February 4, 1985

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

OLD AGE SECURITY ACT

PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Jake Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare) moved

that Bill C-26, an Act 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 a great deal of pride that I rise to speak on second reading of Bill C-26, an Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. This Bill will always have special significance for me in that it is the first piece of social policy legislation that I, as Minister of National Health and Welfare representing the Government of Canada, have the opportunity to present to the House. This Bill will correct a very serious social problem which has long concerned myself and almost all Members of the House of Commons.

The Bill before us today will extend the protection of the spouse's allowance program to all widows and widowers between the ages of 60 and 64 regardless of the age of their spouse at death. This proposal was a firm commitment made to the people of Canada during the last election campaign. It was formally enunciated in the Speech from the Throne in November. I am pleased that the Government of Canada is fulfilling another of its election promises this morning.

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

The group I am referring to today represents approximately 85,000 Canadians who are widowed and between the eligible ages which I have already announced. It is important to note as well that the vast majority, an estimated 72,000 of the 85,000 who are eligible, are widowed women. I do not think there is a more important cause to which the House of Commons can address itself than the financial situation which these people are now in. This legislation does not and cannot consider the separation, sense of loss or loneliness which these people experience. Those highly personal conditions can be addressed only by individuals interacting with those people. I believe that, within the economic restraints of the country, it is incumbent on us as legislators to address the economic realities these people face.

Since coming into office the Government has had to face up to the very sad fact that the state of finances of the Government of Canada were in even worse shape than we had been led to believe. As the Right Hon. Prime Minister (Mr. Mul-roney) has told Canadians, tough measures will be required to reduce a deficit which has been allowed to skyrocket over the past decade.

However, we cannot and will not allow a very vulnerable segment of Canada's near elderly population to continue to suffer because of circumstances completely beyond their control. There is an urgent need which has been consistently identified by present and past Members of the House of Commons as well as other members of society. Low-income widowed persons aged 60 to 64 do not have many of the options available to most of us. For instance, the vast majority of the persons who will benefit from this Bill are women who have been financial dependants for most, if not all, of their lives. They did not question this financial dependence because society deemed it appropriate. Societal norms dictated that the husband would enter the labour force and earn the money while the wife stayed in the home and performed the unpaid role of mother, housekeeper, companion, nurse, guidance counsellor and community worker-the list is endless. If the wife did take a job it was most often as a secondary earner to supplement the family budget.

I believe that the Bill before us today recognizes that contribution in part. I know that one cannot quantify that contribution in financial terms. So often in our society we want to put a financial value on service or work. No matter what Members may feel about the Bill with regard to whether it goes far enough, I think they would agree that the contribution these people have made to our society goes beyond financial measure. All of us realize that today is but a small recognition of the contribution that they have made to each one of us.

While there will be men who benefit from this proposal, there is no denying that poverty is largely a woman's problem and that widows in particular are among the poorest. These women have held down numerous responsible jobs throughout their adult lives and are more experienced and capable than many people are after spending 40 years in the paid labour force.

Let's not kid ourselves: in most instances, the 60 to 64-year old widow is not the one the personnel manager will hire. Why hire someone who might have only a few years until retirement while there are other young and perhaps better educated people competing for job openings available today? Therefore society must show compassion for these near elderly widows.

February 4, 1985

Old Age Security Act

Compassion is what Bill C-26 is all about. Widowed persons aged 60 to 64, effective September of this year, will be guaranteed a level of income with which to meet their basic living costs. They will not be well off by any means, but they will no longer be destitute.

I believe that the best way of explaining this proposal is first to look at the evolution of income-tested assistance for persons in the 60 to 64-year age group. In 1973 the federal and provincial Governments undertook a complete review of Canada's social security system. During this review various options for a program of income support and supplementation for all low-income Canadians was studied. The federal Government advanced a proposal to the provinces in early 1976, but due to a lack of clear response on the part of the provinces, the proposal was withdrawn in 1977.

In the meantime the federal Government had already introduced the income support concept for elderly couples by means of a spouse's allowance program. Under this program which began in 1975, an income-tested benefit became payable to the 60 to 64-year old spouse of a low-income old age security pensioner. This step was taken in recognition of the fact that many of these elderly couples had no income apart from one basic old age security pension and a single guaranteed income supplement. That was little enough for one person to live on and far too little for two.

Since the beginning of the spouse's allowance program, there has been continuous pressure for the federal Government to expand this benefit to include other needy persons in the near elderly category. To date there have been two extensions to the spouse's allowance program. Originally, the spouse's allowance ceased to be paid when the pensioner spouse had died. In 1978 the federal Government introduced a Bill which resulted in the allowance being paid for six months following the pensioner's death. The theory was that this would give the widowed spouse time to adjust to a changed situation before losing the benefit, but it really just prolonged the agony of a situation that was often inescapable. In truth, there was no good reason why 60 to 64-year old widows and widowers who had been relying on the spouse's allowance program to make ends meet should lose their allowances until they became eligible for the old age security pension at age 65.

For this reason, when the Progressive Conservative Government came to power in 1979 we further amended the spouse's allowance program. As a result of that legislation, a widowed spouse's allowance recipient in need can continue to receive the allowance until age 65. I am proud today, on behalf of the Government, to extend that commitment that we made in opposition and that step we took in government in 1979. Those objectives and commitments for those less fortunate than most Canadians are again being extended further today.

During the debate on the amendment, Members of the Government were the first to admit that many more elderly persons in need were still excluded from the spouse's allowance program. Nevertheless, we did not feel we could go further

until such time as an extensive review of Canada's retirement income system was concluded. Such a review was conducted in 1983, by a special Parliamentary Task Force on Pension Reform which released its findings in December of that year. Among the Task Force's many proposals was the extension of spouse's allowance to all low-income widowed persons 60 to 64 years of age. I am pleased that the Task Force on Pension Reform made that proposal, and I am pleased that this Government is coming forward in a legislative forum to give life to that proposal.

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

I would be remiss at this point if I did not give recognition to Members in this House who are members of that Task Force. The Hon. Member for Sudbury (Mr. Frith) was the Chairman of that Task Force, and as Chairman he signed the report. I commend him for his foresight.

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

The Hon. Minister for Employment and Immigration, the Member for Kingston and the Islands (Miss MacDonald), throughout the period of time she has been in this House of Commons, has given attention to the plight of these Canadians. I commend her today for another advance in the cause she has espoused.

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

There are other members of the Task Force whom I cannot name at this time, but I know they represent members from all political parties and I thank them.

There are two people, possibly three, apart from the ones I have recognized today, whom I would like to mention, Mr. Speaker. One is the Hon. Member for Victoria (Mr. McKinnon) who, throughout the period of time he has been in the House, has kept before our caucus and the Government the recognition that Canadians of this age group have made a contribution and that in legislative form we must recognize that contribution. There have been two others. I know it is not the habit of Members to give away caucus confidences, but I will this morning. I want to speak of the Hon. Member for Parry Sound-Muskoka (Mr. Darling) and the Hon. Member for Bow River (Mr. Taylor).

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

Time after time these two Members have spoken to various members of our caucus on this issue and I see the Hon. Member for Bow River in the House today.

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

There is one aspect of this legislation, possibly two, that Members will want to identify as not going far enough. First is the matter of whether this Bill could extend the same benefits to Canadians who are separated, divorced and single. I do not have the ability to take each

February 4, 1985

individual case of people who would fall into those categories and say that they are not as much in need as the group to which this legislation addresses itself. I think Members would recognize that the most urgent as a group-and I am not arguing individual cases could not be raised to make the other point-to which this legislation addresses itself are those in greatest need.

The other point I raised for the consideration of the House is whether legislation of this type, with a Charter coming into effect on April 17, and other social policy legislation could be challenged under the terms of the Charter. When you look at our social policy legislation, Mr. Speaker, you will note obviously that it discerns on the basis of age. Those 65 and over get an old age pension and those who are younger do not. It discerns on the basis of people who are eligible for family allowance; for example, if they have dependent children. An argument might be put forward that the legislation discriminates on the basis of marital status.

If I could speak personally for a moment, I had some involvement with the discussions on the Constitution and the Charter of Rights. No matter what viewpoints were put forward, either for or against the Charter, when the discussions were completed I do not believe any Member of the House wanted the Charter to be interpreted in such a manner that legislation such as we have before us today, and principles upon which social policy legislation is founded, could be brought into question or jeopardized.

While some might want to raise it as a point of discussion, I suggest that if that argument is taken to its most logical conclusion, the only manner in which one could address social policy and benefits would possibly be by providing a guaranteed annual income for everyone. While I am not deprecating that viewpoint, I place that caution before the House. Before that position is taken too strongly, proponents of that view should look very seriously not only at present legislation but at collective agreements, for example, and how they could be affected.

I should like to make one further point; it is the real reason this legislation appeals to me. In the years I have had the honour to represent my constituency in the House since 1972-I think both Members who came into the House in this Parliament and those who have been here a longer period of time would agree-without question the most difficult cases with which I have had to deal were those of women who made the contribution of which we have spoken as mother, spouse and so forth. They had made that contribution but were unable to contribute to a pension plan because they were "not earning a regular income". They had lost their spouse and if he was a person of pensionable age, that pension was gone. Not only had they suffered a personal loss, they had limited financial resources. We went through the various steps of what the pension might be for which they might be eligible and came down to one quiet statement-and I am sure all of us have made it; "Well, Madam, there is always social assist-

Old Age Security Act

ance". That is not good enough for the contribution these women have made to Canada. It is not good enough to tell individuals that the best we can do for them is welfare.

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
PC

Arthur Jacob (Jake) Epp (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Epp (Provencher):

As I said, this proposal will extend important financial assistance to an estimated 85,000 widowed persons. These are low-income Canadians. I have already given the estimates of the number of people involved in terms of male and female. These widowed persons will be guaranteed the same minimum income as that already being provided to other widowed spousal allowance recipients. The monthly benefit, which is $536.26 currently and which will be somewhat higher by September due to quarterly cost of living increases, certainly will not put these low-income 62-to 64-year olds on Easy Street. Nevertheless, it will give them an income which is enough to live on and place them in a better situation than they are now. It is something many have gone without for much too long.

This proposal is not inexpensive. To provide this very necessary financial assistance will cost approximately $190 million in fiscal 1985-86 beginning in September, while in the first full year of implementation, 1985-87, the cost will be $350 million. As I have said, the cost is high, but I am sure Hon. Members will agree it is an expense that the country must afford.

Just to elaborate the point a little further for those who say the Bill does not go far enough, the cost estimate of including everyone is in the order of $1.5 billion. When we look at the financial resources of the country, there are two questions to answer. The first is, if we cannot include everyone, should we not do anything? The other question is whether we do what we can for those in greatest need. Obviously that is the approach we have taken. While this Bill proposes that the extended spouse's allowance benefit become effective in September, 1985, it is very important that this legislation be passed now. Given prompt passage, we will have ample time for potential beneficiaries to apply, for the advertising campaign, so that they can become eligible by September, 1985. I do not have to remind Hon. Members, I am sure, that a fair amount of personal paperwork as well as governmental organization has to take place before the program can be implemented.

There are 85,000 Canadians that this Government has to contact, 85,000 applications that have to be completed and sent in and 85,000 new payment files that have to be prepared. On top of this, it is imperative that we co-operate with the provinces to ensure that where a provincial program is affected by this SPA program, the transition be made as smoothly as possible.

This Government is the first to acknowledge that there are other near-elderly persons in need who remain excluded from the important financial protection provided by the spouse's allowance program. However, as was recognized by the all party Task Force, the Government of Canada, in other words the Canadian people, cannot at this time go much beyond the

February 4, 1985

Old Age Security Act

proposals we have made. What we can do and must do, given current economic circumstances, is to take this next logical step in extending the spouse's allowance program. The other most logical step after this legislation is seriously to take the pension reform proposals that have been made both by the task force and by other groups and give them life over the course of the mandate of this Government. That is the commitment that we have made. As Members will note, this is but one element of a commitment to a goal we have as a government.

In conclusion, I am filled with great gratitude, which I extend both to my Cabinet colleagues and my colleagues in the House. No matter what is said of Parliament and its lack of response, to me, on this issue they have all responded and I thank them for it.

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

Douglas Cockburn Frith (Liberal Party Caucus Chair)

Liberal

Hon. Douglas C. Frith (Sudbury):

Mr. Speaker, before getting into the main elements of my speech today I want to indicate-this may come as a surprise to some of the political novices in this House-that there are times in the life of a Parliament in which all Members of the House will congratulate and applaud a decision by the Government. The announcement today by the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Epp) is the kind that will receive the acceptance of Members of all Parties in this House.

With regard to the goodwill and importance of this legislation today, I congratulate the Minister of National Health and Welfare. I also congratulate the Minister of Employment and Immigration (Miss MacDonald). Over the years she has spent a great deal of time promoting the cause of the extension of such legislation to include largely the women in our society but also others who have been left out from some of the social legislation which has been introduced in the House over the years.

While I am in the congratulatory phase of my remarks, the one person I think should be recognized is not here today but usually sits at the table of the Officers in the afternoons. I am speaking of Stanley Knowles, the former Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North Centre.

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

February 4, 1985