Before you leave the chair, Mr. Speaker, I desire to have recourse to the ancient doctrine that redress of grievances should be considered before the grant of supply is made. I rise in fact to deal with a matter which is a grievance of a great many
Old Age Pensions
people both in the constituency that I represent and throughout the country. This is a matter on which I have tried in a number of ways to get some satisfactory action during the course of this session, but without any success thus far.
For example, on Friday, March 11, as recorded in Hansard at page 1384, I addressed a question to the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin). I called his attention to the fact that with the province of Manitoba adding a small supplement to the old age pension we had now reached the position where, in six out of the nine provinces of Canada, the federal government is paying less than 75 per cent of the total pension received by the pensioner. In his reply the Minister of National Health and Welfare objected to my mathematics and declared that the federal government is paying 75 per cent of the pension so far as the basic pension of $30 is concerned. That is true, but it evades the point I sought to make, namely, that in a number of provinces supplements are being paid, which means that that basic percentage has been upset. For example, in British Columbia, where a supplement of $10 is paid, it means that the total pension received by many pensioners is $40 a month. However, the maximum amount paid by this government is still only $22.50, or 75 per cent of the basic $30. That $22.50 is only 56 per cent of the total maximum pension available in British Columbia.
In Alberta there was a supplement of at least $7, which makes the total maximum pension $37.
I heard the interjection of my friends the other day, and I believe they are right; but for the purpose of my argument I was accepting the lower figure which the minister gave. If it is now $10, the percentage is the same as in British Columbia. Even when it was only a total of $37, this government's $22.50 represented only 60 per cent of the amount paid to the pensioners at the maximum.
In Saskatchewan the cash amount available to pensioners is at a maximum of $35, apart from other services. This government's $22.50 is only 64 per cent of that total.
In Manitoba there has recently been added a supplement of $5. I confess that it has certain means tests attached to it, which means that not as many get it as should; but in the case of those who do draw $35 in Manitoba it is still a fact that $22.50 is the maximum paid by this government, which is only 64 per cent of the total.
Old Age Pensions
It is difficult to give a comparable figure for Ontario, because of the extra means test which is attached to the $10 which is paid in some cases by the government of Ontario; but in the cases, few though they may be, in which the full $10 is paid, it works out that the federal government is paying only 56 per cent of the total amount received.
This picture is at variance with the whole trend in the matter of old age pensions in this country. When the act was first brought in by a Liberal government back in the middle twenties the provision was that 50 per cent was to be paid by the provinces and 50 per cent by the dominion. In the election of 1930 Mr. Bennett promised that if returned to power he would arrange for the pension to be paid 100 per cent by the federal government. When the Conservatives came into power they implemented that promise half way; they brought the federal contribution up to 75 per cent. I remind hon. members opposite, however, that when the Conservatives were implementing that promise only half way, the Liberals berated them and insisted that they implement their promise all the way and make it 100 per cent.
During the years that have passed since then, the view has been expressed by all parties, and by interested groups throughout the country, that it is toward 100 per cent contribution by the federal government that we should be moving. I feel therefore that this retreat to the percentages I have indicated is bad in theoretical terms, and is particularly bad in its effect on the old age pensioners themselves.
What has happened as a result of this inequality and uncertainty amongst the provinces is that you have not only these varying maximum rates of old age pensions throughout the country, but you have provinces holding back, refusing to make the additional grants that they are asked to make, because they feel that the federal government should at least stick to the 75-25 ratio. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, I feel that most, if not all, the provinces are quite justified in their insistence that this responsibility should be borne in full at the federal level.
I have read with interest the reports of debates which have taken place on these matters in various provincial legislatures, and I note that always the provincial government spokesmen point to the fact that the responsibility should be borne here. When the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson) was premier of Manitoba, every time the issue came up there he would express sympathy with the old age pensioners of Manitoba, but would say that primary responsibility for any adequate old age pension must rest with the federal government which alone
has the necessary financial resources. The result of this, Mr. Speaker, is that the old age pensioners themselves are denied the fuller amount of pension that they should have. They are asked to wait month in and month out, year in and year out, for an adequate pension. We all know what happens in the meantime. IVfany senior citizens of this country who dare to hope that their country will do the right thing for them pass away before an adequate pension is made available to them.
The soundness of the arguments that some of us put up when this matter was before the house two years ago has been amply demonstrated. We do not get adequate old age pensions by this government paying only a portion of it and tossing the ball to the provinces, leaving it to them to bring the amount up to an adequate level. What happens is that the provinces toss the ball back to the federal government, and the old age pensioners are left with an inadequate amount.
My particular grievance, which prompts me to rise at this time, the first occasion of a supply motion, is that despite the game of football which has been played in connection with this matter, despite the obvious need which every hon. member recognizes, there is as yet no sign of anything being done about it at this session of parliament. I have scanned everything that there is to scan. There is nothing in the speech from the throne which might indicate that there is anything coming for our old age pensioners. There is nothing in the budget which makes for any amelioration of the plight of these old people; and frankly, Mr. Speaker, some of us are very much annoyed that it is possible to make these huge savings in terms of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars, and do something for a great host of people in this country-yes; as the budget did- but do nothing at all for this large group of senior citizens who surely deserve our consideration.
There is nothing in the estimates that gives any hope that anything will be done to improve the lot of our old age pensioners. The very slight increase that is there is obviously due to the increased number who will qualify this year. I have not had a chance to look at the supplementary estimates which were tabled a few moments ago, but I am quite sure that if there had been anything in these supplementary estimates to solve this problem, an announcement would have been made about it with no little fanfare.
I might say as well that a number of us in this group, and in other groups, have tried to get from the Prime Minister (Mr. St.
Laurent) or from the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin) some information that might give some hint as to whether or not anything is coming this session. But every question we ask is met with the stock reply that government policy will be announced in due course. Sometimes the Minister of National Health and Welfare, genial soul that he is, simply says to me, "If my answer last week was not helpful, I cannot be more helpful this week." It adds up to nothing in all cases.
Mr. Speaker, I have lain awake nights trying to think of different ways in which to ask my old age pension questions, in the hope that the minister would give a proper answer. I have adopted the practice at times of giving him notice of my questions in the hope that he would do the generous thing; and I have tried asking him questions without warning, but the answers are always non-committal.
It is perfectly true that an offer to increase the amount paid by the federal government by making it one hundred per cent federal from age seventy up, plus a shared basis from sixty-five to sixty-nine, was made at the dominion-provincial conference of 1945 and 1946, and that the stand of two premiers forestalled-
When we ask a question like that the government replies, "Surely the hon. member must know." However I shall he more helpful and answer by saying, in [DOT]case the hon. member does not know, that the premier of Quebec at that time was the (Hon. Maurice Duplessis and the premier of Ontario at that time was the Hon. George Drew.