STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN
RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT AND THE STATUS OF PERSONS
COMITÉ PERMANENT DU
DÉVELOPPEMENT DES RESSOURCES
HUMAINES ET DE LA CONDITION DES PERSONNES HANDICAPÉES
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques (Shefford, Lib.)):
Order, please. We will now begin our meeting. I would like to
begin by thanking our guests, who are here this morning to talk
to us about the undersubscription by elderly Canadians to the
Guaranteed Income Supplement and other related issues.
This morning, we welcome Mr. Paul Migus from Human Resources
Development Canada, who is accompanied by Ms. Sue Pitts and
Ms. Nada Semaan. We also welcome officials from the Canada
Customs and Revenue Agency, Mr. David Miller and Ms. Kathy
A little later on, we will also be hearing from the Privacy
Commissioner of Canada, Mr. George Radwanski, who is now before
another committee. He will therefore arrive somewhat later,
around 12:35 p.m.
We will begin immediately. The way our committee works is
that witnesses give a presentation lasting approximately five
minutes and then each member has the chance the ask questions,
with government members and opposition members alternating in
Ms. Raymonde Folco (Laval West, Lib.): Excuse me for
interrupting, Madam Chair. I wanted to table a motion regarding
one of the two subcommittees that normally reports to this
committee, and I wondered if I could do it before we begin. It
would only take a few seconds to get this out of the way.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Okay, but I want to
make sure we have a quorum.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Do we have a quorum?
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Yes. If no one
objects, I will let Ms. Folco present her motion for recreating
the Sub-committee on Children and Youth at Risk.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Thank you, Madam Chair. I therefore move
that Mr. John Godfrey be chair of the Sub-Committee on Children
and Youth at Risk, established pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)
and 108(2) and to an order of the committee of March 1, 2001, and
that the membership of the sub-Committee, composed of nine members
or associate members of which five shall be government members and
four shall be opposition members, be appointed following the usual
consultations with the whips, and filed with the clerk.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Does the committee
(Motion agreed to)
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): We will turn now to
Ms. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.):
Madam Chair, I move that Carolyn Bennett be chair of
the Subcommittee on the Status of Persons with
Disabilities, established pursuant to Standing Orders
108(1) and 108(2) and to an order of the committee of
March 1, 2001, and that the membership of committee
be composed of nine members or associate members, of
which five shall be government members and four shall
be opposition members, to be struck following the usual
consultations with the whips and filed with the clerk.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon (Champlain, BQ): I give my approval, but I
would like to have your attention for 30 seconds afterwards.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Okay. Does the
committee give its approval?
(Motion agreed to)
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Mr. Gagnon, you wished
to make a comment.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: Yes. I would like to ask you a question. I
would like to know whether the minister intends to table her
response to the committee's unanimous report on employment
insurance in the House tomorrow. It would be important to know
whether this will be done tomorrow.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Yes. Perhaps Ms. Folco
could answer your question.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: We are very hopeful that the minister will
be able to table this report in the House this week. I cannot tell
you whether this will happen tomorrow, but it will certainly happen
within the stipulated period of time.
Madam Chair, since our usual chair is absent today, and I have
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): I have not been
Ms. Raymonde Folco: —I also wanted to inform the committee
that the minister will be here with us on Thursday, at our next
meeting, that is, two days from now in the morning, and she will
take any questions that you would like to ask.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Are you happy with
that, Mr. Gagnon?
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: I would like to ask one last question.
Would it be possible to find out—you will know very shortly—when
her response will be presented to the House? That is what I asked
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Are you talking about the report, the
response to the report?
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: Yes, the report.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: What day is it today? Tuesday? Yes,
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: Are you going to tell us?
Ms. Raymonde Folco: I will let you know.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: You're very kind.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: I'm happy to do this.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Are you satisfied,
Mr. Gagnon? Thank you.
If we may, we will now turn the floor over to Mr. Migus.
Mr. Paul Migus (Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security
Programs, Human Resources Development Canada): Thank you, Madam
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm very pleased to have
the opportunity to appear before you again—to bring you up to date
on what we're doing for seniors with a low or modest income and to
answer your questions.
I would first like to introduce my colleagues from the
department: Nada Semaan, Director General, Program Policy and
Planning, and Sue Pitts, Director, Old Age Security Program Policy.
Our focus today is on the Old Age Security Program, specifically
the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Allowance.
Our primary objective at HRDC is to ensure that
everyone receives the benefits to which they are
entitled under these programs. We have made a
public commitment to improving our services, to
becoming a truly client-centred organization.
Currently, our programs help millions of Canadians in
Canada every day. Today some 3.8 million seniors
receive the basic OAS pension. That's a remarkable 97%
of all seniors. In most performance reporting that's
near perfect, but with such huge numbers, missing even a
fraction of a percentage of our clientele means missing
large numbers of people. That's why we're very
concerned about reaching all Canadians with our
messages, and we will not be satisfied until we achieve
our 100% target.
We have made extensive efforts to tell Canadians
everywhere about our programs, but there are still
people we have not been able to reach. That's why we
welcome the input of citizens and advocacy groups and the
recent media attention we've had. Yes, some of it
has been critical, but it has also been helpful. It's
been drawing attention to the benefits available
through our programs and directing potential clients to
This is especially important in the case
of the GIS and the allowance. People who qualify for
these supplementary benefits are seniors with the
lowest incomes. As of June this year, some 1.4 million OAS pensioners
received the guaranteed income supplement, and some
100,000 of their spouses or common-law partners or
their survivors received additional financial
assistance in the form of the allowance.
So what's the
problem? The problem is that we're not reaching everyone who
may be eligible for these benefits. The problem is
that there are Canadians out there who need financial
help and may qualify to receive it, but are not
getting it. Minister Stewart has instructed the
department to consult with officials at CCRA to explore
ways to work even more closely together to get the
message to all people who need it.
So what are we doing
about getting the message out? Contrary to
popular impressions, we do not sit around
and wait for applications just to arrive. Nationally,
we have an extensive regional and local service
delivery capacity, with 320 offices providing
information face to face, obtaining applications,
making payments, and handling over five million phone
calls a year dealing with pension issues.
We produce tens of millions of pieces of information,
brochures, fact sheets, inserts, and so on, which we
distribute to millions of Canadians, either individually
with our other documents, or with other documents, like
T-4 slips, or with our Canada Pension Plan statements
We hand out publications personally across the country
through about 100 outreach staff, who also speak to
seniors groups and service providers, and we provide
presentations to financial advisers and financial
We work extensively with the various print media. For
example, this month's Maclean's and
L'actualité magazines are featuring an
advertising supplement on the CPP and OAS pensions, and
we provide articles of varying length on pension topics
for use by the mainstream newspapers, as well as
We have supported the production of videos and cable TV
productions, including a series of episodes in Y'a plein de soleil
in Quebec—as Ms. Folco mentioned—and a video entitled As Time
Goes By on the CPP and OAS programs that is about to be released.
Speaking of Quebec, we also work closely with the Régie des
rentes du Québec to co-ordinate our outreach and communications
Our Internet site provides information on all aspects of our
benefits and financial assistance and includes links to related
Next year, we'll be celebrating the 75th anniversary of old
age pensions in Canada.
We have worked with Historica to bring this significant event
to the attention of all Canadians and will be stepping up our
promotional activities throughout the year.
But direct contact is usually the best, and wherever
possible we send out information directly. For
example, our old age security application forms ask
applicants whether they wish to be considered for GIS
benefits. We proactively mail out these applications
to seniors before their sixty-fifth birthday.
millions of Canadians with our messages, but certain
groups present special challenges for all of us, people
who have never worked outside the home, people who
don't file income tax returns, aboriginal citizens or
residents of remote communities, people with low
literacy skills, people who do not read or speak
either official language, people with disabilities or
We do undertake many local initiatives to get the
message right to the people who need it. Let me give
you two examples.
HRDC is participating in a joint pilot project with
CCRA in the far north to send a bilingual employee,
English and Inuktitut, to travel around the northern
communities on a regular basis to help people
understand the program and apply for benefits.
In Toronto staff have visited some 28 shelters and
support organizations for the homeless, one of the
hardest groups to reach using standard information
vehicles, to try to tell them what's available and to
help determine whether they might be eligible for the
At headquarters we work with traditional, ethnic, and
specialty media to reach the diverse clientele
Generally, we're looking at all
communication products, simplifying the language,
finding ways and means of improving the outreach and
targeting the messages specifically to the groups
we are failing to reach. The bottom line is that
no senior in need should ever be
denied assistance, and it's up to the government, working
in partnership with others, to provide it.
So what else can we do? Improved data sources and systems are
making it possible to speed up the application process, and just
recently we've been able to renew most GIS and allowance benefits
automatically for those who file returns by April 30.
We're working on improving our systems still further to reduce
the paper burden and the complexity of the application process for
Although we know who receives an old age pension, we don't
know their current income levels and therefore can't determine
whether they might be eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement
or the Allowance.
CCRA has agreed to help in a variety of ways, and my
colleague the assistant commissioner of the CCRA will
describe these. These measures will be of considerable
help in addressing the problem of extending our reach,
but we have to balance the very legitimate privacy
concerns of individuals against our responsibility to
reach Canadians with our messages and to respect the
rights of those who do not wish to receive these
How can we improve our future service delivery even
more? We are now looking at how to simplify our
application process, not only to use clearer language,
but also to reduce the paper and transactions. One
option is to develop technology to help us use our
information more effectively. For example, if our data
indicated that certain people were eligible, then we
could ask them just to confirm our information, rather
than having them fill out complex forms and follow
sometimes inconvenient procedures.
We are striving for modernized service delivery, and
we're developing government on-line initiatives that
will increase collaboration with our partners,
especially other government departments, and make
service delivery as seamless as possible.
We are looking for creative improvements to
fundamental service delivery, while respecting Canada's
privacy legislation in all that we do, and we're looking
for your help and your guidance. We thank you for your attention.
I'll turn it over to my colleague David.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Thank you, Mr. Migus.
I will now turn the floor over to Mr. Miller. Welcome to the
Mr. David W. Miller (Assistant Commissioner,
Assessment and Collections Branch, Canada Customs and
Revenue Agency): Thank you.
First, I would like to introduce Kathy Turner,
who's the director general of our benefit programs
We are pleased to have the opportunity to appear
before this committee to discuss the steps being taken
by the CCRA to help Human Resources Development Canada
increase enrolment in the guaranteed income supplement
program. The CCRA is concerned with the economic and
social well-being of all Canadians. We fully respect
and support the need to pay all Canadians the amounts
to which they are entitled, be it the GIS or other
benefits and credits, such as our own goods and
services/harmonized sales tax credit, the Canada child
benefit, or many of the companion programs offered by a
number of provinces that we administer.
As you may know, the CCRA and HRDC have been working
together since 1998 to allow the transfer of income
information provided on tax returns to improve service
to seniors. Although clients must originally apply to
HRDC to receive the GIS, benefits may be renewed each
year upon the filing of an income tax return. On
original application, clients sign a declaration
permitting their information to be disclosed where
authorized. Legislation only permits the CCRA to
provide information to HRDC for their clients, for
example, old age security applicants and their spouses
It has been widely reported that
approximately 380,000 eligible seniors may not be
receiving the GIS. I am not sure this is the
right number, but the fact that such a situation exists
causes great concern to both the CCRA and HRDC.
Officials of both organizations are working closely to
explore all options available to facilitate enrolment
in and awareness of the OAS and GIS programs. We have
also been holding ongoing discussions to improve ways
to communicate with seniors.
At this time the CCRA and HRDC have agreed to
undertake the following initiatives.
As my colleague
Mr. Migus mentioned, the CCRA will now provide HRDC
with a list of low-income seniors who were in receipt of
the old age security pension in the year 2000, but did
not receive the GIS. There's no legislative impediment
to providing HRDC with this information.
Second, the CCRA will provide GIS program information
to every low-income senior who filed a 2000 tax return
and is not in receipt of either the old age
security or the guaranteed income supplement. Each
year millions of Canadians with little or no income
file an income tax return to be eligible for other
benefit programs, such as the GST/HST credit.
Third, in order to help HRDC increase program
awareness, the CCRA is adding information about the GIS
to the T1S-A guide, which is used exclusively by
seniors. This guide is distributed to almost one
million seniors with incomes of less than $50,000.
I'd like to turn to the question of whether seniors
should apply for the GIS on their annual tax return.
It is not clear that being able to apply directly on
the income tax and benefit return would help those
individuals who are unaware of the program. Moreover,
if an individual chose not to apply for the GIS or
simply forgot to apply, we would likely be facing the
same situation we are witnessing today, that is,
a segment of the eligible population not being in receipt of
the supplement. Nevertheless, we will continue to work
with HRDC to find ways to simplify and, where possible,
automate the process of applying for the GIS.
In summary, if you filed a tax return and we believe
you may be eligible for the GIS, you will be contacted.
This leaves the much more difficult issue of
identifying and reaching those who do not participate
in the tax and benefit system, but because of their low
or modest incomes, may be entitled to a variety of
payments from the federal and provincial governments.
In closing, I want to let you know that discussions
between the CCRA and HRDC remain ongoing. Where
necessary, we will seek guidance from the Office of the
Privacy Commissioner to ensure that all information
collected for income tax purposes is used only as
permitted by law and that confidentiality of that
information is protected.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Thank you for your
We will now proceed with the question period. I would remind
all of the committee members that we will be rotating interventions
between the government side and the opposition side and you'll have
approximately five minutes for your questions and answers.
Please begin, Joe.
If you don't mind, I will call you Joe. It will be
Mr. Joe Peschisolido (Richmond, Canadian Alliance):
No, that's fine, Madam Chair. Thank you very much.
Mr. Miller, Mr.
Migus, thank you very much for appearing here and
talking about an issue that is, I know, very dear to
all our hearts. It's a very serious issue.
Mr. Miller, you mentioned a number. I assume you're
referring to a Toronto Star article back on
August 23 that had 380,000 seniors eligible for the
GIS, but for whatever reason, not obtaining it. You
mentioned that you didn't think that was the exact
number. What do you think the number is? What would
the variables and criteria be that you used in order to
come up with the number of individuals not receiving
Mr. David Miller: As soon as the article came
out, we undertook to try to identify
the people who may be included in this. But
it becomes much more complicated when you consider the
eligibility criteria for the program. If it were simply a
matter of, “Are you at the age of 65 and is your income at a
certain level?”, we would have been able to
determine very quickly how many people may or may not
be eligible for that program. But the criteria are much
more complicated, not only based on the type of income,
but on your eligibility criteria as to how long you've been
a resident of Canada, which differs between the
programs, and several other factors as well.
million people filing income tax returns, it's a very
complicated process to select only those individuals
who may fit into this particular category, and it's
one that both our organizations are working towards,
specifically identifying the actual circumstances. We
could then do an extraction from that 23 million to
actually come up with those who.... Again, we would
refer to Human Resources Development Canada in the case
where they're indicating that they have the old age
security, but not the GIS, or in our circumstances
we might feel their income level is low or moderate, and
so they could be entitled to both. It'll be
another several weeks before we actually determine that
My expectation is—and this is, unfortunately, not
scientific, but more a gut feeling—that it will about 220,000
who may be in the circumstances described, and
there'll be probably another 50,000 who are low-income
and did not get any benefits from either the old age
security or the GIS.
Mr. Joe Peschisolido: I don't know to whom I
should refer this question, so let me just throw it out
there—whoever wants to take it, take it.
You mentioned a variety of criteria and various groups
that may be affected by this for a variety of reasons,
lack of facility in the language and what not.
Mr. Miller mentioned that he believes there are about
220,000 who haven't been receiving the GIS and another
50,000 who haven't been receiving the OAS. I
have two questions. Could that also apply to other
programs, like the CPP or the QPP? Second, within
the 220,000, do you have analysis of the breakdown of,
for instance, new Canadians? Have you broken it down
regionally? You mentioned programs working with
certain ethnic Canadians on getting the message out.
Have you done that type of analysis?
Mr. Paul Migus: Our department, HRDC, in 1998
undertook studies to take a look at the impact of GIS,
and we have some preliminary information from that
period, using Statistics Canada and some of the
information we had available at the time to look
at demographic profiles across the country and where there
were different take-up rates. In fact, I believe
some of that was commented on by some of the
researchers at your last meeting.
The issue we have in trying to identify
the target populations is that there is much
information we do not have. We do have a ten-year
as one of the eligibility criteria. We do not have
easy access to exact information about who has resided for how
long in this country, how long people have gone in and
out of the country, because the residency is based on
actually being in Canada and not travelling abroad. So
there are issues about which we don't have that
information, and I would not even know how to
With respect to income level, it is
based not only on a single individual, but on married
couples. We do not know when couples
divorce, sit, split, separate. That's not the kind of
information we have access to or even want to know in
detail. So it would be very difficult to hypothesize
about the exact number in that area as well.
With respect to income, it does vary from year
to year, and there are many different sources of
income. While we know that for purposes of a single
you're above $12,600 of income, you're no
longer eligible for GIS, $16,400 for a couple, but
it's again different if the couple has one person
working and one who's not working. So all these
variables almost make it nearly impossible to figure out
who's missing and who's not.
Mr. Joe Peschisolido: You have 220,000 people, a lot of
individuals, who are not receiving GIS and 50,000
who aren't receiving the old age security and should
be. Are you arguing that the way this present
government is delivering these services is simply
Mr. Paul Migus: On the contrary. The 50,000
you make reference to are compared with 3.8 million
who are in receipt. So when you take a look at that number, 97%
are in receipt of those benefits and have been.
One must also realize that some people do not choose
to apply. In 1999 we were very concerned about the
take-up rate in GIS, and we engaged consultants
and asked them to go out and
survey almost 1,000 people with the question, if you are eligible, why
are you not applying for GIS? We found all sorts of
explanations and reasons, including that
people did not want it. They were in an income bracket
that would have precluded them from getting GIS in any
event. After $90,000 there is a provision for reduction
of all OAS payment, and there are individuals who do not
choose to apply, because it is of no benefit to them.
There were also eligible individuals who were
aware of the program's existence and chose not to apply
for religious reasons. In some cases there was a
perception that this was, in fact, a welfare program, and
so, from their personal
convictions, they did not want to get involved with this kind of
government program. Others have personal convictions
that lead them
not to be involved with government programs at all.
It's very difficult to know all the reasons, but
the survey that was done clearly
indicated that notwithstanding all the information
methods we're using, we have not been able to
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): We will now turn to
Ms. Folco, who will be followed by Mr. Gagnon and Ms. Neville.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you Mr. Migus, for reminding me that I had been on the
program Y'a plein de soleil. For people who do not come from
Quebec, I would simply say that this is a program broadcast every
Sunday morning in Quebec, in French, and which targets senior
citizens. What is interesting, is that apparently, at the end of
the program, the producers—I don't know exactly who—received
hundreds of calls from people telling them that they hadn't known
I have no doubts about the veracity of the information that
you have given us and about the fact that you have an outreach
program and that you are moving ahead. I would add that, based on
my experience with very elderly people, it often happens that you
tell them something, which they understand but which they forget
one or two weeks down the road. This is part of what we are all
perhaps going to experience if we are fortunate.
Have you thought, on the one hand, about repeating the message
over and over again and, on the other hand, have you asked
yourselves if there are any other ways to reach these people?
I know that when Mr. Martin prepared his heating oil program, for
instance, he decided that anyone who had paid a certain amount
based on their income tax was entitled to a $300 cheque. This may
not, however, be a model that would enable us to reach the public
more automatically, because I feel that this is what is missing.
I know that the system is complex. I also know that people do
not always respond. Some of them know that they are entitled to
this benefit, but they do not know how to go about getting this
money. Is there any other way, even if it is not perfect, that
would enable us to set up a system that would be virtually
automatic for the public?
Mr. Paul Migus: This would be difficult to do at present
because the act does not allow us to issue a payment unless an
application has been made, meaning that the citizen or the resident
would have to submit an application in order to receive this
Ms. Raymonde Folco: This is a requirement of the act?
Mr. Paul Migus: Yes, this is what is provided for in the
Ms. Raymond Folco: Madam Chair, do I have enough time to ask
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Yes, you still have a
little bit of time remaining.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: The answer was so short...
Mr. Paul Migus: I apologize. We really try to do several other
things in order to enhance outreach. In the North, we have officers
who put on presentations to citizens and distribute their benefits
to them. Canada, however, is really a huge country. It is very
difficult to reach everybody.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Mr. Migus, I would add something that I
will say to the members of this committee. If it's in the
legislation, it is incumbent on the members of this committee to
see whether or not recommendations could be made to the minister
about certain aspects of the act.
Setting aside the fact that we are dealing with a piece of
legislation that does not help us in this respect and which, in
fact, prevents us from doing this, is there any way we could do
Mr. Paul Migus: Technology improves every year. Accordingly,
I think that this would be possible in the future. Right now, this
is very difficult to do, but theoretically, technology will enable
us to automate these applications.
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Will there be any problems because of the
Privacy Act? In your opinion, could this law complicate or even
prevent this type of process? Naturally, this is a question that we
could put to the Commissioner later on.
Mr. Paul Migus: As I said earlier, some information is really
delicate, such as marital status. We could perhaps obtain this
information from other sources, but I think that we must first of
all obtain authorization from the citizens before using this
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Mr. Miller, would you like to add
Mr. David Miller: As Mr. Migus stated, our
primary concern is the confidentiality of information
received through something like the income tax return.
We are very careful about our exchange of data with
any organization. It is clearly authorized by
legislation when we do exchange information, which, of
course, Parliament may change. I can only add that
every individual in the
agency is acutely aware of the importance of protecting
privacy and the information provided to us through
tax returns and other sources. So we are very
careful, within the legislative framework, to only allow
exchange of information that is clearly identified.
It may be an issue, it may not. It would
depend on the specific nature of the
information exchange, on the details,
and on existing legislation,
which can be changed, but we're extremely
careful. Even public information, such as name and
telephone number, we do not exchange or provide to
anyone outside the legislative provisions of our
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): We will now turn the
floor over to Mr. Gagnon, who will be followed by Ms. Neville. Then
it will be Carol Skelton, followed by Bob Speller.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: Thank you, Madam Chair.
I was going to say to Ms. Folco that if we got such brief and
specific answers at the House of Commons, we would be able to ask
Ms. Raymonde Folco: Mr. Gagnon, I asked very precise
questions, unlike what we sometimes see at the House of Commons at
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: I was expecting that answer.
This is the second time that we have talked about this very
troubling file. I really don't know what question I should ask you,
because I can see, from the steps that you have taken, that you
appear to have explored every available avenue to inform people of
their rights, to inform them about something that is not a
privilege, but an entitlement.
The third page of your document gives a good description of
the people who are really vulnerable and whom you do not manage to
reach or who are not informed for a variety of reasons: they don't
read the papers, they don't listen to the news or God knows what
Since this came to my attention, I started trying to contact
people, groups or associations in my riding. This is not perhaps as
easy to do in large centres and in big cities, but in semi-urban
areas, just about everybody knows each other. You can find an
association that knows just everybody.
Have you given any thought to a similar program to try and
meet, for example, the AFEAS? In Quebec, there are senior citizens'
clubs, senior citizens' associations and perhaps other groups. In
La Tuque, in the northern part of my riding, in upper St. Maurice,
we have one group called the Knights of Columbus which is comprised
of retired people who do wonderful community work seeking out those
in need and trying to help them. Every time we meet them, they say
that they do not have enough money. This is a source of money which
is being kept from the people.
My question is as follows: Would it be possible to target
associations that could help us and that could, in particular, help
the elderly receive their entitlement?
Mr. Paul Migus: The short answer is yes. In fact, we have
about 100 officials who are working hard in the communities, in
partnership with associations. The targeted associations are those
who look after the homeless and people with modest incomes. At the
same time, we have tried to encourage our employees to establish
other partnerships, with community centres, multiculturalism
centres, ethnic groups, etc. We have put up posters in areas where
citizens go, such as drugstores, medical clinics, credit unions,
There are also some individuals who try to help
the information presentation to whichever group we
For example, with my colleague, the two groups work with the
associations that help individuals fill out their statements of
income. That means that we provide services directly to citizens
who need assistance, citizens who have language or health problems.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: In your answer, you said that the current
legislation does not enable us to obtain certain information. The
Privacy Act, for instance, comes to mind.
In your opinion, do you think it would be possible to broaden
access somewhat? I think that my question is along the same lines
as that put by Ms. Folco. Or, has any thought been given to
amending the legislation so that we can exchange information about
Mr. Paul Migus: I am not sure that this is a problem that is
linked to the Privacy Act. Rather, the problem lies in the
information pertaining to the eligibility criteria of this program.
For example, as far as families are concerned, it is really
difficult to obtain information pertaining to the marital status.
Some people have been living as a couple for some time, and then
they separate. How do we obtain this information? Is the
information truly accurate and how long will it remain so? It's
difficult. That means that the problems are related to eligibility.
We need to analyze the criteria of this program and perhaps we can
come up with a way to improve and simplify the criteria in the
future. It's a challenge.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Mr. Gagnon.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: We are going to have to have shorter
You say that some people refuse to take the supplement for
various reasons. They think it amounts to begging. When people
refuse the supplement, could they ask that the money be given to a
particular charity? Could this be done?
Mr. Paul Migus: I do not think so.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: This might be an idea for those who refuse
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Thank you very much.
We will now go to Ms. Neville, who will be followed by
Ms. Carol Skelton and Mr. Bob Speller.
Ms. Anita Neville: Thank you.
I'm just going to
throw out a number of questions to get them in and
ask whoever is able to answer.
I am a relatively new member of Parliament, and my
experience is telling me that many of those who are not
getting the benefits they're entitled to for one
reason or another are women, for the most part elderly
women, frequently used to having others take care of
them. As a result of this, they aren't finding their way
through the system. I find this a very distressing matter.
I did not see the August article in the
Toronto Star. I'm wondering how proactive you
were—and I'm hearing some of what has been happening
prior to the Toronto Star article—or has that
really galvanized you into action?
I'm concerned about the issues related to privacy,
because I understand that section 8 of the Privacy Act
states that personal information under the control of a
government institution may be disclosed when disclosure
would clearly benefit the individual to whom the
information relates. I'm curious to know how that
I'm also concerned about the retroactivity,
the fact that if someone comes into my office next week
and we determine that she—and it's usually a she—is
eligible, the retroactivity can only go back 11
months, whereas I understand at one time it went back
a significantly longer period of time.
I'll start with that.
Mr. Paul Migus: I'll start with the issue of women
as beneficiaries. The information we
have available with respect to old age security
indicates that there's a
fairly even take-up as between men and women. I
think there are areas where the take-up
rate by women is greater than with men, certainly
in the allowance area. In the program for
widows or widowers it's mainly been the widows who have
been applying, not the
widowers. So it varies. I'm not aware of a great
discrepancy, but I'm looking at my colleagues to see
Ms. Anita Neville: I'm just telling you
Mr. Paul Migus: I don't
dispute that, and there is that perception. I'm just
indicating that from the research we've done and the
studies we have, it appears to be fairly balanced,
within a percentage point of each other, as between the
various age groups, as well as between the two genders.
That's on the first point.
You asked if we were galvanized to act after the
Toronto Star article. I'd say that we have
certainly been more focused in the last couple of months, but
David and I have been meeting for some time, and
the department itself has been aware that we
have not been successful in reaching this group of
citizens and residents. Back as early as
1999 the study that was done asked very specifically
why we were not more successful in this area.
So this is a perennial concern for us. We haven't
stopped, and we won't stop until we figure it out and
become more sophisticated with the technology and the
techniques to target those in greatest need.
With respect to retroactivity, all of the program
areas, all of the legislation that touches the areas
I have responsibility for, the Canada
Pension Plan, the old age security, the GIS, the allowance,
disability insurance, have a one year
retroactivity. The old age security, not the GIS
part of it, had a five-year period
from, I guess, 1952 to 1995, and in
1995, as part of a number of initiatives that were
taken, the retroactivity on that particular program was
reduced to a year. It had to do with a realization, to
some extent, that individuals might have been able to
abuse the system by declaring that they had less
income, not taking the old age pension, claiming all
sorts of other benefit programs, welfare programs from
provinces and other associations, and then taking a
lump sum five-year amount after they'd collected from
everything else. It's very difficult to collect back from
those other program areas. And basically, it was the
harmonization. When one looked at the individual types
of payments the provinces were providing for
social assistance, there was basically a one-year payment
as well. So to some extent it was making it consistent with all
the other legislation, as well as what was happening
across the country with the provinces.
With respect to the Privacy Act, both the Income Tax Act and the Old Age
Security Act have very specific clauses
that allow the two organizations to be able to
communicate with one another where it provides benefits
to the citizens we're serving. It's in the
Old Age Security Act in regard to who our target
Mr. David Miller: Perhaps I can just add
a few points for clarification. We
talked about a program where we had 15,000 Canadians
volunteering to help over 470,000 seniors last year
prepare their income tax returns. In fact, this is the
thirtieth year of that program, and it's grown. It's a way
for us to go out into the communities, to the actual
senior citizens' residences and other places, to help
them prepare returns. Since the bulk of the returns
are for seniors and for those with limited income,
it's a target group we want to emphasize more and
more. We've been fortunate to have the growth in
both the number of volunteers and the number of returns
that are processed under that.
We also, as Paul mentioned, have a committee that we
jointly organize for seniors associations. We met, in
fact, last month with this group and specifically
discussed this issue. They were quite comfortable with
the steps being taken by the agency and the department,
and it was no mean feat, believe me, to convince them we
were doing what we should.
It is extremely difficult if persons
are outside our normal system. If people file
returns and we are able to exchange
information, that's fine. And it's not necessarily the
Privacy Act, it could
be the Income Tax Act that has restrictions.
In specific relation to what information we can
exchange with HRDC, it is a complicated legal
process. It's the only section of the Income Tax Act I've
read several times, because it's the only one that can
get me in jail, rather than just in trouble. So I'm
very careful about what we do, and so are our
So there are issues concerning the exchange
we have to look at from a legislative point of view, but I
think it's important for the committee to remember that
was only two years ago that in working towards a better
way of dealing with the administration of these
we allowed people to reapply for the GIS through their tax
return rather than a separate application. So it was in
1999 that we
adopted a process that was much more streamlined for the
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Before we go to the
next question, could the two departments get us some studies on the
subjects under discussion, namely the Garanteed Income Supplement
and Old Age Security, so that we can review this issue better?
Could that be done? You could submit these documents to the clerk,
who would distribute them to all committee members. Thank you.
I will now give the floor to Carol Skelton, on the second
round. She will be followed by Bob Speller and Mr. Schmidt.
Ms. Carol Skelton (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar,
Canadian Alliance): First, I'd like to know how
long HRDC and Canada Customs and Revenue have known
about this GIS problem with the seniors? Did you
realize it was happening before? When did you first
realize there were a lot of seniors falling through the
Mr. Paul Migus: I've gone into documentation
back to 1993-1994, and there was a recognition that
there was a challenge.
Ms. Carol Skelton: Do you feel that it's
been worsening as the years have gone by, or was it
greater in 1993?
Mr. Paul Migus: For the record, it was
higher in previous years, and the cooperation between
the two organizations to try to target the individuals
has had some success. But at the same time, the size
of the seniors population continues to grow every year
Ms. Carol Skelton: Yes, I know all of them
Mr. Paul Migus: So do I.
Ms. Carol Skelton: So that would be
eight years that this has been going on.
What have you been doing over those eight years in trying
to fill in those cracks?
Mr. Paul Migus: We've developed outreach programs,
where we've actually engaged staff to go out into the
communities. We've developed the statement of
contributions for CPP; we mail out over 12
million statements, to every Canadian that has a CPP
contribution, with information on them dealing with old
age security, and specifically the GIS. We simplified
the application forms to allow them to tick a box to
say, I'm interested in GIS. We go out with over 200,000
application forms to citizens before they even reach
the age of 65 asking them to apply, not waiting for
them to find out about it, but asking them, because we
know about them. There
are some 300,000 old age pensioners who do not file
income tax at all who we go out to. There are another
300,000 pieces of application information saying,
please apply for your GIS, you're eligible. So
where we know about them, we try to reach out to them.
Ms. Carol Skelton: Okay.
Mr. Miller, you've
mentioned that all seniors are going to be contacted.
How are you going to contact them, and when are you
going to contact them?
Mr. David Miller: There are actually two
processes. The first ones are those seniors who are in
receipt of an old age security payment, but are not
getting the GIS, though by our analysis, they should be
entitled to that through their income levels and other
criteria. We will provide that information to HRDC, but
they will still have to run it against some of their
own requirements, such as residency and
marital status, because there are different provisions.
In fact, how old your spouse is has an impact on
how this program works. So that will be step one,
dealing with those who specifically get the old
age security payment now and are filing a tax return.
The other group who are filing a tax return are those
who do not get either program, and again, based on
legal advice, we cannot provide that information to
because technically they are not clients of HRDC. So
on our own we can undertake to go out—and
we've done this before on behalf of other groups, such
as the Treasury Board for the pay equity—and
contact them and say, based on our information, you
Ms. Carol Skelton: I've heard lots of comments
that the forms are very complex and very hard for
seniors to fill out. Have you looked at making them
easier for them to work on?
Mr. Paul Migus: We've
engaged a consultant, who now is an employee, who does
nothing but plain language and analysis of the kind of
product we put out to make sure it is as
easily understood as possible. And we also focus-test
our products with citizens they're targeted for
before we put them out.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): For your information,
on the second round, I am trying to reduce the time so that
everyone has an opportunity to ask questions. So we will turn now
to Mr. Speller, who will be followed by Mr. Schmidt and
Mr. Bob Speller (Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, Lib.):
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and I want to thank
the witnesses for coming.
On page three of your
comments you say that CCRA has agreed to help
by providing HRDC with a list of seniors receiving
old age security etc., and you'll help them
obtain information. Could you tell me how that
physically works? Are you actually doing that right now?
I've been around a bit, and I've seen these sort of things
before, but when it comes down to it.... I'm trying to
figure out how it works.
Second, why doesn't HRDC help people who walk in off
the street to fill in their applications? If we're
interested in getting them to apply, and these
applications are so complex for many seniors, why is it
that we're not helping them when they walk in off the
street into an HRDC office?
Third, you talked about possible changes coming.
When can this committee actually expect legislation on
this that will help resolve some of these problems?
Fourth, you talked about technology,
and technology certainly may help, but as you
understand, seniors and technology don't always go
hand-in-hand, and sometimes it's difficult for them to
understand it. If the technology is in the department
itself and communications between the departments, when
can we expect that?
Mr. David Miller: First, we're not sure it will require
legislation. Again, what we want to do is go out under
existing legislation as quickly as we can to contact as
many people as we can. If that covers the waterfront
in respect of those people who, for example, are filing
tax returns, then it's very difficult to develop
legislation that would help with that. So it's a
question of going out, finding those individuals who
are in the system now, and dealing with them in the most
appropriate manner, given our current legislative
The technological changes also expand to different
ways citizens can deal with the government, and
hopefully, those will be simplifying processes,
based on individual citizens' preferences,
as to how they can share information and how that will
work. This is a new area for the federal government,
and one where we'll be working with not only HRDC, but
Treasury Board, as the government's lead agency on these
kinds of developments.
Third, I'd like to ask Mrs. Turner to talk about some
of the information exchanges—and believe me, it's not
just this one that we have currently with HRDC—and to
clarify that question.
Ms. Kathy Turner (Director General, Assessment and
Collections Branch, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency):
Perhaps I could just explain briefly how we are
bringing together the data to provide HRDC with the
list of people who appear to be qualified. Is that
what you'd like me to do?
Mr. Bob Speller: I'm more interested in what HRDC
actually does with the information when they get it.
Do they physically pick up the
phone and call the person? Do they send them a note?
How do they make sure that information is taken
and the person applies?
Mr. Paul Migus: When we receive the information, we
identify the addresses, the contacts, and the
phone numbers, and we do two things. In some parts of
the country we actually call the individual
to say, are you aware that you are eligible for GIS and
that you have not applied? Are you
interested in doing so? Can we mail you an application?
But as a minimum, we do take that list and provide
more information in plain language that they
are eligible and a copy of the application form,
identifying where they can call or where they can go to
get assistance. Those are the mechanics that take place
at our end.
You asked a couple of other questions with respect
to legislation. The HRDC is constantly looking at our
policies and procedures, the legislation, the
regulations, specifically right now in the context of
Government On-Line, where technology may,
in fact, have an impact on how we deal with citizens
and the kinds of programs and restrictions we have
currently in place. So within our program area, the OAS program, we're
definitely looking at the technologies
that exist and that may be coming along and how that would
affect the kinds of criteria through
simplification of approaches in dealing with the
citizens we serve. So that's one area.
You also asked why we do not assist
citizens at the front counter when they come in.
In the Human
Resources Canada centres—there are some 320 across the
country—there are probably some 500 staff we have
for old age security programs who provide support, but
we do not have officials in every office.
It could be the
remoteness or the size of the office.
Some of it also has to do with the fact that some
citizens have indicated, through the
surveying we've been doing, that they prefer,
especially if they're elderly, not to travel to an
office, but would
rather pick up the phone. So we do have a
large organization of call centres across the country.
Mr. Bob Speller: And then they end up in our
office, because HRDC won't deal with it.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Excuse me,
Mr. Speller, the time is
over. Sorry about that.
I will now give the floor to Mr. Schmidt, who will be followed
by Mr. Bellemare and Mr. Spencer.
Mr. Werner Schmidt (Kelowna, Canadian Alliance):
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, folks, for
being here. It's really good, I think, Madam
Chair, that you've got both the CCRA and the HRDC
assistant deputy minister. I think it's great to have
these two agencies here.
I'd like to address my question, I think, to Mr.
Miller in the first instance—perhaps, Mr. Migus, you'd
like to come in as well. It has to do
with a comment you made, Mr. Miller:
if you file an income tax return and if we
believe you would qualify for GIS, an
information package will be sent out to you.
My question relates to your determination of
whether you believe these people qualify, and it
has to do with low-income people in particular.
Before I go any further, I'd like to ask
you whether you are familiar with the study done by
Richard Shillington with the C.D. Howe
Institute? He makes the observation there, I think,
about the people who have an RRSP, for example. I
guess there's a technical question here: does the
of the RRSP become part of the
Mr. Paul Migus: Not the value of the
RRSP, but the value of the RRSP when it's cashed
becomes part of the income of the recipient, and in the
case of the guaranteed income supplement, if the income
goes up beyond the threshold, say $12,000 for a single
individual, then yes, they would not be eligible for
Mr. Werner Schmidt: Okay, but that's not quite my
Mr. Paul Migus: Sorry.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: Is
it the capitalization of the RRSP at that time or is it
the income generated by the RRSP into that particular
person's income on the annual basis?
Mr. David Miller: Perhaps I can answer. In
general, the RRSP is a deferral of income, by
definition. So it's only when the encashment takes
place or a part of it is used and declared in income
for the year that it's calculated in. So you could
have an RRSP that's very large, but if it's just
sitting there, you've deferred that income from a
previous period and there are no tax implications for
that, no impact on the benefit programs.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: That's not my question. With
the money that is generated by the RRSP,
if it's converted in to an RRIF or if it's
converted into an annuity, whatever the case may be,
which is the amount that is put into the income tax
Mr. David Miller: As long as the RRSP is not
touched, whatever capitalization occurs
within the fund is not taxable; it's only when
amounts are withdrawn.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: And that is all.
Mr. David Miller: Yes.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: Okay.
If a person does not
have an RRSP income, but a dividend income, the dividend
income is grossed up and taxed at the marginal
rate, wherever that individual arrives. Does that
figure into your determination of whether a person is
eligible for GIS or not?
Mr. David Miller: I would have to defer to
HRDC. It certainly is calculated in your income, and
there are variations as to how one declares income
for tax purposes and for some of the benefit programs,
but I'll let Mr. Migus answer that.
Mr. Paul Migus: It is considered income for
purposes of determining the eligibility thresholds for
Mr. Werner Schmidt: So an individual who has
dividend income is actually penalized relative
to an individual who is either on a salary or on an
interest income that they generate.
Mr. Paul Migus: No, I'd say that all income is
considered, other than the old age security pension
itself, and treated as income for purposes of
determining eligibility through an income-tested system.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: I appreciate that, but
what about the individual who derives his income from dividends,
who will have a higher income because of the gross-up
provision than an individual who collects money from
a Canada Savings Bond or some other guaranteed
Mr. Paul Migus: I believe that's exactly the
argument Mr. Shillington has been making in his
Mr. Werner Schmidt: That is the argument he
makes, but I'm asking you whether he's right.
Mr. Paul Migus: I'm not an actuary and I'm not a
financial adviser. I would assume that he's right, but I
don't know. It makes sense when you read the article.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: Okay, but my question then
really is, if it does make sense—and I believe it does
make sense, I think it's accurate—and if that's the
case, is there not within our tax system a
discrimination against low-income Canadians in particular?
The people you are trying to help with your GIS
system are the very people who are penalized by our
taxation system—is that not true?
Mr. Paul Migus: I don't work in that area, I'm not
able to comment whether it is or not. I
read the article, and as I've pointed out, it seems to make
sense, but I would have to defer to people who are
experts in the financial community and can tell
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques):
we don't have a lot of time, so if you can, make
it short please.
Ms. Kathy Turner: I just clarified with one of the
people here who is working with us that the amount of dividend income
that is used is not the grossed-up amount. So when you
report your dividend income on your tax return, it is
grossed up, but the amount actually used
for the calculation of the benefit is the amount prior
to gross-up. Dividend income is treated in that
instance like any other income.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: So this is an exemption under
the provisions of the Income Tax Act.
Ms. Kathy Turner: No, it's under the OAS Act,
the elements of income they use to determine your
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques):
Thank you, Mrs. Turner, and I'm sorry we
don't have more time.
Mr. Bellemare, you now have the floor. Next will be
Mr. Spencer and Mr. Malhi.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare (Ottawa—Orleans, Lib.): Thank you, Madam
I'm aware that assisting people in need is not an easy
task for anyone, at the individual level, the
corporate level, the institutional level, or the
government level. I'm very much in favour of
a public service person's being from the
area. I wonder, do you have enough personnel to do the
work? Just a yes or no will do.
Mr. Paul Migus: The size of our population
continues to grow every year, and it is a challenge to
ensure that we are able to provide service
at the same high standards we are accustomed to.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: I'm concerned that the
public service is aging. Is it being renewed fast enough
Mr. Paul Migus: Is it showing that badly already?
There are initiatives within the public service, as you
may well be aware. There is a committee that has been
instructed to look at modernizing the human resources
within the federal public service, and they're far more
competent to tell you of the initiatives they'll
be undertaking to achieve that.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: My concern is that
when you ask someone to do some work, you have to give
that person the tools.
Mr. Paul Migus: Absolutely.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: This is why I'm bringing up
Do you have a sample form? We hear
about this application form being very difficult to
fill in. Would you, perchance, have a sample copy here?
Mr. Paul Migus: I believe so.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: Finally, when I read
a newspaper article, I always sort of
grin, you know, wondering what is the real objective of
the article. And when I see that this Mr. Shillington
made a survey—it wasn't much of a research thing, it looked
like a survey—I'm not sure if he did it personally or
if he sent some students in to ask questions to seniors
in a food bank. Have you ever verified all this? Some
of the people who
walk into a food bank shouldn't be
walking into a food bank, we know that. Some people ask
for food they're really not permitted to have.
Some people look older than they are, and
we would have to verify their age. If this is only
It has been said that only 15% of seniors who use food
banks are getting the supplement.
This would suggest that whoever was making
that survey would ask anyone who looked like a senior,
do you receive this or that benefit? The answers,
to my mind, are really not something you could use in a
proper survey or statistical research. And
it's done in Toronto, in only one spot, then
you project the figures across Canada, and as
Monsieur Gagnon mentioned, the smaller the community,
everyone knows everyone and everyone wants to help
everyone, except for very few cases.
Did you not, within your group,
want to verify these
projections—and that's what they are, projections?
Mr. Paul Migus: Let me
begin by saying that we welcome all advice, all
comments, and Mr. Shillington has a very strong
reputation in this area and has been very helpful to
many. I believe also stated that the numbers
used by the Toronto
Star were not the numbers he had used in
his survey, and so I think we have two sets
Are we concerned? Absolutely, and that's why my
colleague has been doing the analysis and trying to get
the data out of the CCR data bank, so that we have the
hard numbers and the lists. We hope to have that in
the next few weeks.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: Will we be getting that
report in the committee?
Mr. Paul Migus: I'm not sure. We're looking at a list of
addresses we have. I can't divulge
the addresses of all the individuals.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: No, just the number.
Mr. Paul Migus: Oh yes, we can do that.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: That number is moving from
320,000 to 220,000. It may fall to 75,000—we don't know.
Mr. Paul Migus: We definitely can make that
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: Thank you.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Mr. Spencer, followed
by Mr. Malhi.
Mr. Larry Spencer (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, Canadian
Alliance): Thank you, Madam Chairman.
I'm concerned in my riding about two specific
one of which came about even during my election run-up.
Seniors were being taxed beyond what
they had been in previous years, and they were just
struggling. For some reason, they were getting a clawback or a
tax impact that was making it impossible for them to
live. I'm also concerned about those who have been
paying extremely high utility rates.
Can you address for a moment what you see
as the impact on seniors through being taxed back, when
they're really struggling?
Second, is there any way you
see for seniors to be given some guaranteed rate of
utilities, or a rebate or tax credit of any kind to
cover extreme rises in utility costs?
Mr. Paul Migus: I'll try to address the first part
of the question, the issue of
individuals with higher income having some level of
the old age security being clawed back—I think that's
the term that was used.
I'd like to point out that of the 3.8 million
Canadians who are recipients of old age security
approximately 100,000 have income above
$55,000, and therefore the clawback begins. The income
of those among the 3.8 million who actually have
the full amount clawed back is in excess
of $90,000, and there are actually around 75,000
Canadians at that level. So in effect, the full
clawback applies to 2% of the population of old age
security pensioners, and the clawback has an impact on
about 5% of the total, with respect to the people who
are actually receiving old age security payments.
Mr. Larry Spencer: The case I was referring to
was receiving only a total of around $12,000 or
something, but was receiving a tax bill for $900 and
something a year for the past two years. That was new to
her. Does that sound like a correct figure?
Mr. Paul Migus: I can't comment until I know a
little more about the specifics of the case.
Mr. Larry Spencer: I have one final question.
The 220,000 you're talking about, how and when do
you plan to notify these people who are not
receiving GIS? I think Ms. Skelton asked that
question, and it wasn't
Mr. Paul Migus: As soon as we receive the
information from the CCRA, we will be calling
individuals, as well as mailing out the information,
trying to identify the target areas, which
parts of the country they're in, and to see what other
activities we have with respect to the senior citizens
associations that are out there. We'll also
be trying to look at different
approaches in respect of language profile and
communicating through the various ethnic media, ethnic
radio stations—we do that as well. So we'll be
targeting very specifically this time around, based on
the number we do have.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques):
I think Mr. Miller has something to
add on that.
Mr. David Miller: Perhaps I could add, as we've
been talking about it this morning, that it's very
complicated to come up with the right set of criteria,
depending on marital status, age, income, residency
qualification, all these other factors.
So it will be a few weeks. Will it be
a few months? We certainly hope not, but it will be a
few weeks before we're able to correctly identify those
who may qualify and to provide that information
to HRDC. So we're hopeful that before the end of the calendar year
we'll have this information out.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Okay.
Is it okay with you, Mr.
Thank you very much.
I have just been told that the document requested by
Mr. Bellemare was not available this morning. So, for everyone's
benefit, please send a copy of it to the clerk, so that it can be
distributed at a future meeting.
Mr. Malhi, followed by Mr. Gagnon.
Mr. Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale, Lib.):
Thank you, Madam Chair.
When the clients call for the information on the
so many times the phone is busy, and then they call our
office. This is not a one-time thing, I have so many
complaints every day. I don't know why. When we
call, we get the line, but when the clients call, they
say the phone is busy all the time.
Second, when they ask something on the phone, the
people are very rude. They don't give the right
information, and then the people bring the form to our
office and say they didn't help us this way.
Third, the form is so complicated and hard to
understand. Some people pay the counsellor $100 or $200
to fill out the form. After that, once
they fill out the form, there's unnecessary harassment,
or then they say, come here, we
need this document; they produce that
document, and then they ask for another document. I have so
many cases like that.
If you know there are some areas with
ethnic communities, why can you not appoint a
person who knows those languages? That ought to be
easy for them.
Mr. Paul Migus: Let me start with the first
question about phone service. We answer
some five million phone calls a year about
income support programs. You are right, we do not
achieve 100% pick-up in the first 30 seconds. I wish
we could. We are quite pleased if we achieve 97%
pick-up in the first three minutes.
We are aware that we do not have all the capacity at
the moment and all the technology necessary to make it
easier for citizens to call in. It's a major area of
activity, not only for HRDC, but for all call centres
across the Government of Canada. The government is
looking at ways and means of making it much easier.
I am disappointed that you have an impression
that some of our staff are rude on the phone. I
certainly would welcome any examples or any
sorts of complaints. I will personally look into each
and every one of them. When you have five million phone calls,
you can have bad moments, and I certainly do apologize on
behalf of my staff if they have done that. But I can
assure you that we take great pains in
training, selection, and recruitment to try to ensure
that we provide the best possible sympathetic and
With respect to the complexity of the application forms, I
do agree with you. I have gone through the application
forms, I've gone through some of the evidentiary
requirements, and I am sympathetic. Some
of these processes were put in place and
developed over 30 years and need a serious
fact, my director general, Nada, and Sue, the director,
have both been looking over the last six
months at how we can, with today's technology, in
today's society, simplify some of that and make it more
My colleagues have been going out to try to find ways
and means to address the reality that today's Canadian
population is very much more diverse than it was 30
years ago. How do we change the level of service
we provide in the languages of the communities
we serve? We do have some challenges, and I
accept the comments and commit us to making improvements
in each of those areas.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Is it okay
with you, Mr. Malhi? Okay.
I will now give the floor to Mr. Gagnon, and then to
Mr. Schmidt, for a fairly brief final question.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: I have three small questions, and I will
ask them all at once.
You spoke earlier about an 11-month retroactive period. If,
for example, I find someone who is eligible, but who,
unfortunately, did not understand or realize this, and the 11-month
period is exceeded, the money for the time beyond the 11-month
period is lost. You spoke about this earlier, but I did not
understand your answer correctly. I find this rather difficult,
particularly for people of this type, because there may be some of
them who cannot read very well, or have other similar problems.
I think that in these cases, the 11-month retroactive period is
rather harsh for these people, who are among the most vulnerable in
I was wondering whether you had a breakdown by province. We
know that the figure for Canada as a whole is approximately
380 000. You mentioned that you work with organizations such as the
QPP in Quebec. Can you tell us how many people in Quebec, who would
be entitled to these benefits, have not been reached?
I ask my last question out of curiosity. Do other countries
with similar programs have the same trouble reaching people? If
not, how do they go about it? That is a rather large question, but
I will give you all the rest of my time to answer it. Thank you.
Mr. Paul Migus: I can give you a partial answer to your
question about retroactivity. The act states clearly that we really
do not have much flexibility to make exceptions, except in two
cases. The first is those cases where the government makes an
administrative error. The second is when individuals have genuine
disabilities which mean that they do not understand at all, because
of their health. We can be a little more flexible in these two
As to the number of people receiving the Guaranteed Income
Supplement in Quebec, our figures show that 90% of those eligible
for the supplement are receiving it.
How does this compare with the other provinces? The level is
almost the same in the Maritimes, but the figures for Ontario and
British Columbia are lower than those for Quebec.
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: And you do not have the time to go and see
what happens in other countries.
Mr. Paul Migus: No.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Does that answer your
questions, Mr. Gagnon?
Mr. Marcel Gagnon: Yes.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): I will now give the
floor to Mr. Schmidt for a final question.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: Thank you very much, Madam
Chair. I have one very short question.
Could you explain the rationale for collecting income
tax on the basis of individual returns and using family
income for the computation of qualification for GIS?
Mr. David Miller: Perhaps I could start. In
fact, almost all of our benefit programs are based on
family income, not just the GIS or the OAS, but also—
Mr. Werner Schmidt: I don't know the explanation
or the rationale.
Mr. David Miller: Most of the income tax
system is based on at least spouse-related income, so
there are very few deductions that don't take that
into account, which is why most people have to prepare
their tax return with their spouses. Even transferring
deductions such as charitable donations takes place
between the two spouses. Almost our entire
structure is based on family-related income. Very few
things relate to an individual in and of themselves.
So I don't think it's unique in that. Certainly, all
the programs are family-related. I think it makes
sense when you're looking at people living together and
their requirements for the individual programs, and it's
preferable to treating everyone as an individual, I
think, for social program objectives anyway.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: I'd like you to explain what
Mr. David Miller: Family-related income?
Mr. Werner Schmidt: Yes.
Mr. David Miller: We have different
definitions of spouse, and it gets very complicated.
Basically, if you're living with someone for more than a
year, you may be considered as a family
unit. For whatever reasons, without getting into
details, it's a basic criterion. People have to
declare and indicate for things such as the child tax
benefit, the GST or HST credit, as well as other
benefit programs, like OAS and GIS.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St. Jacques): Okay, Mr.
Mr. Werner Schmidt: No, but I don't think we have
pursue it in another quarter.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St. Jacques): Okay,
thank you very much.
I would like to thank our guests this morning: Mr. Migus,
Ms. Pitts and Ms. Semaan from Human Resources Development Canada;
and Mr. Miller and Ms. Turner from the Canada Customs and Revenue
Agency. I think the information you provided was very relevant and
will be discussed at a future committee meeting—the exact date
remains to be determined—to see whether we will make any
recommendations to the minister.
I would invite you to stay with
us, if you wish, for the Commissioner's presentation. He is
currently appearing before a committee in the Centre Block, and
that meeting will end at 12:30. So we expect him to be here in a
few minutes. He is appearing before the committee studying the
For the benefit of my colleagues, I would like to mention that
on Thursday we will have with us the Minister of Human Resources
Development to talk about administrative matters and to answer our
questions about the current economic situation since the events of
September 11. On Tuesday of next week, we will be having a round
table discussion on financial assistance for students.
If you like, I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes,
until Mr. Radwanski gets here. We will be back in a few minutes.
Once again, thank you very much for appearing before us today.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): I would like to welcome
Mr. Radwanski, the Privacy Commissioner. I will give you a few
minutes to make your presentation, and I will ask my colleagues to
co-operate as regards the question and answer period, because we
would like to end by 1:00 p.m. That gives us very little time, but
we will do our best in the brief time we have.
Welcome, Mr. Radwanski.
Mr. George Radwanski (Privacy Commissioner of Canada): Thank
you, Madam Chair. I apologize for being late, but I was appearing
before the committee studying Bill C-36. Then there were some
journalists who wanted to ask me some questions, as usual. I do
I do have some brief introductory comments. I
appreciate the opportunity to appear here, although as
my office indicated to your committee, I
don't have a great deal to say about this issue,
because very frankly, this is not a Privacy Act issue to
begin with. The Privacy Act protects personal information only
insofar as other laws don't apply. Section 241 of the
Income Tax Act contains provisions that deal with the
confidentiality of taxpayer information. These
provisions take precedence over the Privacy Act.
Section 241 also lists a number of situations in which
taxpayer information can be disclosed.
For example, the act appears to specifically authorize
the disclosure of information for the purposes of
administering the Old Age Security Act.
However, just because the issue does not directly
involve the Privacy Act, it doesn't mean that I'm not
interested in it as an issue. There are any number of
important issues where I am called on to take a firm
position to protect the privacy rights of Canadians.
There are other issues where a lack of common sense
results in privacy ending up with the risk of getting
a bad name.
One of the unfortunate aspects of the issue I'm
talking about today is that privacy has been portrayed
not as something that protects us, but as something
that hurts us. This is not the purpose of privacy
legislation, and it is not how I see my role. A lot of
my job involves applying common sense.
In this case there appear to be a number of common
sense solutions that would help resolve the situation
without negatively affecting privacy.
First, I have already mentioned that section 241 of
the Income Tax Act specifically authorizes CCRA to
disclose taxpayer information for the purposes of
administering the Old Age Security Act. Section 33 of
the Old Age Security Act has a reciprocal provision.
It's not my role to interpret the Income Tax Act or the
Old Age Security Act, but I think a case can be
made that the guaranteed income supplement is simply a
component of the OAS. The Old Age Security Act
specifically mentions the GIS. As Privacy
Commissioner, I would not take the
view that this is an interpretation of the law that
somehow abuses the privacy rights of Canadians.
Second, CCRA should, and I believe will, revise its
tax guide for seniors with low income to include
relevant information regarding a senior's eligibility
for the GIS and how to apply.
Third, I don't see why CCRA could not also include a
note in big, bold, clear type on the notice of
assessment forms that it sends out to everybody after
they have filed their income tax, a note informing
those seniors with low income that they appear to be
eligible for the GIS and telling them to call a 1-800
number for more information. That strikes me as simply
a common sense thing that could very readily be done.
Fourth, as an immediate measure, CCRA could send a
notice on behalf of HRDC to those seniors who qualify
for the GIS, and that would not have to involve
disclosing any information to another department at
all. They can get the relevant information from HRDC
and send it.
Members of my staff have been talking to CCRA and HRDC
about these and other options. We will provide any
advice we can to help CCRA and HRDC come up with a
solution that will assist low-income seniors and
Let me conclude by talking for a brief moment about
privacy. As you may know, I just appeared before
another House committee reviewing the anti-terrorism
legislation bill, and I'm going to be appearing before a
Senate committee on the same matter later today.
In today's climate it is all too easy to see privacy
as a barrier, as something that can be set aside when
we are worried about our security or when, as a
we have to deal with some particularly difficult
problem. The Privacy Act was not passed to stop
government departments from engaging in
activities that help Canadians. It was passed to
protect a fundamental human right.
As an independent officer of Parliament, my role is
not just to administer this legislation, but to serve as
a champion of privacy rights for all Canadians. Part
of that championing, I guess, is to do my best to
ensure that bureaucratic inertia or a certain lack of
speed in looking for common-sense solutions when they
involve several departments does not mistakenly get
taken for a weakness in the concept of privacy.
That's really the point I want to make with you today.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Thank you
very much, Mr. Radwanski.
We will now move to the question and answer period.
Mr. Peschisolido will begin.
Mr. Joe Peschisolido: I don't have any questions,
and my colleagues don't, but on behalf of my
I would like to thank Mr. Radwanski for coming and
appearing before us and clarifying a very important
Mr. George Radwanski: It's good to see you again.
Mr. Joe Peschisolido: It's good to see you again
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Thank you
Ms. Neville would now like to ask a question.
Ms. Anita Neville: Thank you very much.
I too want to thank you for coming and clarifying it.
I have one brief question. We heard a
presentation prior to your coming that involved issues
related to the Privacy Act. What advice do you provide
to bureaucrats as to where the Privacy Act is or
is not applicable and where—I'm struck by
your comments about working towards the benefit
of citizens—they can move forward without
invoking the Privacy Act?
Mr. George Radwanski: As I say, in this
instance the Privacy Act isn't even in play, because the
Income Tax Act provisions supersede it.
My officials have been participating in the meetings
between these two departments and have certainly been
encouraging them to take a common-sense approach.
One hears, for instance, the suggestion that
because one of the privacy principles we always
advocate is that information collected
for one purpose should not be used for another, it
might even be somehow inappropriate for the CCRA to
send out the kind of notification I was talking about,
even in its own name, because it would be using tax
information. Well, you see, there one can apply common
sense again and say, another privacy principle is that
of consent, which can sometimes be implied consent.
I would argue that when people provide information to
government, even on their tax returns, it is reasonable
to believe that they give implied consent. If, for
instance, they are elderly and destitute, eating cat
food, they are giving implied consent to have the
government let them know, based on their tax return,
that they qualify for a no-strings-attached cheque from
the government. I think that is simply a common-sense
interpretation of privacy principles, and that is the
kind of advice we try to provide. Sometimes different
government departments, through an excess of caution,
want to respect privacy rights, so they
become trapped in an interpretation we can help
them to surmount.
Ms. Anita Neville: And do you?
Mr. George Radwanski: That's why we're here.
We can't force them to listen, but we can give advice.
Ms. Anita Neville: Thank you.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques):
Do I have any other questions?
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: Everyone has to fill in
an income tax return if they make
money, even people who do things that are shady or
criminal, don't they? For example, a bookie has to fill in
a report, doesn't he, to say that he's received so
much money? So it is too with someone who's in the entertainment field.
If they do have to fill in these reports and say,
I made so much money—profession: bookie,
entertainer, whatever. Does that
mean, if you go back to your common sense,
the income tax people should refer that
information to the RCMP?
Mr. George Radwanski: Of course not. That's not
for a moment what I was suggesting.
I'm talking about a common-sense interpretation of the
privacy laws and privacy rules. Certainly, in the
first instance, I believe it is possible. HRDC
takes the view that the GIS program is part of the
old age pension. I don't have any difficulty with
that view. So we're talking about something that is
already legislatively mandated.
Second, I believe it is entirely within the spirit
of the privacy law, and even within the spirit of the
tax privacy principles or rules in the Income Tax Act, that
CCRA can inform people that they qualify for a benefit.
I simply don't see how you could make the argument
that somebody's privacy right is being violated.
Of course, if confidential tax information is shared
with third parties in a way that's not permitted by
law or in a way that can cause any detriment for
the individuals whose information it is,
that's a violation of privacy principles. I don't see
the analogy at all, with respect, between the examples
you were giving and people being informed that they
qualify for benefits. That's a provision of factual
information, which is a very different matter from
disclosing information about individuals provided under
the secrecy of the Income Tax Act.
As I say, one has to apply common sense.
Common sense doesn't mean we can violate people's
privacy rights, it means there are sometimes
instances where something helps people by way of providing
them with information, and it's so clear that it doesn't
need to be turned into a privacy problem where one
Mr. Eugène Bellemare: Merci.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Thank you.
We managed to stay within the time specified. Thank you very
much indeed, Mr. Radwanski, for your very relevant remarks to the
I would like to remind you that the next meeting is on
Thursday, with the Minister of Human Resources Development. Have a
good day, everyone.
The meeting is adjourned.