Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît.
First, I want to apologize to my colleagues who were offended when I spoke in the House a little while ago on this very subject. At the time, I referred to seniors as “old” people. I was told that I should not say that and should instead call them “seniors”. I therefore apologize to my colleagues who were offended by that and who are apparently more thin-skinned than the people I was referring to. Indeed, all the seniors I spoke with afterwards to tell them how sorry I was said that they realized that I used those words affectionately, like calling my father “my old man”. What I meant by that is that our “old” folks have thicker skin than today's youngsters. They are made of sterner stuff, and they are proud. They are also quite ticked off, to remain within the realm of parliamentary language; I could have chosen a much stronger word. Even though they are as generous, available and active as they possibly can, they feel like what they get in return is not gratitude, only contempt.
In a way, that is what the motion from my colleague, the member for Shefford, is all about: recognizing the precarious situation that seniors are in and fixing it. We owe them that; they built our society.
Earlier, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons asked my colleague from Manicouagan how many people would benefit from the $110 monthly increase. The answer is in fact that we will all benefit. The whole society will because, in the secretary's own words, none of the money that we give to seniors will end up in a savings account. Seniors will spend that money, reinvesting it in our society. Collectively, we will benefit from treating our seniors better.
If we want to look a bit closer at figures and give people an idea of how many people could benefit from the increase, I would say that 20 years ago, 13% of the Quebec population was 65 years of age or older. Today, it is estimated that the ratio is around 20%, and it keeps increasing. Five years from now, in 2026, it could reach around 24 or 25%.
Another shocking statistic is that in 2015, 50% of seniors had incomes so low that they were exempt from paying income tax. That figure was 20% in 1997. This means that, between 1997 and 2015, there was a 30% increase in the number of seniors whose income is too low to pay income tax. That gives you an idea of the number of people who will directly benefit from the Bloc's proposed increase.
Life expectancies have been increasing for quite some time now, and needs will only continue to grow as well; those are established facts. The most irresponsible thing we could do right now is not to invest in the quality of life of our seniors. Health care is expensive and these costs will continue to rise. We would have to be pretty out of touch with reality to stand around and do nothing. Needs are evolving, as my colleague from Longueuil—Saint-Hubert can confirm, and there is a need for more social housing and for more services that meet the needs of seniors, especially in health care centres.
I want to talk a bit about seniors' buying power. It is important because that is what this debate is all about. I also want to mention the Institut de recherche et d'informations socioéconomiques, or IRIS, who did a study a few years ago. The fairly recent data from that 2018 study show that single seniors aged 65 and up living in Montreal and whose sole income is derived from the public pension system fall considerably short of what could be considered a dignified retirement. According to the IRIS, the annual revenue threshold to ensure a basic level of comfort ranges from $21,000 to $28,000, depending on the city. We are not talking about a lavish lifestyle, merely a tiny step above the poverty line.
In 1975, the old age security benefit represented 20% of the average industrial wage. Today, is it only 13%. This might be viewed as a positive sign in a way, because it means that wages have gone up. That may be right, but it also has a downside because workers' buying power also increased, as did the cost of living. Seniors are left behind with their insufficient pension benefits, and we see the results today. Their pension is no longer enough to keep them out of poverty and free of debt.
Nowadays we use the market basket measure. The estimated annual revenue required in 2021 for Montreal residents to meet their basic needs like shelter, food and clothing is $18,821. By adding together pension benefits, tax credits and the guaranteed income supplement, pensioners will receive about $18,380.
These seniors are far from being able to spend money on entertainment, play bingo or go out to a restaurant from time to time. What is probably the most heartbreaking is that they are far from being able to spoil their grandchildren a little, something that every senior wants to be able to do in the autumn of their life.
I will say it again. By failing to invest in seniors, we are depriving ourselves of a great asset. These people may be retired but that does not mean that they are not full of ideas, projects, goodwill and, often, energy. What is more, they are an extraordinary source of knowledge that could benefit the younger generation that spends 18 hours a day glued to a screen. Our seniors are an extraordinary source of potential, as long as we keep them in good health, as long as we keep them in a position where they can contribute to society and as long as we ensure that they have a decent standard of living.
I want to give members an idea of what I have seen and experienced in my riding of Drummond.
Investing in our seniors means that we have more people like Réjeanne Comeau, who along with her friends at FADOQ, found a way to organize a massive blood drive in Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Conseil two weeks ago in the midst of a pandemic. It was a big success.
Francine Leroux from Saint-Lucien is an extraordinary woman. Her project to build a space for the Cercle des fermières in her community is nearing completion. This space will benefit the entire region. Community kitchens and activities to end isolation will be held there. This is a fantastic group.
I am also thinking of Francine Julien, who is working hard to improve the lives of seniors in Saint-Guillaume, and Marie-France Roberge of Brin de bonheur, who organizes activities to help senior women in Drummondville feel less isolated. The organization is doing such a great job that it has to turn people away because its space is too small.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Jean-Guy Moreau, who has made it his mission to help people 70 and up get moving by organizing pickleball leagues. Mr. Moreau is deeply committed to seniors. He is actually the son-in-law of James Price, whose 100th birthday I brought to the House's attention in December. I should also mention that the member for Cape Breton—Canso joined me for the occasion because Mr. Price is a native of Louisbourg, which is in his riding.
In short, the Liberal government sees the Bloc Québécois's proposal to increase monthly OAS payments by $110 as an unnecessary expense. The Bloc, in contrast, sees it as an investment. As members have said, the Liberals have not yet kept their promise to increase the OAS by 10% for those 75 and up, and we do not know if they ever will.
As a society, we owe a debt to our seniors. This is not a frivolous thing. The bare minimum the government needs to do is ensure quality health care by increasing health transfers to the provinces and Quebec, as they have asked, and increasing the OAS for the people who built Quebec and Canada. This is about respect. We owe them respect, and I hope the House will adopt this motion.