In debate: on Pensions and Seniors Poverty

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague across the aisle to clarify her statements last June. She claims to be taking action to create sustainable programs. I want to know what programs she is talking about. Canadian seniors are not seeing the benefits.

This is the government that brought in cuts to OAS and GIS by increasing the age of eligibility. This puts seniors who are struggling to find employment or unable to work at risk. The $300 million added to the GIS last year has failed to address seniors' poverty. In fact, poverty rates among seniors has not budged at all. Today's rates remain at the 2011 level, before any changes were introduced.

Seniors are struggling. More and more reports are coming in from food banks across the country showing a marked increase in the number of seniors visiting those establishments. These are people at risk who have no ability to make extra money.

The government has also begun an all-out attack on public sector pensions. New hires will be in a second-tier pension plan and will have fewer advantages than their previously hired colleagues. We should be improving pensions in this country and bringing everyone up to an acceptable level, not knocking down decent pensions. We do not need a race to the bottom.

The government's only attempt at improving pensions in Canada is the PRPP, which is a complete failure. Not one province has taken up drafting implementation legislation. Provinces can see that the PRPP is just a tarted-up RRSP and will do very little to help people save for their retirement. The PRPP, like RRSPs, benefit the banks and other financial institutions, leaving people's savings at risk in the stock market. Sadly, PRPPs are not a good investment for low-income seniors and leave them vulnerable, because any meagre benefits are clawed back.

What we need is to increase the CPP. We can, with modest increases in contributions. We are talking about a few dollars a week. We can, if we do this, double Canadians' CPP benefits when they retire. This is the most fair, most generous method for ensuring retirement security for Canadians. We need the government to get to the negotiating table with the provinces and hammer out a deal. Canadians need retirement security and doubling CPP benefits is the way to do it.

My second concern is in regard to elder abuse and I will give some credit to the government because it introduced a program. The program has ended now, but it introduced a program to increase awareness about the abuse of seniors. The government also increased the penalties for those convicted of crimes against older persons.

The Conservatives, however, have failed to address the key issue, the root of the problem, the root of the causes of abuse. Punishing people after the crime is all well and good but preventing those crimes from being committed in the first place is key. One of the best ways to combat elder abuse is to ensure seniors have the financial independence they need and the power to make their own decisions about how they spend their money.

The government has failed to ensure that seniors are treated fairly in this country. They richly deserve retirement security. We can afford it. We need to do it. Retirement security for every Canadian should be the government's first priority instead of banks and other financial institutions.

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

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows full well that our government is providing unprecedented levels of support to Canadian seniors. I will take a moment to review what our Conservative government has done.

Thanks to the actions of our Conservative government, Canada's poverty rate for seniors has fallen from 21.4% in 1980 to 5.3% in 2010. That is one of the lowest rates in the industrialized world. The government is determined to support low-income seniors. For instance, the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors was increased in 2006 and again in 2007 by a total of 7% and that was over and above indexation. In addition, budget 2008 increased the maximum GIS earnings exemption from $500 to $3,500 to ensure that GIS recipients who choose to work can keep more of their hard-earned money without a reduction in their GIS benefits.

Just last year, budget 2011 enhanced the GIS for the lowest income recipients by providing an increase of up to $600 annually for single seniors and $840 for couples for over 680,000 seniors across Canada, something the NDP voted against. This was the greatest single increase in the GIS in a quarter century.

Our government is taking the necessary steps to protect the retirement benefits paid to today's and tomorrow's seniors. Our country is experiencing a major demographic shift which we simply cannot ignore. The baby boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, are among the largest age cohort in history and the baby boomers have begun to turn 65. Canadians are also living longer and healthier lives. In 1970, life expectancy was age 69 for men and age 76 for women. Today, it is age 79 for men and age 83 for women. As a result, the ratio of working-age Canadians to seniors is expected to fall approximately four to one in 2011 to two to one in 2013. In other words, today there are four working Canadians for every senior, and in 20 years there will be only two. This means that today there are four working Canadians for every senior and 20 years from now there will be only two. Our government has ensured that the changes to the old age security program will be done gradually to allow Canadians to adjust their retirement plans.

Our government is making reasonable changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of the OAS program to ensure it is there for future generations of Canadians. All these initiatives support low-income seniors and seniors across the board, all of which have been supported by this government and, when put forward, voted against by the NDP.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, of course we have a baby boomer demographic coming but that means we plan for it, we do not cut baby boomers off at the knees by destroying OAS.

The member had a number of things to say. She suggested that we did not support her government's initiatives. She may well ask why and I can tell her why. The reasons are very clear. We will support any initiatives that would benefit seniors, not banks. We will support initiatives that will help lift seniors out of poverty. The government did not. However, we will not support initiatives couched inside bills filled with poison pills. We will not support initiatives for seniors that do not provide a benefit to them, in particular those living below the poverty line.

The NDP will be happy to support the government when or if it starts to work for the better interests of Canadians and stops working for the interests of large corporations and its buddies in the financial institutions. The time has come. Let the government put its money where its mouth is.