Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today in support of Motion No. 203. I will start by thanking my colleague from Richmond Centre for bringing forth this very important motion. I would also like to thank her for her many years of advocacy for seniors in the House and across Canada.
There are four major parts to this motion: first, recognizing the disproportionate effect of fraud activities against seniors across the county; second, coordinating a national response to fraud activities to ensure that seniors and vulnerable groups have the resources they need to understand the signs of fraud; third, establishing tangible recourses for victims of fraud; and fourth, working with local law enforcement agencies and the CRA to introduce legislation to combat fraudulent attacks that target vulnerable seniors.
Motion No. 203 originates from a motion I put forward a year ago, Motion No. 176, and I am especially pleased to see it being debated today. It is also very timely that March is fraud awareness month, so it is a great time to be debating the bill.
For many of the people in the House, when they approached politics for the first time, they were asked what their motivation was for running. When I submitted my nomination for my party, I told people it was to work for seniors. In my past life, when I lived in Victoria, I worked with an amazing organization called the Greater Victoria Eldercare Foundation. It looked after six hospitals for the elderly and severely disabled.
March in Victoria, through the Eldercare Foundation, is recognized as the 14th annual Embrace Aging Month and I want to take a moment to thank two people who are still with the Eldercare Foundation and doing amazing work there: Lori McLeod and Donald Clark. Besides helping with the six hospitals, they have introduced a lot of very innovative health care and aging issues and programs for seniors, which I would like to touch on briefly.
There is the Embrace Aging Month I spoke about that connects seniors to resources and activities in their communities. It has a pilot program called “ElderConnect”, a wellness navigation system to make the journey to aging easier, both in the community and in the hospital system. Eldercare Foundation has also created a program called the safe lifeline program that helps seniors stay in their homes longer as opposed to moving into elder homes. Its slogan for this month, Embrace Aging Month, is “Be Well, Be Secure, Be Connected and Be Enriched”. It looks after seniors and the most disabled in, as I said, six hospitals: the Aberdeen Hospital, which is the main one; Mount Tolmie; Glengarry; Priory; Heritage Woods; and the Oak Bay Lodge.
I started out many years ago as a fundraiser for the Eldercare group, later joined the board and became vice-president, and then I was very proud to spend several years as president of the Eldercare Foundation. I still contribute as an adviser to the board to this day.
After receiving my nomination, when I was door-knocking, one of the biggest things, if not the major thing, I heard from seniors is the unfairness of the RRIF rules, the registered retirement income fund rules that force seniors to roll their pensions into an RRIF at age 72 and start withdrawing money from that program to be taxed, whether they need the money or not.
The C.D. Howe Institute has studied this for years and has done great work. One of the things it stated about the RRIF, with the changes in lower returns but also increased life expectancy, is that there is a very real problem that seniors are going to outlive their savings. Another issue with the forced withdrawal is that it pushes seniors into a higher tax bracket. Therefore, not only are they pushed into a higher tax bracket but they have OAS, provincial and other clawbacks.
Seniors living in housing arranged in Edmonton, for example, through the Greater Edmonton Foundation, pay their rent based on their incomes. We are forcing seniors to withdraw money to be taxed, which pushes them into higher tax brackets and forces them to pay higher rents at the same time. For what purpose are we doing this? The C.D. Howe Institute said, if we let seniors leave their money in their RRIFs until they pass, the government would actually collect a higher amount of taxes in the end, rather than the bit-by-bit process right now.
From talking to seniors when I went door to door, I promised I would introduce a bill to address that issue. Bill C-301, my private member's bill, would eliminate the mandatory withdrawals. It would allow seniors to withdraw the money when they decide they need it, not when the government decides.
The Canadian Association for Retired Persons supported my bill. The C.D. Howe Institute supported my bill. However, what did the government say? The Liberal candidate who was running against me said that it is the government that should decide how and when seniors get their money. It is not seniors deciding for themselves, but that the government should decide.
One of the Liberal members who argued against my private member's bill said that we should not have it; otherwise, seniors will hoard their retirement savings. This person actually said this in the House of Commons, believing that seniors should not decide when to withdraw their money, since this would allow seniors to hoard their money. We had another person stand in the House and blatantly mislead members by stating that it would cost the government $500 million a year in lost tax revenues.
Unfortunately, the government voted it down, which is funny because in the budget being introduced tomorrow, when we look at the pre-consultations, what is in there? It is changes to the RRIF program. At least the government has admitted that this is an issue that it will address.
The government further went on and immediately eliminated the former minister of seniors program. Why was this? I am not really sure. I am pleased that Liberals have changed their minds and reinstated the Minister of Seniors to help look after seniors.
I want to look at the issue at hand, which is seniors fraud. It is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada and Edmonton. It is not just stereotypical seniors who are being defrauded and targeted. It is not just the frail, the elderly, those getting on or those lacking access to technology. Young, active seniors are being targeted and defrauded as well.
Recently, I did a seniors seminar on fraud at a west-end seniors association in my riding. About 120 seniors came out, and every single one of them said they had been contacted within the last two weeks by a fraud attempt. Fully 20% admitted they had been defrauded of some money.
There are big frauds. We heard about the CRA fraud today, in which people contact seniors and pretend they are from the CRA. It is quite funny that the CRA will never actually answer people's phone calls, but people think it actually has time to call people.
There is a grandma-and-grandpa fraud, in which fraudsters will follow families on Facebook. They will see grandparents posting and reposting pictures of their kids and grandkids in Mexico. They will target those seniors by calling and pretending they are the grandkids and then they will say they are in prison and they are in trouble in Mexico and ask the seniors not to tell mom and dad and to send some money.
There is the email phishing scam. Of course, we have all received the emails purporting to be from BMO, Royal Bank, Shaw, other banks and other companies, which look very professional and very real. However, fraudsters are trying either to get credit information or to hack computers.
There is the romance fraud, in which people will meet others over valid websites, such as eHarmony or Match.com. People will spend months grooming seniors and then will defraud them, asking for money for trips or this and that.
There is of course identity theft as well. There is a new one. I actually just received a Facebook message today through the Edmonton Police Service, to which I have to give a shout-out. It helps me a lot in the community by sending out officers to present fraud seminars with me. It is now warning people not to put too much information in obituaries, because people are using that for identity theft.
Like my colleague from Richmond Centre, I sent out a survey to all my constituents asking if they would support the bill. This is what they said.
Randy said, “It is not just the scam that's objectionable. I'm angry that the Fed. Govt. does nothing to stop the frequent disruptions.... Thanks for finally...[taking] action”.
“My parents are seniors or are underfunded.... Shame on the Liberals and the NDP.” That was from Darcy.
Karen said, “It's time to put Canadian seniors higher priority”.
Someone else said, “I have been called many times on my cellphone while I have been driving and told it was the CRA and I owed...money.”
Diane and Tony said, “As seniors, my husband and I have seen the incidences of online scams, banking scams and telephone scams increasing at an alarming rate. Thanks to our interest in keeping up with technology, we have avoided and reported some of the fraud attempts we have encountered. Other seniors we know have not been so lucky.”
Another said that they are aware of many seniors who are vulnerable and who have fallen prey to these scams.
I have hundreds and hundreds of examples sent in by seniors who have been ripped off and by other people in my riding who note their parents have been ripped off.
I am glad that the member for Richmond Centre has tabled Motion No. 203. I hope all sides in the House will support the motion so that we can do something about senior fraud in Canada.