That the House: (a) recognize that the elderly were most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; (b) recall that too many of the elderly live in a financially precarious position; (c) acknowledge the collective debt that we owe to those who built Quebec and Canada; and (d) ask the government, in the next budget, to increase the Old Age Security benefit by $110 a month for those aged 65 and more
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
It is with considerable emotion that I rise on this supply day to speak to the Bloc Québécois motion. We hope that the House will “(a) recognize that the elderly were most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; (b) recall that too many of the elderly live in a financially precarious position; (c) acknowledge the collective debt that we owe to those who built Quebec and Canada; and (d) ask the government, in the next budget, to increase the Old Age Security benefit by $110 a month for those aged 65 and more.”
I would like to remind the House that the reason I am so passionate about this morning's topic is that, before I was elected, I spent two years as a project manager, raising awareness of elder abuse and intimidation. Every day I looked for ways to improve the living conditions of seniors in my region and, taking things one step further, advocate for well-treatment. It did not take me long to realize that there is a direct and, sadly, all-too-frequent connection between financial precarity and vulnerability.
As the first member to speak to this important motion, I would like to focus on three issues. I will start by discussing the precarious financial situation that prevailed long before the pandemic. Then I will explain how the crisis made things even worse for seniors. Finally, I will talk about how the Bloc Québécois has spent years working to improve seniors' buying power.
First, I would like to point out that the Bloc Québécois is not the only party to have recognized that we need to shrink this huge economic gap. During the 2019 election campaign, the Liberals themselves looked seniors straight in the eye and promised to increase old age security benefits by 10% for seniors 75 and up. They reiterated their intent to increase the OAS in the September 2020 throne speech, but it has been radio silence since then and nothing has been done yet. Regardless, we feel that their proposal is just not good enough and that it unfairly creates two classes of seniors, because poverty does not wait until people turn 75.
Now let us take a moment to debunk a few myths. The old age security program is the federal government's principal means of supporting seniors. The two major components of the program are old age security, or OAS, and the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS. The OAS is a taxable monthly pension available to people aged 65 and over. The GIS, meanwhile, is a tax-free monthly benefit available to OAS recipients with an annual income under $18,648, despite the OAS.
The OAS is regulated by the Old Age Security Act and aims to provide a minimum income for people aged 65 and over. This program is not based on benefit funding. In other words, seniors do not need to have paid into it in order to qualify. The OAS provides seniors with a basic income to which they can add income from other sources like the Quebec pension plan or an employer's pension plan, depending on their specific financial situation.
Let us look at some revealing figures. When, despite old age security benefits, income is below $18,648 for a single, widowed, or divorced person, $24,624 when the person's spouse receives the full OAS pension, or still $44,688 when the spouse does not get OAS, the person has access to an additional benefit through the OAS program called the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS.
That is a lot of figures, but the point I am trying to make is that the problem is twofold. Since the pension amounts for seniors are so low, people for whom this is the only source of income are condemned to live below the poverty line.
As of October 2020, people whose only income is old age security and the maximum guaranteed income supplement receive an annual income of $18,358.92, or barely the equivalent of the subsistence level established by the market basket measure, which is between $17,370 and $18,821. In the last quarter of 2020, the federal government increased monthly payments by $1.52 for a total of $18 a year. That is the anemic increase given to the least fortunate who receive the maximum of both benefits.
That is ridiculous. Many seniors who contacted us were outraged because they felt that the Liberals were blatantly laughing at them.
The indexation of benefits is insufficient to cover the increase in the cost of living because seniors spend money on items different from those used to calculate inflation.
Recently, we talked about the Internet, which should also be considered essential because it lets them stay in contact with their loved ones during the pandemic.
The current crisis has created serious financial difficulties for a great number of people, including many seniors. Some seem to think that the economic shutdown does not affect seniors because they are no longer working, but that is not true. First, a good number of them are working, especially older women. In my opinion, this shows the urgency of the measures that are being called for. If they are receiving a pension and feel that they must work, they must not have enough income support.
I am the deputy chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and since the summer I have had the opportunity to study the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women, especially older women. Many seniors want to continue working even if they have reached retirement age.
Some seniors were affected by fluctuations in their investments or retirement savings. They live on a fixed income, and most of them receive a pension. However, the cost of living is going up for them, as it is for everyone, on expenses such as rent, groceries, medication and services. Rent and food prices have gone up because of the pandemic.
Prices in Quebec are estimated to rise by about 4% in 2021, which would surpass general inflation. Prices have also increased because pandemic-related delivery fees have been introduced, there is a shortage of some products and some chains have adopted so-called COVID fees.
The indexation of benefits for the last quarter of 2020 speaks for itself. According to the consumer price index, benefits increased by 0.1% in the quarter from October to December 2020. As I just pointed out, this means that the poorest seniors receiving the maximum amounts of the two benefits get an increase of $1.52. That is not even enough to buy a Tim Hortons coffee. I am in regular contact with representatives from FADOQ, and they have rightly pointed out that this indexation is insulting.
Let us summarize the support measures the government has proposed. We realize that the Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB, was introduced to help people during the pandemic and that it has proven helpful. This $2,000 monthly benefit was deemed adequate for allowing people to live decently during the pandemic. Meanwhile, old age security benefits do not even reach this amount.
In 1975, the old age pension covered 20% of the average industrial wage. Today, it covers about 13%. With our proposal, we aim to raise that coverage to at least 15%. In the end, old age pensions often do not even manage to lift seniors out of poverty.
Increasing seniors' income would not only afford them a better quality of life, which they have long deserved, but also help them face the current crisis and participate in our economic recovery. This has been a priority for the Bloc since well before the pandemic, when we were already asking for a $50 increase to the monthly guaranteed income supplement for people living alone and a $70 increase for couples.
Yes, there was a one-time payment of $300 pour those who receive the old age security pension and $200 for those who receive the guaranteed income supplement. There was also an extra GST/HST payment. These additional measures are welcome in the very specific context of the pandemic, but they were just one-off payments. That is the problem. The insufficient indexing of benefits for seniors was already a problem before the pandemic. It is still a problem and it will continue after the pandemic.
Moreover, here is a little comparison that is quite striking. Former governor general Julie Payette gets a pension for life of almost $150,000 plus an expense account. Seniors would be quite happy with much less. A rise of $110 per month would not change their lives, but it would help. Seniors really feel the impact of the pandemic, and we must look after them because they are also very much isolated and more at risk.
To conclude, I would like to talk about the importance of increasing health transfers. It is also part of what seniors are asking for. They are not interested in national standards. They do not think that will get them a vaccine. There is also a concern about vaccine procurement. We learned that seniors 85 and over would start to be vaccinated, but when will vaccines be available for all seniors who have been living in isolation for much too long?
Finally, I will simply say that we must act for our seniors. They must have a decent income. They must be able to have a much more dignified life. They built Quebec, and they deserve our concern. Their purchasing power must be increased. We have left them in poverty for too long.
Madam Speaker, the motion we are debating today is important, and I commend my colleague from Shefford. As she pointed out, she was already actively involved with these groups before she became our colleague, and that makes us proud. I think that seniors can once again count on her unwavering commitment to their cause. Seniors deserve to be recognized for their contribution to our society. That sums up the point of our motion.
I also want to acknowledge the thousands of seniors and thank all the seniors advocacy organizations for their work, both in Quebec and in Canada.
What seniors are asking us parliamentarians to do today is to stand up for what they are going through. One of their pressing issues is rising poverty. That is the basis of the motion we are moving today. We hope it will be adopted unanimously.
I will focus my comments on rising poverty levels among seniors; the impact of that poverty on physical health, but also on mental health; the ineffective existing measures; and above all, possible solutions. There are indeed solutions to this issue, and we must ensure once and for all that seniors can have a decent retirement. That is our goal.
If there is one thing I think we should recognize today, and should have recognized long ago, it is that seniors are getting poorer.
One in five seniors in Quebec were living in poverty in 2017, based on a poverty threshold of 50% of median income. If we look at Canada as a whole, 15.4% of seniors were living in poverty in 2017.
The majority of these seniors are people who, upon retirement, have no income other than the guaranteed income supplement and old age security benefits. I want to emphasize that these benefits are not nearly enough to cover seniors' everyday needs. Sadly, seniors are often forced to continue working long past retirement age. Between 2002 and 2014, the employment rate among seniors aged 65 and over increased by 50%, rising from 12% to 19%. Figures show that more than three in 10 seniors aged 65 to 70 choose to continue working. Do my colleagues think it is right that seniors who worked their entire lives are forced to continue working because their pension income is not enough?
I am happy that some seniors are still working, but that should be their choice and not be dictated by a lack of income.
Furthermore, poverty has an impact, especially on seniors' mental health. Poverty causes stress, worry and anxiety. It is stressful to be struggling to make ends meet, to be afraid of not being able to meet current and future needs, and to have only enough money for necessities and nothing more. For seniors to stay healthy as they age and to have a decent retirement, they must have enough income to not only meet their basic needs, but also to pay for activities and hobbies. They must be able to afford to visit and host their loved ones. They must be able to afford to actively participate in their community.
Aging already brings with it a lot of changes, which can lead to illness. People need to adapt to those changes, and that can be stressful. We, as parliamentarians, must ensure that a lack of income is not an additional stressor. At the risk of repeating myself, the existing measures are not meeting those needs and not alleviating that stress.
As my colleague said, in June 2020, an individual whose only income was old age security and the guaranteed income supplement had an annual income of barely $18,000. For a single, divorced or widowed senior, that is about $1,500 a month. In Quebec, public pensions are the sole source of income for approximately 60% of seniors, meaning that they do not have a supplementary plan. Most of those seniors are women.
It is no secret that this amount barely covers an individual's basic needs, as calculated using the market basket measure. That is not nearly enough. In fact, that measure is also something that should be reviewed. Instead of the market basket measure, we should establish a livable income measure.
Does it seem right that, over the past 10 years, old age security benefits have increased by only $91 a month?
Successive governments, both Conservative and Liberal, have failed on that front. They let seniors down.
The current government promised that it would take the situation seriously. However, the most recent announcements lead me to believe otherwise.
Does it seem right that the latest adjustment only represents an increase of $1.50 a month? Does it seem right that benefits only increased by 0.1% in the quarter from October to December 2020?
The FADOQ has called this increase an insult, and rightly so. As my colleague said, it would not even buy a cup of coffee. Is the well-being of our seniors not worth more than the price of a cup of coffee per month? I think that in asking the question, we have our answer.
The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly called on the government to help low-income seniors and has proposed concrete measures for doing so. We propose boosting the retirement income of all Canadians aged 65 or older by $110 a month. I remind members that 60% of the population relies solely on pension income as their basic income. We propose increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $50 a month for single seniors and by $70 a month for senior couples. We also propose continuing to pay guaranteed income supplement benefits to the deceased's estate or to their surviving spouse for three months after the death.
These are simple, effective solutions for addressing senior poverty right now.
In conclusion, there are three things I would like our colleagues to take away from our speeches today. First, seniors worked all their lives and deserve a sufficient income for a decent retirement. Second, rising senior poverty is not an intellectual conceit but a reality. Third, the pandemic has aggravated seniors' poverty levels. Today, thousands of seniors are in need and worried about their future, even after the pandemic.
As parliamentarians, we have a duty to take the situation seriously, to take action and to do everything in our power to fight senior poverty. That is why I urge my colleagues to support our motion, and I urge the government to act quickly by implementing meaningful measures to make sure that seniors can have a decent retirement now. There is nothing to gain from making seniors poorer.
Madam Speaker, I would first like to respectfully acknowledge that I am situated on traditional territories and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Anishinabe of the Williams Treaties First Nations, the Huron-Wendat and the Métis Nation.
Second, I will be splitting my time with my parliamentary secretary, the member for .
I thank the Bloc Québécois and my hon. colleagues for their shared interest in discussing how we can best support seniors in Quebec and across Canada. I appreciate their speeches so far today, although I disagree with some of their assertions regarding the support the government has provided for seniors, confusing the indexing of pensions with the extra COVID-19 support that was provided.
I always appreciate opportunities to discuss what we are doing for seniors and to have parliamentarians recognize the challenges they are facing, especially during the pandemic. The Bloc Québécois has pointed out some challenges that seniors face in its motion today. Since day one, we have been working to address those challenges with action. We, as a government, have long seen that seniors need an active federal government working closely with provincial, territorial and local governments to deliver important benefits and programs for them.
Our Liberal government is committed to strengthening Canadian seniors' financial security and health care, and improving their quality of life. Some of our first actions as a government were restoring the age of eligibility for old age security to 65 years of age from 67 years of age, increasing the guaranteed income supplement for nearly 900,000 low-income single seniors, and enhancing the Canada pension plan by 50% for future retirees. That increase was matched in the Quebec pension plan.
Since the pandemic hit early last year, we have been busy supporting Canadians, including seniors. More than four million seniors received an extra GST credit. We provided a one-time payment to seniors eligible for OAS, plus extra support for those eligible for the GIS. For a low-income couple, it added up to over $1,500 in tax-free support. Altogether, we delivered over twice as much direct financial assistance to seniors as we committed to in our platform. That provided $3.8 billion of direct financial support to seniors, and that work continues.
In the last election, we committed to Canadians that we would increase old age security by 10% for seniors aged 75 and up. Our proposal recognizes that as seniors age, their financial security decreases and their needs increase. They are more likely to outlive their savings, have disabilities, be unable to work and be widowed, all while their health care costs are rising. For seniors over 75, few work, and those who do have a median employment income of only $720; half have a disability, and half of these are severe; 57% are women, and four in 10 of these are widows; 59% have incomes below $30,000 and 39% receive the guaranteed income supplement. These are real pressures on older seniors' quality of life.
Our government recognizes their needs and will help address them by increasing the old age security amount by 10% for seniors aged 75 and up. This will be the first permanent increase to the OAS pension since 1973, other than adjustments due to inflation. We developed these initiatives by listening to seniors; however, the Bloc fails to recognize the actions that we have been taking since the beginning of the pandemic to support seniors.
The member for , the Bloc leader, has made comments that mislead seniors. We heard that again today, in speeches about what the government has been doing to support seniors with regard to their personal finances. He told seniors that they got practically nothing in support during the pandemic. In fact, a low-income senior got over $1,500 in tax-free support. That is far from nothing, and provided a significant boost to the most vulnerable seniors struggling with added costs during the pandemic.
The Bloc has also told seniors that their pensions are constantly losing their buying power. In fact, their public pensions are indexed to protect their buying power against inflation. The Bloc should not be trying to mislead seniors when they are the most vulnerable during the pandemic. I welcome good debates about how to best support seniors, but they need to be based on facts.
The Bloc has also failed to recognize seniors' broader needs during the pandemic and how the federal government has been stepping up to address those needs. Let us start with the public health.
We have provided provinces and territories billions of dollars to help protect Canadians' health during the pandemic. We have procured billions of pieces of personal protective equipment. Seniors have suffered the most from the effects of COVID-19 and have paid the highest price with their lives, none more so than those living in long-term care. While many of these facilities have been able to keep their residents safe, others have revealed the weaknesses in the system and have shocked the nation. There is clearly a call for action to address these issues and our government has stepped up to help.
Provinces and territories have the jurisdiction for long-term care and we are working together with them to better protect seniors and staff in the long-term care system. We recently added $1 billion to the funding to assist with infection prevention in long-term care. We have expanded eligibility for federal infrastructure funds so they can be used to modernize and renovate long-term care facilities. We are also working to set new national standards with the provinces and territories, and we will establish new offences and penalties in the Criminal Code related to elder abuse and neglect.
To help address acute labour shortages in long-term care and home care, we are funding training and work placements for 4,000 new personal support worker interns. We have provided $3 billion to the provinces and territories to increase the wages of long-term care workers and other low-income essential workers. Furthermore, we have provided the provinces with over 22 million rapid tests, with more on the way. We know that rapid tests are an important way to protect seniors in long-term care homes, according to a federal expert panel. By strengthening screening, rapid tests can save lives and give worried families greater confidence that their loved ones are safe.
Another tool to help keep seniors safe in Canada is our vaccine plan. Canada has distributed over 1.8 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to provinces and territories. By the end of March, we are on track to receive six million doses. Following that, we will be receiving millions of doses in April. We will be seeing seniors and essential workers getting vaccinated as we move into spring.
The hard work that is being done in the provinces, cities and by Canadians over the last few months has worked. Cases are down, hospitalizations are down and the number of deaths is down. However, the threat from variants is real, so we have to keep going with strong public health measures; otherwise, we could see a third wave that is worse than the second before vaccines have been rolled out and our seniors can be protected.
Our government will always be there as a partner with provinces to keep people safe, working together with a team Canada approach, and that is what will get us through this crisis.
I would like to say a few words about seniors' mental health. We cannot let physical distancing become social distancing. We need to find new ways to help seniors stay connected while they are staying safe. Through the new horizons for seniors program, we added an additional $20 million in support. The federal government has funded over 2,000 community projects across Canada. Many of these projects have helped seniors connect online for the first time by providing tablets and help on how to use them, and group activities like exercise classes. Others helped seniors continue to access critical services like medical appointments, food and crisis support.
Looking ahead, our government has an ambitious agenda for seniors. That includes increasing old-age security by 10% once a senior turns 75; taking additional action to help people stay in their homes longer; providing a new Canadians disability benefit modelled after the GIS, ensuring that everyone has access to a family doctor or primary care team; continuing to support Canadians with mental illness and substance-use challenges; and further increasing access to mental health resources. We are also accelerating work to achieve national universal pharmacare.
We know there is more to do and, as a government, we are doing that work. I look forward to the debate today and to answering some questions now.
Madam Speaker, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors and as the member for Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation, I am pleased to take the floor today and participate in this important discussion on seniors.
I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin people.
Our work to help seniors began in 2016, when our government's first act was to adopt a tax cut for the middle class in order to reduce personal income taxes. This allowed some single Canadians to save an average of $330, and some couples to save $540, per year.
Seniors depend on solid public pensions, and our government is committed to enhancing them. We eliminated the increase in the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement proposed by the previous Conservative government, bringing it back down from 67 to 65. This put thousands of dollars back in the pockets of 65-year-old and 66-year-old seniors.
To help low-income seniors, we increased the guaranteed income supplement by $947 and, to help low-income older workers keep a larger portion of their benefits, we increased the guaranteed income supplement earnings exemption, allowing them to earn up to $5,000 without losing any of their benefits and to obtain a partial exemption for the next $10,000 in earnings. Many seniors wish to continue working after age 65.
Many Canadian seniors have had to face serious health, economic and social challenges because of COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been helping seniors with non-taxable payments and enhanced community assistance.
These measures are based on the previous programs introduced in response to COVID-19, such as the GST supplement and investments in community organizations that provide essential services, such as food and drug delivery.
As we face this unprecedented challenge, our government continues to be there for Canadians and seniors every step of the way. Our government has provided seniors with twice as much financial assistance as we promised during the election. We were able to do so by issuing non-taxable one-time GST credits in April and old age security and guaranteed income security payments in July. We invested $3.8 billion, which is far more than the $1.56 billion we campaigned on. This allowed us to help seniors of all ages earlier on by providing the more vulnerable with greater support.
In addition, we increased the basic personal amount twice. Once these increases are fully in place in 2023, 4.3 million seniors will benefit, and 465,000 of them will pay no federal income tax at all. Each year, single Canadians will save around $300 and couples around $600.
We know that COVID-19 has increased the cost of living and that seniors’ lives have become more difficult. Because of the restrictions, many of them are grappling with higher costs for food and services. They pay more for the same prescription drugs plus an additional premium for delivery. Their savings have taken a hit.
Our announcement of the one-time tax-free payment in July provided direct assistance for the most vulnerable seniors of all ages, in particular those receiving the guaranteed income supplement and old age security, for up to $500 extra for seniors receiving both. Combined with the GST credit payment, couples receiving the guaranteed income supplement will receive on average $1,500 in non-taxable direct assistance.
Our government has provided seniors with financial support during this crisis, and we will continue to support seniors and all Canadians during the pandemic.
I would now like to set the record straight and address some of the points raised by my colleagues.
In recent months, the and certain members have made several misleading statements concerning the financial situation of seniors. The leader of the Bloc mentioned many times that seniors have received practically no financial support during the pandemic and that their purchasing power is shrinking.
That is not true. The leader of the Bloc Québécois is playing political games and frightening seniors by spreading false information.
Our role is to support seniors at their most vulnerable, and we know that they are the most vulnerable during this pandemic.
Let us set the record straight once and for all. The myth that has been spread is that we failed to take the necessary measures to protect seniors’ purchasing power. That should never happen. They claim that seniors have received practically no help at all since the beginning of the pandemic. The leader of the Bloc Québécois said that on Radio-Canada.
In fact, low-income couples received more than $1,500 in support from the Government of Canada to cover additional costs during the pandemic, thanks to a supplementary GST credit payment in April and one-time old age security and guaranteed income security payments in July.
Under the law, public pensions, including old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, are adjusted to protect seniors’ purchasing power against inflation. The leader of the Bloc and my colleagues know that. Old age security benefits are adjusted in January, April, July and October, and Canada pension plan and Quebec pension plan benefits are adjusted once a year. It is a matter of accounting.
The Bloc Québécois has also been spreading another myth to the effect that, during the pandemic, seniors’ purchasing power increased by a mere 61¢. I believe that my colleague used another number, specifically $1.38. The leader of the Bloc said that in the House of Commons on December 1, 2020. In fact, to support seniors during the pandemic, our government made tax-free payments through GST credits in March and through old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments in July. For a low-income couple, that comes out to more than $1,500. Old age security is adjusted on the basis of inflation four times a year in order to preserve seniors’ purchasing power.
The leader of the Bloc is deliberately misleading seniors by presenting this adjustment as support during the pandemic and making the amount seem like an insult. He is playing politics at seniors’ expense. That is why we will be voting against this motion.
Our government is determined to increase old age security by 10% for seniors aged 75 and over. We were already working on it when the pandemic hit. As seniors age, their needs increase. Our proposal for seniors 75 and up meets these needs, even if the Bloc has its own proposals. Our government’s plan will raise tens of thousands of low-income seniors out of poverty.
I recall that the Bloc voted against our throne speech, which included our proposal to increase old age security by 10% for seniors aged 75 and over. Today they are saying that nothing was done. Seniors have earned our respect and admiration. They deserve the best quality of life possible.
I am eager to take questions.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for .
I have a great respect for our seniors, who have helped build this country. It is my strong belief that we as Canadians and legislators owe a lot to our seniors. We don’t have to look far to see their contributions in our families, our communities and all around us. They deserve not only our respect, but our support in their later years in life.
I am pleased to see that the motion recognizes the responsibility and duty we have to care for them. It also acknowledges some of the immense challenges that our seniors have faced over this past year because of the pandemic. From social challenges to health and financial challenges, it has been without a doubt a very difficult year. It is our seniors who have been disproportionately affected by this crisis, and it is our seniors who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the government’s failure to respond adequately to this crisis.
Too many seniors and their families know first-hand that delays in vaccine procurement have a real human life cost, just as delays in procuring PPE and rapid testing hindered our ability to better protect our seniors, specifically those living in long-term care homes. The crisis in long-term care demands action and collaboration from every level of government to improve the quality of care for our seniors.
The pandemic restrictions on seniors have had a significant impact on mental health. Separated and isolated from family and friends, our seniors have missed important milestones and social connections, even something as simple as sitting and holding someone’s hand. We cannot ignore the significant impact of this pandemic on their quality of life.
We also know that seniors have not been immune to the financial implications of this pandemic. Seniors are facing many unanticipated costs because of the pandemic. Many are feeling the squeeze on their fixed income, and costs certainly have not decreased for our seniors during the pandemic.
In fact, the ’s own carbon tax is costing seniors more. Not only did he hike up the carbon tax during this crisis, he also made the announcement that he would be tripling it. It is a tax hike that is costing seniors more for essentials such as gas, groceries and even home heating. It is a punitive tax that is even costlier for rural seniors like those who live in my riding.
The impact of COVID on Canada’s seniors is clearly immense, and for seniors who were already struggling pre-pandemic, the new challenges brought on by the pandemic have been an added layer of stress. While we know that Canada’s seniors are a very broad demographic with diverse needs and differing priorities, the reality is that too many are struggling to make ends meet, and they are slipping through the cracks. We need to do better for those seniors.
The Conservatives support increasing financial support for low-income seniors. They should not have to make a difficult decision among home heating, groceries and other necessities.
The proposed motion from our colleagues in the Bloc would achieve the goal of putting more money in the pockets of low-income seniors to spend on their own individual needs. However, it is important to acknowledge that the motion casts a wider net. It calls on the government to increase the old age security benefit for seniors. This benefit is delivered not only to low-income seniors, but also to higher-income seniors. The OAS benefit does not start to get clawed backed until a senior’s income threshold is around $79,000, and the benefit is only fully clawed back once a senior’s income is about $128,000.
The proposed increase to old age security is not the most efficient use of taxpayers' dollars, if the intended goal is to support low-income seniors. That should be our driving force: getting money into the hands of those who need it the most.
This is particularly important in light of the reality of the government spending billions and billions of dollars, and it has done that while failing to deliver a budget in not just one year but two. Today, Canadians are still waiting on a real plan to restart the economy and to exit this crisis.
With all of that in mind, we have a responsibility to also be wise with taxpayer dollars. There need to be meaningful supports delivered to seniors whose budgets are already stretched further than they can manage. This needs to be done while also ensuring the long-term viability of our social programs. That is one reason we are disappointed to see that the motion uses old age security benefits instead of utilizing the guaranteed income supplement. With the maximum income of a single recipient at $18,648, GIS would be a much more targeted approach to improving income security for low-income seniors. This would be the most fiscally responsible approach to getting money into the hands of those seniors who need it the most.
Ultimately, Conservatives do support ensuring that our seniors have income security. We have a proud record of putting money back into the pockets of low-income seniors and we remain committed to improving their well-being and financial security. We recognize that a dollar is better placed in the pockets of a low-income senior to spend on their individual needs and their individual priorities.
Greater direct financial supports will help low-income seniors keep their heads above water, and having the income security to spend on their individual needs will also give seniors greater autonomy. For some seniors, that autonomy could be the difference between aging in place or moving into a care home. I think of a senior who only needs help with lawn care or shovelling the snow to be able to stay in their own home, or a senior who needs some light housekeeping help. Giving seniors greater income security and autonomy also gives them a greater quality of life and a greater dignity in living.
That is why Conservatives support an increase in direct financial assistance for low-income seniors. We know that too many seniors are struggling, and we call on the government to deliver meaningful support to help seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. It is the time for seniors to be a greater priority for the Liberal government. Shamefully, it has been clear that seniors have never been a priority for the . It is evident in the fact that it took him three years to appoint a seniors minister, and that was only done following sustained pressure from Conservatives, stakeholders and Canadians.
The government's failure to deliver on its election promise and its recycled throne speech promise to increase OAS also speaks to its priorities. It is yet another example of the Liberal government over-promising and under-delivering when it comes to our seniors. The government needs to move away from announcements and move toward meaningful action. Our seniors deserve to live in dignity. An announcement with no plan to deliver on it and no follow-through does nothing to put food on the table, nothing to put gas in the tank and nothing to keep the heat on. Seniors on a fixed income who are struggling to get by need more than empty words and empty promises: They need meaningful action from the Liberal government. They deserve income security. They need to be a priority.
This past year, COVID has revealed many shortcomings when it comes to support for our seniors. The pandemic has demanded that we make seniors a priority, but more important than that, our duty and our responsibility to care for our seniors demand it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate today and to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our seniors who have worked so hard to build the country that we have today.
The current pandemic deeply affects them because the virus has serious consequences for seniors in poor health. The reason we have been able to respond to this challenge with an array of economic measures is that those before us left Canada in an enviable position. We must do more for our seniors dealing with financial hardship. Not all of them had the same opportunities in life and today, unfortunately, too many seniors are living below the poverty line. That is unacceptable in Canada.
The cost of living is rising faster than seniors' incomes, forcing them to make difficult decisions, such as selling their home or valuables to make ends meet. All too often, when a spouse dies, the surviving spouse's financial circumstances change significantly. As MPs, we have all heard very compelling stories from seniors in our ridings.
I rise in the House today to point out that we can do more as a country to recognize the work that has been accomplished by our seniors. In my view, we should pay particular attention to the guaranteed income supplement, which provides seniors in precarious financial situations with a higher income than the basic guaranteed amount. The GIS is calculated based on other sources of income, and we can increase the amount of the supplement or adjust eligibility criteria to ensure a higher income.
That said, the Bloc Québécois is presenting us with a measure that it cannot implement on its own in this parliament or any future parliament.
Unlike the Liberals who have done nothing since being elected in 2015, we Conservatives have always acted. In 2006, our government created the position of minister of state for seniors within Employment and Social Development Canada, formerly Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. It was the Right Hon. Stephen Harper who initiated this idea. We already knew that, in 2012, nearly one in seven Canadians was a senior and that by 2030, this proportion would rise to almost one in four.
I must admit that the Bloc Québécois's motion is commendable, but we must remember that it cannot do anything in the House on its own, other than proposing ideas and not following through. This is a clear example of how we are the only ones who have remained committed to improving quality of life for our dear seniors.
The Conservatives created and improved a number of measures for seniors in 22 federal departments, including the popular new horizons program. This program helps seniors to both benefit from and contribute to the quality of life in their community through social participation and active living. It provides funding to support local projects, pan-Canadian projects and pilot projects that focus on issues like social isolation and intergenerational learning.
Previous Conservative governments have implemented other measures as well. In January 2012, the Conservative government starting providing direct support to people caring for a loved one with reduced mobility through the family caregiver tax credit. We were also the first to support Canadians who act as caregivers and also continue working.
We recognized the important contribution that caregivers make to their family members and their community by providing support and unpaid care, quite often while dealing with their responsibilities toward other family members and keeping their job. The 2014 economic action plan helped caregivers continue to participate in the workforce as fully as possible while caring for a loved one.
We also made changes to employment insurance and brought in caregiver leave and benefits. Still today, these benefits may be provided for a few weeks to people who temporarily have to leave work to care for a loved one who is seriously ill or who has a significant risk of dying within 26 weeks.
The previous Conservative government brought in a home accessibility tax credit through which eligible seniors and persons with disabilities are entitled to a 15% tax relief on eligible expenses up to $10,000. To be eligible, the expenses have to be related to renovations that allow for greater mobility or functionality or reduce the risks of accident.
We doubled the pension income amount. Years ago, a non-refundable tax credit was created for the first $1,000 in eligible pension income. A lot has changed since then. The previous Conservative government increased the eligible pension income amount to $2,000. To this day, that is a real savings that really helps pensioners.
We introduced the age amount, which allows seniors to claim up to $7,637 on their 2020 tax return.
We also introduced pension income splitting to reduce the tax burden on Canadian pensioners and make the system fairer. Generally speaking, every individual pays tax on their total income. Pension income splitting allows all Canadian residents who receive eligible pension income to split up to half of that income with a spouse or common-law partner if they live together. That means pensioners and their families can pay considerably less tax.
I am also thinking of the increase in the age limit for RRSP to RRIF conversions. The registered retirement savings plan is one of the best tools available to Canadians to save for their future. Since RRSP contributions are tax-free under the contribution limit, they are an ideal way to plan for retirement.
However, some Canadians were limited by the RRSP structure. Even if a person chose to work after the age of 69, they had to convert their RRSPs into a registered retirement income fund and start making withdrawals. The previous Conservative government increased the age limit for RRSP to RRIF conversions from 69 to 71. Now more Canadians have the freedom to choose when they want to convert their RRSPs.
All of these measures and many others help to grow our economy. I am still very proud of them today, and I promote them every year in a tax guide that I send to all my constituents.
We understand the consequences that a precarious financial situation can have on people's lives, especially those of the aging population. We all have a duty to be part of the solution. If we have the will to do it, we can act relatively quickly to provide financial support to our seniors in the upcoming budget, if the Liberals get their act together and introduce one.
In addition to the effects of the pandemic, the government has created a lot of uncertainty for our seniors and the rest of the population. If the Liberals really intended to help seniors, they would have already done so, and we all know that the Bloc Québécois can never win the Prime Minister's seat. That leaves the Conservatives as the only option for helping seniors who are in a precarious financial situation.
I am sure that stakeholders will realize that we stand on our record and that our good intentions will become reality in the future Conservative Government of Canada. Together, we will tackle the challenge of repairing the damage caused by the Liberals and rebuilding the Canadian economy.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak to the opposition day motion on a very important subject matter to me and the rest of my colleagues, acknowledging our seniors and increasing their retirement benefit income. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from today.
I would like to thank my Bloc colleague for bringing this motion forward.
As the NDP critic for seniors and pensions, I will be recommending full support for the motion. Given the pandemic that we are presently enduring, this motion is important and I believe all members can agree that it is past the time to guarantee that our seniors live in dignity.
For the benefit of those watching at home today, I would like to lay out what this motion actually proposes.
The motion calls on the present government to increase the old age security benefit, or OAS, by $110 a month for those aged 65 and older in the next budget. It asks the House of Commons:
(a) recognize that the elderly were most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; (b) recall that too many of the elderly live in a financially precarious position; (c) acknowledge the collective debt that we owe to those who built Quebec and Canada...
Of course the House should recognize that our seniors have borne the brunt of the effects of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, Statistics Canada reported that 60% of our seniors aged 65 and over stated that they were extremely concerned for their health and well-being. This is in contrast to the 20 to 34-aged group, where only 28% had the same level of concern.
In a statement on this amplification of inequality as the result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Canadian Human Rights Commission signalled out our elderly, warning that as they were likely either living in an institution or living at home alone, they were isolated during the pandemic more now than ever and had an elevated vulnerability to illness. The commission rightfully pointed out that, for the most part, family and friends were not allowed to visit them.
Without access to or the knowledge to use various methods of communication, we should continue to find more creative ways to reach out and support our seniors. We certainly saw that seniors, particularly in long-term care facilities, were being ravaged by the virus to an extent well beyond that of our demographics.
If we look at a snapshot of about two months ago of the pandemic in Canada, deaths due to COVID in long-term care facilities made up a staggering 81% of COVID deaths in the country. By comparison, the average among other countries around the globe of COVID deaths in long-term care homes was 42% of all deaths, compared to our 81%. This is unacceptable.
In response, the New Democrats announced a plan to offer a senior's care guarantee. We called on the government to take steps to eliminate profit from our long-term care and work with caregivers and provincial and territorial governments to develop national care standards for long-term and continuing care and to regulate these in step with the Canadian Health Act.
The other call to the House is to acknowledge the financial precarity of our seniors. In normal times, many seniors face high prices for rent, hydro, cable, gas and insurance as well as food, medical and pharmaceutical costs. Due to the pandemic, seniors have increased costs that they would normally not have. For example, statistics show that seniors use paid delivery services more than any other demographic during the pandemic for things like food and medicine.
As a result of the NDP pressure, the government finally announced a one-time payment of $300 for old age security pensioners and an additional $200 for guaranteed income supplement recipients. However, this one-off payment is not enough to compensate for the increase in the cost of living for the elderly now or in the future. The government recognized the higher costs for seniors and said that new legislation would come forward, but has since been silent.
COVID-19 has exposed the major gaps in our health care system and the cost of prescription drugs. A national pharmacare program is needed now more than ever. The majority of Canadians are in a support of a pharmacare program, yet the Liberals voted against our pharmacare bill yesterday. It is a matter of public record that the Liberals have been promising to implement a universal pharmacare program for more than 24 years, yet they have never acted on it.
The final call to the House in today's motion is in regard to the contributions of our seniors to the country.
Seniors in Canada have made endless contributions to our families, our communities and country, and to the nature of our society. An obvious truth is that each generation is built upon the work of its seniors. For that, we should be thankful and grateful to them.
We should be honouring our seniors by looking after them. I think we have a moral obligation to do so. Unfortunately, there remain too many signs that we are not there yet. Too often seniors do not have access to affordable housing. They must rely on food banks weekly and have to ration medication.
Seniors have done their part and should be able to live out their retirement years in dignity. For that reason, the New Democrats have promoted a national seniors strategy to ensure that measures and programs are in place to meet the needs of our retired and elderly.
Lastly, the motion is a call for the government to increase old age security. To properly speak to the merits of raising the OAS benefit, I would like to touch first on the Canada pension plan, or CPP. It should be noted that only those Canadians who have contributed to the Canada pension plan can qualify at the age of 60 for this monthly benefit and receive benefits for the rest of their lives.
Old age security is the retirement benefit at the centre of today's motion. OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on a retiree's previous labour force participation or whether they have registered pension or savings plans. One can qualify at the age of 65.
We have to remember that we need stability, and most of our private pension plans are now under attack because there is no support and no protection when companies go into bankruptcy.
The Conservatives, under Stephen Harper, put in a plan to raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. The NDP fought to end that discrimination and ensure that our seniors lived out their retirement with dignity.
The age threshold, in this motion to bump up the benefit, is 65 years of age, so all seniors who qualify would benefit from the raise. I believe it is extremely important that all seniors get the increase and not just some. The Liberals promised to increase the OAS but only for those 75 years of age and over. I ask my Liberal colleagues this: How is it that they think seniors from age 65 to 74 do not have the same high costs, expensive bills and struggles to afford them?
It is beyond me why the government would establish a two-tier OAS. Either way, there has been no action. The labour community has also advocated for improvements to our retirement benefit and would support the increase to the OAS, as we do.
I will share a quote from Mark Hancock, national president of CUPE:
CUPE has long supported an expansion of our public pensions, including Old Age Security. Workplace pension plans continue to face cuts and closures, and rates of poverty among seniors are increasing again. The Old Age Security pension hasn't kept pace over the years and isn’t worth what it was 40 years ago, but a boost to that benefit would restore some of that lost value and lift thousands of seniors out of poverty.
In conclusion, the NDP believe that we must address the inadequacies of our public retirement supports and other supports for our seniors. As a start, we absolutely support an increase to OAS.
I want to conclude by saying thanks to all the members who are listening. I want to thank the Bloc again. I am hoping there will be no problems here, and that we all will support this important motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to be participating in this important debate today. I thank my NDP colleague from Hamilton Mountain for all the work he has been doing for years on behalf of seniors. It is much appreciated and is part of our fundamental values.
Before I actually begin my speech, I cannot help but point out the absurdity of the reply the Conservative member from gave me a few minutes ago. I reminded him that the Conservatives wanted to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67, which was especially cruel towards low-to-no-income seniors and would have resulted in seniors forfeiting tens of thousands of dollars. The only reply we got was that it was very fortunate that this measure was never implemented. If he is pleased that the measure was never implemented, I wonder why he voted for it. I hope that everyone will remember that at the appropriate time.
I thank my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois for moving today's motion about this fundamental issue of how we, as MPs or parliamentarians, must look after the men and women who built our society and left us and our children an absolutely fantastic legacy that allows us to enjoy security, prosperity, justice and solidarity. Hats off to the men and women who are seniors today and who worked so hard all their lives to leave our society so well off, both in Quebec and in Canada, compared to the rest of the world.
We in the NDP, being progressives, social democrats and left-leaning men and women, are particularly concerned about all issues related directly or indirectly to the quality of our social fabric and people's quality of life. Are people able to live and grow old in dignity? Can we work together to fight poverty and inequality? Let us remember that for the NDP, poverty is a form of violence, because it is abusive to prevent people from having a comfortable home, being able to buy groceries, having hobbies and living a truly enjoyable, fulfilling life without having to make absurd, difficult choices. Sadly, too many of our seniors are still living in poverty today. There are many things that we could do to help them get out of poverty and live in dignity, because they more than deserve it.
Increasing the old age security benefit by $110 a month, as proposed in the motion we are debating today, is a measure that the NDP supports and has been championing for a long time. We are very proud of that, because it is a matter of justice, especially in a society as rich as ours in Quebec and Canada. It is the least we can do, but it is not the only thing. There is a lot more we can do to improve the lot of our seniors.
It bears repeating that this motion comes at a critical time, in the middle of a year-long national crisis caused by COVID-19. To put it bluntly, the spread of the virus took a heavy toll on our seniors, sadly. Many lost their lives, often in unspeakable circumstances, separated from their loved ones and denied even the possibility of holding someone's hand before passing. We all have to work together to make sure this does not happen again.
In order to do that, we have to learn from the current crisis. In our view, two major lessons stand out. First, we saw how important it is to have a strong and efficient public health care system that treats its workers, and therefore our seniors, well. The working conditions of our health care workers directly affect the quality of the care that seniors receive. Second, there are holes in our social safety net, and the shortcomings of the old age security program are just one of many examples.
However, there are several such holes. It is important to address all of them, but for us, it is really important that we reinforce our health care system. The NDP is suggesting a number of measures that need to be implemented. First, health transfers must be increased. The federal contribution in this area is really declining and is now almost anemic. We agree with the provincial premiers that transfers should be increased to at least 35%. The federal share of health transfers has a direct impact on the working conditions of our health care professionals, as well as the quality of care.
Speaking of quality of care, the federal and provincial governments need to enter into discussions to guarantee care for our seniors, especially in long-term care facilities, which have sadly been absolutely devastated this past year. We cannot afford to look away when our seniors are being mistreated. We need to sit down together, discuss the matter and find solutions. The federal government cannot wash its hands of the issue. Government members need to ask themselves what they can do to improve the situation and prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again.
Also, the private sector should not be in charge of senior care, especially in long-term care facilities. We must agree on the fact that this is a fundamental value in our society, and that money should not be the deciding factor in whether a person receives quality care. Everyone is equal. In addition, no profit should be made on senior care because, obviously, in such cases, there is a tendency to do things by half measures and to prioritize shareholders over seniors.
I spoke about the pandemic and long-term care facilities, but I also want to mention all of the seniors who are active in our communities. As members of Parliament, we must help them, provide support and stand with them. Some older people are very active. They volunteer and are engaged in the community. They want to create a better society. Some of them help children with their homework, and others help solve environmental issues. There are also the people at FADOQ, who do an extraordinary job defending seniors' rights, among others, in Quebec. I commend them for their work.
The pandemic has also been very difficult for active and autonomous seniors. They have been unable to see their families and grandchildren. They are isolated. Many of them suffered from isolation before the pandemic, and the situation has only gotten worse. Community groups have been formed in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and here and there in Montreal and Quebec. People are urged to look in on seniors who were already known to be alone or isolated.
I have gone with some groups, including the La Petite-Patrie community resource centre, to bring baskets of food to seniors to avoid them having to go out to buy groceries. We have organized things and joined forces to give seniors a hand. I think that needs to be acknowledged.
Seniors often live on a fixed income. That is why it is so important to enhance the guaranteed income supplement and old age security, and why we must support this motion to increase old age security by $110 a month. Prices are going up. The cost of groceries is increasing. Despite the fact that seniors live on a fixed income, the price of produce, meat and other groceries is constantly on the rise. Studies have shown that prices will increase by 3% to 5% over the next year. For a family, that could mean an additional $700 a year.
As my colleague from put it, by pressuring the government, we managed to get one-time assistance, but that is not enough. We want permanent assistance to help seniors get out of poverty and face higher costs, in particular when it comes to groceries.
As my colleague from pointed out, there is a sharp increase in the cost of drugs also, which is a very heavy burden for many seniors. That is why I am scratching my head and wondering why the Bloc, the Liberals and the Conservatives teamed up against our proposal to create a universal public pharmacare program. Such a program would have the very tangible effect of lowering the cost of drugs. It could go forward. Liberals have been talking about it for 24 years, but they never do anything. Each time they have an opportunity to vote on that proposal, they choose to vote against it.
I have a hard time understanding why my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois did not vote in favour of that measure, which a large part of the Quebec society is calling for. A wide coalition including all major unions—the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, or FTQ, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, or CSN, la Centrale des syndicats du Québec, or CSQ, as well as the Union des consommateurs du Québec—has been asking for action, in collaboration with provinces. They want truly universal public pharmacare. That is one of the things we could do to help seniors directly.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from .
I will start my speech on a serious note. I heard several people today talking about their party's achievements and saying that we, as an opposition party, are useless. They sound like they are in the middle of an election campaign. We are not in the middle of an election campaign and, today, we are talking about seniors.
I find it revolting that we have not taken decent care of our seniors in the past. It makes no sense. Which reminds me, I need to think before I speak to avoid using unparliamentary language.
In today's motion, our party proposes that the House “recognize that the elderly were most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic”. Seniors were the most directly affected, and the ones who received the least support. How does that make sense?
People think that seniors were not affected, but many of them work part-time because they are not making enough money. Others lost their sources of income, which were based on long-term investments or savings that have not paid out.
Now that I have spoken about savings, I will speak about income. We must realize that most seniors live on a fixed income, in other words, pension benefits that are either barely indexed or not indexed at all. Consider the ridiculous maximum increase of $1.52 a month for those receiving the maximum amount this year.
Fixed incomes cannot absorb inflation as prices continue to rise. The rent increase is estimated at 4% this year. Food prices will likely rise because of shortages in the farming industry and the fact that farmers are not getting much support.
Consider, too, delivery fees that seniors did not have to pay before and the “COVID-19 fees” some merchants are charging, often out of necessity.
Isolated people are most at risk. Let us not forget that the majority of deaths occurred among seniors. These people are not only more at risk, but live with more fear.
What did we do to help them? Not much.
Our motion also asks the House to “recall that too many of the elderly live in a financially precarious position”. I could quote statistics about the basket of consumer goods and services, but there is a very simple way to understand that the monthly amount of $1,500 is utter nonsense.
When Canada found itself in a state of emergency and the government decided to grant a minimum amount to all those who lost their jobs or were unable to work because of the spread of the virus, we all know what the government decided to give them: $2,000.
That is not what we are asking for today. What we are asking for is an additional $110 for seniors. In 1975, old age security was 20% of the average industrial wage. Today, it is 13%. We have allowed this support measure to quietly peter out, bit by bit. Why?
Is it because we take seniors for granted? Is it because their voices are not strong enough to be heard? Is it because they don't have any friends in this government?
The government promised hand on heart, as usual, to help them. After pressuring the government again and again, we finally obtained a one-time payment of $300 for every senior, with an extra $200 for those who receive the guaranteed income supplement. Seniors were also granted a one-time GST and HST credit payment, and that is it.
Financial insecurity for seniors is not a one-time problem that can be addressed by a one-time payment. It requires a basic benefit increase.
I will go back to a word I frequently use when standing up for the agriculture sector: predictability. Seniors need predictability to pay their bills, have a budget and not feel anxious at the end of the month because they do not know if they will have enough money left to eat properly. We are not saying that seniors will run out and buy new cars next week; we are talking about $110 a month.
Let us consider the obscene amounts this country spends on the British Crown. I will not open up that can of worms, and I will not waste time detailing the shameful amounts we give the Crown, but let us think about what $110 a month could do for seniors living at home. I think that is very reasonable.
The problem has existed for a long time. It existed before the pandemic. The people at FADOQ are asking for stability and predictability.
The third part of our motion acknowledges the collective debt that we owe to those who built Quebec and Canada. On March 8, my father will turn 86. I do not want to get emotional, but I would like you to know that he was a lumberjack at 12 years old. How many of us could have done that? He did not have access to education, either. However, the work done by his generation created these opportunities for future generations. Thanks to my father’s generation, Quebec is a better place. Do we not have the moral obligation to provide this generation with decent care?
Fortunately, my father had a good job and a good pension plan, and his finances are a lot easier to manage. However, I keep thinking of those who do not have any money. Every time my father has a major expense, I think how terrible it must be for those who cannot pay for a walker, a wheelchair or home adaptations.
I will stop here, because I am going to get even more emotional.
The fourth part of our motion asks the government, in the next budget, to increase the old age security benefit by $110 a month for those aged 65 and more. I hope that no one in the Conservative Party will say that I cannot do anything for seniors, when they fully intended to increase the retirement age to 67. I await their questions.
Our party is also proposing simple solutions, such as automatic income tax returns for people whose situation does not change. Can we help them instead of making it more difficult and making them fill out 28 forms? People are disadvantaged, and even more so during the pandemic. They are afraid to go out, or simply cannot go out. The community services that usually help them fill out their income tax returns are underfunded and not operating right now.
How about paying a deceased person's pension benefits to a spouse for three months after that person's death? I clearly remember having to repay my mother's benefits after she died. What a way to express condolences. Frankly, I think our society can do better.
We would like to see a tax credit for home adaptations that people can get once the work is done. I could share my own story about this. It can take up to a year for a subsidy to be approved, and people cannot always wait that long before adapting their homes. Sometimes they need it right away. How about making things easy and providing an automatic tax credit for home care?
My colleague from , who will be speaking next, has repeatedly proposed a bill to protect workers' pension plans when businesses go bankrupt. If we are talking about OAS, we also have to talk about protecting pension plans. That is important.
We are asking for a minimum token increase of $110 per month. The Liberals intend to spend $100 billion on their recovery plan, but they do not have the willingness or decency to increase old age pensions by $110 a month. I will refrain from saying what I am really thinking and simply say that I find that appalling.
The government is preparing to spend $100 billion. What will people with incomes of $1,500 a month do with that additional $110? Does the government think that they will put it in a savings account or keep it for later? No. They are going to spend it and help keep the economy running. That is what we need. We need to kick-start the economy. Let us give them the boost they need. The population is aging. This makes no sense.
I appeal to members of the House. Let us look beyond political partisanship. In the debate earlier, some were saying that the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of this or against that. Yesterday, the Bloc Québécois also voted in favour of a bill that does not affect Quebec because it was a sensible measure. We use good judgment. I do not have time to talk about all of the reasons why we voted for that bill right now, but I would like members to ask me about it later.
In the meantime, let us adopt this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from for his speech. We could feel his emotion, but also his indignation, which I share. I have always said that I got into politics because I have a capacity for indignation, which I want to be constructive, of course. That is why I really understand the situation when we talk about how seniors are doing.
I would like to thank my colleague from for making a very good speech and for being behind this motion.
While I was listening to the news over the past few days, I heard a journalist ask a senior at what point one no longer counts. Regardless of where that came from, I must say that the question really surprised me and made me angry about the very issue of seniors, because we are letting such a dangerous discourse spread unchecked out there in society.
I have to say that I heard that on the national broadcaster, where I once heard a very serious discussion on the possibility of taking away seniors' right to vote at some point. These may not be major ideas but those ideas are being floated nonetheless. That gravely worries me. I must say that a motion like the one being moved today, which “acknowledge[s] the collective debt that we owe” to seniors must be taken seriously. There are good reasons for it.
I think that societal discourse is sometimes dismissive of seniors, when in fact they are an integral part of our society. Earlier I heard comments about age. Members talked about “starting at age 75”, “from age 65 to 67”, “after 67 years of age”, and so on. We have to work with that sort of breakdown, to some degree, to make things easier, but at the same time we must never forget that seniors are an integral part of society.
I think we should follow the example of the first nations. I say this humbly, as the member of Parliament for Manicouagan, where the Inuit and the Naskapi peoples make up 15% of the population. As demographics change, these communities will become larger and larger. The way the first nations treat seniors is the polar opposite of what I have heard on Radio-Canada. First nations elders are served first at community meetings. They will have first choice of cuts of meat, such as caribou meat. That is a bigger deal than I make it sound.
These seniors are seen as assets in their communities and not as liabilities, as is the case here, as the government gives benefits to everyone except seniors during the pandemic. This shows that seniors are still being put in a separate class. In the first nations, seniors are seen as wise elders, memory keepers and knowledge keepers. I do not want to speak for the first nations, but elders are the most important members of their communities.
As a member of Parliament, a Quebecker and a human being, I am learning a great deal and I appreciate how the first nations see their seniors and their role in society. We should view seniors the same way.
Beyond these points and this lesson in humanity, which I wanted to talk about, I will say that my colleagues have made a number of suggestions that should be implemented for our seniors. I would like to mention them again.
There is a major issue that the Bloc Québécois has rallied behind for a long time, particularly during the last year and a half, and that is health transfers. It is the federal government's job to increase health transfers to help seniors.
During the pandemic, we have talked a lot about access to vaccines. I represent a huge riding with an area of 350,000 square kilometres. People often have to travel in the riding, and because of the distances seniors have a number of needs. We need more services and more local services. The request for more health transfers is especially pertinent to seniors. That is one of our demands. Naturally, we have been repeating this since this morning, and we hope that the government will make it happen. The government must agree to increase old age security by $110 a month and it cannot be just a one-time increase. As several members have said, this must be recurring direct assistance. This assistance must not be provided solely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding shortfall was there well before the pandemic. That is what the Bloc Québécois is asking for, in addition to an increase in the guaranteed income supplement of $50 to $70, depending on whether the recipient is single or married. This assistance will help support seniors.
Due to the costs incurred by seniors during the pandemic and at the present time, their purchasing power is constantly getting lower. As I mentioned, there was already a shortfall before the pandemic, and it is now a huge gap. This must be addressed quickly.
The Bloc Québécois motion is a call for action, and I hope the government will answer the call. In the 2019 and 2020 throne speeches, the government said it would help seniors. It has been saying that for a year and a half. Earlier, I heard the talk about the new horizons for seniors program and several other measures that may be beneficial, but that do not provide seniors with any immediate assistance or give them the freedom to choose for themselves. There is a huge difference between the new horizons for seniors program, which is a useful program, and having money put directly in their pockets. It is important to understand that.
I hope that the parliamentary secretary and the minister heard what we had to say on this topic. I hope they will adopt the Bloc Québécois motion in order to demonstrate swift and meaningful support for our seniors. Seniors must not be left out.
I referred to a daily shortfall because the old age security pension is too low. The pandemic is making life even more difficult for seniors, so it is all the more urgent to act.
I would like to conclude by encouraging the House to vote for another bill, which I tabled last November. I am talking about Bill , which we will very likely debate in the spring. It is also aimed at helping seniors and retirees. When companies restructure or go bankrupt, retirement funds are cut, leading to disaster, devastation and tragedy. Group insurance plans are also cancelled.
Seniors themselves keep saying that what they want is stability and predictability. By protecting the deferred wages that seniors have earned and deserve, the government would be protecting their rights.
I will conclude by adding that it is also important to protect seniors' dignity.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to talk about our seniors.
Let us go back to 2010, and I could probably even go further back. I can recall being involved in a public meeting. It was a great atmosphere. There were a number of seniors present. I talked about the contributions people had made and cited those who were in the room with me. These were the people who built what we have today, in part, in the north end of Winnipeg.
When we talk about seniors in general, we often hear about how great they are. Then we continue on to other aspects. I do believe it is important to recognize that this wonderful, beautiful country that we all love today, Canada, including the provinces and territories within, is here because of the people who came before us and the many different efforts of seniors then and today.
Just because someone might be in a long-term care facility, it does not mean that they are not contributing to our economy or to our society. I think of grandparents who are passing on knowledge or wisdom, whatever one might want to call it, to a grandchild or a great-grandchild. Generally speaking, from birth to death, there is a contribution that can be made to our society, and all people need to be treated equally.
I know I share this belief with my colleagues in the Liberal caucus. We understand the importance of seniors. In fact, we have a seniors caucus group that spends a tremendous amount of time on the issue of seniors and how we, as a government, can provide the types of supports that seniors need and deserve.
The , even before he was Prime Minister, talked a great deal about how we need to be there to support Canada's middle class and those aspiring to be a part of it, but also recognizing the important role that our seniors have played in society and continue to play in society. In fact, I would suggest that members look at the actions this Liberal government has taken over the last number of years and the results.
When we talk about combatting poverty and look at seniors who are in poverty, through the policies we have put in place, we have reduced that number by 25%. That is 25% fewer seniors living in poverty today than back in 2015. This is in good part through the initiatives taken by the national government led by the .
As an example, one of the government's first actions was to substantially increase the guaranteed income supplement for our seniors. That is something Liberal members from coast to coast to coast advocated for, and we put into place literally months after winning the 2015 election. The impact that had on society is immeasurable. Quite frankly, even in my riding of Winnipeg North, hundreds of seniors were taken out of poverty, or were assisted out of poverty, because of that one initiative.
Someone made reference to what seniors do with the money. They spend that money. If the poorest seniors we have in Canada are given a dollar, they will spend that dollar. They are not spending it on trips. They usually spend it on the essentials, whether it is food or medication. I will get to pharmacare a little later.
The bottom line is that right from the get-go, we have had a and a government that have recognized the importance of our seniors and those who are going to be seniors too.
We looked at CPP reforms. Stephen Harper, the former prime minister, did absolutely nothing on that front for 10 years. Prior to being prime minister, he was part of an advocacy group that would like to have seen the demise of the CPP. At the end of the day, we were able to bring provinces, territories and stakeholders together and see increases in the CPP. That is going to assist workers in the future in their retirement. Whether it is for those who are 55 plus today or 55 plus in the years ahead, we have demonstrated that we are prepared to do whatever we can to improve their living conditions in a very real way.
I find it interesting that the Bloc tried to distort this last fall. Members will recall that the Bloc was trying to give the impression that seniors had not been given anything during the pandemic. The Bloc said there was just minor increase only, that that was it, because we did not care for seniors. The Bloc was trying to mislead Canadians, particularly in the province of Quebec, about what the reality actually is. That was the behaviour we saw from the leader of the Bloc. Nothing could be further from the truth because we provided one-time payments to seniors. In fact, we even enhanced that payment for those who were collecting the guaranteed income supplement.
Did that stop the Bloc from spreading misinformation? No, it did not. We now have a Bloc motion saying that we should give $110 to every senior and everyone who is over the age of 65. I suspect the Bloc sees it more as an election tool, as something it could use for propaganda. This is not something we are concerned about today only; we have been concerned about this since 2015 and have been effectively addressing that issue.
It is interesting. Think of the motion the Bloc wants us to vote in favour of and the fact that it also voted against the throne speech, which talked about giving a 10% increase to seniors over 75. To try to give an impression that a senior who is 75 is no different from a senior who is 65 is just wrong. There are more opportunities for seniors who are 65 to 75 than there are for seniors who are 75. If we had an unlimited pot of money, why would we give just $110; maybe it could be $510. I am somewhat surprised that my NDP colleagues have not already upped the $110 to some other number. It is easy to say what they are saying, but it is another thing to actually do it.
I have listened to the Conservatives being critical of the government on this particular file. Some might suggest there is a lot of hypocrisy there. When I was in opposition and Stephen Harper was the prime minister, and some of my colleagues were in opposition longer than I was, they asked what he was doing for seniors. One member said that the Conservatives created the minister for seniors. That is true, yes, but did that result in anything tangible? Not at all, especially if we draw a comparison with what the Liberals have been able to do in less than half the time.
During that trying time of the COVID pandemic, we even stepped up more because there are different ways we can help seniors or those who are 55 plus. I was saying that even before my 59th birthday. I can tell members that whether directly or indirectly, this is a government that has worked with the different stakeholders and different levels of government, talking about how we can bring in the types of supports that are necessary for our seniors.
I believe that we have been very successful in providing those supports. Does that mean there are absolutely no issues out there, that every senior is happy and that there are no problems? No, I am not trying to say that at all, but I am saying that anyone who is trying to give the false impression that this is a government that has not been proactive on this file is misleading Canadians, because we can clearly demonstrate by facts that this government has been there for seniors, virtually from day one, let alone during the pandemic.
We talk a great deal about long-term care, and one of the reasons we have been talking about long-term care is that during the pandemic we have heard a lot about the long-term care system and many of its deficiencies. It was not that long ago that we asked the Canadian Forces to get engaged in provinces like Quebec and Ontario. My own province of Manitoba required the Canadian Red Cross to get involved, and it was all supported by the national government. Is there any surprise that Canadians are genuinely concerned? We can talk about the deaths as a direct result of the coronavirus and what percentages of deaths have occurred where. I represent the Maples Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg North. There were far too many seniors who passed away as a direct result, and I was glad that the Red Cross was able to go there and be a part of the solution, as an agency that is supported by the national government.
Those members of the Bloc and the Conservative Party are wrong, in my opinion, when they try to say that the federal government has no role to play. The has made it very clear that through this pandemic we can learn a lot and can build back better. Unlike the Conservatives and the Bloc, Liberal members of Parliament are prepared to look at ways in which we can do just that, to build back better. I believe that the long-term care facilities are a good example of that.
I respect jurisdictional responsibilities. I understand the lead role that provinces and territories play in health care delivery. Many years ago I was the health care critic in the province of Manitoba and and asked the provincial minister of health many different questions. I sat for hours of health estimates at committees, so I understand the jurisdiction, but I also understand what my constituents want and the expectation that a national government has and should live up to. I am not going to bow to the Bloc or the Conservatives who say that we should just give the provinces money. I think that is a cowardly way of protecting the interests of our seniors from coast to coast to coast.
I believe that we need to look at ways we can work with those who are willing to have national standards. That is something we learned from this process. When we talk about impacts on seniors, it is not only today. I have knocked on many doors in Winnipeg North, where a senior will tell me that they have a choice to make between getting their medications or proper food. Do members know how people actually leave a hospital? They can imagine they are in a hospital, and as long as they are in the hospital they are given the prescribed medicines. When they leave the hospital, some of them are no longer getting their prescriptions, because they cannot afford them.
Think of the consequences of that. On the one hand, the Conservatives and the Bloc say they do not want Ottawa involved in this because Ottawa has nothing to do with it. A majority of the constituents that I represent and, I believe, a majority of Canadians, based on what I hear from my colleagues within the Liberal caucus, are behind a national pharmacare program. Liberal members of Parliament are behind a national pharmacare program because they see the benefits of it and understand what our constituents are telling us. That is why the NDP bill yesterday was hogwash. It is not as if we can pass a bill and then we have the program. It is just not reality.
If we want to have a national pharmacare program that will be there to support our seniors, read what the throne speech said. We need to work with the provinces and territories. In order to have the very best optimal national pharmacare program, we have to work with the provinces and territories. To try to bring in legislation mandating it before any sort of real discussions take place is wrong.
I know that the feels very passionately about the need to address medication coverage for all Canadians. That issue is very important to me and my colleagues, because we recognize what Canadians are saying. When we look at the benefits, we should refer to groups or associations that indirectly also play a role. During the pandemic, for example, we invested close to half a billion dollars in essential services and supplies. New Horizons For Seniors, a program for community-based projects, got $20 million. We allocated $350 million to non-profit charities. What about United Way Canada? Almost $10 million was allocated. We understand that many seniors turned to food banks and local food organizations. During the pandemic, close to $100 million was allocated to them.
Those are all moneys that have been put in place because we know that those organizations have the capability of doing so much to support seniors. Whether it is a direct contribution or an indirect tax break or a third-party organization, by working with interested stakeholders and other levels of government in many ways, we have been very successful in being there for seniors during this pandemic from coast to coast to coast.
I recognize that not every senior is going to be happy or has received what we would like to have provided. There is always room to improve. Improvement is something that we as a government have been very much open to and have encouraged, just as our caucus is constantly reminded to listen to our constituents and bring back their thoughts and ideas to Ottawa. We take all of that very seriously.
I will leave it at that. We will continue to be there for our seniors in the days, weeks, months and, hopefully, years ahead.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît.
First, I want to apologize to my colleagues who were offended when I spoke in the House a little while ago on this very subject. At the time, I referred to seniors as “old” people. I was told that I should not say that and should instead call them “seniors”. I therefore apologize to my colleagues who were offended by that and who are apparently more thin-skinned than the people I was referring to. Indeed, all the seniors I spoke with afterwards to tell them how sorry I was said that they realized that I used those words affectionately, like calling my father “my old man”. What I meant by that is that our “old” folks have thicker skin than today's youngsters. They are made of sterner stuff, and they are proud. They are also quite ticked off, to remain within the realm of parliamentary language; I could have chosen a much stronger word. Even though they are as generous, available and active as they possibly can, they feel like what they get in return is not gratitude, only contempt.
In a way, that is what the motion from my colleague, the member for , is all about: recognizing the precarious situation that seniors are in and fixing it. We owe them that; they built our society.
Earlier, the asked my colleague from how many people would benefit from the $110 monthly increase. The answer is in fact that we will all benefit. The whole society will because, in the secretary's own words, none of the money that we give to seniors will end up in a savings account. Seniors will spend that money, reinvesting it in our society. Collectively, we will benefit from treating our seniors better.
If we want to look a bit closer at figures and give people an idea of how many people could benefit from the increase, I would say that 20 years ago, 13% of the Quebec population was 65 years of age or older. Today, it is estimated that the ratio is around 20%, and it keeps increasing. Five years from now, in 2026, it could reach around 24 or 25%.
Another shocking statistic is that in 2015, 50% of seniors had incomes so low that they were exempt from paying income tax. That figure was 20% in 1997. This means that, between 1997 and 2015, there was a 30% increase in the number of seniors whose income is too low to pay income tax. That gives you an idea of the number of people who will directly benefit from the Bloc's proposed increase.
Life expectancies have been increasing for quite some time now, and needs will only continue to grow as well; those are established facts. The most irresponsible thing we could do right now is not to invest in the quality of life of our seniors. Health care is expensive and these costs will continue to rise. We would have to be pretty out of touch with reality to stand around and do nothing. Needs are evolving, as my colleague from can confirm, and there is a need for more social housing and for more services that meet the needs of seniors, especially in health care centres.
I want to talk a bit about seniors' buying power. It is important because that is what this debate is all about. I also want to mention the Institut de recherche et d'informations socioéconomiques, or IRIS, who did a study a few years ago. The fairly recent data from that 2018 study show that single seniors aged 65 and up living in Montreal and whose sole income is derived from the public pension system fall considerably short of what could be considered a dignified retirement. According to the IRIS, the annual revenue threshold to ensure a basic level of comfort ranges from $21,000 to $28,000, depending on the city. We are not talking about a lavish lifestyle, merely a tiny step above the poverty line.
In 1975, the old age security benefit represented 20% of the average industrial wage. Today, is it only 13%. This might be viewed as a positive sign in a way, because it means that wages have gone up. That may be right, but it also has a downside because workers' buying power also increased, as did the cost of living. Seniors are left behind with their insufficient pension benefits, and we see the results today. Their pension is no longer enough to keep them out of poverty and free of debt.
Nowadays we use the market basket measure. The estimated annual revenue required in 2021 for Montreal residents to meet their basic needs like shelter, food and clothing is $18,821. By adding together pension benefits, tax credits and the guaranteed income supplement, pensioners will receive about $18,380.
These seniors are far from being able to spend money on entertainment, play bingo or go out to a restaurant from time to time. What is probably the most heartbreaking is that they are far from being able to spoil their grandchildren a little, something that every senior wants to be able to do in the autumn of their life.
I will say it again. By failing to invest in seniors, we are depriving ourselves of a great asset. These people may be retired but that does not mean that they are not full of ideas, projects, goodwill and, often, energy. What is more, they are an extraordinary source of knowledge that could benefit the younger generation that spends 18 hours a day glued to a screen. Our seniors are an extraordinary source of potential, as long as we keep them in good health, as long as we keep them in a position where they can contribute to society and as long as we ensure that they have a decent standard of living.
I want to give members an idea of what I have seen and experienced in my riding of Drummond.
Investing in our seniors means that we have more people like Réjeanne Comeau, who along with her friends at FADOQ, found a way to organize a massive blood drive in Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Conseil two weeks ago in the midst of a pandemic. It was a big success.
Francine Leroux from Saint-Lucien is an extraordinary woman. Her project to build a space for the Cercle des fermières in her community is nearing completion. This space will benefit the entire region. Community kitchens and activities to end isolation will be held there. This is a fantastic group.
I am also thinking of Francine Julien, who is working hard to improve the lives of seniors in Saint-Guillaume, and Marie-France Roberge of Brin de bonheur, who organizes activities to help senior women in Drummondville feel less isolated. The organization is doing such a great job that it has to turn people away because its space is too small.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Jean-Guy Moreau, who has made it his mission to help people 70 and up get moving by organizing pickleball leagues. Mr. Moreau is deeply committed to seniors. He is actually the son-in-law of James Price, whose 100th birthday I brought to the House's attention in December. I should also mention that the member for joined me for the occasion because Mr. Price is a native of Louisbourg, which is in his riding.
In short, the Liberal government sees the Bloc Québécois's proposal to increase monthly OAS payments by $110 as an unnecessary expense. The Bloc, in contrast, sees it as an investment. As members have said, the Liberals have not yet kept their promise to increase the OAS by 10% for those 75 and up, and we do not know if they ever will.
As a society, we owe a debt to our seniors. This is not a frivolous thing. The bare minimum the government needs to do is ensure quality health care by increasing health transfers to the provinces and Quebec, as they have asked, and increasing the OAS for the people who built Quebec and Canada. This is about respect. We owe them respect, and I hope the House will adopt this motion.