Elizabeth May: Seniors were misled about how COVID relief would affect GIS and OAS

Speaker: Ms. May
Time: 15/02/2022 23:33:37
Context: Debate

I think we know what we are dealing with tonight. I think I have twenty minutes of speaking time and I do not plan to use it. This is at the end of a long day. It is very clear where we all stand. This bill should pass.

This is very rare for me, by the way. I voted earlier today for closure. I think in the whole time I have been a member of Parliament, which is astonishingly, and this is a huge honour, coming onto 11 years, I think I have only voted for closure one other time. It offends me to close debate almost every time.

However, seniors have been waiting too long for a simple error to be repaired and I want to see the bill pass as quickly as possible. I wanted to look at this from a broader perspective and raise something about this. This comes from the comments immediately before mine, from the hon. member for Battle River—Crowfoot, but from others as well.

We are here to fix a mistake, something that should never have happened. The seniors who applied for COVID relief, in many cases, were assured it would not affect their Guaranteed Income Supplement. There was bad advice given to many people, as has happened before on other aspects of COVID relief. However, seniors were shocked to find that their Guaranteed Income Supplement had been clawed back.

To fix the mistake, we have to bring another bill to Parliament. Think of how many times this has happened. The member for Battle River—Crowfoot mentioned the three times to fix the CEBA. Think about what happened when we found that there were other unintended mistakes that occurred under COVID relief.

One that is still hanging over us was the change to the COVID Response Benefit, which happened in the summer, when it looked as though we were coming out of the pandemic and there was tremendous pressure that we were not getting people back to work because their COVID benefits made it easier to stay home than to go back to work.

I think we have all heard that narrative. I do not buy into it, by the way.

We have all heard that narrative, that it was hard to get people to come back to work. Because of that, the CRB was reduced from $500 a month to $300 a month. Oh, but now it is clear that we are not on our way out of the COVID experience. We still have businesses closing. We still have public health orders. They have gone on. They may be about to be lifted but the decision that was made in July does not look so very good in February. That is so much time for people to have been struggling to hang on at $300 a month. Again, to fix this simple mistake, an entire new piece of legislation is required and we have to come back to Parliament.

Think about another thing that was promised by the Liberal government in 2020. That, of course, is the Canada Disability Benefit. It is much needed. We know that, as a community, if we look at people with disabilities, that is the community, the differently-abled community, that struggles the most with poverty. The Canada Disability Benefit is long overdue. It was promised in 2020. It was promised again in the Liberal platform in 2021. I am sure they intend to get to it. I honestly do. I am not suggesting anything to do with skepticism on my part. I think the minister genuinely wants to bring forward the legislation.

However, here we are and people are poor and they are still struggling with a society that is struggling with the pandemic, and they are still living with being differently abled in a society that does not accommodate them. We pass legislation for a barrier-free society but we are not there yet.

Again, it needs legislation. I think we can make the case after two years in the pandemic that what we discovered through COVID were depths of inequality that many of us had not looked at. I think a lot of us who are arguing all the time for addressing poverty have looked at it.

We have been very, I hate to use the word smug, but Canadians who are living above the poverty line have a hard time imagining how hard it is for our fellow citizens who are homeless, dealing with addiction and unable, even with two people in the same family and working, to find a place to live.

One of the things that struck me with COVID-related stories was about the spread of COVID in homeless shelters. This is a story from two years ago in Ottawa at one of the homeless shelters. The workers and supervisors wondered how COVID had come into this particular homeless shelter, only to discover two its regular residents were workers at long-term care homes. They went to work at long-term care homes and brought COVID back to the homeless shelter. Working people doing hard jobs, frontline workers we needed so desperately, were infected with COVID and brought it to a homeless shelter.

We need to recognize from all these various stories that we do not have a social safety net that works. Our predecessors in this place, in another minority Liberal Parliament in the late 1960s when Lester B. Pearson was the prime minister, and the extraordinary people who once were the NDP, and I apologize to my friends in the NDP now as it is a shadow of its former self, the giants of social justice Tommy Douglas and David Lewis, managed to use their minority position to push for what was needed.

We had our whole health care system put in place in the late 1960s. We had the Canada pension plan put in place in the late 1960s. We had unemployment insurance and student loans without interest payments all in that period. I describe it in ways that might make one think the music of Camelot is about to swell in the background, but we had that once.

Here we are in a minority Parliament again. I ask my friends across the party lines to be creative. This is a moment to point out the inefficiencies of the failure to eradicate poverty when we have the chance. This is the time to accept.

I am very proud of the fact that the Green Party of Canada was the first party in this country to advocate for guaranteed livable income, but there are many more of us now. The New Democrats have been advocating for it strongly, and many backbenchers in the Liberal Party are advocating for a guaranteed livable income, and so are prominent Conservatives like former senator Hugh Segal, who wrote a brilliant book called Bootstraps need Boots. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps if we are shoeless.

This is an important moment for us to think about the ways in which we take on these problems are massively inefficient. Each mistake made is not calculated to make the poor poorer, but they have that effect. Each mistake, each piece of legislation, each failure to get the right decimal number cannot be fixed by a simple regulation, a wave of the wand from the minister.

Bill after bill has to come back to this place. Let us fix it once and for all. Let us say, as we debate Bill C-12, that we are going to pass this one quickly but that we are not going to give up on casting a light on what is unacceptable in this country. Poverty is unacceptable in this country, poverty in indigenous communities and poverty in any community.

We are a wealthy country and we have conducted study after study after study. As well, the all-party poverty caucus has been holding hearings on this for as long as I have been in this place. These are studies that prove our society will be better. It is not about charity. The health, the resilience and the economic strength of our country will be fortified when we have eliminated poverty and every Canadian has a roof over their head, access to pharmacare and is able to live in dignity. Then this place will not be bogged down in a pandemic with realizing over and over again we have a gap here and a gap over there and so more legislation is needed.

Let us be brave. Let us be bold. Let us think like earlier generations of parliamentarians did and let us think fully about the full range of programs seniors need such as affordable housing for every Canadian and long-term care that is not for profit. Let us think about what we can do for housing to ensure seniors do not need to leave their own home, but perhaps have creative solutions to ensure they can stay at home. We know the costs of a senior living in their own homes are far less than if they end up in hospital.

I could go on, but the hour is late and I promised myself I would not use all my available time. All of us are of one mind in this place that this bill should pass. Our only difference of opinion is about how fast. I am on the side of as fast as possible.