Good morning and welcome to the 133rd meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. This is a televised meeting.
Today we will continue our study of the challenges faced by senior women with a focus on the factors contributing to their poverty and vulnerability.
For this meeting, we are very pleased to welcome, from l'Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées, Luce Bernier, president, and Geneviève Tremblay-Racette, director. We also have, from Réseau FADOQ, Danis Prud'homme, general manager, provincial secretariat and Philippe Poirier-Monette, collective rights adviser, provincial secretariat.
I'll now turn to Luce Bernier for her opening statement. You have seven minutes. We're cutting back.
Go ahead for seven minutes, s'il vous plaît.
Madam Chair and members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I'm very pleased to be meeting with you today on behalf of the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées, or AQDR for short. Joining me is Geneviève Tremblay-Racette, chair of AQDR Outaouais.
I'd like to begin with some background on our provincial association, which has existed for more than 35 years. Our mission is to advocate for seniors, retirees and early retirees. We have more than 25,000 members and 43 local and regional branches across Quebec. The AQDR amalgamates the requests of Quebec seniors and passes them on to appropriate authorities like you on their behalf.
The AQDR has a dynamic vision for aging, one of fulfillment, where seniors can take control of their own lives, grow and engage with their community. We strive to play a leadership role in defending the rights of seniors because we offer that distinct perspective. Doing so is our sole mission.
I am going to share some observations on the status of women, but first, I'd like to give you a few statistics for Quebec, which you are probably already familiar with. According to Quebec's statistics agency, the Institut de la statistique du Québec, the province is home to just over 1.5 million seniors, 54% being women and 46% being men. National statistics confirm that more women than men make up the over 65 population as well as the over 85 population.
This demographic shift has long been known. In Quebec, 30 out of 100 people are under the age of 25 and 34 out of 100 are over 65. Despite some initial efforts, governments and agencies need to move quickly to implement comprehensive measures to support seniors as agents of change in society. After all, seniors have a long list of accomplishments. They still have much to say and contribute to society and can indeed be agents of change.
I will say that, in Canada and Quebec, the concept of gender equality has evolved significantly in the last 50 years. However, much work remains in order to translate equality under the law into real equality. The AQDR wishes to highlight inequalities such as violence against women, including senior women, some of whom live in shelters for battered women. Other inequalities include gender stereotypes, low gender diversity in education and the workplace, difficulties balancing family and work, and the under-representation of women in decision-making.
The AQDR believes in the concept of healthy aging. This concept was adopted by the Government of Canada in 2001 and was recommended by a group of Quebec researchers in 2008. The definition of health used as a basis for the concept of healthy aging is taken from the World Health Organization. Hence, health is taken to mean an individual's state of equilibrium at a given point based on their subjective level of well-being.
Today, we are recommending to the committee that the government follow in the footsteps of other governments and apply the concept of gender-based analysis, or GBA, when evaluating its programs and policies. GBA is an analytical process that promotes gender equality. When applied systematically to policy and program development, GBA identifies situations that require different measures for men and women. That is our first recommendation. Consider this: when a department or agency conducts a gender-based analysis, it is much easier to see whether funding policies and needs analyses give equal consideration to the needs of women, including senior women, and men.
Now I'd quickly like to share a few other observations with you.
As we see it, the aging population is one of the most pressing strategic imperatives for all governments.
Quebec has an elder abuse hotline that seniors can call between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week, if they have questions or concerns. According to the figures, more than 70% of the alleged victims who call for advice are women. That means more women than men call the helpline because of concerns.
Furthermore, senior women are poorer than men. The gap will eventually close, but we estimate it will take another 20 years at least.
It is also interesting to note that women and seniors who are women take on the caregiver role far more than men. That is clear from the data. Unfortunately, though, there is little financial recognition for retired seniors who are women.
Community organizations that work with and support seniors have insufficient funding.
Yes, Madam Chair?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to share our recommendations for making life better for aging women.
I'd like to begin by telling you a little bit about Réseau FADOQ, a network with over 500,000 members across 16 of Quebec's administrative regions and more than 700 local offices. Since the network was founded 49 years ago, its primary mission has been to help break the isolation of seniors by creating recreational opportunities for men and women. Today, the network also has another focus that takes up much of its time: advocating on behalf of our members in appropriate forums, like this committee, to improve quality of life for seniors today and tomorrow.
Nowadays, women are usually the ones who outlive their spouses, not men. In Quebec, seniors aged 65 and over make up 20% of the province's female population. Surviving the death of a life partner is doubly difficult for women, because they lose not only a spouse, but also income, all in the same month. These benefits include the guaranteed income supplement, old age security and the spouse's allowance. The Réseau FADOQ would like to see those benefits extended by at least a month following the death of a spouse; ideally, they would continue for another three months.
Despite slight improvements in 2007 and 2017, women's annual income is still lower than men's. Some 60% of women 15 and over work, and the percentage of women in part-time employment is twice as high as that of men. More than 58% of these women make minimum wage. This makes life harder considering that one in three women who are caregivers also works, as compared with one in five men who are caregivers. According to the market basket measure, or MBM, the poverty line for a single person in Quebec, in 2018, is between $17,000 and $18,500, depending on where they live. In many cases, senior women in that category are just scraping by.
We are therefore calling on the government to consider raising or enhancing the guaranteed income supplement, through either a low-income measure based on 50% of the median income—LIM 50—or an MBM measure to which 7% would be added—MBM+7. Either option would make life a little easier for women.
Given that women are living longer and tend to outlive men, it's important to keep in mind that more women have to spend money on glasses, hearing aids, dental work and so on. If they pull money out of a small RRSP or RRIF or use money that was left to them by their husband to cover the expense, the withdrawals can be subject to tax. What's more, any guaranteed income supplement benefits they receive will be clawed back by a dollar for every two dollars of income used to cover the expense. Thus, we recommend that the government not tax any amount used to cover medical expenses and that it not take such amounts into account when calculating the guaranteed income supplement. We know the federal government currently offers certain RRSP-related tax exemptions, and we think they should include medical costs incurred by seniors.
As I mentioned, the bulk of caregivers are women; they are the ones who look after loved ones. Since they tend to have less financial means, they are hit hardest. We are asking the government to double the caregiver tax credit and to make it refundable rather than non-refundable. We are calling on the Government of Quebec to do the same. Since these women don't have large incomes to start, the non-refundable tax credit does nothing for them. A refundable tax credit would, however, help.
As far as employment insurance and job protection for caregivers is concerned, they have access to 15 weeks of sickness benefits and up to 26 weeks of compassionate care benefits. We want the government to raise the maximum benefit of $562 per week. At the very least, 12 months of job protection should be available to caregivers. After 26 weeks, or six months, of compassionate care benefits, caregivers have no further income and may be out of a job as well. We are calling on the government to provide caregivers with 12 months of statutory job protection.
Now I will turn to the aging population.
Here are some numbers to support our next recommendation. In 2011, the number of 85-year-olds was 160,000. In 2031, the population will be 350,000, and in 2041, it will hit roughly 600,000. That is the age at which the body starts to fail, unfortunately, and that will mean much higher health care costs. We are asking the federal government to raise health transfers to 6% annually and to calculate the transfer based on the province's aging population, because of the additional costs that go along with getting older.
Furthermore, local services that are accessible to seniors must be maintained in all communities. We live in a digital world, but many seniors don't have access to it. In some cases, connectivity in the region may still be lacking, and in other cases, seniors may simply be unable to afford the necessary equipment or Internet service. Indirectly, this leads to the isolation of seniors. Greater access to client service centres throughout all regions would result in less isolation for seniors.
In conclusion, a lack of mobility affects isolation, so we are calling on the government to bring back the public transit tax credit.
Yes. Thank you for your question.
First of all, we need to adopt measures to support what we call “experienced workers”. Not everyone can keep working until the age of 65. Some jobs are simply too difficult or demanding for older workers. What we would like to see established is a scale that measures the difficulty of work tasks; jobs would be catalogued and it would be possible to determine whether an average 62-year-old was unable to continue performing the duties of a given job, for instance. We want those individuals to be able to keep working, so that means creating training programs. As I pointed out, these are people with less money and they can't be expected to take a training course if they don't have any income.
These people should be able to sign an agreement with the government that would allow them to receive CPP benefits while taking a six-month training course to work in a different job. Having already received six months of CPP benefits, they would have to work six months longer before retiring, under the terms of the agreement. That's one of the measures we'd like the government to adopt.
Second of all, we need to address ongoing training. Agism is a real issue, as you pointed out. People often assume that senior workers will be less productive and miss more work, and that's not true. It's nothing more than a stereotype. We are calling for ongoing training for seniors. Under most programs, ongoing training isn't available past the age of 35. If we want seniors to work, we have to support their training.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common to many seniors and have a big impact. Our association and other similar organizations try to help them overcome that.
You brought up technology, so here's one for you: a 19th-century invention called the telephone.
The telephone remains a vital service for seniors and can help them overcome their isolation. Something we support is the creation of a telephone outreach service; workers would make daily calls to seniors, identify themselves and check whether the senior was doing okay. For some single seniors, it's the only call they receive all day. That's how we can ease their isolation. There are small things we can do to help seniors, and they don't necessarily involve technology.
Different associations offer that kind of service, but they need multi-year funding to keep the service going. That's a challenge we and other associations face. Even though governments recognize that it's a good idea, they only give us enough funding for six months or a year. After that, we have to come up with the money.
In a nutshell, telephone services are a necessary way to reach out to seniors. It's also important that seniors have contact with people in their community and that their needs be addressed. For example, our association met with seniors to discuss new services that pharmacists were offering. We brought in a pharmacist and talked about feelings of loneliness and insecurity. We believe direct contact is key.
I'd like to say something about technology. Mr. Prud'homme talked about this. Of course, some seniors aren't as comfortable with technology. Areas in Quebec and Canada still have inadequate Internet service or none at all. On the Quebec side, just 30 or 40 kilometres away from Ottawa, people don't have access to high-speed Internet, no matter if they are 30 or 80. When it comes to technology, the first challenge is making sure high-quality Internet service is available throughout Quebec and Canada.
I hope that answers your question, Ms. Sidhu.
Thank you for your question.
Thanks to the New Horizons for Seniors Program, we've put in place an initiative to combat elder abuse, cases of abuse of power, mistreatment and bullying. Over the past few years, we've helped to educate more than 75,000 people through our free sessions. We talk about various types of fraud, be it online, over the phone or door-to-door. We also provide profiles of typical fraudsters and typical seniors who unfortunately fall prey to their schemes. We have resources for people who think they have been scammed or know someone who has. We tell them the organizations they have to call to report the fraud and get help.
As for what we're observing in relation to new technology, I would underscore the fact that seniors were born at a time when today's technology didn't exist. Obviously, they don't understand the mechanics of it all. If they're instructed to go to a bank's website online, even if the bank and the website are legitimate and there's a little lock in the address bar confirming that the site is secure, they're still apprehensive. With all the cases of phishing, it's even more important to make sure that people are informed and that they know exactly what to do and how to check they are on a legitimate site. One of the things we explain is that a bank will never ask for their PIN over the phone. As part of our efforts to prevent fraud, we publish various tips like that in our magazine, which has a readership of one and a half million.
At this time, Madam Chair, I would like to move a motion for consideration by the committee. This motion is being presented to the committee for the third time. Previous to this, it was voted down twice by the Liberal members of this committee.
The motion reads as follows:
That the Committee invite the Minister for Women and Gender Equality to brief the Committee on her new mandate, given that Status of Women Canada has changed to the Department for Women and Gender Equality, no later than Thursday, April 4, 2019, that this meeting be no less than one hour in length and be televised.
Madam Chair, the reason for this motion is described here. As of right now, the department, Status of Women, works in conjunction with this committee, but the department has changed. As of December 13, 2018, royal assent was given. With that, the mandate has changed.
Now, it was previously argued at this table by Liberal members that the mandate actually hasn't changed, that it remains the same, and that therefore there is no reason to bring the minister forward. But a number of weeks ago, we had the director for strategic policy, Ms. Danielle Bélanger, here at the table. I asked her if the mandate had expanded, and she confirmed that it had. She said this:
On December 13, 2018, the Department for Women and Gender Equality Act received royal assent, which transformed the former Status of Women Canada into the Department for Women and Gender Equality. This brought with it an expanded mandate for the new department for all matters relating to women and gender equality, including the advancement of social, economic and political equality, with respect to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
The department plays a central policy role in ensuring a more inclusive and equal society for all Canadians, and in the mainstreaming of the gender and diversity lens, also known as gender-based analysis plus, GBA+.
I asked her to expand on this, to confirm once again that it had indeed expanded, and Ms. Bélanger said:
The mandate has expanded.... [T]he mandate has expanded to sex and gender and looking at gender identity and gender expression, as well as sexual orientation.... I would say it's an evolution in some ways. We had been doing work with LGBTQ communities, to a certain extent, based on some of our programming, but we've also been doing work with girls. Girls weren't part of the original mandate of Status of Women Canada, so I think it's an evolution in that respect.
It would appear, then, that the mandate has in fact expanded. I went on to ask her if she felt it would be a good idea for us to be briefed on that expansion, and she confirmed that it would.
Further to that, interestingly enough, I have the minister's own words from October 29, 2018. I have a report here from the Government of Canada where the , Minister of Status of Women, issued the following statement on the introduction of the budget implementation act of 2018, which included legislation to create the Department for Women and Gender Equality. She said that her government recognized that it must include “a commitment to bring in legislation to transform Status of Women Canada from an agency to an official department in the Government of Canada”. She went on to explain that its mandate must be expanded “for gender equality to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and promoting a greater understanding of the gender and diversity lens often known as Gender-based Analysis Plus”.
It is clear, based on the minister's own words as well as the words of the director for strategic policy, Ms. Bélanger, that the mandate of this committee actually has been expanded. Given that it's expanded, it would then seem appropriate for the minister to come to this committee and brief us on that expansion, which would therefore then give us an understanding of what is covered off at this table.
Now, I think that seems like a reasonable request, Madam Chair, but as we know, in the past—two times before—the current members have voted this down because they don't want their minister to come to this committee or to have to answer our questions. It's interesting, because we see this playing out in the government as a whole, where they want to cover for individuals within their caucus and not allow light to be shed on decisions that are being made.
We see this with the , where the Prime Minister actually withheld information from the Canadian public with regard to SNC-Lavalin and the former attorney general of Canada, and where the Prime Minister pressured her unduly and this information was attempted to be hidden.
The members of this committee might be interested to know what the stated in his mandate letters to all ministers. I'll refresh your memory. This is what he said to Ms. Monsef: “I am honoured that you have agreed to serve Canadians as Minister of Status of Women.” Interestingly enough, you'll note that it says “Status of Women”, because she hasn't received a new mandate letter, even though she supposedly has a new mandate. This letter is actually based from October 4, 2017, which begs the question, where is the minister's new mandate letter? If the Prime Minister is in fact inviting accountability from the Canadian public, then it would be appropriate to actually provide a new letter to the minister so that she might be held accountable based on the things outlined within that letter.
Nevertheless, I will continue based on the former letter, taking the at his word that these are in fact the things he hopes to do on behalf of the Canadian public. He says, “We promised Canadians real change—in both what we do and how we do it.” He sure did: lots more cover-ups. He goes on to say, “Canadians expect us to fulfill our commitments, and it is my expectation that you will do your part in delivering on those promises to Canadians.”
He also says, “I expect Canadians to hold us accountable”, which is interesting to me. Again, I've twice asked for the minister to come to this committee to understand her portfolio, now that it's changed. That would fit within that category of accountability, but interestingly enough, the Liberal members of this committee have twice shot down this motion. Further, to the current case that is in the national media with regard to the former attorney general and the wrongfully pressuring her or strong-arming her into doing his dirty work, it would appear that your party, the Prime Minister in particular, has absolutely no intention of being held accountable.
Nevertheless, these are the words of his letter:
I expect Canadians to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments, and I expect all ministers to do their part—individually and collectively—to improve economic opportunity and security for Canadians.
It is my expectation that we will deliver real results and professional government to Canadians.
I have a different definition of “professional” than he does. Nevertheless, he goes on to say:
If we are to tackle the real challenges we face as a country...Canadians need to have faith in their government's honesty and willingness to listen.
That's another phrase worth highlighting—their “honesty”. The doesn't appear to abide by his own words. He goes on to say:
I expect you to report regularly on your progress toward fulfilling our commitments and to help develop effective measures that assess the impact of the organizations for which you are answerable.
I made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa.
This is the Prime Minister's personal commitment.
I would surmise, based on the evidence that has been presented within the House of Commons and in particular the justice committee yesterday, that the Prime Minister has failed in this regard. He has not been honest with Canadians. He has not invited accurate accountability. He has not brought a new tone to Ottawa—unless, of course, untruth is the tone he's going for.
He goes on to say, “We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government.” Sorry, but that's laughable. I was trying to hold it together on that one, but “openness and transparency”.... Meanwhile, behind a closed door, I'm trying to strong-arm the former attorney general into making a decision that directly benefits a company that is being charged with—
The Prime Minister goes on to say, “If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians. It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them.” I look forward to the Prime Minister's apology. He continues: “Canadians do not expect us to be perfect—they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest.” Indeed they do, don't they?
His letter continues:
Our platform guides our government. Over the course of our four-year mandate, I expect us to deliver on our commitments. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we fulfill our promises, while living within our fiscal plan. Other issues will arise or will be brought to our attention by Canadians, stakeholders, and the public service. It is my expectation that you will engage constructively and thoughtfully and add priorities to your agenda when appropriate.
He also says, “As Minister, you will be held accountable”—there's that word again—“for our commitment to bring a different style of leadership to government.” What a vision. He said that this will include “close collaboration with your colleagues” and “meaningful engagement with Opposition Members of Parliament”. That's a key phrase there, because right now, today, the motion that is on the table is asking the minister to come here to this committee, where she can engage with members of her party, the Liberal Party of Canada, as well as members of the opposition from the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party of Canada.
It would seem, then, to fit within the mandate letter written by the Prime Minister. These are his own words that I am giving today. I know you guys want to shut me down, but these are his words. You actually want me to stop reading the Prime Minister's words, because it would appear they make you uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, in addition to encouraging the minister to allow the opposition members to hold her accountable and, let's say, invite her to a committee like this, he goes on to say this:
Canadians expect us, in our work, to reflect the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians....
Madam Chair, I would ask for a point of order here. On the opposite side, members are chatting and I have the mike. If you wouldn't mind just bringing this to order, I will continue reading the mandate letter.
I would love to continue, thank you.
the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians, and I expect you, in your work, to bring Canadians together.
You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Peoples and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.
There's that key word again, “transparent”.
Interestingly enough, indigenous peoples are better reflected in positions of leadership, but the only indigenous minister was just strong-armed and then removed. He goes on to say:
As Minister of Status of Women, your overarching goal will be to ensure government policy, legislation, and regulations are sensitive to the different impacts that decisions can have on men and women.... I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities.
I would draw attention to some key words within this mandate letter: a “transparent” government, “a new tone” being brought to Ottawa, delivering “real results”, a government that functions with “honesty”, inviting the accountability and input from opposition members. All these things seem positive; they're good. The was right to request these things of his minister. Where he is wrong, however, is in his hypocritical actions by which he himself does not abide by the words of this letter, nor does he permit the members of his caucus to do so.
My request today, then, is that the Liberals would live up to the words of the , as he goes on to say:
We have committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians, lives up to the highest ethical standards, and applies the utmost care and prudence in the handling of public funds. I expect you to embody these values in your work and observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do. When dealing with our Cabinet colleagues, Parliament, stakeholders, or the public, it is important that your behaviour and decisions meet Canadians’ well-founded expectations of our government. I want Canadians to look on their own government with pride and trust.
Public opinion might say otherwise on that.
This is a good one:
As Minister, you must ensure that you are aware of and fully compliant with the Conflict of Interest Act and Treasury Board policies and guidelines. You will be provided with a copy of Open and Accountable Government to assist you as you undertake your responsibilities.
He should have read his own mandate letter. He goes on:
[Y]ou must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.
I would love to continue, thank you. It continues:
Please also review the areas of Open and Accountable Government that we have expanded or strengthened, including the guidance on non-partisan use of departmental communications resources and the new code of conduct for exempt staff.
Madam Chair, I have just read the bulk of the 's mandate letter to the . It would appear, then, based on that letter, that it is a good idea for the minister to come to this committee, that she be invited to come and be open and transparent, to provide us with the reflection on her department and how it has changed, and to allow us as members of the opposition, as well as members of her own government, to hold her accountable and to become more familiar with her department.
I would again submit this motion, for the third time. It is my hope that the members opposite to me will uphold the 's own words and allow there to be accountability, allow there to be transparency, allow there to be a new tone that is brought to government.
Now, I understand that the minister is coming to this committee to talk about the estimates on March 21. I am not asking for that meeting; that is for the estimates. I am asking for the minister to come to this meeting to brief us on the change of her department. So make no mistake; this is what I am requesting. I am requesting that the minister come, that we be able to ask her questions with regard to the change that has been made in her mandate, and that we therefore would be empowered to do our job as members of this committee.
Thank you very much. My apologies for the back and forth.
As I mentioned before, during my time as the Minister of Status of Women during the previous government, I had to present myself several times to this committee. The maintenance of transparency with respect to the mandate letter, as it is with respect to the estimates and other things, is I think very important for the Canadian public. I think it's exceptionally reasonable. I would hope that the minister understands that it's a duty of the office to be transparent to the Canadian public. I would hope that this transparency doesn't just speak to the estimates but it also speaks to the mandate. I can tell you, having sat at that end of the table as opposed to one of these seats, that it takes more than an hour to go through the estimates and it takes more than an hour to go through the mandate alone. That is if you want to be fully available to the Canadian public.
Personally, I think the clarification would be exceptionally valuable. One thing that has been added to this mandate—at least, that we understand has been added to this mandate—is the involvement of girls. I had the good fortune as the minister to put forward at the United Nations the international day of the girl on behalf of Canadians. I had the good fortune to have the first round table of just young women to present to cabinet so that they would have an opportunity to have their ideas heard. Those are very important issues, and I don't think they can be encapsulated in a two- or three-minute conversation with a cabinet minister when young women in this country are just as valuable as seniors. That's just one piece of evidence, from what we think is in the mandate, that I think should be discussed.
I would strongly encourage those on the other side to consider having the minister here to speak just to the mandate. It's a very important component of what I think the Canadian public expects. Quite frankly, I think the more than five million young Canadian women under the age of 18 alone deserve to have that degree of respect; I would just encourage them on the other side.
As I say, it's not a lot of fun sitting down at the other end of the table as a cabinet minister, but I don't think it's as terrible as you might think. I think it's actually extremely helpful for a minister to be able to speak to the Canadian public directly on what their mandate is and what they plan to achieve.
My colleague used a very key phrase here. She said “what we think is in the mandate”. She's right in saying this, because of course this committee functions according to a mandate that existed before December 13, 2018. Once the new bill received royal assent and a new department was formed, that mandate is called into question because it's changed; it has been expanded. At least, that's what we're told by officials and by the .
Again, it seems appropriate that the would come and allow us to engage with her in order to seek a better understanding of what exactly that mandate is. I'm confused as to why the members opposite of me want to shut down that opportunity for us to engage in meaningful conversation with the minister, that we might better understand her department and that we might better be able to serve positive outcomes on behalf of the Canadian public.
It would seem, then, that the members opposite of me don't actually want to abide by the words of the and invite openness, invite transparency, and invite a new tone that is brought to Ottawa. I would show my disappointment with that more than anything, not only on my behalf but on behalf of all Canadians, from coast to coast, who would like a government that is transparent and who would like to know that the is inviting herself to be held accountable, the Canadian public who would like to know that the members of this committee are having their best interest in mind.
With that, Madam Chair, I believe you are going to proceed to a vote. I would like that vote to be recorded.
My name is Wanda Morris. My colleague Laura Kadowaki and I are here to talk about women in poverty.
Our presentation is based on the document “The FACES of Canada's Seniors”, CARP's federal election platform. FACES stands for financial security, abuse prevention, caregiving and housing supports, exceptional health care and social inclusion. If you haven't seen it, you can download it at carp.ca/faces.
As well as our FACES document, we strongly endorse two reports that address these critical issues: that of the Older Women's Dialogue Project and the Centre for Elder Law, “We Are Not All the Same”; and that of Common Wealth and Ryerson University's National Institute on Ageing, “The Value of a Good Pension”.
In addressing the issue of senior women in poverty, we encourage the committee to consider strategies that address three goals; increasing retirement resources, protecting retirement resources and making retirement resources go further. All are necessary and complementary.
In terms of financial support for our poorest seniors, increase the GIS amount and, second, cut back on GIS clawbacks, particularly on the top-up. Clawbacks on the top-up are equivalent to a 75% rate of tax. This is unconscionable.
Increase the exempt amount for GIS beyond the current $3,500 and expand it to cover not just earned income but also income from contracts, pensions and interest, and create a seniors index that recognizes the inflationary costs of goods and services purchased by seniors.
For those with some resources, help them to stretch them further by removing mandatory RRIF withdrawals, or indeed consider eliminating RRIFs altogether. Current RRIF withdrawal rates do not reflect safe rates of return or expected longevities.
Support deferred annuities. These are cost-effective forms of longevity insurance that are not currently viable due to ill-considered taxation policies.
Support group pensions and group TFSA pension-like arrangements for low-income workers. A retirement dollar invested in a typical retirement scheme yields $1.70. That same dollar invested in a Canada model pension yields $5.32, three times the amount of an individual going it alone.
Expand the CPP. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is a Canadian success story. Allow for individual contributions to take advantage of its strong returns and low costs.
Regarding financial literacy, among other critical pieces of information, seniors should know that they will often be better off by deferring both their CPP and OAS, while common practice today is for many to take their OAS at 65 and their CPP at 65 or even earlier.
Protect retirement resources, and protect corporate pensions. Bring Canada in line with the U.S. and the U.K. It is not right that pensioners from Nortel and Sears, in the U.S., had their pensions—
Going back to protecting retirement resources, it's critical that pensioners be protected. It's not right that Nortel and Sears pensioners in the U.S. had their pensions virtually all protected, while Canadians, especially those outside of Ontario, lost significant parts of their retirement resources.
On the call for investor protections, Canada lags behind other OECD countries. We pay some of the highest investment costs in the world and have some of the fewest investor protections.
Finally, create a single complaints body for all financial issues, as is done in the U.K. Our fragmented system makes it incredibly difficult for seniors who have been wronged to seek and obtain financial restitution.
For more information, I refer you to CARP's submission on retirement security as part of the federal pension consultation.
Turning to abuse prevention, protect seniors by amending PIPEDA. This is the personal privacy protection legislation. Banks currently are precluded from protecting women, due to technical problems with the legislative wording. Review OAS and GIS eligibility for older immigrant women who have no financial support and are at risk of abuse by family members.
Turning to housing, make retirement resources go further by supporting innovative housing options for seniors, such as co-housing and home sharing. Address housing as a commodity. Widespread empty units should not coexist with low rental vacancy rates and high rent costs. Regulate Airbnb and other programs that take viable housing stock and rental stock out of the market and contribute to seniors homelessness.
Laura, I'll go over to you.
Madam Chair and committee members, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about my experience. That's what I was asked to do.
In was born in 1935 in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, in the Lower St. Lawrence. I'm the eldest of a family of 16 children. I think that the modest environment where I grew up is similar to the environment of many women across the country. Above all, I want to identify the needs of the senior women who live near me.
I obtained my first teaching certificate at the age of 16. I say “first” because I obtained other certificates along the way. I completed a bachelor's degree in education, and I worked as a teacher for 35 years. I took a three-year break to work in the Catholic action diocesan services, a one-year break for my family and a one-year break to attend university. I have a daughter. We didn't plan to have only one child, but we expanded our family by welcoming four young refugees from Southeast Asia. They arrived in 1977, 1979 and 1981. Very early in my adult life, I was drawn to outside causes, in particular the plight of working children. In 1974, I signed the federal charter incorporating an international aid organization whose mission is to help children in developing countries.
As you pointed out, age is a cruel leveller. It affects all women to varying degrees of intensity. They have essentially the same concerns and they must face the same challenges, whether they were teachers and wives at home, or professionals in a mission or on the labour market. However, the stress is different for women who live with their partners in this last season of life. It's also different for women who are financially secure. I heard the people who spoke before me talk about all the financial needs related to the situation of senior women. Obviously, it's also different for women who have a social network.
Senior women want to continue to share their wealth of life experience. They still need to be valued and consulted. They want to remain in touch with the public, social and community life around them. I'm fortunate to experience this reality. Yes, I consider myself lucky to still be active and engaged. My family and social networks don't have the overly protective attitude that involves organizing things for me. My children didn't try to “place” me in a residence when my husband died. My friends and family stepped up.
Our world moves fast. Institutions that focus on efficiency, performance and labour market demands often turn seniors into victims of their slowness and of the time it takes them to act, move around or understand the use of new technology. Just think about what's needed in order to understand how to use a bank machine.
There are the challenges faced by women who aren't financially independent, women who know nothing about managing a budget, women who are mothers of 30- or 40-year-old children with a disability or women who are exploited by their family and friends. There are also women who live in CHSLDs and who experience loneliness in the midst of a population of forgotten people such as them. I think that these are the major challenges, which are a reality for many people.
Since they must face alone a reality that seems too harsh, a number of senior women have chosen to live in establishments for seniors.
They would have preferred the assistance of a family member or friend, but who wants to leave their job to become a caregiver? It's difficult to obtain the caregiver status and it's very poorly paid. The status needs to be reviewed. On a social and human level, leaving people at home benefits everyone.
A real educational movement is needed so that the active society doesn't exclude senior women from its ranks and gives them the chance to experience everyday situations where people of all ages come together.
Right now, talking about old age security is an ideal plan, but it's only a plan. The programs and services for seniors provided by the government meet the needs of healthy and independent senior women who can freely move around and who are well supported. Senior women who are less agile also want to stay in their familiar environment. They want to be respected and they want to move around and continue to feel like full members of society. These desires are difficult to address, because they require much more money than the amount available.
Seniors who end up in establishments need—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
There will not be time to go through the PowerPoint presentation, but I want to get to the videos very quickly. We won't be able to watch all of them. I was unaware of the seven-minute time allocation.
Let's start with the Eric Shirt video. He's from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation.
Ms. Catherine Twinn: I'm cutting that short. You have the point.
Ms. Catherine Twinn: I hope you have the opportunity to watch these videos in full length.
These are voices from the first nation community. There's a cultural continuity in the sense that first nations people have always lived in community.
One of my heroes is a man by the name of Wendell Berry, who wrote a lot of essays. In the book Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, he said the following about the role and power of community—and think about this in relation to indigenous women, including women 55 years of age and older, living on reserve:
Community alone, as principle and as fact, can raise the standards of local health (ecological, economic, social, and spiritual) without which the other two interests [public and private] will destroy each other.
With regard to community, I would say that the greatest challenges facing indigenous senior women 55 years of age and older are poverty, inequality, toxic stress from unhealed historic trauma that's been transmitted intergenerationally, adverse childhood experiences—and I'm sure you've heard of the ACE study—and trauma-based behaviours when that trauma isn't healed. “You hurt me; I hurt you. You attack me; I attack you.” These are mimetic structures of violence that are very alive and very real, and frankly, they operate here in Ottawa. I was here last night, and I witnessed 's testimony.
I would also say that in addition to those three—inequality, poverty, toxic stress—there's ongoing structural violence by the state, Canada's failure to ensure equal protection and equal benefit of the law for indigenous members, especially age-vulnerable women, and that includes senior women.
I'd like you to put up the slide of my stepdaughter, Deborah Serafinchon. Deborah is the daughter of my late husband, Walter Twinn, who was chief of the Sawridge First Nation and a senator. You see that she's in a wheelchair. She exemplifies “55 years of age and older”. Both her mother and her father came from Sawridge First Nation, but because of the operation of the Indian Act, Deborah—
Thank you. I'll be splitting my time with my colleague.
My question goes to Ms. Twinn.
Ms. Twinn, thank you so much for being with us and for sharing the video clips. I look forward to watching them in whole. My question for you is with regard to indigenous women. You talked a lot about the need for growing up in a community and belonging. That was a really key word that you used, that need for “belonging”.
Now, I think sometimes governments take it upon themselves to tell women what they should do with their lives, what career they should pursue, whether they should be stay-at-home moms or in fact enter into a career. Governments put policies in place that help direct women in the way the government thinks they should go.
But what I'm hearing from you is something very different: Women should have the freedom to choose their path, to chart their future, but they need overall structural policies put in place that will contend for equality of treatment and opportunity. Can you comment on that further?
For a long time in this country, government policy, government practices and government laws have dictated to first nation communities on every level of human life, and the results have been catastrophic. Those have been driven by political interests, political agendas, not community interests and not human needs.
The problem is that today, as I see it, we have a shift to the other extreme, whereby the government has vacated the field when it comes to the rule of law and its application at a community level vis-à-vis fundamental human rights and freedoms. There's a balance that needs to be struck, and I believe that what government should be doing is supporting all communities, because indigenous communities are the miners' canaries that mark the shift from fresh air to poisonous gas.
I am a widow; I was widowed in 1997. What I heard the other witnesses speak to was that older women need the support of our healthy, functioning communities. In a first nation context, it's highly politicized, highly legalized, because Ottawa's policies are having a direct impact on the rule of law. You see that with respect to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, because in 2015 we were not going to enforce that law. There's Charmaine Stick, who went to court and got a court order. It was upheld by the court of appeal, and she's still today being denied access to those finances.
What type of environment does that create within a community if there's no accountability and transparency of the leadership to the people they serve? It all turns on trust and affection, without which you don't have healthy, functioning communities. Communities, I would say, are essential to the raising of children, to the care of the elderly, to the support of the environment, to the protection of nature.