Mr. Charles H. Thomas (Moncton):
Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my comments on Bill C-190 I should like to echo the words of the hon. member who has just preceded me. Basically I am satisfied with the amendments, but I think that some matters which ought to have been included have been omitted, and that the government has not gone far enough in certain respects.
April 17, 1974
Basically I agree with the argument in favour of equality as between male and female contributors. The situation of the female contributor has been improved by placing her on the same basis as far as dependents are concerned. I think we shall probably be called upon to review the whole subject to arrive at a fair and equitable formula which will enable housewives to participate in this plan. I appreciate the difficulties. I have read the minister's paper with interest, and I hope he will be able to produce a sensible solution.
I have never been able to understand the section in the present act which, in effect, instituted a means test at the age of 65. It did not make sense to me that if you contributed to a plan which was the same as any other insurance plan, and which paid a universal benefit, your pension would be reduced by the amount of your outside earnings. So I am glad that the minister has seen fit to abolish what was, in effect, a means test at the age of 65.
The changes in the formula for the year's maximum pensionable earnings ceiling, which will result in a change in the formula for benefits will, I know, be accepted cheerfully by all contributors to the plan. It is probably long past the time when this plan should have been modernized and adapted to make it more compatible with the present d^v cost of living.
However, I should just like to reaffirm what other hon. members who have spoken before me said, that we are rapidly reaching the stage where we must be very careful in all this tinkering with, and adjusting of, the CPP. I feel we are rapidly getting to the point where we might get into the same kind of mess the Unemployment Insurance Act is in. That was a good act until the government decided to monkey around and to make out of it a trough for catching votes in 1971 by broadening its provisions. This made the plan no longer actuarially sound. I hope this will be a lesson to the minister, and that before we go on to make any more generous amendments to the act we will make sure that the present fund, and the payments to be made, will be sufficient to take care of the increased benefits that are being provided.
Having said that, and having complimented the minister for bringing in these amendments to the act, I am a little disappointed that certain other amendments have not been made. The Canada Pension Plan is basically a good plan; I do not think anyone would question that. I think it is part of our social planning. Individuals have been able to incorporate the plan into their own private arrangements, which I think is probably the only way a good many Canadians have been able to develop any kind of retirement pension for themselves.
As I say, it is a good plan, and I think most are happy with it, but there is one class of contributor that is, I think, discriminated against. I do not know whether it is because of the wording of the act or because of the way the act is being interpreted, but the chief complaints I get about the CPP come from those who have to retire from work before the age of 65. On applying for the pension, in many cases they are refused because they do not come within the definition of "disability" under the act. I think this is my chief complaint with the amendments we are studying today.
Canada Pension Plan
The definition of "disabled person" is contained in section 43(2) (a) of the act. That section reads as follows:
(2) For the purposes of this Act,
(a) a person shall be considered to be disabled only if he is determined in prescribed manner to be suffering from a severe and
prolonged mental or physical disability-
I do not know what is meant by "prescribed manner", but it seems to me that if a person has a medical certificate from a qualified medical practitioner to the effect that he is incapable of working, and that further work would be injurious to his health, then that should be sufficient to qualify him for the Canada pension to which he has contributed since the plan came into force. "Prescribed manner" would seem to me to indicate that an examination by a qualified medical practitioner should be sufficient.
The subsection goes on to provide:
-a disability is severe only if by reason thereof the person in respect of whom the determination is made is incapable regularly of pursuing any substantially gainful occupation-
If an applicant's doctor advises him that, by reason of heart failure or a lung condition, or any other physical disability, further work is injurious to his health and might in fact result in his death, then surely that should be sufficient to qualify him under the disability section of the act for a pension. In fact the subsection goes on to refer to illness or disability that is likely to be long continued and of indefinite duration, or is likely to result in death.
I had a case the other day of a woman who had had one coronary and two cardiac arrests. Her doctor certified that she should not even take part in any light work. Certainly if anything is likely to result in death, it is cardiac arrest. This woman applied for her pension but was refused. In fact she was told, even though she had her own doctor's certificate, to get another medical examination.
Therein, Mr. Speaker, lies the rub. I come from a small town, and like most small towns in this country there is a shortage of doctors. It is hard enough to get one medical examination done by your own physician, but when you are told that your own physician's report cannot be accepted and that you will have to get an outside opinion, you find it takes 60 to 90 days, if you are lucky, to get an appointment with another doctor. I do not know whether the officials of the Canada Pension Plan are hoping these people will die within the 90 days while they are waiting for the other opinion or what, but I sometimes wonder.
This situation is serious enough, but much to my surprise only last week I discovered that in the city of Moncton-I do not know whether this applies to other cities-there are no doctors either capable of rendering a professional opinion that is acceptable to the department or willing to examine patients sent to them by the Canada Pension Plan administration. I do not know whether this is because the fee that the CPP pays is not high enough, or whether the doctors there are simply fed up with this business of having their professional judgment questioned; but we now have the ridiculous situation where people with serious heart conditions, emphysema, or other serious disabilities are told there is no doctor in Moncton qualified or willing to give the CPP a satisfactory report, and so they have to go to Halifax or Saint John.
April 17, 1974
Canada Pension Plan
When senior citizens who have had two or three heart attacks, and do not know how long they are going to last, are told that they have to take a bus, train or plane trip to Halifax, some 200 miles away from Moncton, to undergo a medical examination, the frustration and excitement are enough to knock them off.
I could not believe that this was the practice of the CPP, so I called the local office. The first reply to me was: "Oh no, this is only done in exceptional cases". When I asked what the exceptional cases were, I discovered they were heart cases and lung cases in particular. I consider these the two most common causes of physical disability necessitating early retirement from work, and I found the situation almost unbelievable.
I do not know whether this is a policy that has been laid down by the minister or his officials. People in the local office always say their hands are tied, that there is nothing they can do about it because it is determined by the Ottawa office. If that is the case I certainly feel that Section 43 should be revised in order to make clear what is meant by substantial or gainful occupation.
How disabled must you be before you are incapable of other work? Must you be a basket case, or bedridden? When a person has suffered three or four serious heart attacks, surely the fact that he is able to walk does not mean he is able to work, but this seems to be the interpretation placed on this section by officials administering the plan. These are the people who are suffering.
It is all right to say that there is an appeal provision, but anyone who has had any experience with the appeal procedure under the Canada Pension Plan will know that there is an initial three-month delay before you can get another medical opinion, and that medical opinion may not be accepted before the commencement of the appeal procedure. This is where the delay and frustration begin.
I remember an appeal a few years ago when it took 15 months from the time the application was put in until the appeal was disposed of finally. I cannot see the justice in decisions which delay the payment of benefits to persons who have been forced to pay into the plan because deductions were made from salary. Where is the justice in forcing these people to wait 15 months because officials of the department are not prepared to interpret the regulations as they should be interpreted, or because there is not sufficient staff to look after the applications?
Perhaps the wording of this section could be changed, or something could be made clear in respect of the interpretation of what is a substantial or gainful occupation. Is it fair to suggest that because an individual has been a carpenter, and cannot work with his disability, there is no reason why he cannot be a nightwatchman or perhaps run an elevator? This is one of the things that has bothered me. I use elevators quite a bit and, as many others, I am not happy having somebody operating an elevator who is so disabled this is the only type of job he can do. It does not make sense to tell a person who has had three or four heart attacks that he should take a job as a nightwatchman. I do not think we want a person who is apt to drop dead at any moment on that kind of a job.
I was happy to hear the minister refer to upcoming revisions. He talked about many things and I cannot find the exact reference, but he did say that amendments would cover several areas. There was reference to disability payments, but no reference to a definition of disability. The proposed bill makes reference to a clarification of the definition of disabled children, but does not make any reference to what is a disability, or what procedure must be followed for these people to qualify.
As I indicated earlier, I am in favour of the amendments and appreciate them as far as they go, but I hope the amendments the minister has promised to bring in will take into consideration this whole section I have mentioned. It may be possible to improve it by legislation, or it may be that all that is required is a direction to the officials regarding interpretation. When this goes to the committee I hope this will be one of the matters considered, so that this category of people now being discriminated against will be able to obtain the fair treatment they are entitled to as contributors under the act.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: CANADA PENSION PLAN