February 11, 1985

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

OLD AGE SECURITY ACT


The House resumed from Friday, February 8, consideration of the motion of Mr. Epp (Provencher) 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.


LIB

Don Boudria

Liberal

Mr. Don Boudria (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell):

Mr. Speaker, on Friday 1 had spoken for some eight or nine minutes on Bill C-26. Today I would like briefly to conclude my remarks.

The main point on which we were speaking at that particular time was not whether or not Hon. Members were against the provisions of Bill C-26 but that provisions of Bill C-26 do not extend to all people in need who are between the ages of 60 and 65. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you would agree that it is not fair that some people be excluded from the provisions of Bill C-26.

On Friday we were speaking of a potential situation in which a widow would be eligible under this Bill while a single person of the same age and living under the same financial circumstances would not be eligible. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the Government does not insist on providing all people in need who are between the ages of 60 and 65 with the same kind of benefits. To discriminate against people because of their marital status is extremely unfair.

The other day we were discussing the fact that the Government, in its wisdom, has chosen to make certain people ineligible for this benefit. That is most unfortunate. We were also discussing the fact that the Government has decided that it has other priorities for its funds. I am sure that Hon. Members across would agree that the Government's spending of some $40 million or $50 million on coloured uniforms for the Armed Forces is a rather strange priority when those funds could be used to ensure that there are adequate benefits available for all people in need who are between the ages of 60 and 65. [Translation]

Last Friday, Mr. Speaker, we were talking about the fact that, in his speech, my colleague from Montreal-Sainte-Marie

(Mr. Malepart) had compared three different persons: the first was single, the second was separated or divorced, and the third was widowed. Their financial status was identical, but not their benefits. For the purpose of his speech, my colleague had decided to call his three constituents Mrs. LeBlanc, Mrs. Legris and Mrs. Lebrun.

Friday, Mr. Speaker, I pointed out to you that I had a picture which had been given to us by the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Coates), showing a Mr. LeBlanc, a Mr. Lebleu and a Mr. Legris. Messrs. LeBlanc, Lebleu and Legris are in the Armed Forces, and the Government found enough money to buy uniforms of different colours for those three gentlemen, but not enough to help the needy and the underprivileged.

In my opinion, Mr. Speaker, that is a rather strange priority for a Government which went on the campaign trail promising just about anything to anybody for any reason.

But it did make a commitment to the elderly-higher benefits. In that respect, I must say that the Conservative Government has once again hoodwinked the Canadian people by failing to provide similar benefits to Canadians whose needs are similar.

Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to the fact that, in its approach, the Government has certainly neglected the Canadian people. And I am not the only one who says so, because in an article published this morning in a Toronto daily newspaper, Mr. Jeffrey Simpson refers to the Government priorities, a Government which has seen fit to buy uniforms for the military instead of helping needy Canadians.

The article to which I referred indicates in part that we should buy coloured uniforms for politicians if that is to be the priority rather than give funds to the needy. According to the author of this article, we could buy a uniform for the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Coates) in the colours of the American flag. That would be appropriate for that particular individual. For the Minister of Public Works (Mr. La Salle) we could buy a uniform made of pigskin. That would be good as it would indicate an intention of fulfilling one campaign promise that was broken by the Government. I will not bore you with all the other details, Mr. Speaker, but I will say that the author is of the view that we could have sheepskin jackets for all the Tory back-benchers who follow the Government so blindly and who do not have minds of their own on various important issues.

It is quite obvious that the provisions of Bill C-26 need to be examined very seriously. I invite the government back-benchers who are heckling at this particular moment to rise in their

February 11, 1985

Old Age Security Act

places and tell the single people between the ages of 60 and 65 that they cannot have those benefits. 1 invite them to rise and say that the Minister is right, that we should buy coloured uniforms instead of giving money to the needy. If that is how he feels, he should tell the House and his constituents. They would be pleased to read that in Hansard, and they would treat it accordingly at the next election.

Obviously, the priorities of the Government are completely backwards. I would like briefly to describe a situation today which I described in the House last Friday. The situation involves a widow or a widower who is 60 or 61 years of age. In most cases it is the widows who are in financial need. However, the people who are in need, whether they be widows, widowers or single people, require benefits. In some cases widows receive survivor benefits from the Canada Pension Plan. However, divorced or single women do not have that benefit. So we can see that in certain cases the provisions in this legislation could be construed as being completely backwards.

It is obvious that a large segment of the population has been forgotten. I think that all legislators, before the end of this debate, will agree that the legislation must be modified. In addition, the Canadian population should seize the opportunity, when the House recesses next week, to tell their Members of Parliament that this law needs to be amended in order to ensure that no one is left out.

Another issue with which I have some difficulty is the way in which eligible individuals are determined. We could say that it is easy to determine, because we all know the definition of a widow. However, I do not believe it is easy and I would like to cite a few examples of how this issue could be complicated. If a woman's husband is deceased, of course she is a widow. But what happens if a widow remarries? Of course, if a widow remarries we could say that she is no longer a widow.

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

Richard Grisé

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Grise:

What do you expect?

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

Don Boudria

Liberal

Mr. Boudria:

I invite my hon. colleague on the other side of the House, who seems to be so smart on these issues, to answer the following question. What happens to the widow who remarries and subsequently divorces? Is she or is she not eligible for this pension? I would say that no one in the House has the answer to that question. According to the information which I have received, a person who remarries and subsequently divorces returns to the marital status which they had prior to the last marriage. That person would again have the widow's status which she had before. If that is the case, would she be eligible for this pension?

One thing is obvious. The Government House Leader, who is nodding, like myself recognizes that this legislation is impossible to administer in its present form. Being the objective, non-partisan person that he is, he will recognize that the only way to make the legislation work is to have it apply to all people between the ages of 60 and 65 who are in need.

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

Ramon John Hnatyshyn (Minister of State (Government House Leader); Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Hnatyshyn:

Let's get it into committee.

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

Don Boudria

Liberal

Mr. Boudria:

Now that the Government House Leader has understood this, I am sure he will run off to tell his Cabinet colleagues that the law should not be passed in its present form. It needs to be amended to ensure that all Canadians in need will qualify and that there will not be discrimination based on marital status.

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

Marcel Danis (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Are there questions or comments on the Hon. Member's speech?

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

Robert Nesbitt Horner

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Horner:

Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member spent a great deal of time discussing the cost of these new uniforms. Has he any idea how much it has been estimated it would cost to restore the old uniforms? I understand that cost is equal to the cost of replacing the present uniforms.

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

Don Boudria

Liberal

Mr. Boudria:

Mr. Speaker, 1 will give that matter all the attention it deserves. As far as I am concerned, the military are presently wearing uniforms and they can keep on wearing the ones they have. I put a question on the Order Paper months ago asking this Government what the value is of the stock of old uniforms we have on hand. The Government refuses to answer that question because it will embarrass the daylights out of it if we find out that we probably have millions of dollars worth of the old uniform stock which we can't get rid of right now. That is an embarrassing situation for this Government, Mr. Speaker. The last thing we need is a Government which intends, as its priority, to spend money on military uniforms of different colours-as colourful as they may be- for no apparent reason at all other than to satisfy some preconceived idea that the military had a long time ago about how cute they once looked when they had different coloured uniforms. Instead, I believe the Government should put that money towards meaningful social programs. I don't apologize for thinking we should put our money where it is needed, towards the seniors of this country, instead of into that kind of a scheme.

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

Paul Wyatt Dick (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of State (Government House Leader))

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Dick:

Then why didn't the Liberals do it in 20 years?

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

Cyril Keeper

New Democratic Party

Mr. Keeper:

Mr. Speaker, I have heard that some people in the military ranks, upon looking at the military expenditures, feel that the money could be better spent on refurbishing some of their equipment which is inadequate. In other words, there are more urgent and more useful ways of using these dollars, even if the dollars are to be used in the military sector. I am wondering if the Hon. Member has heard these same kinds of comments from the military people?

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

Don Boudria

Liberal

Mr. Boudria:

Mr. Speaker, that is a very excellent question indeed put by the Hon. Member. I have had numerous conversations with constituents who are in the Armed Forces and 1 have yet to meet one who has told me that this investment- and I use the term generously-in new uniforms is worth while. All of the military people I have met were unanimous in saying that this is the last thing they need. They are of the view that putting the money into social programs, or even into other investments within the Armed Forces, would be prefer-

February 11, 1985

able to what is being proposed. There are other questions they want answered; I am sure the Hon. Member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Keeper) has had the same reaction from military people in his own constituency. For instance, if a military person works part of the year at the Canadian Forces base at Ottawa North, which is the airborne type of military, and the rest of the year he works in another area of the Armed Forces, would that particular person have to switch uniforms twice a year because part of the year he is with the air force and part of the year he is with the army? So we will have people in fact having to have more than one set of these particular uniforms in order to satisfy the ridiculous idea of the Minister of National Defence.

To answer the question, Mr. Speaker, yes, the money would be far better spent elsewhere, even elsewhere in the military. As far as I am concerned, we should take that money and put it into the social programs represented by Bill C-26 so that the Bill can be enhanced to cover more people.

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

Marcel Danis (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

If there are no more questions or comments we shall resume debate with the Hon. Member for York East (Mr. Redway).

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

Alan Redway

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Alan Redway (York East):

Mr. Speaker, I am really delighted to have an opportunity today to address a few comments to Bill C-26 which will provide spouse's allowance to all widows and widowers between the ages of 60 and 65. I am told there is something like 85,000 of those people right across the country.

It is very difficult to know what sort of impact legislation, this legislation in particular, will have on one's own riding. However, as you may be aware, my riding encompasses parts of two of the six municipalities which make up Metropolitan Toronto; the City of North York and the borough of East York. The City of North York has a relatively young population. Only about 8 per cent of the population are 65 years of age or over. However, the portion of North York included in my riding contains the original community of Don Mills and Victoria Village, both of which were developed in the 1950s and early 1960s. Therefore the population in those particular areas is somewhat more advanced in age than is generally the case in North York as a whole.

As far as the East York portion of my riding is concerned, it is quite clear that this legislation will have a very significant impact. The borough of East York has a seniors population second only to the City of Victoria, British Columbia. In fact, depending on the study you look at, the population of seniors in the East York part of my riding is either 16 per cent or 20 per cent, and as high as 22 per cent for those 60 years of age or over. That category has been growing very substantially in recent years. Between 1971 and 1976 it went up by 1 per cent. Between 1976 and 1981 it went up by 2 per cent. A recent study by the planning department of East York indicates there is something like 6,000 people between the ages of 60 and 65 in that community, and of that about 1,000 would be single people living on their own. We have 282 ridings in this country

Old Age Security Act

and roughly 85,000 people who will be in a position to take advantage of this legislation. That works out to approximately 300 people per riding. If I have 1,000 people in my riding in this category, that means my constituency will potentially benefit about three times as much as any other riding. So there will be a very substantial benefit to the people of York East.

There is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that we could have much better pensions. I do not think anyone on either side of the House, including Ministers, would not agree in their hearts that we could have better pensions if we had enough money. There are all sorts of things we could do. We could extend this spouse's allowance to cover single people as well as those divorced or separated. That goes without saying. We could also make this a universal pension. I might say that during the last election campaign there were a lot of people in my riding who pointed out to me that this is something the Government should be looking at. We should be looking at reducing the pensionable age to 60. They suggested we drop it a year at a time, starting with 64 and going down until we get to an old age security pension starting at age 60. They pointed out to me that this would have at least two dramatic effects. The first would be that all people in that age bracket who are now unemployed and cannot get a job because of their age would benefit and be able to withdraw from the labour force. Second, it would be an added incentive to people now approaching that age to retire early, therefore making jobs available for younger people. That is another reason we should be looking at improved pension benefits.

Another aspect is clearly the amount of spouse's allowance that we are considering. We are considering a benefit of just over $500 a month. That will total approximately $6,500 a year. Recent studies by the Metropolitan Toronto Social Planning Council indicate that it costs a single person in the senior citizen category living on their own in a home or apartment somewhere around $10,000 a year to support themselves. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, while this will be of great benefit, it will actually fall short of the money needed to live above the poverty line.

There are a number of benefits that we should be considering and a number of improvements that could be made to the old age security system. I think the Government House Leader (Mr. Hnatyshyn) put it quite correctly a few minutes ago when he said that this is much better than what we have now. It is fine to suggest that we do all of these things, and I would like to see us do all of these things, but we are facing a rather horrendous deficit. We have government expenditures for the coming year in the neighbourhood of $100 billion. Our revenue from all sources will be in the neighbourhood of $63 billion. That leaves us with a $37 billion shortfall. As much as I would like to see the benefits for seniors and near seniors extended beyond what we are suggesting today, it is obvious that this is a great step forward in light of the deficit which we face.

It is quite clear that if we want improved benefits for our senior citizens we must get our economy moving again in order

February 11, 1985

Old Age Security Act

to generate the wealth to provide these benefits without interruption. We must also ensure additional benefits, such as a universal pension for everyone over the age of 60 and improved pension benefits to ensure that everyone lives above the poverty line. In that regard we should ultimately be aiming at something like a guaranteed annual wage. Of course, that guaranteed annual wage must not discourage people who have saved for their retirement. It must protect them at the same time as protecting those people who need help.

Parliament should be aiming at all of these things, Mr. Speaker, but they will all depend on the generation of more wealth in the country. Today we should be applauding the Government's move for improving the spouse's allowance benefits. All Members of the House should be dedicating themselves to getting the economy moving again, getting people back to work again, and turning people into taxpayers rather than welfare recipients so that they can generate the tax money in this country to provide for the things we are talking about today-a much better social security system and social safety network in the future.

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

Marcel Danis (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Since we have been debating this Bill for eight hours, speeches are now limited to ten minutes with no questions or comments afterwards.

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

Stanley J. Hovdebo

New Democratic Party

Mr. Stan J. Hovdebo (Prince Albert):

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-26, an Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. The Act extends the spouse's allowance to low-income widows and widowers between 60 and 65 years of age. Single and divorced people in that age group are still excluded, according to the Bill.

While the New Democratic Party will support this legislation, I think our members have indicated a number of weaknesses in the Act which we hope the Government will address when the Bill goes to the committee. The main weakness is one which has been well documented and presented to the House. The benefits are extended to a very arbitrarily defined group. Their application is not universal at all and there is no intention for it to be universal. The Bill does nothing for low-income people between the ages of 60 and 65 who were never married or who are divorced. The fact that this legislation discriminates against a certain group is unacceptable in our society and this matter should be dealt with in the committee so that the Bill can be changed before it is enacted into law.

The other weakness that has been pointed out to the House is that if those in this particular age group are suffering financially at this time, then this Bill should be put into effect immediately instead of September, 1985, if it can be passed quickly. The fact that people need this help now means that they should receive the benefits of this legislation as soon as it can be passed. Therefore, we would like to see this legislation become effective immediately on the date of its enactment. If we recognize the need there is no reason why we should not act quickly.

The measures in this Bill are partly a response to the recommendations of the Task Force on Pension Reform which reported in December, 1984. Our member on that commission was Ted Miller, a member in the previous Parliament. He also made a minority report. He recommended expanding the general public program of Old Age Security, the Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan by making them available at age 60. I believe our ultimate goal should be to have a universal program for all people.

Although some members of the Liberal Party in the House agree that such a change would be beneficial and should be implemented, the previous Liberal Government made no attempt to implement any of the recommendations brought before it by the Pension Reform Committee in 1983. Except for the two-stage, $50 per month increase in the guaranteed income supplement, the previous Government was content to leave pension changes to those that did not help lower income people but definitely helped the upper income groups in Canada. We support this Bill and are willing to discuss it in committee where we might be able to convince the Government to make some changes so that it will be less discriminatory.

Pensions have a very interesting history in Canada. The first old age pension legislation in Canada was introduced during a minority government in 1926. At that time the real impetus behind that particular move for pensions was instigated by J. S. Woodsworth who was the Labour Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North Centre. The measure was opposed by the Conservatives in the House back in 1926, then blocked by the Liberals and the Conservatives in the Senate.

Following the election of that year, when it became a campaign issue during the election, it was reintroduced by the King Government and passed the House and the Senate with very little difficulty. It is very interesting to note that that particular pension was $20 per month and very strictly means tested.

That particular period of history is very interesting as far as social welfare legislation in Canada is concerned and I would commend members in the House and other Canadians to read it. It shows the ability of one determined man or a group of seven Members in the House who were able to change the direction of social welfare legislation in Canada to a direction that has not changed perceptibly since that time. We have added to that legislation on several occasions.

The CCF conducted a considerable amount of policy discussion and development. When Stanley Knowles was elected in 1942, he immediately took up the responsibility of his predecessor from Winnipeg North Centre, J.S. Woodsworth, and called for pensions as a fundamental right and free from the humiliating means test. In 1952, ten years later, after considerable pressure from the CCF in the House, the Government introduced universal old age security and made it payable at age 70.

I am reviewing this history because since 1926 until now we have made inroads into taking the responsibility for senior citizens, recognizing their contribution to our country and that

February 11, 1985

we, as representatives of the people of Canada, have a responsibility for their dignity in old age with a lifestyle that is free of want. Consequently, we implemented the guaranteed income supplement, old age security, senior medicare programs as well as dental programs. Now we should be looking at the extension of these services to as many people as possible in that particular age group. Our policy suggestion has always been that if we cannot move the applicable age down to 60 universally, then what we should do is make the allowance available at age 60 for anybody who is not in the workforce. That is what we will attempt to do in committee.

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

Marcel Danis (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Continuing debate. The Hon. Member for Charlevoix (Mr. Hamelin).

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

Charles-André Hamelin

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Charles Hamelin (Charlevoix):

Mr. Speaker, 1 am very happy with this opportunity to take part in the debate on Bill C-26, to amend the Old Age Security Act. Under this legislation, next September the spouse's allowance will be extended to all widows and widowers between the ages of 60 and 64 and living on low incomes. They will benefit from this allowance regardless of the age of their spouse at death.

Those Canadians will receive up to a maximum of $536.26 per month, to be indexed quarterly to the cost of living. More than 85,000 Canadians will benefit from this new measure.

Mr. Speaker, I think we should applaud this new proposal which will help consolidate and upgrade the old age security program. During the last election campaign, I met with groups of widows and widowers in my riding who took advantage of the opportunity to inform me about their extremely precarious situation. In many cases the sudden death of a spouse had left them without any significant income, often with dependents, either directly or indirectly. Those people had high hopes in our plan to upgrade the old age security system, and I am sure that today, they will be able to point with pride to their new Progressive Conservative Government that is going to "deliver the goods" and provide them with a significant measure of assistance.

The House will recall, and 1 think this is important considering certain arguments that have been made recently, that the implementation of this new proposal will involve additional spending of $190 million, and over $350 million in 1986-87 when the program has been in existence for one year.

Mr. Speaker, of course our Government would have liked to have done more for all individuals in the 60 to 64 age group by extending its program to those who are single, divorced or separated, as the opposition parties have insisted that we do. Unfortunately, the disastrous financial situation we have inherited from a series of previous governments precludes committing the $1.5 billion that would be involved in extending this program to all people on low incomes in this age group. Of course, the fact that previous governments saw the public treasury as a well that would never run dry is now

Old Age Security Act

preventing this Government from extending the program to all widows and widowers between 60 and 64, and this obviously leaves us very little room to manoeuvre and to do everything we would like to do to provide a decent standard of living for all these groups. It is also obvious that if we were not facing a deficit that will reach nearly $200 billion this year, our Government would be in a position to consider a far more generous old age security program.

1 think we must regenerate Canada's wealth before we can share it. That is the objective and that is the position of the Government that was elected on September 4 of last year. We must stabilize the Government's financial situation. We are working on it very actively and we have no choice but to succeed unless we want to be haunted once again by the spectre of brankruptcy that threatened this country until September 4 of last year.

Meanwhile, although this measure is not a panacea for all the problems facing the elderly in general and widowed individuals in particular, the 85,000 Canadians who are anxiously waiting for Parliament to adopt this new measure will have cause to rejoice. I think that our Government and Progressive Conservatives and in fact the entire House will have cause for rejoicing, and I am delighted to see that this Government, as it said in the Throne Speech, is delivering the goods and is trying to gradually improve the old age security program, and I think this is a very significant measure that the House should approve.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO AMEND
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February 11, 1985