Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about one of my favourite topics, seniors, and I have now become one.
I think it is really important that we have this discussion today. This is an opportunity for us to pull what I would call an ugly scab off of the issue of affordability for seniors, especially those living on a fixed income. This is a wound that has been festering for some time, and I want to start off by taking a look at the actual numbers and the situation that many Canadians are finding themselves in.
There are single seniors living on a fixed income getting OAS, GIS and CPP. For those who would get OAS, depending on the work that they did in their career, they might get as much as $7,700 a year. They might get, from GIS, if they received the maximum, about $11,500. If they had worked a long time and they had maximized their CPP, they might be getting around $9800.
What that works out to every month is somewhere between $2000 and $2400, depending on where they are on the scale. That is it.
These are people, if they are getting GIS, that do not have huge nest eggs. They do not have huge savings to draw upon to get them out of a bad situation. Today, the folks who define the Canadian poverty line define that line as 50% of the median income. For a single person, they are saying anybody who makes less than $3600 a month is actually living at or below the poverty line. All of these seniors we are talking about are already living below the poverty line, after they have worked their whole lives and after they have built the nation.
All this rhetoric coming from the other side is ironic. Even in the 2020 throne speech, we heard the words, “Elders deserve to be safe, respected and live in dignity.” Well, if they deserve to be respected, and if they deserve to live in dignity, that is certainly not what we are seeing today.
I want to start by describing the situation before the pandemic. I will then talk about what happened during the pandemic and where the need for Bill C-12 comes from. I want to then talk about the lack of government action when all of these issues were being raised, and make a few comments to follow up based on that.
Initially during the pandemic, recognizing that people were struggling and many people had lost their jobs, the government did make an effort and the Conservatives did support many programs to replace the income that people had been making.
Sadly, many of the people we are talking about, who are on fixed incomes, had to go out and take on other jobs just to make ends meet, just to heat their homes and have groceries on the table. In my view, that is totally unacceptable for the seniors who built the country. However, that was the reality.
What did the Liberals do during the pandemic? They decided to increase the carbon tax twice. Not just once, but twice. This put up the cost of groceries, home heating and basically all goods. At the same time, we have seen inflation increasing to where we are today at nearly 5%. People on a fixed income have zero ability to adapt to that.
We know that the lack of action we have seen in the affordable housing crisis has also just gotten worse during this pandemic. Even in a riding like mine, which is not a metropolitan riding, a person cannot find something to rent for less than $1000 a month. If someone is on a fixed income, and they are only getting $2000 a month, there will not be a lot left over for food, groceries and heating.
To get seniors living at what we are calling the poverty line might take as much as $1000 or $1500 a month, depending on the location they are living in. The government is great to talk about the increases they have made to GIS in the past that raised them $60 a month. However, at the same time, Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals raised electricity prices, so people were paying $130 more a month. They were even further behind. That is not the kind of action we need from government.
Then we saw the government come with a plan to give seniors, but only those over the age of 75, a one-time payment of $500 in August, just as it was calling an election, to remind those seniors over the age of 75 to not forget about it. Those between the ages of 65 and 75 who were living on a fixed income got nothing. As well, the government is promising a raise for those over the age of 75 for the summer of 2022.
I am happy to see the mandate letter of the minister now includes all seniors over 65. What she will actually do is another story, because we always see a lot of talk and not much action. I do not know why those aged 65 to 75 were excluded. I heard all the time at the doors in my riding about how they were finding it just as tough to live as those over the age of 75.
If we keep in mind that these people do not have any other income to draw on, we can see the government was aware of the problem very early on. In March of 2020, at the start of the pandemic, I was already emailing the then minister of seniors to say that we had a problem. The people who took CERB who were also on GIS would have their GIS impacted the next year. This was raised in March of 2020. In March of 2020 the government was aware that it was a problem, and nothing was done at that time.
One of the issues I have with the government bringing this bill here today, and deciding that it needs to be rushed through, after over a year of inaction, is that there was a fix for these seniors who had their GIS reduced, who cannot pay their rent or buy food to eat. Some in my riding lost their homes and have become homeless, and they needed that money immediately.
The government had the ability to put the money in their accounts immediately. How do I know this? Let us think about it. The government knows who gets the GIS. It is deposited in the accounts of those seniors every month. It knows who got the CERB, because it deposited that into their accounts as well. It certainly knew how to put in that $500 “do not forget to vote for us” payment for the people over age 75 in August.
Therefore, it could have just as easily recognized the impact this was going to have, put that money into their accounts and reconciled it later. It did that with the 800,000 Canadians who received a benefit to which they were not entitled, and which it is now trying to reconcile.
With the hardships that Canadian have faced, these seniors who call my office are crying. They are losing their homes. They cannot afford to eat. Something has gone wrong, perhaps with their car, and they now have no ability and no mobility. It is unfortunate that the Liberals could not, at the very least, address the problem and then come back to fill in any gaps in the legislation. They have not had any issue in the past doing things through orders in council and using various tricks, which do not involve coming to Parliament, to get whatever it is they want to spend. However, when it comes to seniors, they just forgot about them.
After I flagged the problem in March, the minister said the government would deal with it. Then it paid out benefits to people who lived in other countries. It paid out benefits to people who were ineligible. When the new minister came in in October, I asked her if there was something that could be done about it, because I had people in my riding who were writing me stories that were enough to make one cry. I could certainly read out their testimonies.
In May of 2020, the Minister of Seniors was before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and was given a prepared binder by the department officials. In that binder, under section 7.2, under the heading of “Questions and Answers: COVID‑19 Economic Response Plan”, the question in the book reads, “Will income from the Canadian emergency response benefit be used in the calculation of guaranteed income supplement benefits?” The answer was “It is considered to be taxable income and must be considered when determining entitlement to the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, and the allowances”. Therefore, the government actually knew then that the problem existed, but it has done nothing for a year, and here we are.
The Conservatives brought a very reasonable amendment. We understand, and we want to see seniors get their money. However, not to make this point too many times, the government could do that today if it really had the political will, but it does not. We said that we have to respect the parliamentary process. We see, too many times, the Liberals wanting to avoid parliamentary process and wanting to push things through the House. We see that they have already limited debate on the bill, as they do on many other bills, after saying they would never do that.
Here we are. We need time to debate the bill and time to amend it, because of some of the things that happened over the course of the pandemic where programs were put in place that had shortcomings, which were pointed out immediately and were never repaired. We can think of the many small businesses that were impacted at the beginning of the pandemic when they were not eligible if they were sole proprietorships. They were not eligible if the business had just started up and did not have a full year of revenue and business statements to show. There were quite a number of people who were impacted because the programs that were rolled out were flawed. Why were they flawed? It was because the Liberals tried to rush them through Parliament.
I would argue that it is worth taking some time, and I think the Conservatives brought quite a measured little amendment to this motion that would give us the time that we need to look into making sure that everything is as it should be. In our amendment, we are saying to send it to committee, get the Minister of Seniors there so that we can hear everything from her and her departmental officials, ask all the questions, identify those things that need to be repaired and fix them. We could then immediately do the clause-by-clause, make the amendments that need to be made, bring it back to the House and then get in the express lane and not use any amendments at report stage or anything like that but go right to third reading and off to the Senate.
Keep in mind that the Senate is not even sitting in the next week. We can say “emergency”, but due process is that it goes through the stages of this House and then it goes to the other place, which is not even sitting. We can hurry up here, but they will not be there to receive it and process it.
We need to correct the problem because seniors are already in a bad place. I talked about the small amount of money that seniors are making. I talked about how dire it is getting, and it is only going to get worse as we see the supply-chain issues that are currently being impacted by the trucker mandates and the lack of action on the part of the Prime Minister to address this.
As a sidebar, I think it is unbelievable that the Prime Minister has called for the Emergencies Act to be put in place when he was not even using the actions he already had the power to take in order to end the supply-chain issues that are driving up the cost of everything and making this problem even worse.
Seniors are going to have a very difficult time waiting another six months before they receive their payments, so I encourage the government to do what it can to make sure that seniors receive their payments as soon as possible after we have the discussion on the bill. At the same time, I must say that we have to look ahead to the future. We have one in six seniors in the country right now, and it will be one in four in just a few years. We cannot allow them to be this far away from living, at least, at the poverty line.
Some of the measures that can be taken would be to accelerate the OAS and GIS payments. I know the Bloc and the Conservatives supported a motion in the last Parliament that did not go ahead because of the present government. I encourage the government to try to get seniors back to where they need to be, and I am going to do my part.
There are seniors who thought they were going to be able to retire with a pension and are unfortunately not able to do that or have less pension than they expected because their employer went bankrupt. I am bringing a private member's bill forward, Bill C-228, the pension protection act, which would cause businesses to every year table a report on the solvency of their fund so that we have transparency to see whether those funds are in good shape. If they are not, it would provide a mechanism for funds to be transferred in without tax implications. Then, if the organization cannot transfer and top up the fund immediately, they would have the ability to get insurance while they are able to, over a series of years, restore the fund to solvency. In the case of bankruptcy, pensions would be paid out to seniors and they would be paid out before large bonuses to executives and large creditors.
This would solve the problems of many seniors, including those who have lost their employment due to the bankruptcies of Eatons, Sears, Algoma, Caterpillar, Nortel and numerous other companies that have left employees in that situation. We can see from the information I read at the beginning of my speech that if seniors have to rely on OAS, GIS and maybe CPP, they are still living below the level that Canadians would consider acceptable. We cannot have that for our seniors. It is very hard for our seniors when they see new people coming into the country who are receiving more money than they are making, when they helped build the country. I think we can agree that we want all Canadians to be living with a reasonable standard of living.
The last thing I am going to say on this topic of Bill C-12 is that I do need to commend the new Minister of Seniors for at least bringing the legislation forth in reasonable time. She is not the one who knew about it last year and did nothing, so at least we have the bill before us today. As has been said, the Conservatives will support this to go to committee, but we will have our eyes on the legislation to ensure it is solid and we are not going to see more loopholes that would cause further issues for our seniors.
At the same time, I could not get up and speak about seniors in this place without talking about some of the other advocacy I have done on behalf of seniors. As members know, I brought forward a palliative care bill in the first session of Parliament, and I would say there has never been more of a need to continue the work done on that. Now, with the pandemic, we have been distracted from that. I would encourage the government to come up with a plan to exit the pandemic and restore the economy, so that we can then start talking about some of the other issues that are facing seniors. They certainly need to have good options at end of life to get the dignity the throne speech indicated. They certainly need to be able to get the drugs and essential medicines they require.
Certainly, I want to see the government do something on that, but today the call is for the government to listen to the Conservatives and take our advice. Let us support the motion my colleague brought forward, which says, let us get this to committee, all sit down, roll up our sleeves, get the amendments that are needed and then get this done. Let us not make seniors wait until July 2022 to receive the payments they desperately need today in order to keep them from becoming, in some cases, homeless.