Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to rise and speak to this motion, and I want to say at the outset that I do support the motion.
It gives a strategic, coordinated approach to this multi-faceted area dealing with seniors in this country. We can call it what we want, but I would like to see it condensed into a national seniors strategy. I congratulate the member opposite for bringing this motion to the House.
This is a very important issue for all Canadians. As has been stated before in this House, there are some very fundamental demographic shifts going on in this country. In the year 2001, one in eight Canadians were aged 65 or over. In the year 2026, that will reach one in five Canadians.
Seniors are not a homogeneous group, and if anyone tries to interpret that in this debate or suggest that, I believe they do so in error. As we speak, somewhere in Canada there are 72 year old men or women teeing off at a golf course. Those individuals have the benefit of a public or private pension plan, own their own home and have their health. The issues that concern them are probably issues of lower taxes. They want somebody to stop the slide of the stock market and they want the government to leave them alone.
At the same time, there are other 72-year-old people living in one of our inner cities who have health issues, security issues, housing issues and other issues, and are looking to the government for help. That is something that governments at all levels have to respond to, but again the point I am making is that we are not dealing with a homogeneous group.
There are seniors living in very challenging circumstances and that is the cohort within the larger group where we do have to focus our attention and we do have to come forward with a very comprehensive and inclusive strategy.
I should point out that there has been a lot done over the last number of years. There are still some major gaps, as members will hear today from myself and from other speakers, in the policies and programs that are offered to seniors, but a lot has been done.
In the year 1981, 20.8% of seniors would be classified as living in low income circumstances. By the year 2001, that figure was reduced to 7.3% of the senior population, which I consider to be a dramatic decrease in this number; however, if one is part of the 7.3% it really does not help all that much.
There have been some very progressive programs adopted by the Liberal government over the last number of years, of which I am very proud. I am very proud to have been part of it. It does not quite go all the way, but it certainly has made some tremendous strides in this whole issue, and I am now dealing with the whole area of economic security.
The framework policy is of course the guaranteed income supplement. Members will recall we used to have the old age pension. We still have it but it has been changed dramatically. The cornerstone of our economic security for seniors now is the guaranteed income supplement, and that was increased in the 2005 budget by $2.4 billion over two years, which would be an increase of approximately $400 per year for single seniors and approximately $700 per year for couples.
I should point out that other provinces, particularly Ontario and Saskatchewan, offer supplemental benefits over and above what is offered by the federal guaranteed income supplement program.
There is a basic policy of economic security for seniors living in Canada. Is it enough? Probably not. Has there been a dramatic improvement over what was available 10 years ago? The answer is yes. This may be an error in the motion, but this particular program is tied to inflation. I believe it is increased twice or four times a year based upon the rise in the consumer price index.
Another program that I am very proud of that has been enhanced over the years is the Canada pension plan, our public pension plan. Most plans in other countries are underfunded and have all sorts of problems. Our plan is and will be for the next 40 years actuarially sound. I am very proud of this plan. It is part of the economic security offered to seniors. However, there are a lot of seniors who do not qualify for benefits under the Canada pension plan.
The increase in the amount that can be contributed to an RRSP and the increase in the year that withdrawals have to be made from 69 years old to 71 years old have been beneficial steps in the right direction. The announcement in the last budget by the finance minister of increasing the deduction from $1,000 to $2,000 is also a step in the right direction.
I hope that most of the legislative changes that the previous government adopted dealing with pension protection will help, but again we are into some jurisdictional issues here. The whole area of private pensions in Canada will require more work by the present government and by provincial governments right across Canada.
We heard of the situation which occurred in Nackawic, New Brunswick, where people who had worked for 25, 30 and 35 years basically lost their pensions. It is my position that this should not happen in a country like Canada. If it does happen, then we as legislators and people in the provincial assemblies who are supposed to protect these workers are just not doing their jobs.
Another matter that I have some concern about is the funding of our private pension plans. I do not believe the law is vigorous enough. We are going to see problems in the years to come. A lot of private pension plans right across Canada are underfunded and I know the primary obligation is on the owner to bring these plans up to a proper level.
This is a multi-faceted motion. It is an omnibus issue and touches on the lives of a lot of seniors. It talks about housing. It is my position that this is a basic right of seniors. The federal government provides some funding for affordable housing programs and for seniors housing programs. The primary jurisdiction is in the provinces.
The federal government has an obligation and a duty to work very closely with its provincial counterparts so that seniors have the housing they deserve. The benchmark that is being used in most of the provinces, and I accept this, is 30% of a person's gross income. No person should pay more than 30% of their gross income toward their accommodation needs and accommodation should be available to all persons.
The motion talks about wellness, health promotion and preventive measures. I agree that there is a role for the federal government, but again it is a provincial issue. This is something that has to be included in a national seniors agenda with a clearly defined focus and strategy.
Again, this talks about the preventive measures, it talks about drug costs, it talks about drug accessibility, and it talks about public education. It speaks of the services that are available to seniors. This is why I am agreeing with this particular motion.
We talked about primary health care. In Canada we have a universally funded, publicly accessible health care program.
The motion talks about some expansions to this program that should be made available to seniors, and I certainly agree with the gist of the motion. It talks about dental care, product care, home care, and other forms of health care that are particular to seniors, and I agree. That is why the way it is worded in the motion is quite correct.
Another area that calls for additional resources and changes in policy is this whole area of self-development.
One of the programs which I was so proud to see brought back, and I was disappointed of course when it was cancelled, is the new horizons program. This is a program that is available to seniors groups right across the country. It is not a large amount of money, but it provides seniors groups with certain amounts of funding so that they can get established, get organized, come together for recreation, education, or for whatever needs and wants.
Again, we are not talking a lot of money. However, this was a program that was cancelled back in the mid-90s and was implemented about two years ago now, and the budget is, I believe, $50 million a year. I have experience with a lot of these applicants who have applied for this program. It is a good program and I am proud to be associated with the re-establishment of this particular program.
When I am speaking of this issue, I do want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the National Advisory Council on Aging. It has certainly done a lot of great work over the years on this whole issue. Any of the papers, documents and positions that it has come forward with have pushed the envelope on this particular issue and it has been very helpful over the years.
One thing that did disappoint me in the last organization of the last government was the dropping of a separate minister responsible for seniors. In the last government we did have a secretary of state for seniors and it was his job, it was a he in the last government, to bring together different departments and to bring a seniors' focus to the whole government agenda. I believe that this is needed, and I believe that is exactly what this motion speaks to.
This motion calls for a national seniors agenda, and again we are not talking about a homogenous group but a collaborative group. Every department has to be brought together, not only from the federal government but from the provincial government and also the municipal governments that offer other services, such as public transit, recreational services and so on.
So again, I was disappointed, when the new government was formed in February, that we did not have anyone out there speaking for seniors. Of course it was a major disappointment. In actual fact, I did hear members of that party, prior to the election, speak in this House that it would be part of the government, that there would be a minister responsible for seniors.
Another issue that the motion does not speak to but is something that, at some point in time, this assembly will have to have a debate on, and that is this whole issue of seniors in the workforce
It is more than just seniors wanting to work. When we look at the demographics and the labour shortages developing in certain areas and in certain industries in the country, I believe our economy will need a certain number of seniors to stay in the workforce, maybe not on a full time basis but at least on a part time basis. I have a number of recommendations that I would think the government ought to consider in the future.
The first deals with clawback. Right now certain seniors may want to go back to work, but not on a full time basis. Right now these seniors are receiving the guaranteed income supplement or some other similar program. If they get a part time job and make $3,000 or $4,000, that whole amount is clawed back from them. Unfortunately, this is a very severe disincentive for a senior to do anything, and in most cases they will not.
The government should look at this in the next budget. I do not think we are talking about a lot of money. I believe we should look at some program or policy that would remove that disincentive for seniors who want to stay in the workforce in some minor or part time basis.
Another area is mandatory retirement. I believe we are moving beyond that as a society. I think mandatory retirement has been rejected in different provinces. Whatever the programs and policies are, we should abandon the concept all together. Again, this is an issue of policy. Mandatory retirement goes beyond seniors and it gets into our economy generally.
Another important area, which the resolution does deal with, albeit indirectly, is the amount of volunteer work that is done by our seniors. Right now approximately 18% of the population of our seniors volunteer regularly. That is slightly in excess of the average for the Canadian population.
I should point out to members that the people who do volunteer, they volunteer a lot more than the average Canadian. In actual fact, the statistics indicate that a senior volunteers on average of 269 hours per year. This is quite a bit more than the average Canadian that does volunteer.
This ties into the new horizons program. It ties into some of the volunteer programs of the federal government. However, it has to be tied in with the whole area of a comprehensive seniors strategy that acknowledges the volunteerism of our seniors across the country.
The area of elder abuse requires a lot more public education, although there is more education on that now than there was at this time last year. This is much more prevalent than people think. It is physical and it is financial. A lot of times it involves family members. Many times elder abuse is not reported. A lot more elder abuse occurs than what the statistics suggest. In most instances it is sloughed under the table. It is very much out there in the public. I believe the federal and provincial governments have an obligation to come forward with a very comprehensive public education strategy on this whole issue.
I support the motion and congratulate the member for bringing the motion forward. As far as I am concerned, it wraps around a lot of issues that involve federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions. It cries out for what I would call a national seniors strategy. This is a strategy that will require more focused attention from the government. When we boil it all down, a lot of times it talks about how and not what.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg North.
Many times across the country we honour seniors with seniors days, seniors activities, seniors proclamations and so on. What we really owe seniors is a great deal more than they are currently receiving.
The seniors charter guarantees the supports that will help to provide seniors with health and well-being. It promotes wellness through promotion and preventative care to keep them active and participating in our community.
The guaranteed access to primary care and home care, aside from the moral correctness of doing this, will do nothing but cost the country, the government, the budget less money. It is much less expensive to support and care for someone at home than it is in a multi-level care facility or in hospital, which is often where seniors end up when they do not have that support at home. In addition, they are far more comfortable, more relaxed and more likely to keep participating if they are in their own home. Therefore, there is an economic argument for doing this, not only the moral argument for the comfort of seniors.
This also guarantees access to geriatric care, people who need perhaps a more complex level of care, and palliative care. Many people, but certainly seniors, are choosing to die in a hospice bed or often now in their own home. They need the support to do that, surrounded by their families and the people who love them.
The seniors charter establishes a national prescription drug plan for seniors. I think of a woman who I talked to not very long ago. She retired about three years ago. She now has two part time jobs because she has to pay for her prescription drugs. There are times when she makes a decision to only take one pill per day, instead of the four that she is supposed to take. Even with her part time jobs, she has a problem paying for her medications. That is not acceptable. Those are exactly the people who, if they do not take their full prescription, end up back in hospital.
Other than the fact that it is the right thing to do, there is an economic argument to keep people out of hospital.
The seniors charter would provide a dental plan for seniors. Seniors often suffer oral side effects from a number of chronic illnesses. Something that can keep them healthy is good nutrition and they can have that, if they are able eat comfortably. Providing preventive dental care is not only the right thing to do, but it will be a cost saving.
We have a proud history in the NDP of innovation and investing in and providing for Canadians. For many seniors over 65, their coverage has been reduced or eliminated so they have to go without.
The Canada Health Act mandates funding for drugs in hospital. Drugs prescribed outside hospital may not be covered by provincial plans. Some of those pharmacare costs can be catastrophic. Many seniors are forced to choose between their health and their pocket book, between eating and taking their medication. I do not think anyone wants to see seniors having to make those kinds of choices.
Many provinces have pharmacare plans, but only for some seniors. Eligibility varies from province to province. Seniors in Halifax deserve the same standard and coverage as seniors in Surrey. It is time for a national standard. It is time for a national dental plan.
The province of Alberta has a seniors dental plan so does the city of Toronto. They are two different examples of effective and affordable dental care for seniors.
Investing in Canadian seniors is the right thing to do. If we invest in seniors, they will invest in us. They are out there in their communities, still participating, volunteering in almost every activity that goes on in our cities.
I am proud that the NDP has launched another Canadian innovation. I thank the member for Hamilton Mountain for her work on behalf of Canadian seniors. I hope that all members of the House will support this important motion.
Mr. Speaker, this is a very important debate for the House and for all of Canada. I am pleased to be part of a caucus that has been forging ahead with an idea that is now beginning to gain resonance across the country.
The idea of a charter for seniors is fundamental to our notion of a civil society, because in fact it recognizes that we are indebted to those people who built this country and sacrificed so much in growing this nation as well as in fighting world wars and building a future for other generations. We owe it to those people to ensure that they live the rest of their lives in decent conditions with respect and with great admiration.
I do not think that you, Mr. Speaker, or anyone in the House can say we have done a very good job of that. There are too many seniors in our midst who live in abject poverty. There are too many seniors in our midst who live with abuse, with financial, physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse. There are too many seniors in our midst who are struggling just to preserve some sense of dignity, because it gets awfully difficult to make ends meet when the governments of the day keep pulling and cutting and offloading responsibilities for areas that are fundamentally important to seniors.
Therefore, this debate is very timely. It is meant to be a constructive proposition to the House and to Canadians about what we can do as parliamentarians, as elected representatives, to make a difference in the lives of seniors.
So often seniors tune into this place on CPAC or whatever and see and hear a lot of words. There is a lot of good rhetoric here today about how we are going to care for seniors, but even as this debate goes on it gets shuffled off into jurisdictional issues. We get immobilized worrying about whose area we are treading on and who will do the job.
What seniors are saying to us today is “think outside the box”. We cannot fix the problems of seniors and ensure they live out their lives with decency and dignity unless we actually get a little more creative and a little more willing to spend a bit of money, which will go a long way to making a big difference.
I want to give an example. In my own constituency, seniors are struggling to ensure that there is better transportation, because if there is better transportation, seniors can get out. They can socialize. They can go to a restaurant. They can go to a fitness program. They can go to meet a friend. They can get exercise. They can ensure good emotional health and well-being because they have that kind of freedom.
What do we offer today in that context? Unless we live in the centre of a city that has rapid transit and we are right at the doorstep for that transit, there is no alternative. There are no options. There is no way to be able to just freely live our lives without feeling dependent upon someone else.
In Winnipeg, groups like the Seven Oaks Seniors' Links, the Point Douglas Seniors Coalition and others are trying to put together proposals that cross jurisdictional boundaries, and they are calling on us to do something about it. They ask why they cannot get a little money from the federal government to rent a city bus to go around a neighbourhood and pick up seniors on a regular basis so they can go off and do what they like to do and feel good about themselves.
What answer do they get? That it is not federal jurisdiction and that the federal government cannot possibly give money for a bus service in downtown Winnipeg or the north end of Winnipeg. Why not? It is health and well-being. It is part of ensuring that seniors stay healthy longer. We all know about the examples, yet we cannot seem to break out of these boxes and do that.
If there is one thing we do today, we should adopt this proposal, this charter. First, it is to say that seniors' rights are fundamental and that is why we want them entrenched in a charter, and second, it is to say “let us start applying this charter”, so that it is not just a bunch of words and gobbledygook. Let us apply it to the day to day lives of seniors.
The transportation issue seems to me to be such a logical one to apply this to, but we can go on and talk about health care generally, as my colleague from Surrey North has done, and talk about the need for seniors to access, on a universal basis, dental care and pharmaceuticals. We have let down our seniors on that front so much that it is hard to actually come to terms with it.
Seniors thought about those promises over the last 13 years under the Liberals and then they looked to the Conservatives under the last budget for some attempt to live up to those promises, whether they were specific promises to establish a national pharmacare program, as the Liberals promised for about four elections in a row, or whether it is the Conservative rhetoric of saying, “We respect our seniors. We want to make sure they do not live in destitution and we will do everything we can”.
Where is the meat? Where is the action? Where is the program?
Why do seniors today have to worry about filling a prescription or putting food on the table? Why do seniors today have to turn down the heat in the dead of winter in Winnipeg because they have to save money to stretch their dollars?
Why, in this day and age, do we not at least recognize that we have an obligation as a society, as a government, to ensure that all seniors have access to basic medical services? Beyond hospital insurance and beyond visits to doctors, we must look at dental care, pharmaceutical coverage or pharmacare, and home care.
These are all things that have been promised over the years and were never acted upon. They are affordable, they are important, and they will make a difference to the way in which our seniors are able to live out their last years. Frankly, I cannot think of anything more important than that.
I cannot think of anything more meaningful than for this Parliament to say that we will make this our undertaking, we will conquer this field and we will do what seniors want us to do. That is to ensure that they can live with some sense of economic security: we will provide a regular increase of OAS and GIS, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, as the cost of living increases; we will ensure that we act cooperatively with all jurisdictions and forge new programs when it comes to things like transportation and recreation; and we will provide the basics when it comes to health and well-being.
It is often said that a measure of any society is determined by how we treat the most vulnerable among us. When it comes to seniors in our society today, I think that over the years we have created a situation of making them some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society.
Especially when it comes to older women, our record is deplorable. In fact, we have some of the worst statistics anywhere in the world for poverty among older women. We also have a terrible record of actually preventing this kind of society where people are sandwiched between caring for their kids and caring for their parents without any supports. We have done little to acknowledge the role of family, communities and governments in working together to create the very best for our seniors.
This motion is simply an attempt to forge a new path for our seniors and to make a difference in the lives of our citizens. At the same time, all of us in this House celebrate what seniors are doing on their own on a volunteer basis, without very much help from government. I just have to go through the list in my constituency. Manitoba is a very important example, of course, because we probably have the highest per capita population of seniors anywhere in the country, with more than 157,000 residents aged 65 years or older. That is about 14%. That is expected to increase to 33% by 2001, so we have a particularly critical situation in Manitoba.
We are working hard to prepare for that day with a provincial government that is committed to working with seniors. It has a seniors secretariat and an excellent home care program, but it is still facing many difficulties because it is impossible for the government to do this on its own.
I want to conclude by referencing the good work of organizations such as Point Douglas Seniors Coalition, Seven Oaks Senior's Links, Keewatin/Inkster Neighbourhood Resource Council, Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, Main Street Age & Opportunity Senior Centre, North Centennial Seniors, Aboriginal Seniors Resource Centre, Filipino Seniors Group, Punjabi Seniors Group, Manitoba Society of Seniors, and many more, as well as people like Al Cerilli, Ron Mills, Archie Orlikow and the late Murray Smith, who have worked so hard for dignity and security for everyone among us. I commend them.
I urge the House to support this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss government measures for the protection of seniors. I fully support the sentiment of the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain that older Canadians are creative, active and valued members of our society. In the actions that the government has taken, we have demonstrated our commitment to ensure that they have the respect and dignity they deserve in their senior years. We are moving on a number of fronts to address their concerns.
It is well known that Canada's population is aging at an unprecedented rate. In fact the number of seniors in Canada is expected to double in the decades to come. We are therefore now putting in place measures to ensure that policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of today's seniors and those of tomorrow.
Today I would like to focus primarily on financial security. The hon. member has raised the very important issue of income security for older Canadians. Canada's retirement income system is recognized around the world as one of the best. Today more than four million seniors receive old age security benefits and three million receive Canada pension plan retirement pensions. As well, the guaranteed income supplement, the allowance, and the allowance for the survivor provide an additional income to 1.6 million low income seniors.
This government will ensure that old age security and the Canada pension plan remain fundamental guarantees of income security for seniors in their retirement years.
The Canada pension plan and old age security will be offered to seniors now and in the future. As the chief actuary said, Canada is one of those rare countries that can count on a secure public pension plan. He added that the 9.9% contribution rate will be enough to sustain the Canada pension plan for at least the next 75 years.
He also said that the old age security program remains viable and affordable for the Government of Canada. We can be particularly pleased with the fact that in his report he predicts less dependence on support benefits by low-income persons because of the higher incomes of seniors to come. Canadians can be assured that this financial support is here to stay.
Many people probably do not know that funding the Canada pension plan and old age security is one of the major expenses of the Government of Canada.
In 2004-05, some $51.6 billion was paid out as direct income support to seniors, which is $23.8 billion for the Canada pension plan and $27.8 billion for old age security.
For the most part, thanks to these programs the senior population living in poverty has gone from 21% in 1980 to 6.8% in 2004, which is the lowest level of all time.
Yet, despite the success in reducing poverty among seniors, there is always more to do. To assist them the government has the guaranteed income supplement which provides some 1.5 million low and modest income seniors with financial support. Payments from the GIS total more than $6 billion annually.
This government is committed to helping Canada's seniors who built this country and the future seniors who are now building on this foundation.
In budget 2006 we have taken positive steps to fulfill our promise that seniors will be able to keep more of their hard-earned savings by doubling the maximum pension income amount that is eligible for a federal tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per year in 2006. This measure will benefit nearly 2.7 million taxpayers with pension incomes. It will also benefit low and modest income seniors as some 85,000 pensioners will no longer have to pay income tax and will be removed from the tax rolls.
Furthermore, as part of our commitment to the continued viability of Canada's retirement income system, the federal government will discuss with the provinces and territories the possibility of allocating part of future federal surpluses to the Canada pension plan and to the Québec pension plan. This is one of our ways of offering an acceptable level of economic well-being, as the hon. member said so well.
In order to ensure there is accountability for how seniors are treated and to ensure seniors have a voice in government policy decisions, our government will appoint a national seniors council. This council will be made up of seniors and representatives of seniors organizations to advise the minister responsible for seniors on significant issues affecting them.
This government is sensitive to the needs of senior Canadians. The budget addresses financial issues. We have a secure pension system and, through our seniors council, we will be creating a forum for seniors' views to be heard. These are the areas I have focused on but I would like to mention that the government's commitment in health care, affordable housing, public transit and in safety and security also address the particular needs and concerns of seniors throughout the country.
In addition, through Human Resources and Social Development, Canada's seniors secretariat, we work with the provinces, territories and many other partners to promote the well-being of seniors across the country. Through our host of programs, seniors can share their creativity and wealth of talent in helping to build vibrant communities and a stronger Canada.
While I respect the hon. member's good intention in the proposal raised today, I can assure the House that in this month of June, celebrated as Seniors Month in many parts of the country, and in all the other 11 months Canadians can be confident that this government will protect the interests of seniors.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today and talk about the motion dealing with the social and economical issues and the well-being of seniors.
Coming from the riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook, which is located in the Niagara Peninsula, the Niagara-Hamilton area is host to the second largest seniors population in the country, behind Victoria, which is why it is an issue that has always been near and dear to my heart.
I want to commend the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain for prompting this important debate on issues of seniors.
As the member knows, our new government stands up for seniors. We have a great respect for the wisdom and experience seniors have to offer and we realize they are the keepers of this wisdom. They have helped to build this country. They have spent their lives raising their families, saving for their retirement and building this country into one of the most enviable nations in the world.
My colleagues and I are proud, in turn, to help support Canadian seniors to enjoy their later years without being overburdened by the concerns of their income, health, housing or their general well-being.
Many seniors are now on fixed incomes and yet their cost of living is anything but fixed. The cost of electricity is rising. The cost of home heating fuel is rising. The cost of drugs and other medical costs are rising, as well.
Seniors today are actively participating in society and in the labour force more than ever. We welcome their contributions and we will continue to look for and apply opportunities to foster their increased involvement.
We all know that seniors have played and continue to play a vital role in our society. Their contributions to the labour market have led to Canada's strong fiscal foundation today. Canada's new government applauds their efforts and hard fought gains and will fight to preserve them.
Canada's seniors are also to be thanked for the rearing of today's skilled and educated workforce, which will ensure our future prosperity. Today, while they are enjoying their golden years, the earned wisdom and talent of our seniors secures the admiration of all Canadians.
Our new government is unwaivering in its view that the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are fundamental guarantees of income security in retirement years. We will never reduce those benefits, not now and certainly not in the future.
As part of our commitment to the continued sustainability of Canada's income security system, the federal government will be working with the provinces to examine the possibility of allocating a portion of future federal surpluses to the Canada and Quebec pension plans.
We believe that seniors, who have sacrificed to save for their retirement and have paid into pension plans, deserve our government's support, which is why the 2006 budget helps seniors in many ways. Budget 2006 increased the amount of pension income that could be sheltered from income tax from $1,000 to $2,000. This measure, effective for the 2006 and subsequent taxation years, will benefit nearly 2.7 million seniors who are eligible for pension income. Furthermore, it will remove an additional 85,000 pensioners from the tax rolls.
Effective July 1, the GST will be reduced by 1%. This tax relief will help our seniors save all year round with every purchase they make.
Public transit is often the only means of transportation for seniors. Our government has eased these costs in budget 2006 by making transit passes and tickets tax deductible and making them more affordable for seniors. All transit users, including commuters, students and seniors, will qualify.
The Government of Canada continues to work in partnership with provinces, territories and many other organizations to promote the well-being of seniors, with a strong focus on cross-jurisdictional issues, such as safety and security.
In recent years, for example, elder abuse has become a priority issue for all of our governments. In fact, today is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Studies suggest that between 4% and 6% of the elderly have experienced abuse in their home and that they are also at risk in institutions, such as hospitals and nursing homes. We realize that raising public awareness is a key tool in response to this abuse and neglect in later life. In this regard, we have collaborated with our partners to develop a public education kit on elder abuse that is currently being distributed across Canada.
We are also working with provincial and territorial governments to establish elder abuse awareness days, local strategies and new legislation to further protect seniors from a crime that is all too often overlooked.
While these programs promote health and well-being, self-development and social inclusion among older Canadians, our new government also respects the rights of seniors to speak out and to influence the federal policies and practices that shape their lives and the lives of their families.
It is with that in mind that I had the opportunity last year under the direction of our Prime Minister to conduct round tables across the country in every province to get a chance to talk to seniors firsthand. One of the things that came back time and time again from seniors was that they were very appreciative of the fact that a government in waiting would take the time to talk to seniors about issues that were important to them. They said that it was seldom that they had a chance to talk about some of the issues that were important to them.
It was because of working with our colleagues across the country in various provinces that we were able to come back and make suggestions which were reflected in our campaign promises to reduce pension deductions and also establish a seniors council. These are things that were done to help build a strong foundation as we move forward on seniors issues because they are very important.
As I said, we continue to listen to these voices. They are expressed through ongoing relationships with representative groups.
In order to ensure that there is accountability for how seniors are treated and to ensure that seniors have a voice in government policy decisions, our government will appoint a national seniors council, which is, once again, one of the recommendations that came out of consultations with seniors across the country in terms of what was important to them.
The council will be made up of seniors and representatives of seniors and seniors organizations to advise the minister responsible for seniors on significant issues affecting them.
It is up to each and every one of us in the House to ensure the needs of older Canadians continue to be met. I say once again, I think so often what happens is that we take a top down approach to government. We decide that we think we know what is best. Very clearly, in establishing a seniors council, ordinary Canadians know what is important. By collaborating with them and working with them in terms of issues that are important to seniors, we can make more effective policy. We can make a larger difference in terms of the lives of seniors.
On the standing committee on human resources and social development, we have had all-party support unanimously across the board, working with the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP, to look at the issues of not only skills, the shortage of skills and mobility but older workers. I think this is an encouraging sign.
This fall we will cross the country to talk to various groups once again to find ways where we can be more effective and support seniors on some of the challenges that they have.
As we continue to consult with individuals and key stakeholders, seniors organizations and seniors themselves, I believe that over time we will continue not only to develop good policy but we will be able to do the right thing. I think that is what seniors really count on us to do. It is to do the right thing and not just to talk about doing things but actually to implement and be true to our word.
In closing, we have the duty to help and not neglect these wisdom keepers who have helped build our great country. This new government has already, in a short period of time, kept so many of its promises. It will continue to do the same thing over the course of the next weeks and months. We are certainly looking forward as a government to keeping our commitments and certainly as they relate to seniors.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on a motion introduced by the New Democratic Party about the fundamental rights of our seniors, the right to dignity, to respect and to security.
I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.
I would first like to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain for her excellent work.
She has brought forward a very comprehensive and very detailed motion.
The NDP has of course long been an advocate for our seniors, the people who built this country. We only have to recall such members of Parliament as Stanley Knowles to recall the tireless advocacy on behalf of seniors in this country.
We saw another example in Nova Scotia just days ago, when NDP leader Darrell Dexter made seniors issues a top priority for our party in that election, as he had done in the previous election where he forced the Conservative government, in a minority context, to remove an insidious provision that penalized seniors who needed access to medications but who were living in homes that provided support.
I am pleased to say that there was an improvement in that situation, very much honouring the commitment made by New Democrats, and I hope that same scenario will play out in Nova Scotia as a result of the recent election there.
We believe that at the federal level what is needed is the adoption of a seniors charter. That charter would include provisions for income security for seniors, for housing, wellness, health care, self-development and proper government services. We believe that such a charter would be a major step in recognizing the needs of our aging population and setting up a framework for action.
I will not develop all of these six aspects, as many of my colleagues have actually spoken at length about their importance in this debate, but let me say that action is needed now, because when it comes to seniors, it is the sad fact that time is a key factor. While we twiddle our thumbs as governments, as Parliaments, and simply talk about an issue but do not act on it, these seniors are aging in place. Some of them never end up with the opportunity to access the very things that we spend time talking about.
Here is an opportunity to move quickly on some key issues facing seniors. I hope the House will embrace it in that spirit. All too often, I find that politicians, and I think we can share this collectively, do not act out of a sense of urgency when we need to. There is a 10 year plan here and a 20 year plan there, but when it comes to coming to grips with the fact that many of our seniors need action now, we stand back. But they cannot afford to wait. They are making decisions each and every day that are very painful.
I know that many hon. members are aware that too many seniors are dealing with an affordable housing crisis. They simply cannot afford the housing they are in. When we talk to them about it, when we speak to them about how they are paying 80% of their meagre incomes just to keep their homes or pay their rents, so often they will say to me, “Oh well, Jack, it's not that bad”. They say they will just cut back on some of the basics and they will get by. They say that the food bank is very helpful. The idea that seniors have to go to a food bank after they have spent their whole lives building this country should be a national shame. It is a national shame.
We need to build affordable housing. That is provided for as a fundamental in the charter.
As well, of course, they cannot afford to wait for a health care system that takes care of them adequately. Time is passing. They cannot afford the cost of drugs and dental care, which too often are put aside by seniors because they simply have to manage their weekly groceries.
We have heard from doctors. We have heard from seniors themselves. How many have we heard from who have said they know the doctor wanted them to take a particular prescription, but it is not covered by any plan they have access to and they just cannot afford it. “We'll get by,” they say. They should not have to be making those kinds of decisions.
When Tommy Douglas talked about medicare in the 1950s and early 1960s, including in this place in the 1960s, he always spoke about how pharmacare ultimately had to become a part of a medicare system. It is so fundamental now to the health that we pursue with the medical profession. I have talked to seniors who have had to literally make the choice between medication their doctor told them they should have, which would reduce their pain, increase their mobility and could prolong their lives, and food, which their doctor of course also recommends that they eat because they have to eat well.
Making that kind of choice is something that no senior in this country, as affluent as we are, as blessed as we are, should ever have to make, particularly when we consider that seniors made sure that our basic needs were met throughout their entire lives.
Here is an opportunity for us to say that right across the country no seniors should ever find themselves in a situation where they are having to choose between food and dental care, or food and drugs.
Dental care is something I came to know quite a bit about when I was in municipal government and chaired our board of health. We were providing a certain kind of dental assistance to students in the schools right across the city. Many of them had plans, though, and what we focused on was the need for seniors, no matter who they were, no matter what income they had, to be able to go to a clinic and get access to dental care. We put that in place. I know there are some other hon. members here who were on council at the time we discussed these matters. It now is in place for the entire large megacity of Toronto.
The numbers of seniors I have talked with who said that the ability to get some basic dental care has improved the quality of their life in their senior years so much has underlined to me that this is something we should be ensuring for every senior in Canada, no matter where they live and no matter what their income might be. Self-esteem and general health are fundamentally affected by dental care, so I am particularly thrilled that in this proposed motion there is a concept of ensuring that dental care, as well as drugs, is available to all seniors.
Today, more than 250,000 seniors are living below the poverty line. This is truly scandalous. Women make up a large proportion of this group, their retirement income being lower because of the wage gap between women and men, and because pension schemes do not make up for time taken off work to rear children or care for family members who are ill, something that, obviously, is usually done by women.
Adopting this charter would provide the federal government with a clear framework for action to assist our seniors. Obviously, however, some things have to be done in cooperation with the provinces. This is important, and it is possible. For example, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan operate very well side by side. We can use that approach for measures that are included today in our seniors charter.
The NDP believes that flexibility should be a key element of any action taken by the federal government. This is fundamental. The idea is not to create duplication. On the contrary, the idea is to help the provinces, including Quebec, that have programs of particular importance for seniors, such as drug plans, for example.
The federal government has the funds that are needed to help the province strengthen those programs. We can also help the other provinces to create these programs.
Finally, our motion also calls for the creation of a seniors advocate. The Conservatives have not appointed a minister to be at the table and be specifically responsible for seniors. I think that is unfortunate, but now it is up to Parliament to take a proactive step. We can do that.
We believe it is essential that the charter be brought to life by an advocate. This person would report every year to the House and could make recommendations about the efficiency and effectiveness of all federal government programs with respect to seniors and their special needs.
I urge all members of the House to support our motion. Our seniors have worked hard enough for all of us for so many years. They deserve our support. It is time that Parliament stood up for them.