Mrs. Margaret Mitchell (Vancouver East):
Mr. Speaker, 1, too, would like to congratulate the Minister of National Elealth and Welfare (Mr. Crombie) on his new post. A minister who comes from cabbagetown can't be all bad. 1 hope his reputation for encouraging citizen involvement at grass roots will extend to his new ministry as well.
My party and I face a dilemma with regard to Bill C-6 in that we must support a bill that we oppose. We must support this bill because we know that 180 people will benefit from it each month, widowed people who need a pension very badly. Therefore, we want no delay. At the same time we are opposed to this bill for two reasons-first, it is based on sexist principles, or, as my hon. friend from Winnipeg North Centre said this afternoon, a spouse has to be dependent upon having a man, alive or dead. Second, it does not go far enough to protect those aged 60 or over.
As my hon. friend from Winnipeg North Centre pointed out this afternoon, it is particularly ironical that the Prime Minister (Mr. Clark) and the minister of health should hold up this bill as a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of recognizing women as persons. In my opinion Bill C-6 is based on an out-dated attitude that Emily Murphy and her colleagues abhored. It denies the basic right of women to be treated and respected as individuals in their own right, entitled to pensions equal to men's regardless of age or marital status. Also, it ignores single, divorced, and separated women, and those who live common law, making them third class citizens with no right to a pension at all until they qualify for an old age pension.
We agree that widows, and widowers too, should have an adequate pension adjusted to their income. As other hon. members have pointed out, the National Council on Welfare reports that one widow in four can expect not to benefit from the employer of her dead husband, and 45 per cent of all widows in the 55 to 64 age group are poor.
Many women who become widows before 65 have worked as homemakers for perhaps 40 or more years. In their earlier years they probably worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and all this without pay. After their children had grown up they found they had few marketable skills so they were unable to seek employment in today's market. Unlike working men, they are not entitled to the Canada Pension. Surely these women are entitled to an adequate pension at age 60, or earlier, if one is needed, regardless of whether they are widowed or whether they are legally married.
Mr. Speaker, I hope the minister of health will take action now to prevent the need for spouse's pensions in the future. The former member for Vancouver-Kingsway, Grace Mac-Innis, strongly advocated that we needed pay for homemakers, and also pensions for homemakers. She recognized that home-
Ol d Age Security
makers should be entitled to equal pay for work of equal value, with a full Canada Pension when the time came for retirement. What work is more valuable to society than child care and home making? Why shouldn't it be recognized as an essential job worthy of pay? Even our kids get allowances for helping in the home these days.
1 cannot stress too strongly that Bill C-6, while necessary as an intermediate step, treats women, and widows particularly, as inferiors, while ignoring many other woman. Eligibility is based on a dependency relationship to a spouse; it treats the woman as an aging sex symbol rather than treating her with dignity as an independent person with rights in her own name. An even greater injustice in this bill is the fact that it completely ignores the needs of single, separated or divorced people who have no other source of income. Again, the majority of these people are women in the 60-65 age group.
More than 50 per cent of the women between 55 and 65 earn less than $4,000 a year, compared to 11 per cent of men in this age group. So we find that single, poor women under 65 are the most deprived group in our society. Many of them live as lonely outcasts in substandard rented rooms. They are not eligible to get into public housing. Many of them have a high incidence of mental health problems and physical health problems, as a result. They live on fixed welfare incomes of less than $200, in British Columbia at any rate, and the cost of living is going up every day. Such single, poor women, and also 11 per cent of single, poor men, have just as much right to an adequate pension as widowed spouses who at least may have a home. I resent having to categorize people in this way.
Band-aid token programs for a very small segment of our society cost a great deal and benefit very few. Bureaucratic welfare programs should be replaced by a social insurance system for those in need. We must aim at an adequate guaranteed income, or perhaps the term "social insurance" is better these days, with cost of living adjustments for all those who cannot afford to work, who are unable to work. As a first step, of course, the target group should be elderly citizens aged 60 and over who have contributed so much to Canada, and who deserve a life free from financial worries. Social insurance should be their right, just as old age pensions are. I should like to point out that in British Columbia during the golden years of 1972 to 1975-
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: OLD AGE SECURITY ACT