Parliament for 2013
Richmond Electoral District
On April 26, 2012, Alice Wong made a speech in the House of Commons on the following opposition motion:
“That this House reject the government’s plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years even though the current system is financially sustainable.”
The following is a transcript:
Hon. Alice Wong (Minister of State (Seniors), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nepean—Carleton.
I rise today to respond to the motion put forth by the member for London—Fanshawe. We oppose this motion.
It is imperative to reiterate some facts and be clear about them.
No current recipients of old age security will see any reduction in their benefits because of these proposed changes. These changes will gradually increase the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67 years starting in 2023 with full implementation by 2029. This means our government is giving Canadians up to 17 years to plan and adjust accordingly.
Unfortunately, it appears that members opposite continue to take a head in the sand approach to the whole issue of OAS sustainability.
Our Conservative government is acting now to ensure the sustainability of OAS for future generations, for our children and our grandchildren. That is why we have come up with a reasonable plan to ensure all Canadians can continue to count on OAS for a more secure retirement future.
I do not believe anyone can dispute that our government is committed to ensuring seniors have the highest possible quality of life. I am proud of the work we have done to strengthen Canada’s retirement income system, and more broadly to help address issues that matter to seniors.
As a result of actions taken by our government, seniors and pensioners will receive $2.5 billion in additional targeted tax relief this fiscal year. We have introduced pension income splitting and have increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs. As a result of these actions, 380,000 seniors have been removed completely from the tax rolls. What does this really mean to the seniors I have met across this country? It means that more money will go directly into their own pockets to spend or save as they see fit.
Sadly, if it were up to the opposition parties, they would have raised taxes on all seniors, not reduced them. Whether it was a job-killing carbon tax, an increase in the GST or any number of other tax increase proposals put forward by the opposition parties, one thing is clear: if either the NDP or the Liberal Party were in power, the cost of living for Canada’s seniors would be higher.
Enough of pointing out the obvious, negative, damaging effects the opposition would inflict on Canada’s seniors if they were in power; rather, I would like to continue the discussion on how our government has delivered, and will continue to deliver, for seniors.
We have strengthened the support of the retirement income system and invested in a GIS top-up benefit for Canada’s most vulnerable seniors. In fact, it was the single largest increase to the GIS in over 25 years. What did the opposition do? Once again both parties voted against it. In total, this top-up provided additional annual benefits for more than 680,000 low income seniors.
Going back a little further, in budget 2008 we increased the amount that can be earned before the GIS is reduced to $3,500, so that recipients can keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in GIS benefits. Once again, as they have been known to do, almost as if they were in a coalition, both parties voted against this measure.
The CPP was modernized in 2009 to make it more flexible for those transitioning out of the workforce and to better reflect the way Canadians currently live, work and retire.
We built a better framework for federally regulated registered pension plans, including ensuring that an employer fully funds benefits, even if the pension plan is terminated. We expanded pension options with the introduction of pooled registered pension plans for millions of Canadians who have not previously had access to a large-scale, low-cost, professionally administered company pension plan.
Shifting gears for a moment, I would also like to discuss what many consider to be the greatest policy innovation in a generation to help Canadians save for their retirement, the tax-free savings account, TFSA, which we introduced in budget 2008. I do not think I need to tell members which way the NDP voted, but I will anyway. That is right. Again, the NDP voted against it. That is shameful because the TFSA is particularly beneficial to Canada’s seniors, as withdrawals from a TFSA do not affect income supports such as the age credit or OAS and GIS benefits. The TFSA also benefits seniors by giving them a savings vehicle to meet their ongoing savings needs.
As well, there have been several other initiatives that have demonstrated our support for seniors. We have eliminated the mandatory retirement age for federally regulated workers unless there is a bona fide occupational requirement. This allows the choice for Canadians to decide how long they wish to remain active in the workforce. We have also provided $400 million over two years for the construction of new housing units for low-income seniors. Since 2006, we have provided $220 million into the targeted initiative for older workers. This program is a federal-provincial-territorial employment program that provides a range of employment services for unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities. I am proud to report that about 75% of older workers who participate in the TIOW go on to find new employment. That is something we can be proud of.
I have just listed the unprecedented support our government has given to seniors since 2006. Let me highlight some other positive changes that were announced in our most recent budget. We announced our government will be working with a third-quarter project to assist seniors who are looking for jobs. For example, our government has for the first time introduced proactive enrolment for OAS benefits. These changes, which will start in 2013, will reduce the obligation of many seniors to apply for benefits and help ensure seniors receive the benefits they deserve.
Unfortunately, we have heard the same fearmongering and misinformation from the opposition about the sustainability of the OAS. Whether it be through misleading and confusing op-eds sent to local newspapers or partisan mail-outs and petitions that misrepresent the facts, the opposition parties have engaged in a reckless campaign of misinformation aimed at scoring cheap political points. We have heard a lot of questions about the savings associated with the proposal. Such questions miss the point entirely. We are taking these actions to ensure the survival of this benefit for future generations. We are implementing these measures to give predictability and certainty to those preparing for their retirement.
It is particularly hypocritical of the Liberal Party to be grandstanding on such an issue. This was the same matter that Paul Martin attempted to change in the mid-1990s to ensure the sustainability of this benefit. Unfortunately, the Liberals lacked the conviction to show real leadership and decided to pass the buck to a future generation and a future government to make the tough choices in the long-term interests of our nation. It is no surprise that Canadians elected a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government.
I would ask my hon. colleagues across the way to put aside their partisan blinders and to think of the long-term sustainability of this program. There is a greater interest than their perceived short-term political gain in considering this issue.
We need to act now to provide Canadians the certainty they need to plan for their retirements. We have heard from many private sector economists and the chief actuary, as well as pension and financial experts alike. They agree that the increased demand of a rapidly aging population is going to threaten the sustainability of the old age security program.
I would ask opposition parties to get their heads out of the sand and to stop their wilful ignorance of the very real challenges that face our nation because of an aging population and to join with the government in voting against the motion.
Ms. Ève Péclet (La Pointe-de-l’Île, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I just have one question. Did the government consult the provinces before changing the age to 67? We all know that the provinces will have to cope with the two years that seniors are not going to receive money.
For now, the economic burden will be downloaded onto the provinces and they will have to deal with it. The money that this government refuses to invest for seniors will have to be invested by the provinces.
Why is this government not assuming its responsibilities, instead of chucking them onto the provinces?
Hon. Alice Wong:
Mr. Speaker, it is exactly what the government has done. We have already made it clear in our budget that any net loss that might incur to provinces and territories because of the changes will be compensated by our government.
There are 11 years to discuss this. We will keep working on this in the next provincial and federal government meetings.
Hon. Gerry Byrne (Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has suggested that she has solid information and knowledge of the government’s intentions with regard to the old age security program and the GIS program. She has suggested there will be no changes to any current recipient.
I would like to ask the honourable member this, since she has personal and intimate knowledge of the government’s intentions. The current policy of allowing the optioning of registered retirement income funds for the purposes of the calculation of GIS has currently been deemed illegal by the Tax Court of Canada. It has said that within the Old Age Security Act there are no provisions to allow for the optioning of RRIF income, yet the government continues to do so. It has suggested that if the government were to ban this practice, according to policy, it would be negatively impacting current recipients of old age security and GIS benefits.
Is it the intention of the Government of Canada to amend the Old Age Security Act to allow what it is currently doing under policy to occur statutorily by an amendment to the Old Age Security Act to allow the optioning of RRIF income for the purposes of the calculation of eligibility to the GIS program?
Hon. Alice Wong:
Mr. Speaker, the question we are debating right now is whether we should extend the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. That is what we are debating right now.
Let us listen to what some of our economists have said.
“What is less reasonable is the quasi-hysterical and downright demagogic reactions from opposition critics to what was a fairly modest proposal”. That was from the Montreal Gazette.
Here is another quote. “Without any changes, Canada will be hard-pressed to provide any social or institutional programs beyond seniors’ income supplements and health care.” That was in a Star Phoenix editorial.
Another quote says, “opposition parties’ efforts to panic Canadians that the…government is targeting seniors are as disingenuous as they are dangerous”. That was in a Star Phoenix editorial.
Another quote says, “The fact of the matter is Canadians are getting older, the demands on the system are getting greater, and the costs are going up”. That was said by Patricia Croft, economist, The Bottom Line, CBC The National.
All these quotes just confirm that our move is in the right direction.
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwire – April 16, 2012) - Seniors across Canada can look forward to new services and activities in their communities through the New Horizons for Seniors Program. The Honourable Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors), made the announcement today.
“Our government recognizes the diversity of skills, knowledge and experience that seniors contribute to our society and economy,” said Minister of State Wong. “Through initiatives such as the New Horizons for Seniors Program, we are helping to ensure that seniors maintain a high quality of life and continue as active, participating members of their communities.”
The announcement was made at the Robert Lee YMCA of Greater-Vancouver, which will receive $24,912 for its project to promote social participation and inclusion of seniors by providing a health and fitness program.
Since its beginning, the New Horizons for Seniors Program has funded more than 10,400 projects in hundreds of communities across Canada. This year, the Government of Canada will provide more than $35.6 million in funding for almost 2,000 community projects.
This news release is available in alternative formats on request.
New Horizons for Seniors Program
The New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP) is a federal grants and contributions program that supports projects led or inspired by seniors who make a difference in the lives of others and their communities. Through the NHSP, the Government of Canada encourages seniors to share their knowledge, skills and experiences to the benefit of others.
The 2011-12 community-based projects call for proposals ran from June 20 to September 16, 2011. Projects can receive up to $25,000 in funding and must address one or more of the program’s five objectives: volunteering, mentoring, expanding awareness of elder abuse, social participation, and capital assistance.
Since its beginning, the Program has funded more than 10,400 projects in hundreds of communities across Canada.
The next NHSP call for proposals is expected to launch in spring 2012. For more information on the NHSP, please visit www.hrsdc.gc.ca/seniors.
On April 4, 2012, Alice Wong answered one question about pensions during question period. The following is a transcript:
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, our government understands the importance of a secure and dignified retirement for people who have spent their lives building Canada through hard work. That is why in 2006, we have taken action to ensure that retirement income is sustainable and is there when Canadians need it.
Will the Minister of State for Seniors please update the House on the measures we are taking to ensure that Canadians’ retirement income is sustainable today and tomorrow?
Hon. Alice Wong (Minister of State (Seniors), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Burlington for the question. That is exactly what we are doing.
That is why, since 2006, we have introduced such measures as pension income splitting, billions in annual tax relief for seniors and the largest GIS increase in 25 years.
But we also need to ensure that future generations can count on sustainable retirement benefits when they need them. Changes made to OAS will be phased in between 2023 and 2029, giving Canadians up to 17 years to plan and adjust accordingly. No current recipients will be affected. That is the good message for all Canadians.