House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was unemployed.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I will withdraw my last comment.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, I can understand why NDP members are so frustrated. They are supporting a right wing government. They are supporting a bill in which they do not believe. That is clearly reflected in a comment that I made earlier, and I will repeat it once again. I hope the NDP members understand. This comment is from a very well-respected member of their caucus, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who said:

—the bill could be a particular letdown for many in Windsor because contrary to Human Resources Minister's...claim workers having paid in seven of the previous 10 years would see extended benefits, the actual time period is longer.

There is a reluctance, a hesitation and a frustration, but nevertheless for their own partisan purposes those members are supporting a right wing Conservative government and they are letting down their constituents. Hence why they are frustrated and hence why they are making those comments. They are panicking and they are nervous. I understand that. They can still change their minds.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, the bill extends the number of weeks by 20 for long-tenure employees who find themselves laid off. They can get further benefits.

Does the member agree that they should be getting benefits? Does he agree with this extension, yes or no?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, the fundamental question, as I said in my remarks, is this. Do we have confidence in the government? I gave a litany of examples of why we have lost confidence in the Conservative government.

I raised a second point that we had an EI working group. We put meaningful proposals forward. What did the Conservatives do? They mocked them, they started a campaign of misinformation, but they had no alternative proposals.

When there was speculation of a campaign, the Conservatives panicked, became nervous and created this EI reform in the form of Bill C-50, which would do very little to help Canadians. That is unacceptable and that is why we oppose it.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, this morning the House leader for the Liberals brought a motion wanting unanimous consent to pass this legislation. Unanimous means the Liberals have to go along with it. That is how the system works. Then this afternoon, they are against the bill. I wonder about the flip-flop in less than five hours.

Where is the logic? Where is the consistency? Why the flip-flop? I would like some rationale behind that.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a lot of respect for my colleague and I can understand why he is upset. I can understand why he is frustrated. He is now supporting a government that he has not supported in the past.

I would like to quote again because I want to ensure it is on the record. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh said this legislation “could be a particular letdown for many in Windsor”. That is the constituency he represents. He knows he is letting his constituents down.

That is why those members are frustrated. That is why they are panicking. That is why they are standing in the House and attacking us. They have to go back to their constituents next week and explain to them why they supported Conservative Bill C-50, which lets them down.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-50, which will temporarily provide additional regular EI benefits to unemployed, long-tenured workers.

The bill would provide a temporary solution to the temporary challenges now faced by many workers who have contributed many years to the EI program. Through no fault of their own, these workers have faced an extended period of uncertainty in the wake of a recession.

Our Conservative government is focused on what really matters to Canadians and helping those hardest hit during this recession by investing in training and creating jobs for those who are suffering. We are providing support to Canadians when they need it.

We have introduced legislation, Bill C-50, providing this extra support to the long-tenured workers. Canadians who have paid premiums for years and are having difficulty finding new jobs now can get an extra five to twenty weeks of EI. That should help about 190,000 long-tenured workers, while they try to seek new employment. This is fair and it is the right thing to do.

We are also moving forward with our campaign promise to provide maternity and paternal benefits to the self-employed, something that is very popular in my riding, especially with all the small businesses in our communities across my riding.

Canadians are already benefiting from the economic action plan that we introduced earlier this year. The best way we can help those who are facing unemployment, and their families and the economy, is to help Canada get back to work. That is our number one priority. That is why our economic action plan included unprecedented investments in training for Canadians, whether they qualified for EI or not. We provided an additional $1.5 billion to help approximately 150,000 Canadians. We also provided an extra five weeks of coverage under the current EI program and that has benefited over 300,000 Canadians.

We are also extending the work-sharing program, protecting jobs for about 165,000 workers across Canada, and that has been really popular. By extending the duration of the work-sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks, manufacturing and forestry companies have been able to adjust to the temporary slowdown in the economy. Their workers can now make work-sharing arrangements that will keep their skills up to date and help employers avoid the expense of rehiring and retraining when they have to find new people.

In my riding of Selkirk--Interlake, the steel mill and the tertiary industries in Selkirk have made use of this program and it has been extremely effective in helping them through this economic slowdown.

We introduced a career transition assistance initiative that extends the EI benefits of long-tenured workers to a maximum of two years, while they participate in longer term training. The program also gives early access to EI if long-tenured workers use all or part of their severance package to invest in training.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I must interrupt the member at this time. When we return to this matter, the member for Selkirk--Interlake will have 17 minutes remaining.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on April 2, 2009, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, a bill standing in the name of the member for Vancouver East.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having brought the issue to the attention of the chair, as well as the member for Vancouver East for her comments.

In his intervention, the parliamentary secretary stated that the bill went beyond the establishment of a national housing strategy by requiring, in clause 3(2), that it provide financial assistance to those who were otherwise unable to afford rental housing. Such a change, he argued, made it clear that a key element of this new national housing strategy would lead to an increase in federal spending on housing and thus should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

The hon. member for Vancouver East argued that the focus of the bill was not on spending but rather on having the federal government develop, in co-operation with the provinces, territories, first nations and municipalities, a housing strategy for Canadians. She contended that there was a difference between a bill that called for the development of a strategy and one that calls for money to be spent.

In determining whether or not Bill C-304 should be accompanied by a royal recommendation, the Chair must judge if the bill seeks an authorization to spend public funds for a new and distinct purpose.

Clause 3(1) of the bill requires the establishment of a national housing strategy. It states:

3(1) The Minister shall, in consultation with the provincial ministers of the Crown responsible for municipal affairs and housing and with representatives of municipalities and Aboriginal communities, establish a national housing strategy designed to ensure that the cost of housing in Canada does not compromise an individual’s ability to meet other basic needs, including food, clothing and access to education.

However, it is the effect of the second paragraph of this clause which is in dispute. That paragraph reads as follows:

(2) The national housing strategy shall provide financial assistance, including financing and credit without discrimination, for those who are otherwise unable to afford rental housing.

As the Speaker stated in his decision on March 21, 2005, at page 4373 of Debates,

—a bill effecting an appropriation of public funds […] or an equivalent authorization to spend public funds does so immediately upon enactment.

Once Parliament approves a bill that requires a royal recommendation, there should be nothing further required to make the appropriation.

In the case before us, Bill C-304 does not contain provisions which specifically authorize spending for a new and distinct purpose. Rather, the bill seeks Parliament's approve for the minister, in consultation with various stakeholders, to develop a national housing strategy. While the bill requires that strategy to provide for financial assistance to those unable to afford rental housing, the bill itself provides no such assistance. Furthermore, clause 4(2) of the bill provides the minister with great latitude concerning the measures that have been taken to implement such a strategy. The Chair cannot speculate on what these measures might be.

In other words, Bill C-304 requires the government to develop a plan. It does not address the actual implementation of that plan. If Parliament decides to approve this bill and a national housing strategy is developed, it will then be up to the government to determine the financial resources required to implement the strategy and to set about getting Parliament to approve such resources. This might involve an appropriation bill or another bill proposing specific spending, either of which would require a royal recommendation.

However, those decisions lie in the future. Meanwhile it is Bill C-304 that is before the House and is being proposed to members for second reading. The Chair is of the view that the bill does not require a royal recommendation and may proceed.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was just thinking, as you were reading that, the time it took to prepare this speech maybe was a waste of time. Therefore, I am pleased you ruled the way you did.

Next week is a scheduled constituency week for all of us as MPs. With that, MPs from all political parties will be heading home to our respective ridings. I, for one, will spend the week working in my constituency office, meeting with community groups and talking to constituents about the many issues that impact upon their daily lives. At the end of each day, I will head home. I will visit with my husband, our children and our grandchildren, if I am lucky, and I will sleep in my own bed.

For me, as much as Ottawa is a tremendous city, there is nothing that can recharge my batteries like spending time in my riding. The people of York West, and Toronto in general, are kind, community-minded people. Because of this, being home is one of life's great pleasures.

However, Bill C-304 again reminds us that not every Canadian has access to that simple pleasure. In fact, homelessness in Canada is a serious and growing problem, a problem of national scope that is often difficult to determine. While counting the homeless is no easy task, the most recent federal estimates suggest that the number is somewhere around 0.5% of the national population. To put it another way, there could be as many as 150,000 people living on the streets in our country.

As if this reality is not bad enough, it is worth mentioning that in 2007 emergency services, community organizations and non-profits spent as much as $6 billion to combat homelessness. I cite this number because, if it is accurate, these sources are spending $40,000 per homeless person and the problem is still growing. I want to be perfectly clear when I say that these emergency services, community organizations and non-profits are doing a spectacular job of dealing with a very difficult problem. They are in the business of giving hope where none exists. However, I wonder if we could attain even greater results if we were all to work together.

In my opinion, if we could somehow pool our resources, coordinate our efforts and focus various societal institutions on combatting homelessness, we would have the beginning of a national strategy on housing. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has demonstrated a total indifference to the issue of homelessness during its tenure in office. The Conservative government has failed to deliver any substantive policy measures to tackle homelessness. In my estimation, this lack of action demonstrates that the Conservatives are either disinterested in the problem or inept when it comes to solving it.

The Prime Minister has been in office for 1,334 days or 1,333 nights. That is 1,333 nights when 150,000 people slept without a bed. That is 1,333 nights when 150,000 people did not know where their next meal would come from. That is 1,333 nights when 150,000 people had been let down by the Conservative government and a Prime Minister who is supposed to be working for the betterment of all Canadians.

Bill C-304 would force the minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to consult with the provincial ministers of the crown responsible for municipal affairs and housing and with representatives of municipalities and aboriginal communities in order to establish a national housing strategy. This is a good idea that is worthy of our support.

It is a good idea today and it was also a good idea when the most recent Liberal administration created the position of a national minister of housing for Canada. It was also a good idea when that same Liberal administration conducted consultation with stakeholders, community partners and a range of government sources at all levels. It was a good idea when the most recent Liberal administration penned a detailed plan and prepared to launch a comprehensive national housing strategy together with municipalities and with our provinces.

I thought this way as well when the NDP, the Bloc and the Conservatives parties plotted to defeat the Paul Martin government and, in doing so, sidelined that important strategy for housing that we would have had in place today helping the many people who are looking to establish a roof over their head.

For me, access to secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing should be a paramount goal for the federal government to show leadership. Without a national housing strategy effectively targeting societal ills, such as mental health, poverty, addiction, unemployment and domestic violence, we will be destined to repeat the cycle that creates homelessness in the first place.

Worse than not spinning our wheels on the issue is the thought that during the course of every meeting, every debate and every round of partisan games that go on here in the House of Commons, those same 150,000 homeless Canadians continue to be out on the street without a safe place to call their own. I believe that affordable housing and homelessness programs are an important part of true social justice and, as an extension of this thinking, the federal government has an important role to play in ensuring Canadians have equal access to safe, affordable housing.

I sincerely regret that the Conservative government has repeatedly failed to deliver a national housing strategy that addresses the significant housing needs of Canadians. I am saddened that the Conservative Party's approach to affordable housing and homelessness is again a true reflection of a fend-yourself approach to social programs. It is almost like it cannot help itself.

Taxing income trusts, shipping body bags to native reserves and slamming the doors to offices with a mandate to protect women's equality are all past examples of the government's head in the sand approach to protecting the vulnerable. Its inaction on homelessness is just another bad example in a shameful trend.

It would seem to me that Bill C-304 is aimed at taking us back to where we were just prior to the Conservatives coming into power, and I am more than ready to support that. Bill C-304 would demand that the Conservatives accept a number of benchmarks and tasks, including a couple of goals, one being to secure adequate, affordable, accessible and not-for-profit housing in the case of those who cannot afford it.

Sustainability and energy efficient designs, not-for-profit rental housing projects, mixed income, not-for-profit housing co-ops, special needs housing and housing that allows for senior citizens to remain in their homes as long as possible. All of those are parts of the puzzle that would be there for a housing strategy. They would also require an inclusion for temporary emergency housing and shelter in the event of disasters and crisis.

However, more than the actual measures demanded by this proposal is the fact that it imposes a timeline for the consultation: 180 days or, more aptly put, 179 nights. To me, this is one of the most significant elements of the bill because it acknowledges the human factor. It acknowledges the fact that this is not just another political file.

A national housing strategy is about tackling a societal problem that is complex, multi-faceted, immediate and long overdue for action and resolution.

The bill should go to committee for further study but I would stress that the study must be mindful of the urgency of the timelines. The solutions to the problems of homelessness have been mired in a political muck for far too long. Private groups and agencies have been expected to provide the leadership needed for far too long.

The Prime Minister has already ignored a serious problem for 1,333 nights. It is time for the federal government, time for the Conservative caucus to stand up for those 150,000 Canadians who deserve better.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business

September 17th, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the New Democratic Party on introducing Bill C-304. We do not spend enough time talking about housing, and this gives us a chance to point out, as the Bloc has often done, that the federal government has the means to make massive investments in social and community housing. That is what it is supposed to do.

Investment should add up to 1% of federal government program spending, or about $2 billion per year. That is what the Bloc has always said. However—and this is the problem with the bill—Quebec and the provinces need to be in charge of how that housing money is spent.

The federal government must respect provincial jurisdiction by limiting its role in this area to providing funding to enable Quebec to act on its priorities and special needs. Previous agreements recognize that housing falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec.

I would like to quote from a document published by the Government of Quebec, Coûts du fédéralisme pour le Québec dans le domaine de l'habitation, an analysis of what federalism costs Quebec in the area of housing, conducted by the Société d'habitation du Québec in September 1995. On page 21, it says:

Federal housing measures constitute interference in an area under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has imposed very rigid rules for housing measures. It has also made its financial participation contingent upon a multitude of administrative rules as well as pan-Canadian objectives and criteria, making it difficult to plan interventions in a Quebec context. The presence of the federal government in this sector of activity has resulted in much administrative duplication engendering additional costs that undermine the coherence of interventions.

That was written in 1995. Nothing has changed. This bill, too, constitutes encroachment.

Quebec has the skills and the experience to take care of its own housing responsibilities. That is the point. We would be better served if we took matters into our own hands.

Quebec is calling for a transfer of all federal responsibilities for housing, provided that this be accompanied by satisfactory financial compensation in light of the criteria of fairness, sufficiency and continuity. Currently, Ottawa’s proposal is limited to offering Quebec only the administration of existing federal obligations with regard to social housing stock, which only amounts to a simple management contract. In addition, on the subject of social housing, Quebec has not obtained its fair share of federal expenditures. The Government of Quebec cannot accept this situation, no more than prior administrations were able to tolerate this. Were we to be satisfied with less than our share of financing of the federal effort for housing, this would be all the more unacceptable since Quebec's needs in this area are proportionately greater than those of the other provinces.

Bill C-304 in its current form does not respect Quebec's jurisdiction in this area. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if we recall that, in 2007, Bill C-303 concerning early learning and child care faced the same situation as this bill. The solution: allow Quebec to opt out unconditionally, with full compensation, as set out in clause 4 of Bill C-303. Thus, there is hope that this bill could also be amended in committee.

We are in favour of Bill C-304 being studied in committee, with one caveat: it must be amended considerably.

If Bill C-304 comes back to the House in its present form, the Bloc will not support it. The solution is to allow Quebec to opt out unconditionally and with full compensation, as was the case with clause 4 of Bill C-303, nothing less. In addition, the preamble of Bill C-304 includes the principles of housing rights that we support. However, we believe that a more thorough study should be conducted on the consequences of having these principles in the bill and on the possibility of an individual without housing turning to the courts.

Bill C-304 does, however, indicate set out the context in which this strategy must operate with specific points of action that already exist in Quebec. Consultation by the minister with provincial counterparts, which the bill advocates, will lead to subsequent procedures for settling accounts.

Under clause 3, the Minister shall, in consultation with the provincial ministers responsible for municipal affairs and housing and with representatives of municipalities and aboriginal communities, establish a national housing strategy. We do not agree with having a national strategy other than to have our share of the program funds. This national strategy is to ensure that the cost of housing in Canada does not prevent an individual from meeting other basic needs, including those of food, clothing and education.

Under clause 4(2), the minister, in cooperation with the provincial ministers responsible for housing and with representatives of municipalities and aboriginal communities, may take any measures that the minister considers appropriate to implement the national housing strategy as quickly as possible. Note that we in Quebec have the SHQ, which sets priorities. We have absolutely no desire to have our priorities set by the federal government.

The minister's powers to take the measures indicated are not dependent on the consent of Quebec. Clause 4(2) provides clearly that the minister may take any measures to implement the national strategy, regardless of the opinion of the provinces, regardless of Quebec's or the other provinces' prerogative over housing, regardless of the efforts made by Quebec and other provinces in the area of social housing, regardless of the existence of protection for renters provided by the Régie du logement du Québec and regardless of the different social choices being made in Quebec.

The intent of this bill is, in the end, to eradicate and appropriate the decision-making powers of Quebec and the provinces with respect to housing, including social housing. This is appropriating an area of jurisdiction that does not belong to it and forces Quebec and the provinces to become managers for Ottawa.

Even though Quebec is one of the few provinces to have been commended in the report by the UN Special Rapporteur because of its policy to fight poverty and because of the content of its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms—page 10, paragraph 28—among other things, this bill ignores this reality and ignores the nation that is Quebec.

The agreement should set the conditions for federal withdrawal, including the amount and type of financial resources to be transferred. In addition, a political agreement should establish the form of compensation, namely cash transfers and tax points. Or, the agreement could require the federal government to continue its expenditures in the province concerned. The territories should also be able to avail themselves of this provision. The federal government would be required to negotiate and enter into this agreement within a reasonable time.

Rather than focusing its actions in its own areas of jurisdiction, the federal government is trying to use worthy causes to interfere in Quebec's jurisdictions in order to have the greatest possible visibility. This bill, in its current form, follows that logic.

I will reiterate that we are in favour of this bill on housing but that it must be overhauled in order to respect Quebec's jurisdictions.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in support of Bill C-304, an important piece of legislation brought forward by my NDP colleague, the member for Vancouver East.

Truthfully, at first I had not really fought my way on to the speakers list for this bill, not because I did not think it was absolutely vital for communities like my home town of Hamilton but, rather, because I could not see any way that this bill would not be passed unanimously by the House.

The bill simply calls for the development of a national housing strategy. It is a crucial first step in redressing the current piecemeal and inadequate system that has been in place since the Liberals cancelled the then existing national housing strategy in 1995.

The bill does not bind the government to specific measures. It does not outline an immediate spending plan. Private members' bills simply cannot do that. The bill just suggests that it is unacceptable for Canada to be the only major country in the world without a national housing strategy and that the need to develop one is immediate and urgent. Housing advocates, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and now even the UN are all calling on Canada to act.

Yet, as I listened to the debate on this bill before Easter, it became clear that the Conservatives are not even prepared to enter into the conversation. Speaking on behalf of the minister and therefore articulating the government line, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain said unequivocally, “I will not be supporting Bill C-304”. He went on to say that the bill would only serve to “severely restrict the ability of the government to adapt and continue to meet the housing needs of Canadians”.

Continue to meet? Is he kidding me? The government is clearly not meeting the housing needs of Canadians. Let me give the government a snapshot of what is happening in my home town of Hamilton.

As members will know, the threshold for affordability is paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing. That is the standard set out by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. If people pay more than that, they are in what is called core housing need.

In Hamilton, 90% of households with incomes of less than $10,000 exceed that threshold, 85% of households with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000 exceed the threshold, and in households with incomes between $20,000 and $30,000 75% still exceed it. Across Canada, that kind of housing insecurity is being experienced by three million households. These statistics clearly put a lie to the government's contention that it is meeting the housing needs of our country.

However, there are other data that support the urgent need for a national housing strategy. In Hamilton alone, the waiting list for social housing had 4,693 applicants this spring and it is growing. Of particular concern is the increase in the number of priority applicants, which includes women fleeing violence and applicants who are homeless. When the city of Hamilton issued its last report on homelessness, it noted that nearly 4,000 individuals stayed in homeless shelters in 2006.

Lest anyone in the House believes that this is a Hamilton problem rather than a national issue that must be addressed by the government, let me remind members of the words that Miloon Kothari, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, used to describe the housing situation in Canada. “Very disturbing”, “devastating impact” and “national crisis” were just some of the phrases he used when he presented his preliminary report.

That report confirmed that Canada desperately needs a national housing strategy. Canada needs to once again embark on a large scale building of social housing units across the country and, as the Special Rapporteur also noted, as part of that comprehensive national housing strategy particular funding must be directed to groups that have been forced to the margins, including women, seniors, youth, members of racialized communities, immigrants and groups with special needs.

That report should have been a call to action. Instead, it was just another in a long series of embarrassments for Canada on the international stage. Canada is the only major country in the industrialized world without a national housing strategy.

However, it is not too late to act. In fact, we are blessed by having housing advocates in this country who would be only too pleased to lend their expertise to such efforts. In Hamilton, I am thinking of people like Jeff Wingard from the Social Planning and Research Council and Tom Cooper from the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. In Toronto, the Wellesley Institute and Michael Shapcott have also done incredible work on housing over the years. Expertise exists from coast to coast to coast and their help is just a phone call away.

Let us strike while the iron is hot. That is exactly what the bill before us is designed to do. It seeks to realign the government's approach to dealing with housing issues by mandating a national strategy for a national problem. It takes our current patchwork of programs and strengthens them, setting national standards, and calling for investment in not for profit housing, housing for the homeless, housing for those with special needs, and sustainable and green homes. It is about rights and dignity, and it is about time that we act.

For those who are not swayed by the argument that housing is a human right, let me take a minute to make the economic argument as well. Part of it is ably articulated by the Conservative Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. In speaking about the need to bring Canada out of the devastating recession in which we find ourselves, he said:

Step one...is to create jobs and to create them now. Because of the economic downturn, many people in the construction industry are out of work. Building and renovating homes is a powerful way to get the economy moving again because it puts those people to work quickly and because most of the materials and supplies that are involved in home construction are made right here in Canada.

Of course, he is absolutely right. However, rhetoric does not build residences, dollars do. Instead of investing in a comprehensive housing strategy, the Conservatives have cut their support for the few programs that still remained. In budget 2006, the Conservatives cut $200 million of the $1.5 billion that the NDP had secured in its amendment to the last Liberal budget through Bill C-48.

In May 2006, the Conservatives cut a further $770 million from the energuide program, which helped home owners retrofit their homes to save both money and the environment. In September 2006, the Conservatives cut $45 million in administration of CMHC programs. In December 2006, the Conservatives then took the axe to SCPI. Even when pressure from the public and the NDP forced them to reverse their decision on energuide in February 2007, the Conservatives never did restore the $550 million that was designated to help low-income families.

The government's entire record on housing is one of wilful neglect and abandonment. It has disgraced Canada on the international stage. More importantly, it has undermined the ability of Canadian families to survive this recession. A family under stress from job loss or underemployment should not have to face the additional challenges of finding suitable housing for themselves and their children. Children deserve the stability that comes from being safely housed.

Best practices research confirms that building assets, which include savings accounts, home ownership and stable rental housing, promote family stability, give people a stake in their communities, encourage political participation, enable families to plan for retirement, and pass resources on to future generations. Investing in a national housing strategy that focuses on a continuum of options, from social housing to affordable home ownership, will help families build for their future while ensuring prosperous communities.

I believe that is a goal that all Canadians would support. The road to reaching that goal begins with the adoption of the bill that is before us today. Bill C-304 mandates a national strategy for a national problem. It is about rights. It is about dignity. It is about investments. It is about jobs. It is about time.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I am not opposed to a national strategy on housing, I am opposed to the way this bill is written.

I think people come to this House and after a time they think that because they say something it is true.

I want to comment on my friend from the Liberal Party's comment, who said the Liberals were just getting ready to put in a strategy after 13 years, that they were so close, and that this government scuttled that and it did not happen.

Once again, just because members stand in the House and say something, that does not make it so.

I look at my friends across the way from the NDP. We were talking about free trade with Colombia yesterday and they were talking about numbers that were totally fictitious. They were talking about things that happened before the president actually came into power in Colombia.

But we are not here to talk about free trade with Colombia today; we are here to talk about this housing strategy bill.

I certainly want to thank the member for Vancouver East for raising this issue. This is an important issue. At the human resources committee right now we are working on looking at a poverty study, and housing is an important element of that. It is something that does inspire a great deal of passion, and I can see why. Canada's housing industry is a powerful engine for economic growth and job creation in this country. Having a safe, affordable place to call home is vital to the health and well-being of each and every Canadian family in the communities we live in.

However, in the face of all the heat that inspires this issue, I think it is important that we create some light. While I thank the hon. member, for Vancouver East for raising this issue, I cannot support this legislation, for the simple reason that the government is already deeply engaged in delivering most of the items mentioned in this bill. Additionally, this government is already providing housing options in a way that respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories while reflecting the unique needs of local communities.

I would like to use my time today to address two of the key issues the hon. member has chosen not to address in this bill.

The first is the underlying assumption that Canada is not carrying out many of the items that are identified. That is simply wrong.

The fact is that our government already has a multi-pronged approach that provides housing. Our government is providing housing for Canadians from all walks of life and in all parts of the country. We already have an extensive framework of legislation policy and programs in place at each of the national, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. We already have established a clear federal-provincial-territorial consultation process, with rotating co-chairs and a strong working relationship. We are already working closely with the provinces and the territories, municipalities, first nation groups and housing organizations across the country to address each of the needs identified in the bill. This action-based multi-pronged approach has allowed for the housing needs of 80% of Canadian households to be met in the marketplace while offering targeted assistance to those whose needs are being met privately.

Unlike the strategy advocated by this bill, this approach respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories to administer their housing programs in ways that work best for individual Canadians and communities.

Bill C-304 does not recognize this jurisdiction, nor does it recognize the differences in local needs that require solutions. Instead, Bill C-304 would provide the federal minister with a free rein to implement a national housing strategy in any way the minister saw fit, irrespective of the needs of our provincial and territorial partners.

How should the provinces and territories interpret proposed subclause 4(2) of the bill, giving the federal minister the power to take any measures the minister considers appropriate to implement the proposed legislation? The attitude implicit in this clause is naive at best, and it aims for a one-size-fits-all strategy when in fact one size fits none.

The second area I would like to focus on is the litany of errors and inconsistencies made in the House in April by my hon. colleague and other members of the opposition who rose in support of this bill.

The member for Vancouver East stated that about three million Canadian households live in housing insecurity. That statement is simply inaccurate. However, Bill C-304 does not even go so far as to define what that means. By housing insecurity, we must surmise that the hon. member is referring to the accepted definition of “core housing need”. If this is indeed the case, the latest figures show roughly half the numbers suggested by my hon. colleague are indeed in core housing need.

My hon. colleague also stated that Canada has fallen behind other countries in the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in developing a national housing strategy, and that is wrong. Canada's approach is actually very similar to that of the vast majority of G8 and OECD countries, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

The hon. member also suggests that our government has never recognized the need for a homelessness strategy. While this may play to the NDP caucus, the facts inconveniently get in the way of the hon. member's story. In 2007, the national homelessness partnering strategy was launched under this Conservative government. In 2008, our government approved five year funding of nearly $2 billion for housing and homelessness programs.

Last, the member thanked those organizations she says are supporting this bill, but she failed to take into account the long list of organizations that are opposed to this unnecessary bureaucratic legislation. This includes the Canada West Foundation, in the member's own backyard, which has advocated for a decentralized approach.

Clearly this is a more sensible approach whereby the provinces and territories, supported by federal funds, are responsible for affordable housing and homelessness. This is precisely the opposite of the rigid and arbitrary national approach advocated by this bill.

The member for Brampton West also spoke in favour of this bill, claiming the federal government cut $200 million from affordable housing in budget 2006. However, the facts show that in budget 2006, we included an investment of $1.4 billion in affordable housing trusts to the provinces and territories.

The hon. member went on to accuse this government of cancelling the supporting communities partnership initiative in 2006, but again ignored the national homelessness partnership that we announced shortly thereafter.

Our government is already making significant investments in housing in the areas mentioned in Bill C-304. This bill provides nothing new beyond a promise of endless discussion, additional bureaucracy and ideological pandering. This government prefers timely actions with defined and measurable goals.

In partnership with provinces and territories, first nations and other stakeholders, our Conservative government is taking meaningful action across the entire range of housing requirements and needs.

Mortgage loan insurance through CMHC helps provide mortgage financing to Canadians, wherever they live, at the best possible terms and conditions. Our mortgage securitization activities also help to ensure there is an ample supply of low-cost funding for housing. Access to homeownership is supported through the home buyers' plan and the GST rebate to reduce the cost of a new home.

The $300 million first nations market housing fund is helping to create home ownership opportunities on reserve. The fund was launched in May 2008 by our government. For low to moderate income households, the federal government provides $1.7 billion in subsidies annually to some 625,000 existing social housing units.

Furthermore, in 2006 this government made a strategic investment of $1.4 billion to help Canadians find safe, sound and affordable housing and increase the supply of transitional and supportive housing in all provinces and territories.

CMHC's renovation programs help low-income households, landlords, people with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians bring their homes up to acceptable health and safety standards.

Building on these concrete initiatives, in September 2008 the government committed more than $1.9 billion over the next five years to improve and build new affordable housing and help the homeless.

In addition, Canada's economic action plan commits another $2 billion over two years to build new social housing, repair and retrofit existing social housing and help create stronger communities.

Should Bill C-304 become law, the federal government would be exposed to a risk of undetermined, significant long-term spending in addition to the extensive investments we have already made.

The provision of credit without discrimination to all Canadians would, for example, make the government liable for subprime loans. In terms of housing subsidies, the annual cost is estimated to be over $3.5 billion.

I, for one, cannot support this private member's bill the way it is, first and foremost for the reason that the Government of Canada is already deeply engaged in the precise activities the bill proposes be addressed.

We heard today during question period the concern of what Canada is doing in terms of poverty. I find it interesting, once again, that when we look at what the conference board says on Canada's failing grade on poverty, it relates back to what happened in previous governments.

This government is not talking about doing things; this government is actually getting things done.

For these and many other reasons, I urge the House to reject the bill.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-304, the secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing bill. It was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver East, and I thank her for again keeping this issue of the need for a national housing program before the House and before Canadians. She has done great work on this issue, especially since she was first elected in 1997. One of the first things she undertook was a cross-country tour and survey. She had meetings with community groups and community leaders to determine the exact housing needs of Canadians, which were very serious back in 1997 and have not improved significantly since that time.

One of the things that came out of her work was her first housing bill of rights. That was a very detailed piece of legislation that had been debated in the House on other occasions. It was not successful, but we kept reintroducing it, hoping to convince members from all corners of the House of the importance of this kind of legislation.

The housing bill of rights would have established the right to safe, adequate, secure housing as a basic human right in Canada, in law in Canada. It was excellent legislation, and I hope the day comes when we have a government that is willing to implement a housing program, which ensures housing for all Canadians as a basic human right.

Sadly, that bill has had to undergo some readjustment, given the requirements of royal recommendations. I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that you ruled earlier that this latest version of the bill does not require a royal recommendation, that it does not require significant new spending and that it is merely a call to the government to implement and to develop a national housing program. It offers advice about how that can be accomplished.

It is not the bill that I know the member for Vancouver East had envisioned. It is in fact not the bill she prepared. It is not the bill that we in the NDP would ultimately like to see, but it is an important step, given the restrictions that apply to private members' legislation in our parliamentary system.

The bill would require the government to convene a national conference of provinces, aboriginal communities, municipalities and other interested parties to develop a national housing strategy that would provide secure, adequate, affordable, accessible and not-for-profit housing for Canadians, which is a very important step. It is a good process. It is a process that also recognizes the interests of Quebec. It also recognizes the interests of aboriginal and first nations communities and communities of the Inuit as well. It sets out a process that will help us develop the kind of program we need nationally in Canada.

When United Nations officials and officials from other countries come to Canada to look at the housing situation, they are absolutely appalled by what they see, and that is a great embarrassment. A couple of years ago the UN Special Rapporteur said that he saw our housing as a national crisis. He could not understand how a country as wealthy as Canada could have a housing situation as dismal as it was. It is not an appropriate situation and it does require our attention. We did not get that from the previous Liberal government and we do not have it from the Conservative government.

The previous Conservative speaker tried to make a case for what the Conservative government was doing. The reality is if the Conservatives had not come in to government when they did and been able to spend the money that the New Democrats fought for from the previous Liberal government, they would have precious little to show in terms of new acts and in terms of housing. The Conservatives take credit for housing money, money for a national housing program that the New Democrats fought for in the 38th Parliament. It was a one-off. It was not an ongoing program, but that was the money the Conservatives were able to spend and put into a housing program. Now they claim they have done something. I do not think it would have been their inclination to go down that road if the way had not already been established by the action of New Democrats in that previous Parliament.

The economic stimulus budget does have some money for housing projects, which is an important engine for economic development and would help us get out of the recession, but it is a one-off kind of thing. It is not an ongoing national housing program attached to a national housing strategy, and that is what we need. We are still falling short. We are still failing to meet the requirements of a national housing program.

If people were to come to my riding of Burnaby--Douglas and talk to people who work on the issue of homelessness and housing in my local community, they would hear that one of the things that is absolutely necessary to address the housing needs of Canadians is a national housing program and the involvement of the federal government in solving this crisis.

In fact, if people were to go into any community across Canada and talk to the people who work on this issue, who work with people who are under-housed, who live in deteriorating housing, who live in overcrowded conditions and who do not have homes, they would hear that one of the key things to solving the problem is the involvement of the federal government.

In the last Parliament, when I held the position of NDP spokesperson on housing for a short time, I accumulated a stack of new reports from every corner of this country. The initial recommendation in all of those reports was the need for a national housing program and the involvement of the Government of Canada to solve the housing and homelessness problems in Canada. Every report from every community from coast to coast to coast made clear the importance of that.

I know the people on the Burnaby task force on homelessness appreciate the importance of the federal government's involvement in solving the problem of housing and homelessness in Canada. They have been impressed with the work of the member for Vancouver East in putting forward solutions and tangible ways of going about ensuring that the program exists and goes some way to addressing the ongoing need for housing in Canada. As I mentioned earlier, report after report from international observers have said the same thing. The UN rapporteur called it a national crisis in Canada.

The other important feature of this bill is that not only would it require the federal government to produce a national housing strategy but it would require the federal government to do that in consultation with other levels of government in Canada.

The sad reality is that the Conservative government has refused to participate in any provincial housing meetings since it came to power. The federal government refused to attend the national housing summit with the provinces and territories just this last August. In fact, it has not attended a national housing summit since September 2005. That is unacceptable. We need to ensure our federal government is involved in those discussions and this legislation would make that a requirement.

The Wellesley Institute, which has done great work on housing and homelessness in Canada, is about to release its 2009 state of the nation's housing report. It will draw our attention yet again to the needs of Canadians for housing. That report will draw our attention to a number of statistical situations that exist here in Canada. It notes that Statistics Canada has shown that 705,000 households in Canada live in overcrowded conditions where too many people share a small space. It estimates that attached to that, two million women, men and children now live below the national occupancy standards.

We know that is an important factor in the H1N1 situation. Overcrowded housing makes it possible for the virus to flourish in those kinds of conditions. That is a good example of why we need to pay attention to housing.

More than three million Canadians are paying too much for housing and live in situations of needing housing, and that needs to be addressed as well.

The bottom line is that a national housing program in Canada needs to be ongoing and it needs to be a program that actually builds homes. That is the need and that is what has been missing. That was what was missing with the Liberal government and what is missing with the Conservative government. That is what New Democrats would do instead.

People across the country who work on this issue know that we need a long-term national housing program that would actually build homes for Canadians.