Old Age Security
though such measures might have a certain amount of good. Upon this occasion we are satisfied that we are taking an important step forward even though in trying to achieve a certain goal the government may be employing methods we cannot wholeheartedly support.
In his earlier remarks the hon. member for Eglinton (Mr. Fleming) paid tribute to the joint chairmen of the old age security committee of 1950. Upon a previous occasion I also paid tribute to those chairmen. I said that this was certainly one occasion on which members of a committee had good reason to feel that nothing was being imposed upon them or, as we sometimes say, that the chairman was not endeavouring to force something down our throats. We felt it was due, in part at least, to the skill and ability of the joint chairmen that the committee was able to accomplish as much as it did during the short period it sat.
The hon. member for Eglinton also paid tribute to certain departmental officials who were so generous with their time and who assisted so greatly in enabling us to accomplish our work. I feel that their assistance enabled us to be more efficient. Their assistance certainly contributed to the speed with which the committee was able to reach certain conclusions. I think also their assistance enabled us to reach a degree of unanimity which could not have prevailed without that help. I considered the committee to be free from political pressures, even though its personnel was determined on the basis of party representation in the House of Commons. I recall telling one of the joint chairmen on one occasion that I had reason to believe he was having more trouble with his own members than he was with the opposition members.
May I refer first to the abolition of the means test in connection with this universal old age pension. We have always taken issue with the means test. I am compelled to believe that we in turn have been forced into that position over the years because of two very important factors. In the first place there was never uniformity of administration. Even within a province we found that pensioners were not being treated, and probably could not be, in a fair and equitable manner as far as the means test was concerned. Because of that we found a great deal of dissatisfaction among pensioners. Of course that dissatisfaction was communicated to us, and it certainly was a motivating factor when it came to the position we have taken in the House of Commons with respect to the means test.
In the second place, down through the years we have always clamped a pretty severe test upon old age pensioners in that there was such an extremely low allowable income. Under the old act the allowable income of $120 a year caused a great deal of dissatisfaction. It has been said that it created a certain amount of dishonesty among the people. It certainly did not encourage many of them to go out and do the work they were capable of doing, even though we kept admitting that it was better for the country if they would work if they could, and certainly if physically able it was better for them mentally if they were able to carry on. Therefore conceivably the government itself contributed immeasurably toward the dissatisfaction which arose because, as I say, of the very low ceiling which was imposed upon our people.
So far as the amount of $40 per month is concerned, I am perfectly willing to admit that the committee agreed that $40 a month should be recommended as the payment to old age pensioners, but there are two or three things which I think should be borne in mind at this time. First, I am absolutely convinced that the government would not have accepted the recommendation if it had suggested a payment of more than $40 a month. I might add that some of us, who felt that $40 was inadequate, agreed to support it because of what I have just said, namely, that I doubt whether the government would have accepted the recommendation if the figure had been higher.
In the second place, there is a vast difference between the cost of living in June, 1950, and today. Even those who agreed that probably $40 as a basic pension was adequate have been obliged to change their views today because of the inflationary condition which has developed during the intervening months and years. I thought the pension of $40 was capably dealt with by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles). He actually attached it to the cost of certain essential commodities such as foodstuffs. It does not require any stretch of the imagination whatsoever to realize that $40 a month is hopelessly inadequate so far as our senior citizens are concerned. The value of $40 varies, naturally, depending upon where the pension recipient may live. In the larger urban areas rents are very much higher. A pensioner would be far worse off in such an area than if living in a little home on a corner of his son's farm in some rural community. It is hard to say that $40 per month is equal to a certain figure of so many years ago unless we tie it to a specific area, but it is a fact that on the broad general principle
of applying it to the cost of living today compared with the cost of living ten years ago we find that financially the pensioner is not any better off than he was ten years ago when he was drawing $20 per month as the basic pension.
I should like to refer for a moment to the question of the numbers who have applied for payment of the universal pension as of January 1. Early in the summer, when we were suddenly bombarded by announcements over the radio several times a day and by the many advertisements which appeared in the newspapers, I wondered just what the government had in mind. As a matter of fact I suppose the minister would say: We wanted to get all the applications in so we could get them cleared away in order that payment might commence in January. However, one very important impression conveyed to the people was that this thing is compulsory. People everywhere were expressing the view that universal old age pensions were a compulsory piece of legislation, and that they had to apply.
I have had many letters within the last few days. Some are from war veterans allowance recipients who are still under the impression, by virtue of the nature of that advertising, that they are obliged to apply. I dare say thousands of people, who would not otherwise have applied for the universal old age pension, have done so because of the nature of the advertising-some called it propaganda-that was carried on in connection with this matter. The sum of $50,000 for that type of advertising may not be a very large amount, but I often wonder how many thousands of dollars are going to be paid out as a result of that advertising which would not have to be paid out if people had not been given the impression that it was compulsory; or is there something else behind this?
I well recall that when family allowances were paid one could elect to accept or refuse them. So far as income tax was concerned, a person was no worse off as a result of his refusing. Before long, however, the act was amended so that certain deductions were allowed if you had no children of family allowance age. Certain other deductions were allowed if you had children of family allowance age, with the result that if a person did not accept he was far worse off than if he had accepted for his children of family allowance age. I am wondering if behind all this may be the idea that before too long it will be put on the compulsory basis in the sense that tax adjustments will be made in such a
Old Age Security
way as to force a man to accept the pension or leave him in a worse position financially than would otherwise be the case.
I certainly feel that the matter of the universal old age pension, so far as recipients of war veterans allowance are concerned, should be cleared up without delay. I have had a great many letters from recipients of war veterans allowance, as I am sure other members have. We are still not in a position to be certain of what advice we should give them. The reason is that the government have managed to keep their intentions pretty much in the dark in this respect, and I think that matter should be cleared up quickly.
I should like to suggest to the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin) that with respect to the question of proof of age it is a fact that for those persons who cannot produce birth or baptismal certificates it has been made more difficult foy them to prove age today than was the case under the old act. The minister shakes his head, but let me remind him that on their own form they say either the birth certificate or baptismal certificate, or any two of the following. I look down that list, and I find that the provincial authorities were accepting any number of those things, and pensions were being paid on that basis.