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View Andréanne Larouche Profile
BQ (QC)
View Andréanne Larouche Profile
2021-02-25 10:48 [p.4320]
moved:
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 Thérèse-De Blainville.
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.
View Deb Schulte Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Deb Schulte Profile
2021-02-25 11:18 [p.4324]
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 Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation.
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 Beloeil—Chambly, 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.
View Raquel Dancho Profile
CPC (MB)
View Raquel Dancho Profile
2021-02-25 11:44 [p.4328]
Madam Speaker, in his remarks, the hon. parliamentary secretary referenced the struggles that seniors have gone through from isolation during the pandemic. We have all heard from our constituents about this, and we know that 96% of fatalities from COVID-19 have been among those 60 and older.
At the same time, his counterpart, the Minister of Seniors, has said in her remarks that the Liberal government's vaccination plan has “worked”. We know the Prime Minister has said much the same.
Manitoba and other provinces are saying they may soon start vaccinating seniors who are 95 or over, hopefully. Ontario is predicting it will not vaccinate people who are 60 or over until July. However, our neighbours to the south have been vaccinating those 60 and older for weeks now.
Could the member confirm whether he believes the government's vaccination plan has “worked” for Canadian seniors?
View Stéphane Lauzon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
Seniors are a priority for our government, and that includes getting them vaccinated. Every province believes that seniors should be the first to be vaccinated.
We have an obligation to provide them with vaccines, and that is what we are doing. We are distributing to each province and territory the maximum number of doses necessary so that our seniors are priority vaccine recipients.
We are working with the provinces and territories so that our seniors are looked after in the best way possible, as quickly as possible.
View Damien Kurek Profile
CPC (AB)
View Damien Kurek Profile
2021-02-25 14:13 [p.4349]
Mr. Speaker, here is the COVID vaccine rollout summed up: grand announcements, then failure; backroom deals with dictatorships; platitudes and promises with little substance; then constantly evolving deadlines.
Let me now explain what the Liberals are good at. They take failure and masterfully spin it to proclaim victory. We will eventually get vaccines, but we will not forget the lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars of lost economic productivity and the months of uncertainty.
The sad reality is that this trend reflects every Liberal promise, announcement and tag line followed by incompetence and mismanagement. Then, finally, they either condemn the promise to eternal bureaucratic misery or a result that is only a shadow of what the initial promise was.
Canada deserves better; Canada deserves competence. The Conservatives are ready to form a government that will secure our future.
View Jasraj Singh Hallan Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Speaker, in my riding, students are not able to find post-graduate jobs, people are struggling with mental health, civil liberties are being eroded, small businesses are going bankrupt and families are not able to feed themselves all because of the COVID pandemic and the Liberal government's botched response.
I have heard from friends and family of people taking their own lives because of financial pain and isolation. It is very heartbreaking to hear. The reality is that only about 4% of Canadians have received a single dose of the vaccine, while other countries are easing restrictions and opening up. Our per capita vaccination rate is behind more than 40 countries.
We need to get the vaccine rollout right in order to secure jobs and secure our future, but the Liberal government is failing Canadians. While it negotiated with CanSino, a deal that eventually flopped, other countries secured deals with Pfizer and Moderna that put them near the front of the line.
Canadians are paying dearly for the government's mistakes. The government needs to start doing its job so Canadians can get back to doing theirs.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
View Kevin Waugh Profile
2021-02-25 14:59 [p.4358]
Mr. Speaker, Saskatchewan is home to nearly 1.2 million people, but unfortunately only 43,000 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That is less than 4%. Meanwhile, in the United States the number is around 12%, and we know in Israel it is nearly 50%.
Why is our government so far behind our allies in providing vaccines to those who want them?
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2021-02-25 14:59 [p.4358]
Mr. Speaker, we of course share the urgency of the hon. member in vaccinating the people of Saskatchewan and indeed every Canadian. That is why we are very happy we are able to fill our commitment to receive six million doses in the first quarter of this year, over 23 million doses in the second quarter and more than enough pre-approved vaccines to vaccinate every Canadian by the end of September. That of course includes every person in Saskatchewan who wishes to receive a dose, and we look forward to that day.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
CPC (QC)
View Jacques Gourde Profile
2021-02-25 15:00 [p.4358]
Mr. Speaker, the government messed up vaccine and PPE procurement, and it has no idea how much everything cost. There is an $11-billion gap between the Minister of Finance's budget and the estimated costs.
Why is there such a massive gap, which will drive us into an even deeper deficit?
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2021-02-25 15:01 [p.4358]
Mr. Speaker, as we do every year, we will of course account for all government spending in the public accounts. It will be as transparent and open as the member can possibly imagine, just as it has been in the past. We will continue to do whatever it takes to protect Canadians with PPE and especially vaccines. We will have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone by the end of September.
View Marc Dalton Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Speaker, the government tries to make Canadians believe that they are focused on helping them, but actions speak louder than words.
This week I received an email from a single pensioner in my riding who got an EI repayment demand for $130. Contrast that with the calls I am getting from constituents, asking when vaccines are coming. They want to get back to work and off of EI, and return to a normal life.
How is it that the government has the resources to go after paltry sums of money but cannot get vaccines to these same Canadians?
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2021-02-25 15:02 [p.4358]
Mr. Speaker, I am committed to working to ensure that every Canadian receives the benefits they are entitled to, including EI.
We are not asking people to repay if they cannot afford to. I am happy to work with the member opposite on that particular case, of course. I will follow up with him directly after Oral Questions.
View Damien Kurek Profile
CPC (AB)
View Damien Kurek Profile
2021-02-25 17:08 [p.4376]
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to listen to the member speak. He talked about all sorts of things the Liberals supposedly succeeded in doing. However, when we look at the vaccine rollout, we see it has had a disproportionate effect on seniors because seniors have been most affected by COVID-19.
Could the member expand on whether or not seniors can expect the government to actually act on some of these promises, without the dithering and delay we have seen thus far?
View Francesco Sorbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I have listened to many of the member's speeches on the oil and gas sector, which is a very important sector to his riding, and I applaud his continuing advocacy for that sector.
Obviously each province is in charge of its vaccine rollout. In the province of Ontario, a website will be up as of March 15 so seniors can get their vaccines.
We have committed to getting six million vaccines by the end of the first quarter, and I believe it is 24 million by the end of June. All Canadians, if they wish to receive the vaccine, will be eligible to do so before the end of the summer. That is a great thing. We want our economy to recover, and it is, and we want to get things back to normal as much as possible. We all need to work together, and all levels of government are working together to get this done.
View Erin O'Toole Profile
CPC (ON)
View Erin O'Toole Profile
2021-02-24 14:23 [p.4491]
Mr. Speaker, 8% is the percentage of Canadians the Prime Minister now plans to have vaccinated by April. Eighty-five percent of Israelis are already vaccinated. Americans are vaccinating two million people per day.
Why does the Prime Minister think that 8% by April is good enough for Canadians?
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