I thank you for your assistance, Mr. Speaker.
I have been around the House long enough to know that sometimes when something looks and sounds simple and is something that should be done quickly and expeditiously without a whole lot of debate or deliberation, we get into the whole area of unintended consequences. Sometimes what we did not really expect to happen happens, and sometimes we do not find out until a year or two later.
I certainly will agree that this bill as drafted should be passed by the House. The bill should go to committee to allow the committee to study it. In principle, I agree with it, but are there any unintended consequences that should be looked at? We do not want to cause anyone harm, especially people who are not involved in the particular situation.
Some unintended consequences have been raised this afternoon, such as the whole issue of universality. I do not see that as an issue myself. We have to look at why a person is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, which is approximately $1,100 a month. The reason is it is a benefit available to every Canadian so that people can pay for their accommodation, food, transportation and other personal needs. This, or most of it, is all taken care of under the prison system. That is the situation.
Another situation that has developed and will be looked at by the committee is what the obligations are of the senior to a spouse or a child. I would not think it likely that there would be a child, but there could be, or maybe a dependent child. These are situations that will have to be looked at very carefully by the committee.
I do not know how a 65-year-old person living separate and apart from his or her spouse is treated with regard to GIS. I know the GIS per couple is less than that for two single people. I do not know how that situation is treated, but it is something that will have to be looked at because at the end of the day, we certainly do not want any adverse repercussions for the spouse, whose life is probably difficult enough. We do not want any adverse repercussions to him or her, especially not having been involved in the crime nor being in prison. Spouses certainly do not need any more grief in their lives by having their existing benefits cut.
Restitution orders have been raised by other members. Again, that will have to be looked at by the committee. There will have to be discussion about any ongoing support obligations to previous spouses or dependent children who are disabled. Is there an obligation to support that individual in the unlikely situation the prisoner may actually have children? Those situations will have to be looked at before the bill gets final approval by the House.
This point was also raised by a previous speaker, but I want to reiterate that this does not involve the eligibility of benefits under the Canada pension plan. In that particular case, if the incarcerated person was receiving CPP benefits, he or she would have paid into them when he or she was working. The person is certainly entitled to those benefits and will continue to receive them. This bill does not affect that entitlement whatsoever.
An issue has been raised, and this is where it gets very interesting, where I do see unintended consequences, although it does not affect the bill in its present form. The bill contemplates that the provinces may opt in and not pay the benefits to anyone who is incarcerated for more than 90 days. In the federal system the incarceration is in excess of two years. It is a much simpler system. I do not have the confidence in the provincial and federal governments to administratively deal with this issue.
I will describe a situation. If a senior citizen were incarcerated for 90 days, administratively that would mean that at a certain time of the month the person would have his or her benefits cancelled. Let us say that the person went to jail on September 15 and three months later the person was released, which would, of course, depend on a lot of circumstances. We can see the administrative nightmare. These people, because they are receiving GIS, which means they have no other income whatsoever and are living hand to mouth, I have a real concern administratively as to the capability of the provincial and federal governments to coordinate all their efforts to ensure these payments are stopped on time and, more important, started on time.
I know that is not the issue before the House today but I see that as a serious issue going forward if all the provinces opt in. From my dealings, I do not think the capabilities are there to make it a seamless administrative procedure to do this without causing all kinds of problems. Given the numbers we are talking about, I can see a situation in which the administrative costs would certainly exceed the benefits that would be saved on that particular issue when they start cancelling benefits for short periods of time. However, that is something for the committee.
I support the legislation because I, like most Canadians, was appalled when I first read about it. It is a situation that I, like most members of Parliament, never thought about. It was raised in one particular instance. I do not like making laws and discussing public policy based on one particular incident or one particular individual but this goes right to a public policy situation where approximately 400 eligible recipients are receiving benefits as we speak. In that particular case, it does warrant some response from the house.
It is my position that the bill should be passed by the House at second reading and go to committee for further study.