In Debate: Action Needed to Lift Seniors Out of Poverty

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

    Madam Speaker, as members know, an NDP motion supported by all parties in the House passed unanimously in June of this year. While I am pleased that our initiative to end seniors' poverty did have support, I have profound concerns because the government has failed to take the NDP motion into account. It seems that the government is only willing to pay lip service to democracy and the seniors struggling to make ends meet.

      The government agenda is clear: go full steam ahead and cut $11 billion from programs and services Canadians rely upon; underfund important programs; and continue to cater to big business with unaffordable corporate tax cuts.

    Seniors represent one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036. With so many more seniors retiring in the years to come, we need to have social safety nets in place now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty in the future.

     The Conservative government is clearly not preparing for the increased number of seniors in 2036 and those who are seniors today will not benefit as they should from the current budget. The government heralds its increase to the guaranteed income supplement, yet that money is nowhere near enough. The most recent budget would provide $300 million per year for a small increase to the GIS, $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples, but this is less than half of what is needed and less than half of what New Democrats asked for it. It will not even come close to pulling every senior out of poverty.

     The government's solution to seniors' poverty and access to resources is to offer tax breaks and trumpet the new horizons program. Both fall far short of what we really need, such as investment in home care, investment in pharmacare, increased access to resources, appropriate and affordable housing and investment in geriatric studies. Investments in our communities and in our families are what are needed, not corporate tax breaks.

    Most seniors cannot afford to cash in on the promised tax cuts in the budgets because they do not earn enough. The people who are struggling the most, such as seniors, single mothers and those who have lost their jobs, are the people for whom the government should provide help. The government has an obligation to help. Tax credits are of little use to the unemployed, the working poor and seniors struggling on small pensions because they do not have enough income to qualify.

    The new horizons program is the only investment the government is making in our seniors. While promotion of community programs is not a bad thing, there are so many more and much smarter ways to invest tax dollars to ensure our seniors are lifted out of poverty, have access to resources available to them and are able to choose to live where they want. Dignity in retirement should be a right, not a privilege.

     The government should be prepared to act to lift seniors out of poverty, or will it continue to hide its disgraceful inaction behind meaningless tax breaks and small investments in new horizons?


Ms. Kellie Leitch (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, CPC):  

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for London—Fanshawe on the issue of seniors' poverty.

     Our government is vigilant on this issue and we truly appreciate the contributions of seniors in building our communities across Canada. A key Government of Canada priority is to help Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years. The most important support for making this happen is through a public pension system.

     Let me underline that the Canada pension plan is a stable, well designed plan that is portable from province to province. The chief actuary of Canada has confirmed that the Canada pension plan is fully sustainable for generations to come. This year Canadians will receive an estimated $72 billion in benefits through the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.

     Canada's strong public pension system has had great success in reducing poverty among seniors from a rate of 21% in 1980 to 5.2% in 2009. Three years ago we increased the GIS earnings exemption to $3,500 from $500. This allowed GIS recipients who chose to work to keep up to an additional $1,500 in GIS benefits annually.

     Budget 2011 also announced other measures to improve the financial security of our most vulnerable seniors and expand opportunities for older Canadians.

      Beginning in July 2011, seniors with little or no income other than the OAS pension and the GIS have been receiving additional benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples per year, the most significant increase for the lowest income seniors in over 25 years. More than 680,000 low-income seniors will benefit from this increase.

    OAS benefits, including the GIS, are adjusted accordingly in January, April, July and October to reflect changes in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index. That way seniors' purchasing power is protected.

    The Old Age Security Act contains a guarantee that OAS benefits will not be reduced even when there is a decrease in the Consumer Price Index. In other words, the OAS benefits will never be decreased.

    The Government of Canada is providing $2.3 billion annually in tax relief to seniors and pensioners through pension income splitting and increasing the age credit.

     Another initiative that is worth mentioning is our government's recognition of the role of informal caregivers as a complement to Canada's health care system. This is why we introduced the new family caregivers tax credit. It will help provide financial relief for caregivers of infirm, dependent relatives, spouses, common-law partners and children. This will benefit over 500,000 Canadians.

     This year we increased the new horizons for seniors program by $10 million over the next two years, bringing this year's budget to $45 million. We have also provided $50 million over two years to extend the targeted initiative for older workers until 2013-14.

      Since 2006, the Government of Canada has taken action on many issues important to seniors, whether that be providing $400 million over two years under budget 2009 for the construction of housing units for low-income seniors, or establishing October 1 as National Seniors Day, or creating the National Seniors Council in 2007 to provide advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life for seniors and, finally, the federal elder abuse initiative which was successfully concluded in March 2011.

     The Government of Canada has taken concrete steps to help seniors and will continue to help

Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years.


Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Madam Speaker, the CPP is a good plan, but it needs to be reformed and we have seen none of that. In fact, the only response from the government is another private pension scheme.

     The member opposite clearly did not hear my question or has chosen not to answer. Tax breaks are not enough. On this side of the House, we did not vote for those tax breaks because they would do nothing to actually lift seniors out of poverty.

     Seniors are being forced to use food banks and their retirement savings, if any, have been depleted by this economic downturn. We need real action, not lip service, and we can afford to do it. We have the means available now. We can and we must make investments because no one deserves to be left behind.

     The Conservatives talk, but they do not do. It is time to do something for the impoverished seniors of our country. There is no time left. We need action now.