In Debate: Seniors need Pharmacare, Affordable Housing and Income Security
March 23rd, 2015 - 7:00pm
The Canadian Medical Association is calling for a comprehensive seniors strategy because it understands the social determinants of health and future needs. Being able to house oneself properly and feed oneself adequately makes one a healthier person, with fewer visits to the emergency room, fewer and shorter hospital stays, and less medication prescribed. In short, living in a dignified situation promotes health and reduces health costs for all of us in the long run.
When the current government enacts measures that increase the number of seniors living in poverty, it creates an increased burden on the health care and support system. It is the downloading of a federal responsibility to provinces, communities, and families. There is absolutely no excuse to leave one Canadian senior living in poverty, and furthermore, the achievable alternative just makes good fiscal sense. We have the responsibility to do something about seniors' poverty and we cannot afford not to.
As I already said, the number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million in 2005 to 9.8 million in 2036. With so many more seniors retiring in the years to come, we need to put measures in place right now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of seniors living in poverty in the future.
A study released by Laval University in September shows that the change imposed by the Conservatives that raises the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67 years adversely affects those who can least afford it. It will increase the percentage of seniors who live in poverty from 6% now to 17%. The study goes on to point out that any revenues the government would realize with the delayed retirement age could be achieved by alternate reforms without having such large impacts on seniors at the lowest income range. The current government is clearly not preparing for the increased number of seniors in Canada's future, let alone ensuring that no Canadian senior today need live in poverty.
In addition to the research done by Laval University, we have just recently heard from researchers at the University of British Columbia, who have demonstrated that a universal pharmacare plan, something that every developed country in the world with a medicare plan already has, would actually save billions of dollars. Such a plan would benefit every Canadian, especially those living in poverty, and it certainly would ensure that no Canadian senior need live in poverty as well.
A national pharmacare plan should be part of an effective strategy on aging, as should a national housing strategy that allows seniors to stay in their own homes as long as possible, as should a truly universal, affordable, and accessible health care system that addresses the particular needs of an aging population.
The current government's solution to seniors' poverty and seniors' access to resources is to offer tax breaks to those who do not need them and to trumpet ineffective strategies like the pooled registered pension plan. We have heard all about how much revenue the government will lose with tax-free savings accounts, another luxury that a very small proportion of Canadians will be able to receive. Interestingly, when they were first elected, the Conservatives increased the GIS. They have forgotten all about this.
The New Democrats have a plan that would work, and when we are in government, we will implement it.
Just 40 years ago there were seven working-age Canadians for every person over the age of 65. Today there are only four. In less than 20 years, there will be only two. This has far-reaching repercussions on the sustainability of some of our benefits and programs. That is why the government is determined to ensure that programs, like old age security, continue to be there for Canadians, not just now, but in the future.
In 2012, changes were introduced to eligibility to ensure the program's future sustainability. The eligibility age to receive the OAS benefit and the guaranteed income supplement will gradually increase from 65 to 67, beginning in 2023 and will be fully implemented by 2029. This provides a significant transition period, allowing Canadians adequate time to adjust their retirement income plans to minimize the impact of these changes.
In the meantime, to help Canadians plan for financial security, Service Canada has updated the Canadian retirement income calculator. This online tool provides Canadians with important information on retirement income from a variety of sources, including old age security and the Canada pension plan.
We have also made changes to income security programs to provide Canadians with more choice and flexibility in regard to life, work and retirement. In addition, Canada's public pensions have played a major role in reducing the incidence of poverty among seniors.
The low-income rate for seniors has fallen from 21.4% in 1980 to 5.2% in 2011. This is one of the lowest rates in the industrial world. Together, the OAS pension and the GIS ensure a minimum income for seniors.
Last year, the OAS program provided nearly $42 billion in benefits to more than five million Canadians, including 1.7 million low-income pensioners. In recent years, we increased the GIS with an investment of $300 million per year. This is the largest increase for the lowest-income seniors in more than 25 years.
The Government of Canada is committed to doing everything we can to ensure that seniors in Canada enjoy the highest quality of life possible. We have cut taxes for seniors and removed hundreds of thousands of seniors from the tax rolls completely through topping up the GIS and introducing pension income splitting. We offer the targeted initiative for older workers, which assists unemployed older workers in upgrading their skills and gaining valuable experience to help them stay in the workforce.
The Government of Canada has taken other actions that benefit seniors, such as addressing affordable housing for low-income Canadians. In our last budget, the government reaffirmed its commitment to provide more than $1.25 billion over five years to renew the investment in affordable housing.
We increased funding for the new horizons for seniors program by nearly $5 million per year, in addition to the $45 million invested annually. This $5 million will be added on an ongoing basis.
Doubling the CPP would go a long way to addressing the needs of all Canadians for retirement security, without lining the pockets of the banks in service and administration fees. A universal pharmacare program would save the government money in the long run.
All of these measures constitute the tools we have at our fingertips to ensure that no Canadian senior need live in poverty. Instead, the Conservatives have raised the age of eligibility for OAS by two years and virtually guaranteed an increase in the number of future seniors living in poverty. Why are the Conservatives ignoring the facts and leaving Canadian seniors without hope?