Madam Speaker, I would first like to respectfully acknowledge that I am situated on traditional territories and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Anishinabe of the Williams Treaties First Nations, the Huron-Wendat and the Métis Nation.
Second, I will be splitting my time with my parliamentary secretary, the member for Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation.
I thank the Bloc Québécois and my hon. colleagues for their shared interest in discussing how we can best support seniors in Quebec and across Canada. I appreciate their speeches so far today, although I disagree with some of their assertions regarding the support the government has provided for seniors, confusing the indexing of pensions with the extra COVID-19 support that was provided.
I always appreciate opportunities to discuss what we are doing for seniors and to have parliamentarians recognize the challenges they are facing, especially during the pandemic. The Bloc Québécois has pointed out some challenges that seniors face in its motion today. Since day one, we have been working to address those challenges with action. We, as a government, have long seen that seniors need an active federal government working closely with provincial, territorial and local governments to deliver important benefits and programs for them.
Our Liberal government is committed to strengthening Canadian seniors' financial security and health care, and improving their quality of life. Some of our first actions as a government were restoring the age of eligibility for old age security to 65 years of age from 67 years of age, increasing the guaranteed income supplement for nearly 900,000 low-income single seniors, and enhancing the Canada pension plan by 50% for future retirees. That increase was matched in the Quebec pension plan.
Since the pandemic hit early last year, we have been busy supporting Canadians, including seniors. More than four million seniors received an extra GST credit. We provided a one-time payment to seniors eligible for OAS, plus extra support for those eligible for the GIS. For a low-income couple, it added up to over $1,500 in tax-free support. Altogether, we delivered over twice as much direct financial assistance to seniors as we committed to in our platform. That provided $3.8 billion of direct financial support to seniors, and that work continues.
In the last election, we committed to Canadians that we would increase old age security by 10% for seniors aged 75 and up. Our proposal recognizes that as seniors age, their financial security decreases and their needs increase. They are more likely to outlive their savings, have disabilities, be unable to work and be widowed, all while their health care costs are rising. For seniors over 75, few work, and those who do have a median employment income of only $720; half have a disability, and half of these are severe; 57% are women, and four in 10 of these are widows; 59% have incomes below $30,000 and 39% receive the guaranteed income supplement. These are real pressures on older seniors' quality of life.
Our government recognizes their needs and will help address them by increasing the old age security amount by 10% for seniors aged 75 and up. This will be the first permanent increase to the OAS pension since 1973, other than adjustments due to inflation. We developed these initiatives by listening to seniors; however, the Bloc fails to recognize the actions that we have been taking since the beginning of the pandemic to support seniors.
The member for Beloeil—Chambly, the Bloc leader, has made comments that mislead seniors. We heard that again today, in speeches about what the government has been doing to support seniors with regard to their personal finances. He told seniors that they got practically nothing in support during the pandemic. In fact, a low-income senior got over $1,500 in tax-free support. That is far from nothing, and provided a significant boost to the most vulnerable seniors struggling with added costs during the pandemic.
The Bloc has also told seniors that their pensions are constantly losing their buying power. In fact, their public pensions are indexed to protect their buying power against inflation. The Bloc should not be trying to mislead seniors when they are the most vulnerable during the pandemic. I welcome good debates about how to best support seniors, but they need to be based on facts.
The Bloc has also failed to recognize seniors' broader needs during the pandemic and how the federal government has been stepping up to address those needs. Let us start with the public health.
We have provided provinces and territories billions of dollars to help protect Canadians' health during the pandemic. We have procured billions of pieces of personal protective equipment. Seniors have suffered the most from the effects of COVID-19 and have paid the highest price with their lives, none more so than those living in long-term care. While many of these facilities have been able to keep their residents safe, others have revealed the weaknesses in the system and have shocked the nation. There is clearly a call for action to address these issues and our government has stepped up to help.
Provinces and territories have the jurisdiction for long-term care and we are working together with them to better protect seniors and staff in the long-term care system. We recently added $1 billion to the funding to assist with infection prevention in long-term care. We have expanded eligibility for federal infrastructure funds so they can be used to modernize and renovate long-term care facilities. We are also working to set new national standards with the provinces and territories, and we will establish new offences and penalties in the Criminal Code related to elder abuse and neglect.
To help address acute labour shortages in long-term care and home care, we are funding training and work placements for 4,000 new personal support worker interns. We have provided $3 billion to the provinces and territories to increase the wages of long-term care workers and other low-income essential workers. Furthermore, we have provided the provinces with over 22 million rapid tests, with more on the way. We know that rapid tests are an important way to protect seniors in long-term care homes, according to a federal expert panel. By strengthening screening, rapid tests can save lives and give worried families greater confidence that their loved ones are safe.
Another tool to help keep seniors safe in Canada is our vaccine plan. Canada has distributed over 1.8 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to provinces and territories. By the end of March, we are on track to receive six million doses. Following that, we will be receiving millions of doses in April. We will be seeing seniors and essential workers getting vaccinated as we move into spring.
The hard work that is being done in the provinces, cities and by Canadians over the last few months has worked. Cases are down, hospitalizations are down and the number of deaths is down. However, the threat from variants is real, so we have to keep going with strong public health measures; otherwise, we could see a third wave that is worse than the second before vaccines have been rolled out and our seniors can be protected.
Our government will always be there as a partner with provinces to keep people safe, working together with a team Canada approach, and that is what will get us through this crisis.
I would like to say a few words about seniors' mental health. We cannot let physical distancing become social distancing. We need to find new ways to help seniors stay connected while they are staying safe. Through the new horizons for seniors program, we added an additional $20 million in support. The federal government has funded over 2,000 community projects across Canada. Many of these projects have helped seniors connect online for the first time by providing tablets and help on how to use them, and group activities like exercise classes. Others helped seniors continue to access critical services like medical appointments, food and crisis support.
Looking ahead, our government has an ambitious agenda for seniors. That includes increasing old-age security by 10% once a senior turns 75; taking additional action to help people stay in their homes longer; providing a new Canadians disability benefit modelled after the GIS, ensuring that everyone has access to a family doctor or primary care team; continuing to support Canadians with mental illness and substance-use challenges; and further increasing access to mental health resources. We are also accelerating work to achieve national universal pharmacare.
We know there is more to do and, as a government, we are doing that work. I look forward to the debate today and to answering some questions now.