Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to commend my colleague from Etobicoke North, whose motion we are studying today and who chairs the new Standing Committee on Science and Research. I am the vice-chair of that committee, so I have had the opportunity to work with her over the past few months, and I can say that, while we may not always agree, our interactions have always been very cordial, which is a credit to her.
To come back to the matter at hand, I first want to say that I will be voting in favour of the motion. The Bloc Québécois has long made the living conditions of seniors one of its primary concerns. We deeply believe that every senior deserves a dignified retirement free from financial worry. This is one of our top priorities, and I am proud to say that our actions are a testament to this. I would like to mention a few of the things we have done.
Last year, the Bloc Québécois got a motion passed calling on the House to increase old age security. It bears mentioning that that happened without Liberal support.
On June 2, the Bloc Québécois finalized a petition calling on the government to increase OAS by $110 per month for people 65 and up. I presented a similar petition calling for an OAS raise in the last Parliament. Following a huge campaign involving seniors' groups in my riding and Quebeckers in general, we gathered over 20,000 signatures. I would like to sincerely thank everyone who contributed to that success.
During the 43rd Parliament, my Bloc colleague, the member for Manicouagan, introduced a bill to protect pension funds and group insurance by giving them higher priority in the creditors' list when companies go bankrupt. The bill had the support of all four political parties, but it died on the Order Paper when the election was called. Not to be deterred, we reintroduced it in this Parliament.
I could go on and on, but I will get to the heart of my argument. The important thing to remember is that the Bloc Québécois has been on the front lines of every battle to improve the living conditions of seniors, and we will continue to carry the burden on behalf of those who are too often under-represented in the public debate.
We are therefore not opposed to the federal government undertaking studies on the financial situation of seniors and finding ways to improve it, as suggested in the motion. It is entirely pertinent and legitimate to try to come up with new tools that could be used to help seniors make the most of their financial assets and achieve the best possible standard of living.
However, it is essential that these studies, if undertaken, not be used as an excuse for delaying the urgent action that is desperately needed, given the current situation. Particularly in the last year, seniors' quality of life has deteriorated rapidly throughout Quebec and Canada. The runaway inflation we are experiencing, which shows no sign of abating, has caused prices to skyrocket on things like housing, gas and food, and this trend will eventually extend to all goods and services.
Retired workers in particular are more vulnerable and at risk because they have left the workforce and have no way to increase their income. It is no coincidence that many food banks have reported more retirees using their services. In-depth studies might be useful and constructive, but we already have access to a number of measures that could be implemented immediately and provide guaranteed results, without having to reinvent the wheel.
As the Bloc Québécois has said many times, the top priority is a significant increase to OAS for all seniors 65 and older. It could not be clearer. The government recently increased OAS by 10%, but only for seniors 75 and older. Why is the government ignoring the thousands of seniors aged 65 to 74?
Despite what the Liberals may think, it is false to claim that financial insecurity only hits at age 75. FADOQ, the largest group of people aged 50 and over in the country, shares that view and was offended by this age-based discrimination, which set a dangerous precedent by creating two categories of seniors.
Another measure that would be worth implementing immediately is related to the annual indexation of OAS and GIS. At present, these two benefits are indexed based on the previous year's consumer price index. That means the indexation rate for 2022 is based on the consumer price index for 2021. This corresponds to a 2.7% indexation rate.
In January 2022, however, inflation reached 5.1% in Canada, and it has only continued to increase. Unfortunately for those whose only sources of income are OAS and GIS, they must pay this year's prices for gas, groceries and medications, not last year's.
The result of this shift is that seniors' purchasing power is undermined because the cost of the goods and services they use is going up faster than their pensions. We therefore have to consider whether there is another indexing method that could be applied to OAS and GIS, one that would not erode seniors' purchasing power.
The answer is yes. Many pension advocacy groups suggest basing the indexation of pensions on trends in wages, because they increase faster than the consumer price index. Another calculation method that was developed by the United Kingdom involves increasing benefits yearly to match price increases, wage growth or 2.5%, whichever is highest.
There is no doubt that a study on aging and the financial health of seniors should consider this issue and possibly explore other mechanisms in order to determine which one would best preserve seniors' purchasing power year after year.
Finally, another issue that requires immediate attention is how to retain experienced workers. Since 2014, the active population in Quebec has been shrinking every day as workers retire and are not replaced by the smaller new cohort. Population aging is well under way and will accelerate sharply over the next decade.
That is especially true in my region, the Lower St. Lawrence, which has one of the fastest-aging populations in Quebec. Currently, one in four people in the Lower St. Lawrence region is over 65, and that ratio will increase to one in three within 10 years.
This decrease in the number of workers is also causing a labour shortage that continues to be a headache for employers. At the same time, one in four seniors believes that staying employed is important for staying active, cultivating a sense of usefulness and aging in a healthy way. Why then are most of them leaving the labour market?
It is not out of a lack of interest, but because of disincentives to stay. Pensioners who stay in the labour market have their pensions clawed back when they start earning employment income. We need to address this problem and bring in measures to encourage experienced workers who are willing and able to keep working.
A new tax credit for experienced workers, similar to the one Quebec is offering to help workers aged 60 and over, is worth exploring. An increase to the amount of employment or self-employment income that is exempt from the GIS calculation is also a promising option, as it would allow seniors to earn more annually without having money clawed back from their GIS cheque.
In conclusion, I could never see myself condemning the federal government for doing too much for seniors. The Bloc Québécois will be supporting the Liberal motion, but I would remind our colleagues on the other side of the House that sometimes, it is better to leave well enough alone.
I am certain that the member for Etobicoke North has seniors' well-being at heart. I therefore invite this member of the Liberal Party to stand in solidarity with the Bloc Québécois by supporting our proposals to substantially increase the purchasing power of seniors in our communities. Seniors need allies in the government party.
The government should start by increasing OAS for all seniors at age 65, to allow those who are being hit hard by inflation to breathe a little easier. Only then can we undertake further studies.