House of Commons Hansard #194 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cmhc.

Topics

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. The official opposition will oppose the bill unless we have clarification on certain elements and see certain amendments to the bill, some of which I want to speak about today.

Earlier my colleague, the hon. member for Kelowna, the official opposition critic for public works and government services, spoke very eloquently about the bill and stated the position of the official opposition. I hope my remarks add to his comments.

I would like to emphasize that there has been a steady erosion of federal funding support for new social housing, culminating in its virtual termination from 1994 onward. Effectively by disavowing the spirit and substance, if not the letter of its social housing agreements with provincial governments, the federal government was deliberately offloading its social and financial responsibilities on to the provinces and territories at a time when they could least afford it.

In the process, despite its commitment cited in the CMHC mandate to maintain the flow of affordable housing as part of the nation's social safety net obligations, the federal government has virtually gutted its new social housing programs, thus adding to the plight and suffering of homeless persons and inadequately sheltered households in Canada.

Let us look at the purpose of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to redefine the roles and responsibilities of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, in relation to mortgage loan insurance and to export and international support.

Let us deal with housing financing. The bill will enable CMHC to adjust its insurance and guarantee operations under the National Housing Act to help ensure the continuing availability of low cost financing to home buyers in all region of Canada, promote market competitiveness and efficiency, and contribute to the well-being of the housing sector.

These amendments will give CMHC the necessary tools to compete effectively and fairly in the loan insurance marketplace. They will simplify our National Housing Act by removing unnecessary restrictions and enable CMHC to respond quickly to shifts in consumer demand and market conditions.

This is important because, as we know, since 1993 the Liberals have stopped funding new social housing projects. They have caused Canada to be the only western nation that does not have a national housing policy.

British Columbia and Quebec are the only provinces pursuing a social housing policy. We have a housing problem in the country. We have as many as 200,000 homeless people in Canada. Thousands and thousands of people do not have a place to live. This is a tragedy in our nation that has so much prosperity everywhere.

Many thousands of people are living in substandard housing. These Canadians are very uncomfortable. They lack running taps with hot water. They lack enough room for their children. These are the people whose homes lack the appliances and furniture that would greatly improve their day to day lives and serve the needs of their young children. Many Canadian mothers have no place for their families to live. They miss the conveniences of, for example, a microwave oven. Their children are hungry.

The government is having us debate a bill that addresses mortgage loan insurance and facilities to export housing technology and to provide support for our housing industry as it takes on an international capacity. Today we are debating housing, but it is amazing that we are not talking about the homelessness crisis in this country.

I wonder how the Liberals can ignore homeless people and pass legislation dealing with mortgages and providing housing for people in foreign countries. This would be a funny joke if it were not true. There are about 200,000 Canadians who are considered homeless. They are not worried about mortgage insurance, they are worried about homes and shelters in which they can live.

We want to support the bill, but only with clarification and amendments. However, it is very difficult to deal with the concerns of this bill given our country's housing crisis and homelessness crisis which we can even see a few blocks away from Parliament Hill. We see it every day on our way to work and on our way home. We feel that we are fortunate to have homes or, at least, hotel rooms or apartments.

One wonders if the Liberals can relate to the housing crisis. They are out of touch with the rest of Canadians. They do not know about drug problems, refugee problems, immigration problems or the problems Canadians have paying taxes. Even if they know, they do not deal with these problems properly because they do not know how.

I will turn to the second part of Bill C-66, which concerns export promotion. These elements of the bill will expand export opportunities for Canada's housing industry by giving the CMHC broad authority to help Canadians sell their housing expertise to foreign countries, to participate in housing development and financial infrastructure projects and to better promote Canadian housing products and services abroad. This is said to result in job opportunities for Canadians at home. I doubt that, but let us take it at face value. This is a good thing because Canadians are so heavily taxed that they cannot find jobs and we cannot create jobs.

Liberal government policies have been killing jobs since 1993. Payroll taxes kill jobs. Even if you have a job, the taxes you pay are unbelievable. Paycheques are cut in less than half in this country.

I have copies of recent press releases from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation which I can table if members want. We can see the dire straits of our housing industry through the press releases. It is no wonder the Liberals want to construct housing offshore. Clearly they are not doing it inside our borders. For example, as of February 11, 1999 residential construction was expected to stay at the same level as 1998. This is disappointing, particularly to me.

The CMHC is being given no direction from the minister to help his officials increase residential construction for Canadians.

Before becoming a member of parliament I was a real estate agent. I can relate to how this is affecting homelessness. I can relate to how first time homebuyers are facing problems. Construction of new housing units is actually dropping under this government, while the homelessness crisis is growing.

The housing crisis is getting worse, but the Liberals only want to help the CMHC build houses outside Canada. Maybe the Liberals think they can do a good job helping the homeless in other countries. They certainly have done a poor job in Canada.

I have a press release from the Infrastructure Works department, dated March 5, 1999. I can table it if members want. Backbench members of the government do not normally read Government of Canada press releases because they are told everything they are supposed to say by the Liberal Party whip, so those press releases become irrelevant.

The press release I am talking about is entitled “Infrastructure Program funds Seniors' Housing Project in Brandon, Manitoba”.

Why are infrastructure funds needed to build homes for seniors? Why can the private sector not provide those services? The private sector can build homes. Why does the government have to get into that business? What lessons we learn when we read these kinds of press releases.

The Liberals are using our tax dollars to build seniors' homes, yet they are now trying to send our housing industry offshore.

There is enough work for the housing industry right here in our country where 200,000 people are homeless. They do not know where to live.

I would like to emphasize what Canadians want to see with respect to Bill C-66.

They want to see that the bill is effective and efficient and that there are real cost controls on what is being proposed.

Regarding efficiency, the bill is silent on administration. I do not see anything in the bill that talks about how it is to be administered. The bill is silent on the relations the government intends to have with the provinces.

Regarding effectiveness, does the bill really help the banks and other financial institutions? I cannot say that with confidence because I do not see anything in the bill which would do that. We need to know the details of this bill.

We already know that Bill C-66 is not helping Canada's homelessness and housing crisis. Therefore, we would like to be sure that it is really effective in terms of doing what it is supposed to be doing.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments of the member for Surrey Central. There is no question that all members of this House should be deeply concerned about the housing crisis in Canada.

Recently we heard from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities about the national disaster of homelessness, not just in Toronto, but in my own community in the lower mainland of British Columbia, in the greater Vancouver area and in many other parts of Canada.

We know as well that this Liberal government has completely abdicated any leadership in the area of national housing strategy. This is one of the only industrial countries in the world that has no national housing strategy.

It used to be that Liberals believed in co-op housing. There is not a penny in funding for new co-op housing in this country.

It used to be that Liberals believed there was a federal role for housing for seniors, for students and others. There is nothing at all.

We know as well that the great market simply is not delivering affordable rental housing. The federal Liberal government is silent on that as well.

My question is for the Reform member. He said that he agrees that the Liberals are not doing what they should be in the area of housing. He said that the Liberals should be doing more to support social housing and to tackle the plight of the homeless in our country. Yet I read with great care the budget document that was prepared by the Reform Party before the government budget was tabled. I looked everywhere. I looked on the cover. I looked inside. I looked on every page. I looked on the back cover. There was not a single word, not one word, in the Reform Party's proposals to the Government of Canada about housing or about homelessness.

What planet is the hon. member on when he stands and rightly attacks the Liberal government for its failure to show leadership on housing when his own party is totally silent on the fundamentally important issue of federal support for housing? Why the double standard?

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has been in the House for a much longer time than I, so I do appreciate the concern raised by him. He knows very well that we have not formed the government yet, but when we do sit on the other side he will see a much more effective and efficient budget. We want to have that opportunity.

I would ask the member to look at our policies. I am happy that he has at least shown interest in our policies. I hope that he will look at the policies of the united alternative movement.

He did not fully read our document. If he had done that he would have seen what we are talking about. We are talking about poverty in this country. We are talking about high taxes in this country. We are talking about creating jobs in this country. The unemployment rate in this country has been quite high compared to our neighbours. The unemployment rate, particularly among youth, is very disappointing. What is the motivation for youth to get jobs? It is a vicious cycle in which we are living.

When children are young, they worry and struggle. When they go to school to get a better education they must be safe on the streets. When children grow up they worry about getting a job. When they do get a job they worry about paying taxes. When they get older they have to worry about their own families. After that they have to worry about their pensions.

We have to tackle this vicious cycle at a broader level. I can assure the hon. member that when we form the government he will see effective and efficient results.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will try again with the hon. member because it is important for Canadians to understand clearly that the Reform Party made a written proposal to the Government of Canada with respect to what it said were its priorities and what it wanted the federal government to do. In that list of Reform Party priorities there was not a word about housing or homelessness.

When the hon. member stands and cries great crocodile tears about the fact that Liberals did not do anything about housing—and he is right in that criticism—how does he explain that his own party, the Reform Party, did not have any proposals whatsoever on housing?

Let me give him one last opportunity to fess up and acknowledge the error of Reform Party ways. Will the hon. member tell this House now just how much money the Reform Party is suggesting the federal government put into a national housing plan?

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, while the hon. member is wiping his crocodile tears, let me point out that Reform Party policies are policies with vision. We are for lowering the taxes in this country which are the root cause of all our problems. The social safety net that we are getting from this government is damaging our health care system, elevating poverty, creating unemployment, homelessness and so on in this country.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Deputy to the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber. And being returned :

National Housing Act
The Royal Assent

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Deputy Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the Royal Assent to the following bills:

Bill C-59, an act to amend the Insurance Companies Act—Chapter No. 1.

Bill C-20, an act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other acts—Chapter No. 2.

Bill C-57, an act to amend the Nunavut Act with respect to the Nunavut Court of Justice and to amend other acts in consequence—Chapter No. 3.

Bill C-41, an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mint Act and the Currency Act—Chapter No. 4.

Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act—Chapter No. 5.

Bill C-465, an act to change the name of the electoral district of Argenteuil—Papineau—Chapter No. 6.

Bill C-445, an act to change the name of the electoral district of Stormont—Dundas—Chapter No. 7.

Bill C-464, an act to change the name of the electoral district of Sackville—Eastern Shore—Chapter No. 8.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Jonquière, the Program for Older Workers Adjustment.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among representatives of all parties in the House and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following. I move:

That no later than 5.30 p.m. this day, all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-66 shall be deemed put and divisions thereon deemed requested and deferred until the conclusion of Government Orders on March 15, 1999, and that immediately thereafter the House shall proceed with business pursuant to Standing Order 38.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

March 11th, 1999 / 4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before royal assent the hon. member for Surrey Central had the floor in response to a question.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure by now the crocodile tears will be dry and I will give the answer to the hon. member.

Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, these are the byproducts of high taxes. These are the side effects of high taxes. We do not offer any band-aid solution. We want to offer a permanent solution. That is why we are asking for the taxes to be lowered. Taxes are killing jobs, creating poverty, unemployment, homelessness and all those things. We are offering a permanent solution.

I strongly believe people are not able to own a home unless jobs are created and unless the ability is created to earn the money to buy and live in a home. I think the hon. member will see that the solution to the problem is creating the ability to own a home, creating jobs and lowering taxes.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Reform

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have children who are married and have families. In all cases both parents are working, trying to struggle to make a living. They find it very difficult to buy their own homes. They are all buying their own homes but it is very difficult because of the amount of money they are paying out in taxes.

Would it not be a better solution to the problem to cut taxes and leave more money in people's pockets so they can have the money at their discretion to do what they want with it, whether they want to rent or build or whatever?

National Housing Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is bang on. That is the solution.

All of us are homeless at one time when we leave our parents' home. For us to get a home we have to have jobs. Jobs can only be created when taxes are low. We can create more jobs. When taxes are high small businesses, the engine of the economy, feel the engine is smoking. The engine is being derailed with high taxes.

The hon. member is right on. The solution to the problem is lowering taxes. Government members do not get it. I plead with government members to lower taxes. That is what we do in our policy.

National Housing Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, I must tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Yukon.

I am very pleased to speak to this bill, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. This bill does a number of things. It is very important that we understand exactly what this bill does.

This bill in amending the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act, gives more options to CMHC in carrying out its mandate, such as increased ability to enter joint ventures and the ability to offer more financing options to borrowers.

The bill gives CMHC broad powers to set eligibility and other conditions for social housing grants. This broad discretionary power replaces the very detailed definitions and restrictions that have been laid out in the old act which causes us some concern.

The bill increases the ceiling of capital CMHC can control and gives the privy council the power to modify this ceiling through orders in council.

Finally, this bill commercializes, and take note of the word commercializes, CMHC's mortgage insurance function. Any losses CMHC incurs from underwriting mortgages will come out of CMHC rather than the general government revenues. CMHC would use a mortgage insurance fund to cover these losses.

Giving CMHC the ability to enter into joint ventures is the first step toward privatization of social housing. This causes us great concern. We see today this great trend toward privatization and we know that the bottom line in privatized ventures is usually profit. Usually privatization is aimed at profit, quite often to the sacrifice of the very important human values of compassion, affordability, accessibility and so forth. We have some concern about this.

We note that definitions such as those for “public housing project” and “eligible contribution recipient” are being taken from the act. This opens the door for private for-profit corporations to be recognized as social housing providers. The statutory requirements that social housing be safe, sanitary and affordable are also being eliminated.

We see along with the trend toward privatization the removal of standards which should apply to housing for Canadian citizens. This caused me great concern as well. In the city of Halifax, and I am sure in many other cities across the country, there are many what we refer to as slum landlords. People have properties that are really not fit for human habitation, yet they are renting out these properties to people who are in unfortunate circumstances, who are drawing social assistance. Quite often people are living in wretched conditions. They are unable to advance themselves beyond that state of housing. The move to privatization facilitates this. We are very much concerned about that. We would certainly be opposed to this bill because it enables that to take place.

There is also the commercialization of mortgage insurance. This is something that might have eventually been forced on CMHC by a NAFTA challenge from a foreign insurance provider. We know that the GE corporation, which has large interests in the insurance industry, has been lobbying the Liberal government for these changes to remove what it calls CMHC's “unfair competitive advantage”.

It is true that CMHC had a big advantage in providing financing to high risk borrowers such as low income people. This was very necessary to enable people in less fortunate circumstances to have housing. Removing this advantage will hamstring CMHC's ability to fulfil its mandate to provide mortgage insurance to people who need it, such as high risk customers that the banks will not touch, and people living in remote areas without the full range of financial services available to them.

These changes really concern us because we know that today there is a great problem with homelessness. We also know that housing itself is a very basic human right. It is right up there at the very top along with the right to food, clothing and medical care. Every woman, every child and every man in Canada has a right to live in decent, affordable, secure and safe housing. This is a very important human right. The declaration of human rights in article 25(1) bears this out:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care—

Yet we can look around today and see that homelessness, a very unnatural disaster, is present with us. All I have to do is leave this place and walk down Rideau Street. On my way home I pass by many homeless people, many people who through very unfortunate circumstances have no shelter, no place to rest at night, except on the cold streets in which they find themselves living.

This is true right across our country. It is becoming more and more serious every day. We see people dying on the streets. People without homes and without proper shelter are dying. This is a very disturbing thing in our society.

More than 100,000 Canadians are homeless. Some find temporary beds in shelters. Thousands of others sleep on park benches or huddle in doorways for warmth. Still thousands more live in ramshackle substandard housing in the urban core or on remote reserves. Homelessness is a national emergency.

The homeless are men, women and children. The streets and the cold do not discriminate against these people. The government does. The government has cut all funding for social housing.

I recall in 1993 when I became the deputy minister for housing in the province of Nova Scotia, it was right around the time when the federal government had withdrawn its financial support for the social housing program. Over the years it continued to get worse. Eventually the federal government withdrew from social housing to the point of devolving all the responsibility to the provinces. In 1996 the government started downloading to various provinces. It has concluded downloading agreements with seven out of ten provinces, with B.C., Alberta and Ontario being the only holdouts.

It is a disturbing situation when our federal government does not accept any responsibility in the area of housing. We hear from time to time the minister speaking about the various things that the government is “doing” in providing more money for grants, RRAP and programs of that nature, but this does not get to the core of the problem.

Last month members of our party took to the streets to find out what was actually happening. We found that many people are homeless. The trip resulted in a very important report by one of our members who deals with these issues. We gathered opinions of people on the streets who are making a difference, activists, local politicians, volunteers, people seeking refuge from the streets, people living in shelters, rooming houses or substandard housing on reserves.

Our intent was to raise awareness, strengthen coalitions, present recommendations and to force the Minister of Finance to make housing a priority in the last federal budget, but this was not done. There was no real commitment to the homeless. There was no real commitment to those people who are living on the streets without adequate shelter.

Until 1993 the federal housing program helped contribute to the stabilization of low income neighbourhoods through the development of social housing. Regrettably, the Liberal government's retreat has meant that the vulnerable communities are increasingly defenceless with more and more people becoming homeless.

I want to emphasize that homelessness is not something that happens in isolation. Homelessness is very much connected with the unemployment situation and with the lack of benefits through EI. Today a bill concerning young offenders was tabled. Young offenders are sure to appear in our society if there are people who do not have adequate housing and adequate protection. Health problems are connected as well.

What has actually happened over the years is the Liberal government has sacrificed our social safety net for the sake of balancing the budget. This has been done on the backs of the most vulnerable.

We urge today that we not be fooled by this legislation and that we do not support something that will antagonize the problem. Rather, let us look for real solutions to the problem of homelessness and housing.