leaves the chair there is a matter which I should like to call to the attention of this house, and before I resume my seat I shall move an amendment which will set forth the points that I wish to raise.
The subject which I feel should be discussed at this time is that of old age pensions. There are four phases of the subject which I feel should be gone into by the members of this house: first, the amount of the pension now being paid; second, the question of "other income" which the old age and blind pensioners are allowed to receive; third, the question of the pensionable age; and finally, the matter of the old age pensions regulations, which I believe all members of the house feel should be thoroughly revised.
Perhaps it would be well at this time to give the wording of the amendment which I shall move as I conclude my remarks. It is as follows:
That all the words after the word "that" to the end of the question be struck out and the following substituted therefor: this house desires to record its opinion that immediate consideration should be given to increasing the amount of the old age and blind pension, and also the amount of other income which an old age or blind pensioner may receive; and further, that immediate consideration should be given to lowering the pensionable age, and to a thorough revision of the old age pensions regulations.
My reasons for raising the matter at this time are four. First of all I have in mind the experience that we had in this house last year. A number of us were most anxious that this matter should be discussed thoroughly and
IMr. Mackenzie King.]
properly during the session of the house, but hon. members will recall that we were prevented from any adequate discussion of the subject until the item in the estimates dealing with old age pension administration had been called. That item was not called until about nine o'clock in the evening of the 24th of July, about two hours before the session was concluded. I was not here during the previous session, but on looking at Hansard I find that in the 1942 session this matter again was not reached until the last day, namely, on August 1, 1942, and even when it was reached that year an effort was made by the chairman of the committee of supply to prevent the discussion of matters such as are referred to in my amendment. I also point out that there has been no indication in the speech from the throne or anywhere else that this matter is due for any thorough discussion on the initiative of the government this year.
My second reason for bringing the matter up at this time is that there is in the offing, although we have not been told when it will take place, a dominion-provincial conference. It seems to me that this is a subject which should be dealt with at this conference, and it is desirable that the opinion of this house, of all of its members, should be made clear, well in advance of the holding of the conference.
My third reason for raising the question at this time is its importance to a great many of our people, especially to the 190,000 who are in receipt of the pension, as well as to many others who are not receiving it because of restrictions in the regulations and for other reasons.
My fourth reason is that it seems to me the subject is one for proper discussion along with the debate which is now proceeding on the industrial development bank bill. There we are dealing with the problem of production in the post-war period, and I raise this question as one phase of the counter-problem, that of distributing the goods we are able to produce.
I turn to the first question dealt with in my amendment, the amount of the pension, and I should like first of all to give some figures that will indicate, as well as can be indicated by the statistics available, what we are paying to our old age pensioners at the present time. According to the last report of the Department of Finance on old age pension matters, issued on March 31, 1943, the following were the average monthly amounts being paid to old age pensioners by provinces, as of that date:
Old Age and Blind Pensions
$18 69British Columbia
18 78New Brunswick
15 27Nova Scotia
18 86Prince Edward Island
17 53Northwest Territories
The average for the whole of Canada on March 31, 1943, was $17.46 per month per pensioner. I repeat, those are the figures for March 31, 1943. Since that date there have been certain increases, notably the increase announced by the Minister of Finance (Mr. Ilsley) on July 24 of last year, and which was provided for by order in council P.C.6367 of August 10, 1943. That order in council provided for increases in some cases to a maximum of $25 per month. We have not yet been able to get figures as to the effect of that provision, and in order to try to arrive at the amount now being paid to our old age pensioners I have done this. I have found that the amount to be appropriated in the civil estimates for this year for old age pensions to be paid by the federal government is $31,526,500.
Also in Hansard for the present session, at page 395, I find that there is to be in the war appropriation bill, covering the extra amount provided by the order in council to which I have referred, an item of $6,942,250. In other words, the federal government is setting aside this year a total of $38,468,750 for payments to old age and blind pensioners. One must take into account the fact that this represents seventy-five per cent of the amount which the pensioners will receive; the other twenty-five per cent is to be paid by the provinces. When one makes the necessary adjustment by adding for the provinces the sum of $12,822,913, one arrives at a total figure of $51,291,663. This is the total amount provided for old age and blind pensioners for the coming fiscal year. There are, according to the statistics of the Department of Finance, 190.000 old age and blind pensioners. By a process of simple arithmetic, assuming that all this money being provided will be disbursed, we arrive at the figure of $22.49 per month as the amount we are proposing to pay on the average to oui old age and blind pensioners this year. I understand that in one or perhaps two of the provinces there are amounts which are supplementary to this $22.49. I doubt if it will be in excess of five dollars, but even if these payments are being made in the two far western provinces it does not affect this as the basic average for the whole of Canada.
I need not take time to emphasize the hopeless inadequacy of $22.49 per month to maintain the existence of the old people over seventy who have made their contribution to the well-being of this country. Such words as "callous" and "inhuman", if one applies them, hardly tell the story as it ought to be told. Surely it is no longer necessary to argue the case for old age pensions as not a matter of charity but as a matter of right, as an integral feature in our modern society. The old idea lingers on that it is charity, that it is something which we hand out as it were, that it is a heavy cost borne by government; therefore, that any of us who rise and ask that this amount be increased are seeking to place too heavy a burden on the country as a whole. Actually what is involved in the payment of old age pensions is the recognition that the people of this country, when through their working years they make a contribution to the building up of the wealth and the productive capacity of Canada, are entitled, when they reach an age as a matter of fact far less than seventy, to share in the wealth and the productivity which they have helped to build up. The amount involved in making even a fairly sizable increase in the old age pension is relatively small, as I shall presently show. But before doing so I want to say that even if it were large, that in my opinion is no longer an argument against making sizable increases in the amount of the old age pension.
On July 24 of last year the hon. member for Vancouver-Burrard (Mr. McGeer) made an interesting comparison between Canada and Australia with respect to the payments for old age pensions in proportion to population. I shall not take the time to give the details which he gave then, except to state the conclusion which can be drawn from the figures which he placed on Hansard, namely that if we were putting into old age pensions in proportion to our population the amount that is being paid in Australia we would be appropriating two and one-half or three times as much as we are now providing for this purpose.
On this whole question of, as I put it, the relatively small amount of money it would take to increase the pensions of our people, I would refer hon. members to the remarks of the Minister of Finance on July 24. 1943, when he announced the .possible five dollar a month increase. At that time he stated that the total cost of adding a flat amount of $5 per month to the pension of all our pensioners in Canada, old age and blind, would be a little less than $11,400,000.
My suggestion, although I have not put specific figures in the amendment which I
Old Age and Blind Pensions
propose to make, is that we should right now be adding $15 to the amount of the pension which we are paying our people; in other words, providing for a maximum, in cases where pensioners would qualify for it, of $40 per month. This would obviously involve an additional amount of three times the figure which the Minister of Finance gave last July for a five-dollar increase. In other words the cost, even though the federal government paid the entire amount, of adding $15 to the pension of all our old age and blind pensioners, would be $34,200,000. There was a day in this house when that sum sounded very large, and it still is a lot of money, as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) said the other day about another sum; but I point out that it is only one-seventh of the amount by which we are reducing our war appropriation bill this year. In other words this entire amount, sufficient to add $15 per month to the pension of every old age and blind pensioner, could be paid by the federal government, could be added if need be to .the war appropriation bill, and we would still be voting a war appropriation bill of $205,800,000 less than w'e voted last year.
There are one or two other ways in which I should like to look at these amounts of money which we pay or ought to be paying to old age pensioners. This $34,200,000, which I repeat is what it would cost to add $15 a month to every pension, sounds like a lot of money, but in relation to the total expenses of this government for this year it is infinitesimal. We have not before us as yet the final statement as to what the total expenses th'is year will be, but they will be in the neighbourhood, I imagine, of $5,000,000,000. I arrive at that figure by taking $3,650,000,000 as the amount of the war appropriation bill, $700,000,000 as the total of the civil estimates, and then I took the figure of $650,000,000 as a possible amount of the Mutual Aid Bill, although the minister has not yet said what it will be, except that it will be less than last year's thousand million dollars. Well, $34,-
200,000 in relation to five thousand millions is, I repeat, infinitesimal. In fact, in order to increase the pension by the $15 per month which I am proposing, we would have to raise, for each dollar we are now raising, an additional amount of less than seven tenths of one cent. Seven tenths of one cent additional money for each dollar we are now raising would provide the $34,200,000 necessary to add $15 to the pension of every old age and blind pensioner.
One other comment I should like to make with regard to the amount of money we are
spending on old age pensions. Last year we voted in this house-and we in this group were glad, along with other members, the vast majority at any rate, to vote that money- assistance to our allies to carry out the purposes of the war. We voted to give away for that purpose the sum of $1000 million. I would point out that at the present time the federal government is spending on old age pensions only $40 million, as a matter of fact a little less. Last year we were able to give away for the purposes of the war, to other -countries, a sum of money sufficient to pay the old age pension bill for twenty-five years.
I submit that we are not discharging our responsibility to these people by the small amount of money we are spending on them. Even if a larger amount were involved in increasing the payment to old age pensioners, that as I see it is no argument against the proposal that this should be done. So far as the future of our economy is concerned, there are two problems. First, there is the problem of production, and we are dealing with that at the present time. We have a bill relating in part to that problem. Then there is the problem of distribution. We have now not so much the old question, where is the money to come from; the question now is, where is the production that we are capable of achieving going to.
I contend that along with our attacking of the problems of production we have to devise ways and means of distributing among our people the goods which we are capable of producing, and I suggest that one of the best places to start on such a programme is by increasing the amount we are contributing to our old age pensioners, and that this should be as a matter of right. In the same breath I would mention the responsibility which I think we should discharge, on a generous basis, to those who come home maimed or suffering in consequence of their service in the present war. I would point out that the contribution of this money to our old people involves putting purchasing power into their hands; that money will by no manner of means be hoarded; it will be used and spent. Every argument is on the side of making such an increase without delay.
The cry that there would be inflation in adding sums of money such as these to the purchasing power of the people is ridiculous so long as we at the same time arrange for the production of goods to be set against this increased purchasing power. That is what we have done during the course of the war. Before the war broke out, thousands of our young men were unemployed. The suggestion
Old Age and Blind, Pensions
at that time that we should find money in order to put them to work was treated in some quarters as ridiculous and impossible. But what have we done? We have taken many of these men off the streets, off the relief rolls, and provided for them-to enable them to do a job in this war-sums of money such as many of them never before had seen. At the same time we have seen to it that goods and services, both peace time and war time, have been produced and we have not had any threat or scare of wild inflation. On the contrary, we have now, as a result of these tremendouslj' increased sums of money in circulation, the highest level of economic activity and the highest standard of living we have ever had in our Canadian history.
I repeat therefore that the cost of raising these pensions is not great but even if it were, every argument at this stage of the game is on the side of taking this step. At this point may I say this. I feel that we should not get into any argument as to whether increases in old age pensions such as these should be paid by the dominion or by the provinces. The argument for payment by the provinces, as I see it, is a hangover from the idea that old age pensions are a form of charity to be provided as a sort of social service by the provinces. As I see it, old age pensions represent part of our philosophy of society in these days, and when a nation as a whole produces wealth such as we are capable of producing our people should share in that wealth. It is Canada as a whole that has the say as to the means whereby wealth is produced, and there is no question but that the responsibility for paying an adequate retiring allowance should rest with the federal government.
And now I want to t.urn to the second subject I referred to in the amendment which I wish to propose. It relates to the ceiling on othe" income which the old age and blind pensioners may receive. Prior to August 10 last, the amount of other income which the pensioner could receive was $125 a year, and on that date it was reduced to the sum of $65. On July 24 last year, when the Minister of Finance announced in this house the proposed increase of $5 a month, he made it clear that the government was not raising the $365 ceiling, in other words that the government was actually reducing by $60 the amount of other income which these pensioners might receive. Some of us in this house on that day spent the * whole of our time in that discussion in an appeal to the Minister of Finance to alter that provision before the order in council was passed. When he came to Manitoba last summer in connection with the by-election campaign we
had out there-a very interesting one-I made a public appeal to him over the radio, in view of the fact that this order had not yet been passed,, to reconsider the position he had taken on July 24. But no. The order was passed on August 10. I hope there is no significance in the fact that that was the day after the by-election. The order stuck to the $365 ceiling. This has had an unfortunate and unhappy effect in the experience of many of our old people, and has produced all sorts of complications.
It seems to me it would have been the part of wisdom, and surely the part of generosity, for the government at that time to raise the ceiling, at least by the amount it was then raising the maximum pension. When the minister spoke of this increase of $5 a month he said in this house that it would cost $11,398,500, but he pointed out that, the dominion's share being only seventy-five per cent, the dominion would have to be responsible for only $8,548,875. The implication I gathered from the minister's remarks was that this government would, if necessary, be prepared to take care of that amount. However, by reducing from $125 to $65. the amount of other income that old age and blind pensioners can receive, many pensioners were denied the whole increase, and many pensioners were denied any portion of the increase at all. The result, according to the war appropriation bill of this year, is that it requires not $8,548,875 to pay this five dollar increase, but only $6,942,250. In other words the provision for reducing from $125 to $65 a year the amount of other income which a pensioner may receive saved the government $1,556,625. That amount of money is terribly small in so far as the government is concerned, yet it has meant a great loss to the old age pensioners. It is reprehensible that that course of action was taken, and I earnestly hope that the government will give consideration to raising the ceiling at an early date. As a matter of fact I feel that any decent old age pension legislation ought to make provision for old age and blind pensioners to have other income as high as $40 a month. In the meantime, one government that I know of, the government of Manitoba, has indicated that it will make representations to this government to raise the ceiling from $365 to $425 a year. That is little enough to ask for, but I say it is coming as a request from the government of Manitoba. I earnestly hope that the request will be met at an earl}' date by this government.
There are two other points that I wish to speak on, but perhaps at this stage, I should
Old Age and Blind Pensions
move the amendment which I read at the opening of my remarks. I now do so in the words that I used at the time I presented its terms to the house. The amendment is seconded by the hon. member for Vancouver East (Mr. Maclnnis).
I turn now to the third provision of this amendment, which relates to the question of the pensionable age. It seems to me that the age of seventy is ridiculous. The hon. member for Vancouver East (Mr. Maclnnis) pointed out on another occasion the only reason he could see for it was that someone drafting this bill must have run across that verse in the ninetieth Psalm which states: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten," and by fixing the age at that point the government would be saved the necessity of paying very much under this bill.
Topic: PENSIONS-OLD AGE AND BLIND-AMENDMENT, MR. KNOWLES
I am advised the statement is quite correct, and I am sure the hon. member will welcome the opportunity to support the amendment I have moved.
At the present time it is true that there are many people in the bracket between sixty and seventy who are working at jobs of one kind and another and whose employment is indirectly, and in many cases directly, aiding the war effort. Many of those people would not want to go on old age pension at this time even if it were possible for them to do so. However, there are many in this bracket, particularly in the upper part of it, sixty-five to seventy, who are having a very difficult time to carry on because of the fact that they are denied a pension until they reach the age of seventy. My suggestion is that the age limit should be reduced to sixty, although I have not put a specific figure in the amendment which I have proposed.
I would suggest that all the arguments I have used as to the desirability of our attacking the problem of distribution apply definitely to this phase of the subject, namely, the desirability, of reducing the pensionable age. In addition to the other arguments that have been nut forward I would remind the house that one of the things that will be desirable in the post-war period will be the encouragement of retirements at an earlier age than in the past in order that there may be opportunities for employment of those of younger years.
If the proposal for a reduction of the age to sixty were made at the present time, even
though many would not qualify or want to qualify for a pension right away, there are those, of course, who wouldi do some calculating to try to point out that eventually this suggestion would impose an impossible burden upon the treasury of the country. To anticipate some of those arguments I should like to give a few figures to indicate what it would cost to establish an old age pension of $40 a month, starting at the age of sixty. On March 6, 1939, the then minister of finance, Mr. Dunning, objecting to a proposal which was being made along this line, said that to lower the pensionable age to sixty-five would cost the dominion an additional $19,000,000 a year. He said that to go farther and reduce it to sixty would cost, in addition to that $19,000,000, another $25,000,000; in other words, a total of $44,000,000 a year. Suppose we add to that a little and call it $45,000,000. That is what it would cost to reduce the pensionable age to sixty, leaving the amount at $20 a month. If you increase it to $40 a month, it would cost twice that, namely, $90,000,000. That would represent, however, only the dominion government's seventy-five per cent. Therefore,, one would have to add to that the sum of $30,000,000, which would give you $120,000,000 as the total cost if the federal government paid it all, and if a pension scheme of $40 a month were applied to those: between sixty and seventy.
I would point out that even if all these figures I have quoted were added together, even if all this responsibility were placed on the federal government to provide pensions of $40 a month at age sixty, the increased cost per year would total only $155,000,000. This is $85,000,000 less than the amount by which we are reducing our war expenditures each year. Therefore I seriously suggest these figures of $40 and the age of sixty, not as figures that are high or low, in the hope that some compromise may be reached somewhere in between, but as the minimum amount and the highest age we should be considering in a measure of this kind.
I should like to turn for a few minutes to the-
Topic: PENSIONS-OLD AGE AND BLIND-AMENDMENT, MR. KNOWLES
Order. It would have been preferable if the hon. member had moved his amendment at the beginning of his remarks and then I should have been in a position to deal with it, because I must find that the amendment is out of order.
The amendment reads:
That all the %vords after the word "that" to the end of the question be struck out and the following substituted therefor: this house desires to record its opinion that immediate consideration should be given to increasing the amount
Old Age and Blind Pensions
of the old age and blind pension, and also the amount of other income which an old age or blind pensioner may receive; and further, that immediate consideration should be given to lowering the pensionable age, and to a thorough revision of the old age pensions regulations.
It is provided, as the hon. member may see, on page 137 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, citation 345.
The ancient doctrine that the redress of grievances should be considered before the grant of supplies is maintained in the House of Commons of Canada by the provision of standing order 49 that the motion for the Speaker to leave the chair can be amended; and the amendments need not be relevant but may relate to every question connected with public-administration.
Then I leave out a portion and continue:
Matters of detail which should be discussed in committee cannot be debated on these occasions, nor can debate be permitted relating to grants already agreed to, or to resolutions which will be proposed in the committee, or to items in the estimates.
At page 10 of the estimates I find item 52, dealing with the administration of old age pensions, including pensions to the blind; and there is a further item covering the payment of the dominion's share of such pensions. All the matters now being discussed by the hon. member are relevant to and can be thoroughly discussed on this item in the estimates, and for that reason I must rule that his amendment now, on going into supply, is out of order.
Topic: PENSIONS-OLD AGE AND BLIND-AMENDMENT, MR. KNOWLES