Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to speak many times in the House since I was re-elected, but now while you were in the chair. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election as Speaker in the House. Already we are finding that we made the right choice, that in fact you are doing an excellent job as Speaker, and we look forward to your responsibilities being carried out over the next four years and will be well served.
Before question period, I was in the middle of my speech on the government's response to the issue of seniors' poverty in this country. I was undertaking to reveal some facts. In this debate different stories have been brought to the floor, but it is important for us as legislators to always look back to the facts. It is important that we review those facts, and one of them is that we live in a country that has one of the lowest rates of seniors' poverty in the world.
Currently, 5.8% of seniors live under the poverty line. We obviously do not want any seniors under the poverty line, but we have to recognize that this is one of the lowest rates in the world, and one of the lowest rates in Canadian history as well.
If we look back over the last number of years to 2003, the rate was higher at 6.8%. If we look even further back to 1999, the rate of senior poverty was nearly 8%. At 5.8% we know that we are making some significant improvements. Many of the initiatives that our government has brought forward in the last budget, as well as many of the things we have promised, will only improve that reality.
It is also important to reflect upon the fact that the GIS increase our government is proposing in the budget is the single largest increase Canadian seniors will have seen in the last 25 years. My opposition colleagues today have often suggested that if only they were in power, they would do things differently. However, under the Liberal government, even when it brought forward an NDP budget, this provision was not included and was not on its radar screen at all. It was 25 years ago that we last saw an increase of this magnitude. I think it is important for us to reflect on those facts.
Just before question period, I also remarked on the fact that our government had undertaken a whole host of different initiatives to bring tax relief to Canadian senior citizens. As a matter of fact, with the provisions that our government has brought forward since 2006, over 85,000 senior citizens are completely off the tax rolls. This means that 85,000 seniors who were paying federal income tax in 2005 and 2006 no longer pay it to the federal government at all. This obviously is a significant change and why the rate of poverty among senior citizens continues to drop.
Our government has done a whole host of other things that do not necessarily have to do with tax relief. In addition to the things we have done on the tax side, there is a whole host of other things we have done to continue focusing on senior citizens. Any time we make a change in any other department, we have initiatives that always take into consideration how they will impact senior citizens.
That is why our government and the Prime Minister appointed a minister of state for seniors. I want to acknowledge that we have an exceptional Minister of State for Seniors today, but this post has been held by two other extremely competent and remarkable female cabinet ministers since it was created. I want to thank the members who held this position previously because, due to their work, seniors' issues continue to be brought to the forefront at the cabinet table.
We have also created the National Seniors Council to advise the government on all things related to the well-being of senior citizens.
In addition, we have raised the income earned exemption under the guaranteed income supplement from $500 to $3,500. This is benefiting over 1.6 million seniors across this country.
We have also introduced an automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement, so that eligible seniors who file a tax return no longer need to reapply for this benefit year after year. This is one of our government's initiatives to ensure that senior citizens do not fall through the cracks and will not lose the GIS benefit if they do not produce the paperwork on time. Our government has worked across the board to reduce red tape for Canadian citizens generally, but we are also focusing that effort to protect the interests of senior citizens.
We have also implemented changes to the Canada pension plan so that seniors have the freedom to choose to keep working and contributing to their pension fund. This is important because, as we all know, the demographics of Canada are shifting. We know that the baby boomers are aging and that we face a demographic challenge in our country. However, we also recognize the absolutely remarkable and important contribution that senior citizens can make in their workplace even after they reach the age of 65, through mentorship programs and a whole host of other things. As a matter of fact, I know of senior citizens who made their biggest and most important contributions to the workplace after they were into their 60s and 70s. Even in this House, we have members who are making a contribution long after they are 65. So we know the importance of and believe in the freedom of senior citizens to continue to contribute in the workforce after they reach the age of 65, and to be able to contribute to their pension funds after that.
We are also very concerned about the well-being of senior citizens and that is why we have invested over $13 million in a campaign to raise awareness about and to combat elder abuse. We are also bringing forward a whole host of criminal justice reforms that are applauded by senior citizens, because they know the importance of safety and security and living in their own homes into their retirements.
Mr. Speaker, you are going to cut me off, but I do appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important issue.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I begin by thanking the member for London—Fanshawe for introducing this very important motion for us to discuss in the House today. Contrary to what other members have said, New Democrats do have a plan for poverty reduction. That was Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada introduced in June 2010. It laid out a detailed strategy for poverty elimination in the country, and I was pleased to reintroduce that bill today.
I again want to acknowledge the very good work that Tony Martin, the former member for Sault Ste. Marie, did.
As well, New Democrats have also had other plans around helping people living in poverty. One was the former Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians introduced by the member for Vancouver East.
Contrary to what we have heard in the House, New Democrats do have plans around poverty reduction.
I want to remind the House, because we have had a bit of a break, about what we are speaking about today. The New Democrat opposition day motion states:
|| That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.
There has been much talk so far today about the 2011 budget. Contrary to what members of the government have said, I can assure members that many New Democrats have read that budget as have many members of the public.
I will quote a couple of things from a news release from Campaign 2000 dated June 6, 2011. This reflects in part why New Democrats do not want to support that budget.
Gerda Kaegi of the Canadian Pensioners Concerned said, “The one measure to address poverty among seniors' is paltry”. The release goes on to say:
|| The $50 monthly increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors is only available to those on the very least income. This proposed change is about one-third of what is needed to bring single seniors – who are mostly women - out of poverty.
Further on in the news release it says:
|This budget does little to bolster the tattered safety net that has left Canadians in economic insecurity. Aboriginal people, sole support mothers, recent immigrants, racialized groups, and people with disabilities face greater risks. At the same time, inequality between the rich and the poor in Canada has grown more than in any other OECD country (except Germany).
That comment was by Dennis Howlett of Make Poverty History.
I only have 10 minutes, so unfortunately I cannot go through all the reasons why New Democrats would not support the budget.
I want to turn briefly to a report “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada ”from November 2010. This was an extensive piece of work that looked at the state of poverty reduction plans in the country and made numerous recommendations. I want to quote a couple of statistics out of this, and we are talking about seniors today.
|| The GIS is an ideal means of reducing poverty among seniors because it targets those with a low income, particularly seniors living alone. In 2007, seniors living alone represented 28% of all seniors, but 60% of GIS recipients and 82% of seniors living below the LICOs. A senior living alone with no income other than the maximum OAS and GIS benefits would receive combined benefits of about $14,033 (January 2010 rates), which is below the LICOs for 2008 (the latest available) for a person living alone in an urban centre with a population of 30,000 or more.
The people who are receiving GIS and OAS are the poorest of the poor of the seniors and often between OAS and GIS that is pretty much all they have for an income.
This article goes on.
The member for London—Fanshawe ably outlined all of the reasons why the House should unanimously support the New Democrat motion, but I want to raise another issue that has not been raised.
Again, in this report it says that other witnesses spoke about the lack of awareness of the GIS. I want to turn briefly to the National Advisory Council on Aging, “Aging in Poverty in Canada: Seniors on the Margins”. It pointed out a couple of serious problems.
First, we have a program that is inadequate, but what we actually know is that many seniors are not accessing this already inadequate program. It says in this report that as no reliable statistics existed on under-subscription or late renewals, the National Council on Aging had research carried out in the summer of 2004 to assess the situation.
This research yielded a clear picture of under-subscription to the OAS and the Canada pension plan, revealing that large numbers of elderly seniors have not applied for these programs.
For a variety of reasons, seniors simply do not apply for these programs. New Democrats have argued that they should just be incorporated into a system like the income tax system, so that seniors at the age of 65 would not have to apply. They would automatically be considered.
Under OAS, the NACA report says about 50,000 have not applied and under GIS about 300,000 have not applied. Under CPP retirement pension about 55,000 have not applied. There is no estimate available for those who have not applied for disability benefits or survivor benefits. Many New Democrats have done CPP, disability and survivor benefit workshops in their ridings because many Canadians are simply not aware that they are entitled to those benefits.
This article goes on to say:
|| The sums in question are considerable. For example, the 50,000 seniors who are eligible for OAS but do not apply sustain a total income loss of $250 million a year.
That is $250 million that is not going back into our communities. When seniors apply for these benefits, they spend the money on food, on shelter, and minimal living expenses, which is all money that comes back into our communities.
The article goes on to say:
|| It is more often women, particularly elderly women, who fail to apply for the GIS – a group that is most at risk of living in poverty. It is worth noting that seniors who are entitled to the GIS but who do not apply are deprived not only of their GIS income, but also of all the other benefits provided through provincial and territorial programs that use the GIS as an eligibility criterion.
Not only is it affecting their GIS, but it is affecting some of their other provincial benefits. That is why it is so important that we look at a system that makes it far easier for seniors to access these benefits.
I know we are talking about the GIS, but I want to talk briefly about CPP because there is another huge injustice built into this program.
Lateness in applying for CPP benefits causes serious prejudice. Currently, a person who is late applying for his or her pension under the CPP is only entitled to 11 months of retroactive benefits. The case of a woman named Isabel, age 90, is cited. She discovers that she has been entitled to the CPP survivor benefit for the past 15 years but did not know it. Her husband Jim died at the age of 83 without ever drawing a pension. Her late application means she is entitled to retroactive benefits for a mere 11 months, even though her husband contributed to the plan while he was working and the money was his due and hers. That is a very sad statement. This is another case of late renewal.
In July year after year GIS and allowance recipients must renew their application for benefits by filling out an income tax declaration or a renewal form. Every year close to 100,000 seniors fail to renew their application on time. At present, they are sent a reminder with an enclosed renewal application form. If they fail to respond, they are temporarily excluded from the program and do not receive their benefits for July or the following month until the application for renewal is completed.
The report goes on to talk about 105,000 seniors who did not receive their GIS cheque and more than 9,000 who did not receive their allowance benefits because they had not completed their renewal on time. For many seniors this is an issue of low literacy, little or no knowledge of the programs, language barriers, and sometimes there are mental health issues. We need to make it as easy as possible for seniors.
I will just make a little note on this. A person receiving GIS benefits can lose up to $561 each month. So it is a significant amount of money for people who are living in poverty.
It is unfortunate that my time is up because I wanted to talk about hunger count and the food banks, and the fact that we are seeing an increasing number of seniors using food banks. The 2010 report indicated that the number of seniors helped by food banks grew this year from 5.5% of adults in 2008-09 to 7.2% in 2010. In some provinces, like Ontario, it was 12% and in Manitoba it was 15%. We are seeing some serious problems in our country. Seniors are being forced into using food banks just to keep food on their tables.
I would urge all members of the House to support the motion put forward by the member for London—Fanshawe. This is a small step in the right direction to help lift seniors out of poverty.
Mr. Robert Chisholm (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate for some 10 minutes on the important motion that has been introduced by my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe. The motion, as has been stated, reads:
|| That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.
As was mentioned by my colleague, the previous speaker, this issue certainly deserves a lot more money than what we have already proposed. We are talking about a commitment of $700 million to increase the GIS sufficiently to lift the 200,000 seniors, who are now living below the poverty line, up to and slightly over the poverty line.
It is very modest program, frankly, but it is a practical program. I talked a lot about it on the doorsteps in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour because it is a move forward. We wanted to present that kind of an achievable plan that would actually make a difference in the lives of Canadians. The official figures say 200,000, but according to some estimates there are 250,000 to 300,000 seniors who live below the poverty line.
We have introduced a plan. The NDP has introduced legislation to deal with this matter. We have clearly laid out steps that would achieve this goal, again, a very modest goal, but we have also talked about things like strengthening and expanding the CPP, the Canada pension plan, doing the little things in a very comprehensive way that would make a difference in the lives of seniors. However, every step along the way the government has refused to acknowledge the priority of seniors in the communities of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and frankly, across this country.
We heard members of the government benches today explain why it was okay to have 6% or 8% of seniors in this country living below the poverty line. We heard them explain why it was good enough to have $300 million being put into the whole question of lifting seniors out of poverty. It would only deal with a fraction. It has been estimated that would increase some benefits to the tune of $1.65 a day, and that is somehow good enough.
At the same time the Conservatives are foregoing billions of dollars as a result of corporate tax cuts, and those tax cuts are resulting in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars staying in bank accounts, and going into the savings and investment accounts of highly paid executives.
It is a question of priorities, and the government's priorities have abandoned seniors. The Conservatives failed to deal with the essential question: are seniors living in dignity? The housing costs, the cost of food, the cost of medications, the cost of being able to live independently are simply out of reach for far too many seniors in this country and in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I spoke about these issues as I canvassed throughout the election campaign, not only with seniors but with their children and their grandchildren, who were so frustrated by the fact that their parents and grandparents had contributed so much to their community, had contributed so much to their families, had contributed so much to this country, yet now, because of an inadequate Canada pension plan, because of the inability to have a workplace pension plan, because they worked at home raising children and therefore were not able to participate in the Canada pension plan, those parents and grandparents were suddenly in a situation where they could not afford to make ends meet.
We have heard today my colleagues on this side talk about what that reality is. They talked about seniors in their community who are cutting down their prescription medications and taking them every other day instead of every day, or once a week, and going to food banks to get a decent meal.
I just made a couple of phone calls to food banks in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, which, unfortunately, are serving not only seniors but children and families in the constituency, as they are throughout this country. There are upwards of 7% of adults, in the area of 1,500 to 2,000 seniors, who are attending food banks every month in Nova Scotia. These are seniors who cannot put food on their tables and therefore must use food banks.
A colleague told me today that he was on Elgin Street last night and he ran into a senior citizen who lives in an apartment but does not have enough money left over at the end of the month. This senior citizen was panhandling on the street in order to try to find some money for a hot meal. That is the reality.
When I talk to seniors in my community, it breaks my heart. When I go into some of the apartment buildings and see the conditions in which some of the seniors are living, it breaks my heart. I cannot believe that, in a country as rich as Canada, it is acceptable to have 250,000 seniors living like that, or that it would be adequate to have even one senior citizen living in those kinds of conditions. We have a responsibility to do better.
I appreciate the remarks made about my predecessor, the former member from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who worked hard on the issue of poverty. I have made a commitment to the people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who have given me their trust, to pick up that baton and to continue to raise those issues and to continue to push for those kinds of changes while I have their confidence and while I am here.
One of my colleagues talked about some of the agencies and the volunteers who work with seniors in order to make their lives better. These are seniors who are living at or below the poverty line, those who are living in isolation and those who are not able to afford medication and proper , healthy food. There are organizations, including Campbell's Cole Harbour Senior Citizen Club in my community. I have been there a couple of times for lunch, as I mentioned earlier. It is an organization funded with donations and through the efforts of volunteers.
Aggie, who is 69, is the coordinator of the volunteers who buy the groceries to make meals in the kitchen, which they sell at a subsidized rate to seniors who, in many cases, would not be able to afford a decent meal each week but they know they can go to the Campbell's Cole Harbour Senior Citizen Club and do that.
The Dartmouth Senior Citizens Service Centre on Ochterloney Street is another facility that gets seniors out of their apartments and is able to pay attention to those people who may not be getting the kind of sustenance they require in order to stay healthy.
That is what is required in their communities, that level of commitment by seniors and by others in the community to help seniors.
I hope all members will support the motion before us today. The least we can do in this country and in this House is to support seniors and ensure they do not live another day in poverty.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to the NDP motion. In essence, we are talking about the issue of seniors, which is extremely important to all of us.
Canada's seniors have worked hard to build a better country for future generations. Therefore, it is very important during this time that we all work together to ensure that seniors get the benefits they are entitled to and that they do not fall through the cracks.
Since our government came into power in 2006, we have brought in various initiatives to help seniors, giving about $2.3 billion in targeted tax relief in 2011-12. As well, since this government came into power and addressed the needs of seniors, we now have the lowest rate in the world for seniors in poverty. That is a huge achievement since the time we took over as government when the rates were higher.
In 1999, the rate was 7.9% and today the rate has fallen to 5.8%. However, that does not mean that we do not have much to do. Indeed, we have a lot of things to do. We need to continue working to ensure that no senior lives in poverty.
One of the members who served in the last Parliament said that the opposition did not act on the budget but defeated this government on a vote of confidence. Let me say very clearly that that was a political move by the opposition when it had the numbers. It wanted to play political games and brought in a motion of non-confidence. It was absolutely wrong for the member to say that the Speaker ruled that there was contempt of Parliament. The Speaker said that there was a possibility. However, the opposition played politics and at the end of the day that sent us into an election.
Everybody has said that they went to the homes of seniors. I have many seniors in my constituency too. When I visited them, they wanted to know why we were having an election and why we were wasting $300 million for an unnecessary election.
The Canadian public spoke and those who were on this side, more specifically the Liberal Party which was pushing for this so-called vote of confidence and contempt of Parliament, is today sitting at the far end of the House because Canadians have spoken and they gave this government a strong mandate for the next four and a half years to put things in order. That is what those guys forget. It was not what they said in this Parliament. It was what Canadians said through the ballot box. Now they can answer why they wasted $300 million of taxpayer money.
Some low-income seniors get the guaranteed income supplement and some get CPP. At the end of the day, if the economy is fragile and it is not moving forward, we will not be in a position to help seniors. To help seniors best, we need a strong economy in which they can have a lot of advantages, including the guaranteed income supplement and additional resources. We must not forget that this is in conjunction with our provincial counterparts, which also have programs to ensure that seniors are looked after.
The one thing that is absolutely clear when members speak in Parliament is that we all recognize that seniors have played a very important role in building this country and that it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that they are taken care of.
However, we just cannot have tunnel vision to take care of them. We need to have vast programs because there are many seniors out there with a lot of different needs. For that, the Government of Canada has brought in a lot of programs. Pension splitting is one program to ensure that seniors keep more money at home. On tax relief, we have freed more than 85,000 seniors from paying taxes. All of these measures go in a small way to help out seniors, to ensure they have more tax-free money in their pockets, to have the freedom to have a lifestyle that they want and deserve.
Of course, at a certain stage in life, there were those who did not contribute to the pension plan in the past, who did not have any other pension available to them. For that, we brought in the OAS and the GIS. In the last budget this government introduced a special supplement to be given to those who are below the poverty line and could not meet their needs, by giving them an additional $600 per single and $800-plus for a couple. This was to help them out because that is what we have learned. What did the NDP do? It played a part in the politics that defeated the budget here in the last Parliament.
I am very happy to say that Canadians sent us back and we have re-introduced those measures that could go a long way to help seniors.
All my colleagues say they go to seniors' homes. We all go to seniors' homes to sit and listen. They vote. Let me say in no uncertain terms that seniors are very intelligent people because they have lessons of life behind them. They know how to make sound decisions. Therefore, it is clearly important that we listen to them, we hear them and we take that in. For that reason, this government introduced a special position of minister of state for seniors. That is very critical, specifically a minister responsible for ensuring that the voices of seniors are heard, and through her at this current time, that reaches the cabinet table and into the government decision-making process. Henceforth, that is a very key element.
I have been here for 14 years and we have been hearing all of those things. However, this government has a clear record of helping seniors, first of course to see that nobody falls down, and those who have fallen down to pick them up and off they go. There is a lot of work to do. I am very proud to say that we have at this time the lowest rate of seniors' poverty in the world. Why do I say that? As parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs I get opportunities to travel around the world representing Canada. As I do, I can say that the situation in other parts of the world is really horrendous for seniors and it is due to a culmination of reasons such as bad economy, bad governance, no social programs and seniors are left to fend for themselves. This is a terrible situation in other parts of the world. However, here, we are fortunate enough in our country that this government worked very hard through listening to seniors and that we have created programs that will ensure that most seniors will get their needs and the things they want.
I am speaking also from experience because my mother is a senior. She receives a lot of the benefits and she tells me without question that if she does not get something, she will wring my head off. It is as simple as ABC. She is my mother and she has all the right to wring my head off. Naturally, I listen to what my mother has to say. She stays in a seniors' home and she is surrounded by seniors. She gets input from seniors as to what kind of programs and what kind of things the government is doing.
As I said, there is a provincial government role as well. So it is important for us that both the provinces and the federal government work together to ensure that the seniors receive the benefits they need.
In many places I have heard about situations where a partner dies and the woman is unable to pay for her house. So she may have to move out of her house. Some of the suggestions are that seniors should have property tax freedom, that they should not be paying property taxes. These are all issues that the provinces and municipalities have to address.
From the point of view of the Government of Canada, the key issue to ensure for seniors is of course the OAS and the GIS. That remains key.
We must also be cognizant that we do not put all of our resources into one area, but that it covers a wider scale of things, to more seniors so that we do not have seniors slipping down as well. That is what the government has done.
Our economy is improving thanks to the excellent management by this government when the world economy was shaken. Because of that we have been able to address many of the concerns.
We are still in a fragile economic recovery. As we heard the Minister of Finance say today, the housing market in the U.S.A is still shaky. The debt crisis in Greece and in the European Union will have a negative impact on this country. If it has a negative impact on this country, of course that means a recession here which means less money to give out to programs.
This is nonsense rhetoric which we saw on the weekend with the NDP trying to decide whether the members want to be socialist or they do not want to be socialist. I am a little surprised that the debate even took place.
The business about our giving tax cuts to corporations or that corporations should not get tax cuts, it does not work that way.
It works in a way to ensure that there the economic conditions develop for businesses to thrive, for a robust economy which would help government coffers, which in turn would help pay for the services that the NDP is talking about and what its motion is about.
Somehow the NDP thinks money is grown on trees, among other things. Remember what the current Liberal who was the former NDP premier of Ontario did to his economy, also in British Columbia and other provinces.
The fact still remains that a robust economy will allow Canada to address the issues that the seniors need to have addressed and to say quite clearly that the government, through sound management, has managed to reduce poverty levels to the lowest one in the whole world.
There is still work to be done and this government will continue doing that work through our Minister of State for Seniors and through ensuring there is a sound economic management of this country which will enable us to meet the needs of the seniors.
Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the new member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge River.
The member just said that the government would be listening to seniors for sure. Sure it will. It will be listening to the growl in their stomachs as they are sitting there in hunger.
I want to take a moment to recognize the member for London—Fanshawe who has taken over as the critic for seniors. I had the seniors and pensions over the last couple of years, in fact, since 2009, and I am very proud that we are going to have this dynamic woman taking on this challenge. I am looking forward to see the work that will come out of her in the next little while.
The NDP and retirement security is nothing new. In 1927, the labour party of the day forced the Mackenzie King government to bring in old age security because we had Canadians starving across the country. In 1966, NDP Stanley Knowles, again with a Liberal minority, went to the Liberals and said that we needed to have something broader, something in order for every Canadian to have a pension plan. That was the Canada pension plan. It was something that was put forward and passed.
However, we find ourselves today in a crisis. The crisis is the fact that the Canada pension plan going forward will not be effective enough.
However, a more urgent crisis that we have today is that between 250,000 and 300,000 seniors are living clearly below the poverty line. They are living on approximately $1,162 a month when we combine GIS and OAS. Part of the real tragedy is that most of these people are women, women who had the menial jobs or perhaps never got the chance to line up and get into CPP with the rest of us. It is very troubling.
I have been the critic since 2009, as I said, and I have a number of stories to tell. I had to consider what to talk about here today. I think there is a myth, for lack of a better word. Members will recall that in the recent election plan we were talking about what the NDP thought would be the appropriate thing to do. That was not new at all.
In June 2009, in this House, we passed an opposition day motion unanimously. Everyone voted for it. The number one piece in that motion at the time was $700 million to raise 250,000 seniors out of poverty.
When we paused to take a look at the half measure, or I would say half of a half measure, because $700 million over 250,000 to 300,000 people is approximately a $230 a month increase. The measure we are getting across here is $50, or $1.65 a day. In the provinces of Ontario and B.C. that is already eaten up by the HST.
I would have loved to have had the Conservatives listen to us. They voted with us. They gave the impression that they had listened to us. The NDP went across the country. We hear about the solid mandate they have. Guess which caucus tripled in the last election? It is because seniors and Canadians were listening to us. They knew that the number one proposal in our election plan was to increase the GIS to an adequate level for seniors to get them above the poverty line.
I am not going to take any lessons from the member for Calgary West at all on this one.
The opposition day motion that we have put into place has a double purpose. It obviously addresses the short term, the immediacy of the situation of GIS, but the next thing it does is it looks to our future.
We have heard repeatedly in this House that 63% of working Canadians today do not have a pension and do not have savings. Where are we going to be in 35 years? There will be a wall that these people will strike.
It is crucial that this House starts working together to do something to increase the Canada pension plan. We have put forward a proposal that if the employee puts in 2.5% and the employer puts in 2.5%, in 35 years the worker will have a double Canada pension plan.
We have had two disputes in the labour movement just recently, one with Air Canada and the other with Canada Post. In both those instances, they are trying to destroy the defined benefit pension plans. Some of those people have worked for 35 years at those companies. I received an email from one person who was planning to retire in two months from Air Canada with a $1,600 pension. Had that proposal gone through, he would only have had $800 to retire, thus he could not retire.
All these stories are coming from the government that seniors will be allowed to work longer. The idea always was that seniors would move to retirement where they could live in dignity and enjoy some time with their spouses from whom they have been away all of their years.
When this attack comes, it will be the responsibility of the government of the day to look to the future. We need to look to the future with an investment. Workers are willing to pay part of that investment. Increasing the Canada pension plan or doubling Canada pension plan will not cost the government one penny. Canadians have always been prepared to pay their way and this is one more time.
We have heard proposals in different places about voluntary types of programs. If workers had money in the bank now, they would have set up their own plans. The reality is that we need to help Canadians focus themselves. I did not look to my future until I was in my fifties, which is a long time ago now, come to think of it, but the reality is that most young people do not. They have these items out there that sparkle so brightly, such as iPads, iPhones or whatever. They invest their time and energy in those. We need to help them as a government. We need to show leadership in this place.
The other thing about the Canada pension plan is that it is totally portable in this country. If there is a downturn in one area, workers are free to move to another area and take that pension plan with them. I really want to stress that today.
I want to come back a little bit, and, Mr. Speaker, you may need to correct me, because I have a tendency to turn to talk to the other side when I know I am supposed to speak through the Speaker, but I cannot help myself because I know there are good people sitting over there. We try to appeal to them with the various stories and things that have happened.
I spent two summers as the critic going to seniors meetings. I attended 40 community meetings, 20 each summer for the last two summers. There are heartrending stories that we hear at those times. I have repeated them before but they still bear repeating today.
In St. Thomas, a woman had retired, but her husband was two years short of retirement when he had a stroke. He was getting medication. We have all kinds of buzzwords and one of them in the world today is “delisting”. The woman's husband had a $90 a month prescription that just go delisted by the province of Ontario. She wondered where she could find the $90, and that was before HST.
Speaking of HST, a woman in Elliott Lake, who I will never forget, said to me, and it is interesting that people like her always take us outside because this is very personal for them, “My hydro bill is $2,100 a year. They are talking about HST. Where will I find the $160?” God help that woman. The price of hydro has gone up, plus the HST.
I want to stress the importance of putting aside rhetoric. It is a fact that banks in this country made $22 billion in profit last year. The fact is that the banks gave $11 billion in bonuses to their executives. It is shameful. The people on that side of the House can so something about this. They can take moneys like that simply by postponing the tax cuts and they can genuinely work to raise seniors above poverty. I believe that is what this House could do. I look forward to the future of this debate because I know it will be going on for some time.
Ms. Rathika Sitsabaiesan (Scarborough—Rouge River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to speak to this motion given that over a quarter million seniors are living in poverty today. I also want to articulate the importance of today's youth to be engaged in the dialogue of upholding the standards for today's seniors and for the seniors of the near and distant future.
We are facing crisis today with the number of seniors who are living in poverty. This demands immediate attention. The government has a responsibility to act now to lift every senior out of poverty.
According to Statistics Canada, almost 300,000 more Ontarians sank into poverty since 2007. Further, Ontario's 17% growth in poverty since 2007 was the highest in the country. Right now, almost 1.7 million Ontarians are living in poverty. There has been an increase in poverty of almost 20% among working-aged adults and a staggering 42% among seniors in Ontario.
I hear the distress and anxiety from my constituents. They are not sure how they are going to pay for the increasing energy and food costs, and the additional taxes on their expenses as a result of the HST.
I remember speaking with an elderly couple who live in the Alton Towers in my riding. They invited me into their home, but they had no heat on. They had one portable space heater that they moved from room to room as they moved. They did not have any of their big lights on in their home. They only had small lamps on. They did not watch TV and had one radio that they used for entertainment. They were doing everything possible, everything they could think of to reduce their consumption in order to reduce their expenditures. I sat with them for about 20 minutes as they went through their bills. They showed me their hydro bills that were consistently getting more and more expensive, and less and less affordable for them with their regular day to day expenses living in the meagre way they were.
Nobody in Canada deserves to be living in these conditions, especially our seniors who have given so much of their lives for us. They have invested into the system for much of their lives only to have to live in such abhorrent conditions. No seniors deserve to be lining up at a food bank in order to feed themselves or to be forced to work well into their retirement years.
Another couple I spoke with on Berner Trail, not too far from where I live, had moved into their modest home as a young couple. They worked very hard and raised their family there. They played by the book and did everything right to be able to enjoy their so-called “golden years”. However, now at the ages of 67 and 65, they are looking for work. They are looking for any type of work they can get. The woman is working at the Food Basics by my house as a grocery clerk in order to help pay for their expenses.
A 2009 report on women's poverty from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated that low-income rates among senior women remained almost double that of senior men. We know from Statistics Canada that women in Canadian society live longer lives than men.
I am concerned, as everyone in Parliament should be, for all the single senior women in my constituency and in Canada who are going to be left with no choice but to be dependent on food banks and the kindness of local community members. It is very clear from the government's budget that lifting every senior out of poverty is not its priority.
The $300 million proposed by the government is nice. It sounds like a lot, but it falls short. It sends a clear message about the government's priorities. It would rather give billions of dollars of tax cuts to large corporations, oil companies, big banks or the well-connected wealthy insiders rather than lift every man and woman who built this country out of poverty.
It is not just the seniors in my constituency who are concerned about the lack of support to lift seniors out of poverty. Many of the working adults, the young families in my constituency, are also worried. They are concerned about how they are going to be able to afford to help their mother or father have a dignified quality of life as their current OAS or GIS payments do not go very far.
Since the financial support is not enough for their parent or parents to live on their own, these young families are bringing their elderly parents into their homes to care for them. The costs of nursing homes or retirement homes are way beyond the reach of the people who live in my constituency. They cannot afford it. They are very concerned about the additional financial stress as family caregivers when they are already just scraping by on their own.
The seniors I spoke with during the morning walking club at the Malvern Mall tell me of their experiences of living with their children. They tell me how they feel like a huge burden on their children and feel guilty about turning to their children for support on all matters. They do not want to be so dependent on their family members but do not really have a choice and spend as much time as possible at the mall so as not to be in the way of their children's lives. They do not want to feel like a burden.
We owe our seniors so much more than this. We owe our seniors so much more than for them to feel like burdens.
We in the NDP proposed a $700 million increase to the guaranteed income supplement, an investment that would allow our seniors to live a decent quality of life. It would have lifted every senior out of poverty. This support would take the worry off our families and allow our seniors a retirement with dignity and financial security.
However, as we know, the Conservative government has agreed to spend only $300 million, not even half. Other members in the House have said this is a half measure. It is actually less than a half measure. I guess it is okay for the Conservative government to lift three-sevenths or 40% of seniors out of poverty, or to lift every senior 40% out of poverty. But still 300,000 seniors are living below the poverty line. Once again, we owe our seniors much more than this.
A recent report by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy stated that the increase in senior poverty was largely due to the deteriorating position of single elderly women, whose poverty rate jumped from 14.5% in 2007 to 17.1% in 2008. That was over one year.
The federal old age security, the OAS, and the GIS assure a basic level of income for these seniors. The Conservative government displays a bipolar approach to the help that it provides to Canadian seniors. One of its policies has marginally helped low-income seniors, only 40% of them like I mentioned before, and the other helps the wealthy.
In their maiden budget in 2005 the Conservatives announced a modest improvement to the GIS for low-income seniors. I thought there might be a glimpse of hope, but very quickly they made a 180 degree turn in the treatment of our seniors by the changes to the tax system.
Some Conservative members across the way speak about their income splitting plans and how good they are. But studies show that pension income splitting does absolutely nothing to help single seniors or even the poorest elderly couples who pay no tax.
Racialized and lower-income youth today have difficulty accessing post-secondary education because of the barriers to education, financially and otherwise. We know that they need good post-secondary education to acquire any type of good job. If our youth today do not get good jobs, they will be unable to save for their future and more and more people will continue to retire in poverty.
Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as we debate the issue within the House, I first want to thank my colleagues for giving me this opportunity. I also thank the preceding speakers. One of the benefits of talking later in the day is the opportunity to collect bits of information from everybody and then try to articulate as best we can.
I have heard some of the debates. I have heard some very off-the-wall comments, certainly about seniors' poverty. I have also heard some comments that deal with topics other than seniors and poverty, as we sometimes get off track here and start talking about those typical lines we use. It seems like some people are still in campaign mode. Nonetheless, it makes the issue very important.
Everybody has that one essential story, or maybe two or three stories, that encapsulates what it is we try to do here, that we ensure that in a country as great as this, the most vulnerable in society do not slip through the cracks. We want to ensure that those people we identify as completely impoverished do not fall through the system, although we know people do. We see them everyday in our positions, whether we are in the bureaucracy or we are in elected office on any of the three levels. Therefore, we come to the House and bring these stories with us. I am glad to hear a lot of those stories coming out today. That is why I congratulate the preceding speakers.
The motion states:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.
To lift the vulnerable of our seniors out of poverty requires the payment that is strategically invested in the GIS, that guaranteed income supplement. It is a wonderful piece of machinery, the third pillar of seniors' pay that is so essential across the country. We have the old age security, the Canada pension plan and now the guaranteed income supplement.
Back in 2005, when I had been elected for only about a year at that point, I remember one of the initiatives we put in place was a strategy for a home heating energy rebate. A lot of people forget that. I have tried to push the government into reconsidering bringing that back. It was in January and it was a heating rebate that was given to recipients of the GIS. For many of the people in my area, and certainly across the country, it allowed people to get over the hump of Christmas and the holiday season, when heating bills are the highest, whether it be through hydro, wood, oil or natural gas.
This is the type of strategic measure that interests me the most because it is one of those initiatives that allows the people who are most vulnerable to stay within their means and in their own homes.
Earlier today, I was talking about a charity that was set up in Toronto and it is called “Share the Warmth”. It is a fantastic little charity that provides energy credits for the most vulnerable to avoid homelessness. One of the things it stated was that over the years, the median age of the recipient was getting much higher, say from the 1980s through the 1990s and into this decade.
The baby boomer surge that is running through the system is now making its presence felt here, even in this debate as we talk about the guaranteed income supplement. However, the issue is all the facets of government investing into bringing people out of poverty. The energy rebate is just one. The guaranteed income supplement that seems to be the king we are dealing with is the one measure that is most talked about. It is the one measure that got most of the attention during the campaign simply because it was the one that was most desirable.
Interestingly enough, sometimes when we debate, we get caught up into the minutiae of the language we use. I noticed earlier that, if I am not mistaken and a simple nod from the opposite will suffice, I believe those members are supporting this motion.
However, one of the things the motion says is “ending seniors' poverty is fiscally feasible and therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the guaranteed income supplement”. The Conservatives are agreeing with it because they feel they have just gone through this measure.
However, the problem is that every study we have seen puts that dollar value to lift all seniors out of the poverty level at $700 million, at least. What we witnessed in the budget was less than half of that, which leads us to believe one of two things. First is denial. Second is there is more money coming. I like to think the second option is coming, but I really have my doubts.
I want to congratulate the mover of this motion. This is certainly a good time to have this debate, given the fact that we are now into, as I mentioned earlier, the area of our population growth that is burgeoning, around that age level between 60 and upwards towards 80.
I want to go back to couple of other issues. Two years ago I brought a private member's bill to the House. What I noticed was a lot of seniors were very worried, not just about the amount of money that was available, but their ability to budget.
I spoke to a group in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was the umbrella organization for all the seniors' groups. We had a very interesting meeting about the things that seniors needed, those certain measures, those small investments that would make a big difference in the lives of a seniors.
They talked about new horizons, educating them for computer training, allowing them to download pictures of the grandkids, allowing them to take the bus, discounts, whether it be tax credits or not, but discounts were a big one, and payment of utilities. For instance, if people lose a connection to the basic utilities, the reconnection fee is incredibly expensive. Therefore, seniors were looking for major discounts or even a wiping out of the reconnection fees for those who had reached a certain age. I thought that was a great idea, and it is something with which the government could get involved.
The other issue was that every senior, whether he or she was receiving CPP, old age security or guaranteed income supplement, gets paid once a month. Seniors told me that without an increase, they would like to have the option of bi-weekly payments.
We brought in a private member's bill. Now I have heard the government does not support that as of today. I hope, at some point down the road, it will support it. This is one of the greatest listening exercises that we can engage in, and that is with the most vulnerable in society and certainly for seniors who are most vulnerable.
In my riding of 193 communities, the median age is around 56. Therefore, to say that this issue means a lot to me in my position is probably the understatement of the day, certainly by me.
I think about the people in my riding and about all that I have gone through, all that I have seen, all that I have witnessed. People are in desperate need and do not know where to go. We have become the place, whether it is at the federal level or the provincial level, where the most desperate come to, yet we are locked into these departments and these payment programs. We cannot do anything because we would have to change the legislation.
A lot of the seniors in my area are turning to the churches as an act of desperation. To be quite honest, the churches are doing good work to ensure these people are connected to the avenues by which they are able to receive help. I have been here seven years and in the past four years the churches in my area, the Salvation Army, the Catholic church and the Pentecostal assemblies, have been on the forefront of providing the most basic assistance.
What is wrong with that picture? The picture shows that we need to get out there more. We need to have a debate that is germane to the situation, something that is relevant, something that is tangible to the most vulnerable seniors.
If there is one thing I noticed in the past while, it is we just have not become tangible to seniors as a place for help, assistance and information. However, at least with motions like this, we can go a long way to alleviating that.
I hope that through programs like the GIS, CPP and OAS we will be able to do a lot more, but the very basic issue is that $700 million investment to bring that large bulk of people out of the poverty level. That is what has been agreed upon, but for some reason we get caught up in the argument of whether that is enough or this is enough, if this is the right number and that is not. I have heard many people say that the money is not available so therefore we have to be more prudent.
That was last year's excuse. This year all of a sudden it becomes a good thing to do. I heard many government members today say that we just had an election which therefore delayed the payment of the $300 million. If the $300 million meant so much to the government today or before the election, why did it not do this four years ago?
The Conservatives have been in power since 2006. There was a time when there was no recession. When they came into power in 2006 I remember quite well that we were flush with a surplus. We were able to forecast surpluses out for a good six or seven years. Then things turned south. Yet at the time just before the recession hit that $300 million was never mentioned.
At least all members of the House have pushed the point. I will not be specific to any particular party, but we feel the need for raising our most vulnerable out of the poverty level as I mentioned earlier.
Just poring over some of the facts when we talk about pension plans, two years ago the largest employer in my riding at the time was AbitibiBowater, a mill that existed for over 100 years. It had what was called the direct benefit plan. Quite frankly, with the closure of the mill last year, that plan is sustaining a large part of the community in which I live. That is right. That DB plan that people villainized is sustaining communities as we speak. Would a direct contribution plan do that much for the most vulnerable communities? There is not a chance.
The world is changing. Finances are changing. Companies are moving away from this. We cannot legislate them to go back. Nonetheless, as government, we have that responsibility to step in and give people choices.
In that particular situation, the solvency ratio was poor with AbitibiBowater. Two years ago it was at 71%. Trouble was ahead. Had it closed out, wound up that account, people would have ended up with 71% of their pension, which still was only a fraction of what they were earning when they were working full-time. It would have been devastating. It has rebounded somewhat, but what can we do to fix that?
We can make better laws. One of my colleagues in the NDP brought in Bill C-501, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (termination and severance pay). The bill itself had some problems, but it had a great principle in mind, which was that the most vulnerable should line up to get attention first.
The companies pay a whole assortment of people when they finish, yet the most vulnerable always end up on the bottom part of that formula. We have to work to get that the other way around and we can do that with the right discussion, the right debate and the right legislation. It is time for all members in the House, from whatever party colour one wishes to put out there, it is a decent debate to be had. The most vulnerable would be the recipients of what it is we are paid to do, which is to discuss, debate and enact.
Some of the statistics we heard earlier today are that upwards of over 70% of the people do not have a pension outside of what is guaranteed through the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. It is a staggering figure.
One of the issues that I brought up earlier, which we brought up during the campaign and one that I think is a good idea was discussed ad nauseam in Great Britain about a decade ago. It is called a supplementary CPP.
It is the component of a voluntary payment to top up people's CPP to allow them to receive greater payments once they reach the age of 65, or 60, if they choose to do so.
However, the one element of that supplemental CPP that I thought was very important in the changing dynamics of this world, of this country and of our communities, is the fact that it was a portable mechanism for taking a pension that is not vested into one entity, not one company, but people could take it with them as they travelled throughout their working career. No matter what company people went with they could take this pension they have invested in and move it with them.
When I fly back and forth from Newfoundland to Ottawa, there are a tremendous amount of people I see each and every week, or biweekly, who go to the oil fields, primarily in Alberta, some in Saskatchewan. I worry. They make good salaries, but where they do invest for their future, for their retirement? It is all over the place, I am not really sure and I am very worried about it. If we do not worry about these things, we will find that our children and grandchildren will have to deal with that discrepancy much like we are dealing with now.
Will direct benefit plans exist at that point? I really have my doubts. As much as I do not want to say it, it looks like it just might happen that way, given the current trends toward direct contribution. I have no great qualms with RRSPs, RRIFs and these type of investments, but the issue is that it does not always provide that steady income that we think it is going to provide.
I would implore anyone to see a financial advisor. I have never been an insurance salesman and I am not the one to advocate for the industry, but I have talked to financial advisors and they provide good advice. However, not everybody does that. So, we have GIS and old age security. That is the backdrop, that is the very backbone by which people have to survive if they have nothing else to rely on.
Why can we not provide that bar, why can we not reach the bar that was set to bring everybody, virtually all these people, out of the poverty level? That is what the $700 million is about. It is not just a round number that is pulled out of the air, as was insinuated by some people in the House. It is a number that represents the greatest investment in impoverished seniors in this country probably in the last 50 years, because we have that responsibility. It does not matter if people line themselves up with a particular ideology. We have to admit that if people are poor, if they are vulnerable and if they are desperate, where is their ideology then? It means absolutely nothing. If that happens, if more people fall below that line, then we, as parliamentarians, squandered a fantastic opportunity to invest in the most vulnerable. As members will recall, the most vulnerable of seniors invested in us many years ago.
How many people in this House can actually say that they are here inspired by our seniors today? Everyone can. Who cannot? No matter whether they are uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, next-door neighbours. Do we not owe them, at the very least, an investment in the basic income support of that $700 million, not $100 million, not $300 million, but $700 million? That is the story behind this $700 million investment. That is why I support this motion. That is why we need to have more debates on motions just like this.
Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims (Newton—North Delta, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from Sudbury.
The primary role of Canada's retirement income system is to provide older Canadians with adequate and stable income in retirement. All of us together in this House cannot absolutely abandon our seniors who worked hard to build this country, so I am urging everyone to support this motion.
Ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible and the government can take immediate steps to increase the GIS sufficiently to achieve that goal. It is feasible for the government to lift every single Canadian out of poverty. It just requires a will to do so.
One senior living in poverty is one too many, yet we have hundreds of thousands of seniors struggling to make ends meet. The low-income rate is considerably higher, as we have heard from other members, for unattached seniors. Single seniors are more likely to experience low-income, and senior women living on their own are more likely than their male counterparts to live in poverty. As members all know, women also tend to live longer so we spend a longer time in poverty.
The average before tax income for seniors living in poverty ranges from $14,700 to $22,000. For singles, the average before tax income ranges from $11,550 to $16,900. I would challenge every member in this House to build a budget that would cover rent, utilities, food, and transportation, and then see if there is one penny left over to visit friends for a cup of coffee.
Of those who fall into the poverty bracket, seniors are the least likely of all age groups to move back out of it. Once in the poverty frame, they tend to spend the rest of their lives in that frame. And let me say that even if they go to work at Tim Hortons or anywhere else where they can get a few hours of work, they are still living in poverty.
Being in a low-income bracket on a continuous and ongoing basis has negative implications that go way beyond not being able to make ends meet. It has implications on one's health. It has implications on how long one will live. It has implications on one's quality of life. And we know that it has an effect on how seniors begin to view themselves. It lowers their self-esteem.
Our seniors are victims of systemic poverty and that systemic poverty can only be addressed by people sitting in this esteemed House. I would urge all of us to do so.
From 2003 to 2007, one in six seniors, which is 16%, was in the persistently low-income group over the whole period. Shame on us. The most vulnerable in the group, of course, are senior women. Women make up about 70% of poor seniors. This motion will directly help senior women living in poverty, and in particular some of the most vulnerable in our society, our aboriginal women.
Poverty among seniors has a crippling effect on visible minorities as well. In 2010, based on the census, 65% of single visible minority seniors were considered low-income seniors compared to 39% of single seniors who were not a visible minority. We have to and we can address this. Among couples, the low-income rate was 15.7% for visible minorities. Once again, shame on us.
My riding of Newton—North Delta is a wonderfully culturally diverse one and these figures are particularly concerning to the aging people in our community. We have seniors who, even though they qualified to become Canadian citizens, do not qualify to receive pensions because they happen to come from particular countries. Those seniors are living well below the poverty line, totally dependent on their children. One can imagine how those seniors feel, at 75 or 80 years of age, having to live like that.
The OECD reported that OAS plus GIS bring households to about 90% of the poverty thresholds they have calculated for Canada. The government can raise the GIS to the after tax low-income cutoff and it has the budget to do so. It just needs the will. I urge colleagues sitting across the way that as they go to sleep tonight, they find the will to do so.
The budget provides for a federal policy framework for the aerospace industry, billions of dollars, but not a comprehensive approach to poverty. Even the increase to the guaranteed income supplement is only $50 to $70 extra a month for our poorest seniors. It is just not enough.
Activity limitations are among the most important factors affecting a person's quality of life and the possibility of full participation in our society. We all value our independence. It is an important concern for seniors. It implies the ability to perform daily activities for oneself. Research has shown a strong positive relationship between self-perceived health and the potential to carry out daily activities without limitation or dependence on others. When I talk about dependency and independence, I am talking about financial independence as well because financial dependence can be just as crippling as physical dependence on someone else.
There are indeed indications that dependence on others actually reduces the quality of life and there is research to support that. Canadian seniors deserve independence. I know that is what I would want for myself and if I want that for me, my parents and grandparents, then every single Canadian deserves the same.
Our seniors are not asking for a lot. Countless times, as I canvassed door-to-door, seniors told me their heart-rending stories. One of them actually said to me, “All I want to be able to do is pay my bills and just have a little left over so I can buy a small gift for my grandson”. That story made me cry and I thought what a terrible state we had forced our seniors citizens into.
While visiting a seniors' home in my riding, an elderly gentleman said that after he had paid for his assisted living, he did not even have enough money left to go out for a cup of coffee. Another senior couple told me that they have a beautiful car sitting in the driveway, that they can now no longer afford to fill it with gas to visit their members and friends, and they are feeling lonelier and more isolated every day. We can do this.
Armine Yalnizyan from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated:
|| In a nation as affluent as ours, seniors’ poverty doesn’t have to exist at all. Based on what seniors already get out of public policy, we can afford to help. We don’t have to spend more. We just have to spend it differently.
She went on to say we have to take money from one part of the budget and reallocate it.
The motion put forward by the member for London—Fanshawe targets the most vulnerable seniors in our country. If the budget passes as is, the additional money will not bring seniors out of poverty. The government measures will not lift even half of the seniors out of poverty. There are hundreds and thousands of seniors living in poverty and we need to help them today.
This motion is about dignity. This motion is about independence. This motion is about quality of life. If we can lift every Canadian senior out of poverty, let us do it. My appeal is to colleagues in the House, every single one of us. Let us not abandon our seniors. Let us work together now and lift seniors out of poverty. Together we can do it. They need us and are counting on us. Let us make sure we deliver.
Mr. Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and speak in the House. I hope the Speaker will indulge me for one minute, as this is my first speech in the House, although I have been up many times to ask questions since the House resumed.
I would just like to take a minute to say thanks to the folks in my great riding of Sudbury. I like to round numbers up, so that even if it was 49.9% of the vote that I received, I will say that 50% of the electorate saw fit to put me back in this fantastic place and to be their voice. I want to thank them for that, but ultimately and truly I have to thank my family: my wife Yolanda; my daughter Trinity who is seven; and my daughter Thea who is three. Both of them were great billboards for me during the last election. Also, I would like to thank my father. He is 97 years old. He was 56 when I was born, and so seniors' issues have always been near and dear to my heart. Also, I do have to mention my mother. Although she passed away a year and a half ago, she is always in my heart and reminds me of issues that we need to talk about in this House.
With that, I would like to reflect on what we are talking about today. I look at the motion:
|| That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.
I think the important word there is sufficiently”. We need to ensure that when we are talking about ending seniors' poverty, we are not talking about a little off here and a little off there. What is needed right now is $700 million to take every single senior in our country out of poverty, and it can be done. It truly can be done. If we are looking at the priorities the government is bringing forward right now, we could easily find $700 million to ensure every single senior gets out of poverty.
The first one that comes to mind for me is the corporate tax cuts. My colleague talked earlier about how we have talked about this ad nauseam at some points. However, when the banks made $20 billion in profits last year and we are giving them $840 million in tax breaks, we could take every single senior out of poverty with the latter and have $140 million left to look at other issues of poverty. We need to start putting our priorities in the right place. Canadians and Canadian seniors should be at the top of our priority list. Right now, if we are looking at gaps, we can see that poverty among seniors particularly affects minorities and women.
In 2000, based on the census, 65% of single visible-minority seniors were considered to have low incomes compared to 39% of single seniors who were not. Among couples, the low-income rate was 15.7% for visible minorities and only 5.6% for the rest. The rate of poverty among female seniors is double the rate of male poverty.
Unfortunately, I can think of too many times when I was going door to door this last election and over the two and a half years prior to that when I had single female seniors coming into my office or talking to me at the door about how proud they were that they were able to work and to do something for their children and grandchildren, but that over the last six months to a year life had become completely unaffordable for them. That is when the tears started to well up in their eyes.
I know every single one of us, no matter what colour our tie is, no matter what party we come from, has had those conversations with seniors. Each and every one of us wants to do what is right for these seniors. What is right is ensuring we can find that $700 million to take every single senior out of poverty. There is no reason that a senior citizen has to choose between eating and rent, between paying a bill and having a home to live in. If that is the kind of country we are letting our seniors face, it is absolutely shameful.
As I mentioned earlier, my father is 97 years old. I come from a different background in terms of family heritage, because I have seen the work my family has done in building our great country and contributing to the economy. That goes right across our country.
What does that say about where we are going, if we overlook and deny seniors the right to live and retire in dignity? If they are having to contemplate buying dog or cat food to get protein, that is not retiring in dignity. We need to ensure that seniors are living above the poverty line. We parliamentarians can do that.
One of the files I have been working on over the last two and a half years is credit card interest rates and credit card debt. Seniors, unfortunately, are falling into that cycle, because they do not have enough to survive on right now. They are taking from Peter to give to Paul. Hopefully, I have not offended any Peters or Pauls in making that statement.
What these seniors are doing is that they are actually taking money they do not necessarily have, using it put food on their table or to pay a bill, and then make a minimum payment so they can get through that month. That is sad because slowly the credit card companies are inching their way and starting to take away what little income they have.
I have had thousands of emails from families and seniors, people right across the country, about what these credit card companies are doing. Let me just reiterate, if a senior makes $18,000 a year in pension, he or she should not qualify for a credit card with a $30,000 limit. That is what the credit card companies are giving to some of these seniors. If the seniors say no to them, then they lose the right to have that access.
What ends up happening is that seniors use the credit cards to survive or to buy their grandchildren a gift or, but most of the time it is to put food on their table. The credit card companies are now coming in and taking away property, taking away things, because these seniors have had to use credit cards to survive. That is shameful.
Once again, let us establish a system to ensure that no senior lives below the poverty line.
One of the things that seniors actually have to spend their money on is medications. What we as New Democrats have been talking about for a long time is the creation of a national pharmacare program. If we establish this to lower the costs of medication and to equalize the availability of prescription drugs for seniors across the country, they would have more money in their pocket. More money in their pocket would allow them to actually buy the gifts, put food on their table, whatever they needed to do with their money.
Right now we are not seeing that. We are not even seeing the government contemplating such a program. We would like to encourage the government to look at that, because such a system would actually save Canadians billions of dollars on an annual basis, as the strains on our hospital system and family doctors created by the lack of access to affordable prescriptions would be alleviated.
What we are seeing right now are the priorities of the government. We talked about the corporate tax cuts and seniors struggling to get by. I think seniors see this as more insult to injury.
We have heard about the billions being spent on unnecessary fighter jets. We do not even know the full cost of each yet. I think two or three of those fighter jets would absolutely take every single senior in this country out of poverty. It goes right back to what our priorities are.
A $700 million investment, I think, would be the first investment, the first step that we need to make to ensure that seniors are out of poverty or above the poverty line. It would go a long way toward ensuring that we as parliamentarians recognized and respected the work that our seniors have done for our country.
I do not think any one of us will ever forget our seniors and the great work they do.