Madam Speaker, I would be remiss, given the hyper-inflationary context, if I did not mention those without whom my region would not be what it is today, the seniors who literally and figuratively built everything we have, who cleared the way.
Since becoming the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, I have heard from many seniors in my riding who are frustrated about their financially precarious situation. They just cannot afford to pay their bills because of the higher price of goods and services.
We are heading for some very tough times. Everyone's purchasing power will suffer. Some people can find ways to improve their situation, but other more vulnerable people, such as seniors, have fewer options.
I wish I could have told them that their government was proactive this past year, but it was not. Like it or not, the population is aging and people are living longer and longer. I think the government is underestimating the consequences of not increasing seniors' income.
Many of us were hoping for meaningful measures to kick-start this period where people will have to compromise and make some choices. I think everyone is prepared to tighten their belts to make ends meet. However, I do not see how maintaining the status quo helps the most vulnerable. It feels like one step forward and two steps back.
People who are hungry and worried about having a roof over their head cannot remain indifferent to some of the speeches we are hearing. The government needs to focus on doing better in areas under its jurisdiction.
Who is more likely to live on a low income? Among people aged 75 and over, women, single people and renters are more likely to live in poverty.
Living on a low income can present significant challenges for seniors. Consider, for example, transportation costs due to reduced mobility, home maintenance and heating, and additional health costs.
Our seniors spent their entire lives working hard, saving and paying for a system that was supposed to support them. Now, that future is beyond their reach. As most seniors are on a fixed income, increases in interest rates, taxes, groceries and heating hit them hard. It means that many seniors must continue to work or return to work. The fact that the government reduced the retirement age from 67 to 65 is inconsequential because people must make decisions based on their bank accounts and not their preferences with respect to quality of life.
This is on top of the problems that many seniors are dealing with in my riding. In rural areas, many of them are dealing with isolation and the lack of support for health services, transportation and federal services, which results in further isolation and health problems.
We must also recognize that this inflationary period has coincided with one of the worst housing crises in 15 years. For people on a fixed income, such as seniors, it is an unavoidable catastrophe.
With the increase in the price of energy, taxes and groceries, and the Bank of Canada's increased interest rate, people are having trouble keeping a roof over their head. We know that we need to try to stop the economy from getting out of control, but there are currently people who are having to sell their home, skip meals or take another job to survive.
The government needs to be aware of that so that it can offer more than just compassion and useful advice, such as cancelling a Disney+ subscription to save money. That kind of measure is useful for those who are privileged and have a steady income. It is not useful for those living paycheque to paycheque or on a fixed income. These people already know how demanding this situation is on their budget and they do not need any suggestions from the government on how to stop spending money.
Even though seniors have more wealth, there should be a financial model that helps them save more of the money they worked so hard for their entire lives.
When my colleague from Joliette spoke two weeks ago in response to the economic statement presented by the Minister of Finance, he pointed out that, for a government that claims to be feminist, it is doing a remarkable job of neglecting low-income women aged 65 to 75. They have no pension, because they spent their lives as caregivers supporting their families rather than maintaining their professional networks and pursuing their careers. This invisible work, which is not recognized as real work because it is not paid, is not menial and must not be ignored.
The problems senior women are facing are only made worse by the gender wage gap.
That means that, if a woman decides to work during her lifetime, she will face bigger challenges as a retiree than a retired man will. A retired man would have had more opportunities to save because he was paid more for the same work or because he was promoted at the expense of women. Those are the types of systematic injustices that the government needs to remedy if, as it claims, it really wants to defend and help these women who need its assistance.
Let us now talk about single seniors. The current tax system is a traditional model built for a nuclear family from the 1950s or before, which generally consists of a couple with two or three children who own their own home. That old model no longer applies. Whether it be because of separation, divorce, the growing number of women in the labour market, the emergence of sexual choice, the death of a partner or simply preference, more and more people are living alone. In fact, one-person households are growing more rapidly than any other type of household in Canada, according to the Statistics Canada figures from 2016. In the coming years, this number will only continue to grow. It is therefore not logical for the government to continue to reward couples and ignore single people when determining how to spread out the tax burden.
Society has always marginalized single people. Nowhere is this more evident than in politicians' speeches, where families are the centerpiece and single people are ignored, unless they are in long-term care. Life can be bleak if you are a single senior, another often marginalized group. Then, throw in financial concerns that were deliberately engineered by the government through unfair tax practices. It does not take long for a comfortable middle-class existence to become impossible in one's senior years.
Few of us will reach the end of our lives without being single at some point. A partner dies, a couple breaks up, or the right life partner is never found, and those people are alone. Such a situation brings with it a variety of challenges, not the least of which is mental stress and loneliness. The added stress of income insecurity can be overwhelming. That is why we need change now.
I also want to point out that this budget statement does not include anything for those who are in the most precarious situations, those who are on fixed incomes and do not have the ability to go out and make more money.
I sent a householder with a petition to the people of Abitibi—Témiscamingue. The petition calls for an OAS increase of $110 per month for all seniors 65 and up so as to permanently improve their quality of life.
That petition was tabled after the latest budget. We expected the government to be more responsive to seniors in its economic statement. Over 5,000 people signed the petition. In other words, 5,000 people who received the document at home felt that seniors' predicament deserved their attention, and they signed the petition to say that it is time for a big change.
I sincerely hope the government gets this message. I will be giving the Minister of Seniors seven of the big green boxes we all have in our offices so that she understands how urgent it is to take action in the next budget. This particular economic statement may not have resulted in much, but the next budget has to do a lot more for seniors. Let us not forget that these people are not able to increase their income because their income is fixed.
Perhaps we should be considering measures in the context of the labour shortage. Seniors who work need more robust tax measures so the money they earn by working does not get clawed back. That could be a very important measure for our seniors.
People know that I care about seniors. That is why I created an advisory committee for seniors in my riding, with members recruited from the four Abitibi—Témiscamingue RCMs. It was one of my election promises. One of the main things we want to do is conduct research so we can propose solutions that will improve seniors' quality of life. They are very concerned about income and also health care.
I am asking the House to listen to our seniors' message. More than 5,000 people in Abitibi—Témiscamingue showed that they are interested in this issue, and I believe it is urgent that the government take action to increase our seniors' purchasing power.
The $110-a-month increase is the bare minimum, and that is what we were asking for before this hyperinflation started. If there is a recession looming, it is all the more urgent to support the most vulnerable people in our society.