Mr. Speaker, the motion presented today by the member for Hamilton Mountain highlights the true spirit of Canada, a nation bound together by the philosophy of inclusion, of care and of community outreach.
As the opposition critic for seniors, I feel that it is incredibly important that the concerns of Canada's aging population be addressed in Parliament. The fact is that Canada's senior population is growing. By 2021, seniors will form 18% of our population, which is an increase from the 12.5% in 2000. As a result, the critical issues for seniors, like income security, affordable housing, long term care facilities, health care, home care, self-development and a representative voice in Parliament, need to be addressed by the House and, most important, by the Conservative government.
It is shameful that the current Conservative government pretends to have the best interests of seniors at heart and yet it has dismantled the secretary of state for seniors. It is shocking that within the throne speech the Prime Minister summed up the Conservative Party's commitment to seniors in nine words, “It, [being the government], will work to improve the security of seniors”.
The Conservative government's lack of commitment to Canada's seniors should not be a shock as budget 2006 contained only one measure directed specifically to seniors, surprise, surprise: a tax break, the Conservative solution to everything.
I am proud to be a part of a long Liberal tradition of ensuring that innovative and effective programs that address the real needs of Canadians are implemented. In the 2006 Liberal platform, we proposed constructive and practical measures to help better the lives of seniors. The Liberal Party committed to a $50 million investment to expand the new horizons program for seniors, a new mortgage equity access now for seniors program, an increase in the age limit for maturing registered pension plans and RRSP to 71 from 69, develop a pan-Canadian older workers strategy, and a $1 billion investment over five years to develop a national care giving strategy.
Those proposed measures were in addition to a solid Liberal track record on seniors' issues including: the creation of a minister of state to give seniors a voice at the cabinet table; the creation of a national seniors secretariat; the implementation of the largest increase in Canadian history to the guaranteed income supplement; a federally funded home adaptation for a seniors independent program; expansion of the residential rehabilitation assistance program to enable the creation of secondary rental and garden suites, an affordable rental housing option for low income seniors; a new tax credit in the 2004 budget allowing family caregivers to claim medical and disability related expenses; the creation of the new employment insurance compassionate care benefit to pay up to a maximum of six weeks to a person who has to be absent from work to provide care or support to a gravely ill family member at risk of dying; the launch of the new horizons for seniors program; the stabilization of the health care system by transferring $41.3 billion to the provinces to ensure Canadians, including seniors, have access to high quality health care regardless of their income; the creation of a new home care fund; and a commitment to develop a national pharmaceutical and catastrophic drug strategy.
The Liberal Party's approach to addressing seniors' evolving needs is broad-based and practical. This includes retirement income supports, with additional income support for low-income seniors, funding to support community-based projects that establish or strengthen networks and associations that keep seniors active in their communities, initiatives to help seniors stay longer in their homes, secure public health care and a new position of minister of state to ensure added attention to commitments made to seniors.
Because of 13 years of a Liberal government, fewer Canadian seniors now live in poverty. The fact is that the incidence of low income among Canadian seniors has dropped from a high of 11% in 1993 to an all-time low of 5.4% in 2004.
The Liberal government made a difference. For example, the Liberal government was the architect of one of Canada's greatest achievements, a deliverable, effective and sustainable retirement income system. It was also the Liberal government that implemented the old age security program, the Canada pension plan and the guaranteed income supplement.
I am particularly proud of the success of the new horizons for seniors program. Last year I had the honour to announce federal funding for the Chimo Crisis Services for its reaching out to isolated seniors project, in Richmond, B.C. It was a prime example of the federal Liberal government's commitment to strengthening and building inclusive communities that promoted the active living, empowerment and dignity of seniors.
New horizons for seniors has proven to an extremely valuable program that promotes community-based activities that help seniors pursue an active lifestyle and contribute to their communities. It is projects like this that support broad national objectives and regional priorities through the inspiration and leadership of seniors in our local communities.
The new horizons for seniors program recognizes the need for investing in Canadians and illustrates a successful nation-building initiative. In response to an overwhelming interest in the program, the former Liberal government announced an increase in funding to the program. The overall program budget was increased to $15 million in the 2005-06 budget and should reach $25 million by 2007-08.
This is another Liberal initiative of which Canadians can be proud.
The motion to create a seniors charter and seniors advocate opens up the opportunity to discuss the important issues that are affecting Canada's growing seniors population. As well, the motion creates the opportunity to question the motivation and logic behind the NDP's support of the Conservative government's attacks on the Liberal Party and questions the reasons why they helped bring down the former Liberal government.
For all intents and purposes, it appears that the NDP has simply forgotten or ignored the succession of Liberal initiatives, policies and legislation that were implemented to better the lives of Canada's seniors.
The Liberal Party supports the notion of the creation of a seniors charter and seniors advocate because it resonates with the spirit and thrust of so many of our actions. The simple fact is that the motion gives an encompassing name to a succession of Liberal policies and legislations, a seniors charter. Furthermore, it calls upon the government to reinstate and define the responsibilities of the minister of state for seniors and the national senior secretariat under the seniors advocate designation.
The motion illustrates the NDP's sheer hypocrisy to help bring down the former Liberal government, one that was committed to investing in the betterment of the lives of all Canadians, including seniors.
The motion also highlights the deficiency in the Conservative government's meagre strategy for senior citizen-related issues. By looking at each section contained in the motion, we can see exactly how the NDP is playing catch-up.
The motion calls for indexed income support for seniors, which it has been since 1973. In 2005-06, the Liberal government paid more than $28.5 billion a year in old age supplements and guaranteed income supplement benefits. Both of these payments were indexed to inflation. Further, over the next two years, the GIS, the guaranteed income supplement, will be increased by $2.7 billion, directly benefiting 1.6 million Canadian seniors.
The Liberal Party has responded to the evolving needs of seniors. On June 29, 2005, Bill C-43 was given royal assent and as a result, effective January 1, the GIS allowance and the allowance for the survivor increased by $18 per month in the case of a single recipient and $29 per month in the case of a couple.
Canada's seniors also receive more than $2 billion a year in direct tax credits such as the age credit and the pension income credit. Also, the proposed tax reductions in budget 2005 for individuals and adjustments to our tax system benefit seniors. Budget 2005 increased the amount of income that all Canadians could earn without paying federal income tax to $10,000. This will remove 240,000 seniors from the tax rolls.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government's rollback of the income tax reduction to offset the costs of the GST reduction has nullified most of these income tax gains. The Liberal Party has worked to address the changing financial needs of seniors and designed provisions to adjust the income support programs to reflect these needs.
The motion calls for affordable, secure and accessible housing. Again, the NDP is playing catch-up. The former Liberal government committed significant resources toward affordable housing. The previous Liberal government spent approximately $2 billion per year, through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in support of 636,000 affordable housing units. We also committed an additional $2 billion for homelessness and affordable housing in the 2006-07 budget. Under the affordable housing initiative, rent supplement programs were set up for those who were eligible for funding from the federal government. The home adaptations for seniors' independence program helped low income seniors stay longer in their homes.
Furthermore, a Liberal government was committed to investing an additional $1.5 billion over the next four years through the Canadian housing framework currently being developed. Unfortunately, many of the Liberal initiatives were cut short by the NDP and Conservative Party's political manoeuvring to the detriment of Canadians.
To address high energy prices, the Liberal government introduced the energy cost benefit to provide direct financial assistance to more than three million low income seniors and low income families with children. Senior couples, where both spouses were eligible for the GIS, would receive an extra $250, while single seniors were entitled to the GIS would receive $125. In addition to being available to low income individuals aged 65 and older, the energy cost benefit was also available to those aged 60 to 64 who were entitled to receive the allowance payment or allowance for survivor programs.
Again the Liberal Party has worked for Canadians to help bring more affordable and accessible housing to Canadians and Canada's seniors.
The motion calls for a secure public health care system. Once again, the NDP is playing catch-up. Health care is one of the top priorities, if the not the top priority, of the Liberal Party.
On September 16, 2004, the Government of Canada and first ministers signed an agreement on a 10 year plan to strengthen health care. The 10 year health care plan showed the Liberal government was committed to transferring $41.3 billion to the provinces to strengthen and support our universal health care system. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to ensuring that all Canadians have access to quality, affordable health care regardless of income.
In addition, the Liberal government created a new employment insurance benefit. The compassionate care program allows family members to take time off work to provide care for seriously ill loved ones, without suffering sudden income or job loss. Again, the Liberal Party has worked for Canadian seniors and delivered a sustainable and secure investment to Canada's publicly funded care system.
The motion called for seniors' self-development. Again, the NDP is not calling for anything that the Liberal government has not already provided for seniors.
In October 2004 the Liberal government launched its promised new horizons for seniors program. Under the program, funding is provided for projects that establish strengthened networks and associations that keep seniors active in their communities and reach out to vulnerable seniors. Budget 2005 doubled annual funding for the new horizons for seniors program from $10 million to $25 million over the next two years.
Budget 2005 also provided $13 million over five years to establish a new national seniors secretariat that would serve as a focal point for our efforts to address the challenges facing seniors. Again, unfortunately, the Conservative government has cancelled this program and replaced it with nothing.
The Liberal Party has addressed all the elements of the NDP motion and the needs of Canada's seniors. At this point, this motion begins to beg the question. If the NDP is so committed to the needs of Canada's aging population, why did it help bring down a government that was actively involved in bettering the lives of seniors?
If we take a look at each of the elements of the NDP's motion, indexing GIS and OAS, affordable housing, health care, self-development and a representative voice in Parliament for seniors, they reflect a long-standing Liberal policy. The motion reflects the long-standing Liberal commitment to Canadians, to seniors and to innovative investments for the long term sustainability of Canada.
The NDP is playing catch-up to existing and, unfortunately, recently abolished Liberal policies with regard to Canadian seniors. Why is it proposing initiatives that the government has already developed? The charter appears to be an ill-conceived attempt to hide the simple fact that the party has no real policies to offer to Canadian seniors, just a renaming of Liberal policies.