October 22, 1979

PC

John Allen Fraser (Minister of the Environment; Postmaster General)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fraser:

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his remarks. I would advise all members of the House that the data available to me and my department can be obtained. I ask hon. members to please put a request in to me directly and I will try to arrange for it to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   THE ENVIRONMENT
Sub-subtopic:   ACID RAIN-GOVERNMENT POSITION
Permalink
NDP

Rodney Edward Murphy

New Democratic Party

Mr. Rod Murphy (Churchill):

Mr. Speaker, in light of reported accounts in "Scientific American" of the significant role of Inco Limited's Sudbury operations as the largest single source of sulphur pollution-approximately 1 per cent of the world's annual emissions-and because of the significant effect of acid rain on fish and forest products, could the minister undertake immediately to study the effect of the Sudbury operation?

Also, could the minister undertake to do a similar study of Inco's Thompson operation, especially in view, first, of the importance of fishing and forest operations in northern regions; and second, research in this area, where the Thompson operation is more isolated, would be much better to prove a cause and effect relationship between sulphur emissions, the resultant acid rain, and the result of this pollution on fish and forest products.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   THE ENVIRONMENT
Sub-subtopic:   ACID RAIN-GOVERNMENT POSITION
Permalink
PC

John Allen Fraser (Minister of the Environment; Postmaster General)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fraser:

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the hon. member that all emission sources are being studied.

As the hon. member will remember, 1 said in my statement that I am planning to meet with the chief executive officers of companies with the most serious emission sources in Canada, which include the particular company the hon. member mentioned, and others.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   THE ENVIRONMENT
Sub-subtopic:   ACID RAIN-GOVERNMENT POSITION
Permalink
LIB

James Alexander Jerome (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Introduction of bills. In respect to the introduction of bills, members are aware that there are a number of private members' public bills on today's order paper for the usual introduction that we give to all private members' public bills in this way. However, I understand that there has been consensus that this process be deferred until Wednesday of this week. Is that agreed?

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   THE ENVIRONMENT
Sub-subtopic:   ACID RAIN-GOVERNMENT POSITION
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   THE ENVIRONMENT
Sub-subtopic:   ACID RAIN-GOVERNMENT POSITION
Permalink
LIB

James Alexander Jerome (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Agreed and so ordered.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   THE ENVIRONMENT
Sub-subtopic:   ACID RAIN-GOVERNMENT POSITION
Permalink

QUESTIONS ON THE ORDER PAPER


[ Translation]


PC

David Kilgour (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. David Kilgour (Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Privy Council):

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the questions be allowed to stand.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   QUESTIONS ON THE ORDER PAPER
Permalink
LIB

James Alexander Jerome (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Is the House agreed?

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   QUESTIONS ON THE ORDER PAPER
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

Topic:   ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS
Subtopic:   QUESTIONS ON THE ORDER PAPER
Permalink

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

OLD AGE SECURITY ACT

PC

David Edward Crombie (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Hon. David Crombie (Minister of National Health and Welfare) moved

that Bill C-6, to amend the Old Age Security Act, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs.

He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure indeed that I rise on second reading of this bill in the House. The amendments to the Old Age Security Act contained in this bill fulfil a clear commitment made by the members on this side during the last election.

There are two parts to the bill. Both deal with the removal of certain provisions contained in the Old Age Security Act which were the source of financial hardship and despair to people affected by it.

The first and broadest amendment deals with the spouse's allowance program. This bill will remove the provision whereby the allowance is cut off six months after the pensioner spouse dies. Up to now the spouse's allowance program has led financially dependent persons into a false sense of security on the basis of income received under the program. Then, at a time when their personal bereavement is still fresh, and their financial prospects have, if anything, dimmed, the financial rug was pulled out from under them.

I am proud to say that this government will no longer tolerate this situation. Within this bill is contained an amendment which will ensure that a person receiving the spouse's allowance will never again have to worry about losing it simply because the older pensioner spouse has passed away. As long as he or she continues to be in need, the continued protection of the spouse's allowance program will be assured.

There is another part to this bill. It is not nearly so significant as the spouse's allowance amendment in terms of the number of persons involved, but in its own way it is also very important. I am referring, of course, to the removal of the provision whereby old age security benefits are suspended if the recipient is sentenced to prison for a term of over 90 days.

Mr. Speaker, hon. members will recall that it was announced in the Speech from the Throne that the government will be inviting a parliamentary committee to review the retirement income needs of Canadians in the 1980s. This announcement reflects the fact that this government regards the pensions as a priority area.

October 22, 1979

I want at this time to review in brief some of the issues which have led us to look at pensions in this light. First of all, 1 want to assure you, Mr. Speaker, this House and all Canadians that this government, while it will be seeking efficiency and economy in government, will nevertheless have a strong interest in the social policy sector. In particular, we want to alleviate the situation of low-income Canadians, and our senior citizens certainly have more than their share of persons in the lower income levels. Broadly speaking, we are after a pension system that provides adequate income protection and fair treatment to all.

More specifically, the issues include the difficult situation faced by many old age pensioners; second, the level of protection provided to women by the pension system; third, the performance of the private sector in the pension system; fourth, the introduction of greater flexibility in the age of retirement; fifth, the position of the disabled and the handicapped in the pension system; finally, the protection offered the families of deceased persons, and, for all of these, the maintenance of the purchasing power of benefits paid out.

In reviewing these issues, we will not be starting without some background. We will be drawing upon the numerous pension studies and reports conducted at all levels of society in the last several years. We will be consolidating this information and adding to it from extensive consultation with people in general, with the pension industry, with provincial governments and with special interest groups.

We are all well aware of the review that has been going on for the past three years. That was an interdepartmental study carried out largely by officials under the last government. We in this new government recognize the value of that study as a major background piece of work that has been done, and we will take whatever advantage there is in it although we will not be bound by it.

There are other groups in the pension field to whose work we will be referring, such as the "COFIRENTES" report from the province of Quebec, the Ontario royal commission, the Economic Council of Canada and the Senate committee on retirement age. The federal and provincial ministers of finance have also been sponsoring a study by their governments during the past few years of the funding of the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans. "Canada at the Pension Crossroads" by the Research Foundation of Financial Executives Institute and "Pensions and Survival" by Geoffrey Calvert are just two of the studies conducted in the private sector.

I want to stress in discussing the process which I am describing that this government will be looking at the pension sector with a fresh perspective. If this review should reveal that a major overhaul of the pension system is necessary to create an effective, fair and efficient structure, then we will be free to develop and carry out such an overhaul.

Nor is this process going to be strictly related to the bureaucracy or even the government alone. In keeping with the open government policies of this side of the House, we want to involve Parliament in the process through the participation of a parliamentary committee. The members of this committee

Old Age Security

will be able to reach out to Canadians on particular issues in the pension field and obtain and evaluate views from every part of the land and from very broad terms of reference.

Great emphasis will be placed upon consultation and cooperation with the provinces and the private sector. By this means we will be able to seek joint solutions which we can all accept as being the best avenues for meeting the future pension needs of Canadians.

In this context, let me refer again to the specific provisions before us. While this bill may represent a small step, it is an important one for those who will benefit from it, and it is important also to demonstrate this government's concerns for the pension sector in general, and for the problems faced by Canadian women in particular. I look upon this bill as an expression of good faith by this government that what can be done quickly will be done.

When I speak of continued spouse's allowance protection, I do not just mean the continuation of the same amount of benefit payable before. It is significant that over 85 per cent of our spouse's allowance recipients receive less than maximum benefits because they or their spouse have some income aside from old age security benefits. For most of these couples the income received is money coming to the older pensioner spouse, money which will drop dramatically or cease altogether if the older spouse dies. Clearly, it is unrealistic and unjust to continue to pay the same amount of allowance after the spouse's death when we know the allowance recipient's other income has considerably dropped.

For this reason, the spouse's allowance for widowed recipients will not only be extended but will also be recalculated on the basis of the personal income of the surviving spouse-the actual income which he or she has available to meet daily living expenses. The extended allowance will continue to be paid until the beneficiary reaches age 65-when the regular old age security pension is available-or until he or she remarries or dies.

I expect that some 2,200 allowance recipients will receive extended benefits in 1980-81 as a result of these provisions. The cost will be about $4.3 million in that fiscal year or some 2.7 per cent of the total cost of the spouses' allowance program.

This provision will go far in ensuring some financial security for a very vulnerable segment of our society, the newly bereaved, near aged widow. The vast majority of our spouse's allowance recipients are women, many of whom have been out of the paid labour force for years, and others who never sought paid employment. At the age of 60-plus it is clearly unreasonable to assume that they would be able to go out and fully sustain themselves on the labour market.

If I may refer now to the provision which will end the suspension of the OAS benefits for prisoners, this is also an improvement of some significance. 1 might point out that when an OAS pensioner has the pension suspended, any allowance paid to that pensioner's spouse must also be suspended.

October 22, 1979

Old Age Security

This is a problem which has been raised by many in this House but in particular I would like to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands (Miss MacDonald) for her strong stand on the matter during the last session.

This provision has, over the course of years, proven both difficult and unfair. When OAS pensioners are imprisoned and their benefits are subject to suspension, any delay in effecting the suspension can result in overpayments which must be collected when the pension is released. Even if there is no overpayment, the lack of benefits during imprisonment can mean that these people are released with little money at an advanced age and few prospects for making a living.

There are fewer than 100 persons affected by this provision in any given year. The cost of maintaining payment of their OAS benefits is a small fraction of a per cent of program costs. However, if even one prisoner is able to find a better life as a result of this change, and one prisoner's spouse is not deprived of her allowance, it will be well worth the effort.

In conclusion, I look upon this bill as a first step which this government intends to take, while considering other possibilities for achieving an improved pension system in this country. I invite the support of all members of this House for this particular step, to improve the humanity of a program now in place, and for the broader examination which we hope to carry out, in co-operation with provincial governments and the private sector, to ensure that we have the best possible pension system that we can afford to provide retirement protection for all Canadians.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink
LIB

Lloyd Axworthy

Liberal

Mr. Axworthy:

Mr. Speaker, 1 wonder if the minister would accept a question on his statement.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink
PC

David Edward Crombie (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Crombie:

I would be pleased to, Mr. Speaker.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink
LIB

Lloyd Axworthy

Liberal

Mr. Axworthy:

I just want to know if the minister could explain whether the provisions of the bill contain any retroactivity for those spouses under the provisions of the bill.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink
PC

David Edward Crombie (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Crombie:

Mr. Speaker, 1 am not sure whether that should be done in committee, not being familiar with the procedure. Let me suggest that the only retroactivity in the bill relates to the six months they may have already got with the extension which was passed in the last session.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink
LIB

Roméo LeBlanc

Liberal

Hon. Romeo LeBlanc (Westmorland-Kent):

Mr. Speaker, I wish to begin by congratulating the new minister on the presentation of his first legislation in this House. I express the hope that this will be the first of many. Meanwhile, I hope the Prime Minister (Mr. Clark) will clarify the minister's mandate. We on this side keep hearing about ministers responsible for the social policy envelope. There is now to be a super minister of social development. We hope very much that the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Crombie), who is responsible for a very major slice of the budget voted by this Parliament, will occupy a very senior position and be heard by his colleagues.

I may say that if the new minister has a slight nervousness, this is shared by his critic. The other day the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (Mr. McGrath) commented on the fact I had moved into a new field. I must confess that the more I read about this field, the more I think it would have been wiser to stay with fisheries and oceans for a while yet. Be that as it may, I am gratified that I have the support and share the co-chairmanship with my colleague, the former minister of national health and welfare, the hon. member for Saint-Leon-ard-Anjou (Miss Begin). She brought, as did her predecessor, the hon. member for Outremont (Mr. Lalonde), a level of awareness and discussion on social policy matters which I hope to rival.

I might also say that physically located in the House on my left is the formidable veteran for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles), an expert to whom we will listen very carefully.

Mr. Speaker, first I must say that we have very few reservations concerning Bill C-6, which will help an important group of our population. At the committee stage, we will put some questions of detail and make some suggestions and I am sure that a number of my colleagues in the House will want to voice their opinion. The fact is that this bill, as the minister admitted himself, is only a first step. It is a modest effort to better the situation of some 2,400 Canadians, according to the figures I saw. However, there is no doubt that this bill will leave many Canadians between 60 and 65 years of age with the impression that they are not treated fairly.

When this legislation was introduced by this party while in office, it was made clear that this spouse's allowance bill was to be seen in the context of a guaranteed annual income program. This in fact was a first step toward this goal. When he was minister of national health and welfare in 1975, the hon. member for Outremont undertook a massive series of consultations with the provinces to achieve this end. Two provinces, Ontario and Alberta, both with Tory provincial governments, prevented the establishment of the basic guaranteed income plan.

It is not without interest that I found in the clippings a quote in the Calgary Herald of December 22, 1977 by the then leader of the opposition, now Prime Minister. The last sentence reads:

So our present plan is certainly not to proceed with a guaranteed annual income program or even to propose one.

There is no doubt that the unfair features of this program would have been and could still be corrected by an enlightened approach in the area of guaranteed income. It is still the basic position of this party that a guaranteed income plan or a plan using the approach of negative income tax is highly desirable. As was the case in medicare, slow progress should not mean that we abandoned the goal we want to reach.

The first group in this country which has a form of guaranteed income are senior citizens over 65 years who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. The next obvious

October 22, 1979

group are those between 60 and 65, especially women, whose earnings power and training and educational opportunities are often limited. This is the group with which we should now be concerned.

It is important to remember that the citizens who are now in their early sixties were the teenagers of the depression, a time when educational opportunities outside the cities were meager, if existent at all, when training for women was extremely limited and often those young people who did not serve in the forces, which was the majority, went into jobs which became obsolete and where opportunities for advancement, for such things as private pensions, and so on, were almost unheard of.

These workers were the sons of the marginal farmers in depressed fishing villages, the sons of unskilled workers in our cities. At present they number approximately one million and, according to the statistics 1 have seen, almost 50 per cent of them would require some assistance under an income tested benefit plan.

The government today introduced a bill which would distribute some $4 million to approximately 2,400 Canadians. It is a small step and we hope the minister will come forward with more measures. We hope he will have access to more funds. In fact, he has contributed to his own argument in an article of July 14, 1979 in the Ottawa Journal when he said:

I'm opposed to any plot to dimish the amount spent on the social well-being of citizens.

Spending on health and welfare is not swollen beyond its rightful place.

To which we say, "hear, hear" to the minister. We hope he will pass that clipping around to some of his colleagues. Not only will we support the minister when he brings forward new plans, but we will support him when some of the social programs will be under attack, as they have already been, by some who would sacrifice them on the altar of Tory dogma. In fact, it may be that the minister will want to look to this side for support, and he will have that support when the time comes to arrest the efforts at mutilating some of the social programs, in particular medicare, child credit, family allowances and old age pensions.

After years of effort by successive governments-and Liberal ones have been in office during the passage of most of these major pieces of legislation-there are still, in spite of all these efforts, thousands of people in Canada who live under the poverty line, whatever definition or yardstick is used.

If the Minister of National Health and Welfare brings forth legislation such as Bill C-6, we will support him, even if we do not feel that it goes far enough. As I said earlier, some of my colleagues will suggest some improvement, some changes, that the minister might want to consider.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to conclude this brief statement, my first as critic of social affairs, with a quotation from the great writer and philosopher Georges Bernanos who wrote admirably on world poverty, at a time when it was even worse

Old Age Security

than it is now. When somebody came to him with the following objection: "But you forget, sir, that the poor will always be with us", he answered simply: "Yes, alas, they will always be. But the question is to know who will choose them".

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
Permalink

October 22, 1979