am I, but the government is listening to what seniors are saying in a very real way. As much as possible, we are doing what we can to address those needs.
When I talk about medications, even ambulance care, one thing I believe we do not talk enough about is the importance of a health care accord, because that would deliver many of those senior services. Why is that important? It is because, at the end of the day, if people with relatively modest pensions fall ill, the money to cover medications will quickly consume a great percentage of their pensions.
The issue of how much seniors should receive is something I constantly talk about. That is why I lobbied, wherever I could, to increase the guaranteed income supplement for the poorest of all seniors. That is why I argued, when I was in opposition, that we needed to decrease the age of retirement back to 65, as opposed to Mr. Harper and the Conservatives increasing it to 67. This is why we have to invest in CPP, because it is about the future of seniors.
When we look at what Bill C-301 would do, it really is not consistent with the basic retirement income objectives of tax deferrals provided by RRSP or RRIF savings. It would create significant inequities in tax deferral opportunities. My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, picked up on that point.
Suffice to say, we have today a government that is genuinely concerned about a wide spectrum of issues, including the issue of pensionable income. It is a government that is open to it and is prepared to do whatever it can in many different ways.
This is a bill that I cannot—