Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vaughan—Woodbridge for sharing his time with me today and thank all members for engaging in this important debate.
We know how difficult this pandemic has been on seniors and how it has impacted them, their livelihoods, their quality of life, their mental health and even their safety. We all agree in the House that we need to do more to help seniors and their communities. As announced in the fiscal update, we will be delivering a one-time payment to fully compensate those affected in 2020, and today we introduced Bill C-12 to exclude any pandemic benefits for the purposes of calculating the guaranteed income supplement going forward.
I had many conversations at the doorsteps with individuals who were affected. Bill C-12 would go a long way in demonstrating that as parliamentarians we are listening and our government is responding. The fact remains that far too many seniors in Canada have been living in poverty. It was an issue long before this pandemic, but COVID, an unprecedented global health crisis, has made matters worse. Seniors who lost income and were financially struggling accessed emergency support to help them get by. Bill C-12 would protect seniors from losing their income-tested GIS payments going forward and would rectify any loss of GIS as a result of receiving COVID benefits. This would protect struggling seniors from falling deeper into poverty and rectify the unintended consequences of pandemic benefits that were designed to help.
Many seniors have been trying to survive paycheque to paycheque, and in New Brunswick the situation is worse. One in five seniors in my province lives below the poverty line and many more are just at the cusp. This is well above the Canadian average. These seniors depend on GIS to pay their rent, heat their homes and buy groceries, particularly at a time when the cost of living continues to rise. In Fredericton, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now close to $1,000. Seniors desperately need the action our government is proposing.
Passing Bill C-12 also matters for our commitment to advancing gender equality, furthering reconciliation and combatting systemic discrimination. The loss of GIS payments would disproportionately impact women, indigenous people and racialized Canadians, demographics that statistically experience higher rates of poverty. It is urgent that we pass this bill and help the estimated 90,000 seniors across the country who have been impacted. Failing to pass this bill would further threaten the economic security of thousands.
I am optimistic that through the leadership of the Minister of Seniors, real and tangible change will be felt across the country. This government is committed to building a better future for seniors. As a member from Atlantic Canada, this positive change cannot come soon enough. By 2036, Canada’s senior population could be close to 11 million. As the Canadian population continues to age, so does the number of older adults expecting to be living in subsidized housing. We need to look at the future and take measures now to avoid having seniors, who spent their lives building this beautiful country, reach their golden years and live under the poverty line.
I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to suggest that we can go further to support seniors and many others facing poverty. I am proud that this government is seriously looking to implement pilot projects on a guaranteed livable income and is moving forward on its objective to reach agreements with provincial and territorial partners to implement national universal pharmacare. I truly feel these measures, in particular, could usher in deep and lasting systemic change.
Simply put, to improve the lives of senior citizens, we must make life more affordable. I am proud to say that this government is doing just that by investing in better public transportation, affordable housing and creative programs, such as the multi-generational home renovation tax credit to help families add a secondary unit to their homes for an immediate or extended family member. This government is also working to establish an aging at home benefit so that seniors can afford to stay in their homes longer, while increasing the quality of long-term care for those who need it. We are also creating opportunities for seniors to be more connected, supported and active members of their communities through the New Horizons for Seniors program. These initiatives will help to enhance the quality of life for all Canadian seniors, and we should not stop there. It is long overdue that we return elders in our communities to their positions of honour and respect.
I want to acknowledge the organizations in my community that have been working hard to support older adults. They are making a real difference in my riding. The Stepping Stone Senior Centre and the Senior Wellness Action Group are but two great examples of those working to help connect hundreds of seniors in the greater Fredericton area to work collaboratively to develop and deliver affordable and accessible activities to meet physical, mental and social needs. They provide volunteer matching, assist with emergency preparedness, support food security and much more. They are providing opportunities for seniors to meet, to learn, to develop new skills, to socialize, to entertain, to be entertained and to be entrepreneurs, and they are serving as an information source for seniors and those who work with them, like me, while promoting the growth and development of seniors in our community.
There are important lessons that we must take forward from this pandemic, and providing adequate supports for seniors must be at the top of our priority list. We must invest in seniors and ensure that people can live in dignity and safety in their older years. We have seen many examples of Canadians being there for each other throughout this pandemic, and this must continue. In many communities around the world, elders are celebrated, they are seen as the head of their family and their knowledge is precious. We need to do more to cherish them here in Canada.
The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elder. Let us listen to what they have been telling us. Let us pass Bill C-12 without delay.