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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was budget.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot (Québec)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 52% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply April 26th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, it is with regret and a lot of bitterness that I rise today to denounce the Conservatives' plan to increase the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement from 65 to 67 years of age, even though the plan is financially viable.

I said that I am rising with regret because, just like us, the majority of Canadians believe that the Conservatives should never have started this debate. On March 29, when the 2012 budget was tabled, the government sparked shockwaves among the elderly and Canadian workers; yes, shockwaves, nothing less.

The Conservatives are using a temporary rise in the cost of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs as an excuse to make cutbacks in this remarkably effective, affordable, and essential social program.

The Conservatives’ plan is to gradually increase the eligibility age from 65 to 67 from 2023. The measure will be fully implemented by January 2029. Thus, on March 29, as they watched this government deliver an irresponsible budget, Canadians aged 54 and under learned that, after having worked for several decades for the benefit of our country, they will have to wait two long years more before being able to think about a well deserved retirement.

The NDP has been standing up for these public pension plans for a long time. Early last century the CCF, the NDP's predecessor, put ongoing pressure on all governments of the day and got them to introduce the very first public old age pension plan in Canada in 1927. Since that time, we have fought tirelessly to make this plan more effective, and we played a key role in getting the guaranteed income supplement and the Canada pension plan adopted.

Currently, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are major sources of income for the elderly, especially women. Approximately 5 million seniors receive old age security benefits and 1.7 million seniors receive the guaranteed income supplement. For approximately 510,000 seniors, that is 12% of Canada’s elderly, the old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits account for over 75% of their total income. Imagine if you were suddenly deprived of 75% of your income; I do not know how you would get by.

Women account for 80% of the people who derive over 75% of their total income from the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs.

If they did not have access to old age security benefits and the guaranteed income supplement, approximately 100,000 newly-retired Canadian seniors would slip below the poverty line. The poverty rate for seniors would more than quadruple, increasing from 6% to 25%.

Is that really what the Conservatives want for our seniors? Is that how they reward the people who built our nation? I would really like to know. That is not what Canadians want and it is not what we are all about. The men and women of this country want their seniors to have decent living conditions.

That is not a priority for the Conservatives. They prefer to increase the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement by two years and erode the living conditions of our seniors.

Therefore, we must ask the following questions: how will 65-year-olds survive in 2029? Why are the Conservatives increasing the age of eligibility? According to their arguments, the increase will make the old age security program sustainable. However, that is false.

Old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are very viable. In fact, it is expected that the cost of these programs will diminish in the long term relative to the size of the economy.

Professor Thomas Klassen of York University is an expert in pension plans and retirement. He is one of the many experts who do not agree with the change in the eligibility age. He said, “I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised a few days ago when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis...there’s got to be a lot more evidence that there’s a problem, and I don’t see that evidence.”

Let us talk about the evidence. The government's most recent actuarial report indicates that old age security and the guaranteed income supplement represented 2.7% of GDP in 2011. By 2030 it will be 3.16%, but then it will fall to 2.3% of GDP in 2060, which is below the current percentage.

The gradual increase in the costs of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs until 2030 is due to the baby boomers retiring. We all know this; it is no surprise to anyone. All of the actuarial reports on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement have been saying it since 1988. I was three years old; that is a long time ago. Some of my colleagues here were not even born yet.

The Conservatives therefore cannot claim not to have been aware of these rising costs during the 2011 election campaign. That was one year ago.

The Conservatives, moreover, never addressed that subject during the election campaign. No Conservative candidate ever said anything about wanting to make seniors work two more years in order to survive. Yes, that is what I said: to survive.

The loss of income resulting from the Conservatives’ plan to raise the eligibility age will be a deciding factor in how Canadian seniors are to live. It will result in losses of about $30,000 a year for the poorest seniors over those two years, and about $13,000 over two years for Canadians who receive only old age security.

The Conservatives do not think this is a problem, because they think Canadians just have to work longer.

Some workers are physically unable to continue working after a certain age.

Twenty-five percent of retired people say they retired for health reasons. For Canadians with an annual income under $20,000, that proportion rises to 38%.

That means that about 25% of seniors retire involuntarily. Those Canadians are quite simply not able to work two more years.

What the government is telling us with this insane plan is that the poorest and most vulnerable Canadians will have to work longer than the others, in spite of their health problems or their physical condition.

A few days before the budget that sealed the fate of workers under the age of 54 was tabled, I held a public forum in my riding on the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs with my colleagues, the members for Pierrefonds—Dollard and Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who at that time were the critics for seniors and pensions. I met with more than 70 worried people, very worried people. They included young and not-so-young people, all of them upset about what the Conservatives intend to do. At that point, however, there was still hope.

In my riding, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, there are a lot of jobs in agriculture and industry. Those jobs are physically very demanding. We cannot ask workers who are 65 years old, who have worked at physically demanding jobs all their lives, to keep working two years longer before they are eligible for a program they are entitled to and have contributed to all their lives.

One person especially touched me when he told me how sometimes it was not the will to work that was missing, it was the body that had limitations. That man and all the people who were there said they believed that other solutions could have been considered, so as not to keep creating a gulf between rich and poor, as the Conservatives are so fond of doing.

Those people, like the financial experts, are asking the Conservatives to rethink their position on raising the age of eligibility.

But the Conservatives do not listen to advice they do not like, and they do not listen to Canadians.

That is why the NDP will continue to stand up so that Canadians of all ages—and yes, I am saying all ages—can live with dignity.

Housing April 5th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, clearly, fighting poverty and putting a roof over the head of each Canadian are not really a priority for the Conservatives. The fact that they are cutting $102 million from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is proof of that. This is the complete opposite of what the NDP and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have called for. In view of the urgent current needs, this is a priority that should not be ignored. A budget is a matter of making choices.

Why are the Conservatives refusing to invest in affordable housing, to help Canadians live with dignity? And please, I would prefer that the answer is not that we voted against it.

Housing March 28th, 2012

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend and thank the hon. member for Shefford, which is the riding next to mine, for his excellent initiative in moving this motion. I know that all my colleagues have an interest in housing but to see one of them show such an interest as to move a motion on this issue is a great honour for me in my capacity as housing critic for the official opposition. Clearly, I support this motion on housing and homelessness.

Since I was elected last May, I have met with many people in the course of my duties: representatives from community organizations who are particularly committed to housing issues and the fight against poverty and homelessness; people who are affected by homelessness; private housing providers, co-operatives and others; and provincial and municipal officials and RCM reeves. All of them, without exception, told me that they are concerned about the way Ottawa is ignoring the issues related to the current housing crisis.

They have good reason to be concerned; their fears are quite legitimate. That is why this motion is more than welcome.

On February 16, I introduced my very first bill, which proposes a national housing strategy and seeks to ensure that all Canadians have safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing. As we speak, Canada is still the only G8 country that does not have a national housing strategy.

This motion moved by the hon. member for Shefford complements my bill and shows how desperate the need for housing is. The municipalities and provinces that have the burden of housing without the appropriate resources need support from the federal government. We know that since 1993, the federal government has been increasingly abandoning its responsibilities for housing, and the provinces and municipalities can no longer pick up the slack. They need support, help, money and resources.

The current housing crisis exists across the country in small municipalities like Saint-Hyacinthe in my riding and Granby in my colleague's riding and in big cities like Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto. The waiting list for social housing gets longer every year, and the inflated price of housing does not allow everyone to live in decent housing.

As my colleague was saying earlier, under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, access to housing is a right, not a privilege. The Conservatives' funding and strategies are inadequate, given the urgency of the situation. My colleague said earlier that the government invests roughly $1.7 billion a year in housing. That is a good start, but it is not enough and the need is there.

Right now, about 1.5 million Canadian households have an urgent need for housing, which means that they are hanging by a thread. Many of them spend as much as 80% of their income on housing that is too small, unsanitary, or inadequate for their family's needs. To make ends meet and enjoy a decent standard of living, families should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing. When families spend 80% on housing, they have less to spend on food, clothing and everything else because they need a roof over their heads.

People with urgent housing needs are at risk of becoming homeless and ending up on the streets. This includes single people, families and seniors. The situation is serious.

What is more, 30% of aboriginal households on reserves live in substandard housing. That is a problem too. People with reduced mobility do not have access to housing that meets their needs. People in wheelchairs who live in housing that is not accessible have a very hard time. Currently between 150,000 and 300,000 Canadians live on the streets, and that number is increasing. I know that I did not give an exact number, but as I have often said, people who are homeless do not usually fill in their census forms and report that they are homeless. That is why it is tricky to determine how many of them there are, and that is why we do not have an exact number. All we know is that their numbers are growing and they need help. We need government funds to fight homelessness.

For example, last winter in Montreal, large homeless shelters provided 10% more services and still had to turn away people who needed help. As a result, there were people sleeping on the streets in January when it was -20oC. Words fail me. I will give my colleagues a chance to think about that.

We also know that we do not have nearly enough rental housing in all regions of Canada, including in the Prairies, where development is somewhat accelerated right now.

What I would like to say here today is that the Conservatives have a duty to help those who are less fortunate. We cannot accept that people live on the street. We cannot accept that 1.5 million households are at risk of becoming homeless and winding up on the street. The government must take action. As I just said, it has a duty to do so. Having decent housing is a right, not a privilege.

The government must act now. It must support this motion and implement its provisions as soon as possible.

Housing March 28th, 2012

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member and thank him for this excellent motion. I would also like to thank him for so generously sharing parts of his life with us. It helps us to better understand what can happen when there is no affordable housing available.

We know that the government has invested $1.7 billion in housing. That is a good thing. However, there are still 1.5 million Canadian households in dire need of housing and over 150,000 homeless people in Canada.

I would like hear more about the positive effects that appropriate government investments in affordable housing and the fight against homelessness can have on a society.

Housing March 9th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, a number of financial agreements between the federal government and housing co-ops across Canada are about to expire.

Without federal support, approximately 650,000 affordable housing units are in jeopardy. Meanwhile, housing needs are not diminishing. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a surplus of approximately $10 billion, but the government is not doing anything with that money.

What does the minister intend to do about this situation? What is her plan for dealing with the housing crisis?

Saint-Hyacinthe Biotechnology Park March 9th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, the Saint-Hyacinthe biotechnology park has been named the best emerging science park by the Association of University Research Parks. This award is presented every year to an emerging park that translates technology derived from applied research into economically viable business activities, investment, employment and public revenue.

The Cité de la biotechnologie won the award by creating 580 jobs and attracting some 30 innovative companies and more than $600 million in investments. This honour once again confirms the research and development expertise of the Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot region and reflects well on our entire country. I am proud to express my admiration and my most heartfelt congratulations.

Public Safety March 8th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we learned that the Conservatives’ expensive prison agenda called for the construction of new double-bunked cells.

The facts are these. Double-bunking increases violence, threatens the safety of guards and allows disease to spread more easily. The Correctional Investigator says it is “unsafe” and is a “violation of human rights”.

Do the Conservatives hope to solve the problem of overcrowding by increasing the number of people in cells? It is their bill, and it is their responsibility to explain the consequences of it to us.

Safe Streets and Communities Act March 7th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, it is odd. Earlier, I heard the hon. member saying that this bill would definitely have an impact on victims but that he did not really know if it would have an impact on criminals. I have a great deal of respect for victims, and I do not really think I have to say that, because it is so obvious. However, I am wondering why the hon. member would want to pass a bill when we do not know what effect it will have on criminals. That seems a bit illogical for a society that supports rehabilitation. I would like the hon. member to elaborate a bit on this.

The Environment February 27th, 2012

Madam Speaker, last week I met 13 secondary IV students in the sports program at Fadette secondary school in Saint-Hyacinthe. These students are worried and unhappy, and they shared with me their concerns and questions about the government's inaction on climate change.

I left their classroom with letters addressed to the Minister of the Environment. In these letters, the students express their strong opposition to Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol. Their concerns about the environment are shared by millions of Canadians. Their teacher, Émilie Ferland, has done a fantastic job of guiding them through this project.

It is crucial to raise awareness among our youth, no matter what their age, of the importance of citizens' opinions in our country's decision-making process. These students, who are just 15 or 16 years old, understand this and are asking the government to make more responsible decisions.

Act to Ensure Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing for Canadians February 16th, 2012

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, today it is my honour to introduce a bill to ensure that every single Canadian has secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing.

Access to decent affordable housing is not a privilege. It is a fundamental right.

I would like to thank my colleague from Vancouver East, who introduced this bill during the last Parliament, where it died on the order paper. I humbly ask the government and all parties in the House to join me in supporting this bill to improve people's living conditions so that we can make our country fairer and leave nobody out in the cold.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)