Bill C-202 is to be referred to the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Services and certainly I am not going to speak at any length as I wish to see its reference facilitated.
Yesterday my leader and the hon. member for Simcoe North (Mr. Rynard) both voiced some doubts and some concerns about this legislation. I intend to voice some doubts and concerns. Before emphasizing one or two of my personal concerns in this respect, let me recall a statement made yesterday by the hon. member for York East (Mr. Otto) whom I see standing behind the curtain listening very intently. He said that in his opinion there had been some hair-splitting by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Stanfield). He went on to say that some of the statements made by members on this side of the House did not make sense and he accused people over here of a certain amount of irresponsibility. I should like to read one sentence of the hon. member's speech made yesterday:
II I were a member of a party that had very little or no chance of ever forming the government, of ever being responsible, I would offer them $1,000 a month.
I think that statement is the height of irresponsibility. It is an indication of how much can be said for the hon. member's arguments concerning universality versus selectivity. This is something I should like to discuss for a moment.
We should consider the different approaches in respect of universality versus selectivity. Perhaps I am thinking out loud at the moment, but back in 1950-51 there was a joint committee of this House and the other place which met for a considerable period of time. The four parties in the House at that time were represented on that committee as well as two parties from the other place. This joint committee brought in a unanimous recommendation as to how we should assist our elderly citizens. Perhaps that was the first time in the history of this country that such a unanimous recommendation was brought forward by such a committee.
That recommendation was to the effect that everybody should receive $40 per month upon attaining age 70 as a right, without any means or needs test. There were certain residence rules, that is agreed. But I repeat that that recommendation was unanimous and I think it was sound. Since then, there have been some upward revisions in the amount paid and there have been some changes in residence rules, some lowering of the age when the payment commenced. As the minister of that department for a period of time, I had the responsibility and the pleasure of sponsoring some of the amendments for consideration in the House. Incidentally, the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned what a God given gift to Canada the Liberal party has been in the field of social welfare. I suggest that our government of that day had
December 3, 1970
an enviable record in the field of social welfare. I suggest also that the claims of the Parliamentary Secretary can simply be labelled outrageous.
[DOT] (4:10 p.m.)
That universality of approach which was recommended back in 1950-51-I think the act came into force on January 1, 1951-continued until very recent times. I think it was a sound approach. Everybody was free to apply for and receive old age security without any stigma attached to it and without any suggestion that it was not their right to receive these funds. Incidentally, I have known individuals in the early days of the Old Age Security Act who would not apply for the pension, even though they were entitled to it. They were too proud to do so. I think, however, that as time went on and people realized they were being taxed through the corporation tax, the sales tax and the personal income tax to pay for old age security, everybody pretty well agreed that this was a sound approach. The receipt of old age security was theirs as of right. A fund was established which, at the end of the last fiscal year, was in the neighbourhood of $725 million.
The guaranteed income supplement came into being in 1966. At that time I recall moving an amendment in this House that all old age security recipients receive $100 a month. I still think that that would have been the right step to take at that time. However, the guaranteed income supplement was chosen, and it does seem to me that Canadians as a whole have now pretty well accepted the principle that those who show need for it should be able to receive monthly payments over and above the basic old age security payment. We all remember the 2 per cent cost of living annual increase in basic pensions, as well as the guaranteed income supplement. But even that was completely inadequate. It was a maximum figure. Since that time the cost of living has increased immeasurably more than that. Most years the increase was double that amount.
Primarily I want to say a few words about the basic pension which is now to be fixed at $80 a month and frozen at that figure. The minister intimated that in 1967 position with regard to comparable return would be restored. This is absolutely incorrect. The minister also, as the hon. member for Vancouver-Kingsway (Mrs. Macln-nis) pointed out, seemed to want to leave the impression that there will not be any further increases in the cost of living. I say again, that is utter nonsense. The basic figure-if there is going to be a basic figure, and I am not arguing with that-should be at least $85 and more to restore recipients to a comparable position to that of 1967. Instead of that, the minister is making the figure $80. It is 42 cents more than the recipient is receiving as the basic pension this year. But if the pension had kept step with the increase cost of living, it would have been a great deal higher.
Yesterday the minister referred to an abnormal increase in the cost of living over the past few years. It is not abnormal to recipients of old age security. I suggest it is disastrous. Now, that basic figure is to be frozen at $80
Old Age Security Act
a month. I think this is wrong. To be comparable with 1967, it should be considerably higher. There is to be no further escalation on this basic rate due to the increases in the cost of living. The basic pension is going to be frozen forever or, as was indicated earlier, unless there is a change of heart in the government. I suggest there should be a change of government because certainly this is not an adequate figure. Recipients have been taxed to build up this fund. It is their fund, it is their money, and the money is available. There was $725 million odd in the fund at the end of the last fiscal year. If recipients have other income, they will be taxed in the future.
I am concerned about the departure from the principle of universality. I have always felt that the wealthy who receive old age security pensions pay a huge percentage of them back in income tax, but they have paid into the fund originally. The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) yesterday outlined the position in which various groups of retired Canadians will find themselves. This was a very interesting and accurate analysis. At the moment, I am concerned with the group of people about whom mention was made by the hon. member for Vancouver-Kingsway, those 510,000 Canadians who have some other income and who, as a consequence, will not be receiving the guaranteed income supplement because they will not qualify for it. However, their total income will be very small.
[DOT] (4:20 p.m.)
They are going to be limited to the $80 per month. They are not going to be allowed any escalation of that $80 to off-set increases in the cost of living. Mr. Speaker, I think this is wrong. It is wrong to penalize our elder citizens who, over the years, tried to save a little for their retirement, as well as pay taxes, and who are now singled out as not being eligible to receive a cost of living increase.
The government has not fulfilled its promise of a just society. While I agree with some of the provisions in Bill C-202, I point out that it should have been introduced two years ago. As has been so eloquently mentioned today by the hon. member for Vancouver-Kingsway, our elder citizens have been suffering untold hardships. They have not been receiving proper attention from governing bodies throughout the country.
Despite huge increases in the cost of living, some 500,000 of our elder citizens will still be penalized. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of some of the provisions in the bill. Despite my reservations, I urge its rapid consideration on second reading so that it may go to committee and be returned to the House, even though 500,000 people whose pensions are to be frozen at $80 per month would be receiving $81.17 if the legislation were not passed by the first of the new year. Despite this fact, I believe the bill should receive rapid passage simply because of the guaranteed income supplement which is so necessary, and which will mean so much to so many of our elder citizens who are in dire circumstances.
December 3, 1970
Old Age Security Act
Topic: OLD AGE SECURITY ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENTS RESPECTING AMOUNT OF PENSION, MAXIMUM SUPPLEMENT AND ESCALATION THEREOF