Mr. Speaker, I have been looking at this matter in considerable detail for some time.
I would like to first of all assure the public that the Government of Canada shares this objective and is taking the necessary steps to ensure that Canadian seniors receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
Like most, if not all, Canadians, the members of my party believe we need to show our gratitude to the seniors in our communities for all they have contributed through the years, which has made Canada the great country it has become.
I can also assure my colleagues that seniors, low-income seniors in particular, are a priority of this government. We are, for instance, well aware of the commitment of the Minister of Labour and Housing, who has worked so hard to improve the RRAP program and other similar programs to ensure that seniors may remain in their homes as long as possible. We are very much aware of this.
I have just heard an NDP member say that people ought to be able to receive benefits even if they have not applied for them. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Anyone who has worked on similar cases in his or her riding must know that sometimes seniors are in receipt of a lump sum payment at some point during the year.
This may be a source of income they were not expecting, and could be any amount that improves their quality of life: a new pension or a new benefit to which they were not entitled earlier. This will, of course, disqualify them.
When it comes time to apply at the end of the year, they do not do so, because they know their income was higher in the current year. That is why many people do not apply.
We cannot say this happens in every case where a person has forgotten to apply for the supplement. That is ridiculous. Both cases certainly exist. However, to claim that no one's income changes throughout the year, as the hon. member who just spoke suggests, is absurd. Things can change. My income is about to change if the government falls.
That said, the Guaranteed Income Supplement for people of low income will help meet their immediate needs, if they apply for the supplement, of course.
Every year in my riding, I send a mailing to my constituents. We arrange information sessions and help people fill out their forms. Nonetheless, some people are forgotten and we know that. However, we are working on increasing the number of people wanting to apply for benefits. I think we have succeeded in many cases.
In his bill, the hon. member is asking for an element of retroactivity. On the eve of an election it is easy to want to give money retroactively to large groups of the public. Far be it from me to attribute motives. However, if my colleagues opposite think about the interests of seniors as often as they say they do, then I invite them to come up with another option.
In a few days, they will get ready—I hope not—to trigger a mid-winter election. Some 750,000 Canadians, mostly seniors, will be out of the country and practically all of them will therefore lose their right to vote.
These same hon. members are telling us today that they have seniors' interests at heart. I am not running in the next election. I would not want to lose my right to vote because I happened to be out of the country. Of course this could be a theoretical right. For instance, a person might live in Daytona Beach in the winter. We are told they can go to Miami to vote—the distance from Daytona Beach to Miami is the same as Quebec City to Windsor—and that that is reasonable, but what happens to these 750,000 Canadians does not matter.
I suggest that people should think about it, because this is about to happen.
Apparently, this bill is an effort to help. While not knowing everything, I do know a thing or two about parliamentary procedure. Everyone knows that this kind of bill requires a royal recommendation. This bill will not even reach third reading. I challenge hon. members to find one person knowledgeable in parliamentary law who can tell me otherwise. It cannot be done. A royal recommendation is required, and the member knows it. In fact, the bill's title is in italics, indicating that it cannot be passed at third reading.
Claims are being made to want to help, when it cannot be done. Next week, we will be forced to vote, knowing that it is pointless. The bill cannot be passed because it cannot get a royal recommendation. Such is parliamentary law. This is not my invention. The Constitution was written quite a while ago, and the British parliamentary law that we are familiar with applies. No one even considered amending the Constitution to change that. It is the prerogative of the Crown, the governor in council, which means the government, and no one else.
Even as a member supporting the government, I cannot propose that measure myself. I am a member of the Privy Council, but that does not allow me to do it, either. A royal recommendation is required. It is therefore up to cabinet to adopt a royal recommendation, and that is then submitted to the House. This is not a private member's bill from the opposition that can go to third reading. We all agree on that.
Some may claim today that we will get this bill passed. They can try to convince the public of that, but the reality is far different. There are some 10 or 12 bills like this on the order paper. They are all bills that cannot be considered at third reading. Everyone in this House is getting riled up about getting this bill passed, saying that if a critical mass of MPs votes in favour it will be passed. Really now. We know very well that the Speaker would rise at third reading stage to say, “I regret to inform the House that the motion, lacking royal recommendation, cannot be put to a vote”. That is more or less what you would have to say at that point, Mr. Speaker. Not that I want to put words in your mouth, but I have some idea of how the procedure works.
So, whatever claims are made, there is a difference between wanting a bill to be passed, saying it will be passed, and actually doing it. Hon. members know the difference. If they really want to take concrete action. let them stop trying to deprive our seniors of their right to vote, as the NDP, the Bloc and the Conservatives may be plotting together to do.
What amazes me about this is the support of the Conservatives. It is all very well for the other parties to say that seniors never vote for them any way, whether in the dead of winter or not, so they are not particularly bothered. That is one thing, and I can, unfortunately, almost understand that reasoning. Not completely, however, because I feel a voter must never be deprived of his right to cast a vote, even if he does not vote for us. What I do not understand at all, however, is the Conservative Party's willingness to be a party to this. I have the impression that the ones who will pay the price for this will, in fact, be the Conservatives over there.
There can be no division at third reading on the bill we have before us. I am sure of that, because there is no royal recommendation.