Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-400.
- Feb. 27, 2013 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
March 26th, 2013 / 3:50 p.m.
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, the NDP contributed to these changes, but the Conservatives are taking all the credit. They do not deserve the credit; Jack Layton does. He worked very hard advocating for social housing.
This time around, it is totally ridiculous that the Conservatives all voted against the bill. We were previously unable to pass the bill that the Conservatives agreed with and now suddenly they no longer agree with it. What changed? It is not true to say that it cost money. As I was saying earlier in my speech, a private member's bill cannot give rise to expenditures.
We were simply asking to sit down and talk. Why does that intimidate them? Are they afraid of what they might find? How did they come up with the figure of $5 million, or thereabouts? Were they already aware of the need in this area? Have they identified that need? Is the figure they came up with the one that they should be spending but are unwilling to? Is that the real reason?
Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
March 26th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Surrey North.
Almost a year ago, my leader gave me the official opposition housing critic portfolio. Since then, I have risen many times in the House to demand that the government make housing and homelessness priorities.
I also travelled across Canada to meet with Canadians and interest groups to find out what they think about these very important issues. When I read the budget tabled last Thursday by the Minister of Finance, it became clear that I have a long road ahead of me to get anyone to bother listening to these people.
I cannot say that I am surprised by the lack of housing and homelessness measures in the budget. I never once believed that they were priorities for the Conservatives.
I knew what what I was in for when the Conservatives voted as a block against Bill C-400, which was introduced by my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot to ensure that the different levels of government and the stakeholders would sit down together to assess needs and establish a national housing strategy. But I was shocked when I saw that, the day before the vote, the government posted a document on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website claiming that Bill C-400 would cost Canadian taxpayers $5.5 billion even though the stakeholders had not yet met to discuss what was needed, which was the one and only purpose of the bill. The government must be clear and honest with people.
On pages 1112 and 1113 of O'Brien and Bosc's House of Commons Procedure and Practice, we learn that:
There is a constitutional requirement that bills proposing the expenditure of public funds must be accompanied by a royal recommendation, which can be obtained only by the government and introduced by a Minister. Since a Minister cannot propose items of Private Members’ Business, a private Member’s bill should therefore not contain provisions for the spending of funds.
That seems pretty clear to me. What this means is that a private member's bill cannot commit public funds. In light of what I just said, I would like to know how Bill C-400—which was introduced by the member from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and whose only objective was to have government representatives and stakeholders sit down together to discuss housing issues—could have been assigned the kind of price tag that the Conservatives used to justify voting against the bill? Such a bill would have been considered out of order under the rules of procedure of the House. I will not speculate about the government's motives, but will allow people to draw their own conclusions.
The budget presented last Thursday does not satisfy the NDP official opposition with regard to housing and the fight against homelessness, but let us nevertheless play along and render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.
I am pleased that the government has finally committed to renewing the homelessness partnering strategy, as I have requested many times in the House without ever receiving a satisfactory response. However, when I said renewal, I was not just talking about extending full funding for the HPS. I was also asking that it be increased. Unfortunately, funding for the fight against homelessness has never been indexed since the SCPI was introduced in 1999.
You do not need an advanced course in economics to understand that costs and salaries have increased since the program was created and that funding allocated to the fight against homelessness in Canada has been doing less and less to meet the needs of groups in that regard.
I was not only asking that the budget allocated to the program be indexed to reflect those realities; I was also asking that it be increased to reflect the needs of the groups combating homelessness and its repercussions.
Why? Because, unlike my colleagues opposite, I consult stakeholders in the sector and I listen to them. They can tell us about the needs they see, and they can clearly see that homelessness is increasing year after year.
Unfortunately, I get the impression I was simply misunderstood. When the Conservatives say renewal, they understand it in the literal sense. To them, it means “change everything.”
Reading the budget that was presented to us last Thursday, in the section ironically entitled “Housing for Canadians in Need”, on page 228, we see that the government has extended the HPS, providing $119 million in funding a year over five years using a housing first approach.
We in fact learned about this on the morning the budget was presented because, once again, the Conservatives leaked the information to the media in a Canadian Press article entitled “Budget to fund and reorient federal homelessness strategy; new focus on housing.”
There are two important things to know about the HPS. First, not only have the Conservatives not increased or even indexed the program to reflect rising costs and salaries; they have also cut the amount that was allocated to it.
From 2011 to 2014, the program received funding of $134.8 million a year. Now it will be $119 million, which means that groups that already could not meet needs will collectively have to absorb an annual $15.8 million cut to the budget allocated to combat homelessness.
Second, the program's approach has been completely changed. With the housing first approach, any intervention funded by the HPS may be terminated if a number of projects do not give housing priority. Several organizations could thus lose their caseworkers, and the development of new projects to fund capital expenditures could be jeopardized.
In my riding of Hochelaga alone, where homelessness comes in many forms, the program's new purpose could harm several groups already established in the area. Dopamine, a substance abuse organization, and the shelter for prostitutes planned by the CAP Saint-Barnabé could lose caseworkers. This organization may also find it impossible to develop new services starting in 2014.
Far be it from me to speak out against the promising outcomes achieved by the inspirational at home project. However, I want to be very clear. Homelessness is not just a housing problem. Drug abuse, mental health problems and drug-related prostitution should also fall under this program.
In reaction to the budget, Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, who had asked that the HPS take more of a housing first approach, said the following:
While this news is very exciting, there are some important questions that will need to be addressed, namely: What does the government mean by Housing First? What will this shift to Housing First mean to HPS funded communities, programs and existing investments? How will community planning processes & Community Plans change? How will the transition to Housing First be managed?
It's also important to remember that Housing First is a critical component of ending homelessness, but it is not a silver bullet. There are many other critical elements that need to support community plans and Housing First programs in order to reduce & end homelessness.
For us, the HPS must retain a diversity of approaches and respect the independence of the provinces and municipalities that are more familiar with their communities' problems.
Now, the economic action plan has little to say about funding for social housing. The only intentions this government has are stated in the main estimates for 2013-2014, according to which a net decrease of $23.3 million in CMHC's budget, for this year alone, is “to reflect the expiry of long-term project operating agreements.”
Once again this year, the government is not only confirming its complete withdrawal from social housing; it is doing so on the backs of the least well-off in our society and of the Canadian provinces. Those long-term operating agreements currently allow co-operatives and non-profit housing organizations to grant subsidies to their members and tenants so that they do not allocate more than 25% to 30% of their incomes to rent. They also enable the provinces and municipalities to provide low-income housing to the public.
Many of those agreements with CMHC have gradually been expiring in the past few years, and the government is simply not renewing them. Even worse, it feels it is saving money.
If we let this withdrawal continue, by 2030, these cuts will have amounted to $1.7 billion a year, and CMHC will only be managing approximately 15% of its current budget. When I think that the Conservatives were prepared to sign a multi-billion-dollar blank cheque in the F-35 scandal, I feel like saying, “We want houses, not airplanes.”
March 25th, 2013 / 3:15 p.m.
March 6th, 2013 / 7:15 p.m.
Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows and has commented, on this side of the House, the government voted against Bill C-400, on February 27 of this year.
It is important to note that investments have been made to address housing and homelessness in our country, in every community across this land. In 2008, our government committed an additional $1.9 billion, over five years, for housing and homelessness programs. As a result of that commitment, the homelessness partnering strategy was renewed for an additional five years.
We have worked closely with the provinces and territories to deliver funding earmarked for housing, most recently through the investment in affordable housing framework agreement, which provides for a combined federal, provincial and territorial investment of $1.4 billion over three years. It is focused on reducing the number of Canadians in housing need.
This funding is over and above the $1.7 billion we provide annually in the form of ongoing subsidies to support over 605,000 households who are living in existing social housing. These subsidies help to ensure that lower income families and individuals living in these homes do not pay a disproportionate amount of their salary or income towards housing, getting at the very root of what the member speaks about in terms of the issue of making a decision as to whether it is home or it is feeding their children or families. We have made a determination that it should be housing and the ability to ensure healthy meals are there on a daily basis for those individuals and families.
In addition, let us not forget the $2 billion-plus in social housing investments that were included in the stimulus phase of Canada's economic action plan. As reported earlier, this funding supported an estimated 16,500 social housing projects across our country. I am sure that in Windsor, as in my community of St. Catharines, those investments were spent immediately and they assisted in delivering on repairs to the units in existence in cities like my home riding.
I know the minister came down a couple of times to make announcements. I know I had the ability to let the region know we are making investments in partnership with the region and with the provinces on social housing.
That was not a commitment the NDP was prepared to support at that time. That was not a commitment that it saw as a need in this country. The NDP made a determination that it was going to vote against it.
During a time when we were in recession, we included an investment in social housing as part of a stimulus program because we believe in the future and making sure we are able to deliver on behalf of these individuals and these families.
On this side of the House, we have made a commitment, and we are going to ensure we stay by that commitment to assist those in need of housing.
March 6th, 2013 / 7:10 p.m.
Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Mr. Speaker, last November, I described Canada's housing situation to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Canada will have to report to the UN in April. That is not far off; time is running out. The government will have to explain why it is twiddling its thumbs when it made a clear commitment to the United Nations in terms of the right to housing.
Do I need to repeat that we are the only G8 country that does not have a national housing strategy? That is appalling.
Last week, the government voted against my bill, Bill C-400, which proposed a very effective strategy that is working in the other G8 countries. The Conservatives have flat out rejected solutions and tools that would help families who are in desperate need.
The UN states that safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing is a right. It is not a privilege, it is a right. Let us make that clear. Yet right now, as we speak, millions of families—at least 1.5 million—are having to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table. That is a problem in a country as rich as Canada. Yet the government stubbornly continues to believe that decent housing is a privilege.
Having access to safe and affordable housing is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right and families should not have to make a choice between their house or buying food for their children.
I hope that my colleagues heard what I said. I think I was clear. We have to stop burying our heads in the sand and face the facts. All of the experts agree that we need a national housing strategy.
As I said earlier, over 1.5 million families have core housing needs. What does that mean? People who live in dwellings that are too small, unsanitary or unaffordable have a core housing need. They have to choose between buying groceries to feed their families and paying rent. Forcing people to choose between eating and keeping a roof over their heads is cruel. Yet that is what the government is doing.
At least 150,000 people live on the street. That number could be as high as 300,000. Getting precise numbers is difficult and that in itself is unacceptable.
Will the government report to the UN? What does it intend to do to keep its promises to Canadians? Will Canada remain the laughingstock of the UN on this issue and many others that I will not name because I do not have enough time?
Private Members' Business
March 1st, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
Annick Papillon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak about such an important issue, particularly since I am a young woman working in politics. Bill C-452 seeks to amend the Criminal Code in order to provide consecutive sentences for offences related to procuring and trafficking in persons.
Bill C-452 also makes it possible to reverse the burden of proof for this type of offence. The accused would therefore be considered guilty until he proves beyond doubt that he is not exploiting others. Finally, this bill adds the offences of procuring and trafficking in persons to the list of offences to which the forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
Public Safety Canada accurately describes human trafficking as one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, often described as a modern day form of slavery. It is nothing less than that. The victims, who are mostly women and children, are deprived of their normal lives and compelled to provide their labour or sexual services, through a variety of coercive practices all for the direct profit of their perpetrators. Exploitation often occurs through intimidation, force, sexual assault and threats of violence to themselves or their families.
Human trafficking is a scourge that knows no borders and affects many countries, including Canada. We must not put on our rose-coloured glasses. People need to know that this is happening here, not far from where we live.
According to the Department of Justice, it is difficult to provide accurate estimates on the full extent of trafficking in persons within Canada because victims are reluctant to come forward, and understandably so. Often victims are afraid to testify against a procurer for fear of reprisal.
The RCMP described human trafficking as a growing phenomenon. Statistics are hard to ascertain; however, estimates indicate that between 1,500 and 2,200 people are trafficked from Canada into the United States every year. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimates that around 600 women and children are trafficked into Canada each year for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and that this number rises to 800 when broadened to include those trafficked into Canada for other forms of forced labour.
Contrary to popular belief, victims of trafficking in Canada are not just young women from abroad. They are often Canadians. Unfortunately, trafficking of Canadian men within the country is a problem not often covered by studies and statistics about human trafficking, especially trafficking related to the sex trade. People who come to Canada to flee conditions of abject poverty in their own country can end up in a work environment where they are taken advantage of. So, too, can women from all over Canada, many of them young women in crisis and socially or economically disadvantaged women who leave their homes to join the sex trade in major Canadian cities.
There are a number of reasons why a vulnerable woman may be convinced to become a prostitute. We do not have to identify them all here. But no matter the circumstances, trafficking of Canadian men and women is a reality in our country, and it affects the most disadvantaged communities in particular.
For that reason, although Bill C-452 is a step in the right direction, we need a more comprehensive response to the problem of human trafficking. We have to wage this battle with practical resources. To solve the problem of human trafficking, we need a plan that will mobilize human, police, electronic and material resources that goes far beyond a simple bill. We need political leadership.
Surveillance of strip clubs, massage parlours and Internet networks and the creation of a joint investigative unit are solutions that should be studied. Canada must implement a strategy that will not only attack the source of the problem, but will also help the victims and support the work of our police services.
Julie Miville-Dechêne, president of the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec, also recommends establishing shelters for female trafficking victims. She said:
There are no shelters specifically for female trafficking victims. But their issues are very different from those of domestic abuse victims.
However, there could be some problems with the proposed consecutive sentencing and the presumption that reverses the burden of proof for procuring and human trafficking offences. The reversal of the burden of proof could be challenged on constitutional grounds. As my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has said in the past, passing Bill C-452 does not guarantee that sentences will be much longer. The courts could potentially base their decision on the principle of proportionality, which means that sentences served consecutively may not end up being longer than if they had been served concurrently.
Despite these pitfalls, we will be supporting Bill C-452 so that it can be studied in committee. The problem is simply too serious to ignore. I have had the opportunity to meet with organizations in my riding that help boys, girls and women who are involved in prostitution. I would like to commend Projet intervention prostitution Québec and Maison de Marthe, which do excellent work with the limited resources available to them.
I want this government to take a comprehensive approach to the issues of prostitution and human trafficking. I would like it to address them here in the House, by amending the Criminal Code, as well as on the ground, where more help is needed for truly effective action. To me a comprehensive approach includes these simple bills that allow us to deal with other related issues.
This Conservative government has dismissed a bill as effective as Bill C-400 on social housing on more than one occasion. Organizations across Quebec are scrambling to get together and call on the Conservative government not to wait until the end of March 2014, but to renew the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS, immediately.
This strategy provides a solution to associated problems and can help us take a comprehensive approach to this issue. It is important. The government must renew funding for the HPS immediately, for example, by adding an extra $50 million for Quebec. I know that my colleagues agree with this idea because it is an excellent decision. It is simple. We are talking peanuts here. Compared to all the F-35s and ships that will cost billions, $50 million is nothing.
The government is slowly destroying our social safety net, which would help us take a much more sensible and thoughtful approach to this problem we are facing.
I heard my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. Movies can sometimes have a huge impact on us. The movie that hit me the most was Human Trafficking, which came out in 2005 or 2006. This movie shows us how international the problems of human trafficking and prostitution are.
It is so insidious and pervasive that we must be aware. Who knows, we may have crossed paths with people who are experiencing these problems, in downtown areas, for example. We cannot be indifferent to what they are going through. My heart goes out to them, which is why I support Bill C-452. That said, I think we must do more, because small, simple actions could help us take a broader and more sensible approach.
Private Members' Business
March 1st, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for introducing this bill. Although it requires a few amendments from a constitutional point of view, it is a step in the right direction in terms of the fight against exploitation and human trafficking. I believe that the will to consider it in greater depth in committee should provide an opportunity for unity in this Parliament.
Let us remember that, just like arms trafficking and drug trafficking, human trafficking is highly lucrative. In 2005, the United Nations estimated the total market value of human trafficking at $32 billion. It would be foolish to think that Canada is exempt from this kind of vile exploitation.
Its clandestine nature makes it difficult to find out exactly how many people are victims of trafficking and how it happens. However, we do know that the majority of victims are women and children. Victims of human trafficking are linked primarily by factors such as poverty and ethnocultural origin. Social and economic vulnerability and the lack of strong support networks make the traffickers’ lives easier. They find it all too easy to lure their victims using manipulation, threats and violence. With increasing unemployment among young people and the rise in the cost of living, we can foresee unfortunately that a number of young Canadian women will be easily recruited by criminal organizations that will force them into the sex trade.
In Canada, aboriginal women are overrepresented among victims of trafficking. In certain areas, they may account for up to 90% of women who are trafficked for sexual purposes, although they make up only 3% to 5% of the Canadian population. I am saddened to see the cuts made by this government to the budgets for native women’s groups. It is essential that they play an active role in the fight against trafficking of young aboriginal women. I hope the government will correct the situation.
Considering that the impact of our colonial past on aboriginal peoples is still strong, Canada’s attitude to the damaging reports by the United Nations is shameful. It is high time that this Parliament took real action to improve living conditions on reserves. They are the primary reason for the trafficking of aboriginal women, who are looking for an escape by any means possible from the conditions on reserves shaped by the contempt of successive Canadian governments.
Canada is also affected by international trafficking. Although it is not the subject matter of this bill, I cannot ignore the systemic barriers to the fight against international human trafficking generated by our immigration system. With the tightening of immigration criteria, more people are turning to human smugglers or so-called agencies offering so-called migration services, and migrant women are undoubtedly more vulnerable to the traps set by organized crime. Given their justifiable fear of being sent back to their native country, migrant women who are the victims of trafficking find themselves all the more enslaved by those who exploit them.
Our immigration system must be revised to protect potential victims of human trafficking so they will testify against the persons who traffic them. On that point, a report by the Institut de recherches et d'études féministes at UQAM recommends that Citizenship and Immigration Canada work with police services to protecting victims. The researchers also recommend that a special category of refugees be created for victims of human trafficking.
I am shocked to see how commonplace this phenomenon has become. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Montreal was a hotbed of sex tourism. We need only glance through the classified ads in any newspaper to see that they are full of possible sex trafficking dens. The first individual convicted of human trafficking in Canada was prostituting teenagers through advertisements on Internet sites, in full view of the entire world.
Sexual exploitation is often connected to organized crime, and too often takes advantage of the vulnerability of women and girls who want to escape from hardship and earn substantial incomes. In Canada, the stakes are estimated to be between $120 million and $400 million U.S. per year. A single woman forced into prostitution by a criminal organization in Quebec brings in around $1,000 a day for the organization, or at least $250,000 a year. I am sure that this is not the kind of economic policy this government wants to encourage.
I think that passing this bill at second reading will give us an opportunity to come to a strong consensus in the House because we all want to help and protect the victims of human trafficking. We will have to build on this bill with a solid action plan that combines human, police, electronic and materiel resources so we can tackle the problem at its root, help the victims and support the work of law enforcement agencies.
I have spoken several times in the House about the drug-related prostitution that afflicts my riding. The proposed solutions are very controversial, but we all agree that we must protect women forced into prostitution. Amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada are important, and the institutional and community resources that provide front-line services to these women are essential tools in combating exploitation.
Indeed, the launch, in the coming months, of the community organization Dopamine in Hochelaga's red light district, and the opening of a respite care centre for prostitutes will allow us to take concrete action. These initiatives are the first cornerstones of a neighbourhood strategy to help people dealing with drug-related prostitution, homelessness and substance abuse. I want to say that this was made possible thanks to the federal government's commitment through an investment under the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to encourage government members to renew, in the upcoming budget, this HPS initiative, which is a critical program for many communities in Canada, including mine.
I also want to mention the tremendous work done by stakeholders from many organizations in my riding, including CAP St-Barnabé, Stella, Anonyme, Dopamine, the Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle, Tandem Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, the CSSS Lucille-Teasdale, and the SPVM community police station No. 23. These stakeholders, who work every day with Hochelaga's prostitutes, deserve to be thanked personally.
Despite the hard work of police and community organizations, improving women's socio-economic conditions is one of the most effective way to fight commercial sexual exploitation by unscrupulous individuals.
It is absurd that today women still only earn a portion of men's average salary, that they do not have access systematically to the EI program like young people, that they are overrepresented across the country among minimum wage earners, and that a majority of single parent families are headed by women and are significantly poorer partly because of the serious lack of affordable rental and social housing units.
Bill C-400, introduced by the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, offered a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but the Conservatives chose to ignore this reality. The recent EI reform directly hits people who earn less money or who work part-time. Again, that group includes a lot of women.
As we approach International Women's Day, which is exactly in one week, I call for greater mobilization in this House to pass this bill. Together, we have the power to make it possible to live in a world where exploitation and trafficking in persons, including many women and children, will become a thing of the past. Let us not be afraid to make Canada again a champion of human rights protection.
Tabling of Documents
Points of Order
February 28th, 2013 / 3:15 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, yesterday the opposition members asked the government to table in the House documents relating to costing that was conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in response to Bill C-400. This is the NDP private member's bill for a national social housing program. I have the document here today, which I am proud to table in the House, and it shows the clear reason our government could not support it. It would indeed put us $5.45 billion further into debt. I am pleased that we were able to do this work for the New Democrats since apparently they had not costed the document. I would like to table the document at this time.
Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business
February 27th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
The House resumed from February 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.