Mr. Chair, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for York West who has been working with seniors for a countless number of years. Every several days she has a new group coming into Ottawa and hosts a great number, including a group of 110 seniors from her constituency tomorrow, with whom I hope to meet.
There is a lot we should be excited about regarding our seniors. In 1980 the poverty rate was at 21% and in 2003 it was below 7%. We have a way to go but we will work very hard with all members of the House. We know that without our seniors, who worked to build this great nation, we would not have democracy, freedom and the respect we have around the world.
We should take into account members on this side of the House who have been working on issues regarding with seniors for many years. There are several here today, including the member for Beaches—East York and many others who continue to work with us to ensure that we are always ahead of the curve when it comes to our seniors, who we all respect.
The Prime Minister's task force made 17 recommendations only a year ago and close to 13 of them already have been implemented. We are working toward a way of reducing poverty among seniors and giving them the kind of dignity and respect we all want for our own families.
The hon. member mentioned the GIS increase. When someone is earning $12,400, the amount of $433 is not a lot but it is a good beginning. It cost the government $700 million a year. Along with that we have a new senior secretariat that will be formed when the budget passes. This will allow us to be the lens, where all issues from all levels of government will be dealt with in a way that we around the cabinet table can ensure that any issue that affects seniors will be looked at and dealt with the respect it deserves.
At the FPT meeting for seniors last week in Quebec City, we had a great start. Many of the provincial ministers talked about wanting to go with the program, to meet yearly, to work together cooperatively on issues that would make the lives of our seniors much better.
We work across departments such as housing. The Minister of Labour and Housing has been kind enough to work with us in a way that ensures that a portion of the affordable housing money will be put aside for low income seniors and the disabled, such as through RRAP, to ensure that seniors stay in their homes much longer so they can live in the communities they helped build.
We are working toward ensuring that many issues will come forward to ensure seniors have the access to affordable housing which the hon. member across the aisle asked about earlier today, such as rent supplements. As we know, if we take several of the ratings, whether it is the low income cut off point or the market basket group, whichever method one wants to use, we are trying to ensure that seniors reach this level so they are not living in poverty. We know seniors are living longer, healthier lives so we want to ensure they have the accommodations and extra dollars that will allow them to fully integrate in our society.
This brings us to the new horizons program. It will allow those organizations across the country that deal with seniors to find ways to reduce isolation, to include seniors who have contributed a great deal and who have so much more yet to contribute and to ensure that they are integrated, whether it is in our school systems with our young or mentoring society at large.
We know our seniors contribute more voluntary time, double the amount of others. We have to ensure that they are given the tools to continue to make our lives better together.
Of course there are many other issues that are extremely important to ensure our seniors can contribute in many ways to make our lives better.
We are talking to the minister responsible for CIDA about the Canada Corps and about the possibility of having our seniors participate in that program. On veterans' day sometimes our seniors go into schools and communicate with the children. They tell people of the sacrifices they made so we could live the freedom we so cherish.
We want to expand that. We want to find ways of working together with community groups. New horizons for seniors is a perfect vehicle for that.
There are many more issues about which we can continue to talk, whether it is the caregiving file or seniors who are disabled. We have to find ways to keep them in their homes, similar to Veterans Affairs which uses the home independence program.
We have to find ways that allow our seniors to create, as we did with the minister of housing with the garden suites or seniors flats. This allows seniors to have some company in their home if they so choose. With the money the government gives through the RRAP program, they can create that extra suite and extra source of income. It also creates the opportunity for a low income senior to possibly move in with a senior who has that extra room. It allows for both to have reasonable cost and reasonable revenue.
I think that is the creative approach about which the hon. member asked. She asked what were doing to ensure that we made the lives of our seniors better. Many more ideas will be coming forward. With the minister of housing, I am trying to see if a reverse mortgage will ever be introduced by CMHC for low income seniors. We are looking forward to the day it gives us some good news on that.
I think of the excitement we have within our caucus. Members continue communicating with us and giving us the information that they think will work. We challenge once again our hon. members across the aisle to come up with ideas. Together we can make the lives of seniors better, where they will not in any way live in poverty.