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View Yves-François Blanchet Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, 19% of Quebeckers are 65 years of age or older. I want to focus on them. I do not want to create what I feel is an arbitrary distinction within this group, meaning I do not want to create one category for those who are between the ages of 65 and 75 and another for those who are over the age of 75, which is what the government's approach seemed to be during the election campaign and even after that.
That 19% of the population has not gotten much attention since the outset of the crisis, but today we saw that, although enthusiasm may be lacking, honourable compromises are possible. Let us try to do just that. Let us work together to come to a compromise, a position, an idea, a series of suggestions that will help seniors.
I reminded the Prime Minister a little earlier that we published a series of measures about two weeks ago. I wrote to him directly to ask him to support seniors in Quebec and Canada. These measures basically fall into six different categories.
The first was to increase the old age security pension by $110 a month. That was our position during the election campaign, but now we are prepared to make it a temporary measure.
The second measure is an improvement to the guaranteed income supplement. The third measure, which my colleague from Joliette touched on a bit earlier, would protect private pension plans. Some businesses that have pension plans are particularly vulnerable. Some may not make it through the crisis. We hope that is not the case, but we need to be realistic. There is a serious risk that business ownership will become concentrated. There will be some takeovers that are not necessarily hostile but that may be facilitated because businesses are financially vulnerable. When businesses are driven to the brink of bankruptcy as part of these takeovers, the new owners will try to avoid having the pension plans managed by the company be treated as preferred creditors. This means that the people who contributed to these plans for years will lose all or a large part of what they are owed. We need to prevent this.
People with pension plans are required to withdraw a certain amount every year. Since most plans are currently seeing negative returns, it seems cruel to tell these people to reduce even further the capital on which they are supposed to build their own future.
There is the issue of drug prices and also the issue of isolation.
Nowadays, everyone recognizes that going online at anything but high speeds is a bit like riding a bicycle on the highway. We all recognize that high-speed Internet has become an essential service. In the past, when we talked about an essential service, we would say that something is essential if everyone needs to have it. When the power goes out, everyone agrees that that is a problem. No one would accept that a community should be deprived of something essential like electricity. Running water is an essential service, and we keep insisting and telling the government that it must ensure that all indigenous communities have access to it. Telephones are also widely considered to be essential. Today, high-speed Internet falls in that same category. Seniors, who are often isolated, need it at least as much as everyone else. In our measures, we are calling for high-speed Internet to be deemed an essential service and for the isolation of seniors to be broken.
Speaking of isolation, I want to come back to the main measure, which concerns the old age pension. One hundred and ten dollars a month is not a lot, but for everyone who gets it, particularly in the regions of Quebec, it supports purchasing power that is used immediately and spent in the community. Lord knows that seniors are not able to set any money aside given what they receive from the government.
It supports the regional economy. It is a way of addressing the isolation felt not only by seniors, but by people in every region right now, as we all well know.
Of course, we might ask whether these measures, or this measure in particular, are not too expensive. I will provide a few numbers. All the measures the government has taken to release cash total roughly $270 billion. The government's direct spending to support the economy is somewhere around $107 billion. An annual increase in the old age pension for all seniors over 65 in Canada would cost $4 billion. If we make this a temporary measure, like the other measures, we are talking about $1 billion.
One billion dollars is not nothing. No one is saying that it is not a lot of money, but we have to compare that to the $250 billion in released cash flow so far. That $250 billion went everywhere except to seniors.
The government cannot even tell us what it will cost to pay for the measures it has announced. To say that the measures it has brought in are insignificant would seem ungrateful, but that is a drop in the bucket. Twenty-five dollars a month per senior in a couple—frankly, I am not sure that would even cover the change in the price of vegetables. We need to do better and we need to do more.
I invite the government to provide funding for this measure by following the suggestions made by our NDP colleagues. If the government would do something to stop corporations, and particularly the banks, from engaging in tax avoidance, my goodness, it would be able to fund this measure several times over. It might even be able to fund all the measures.
People say that tax avoidance is not illegal, but that does not mean it is not immoral. Tax avoidance costs the Canadian government billions of dollars, and that money could be used to support this critical effort for seniors.
This morning I wanted to talk a bit about science and research—which does not happen very often—but I ran out of time. It was brought to my attention in recent days that every year, in the month of March, there is a deadline for something called the competitions. It is not a lottery; it is more like submissions. Research centres submit projects, certain applications are accepted, and funding is distributed among the recipients in all regions of Canada and Quebec.
Last month the competitions were simply postponed or cancelled, and this was a serious blow for the research community. In addition, research centres are not eligible for either the Canada emergency response benefit, which people cannot access, or the wage subsidy, because in some cases, these are considered to be public organizations. Research and science, which will be so crucial, are therefore being overlooked to some degree. Targeted support must be provided to innovative companies.
I will always come back to these themes, time and time again. Considering all the measures implemented to support the economy and the purchasing power of Canadians and Quebeckers, it is hard to understand why the government did not choose to specifically help the most fragile and most vulnerable among us in terms of both health and finances, in other words, our seniors.
I therefore call on the government and all parliamentarians to be particularly sensitive to seniors, because we in the Bloc Québécois will not back down on such an important issue.
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