Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak to the opposition day motion on a very important subject matter to me and the rest of my colleagues, acknowledging our seniors and increasing their retirement benefit income. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie today.
I would like to thank my Bloc colleague for bringing this motion forward.
As the NDP critic for seniors and pensions, I will be recommending full support for the motion. Given the pandemic that we are presently enduring, this motion is important and I believe all members can agree that it is past the time to guarantee that our seniors live in dignity.
For the benefit of those watching at home today, I would like to lay out what this motion actually proposes.
The motion calls on the present government to increase the old age security benefit, or OAS, by $110 a month for those aged 65 and older in the next budget. It asks the House of Commons:
(a) recognize that the elderly were most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; (b) recall that too many of the elderly live in a financially precarious position; (c) acknowledge the collective debt that we owe to those who built Quebec and Canada...
Of course the House should recognize that our seniors have borne the brunt of the effects of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, Statistics Canada reported that 60% of our seniors aged 65 and over stated that they were extremely concerned for their health and well-being. This is in contrast to the 20 to 34-aged group, where only 28% had the same level of concern.
In a statement on this amplification of inequality as the result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Canadian Human Rights Commission signalled out our elderly, warning that as they were likely either living in an institution or living at home alone, they were isolated during the pandemic more now than ever and had an elevated vulnerability to illness. The commission rightfully pointed out that, for the most part, family and friends were not allowed to visit them.
Without access to or the knowledge to use various methods of communication, we should continue to find more creative ways to reach out and support our seniors. We certainly saw that seniors, particularly in long-term care facilities, were being ravaged by the virus to an extent well beyond that of our demographics.
If we look at a snapshot of about two months ago of the pandemic in Canada, deaths due to COVID in long-term care facilities made up a staggering 81% of COVID deaths in the country. By comparison, the average among other countries around the globe of COVID deaths in long-term care homes was 42% of all deaths, compared to our 81%. This is unacceptable.
In response, the New Democrats announced a plan to offer a senior's care guarantee. We called on the government to take steps to eliminate profit from our long-term care and work with caregivers and provincial and territorial governments to develop national care standards for long-term and continuing care and to regulate these in step with the Canadian Health Act.
The other call to the House is to acknowledge the financial precarity of our seniors. In normal times, many seniors face high prices for rent, hydro, cable, gas and insurance as well as food, medical and pharmaceutical costs. Due to the pandemic, seniors have increased costs that they would normally not have. For example, statistics show that seniors use paid delivery services more than any other demographic during the pandemic for things like food and medicine.
As a result of the NDP pressure, the government finally announced a one-time payment of $300 for old age security pensioners and an additional $200 for guaranteed income supplement recipients. However, this one-off payment is not enough to compensate for the increase in the cost of living for the elderly now or in the future. The government recognized the higher costs for seniors and said that new legislation would come forward, but has since been silent.
COVID-19 has exposed the major gaps in our health care system and the cost of prescription drugs. A national pharmacare program is needed now more than ever. The majority of Canadians are in a support of a pharmacare program, yet the Liberals voted against our pharmacare bill yesterday. It is a matter of public record that the Liberals have been promising to implement a universal pharmacare program for more than 24 years, yet they have never acted on it.
The final call to the House in today's motion is in regard to the contributions of our seniors to the country.
Seniors in Canada have made endless contributions to our families, our communities and country, and to the nature of our society. An obvious truth is that each generation is built upon the work of its seniors. For that, we should be thankful and grateful to them.
We should be honouring our seniors by looking after them. I think we have a moral obligation to do so. Unfortunately, there remain too many signs that we are not there yet. Too often seniors do not have access to affordable housing. They must rely on food banks weekly and have to ration medication.
Seniors have done their part and should be able to live out their retirement years in dignity. For that reason, the New Democrats have promoted a national seniors strategy to ensure that measures and programs are in place to meet the needs of our retired and elderly.
Lastly, the motion is a call for the government to increase old age security. To properly speak to the merits of raising the OAS benefit, I would like to touch first on the Canada pension plan, or CPP. It should be noted that only those Canadians who have contributed to the Canada pension plan can qualify at the age of 60 for this monthly benefit and receive benefits for the rest of their lives.
Old age security is the retirement benefit at the centre of today's motion. OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on a retiree's previous labour force participation or whether they have registered pension or savings plans. One can qualify at the age of 65.
We have to remember that we need stability, and most of our private pension plans are now under attack because there is no support and no protection when companies go into bankruptcy.
The Conservatives, under Stephen Harper, put in a plan to raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. The NDP fought to end that discrimination and ensure that our seniors lived out their retirement with dignity.
The age threshold, in this motion to bump up the benefit, is 65 years of age, so all seniors who qualify would benefit from the raise. I believe it is extremely important that all seniors get the increase and not just some. The Liberals promised to increase the OAS but only for those 75 years of age and over. I ask my Liberal colleagues this: How is it that they think seniors from age 65 to 74 do not have the same high costs, expensive bills and struggles to afford them?
It is beyond me why the government would establish a two-tier OAS. Either way, there has been no action. The labour community has also advocated for improvements to our retirement benefit and would support the increase to the OAS, as we do.
I will share a quote from Mark Hancock, national president of CUPE:
CUPE has long supported an expansion of our public pensions, including Old Age Security. Workplace pension plans continue to face cuts and closures, and rates of poverty among seniors are increasing again. The Old Age Security pension hasn't kept pace over the years and isn’t worth what it was 40 years ago, but a boost to that benefit would restore some of that lost value and lift thousands of seniors out of poverty.
In conclusion, the NDP believe that we must address the inadequacies of our public retirement supports and other supports for our seniors. As a start, we absolutely support an increase to OAS.
I want to conclude by saying thanks to all the members who are listening. I want to thank the Bloc again. I am hoping there will be no problems here, and that we all will support this important motion.