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e-3106 (Social affairs and equality)

E-petition
Initiated by Richard Daigle from Rimouski, Quebec

Original language of petition: French

Petition to the Government of Canada

Whereas:
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted activities since March 2020;
  • A large proportion of the population has received federal support;
  • Seniors have received only a maximum of $500 in assistance since March 2020;
  • The pandemic has created an increase in inflation for seniors;
  • Seniors are often de facto locked down in care facilities, and, as such, this situation particularly affects them;
  • An increasing number of these isolated seniors are experiencing distress;
  • A significant number of them are not digitally literate, and the Lower St. Lawrence region has the lowest rate of Internet connectivity in Quebec;
  • Seniors make up 25% of the Lower St. Lawrence’s population; and
  • The pandemic has affected the financial situation and activities of seniors’ organizations and of those benefitting from their volunteer efforts.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Quebec, call upon the Government of Canada to:
1. Immediately increase Old Age Security by at least 10%;
2. Implement programs to address seniors’ isolation, particularly in regions with poor Internet services;
3. Index health transfer payments by 6% and factor the aging population into the formula;
4. Recognize high-speed Internet as an essential service and expedite connectivity as a result; and
5. Help seniors’ groups make up for losses associated with lower membership, fixed costs and appealing to professionals to promote volunteerism.

Response by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Chrystia Freeland

Department of Finance Canada

Part 3. Canada Health Transfer

The Government thanks the petitioners for expressing their views about Indexing health transfer payments by 6% and factoring the aging population into the formula.

As the Government announced on April 19th, Budget 2021 proposes to meet the immediate needs of this group of seniors by providing a one-time payment of $500 in August 2021 to OAS pensioners who will be 75 or over as of June 2022. In addition, Budget 2021 then proposes to introduce legislation to increase regular OAS payments for pensioners 75 and over by 10 per cent on an ongoing basis as of July 2022. This would increase the benefits for approximately 3.3 million seniors, providing additional benefits of $766 to full pensioners in the first year, and indexed to inflation going forward. This would give seniors more financial security later in life, particularly at the time when they face increased care expenses and greater risk of running out of savings.

During the pandemic, many seniors have faced economic challenges as they took on extra costs to stay safe. Additionally, many seniors are living longer and relying on monthly benefits to afford retirement. After a lifetime of hard work, they deserve a secure and dignified retirement. That is why the government is committed to increasing Old Age Security (OAS) benefits for seniors age 75 and older.This builds on the support from the federal government for provinces and territories in the fight against COVID-19. In the short-term, federal health spending will continue to focus on pandemic support (e.g., vaccine delivery, border measures, contingency fund) and acute areas of need exposed by the pandemic, such as long-term care. 

Unprecedented levels of federal pandemic support has been provided to the provinces and territories to date, including:

  • $500 million for critical health care system needs and to support response efforts to COVID-19;
  • $72.6 million for supplemental funding for territorial health and social services pandemic needs;
  • $240 million for virtual care funds to develop, expand and launch virtual care and mental health initiatives;
  • approximately $13 billion in direct transfers under the nearly $20 billion Safe Restart Agreement to support health care capacity, vulnerable populations, personal protective equipment, testing, contact tracing and data management; and
  • up to $1 billion for a Safe Long-term Care Fund to help provinces and territories protect people in long-term care and support infection prevention and control.

On March 25, 2021, the federal government tabled legislation in the House of Commons in order to provide a one-time payment of up to $1 billion to the provinces and territories, on an equal per capita basis, to support COVID-19 vaccine rollout campaigns to help get shots into arms as quickly as possible.

In addition to the significant funding provided in response to the pandemic, $41.9 billion was transferred to provinces and territories through the Canada Health Transfer in 2020-21 and $43.1 billion will be transferred in 2021-22.

Over the longer-term, the federal government will also be there to ensure that health care systems meet the needs of Canadians. While discussions with provinces and territories on what Canada’s health care systems and economies are facing in the coming years are ongoing, the federal government is committed to continuing to lead the Team Canada effort as Canada continues to fight this virus.

As more of the country is vaccinated, Canadians will and should expect that the health care systems they rely on will recover and return to normalcy. The federal government will be there to help provinces and territories meet these expectations. The government has committed to providing provinces and territories with $4 billion in 2021-22 through a one-time top-up to the Canada Health Transfer to support clearing the health care system backlogs caused by waves one and two of the pandemic.

Response by the Minister of Seniors

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Deb Schulte

1. Immediately increase Old Age Security by at least 10%

The Old Age Security (OAS) program is the first pillar of Canada’s retirement income system. The benefits under the OAS program include the OAS pension, which is paid to all persons aged 65 or over who meet the residence requirements, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for low-income seniors, and the Allowances for low-income Canadians aged 60 to 64 who are the spouses or common-law partners of GIS recipients, or who are widows or widowers.

The OAS program provides a base upon which individuals can add income from the second pillar of the retirement income system, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP)/Québec Pension Plan, and the third pillar, which is comprised of employer-sponsored pension plans, personal registered retirement savings plans, tax-free savings accounts, and other personal savings and investments, to address their particular financial circumstances.

To ensure that they retain their value over time, OAS benefits are reviewed four times per year (in January, April, July and October) in accordance with changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI measures the price of a typical “basket” of goods and services, such as food, shelter, gas and clothing, commonly purchased by Canadian households. The quarterly indexation provides benefit increases to recipients when prices go up. In addition, the Old Age Security Act contains a guarantee ensuring that benefits can never go down, even in the event of a decline in the CPI.

The Government of Canada remains committed to improving the income security of seniors and continues to seek ways to strengthen the OAS program, as demonstrated by a broad range of measures taken since 2015:

  • Budget 2016 restored the age of eligibility for the OAS pension and the GIS to 65 from 67, putting thousands of dollars back in the pockets of future Canadian seniors and preventing an estimated 100,000 future 65 and 66 year olds from falling into poverty.
  • In July 2016, the GIS was increased by up to $947 per year for the lowest-income single seniors, benefiting close to 900,000 vulnerable seniors across Canada, and lifting an estimated 57,000 seniors out of poverty.
  • In Budget 2019, the Government enhanced the GIS earnings exemption so that low-income seniors who work are able to keep more of what they earn. As of July 2020, the enhanced exemption applies to both employment and self-employment income, and provides a full exemption on up to $5,000 of annual earnings, as well as a 50% exemption on the next $10,000 of earnings. This means that low-income seniors who work can keep more of their benefits.
  • Through these investments, the Government has lowered seniors poverty by 11% since 2015 according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.
  • Budget 2021 proposed new investments for seniors: issuing a one-time $500 payment this August to OAS pensioners aged 75 and older as of June 2022 and delivering on the Government’s promise to increase Old Age Security for Canadians aged 75 and older by 10 per cent in July 2022. This will strengthen the financial security of 3.3 million seniors, and lift 60,700 seniors out of poverty, 65% of whom are women.

The Government has also introduced several new measures to protect seniors’ financial security during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes taking measures to ensure that the OAS and CPP benefits seniors rely on will continue to be paid without delay, and that new applications for these benefits will also be processed in a timely fashion.

The Government invested $1.3 billion in a one-time special payment through the GST credit in April 2020. More than 4 million low-and modest income seniors benefited from this top-up, which provided an average of $375 for low and modest-income single seniors and an average of $510 for low-and modest-income senior couples. Eligible individuals, including seniors, did not have to apply for this benefit.

In July 2020, the Government issued an automatic one-time tax-free payment of $300 for seniors eligible for the OAS pension, with an additional tax-free payment of $200 for seniors eligible for the GIS. This measure provided a total of $500 to low income seniors who receive both the OAS pension and the GIS. Allowance recipients also received $500. This $2.5 billion investment in financial support helped Canadian seniors cover increased costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through these measures, the Government invested $3.8 billion to provide over $900 more for low-income single seniors and more than $1,500 for low-income senior couples, on top of their existing benefits, to help with their extra costs during the pandemic.

The Government also put additional measures in place to ensure GIS payments would continue without interruption even if a person's 2019 income information had not been received. This guaranteed the most vulnerable seniors would continue to receive their benefits when they needed them most.

2. Implement programs to address seniors’ isolation, particularly in regions with poor Internet services

The Government of Canada supports the implementation of programs that address seniors’ isolation through the New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP). The NHSP is the single largest funder of programming to combat social isolation among seniors in Canada. This funding improves the ability of organizations to address cultural diversity and the needs of vulnerable groups, including seniors in rural and remote areas.

The Government made additional investments and implemented new flexibilities for the NHSP to help meet seniors’ needs early in the pandemic. Flexibilities allowed organizations across the country to use approximately $50 million in previously approved project funding for essential services to seniors affected by COVID-19, such as telephone wellness check-ins for seniors. New investments included:

  • An additional $20 million for the NHSP to support organizations that offer community-based projects aimed at reducing isolation, improving the quality of life of seniors, and helping them maintain a social support network; and;
  • $9 million to United Way Centraide Canada to fund community organizations to help isolated, vulnerable seniors in all regions across Canada cope with the health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 2020-2021 Call For Proposals, NHSP funding targeted promotion and outreach on geographic areas and among targeted populations where intake and funded applications have been low in the last few years. It launched over 3,000 community projects across the country. Through increased funding and improvements, it had the highest number of applications ever, almost double the number of projects serving rural seniors, and a greater share of funded projects serving vulnerable seniors.

The number of projects serving rural seniors approved for NHSP funding in 2020-2021 increased by 35%, almost double the number of projects funded in 2019-2020 to serve rural seniors. In addition, the amount of funding approved for projects serving rural seniors in 2020-2021 was over $22 million, nearly double the amount of funding provided to projects serving rural seniors in 2019-2020. Overall, funding for all vulnerable seniors, including those in rural regions is 86% of total funding in 2020-2021 compared to 74% in 2019-2020.

The Government will continue to invest $70 million annually into NHSP local and pan-Canadian projects to help increase social inclusion among seniors across the country.

To support internet access in Quebec, the Government recently provided $826.3 million in funding to ensure the province could launch Operation High Speed, connecting nearly 150,000 Quebecers to high-speed internet. Through Budget 2021, the Government of Canada will invest an additional $1 billion over six years for the Universal Broadband Fund, to support access to high-speed internet for Canadians in rural and remote communities. In total, including proposed Budget 2021 funding, $2.75 billion will be made available through the Universal Broadband Fund to support Canadians in rural and remote communities. This builds on the $6.2 billion the federal government and federal agencies have made available for universal broadband since 2015. This puts Canada on track to achieve 98% high-speed coverage initiative by 2026 and 100% by 2030.

5. Help seniors’ groups make up for losses associated with lower membership, fixed costs and appealing to professionals to promote volunteerism.

Community-based projects funded under the NHSP involve and are led by volunteers. For example, about 43,000 volunteers—more than half of them seniors—were engaged to plan and organize the 2,669 NHSP-funded projects that were implemented in hundreds of communities across the country in 2019-20. There is no defined set of models for these projects or how volunteers are involved. Their approaches to volunteer involvement are as diverse as the seniors and communities they serve.

To-date, the Government has announced a number of initiatives that support charitable and non-profit organizations in addressing COVID-19 related issues, including an investment of $350 million to support vulnerable Canadians through charities and non-profit organizations that deliver essential services to those in need, including seniors.

The Emergency Community Support Fund, launched in May 19, 2020, worked with three national intermediaries—the United Way Centraide Canada, the Canadian Red Cross and Community Foundations of Canada—to channel funds through their regional and local partners to local community organizations who support a wide range of vulnerable populations. Examples of activities of funded organizations included:

  • Increased volunteer-based home deliveries or transportation services (e.g. delivery of medications or accompanying/driving seniors or persons with disabilities to appointments);
  • Scaled up help-lines that provide information and support (e.g. increasing access to the 211 service of the United Way);
  • Provided training, supplies and other supports required so that volunteers can continue to make their invaluable contribution to the COVID-19 response; and
  • Replaced in-person one-on-one contact and social gatherings with virtual contact through means like phone calls, texts, teleconferences or the internet.

Many New Horizons Seniors Programs are community-based projects led by volunteers. They also promote volunteerism among seniors and engage seniors in the community through mentoring of others. Projects are seniors-centred and focus on providing essential services, supports and capital assistance to increase social participation among seniors, including addressing social isolation. . Other projects combat elder abuse and increase connections between seniors-serving organizations. The latest NHSP annual community-based Call for Proposals held in fall 2020 was designed to account for the challenges facing seniors-serving community organizations during the pandemic.  Over 5,000 community support projects were funded to support seniors staying active and socially connected during the pandemic through the New Horizons for Seniors Program. The Government of Canada’s increased funding and improvements to New Horizons for Seniors Program this year resulted in the highest number of applications ever, almost double the number of projects serving rural seniors, and a greater share of funded projects serving vulnerable seniors.

 

Response by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): Parliamentary Secretary Gudie Hutchings

The Government of Canada thanks the petitioners for sharing their views on the importance of broadband connectivity in rural and remote regions.

The Government of Canada recognizes that now more than ever, Canadians rely on high-quality broadband Internet services to stay informed, work from home, study, manage their finances, access government services, and stay connected with friends and family.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the necessity of these services. Since the pandemic began, the government has engaged with Canada’s telecommunications service providers to ensure that our networks are able to manage the increased demand to ensure the continued provision of critical telecommunications services at this time. We have taken several steps to assist telecom service providers, such as extending the payment date for spectrum licence fees to provide cash-flow relief, allowing unused spectrum to be shared to increase capacity for wireless services, and accelerating the process to get licences. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is similarly engaged with providers regarding COVID-19 issues.

The government is also moving forward on a number of ambitious initiatives to improve broadband access in rural areas more broadly. In recognition of the importance of this issue, the Prime Minister appointed Canada’s first Minister of Rural Economic Development, with a mandate to lead the government’s work to increase high-speed broadband coverage in rural Canada. In June 2019, the government released High Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy, a historic commitment to connect every Canadian to affordable, high-speed Internet and to improve mobile cellular access from coast to coast to coast. The Strategy outlines Canada's action plan to leverage new and existing investments and technologies, as well as to collaborate with partners to ensure high-speed Internet access for all Canadians at speeds of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload, regardless of where they live or work.

Central to the strategy is substantial funding to support network expansion. Building on the $6.2 billion the federal government has made available for broadband since 2015, Budget 2021 proposed an additional $1 billion over six years, starting in 2021-22, to the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) to support a more rapid rollout of broadband projects in collaboration with funding partners. In total, the government is making $2.75 billion available through the UBF to support access in rural and remote communities. These continuing investments will help Canada accelerate work to reach its goal of 98 per cent of the country having high-speed broadband by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030. The UBF will include up to $150 million for a Rapid Response Stream with an accelerated application process to allow shovel-ready projects to get started right away, up to $750 million available for large impact projects, and up to $50 million available to support mobile projects that primarily benefit Indigenous peoples. The Prime Minister also announced an agreement of $600 million with Canadian satellite company Telesat to secure low-earth orbit satellite capacity, which will improve connectivity and expand high-speed Internet coverage to the far north, rural, and remote regions across Canada. Recently, the UBF provided funding to ensure Quebec could launch Operation High Speed, connecting nearly 150,000 Quebecers to high-speed Internet by September 2022 through joint equal investments totalling $826.3 million. Announcements for other selected projects via the UBF are ongoing.

In addition to these investments, the government is delivering on additional funding allocated in Budget 2019, including a top-up for the successful Connect to Innovate program, and data gathering initiatives to measure household and business Internet access and use. Under Connect to Innovate, over 200 projects are already underway. Once completed, these projects will bring new or improved high-speed Internet access to over 975 rural and remote communities, including 190 Indigenous communities. These projects also have the potential to benefit up to 390,000 households across Canada. The new UBF will build on this success and is being designed with the needs of rural and remote Canadians in mind.

The CRTC, Canada’s independent telecommunications regulator, also has a $750 million Broadband Fund in place to help expand universal broadband Internet and mobile access. The fund is supported by a levy on industry. The CRTC’s first call for applications closed in October 2019 and focused on projects targeting broadband and mobile connectivity in the three territories, as well as satellite dependent communities across Canada. The CRTC has announced a series of projects under the first call for proposals that will connect over 10,000 households in 51 communities, the majority of which are Indigenous. A second call for applications closed in June 2020 and focused on all eligible areas in Canada. To date, the CRTC has announced an additional 11 successful projects under the second call, with more expected over the coming months, that will connect approximately 14,500 households across Canada. Two of these projects will connect an estimated 2,000 households in five remote communities in Nunavik to high-speed Internet. This follows the CRTC declaring broadband Internet and mobile wireless as basic telecommunications services under the Telecommunications Act in 2016. This designation confirmed that these services can be funded via the CRTC’s industry levy.

These investments are complemented by other initiatives including the Accelerated Investment Incentive - an accelerated capital cost allowance designed to encourage businesses to invest, general infrastructure programs administered by Infrastructure Canada, increased investments through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, and funding for broadband from local levels of government including the provinces and territories.

The CRTC has public proceedings underway that are examining access to passive infrastructure and support structures. In December 2019, the CRTC launched a proceeding on barriers to broadband deployment and possible regulatory solutions within its jurisdiction. A broad range of stakeholders participated in the proceeding. Furthermore, the CRTC also launched a proceeding in October 2020 focused on access to poles. The CRTC has indicated that through the proceeding, it will identify and implement regulatory measures that will make access to poles more efficient. Both of these proceedings have now closed and the CRTC is examining the interventions received, with decisions anticipated later this year. Other complementary actions to promote broadband access include reviewing policy and regulatory frameworks on antenna towers and support structures, raising awareness among stakeholders of the importance of access to passive infrastructure assets needed for network expansion, and the ongoing review of Canada’s communications legislation.

The government looks forward to continuing to engage with Canadians and key stakeholders including the private sector, provinces and territories, Indigenous communities, and not-for-profit organizations in promoting access to high-quality, robust, and affordable broadband networks in all regions of the country.

Open for signature
January 19, 2021, at 3:55 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
March 20, 2021, at 3:55 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques)
March 24, 2021 (Petition No. 432-00712)
Government response tabled
May 7, 2021
Photo - Maxime Blanchette-Joncas
Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques
Bloc Québécois Caucus
Quebec
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