House of Commons Hansard #210 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was housing.

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The House resumed from October 17, 2012, 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.

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

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for York South—Weston had two and a half minutes remaining for his remarks.

The hon. member for York South—Weston.

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

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise again in support of the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot's motion to create a national housing strategy.

As we know, the Government of Canada used to be a big player in the housing market of Canada. However, the Liberal government, in the 1990s, got out of the housing market completely and left it up to the provinces and to the cities themselves. We have never really recovered from that decision by the Liberal government.

Whenever we ask a question about housing, the Conservative government likes to say that it is spending a lot of money on housing, but it is taking credit for something the NDP did. The NDP actually was the party that, in a negotiation with the Liberals in 2005, negotiated that there should be money spent on housing in Canada as part of the budget. That money is still there. However, the Conservative government is attempting to cut that money. It has also threatened to cut off money for the co-ops in Canada, which is another bad sign of things to come.

Bill C-400 would force the government to create a regime that would deal with the provinces, deal with the municipalities and deal with the territories to put together a strategy that would create affordable, reliable housing for all Canadians, not just those who have the money to do it.

In my riding, we have 16,000 seniors. Over 15% of the riding is currently over age 65. Some of those seniors are desperately afraid that they are not going to be able to find a place to live in the near future, because there is no strategy, either provincially or federally, to create housing that seniors can afford. We have a growing number of these seniors.

There are places where seniors' housing can be affordably built. In the province of Ontario, they are tearing down hospitals. They should be using those hospitals, as in my riding, as seniors' housing. They are tearing down schools. They should be using those schools, as in my riding, as seniors' housing, because those seniors deserve a better place to live. We deserve, as Canadians, to have a housing strategy put forward at the federal level, and the bill does exactly that.

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

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise with mixed emotion to debate this bill since it is not the first time that I have spoken on this issue and yet the dire need for secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing is no less significant now than it was when this matter was before a previous Parliament. The bill received its support then and there is every reason for it to receive the same support now.

When each of us here wakes up in our ridings, we wake in accommodations that we can afford. In fact, I would wager that many of us have cottages or, in the case of some here, a second residence for when they are in Ottawa. We are more than fortunate enough to afford that luxury, but not every Canadian is. According to the most recent figures that date back to before the recession in 2008, which brought about serious economic instability, 13% of Canadians exist in what is called “core housing need”.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines this situation as when “housing falls below at least one of the adequacy, suitability or affordability standards and [one] would have to spend 30% or more of its total before-tax income to pay the median rent of alternative local market housing that it is acceptable”.

Housing is adequate when it is reported by its residents as not requiring major repairs. Housing is suitable when there are enough bedrooms for the size and makeup of resident households, according to National Occupancy Standard requirements. Housing is affordable when dwellings cost less than 30% of total before-tax income.

These are basic common sense criteria that should be inalienable, yet still we can easily recall the images that came from Attawapiskat last Christmas where none of these standards were met, houses that were little more than garden sheds made of plywood, more mould than wall.

In the face of the most recent economic crisis, the government has been more than willing to promote its position within the G8 as an innovator and model for the rest of the world and yet we exist as the only member of that group, one of a few of all industrialized countries, without a national housing strategy. In fact, trends would show that we similarly lag in the development of a national food policy, another mechanism to combat poverty.

It will be disconcerting to a majority of Canadians if the Conservative government does not feel it is the federal government's role to more meaningfully deal with the national crisis of poverty, housing and homelessness. Indeed, on May 9, 2012, this very Parliament passed Motion No. 331, brought forward by the hon. member for Shefford, confirming that:

—the government should: (a) keep with Canada’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to housing under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (b) support efforts by Canadian municipalities to combat homelessness; and (c) adopt measures to expand the stock of affordable rental housing, with a view to providing economic benefits to local housing construction businesses.

Today's Bill C-400 is the natural progression from that motion if in fact we are genuine about dealing with this issue and our previous support of Motion No. 331 has been more than a meaningless facade to leave people thinking that we actually care.

Michael Shapcott, director general of the Wellesley Institute, a funding provider for multiple expert studies on housing and health, is clear on this issue. Canadians with homes are healthy Canadians and healthy Canadians mean reduced health care costs, yet another reason that we need to pass this legislation. Just yesterday, Mr. Shapcott wrote that while this bill was before the House, Toronto added its 700th name to the roll of men and women who had died as a result of homelessness in Canada's largest city.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is also clear on this issue. FCM policy advisor Joshua Bates said in committee during the last Parliament:

Chronic homelessness and lack of affordable housing are not just social issues; they're core economic issues. They strain the limited resources of municipal governments and undermine the economic well-being of our cities, which are the engines of national economic growth, competitiveness, and productivity.

According to the government's very own economic action plan from September 2010, every $1 invested in housing reaps a net benefit of $1.40 to the Canadian economy, spurring growth, jobs and productivity. Meanwhile, homelessness costs our fragile economy $4.5 billion each year without any net benefit at all. Clearly, investing in this problem is the only marketable solution, the only one that will negate the detrimental impact this scourge has on our economy, while fostering growth and productivity.

More still, the Senate report, “In from the Margins”, shows that this is a cross-partisan issue. The subcommittee, comprised of Liberals and Conservatives, concluded that regulatory constraints, time constraints and declining operational support from the federal government were interfering with an integrated consideration of housing and homelessness. Specifically they identified that:

—unaffordable and inadequate housing, even for those who are currently able to meet their needs and aspirations, can contribute to poverty, and to a spiral that can include losing jobs, dropping out of school, and being unable to sustain families.

To that end, the report very clearly recommended that an integrated approach to housing and homelessness requires that the federal government, in collaboration with provincial governments, representatives of municipal governments, first nation organizations and other housing providers, develop a national housing and homelessness strategy. We need a national housing strategy, and we need that strategy to work for lower income and marginalized Canadians.

My own community of Guelph is no exception to this. In my life before politics, my time with the Wellington and Guelph Housing Authority, working with valuable community groups such as Onward Willow, Women in Crisis and now the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, affirmed my strong conviction that taking action to create affordable housing is, without question, one of the most effective ways to lift entire families out of poverty and into prosperity.

Still, as of this fall, Guelph's vacancy rate is 1.4%, well below the 3% that is considered a healthy balance between supply and demand for accommodation. Meanwhile, the population of Guelph and the surrounding Wellington County has grown 11.2% in the past decade. As of this month, unemployment in Guelph is at 6.2%. While Guelph's economy is above average for Ontario, affordability remains a challenge for families and seniors. The Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination has observed a 120% increase in families using the shelters system.

When we combine a worryingly low vacancy rate with job market instability and general concern about the economy, very little choice is left for those at the lower end of the housing market, leaving individuals and families to accept accommodations that are painfully below standard. Not a week goes by without a constituent calling, concerned that they are on a four- to five-year wait list for affordable housing in Guelph. It leaves me feeling helpless that I can offer no solution.

Across the country, an astounding number of citizens either remain homeless or live in inadequate housing. More than 300,000 to 400,000 Canadians move in and out of homelessness, and there are 1.5 million households that lack secure housing. Approximately 3.3 million live in substandard housing, and more than three-quarters of one million families live in overcrowded housing.

Instituting a national housing strategy is more than simply a compassionate consideration. It is also the most effective way for Canadians to be sure their tax dollars, which fund our social programs, are being spent in the most efficient, effective and accountable way. With a nationwide comprehensive strategy, we are all better positioned to make a difference.

I call on all members, on compassionate grounds and in the interest of smart, sound economic policy, to pass this legislation. Let us begin the dialogue that will enable Canada to join its G8 partners and do the right thing for all Canadians.

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

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today about Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.

A disturbing trend has been developing in Toronto and every city in Canada. Young people, parents and especially those living on the margins are all too familiar with it: affordable housing is becoming less and less accessible for many Canadians.

As a Torontonian, I am in a good position to know that a national housing strategy is vital to the future of our city. We have known for a long time that it will require more than goodwill to address the issues of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. These are fundamental economic problems that are harming our country's economy.

Housing problems put an enormous amount of pressure on our cities, where the drivers of innovation, productivity and growth for the 21st century must be developed.

I was born in Toronto, and with my husband we raised our three sons in that city. I have seen first-hand the impact of rising costs of housing on families in Parkdale—High Park, the riding I represent, and in neighbourhoods across our city. Torontonians know well that our city's waiting list for affordable housing continues to grow. A year ago, that list reached an all-time high, with over 80,000 households on the waiting list. While a small number of those were able to find housing, many are left waiting, and not just for months; some are waiting for years, and some even decades. We simply cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer.

I recently received a letter from a constituent named Theresa, who urged me to support the bill. In her letter, she wrote that the right to housing is a core Canadian value that is centred on dignity, security and equality. She is absolutely right, and I thank Theresa for her concern and for taking the time to write.

Clearly, Canadians in Parkdale—High Park and neighbourhoods across Canada are watching us and they want us to act.

Given that Canada's household debt recently reached a critical level, we must now recognize that guaranteeing Canadians access to safe and affordable housing is not only one of the best ways to combat inequalities, but it is also vital to the health of our national economy.

Many international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, have warned our government about a steadily growing level of household debt, but our government does not seem to want to listen. The Bank of Canada and the IMF have said that the level of household debt in Canada is too high. It has reached 158%, which is unprecedented.

Household debt is the result of many economic factors, but it is important to recognize that housing constitutes a large part of every Canadian household's budget. Canada has a household debt level of 158%, but we know that mortgages make up 68% of that debt.

Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, is a call to action. This bill calls on the government to do what it too often forgets to do: take initiative.

We are not asking for a new department, a new commissioner or even a new report. We are simply asking the government to be aware of what families across Canada are experiencing and to take initiative instead of shirking its responsibilities.

Bill C-400 asks the government to partner with provinces, cities, aboriginal communities, and with the private and non-profit housing sectors, to create a national housing strategy.

Why is Canada the only G8 country in the world that has failed to do so? Why is Canada falling so far behind?

We know that inequality is on the rise in Canada and when we look at the tremendous impact that access to secure, affordable housing has on social mobility and opportunity and the general economic vitality of cities like Toronto, it is clear that housing is not only an enormous challenge but also a very promising opportunity for economic leadership. When we see these factors come together, including all-time high levels of household debt, rising housing costs and growing inequality, it is easy to see that this combination will threaten the long-term economic prosperity of our country.

For each dollar spent on housing there is $1.40 increase in GDP. If we are committed to ensuring long-term prosperity for generations to come, then we must get serious about a national housing strategy.

Looking back to the 1990s there is an alarming pattern of neglect of affordable housing. In 1993 the Liberal government cut permanent funding for new affordable housing. By 1996 it had downloaded the responsibility to provinces, leaving Canada virtually alone among the high performing economies of the world without a national social housing program. Then some provinces, like my own province of Ontario, were quite happy to download social housing to the cities with no resources to be able to support it.

It is unfortunate that the Conservative government, like the Liberals, has continued to neglect this key area of social policy. For instance, under the Conservative government, funding for the affordable housing initiative will be reduced from $582 million in 2012 to zero by 2015. By 2016 consolidated federal housing investments will have been cut to $1.8 billion, a cut of 52% in just six years.

These cuts and the absence of a housing strategy affect diverse groups in our community, from young people trying to get a head start to our seniors who hope to retire in peace and security. Each group is impacted by what the government has failed to do, which is to take leadership on affordable housing.

The last census found that 42% of young Canadians continue to live with their parents. For many this is due to the high cost of housing or the challenges of finding a job in today's economy. A survey conducted last year found that in my home province of Ontario, the number of seniors on housing waiting lists has risen steadily since 2004, reaching nearly 40,000 households, or one-quarter of all waiting households at the end of 2011.

Recent changes to EI will also have an impact on many Canadians' ability to afford housing, particularly at a time when funding for many housing programs is being phased out. With a loss of EI benefits, more households will be at risk of falling into core housing need.

As finance critic, I recognize that investing in our cities and taking leadership on affordable housing is a smart choice for our national economy. As a Torontonian and the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I know from personal experience that this is an area of urgent concern to our community. I urge all members of the House to lend their support to Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. This initiative is long overdue.

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

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Nycole Turmel Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-400 and I wish to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, on all her hard work on this matter.

In 2013, between 150,000 and 300,000 people are living on the streets in Canada, and another 2 million suffer from food insecurity. According to the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, 4 million Canadians, 750,000 of them children, are coping with pressing housing needs. The situation is particularly worrisome in aboriginal communities. I saw this first-hand when I went to visit Attawapiskat. Over-crowding and substandard housing are posing significant sanitary and social risks.

It is hard to create a healthy environment for children to grow up in when eight people are living in a house built for four. In a supposedly rich and developed country like Canada, this situation is pretty dismal. The fact that millions of Canadians—mainly women, children, aboriginal people, seniors and new Canadians—are having a hard time meeting such a basic need as housing is sad and shocking. A home is so much more than a roof and four walls.

Having adequate housing makes it easier to find employment, promotes family integration and helps improve self-esteem.

In the Ottawa-Gatineau region alone, nearly 12,000 families are waiting for social housing. The wait can sometimes be up to eight years. And that does not seem to be improving. With the cost of living going up and wages stagnating, Canadian families are increasingly having a hard time making ends meet and finding adequate housing. When they do manage to find housing, they must sometimes make sacrifices elsewhere, to their food budget, for example.

Every month, 900,000 Canadians use food banks. This is a 31% increase over 2008 levels. I bring up the issue of hunger in Canada because it is closely linked to housing. When someone on a low income has to pay a high rent, there is less money remaining to put food on the table. A single mother earning minimum wage has a hard time finding adequate housing at market prices in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, for example. Some manage to do so, but they must sometimes choose between paying rent and putting food on the table. Some spend up to 70% of their income on rent, which leave very little to spend on children's clothing or school supplies.

That is one of the reasons why the House must pass this bill. To effectively combat poverty, we must tackle the access to housing problem head-on. It is high time for Canada to implement a national housing strategy, as proposed in the bill from my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. Canada is currently the only G8 country that does not have a national housing strategy.

It is unacceptable for us to socially and economically abandon millions of Canadians on the side of the road. As the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities said:

Chronic homelessness and lack of affordable housing are not just social issues; they are core economic issues. They strain the limited resources of municipal governments and undermine the economic well-being of our cities-the engines of national economic growth, competitiveness and productivity.

The federation, which represents 2,000 Canadian cities, has clearly indicated that every dollar invested in housing creates a $1.40 increase in GDP. It is a win-win situation.

This is true from a social and economic viewpoint, but also an international one.

Canada is a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and has international obligations with respect to housing.

In a report on housing, the United Nations singled out Canada for its delay in meeting its obligations concerning social housing and fighting homelessness.

A national housing strategy would allow Canada to send a clear message to the UN and all its G8 partners.

We have to do more than just make an investment in order to fulfill our obligations and to deal effectively with the problem of access to housing. We have to make an intelligent investment based on a national strategy that will take into account the specific needs of our communities.

If Bill C-400 is passed, and I hope it will be, the minister responsible for CMHC will have to develop a strategy in co-operation with the provinces, municipal representatives, aboriginal communities, providers of housing and concerned civil society organizations.

We need leadership from the federal government on this issue, but above all we need the government to work together with the stakeholders concerned.

The Conservative government has already shown, in the health file for example, that it is not very open to working with the provinces.

That must change if it wants to find lasting solutions to problems such as access to housing.

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

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to this particular bill today. I cannot help but make some comments on some of the earlier speeches. There are some within the chamber, generally speaking from the New Democratic side, who take pride as if they were the ones taking the moral high road on housing and a national housing standard. Once again, I think they could be accused of throwing stones in a glass house. I have had opportunities speak in favour of national housing and the important role that Ottawa should play. One of the individuals I have debated the subject with was the former member of Parliament Bill Blaikie from Winnipeg's north end, who said it was more about a provincial than a national standard. I used to be the housing critic for a number of years. One of the difficulties I had was trying to convince the provincial New Democrats to invest in non-profit housing.

One of the issues we have to look at is that there are many different forms of non-profit housing. We could talk about housing co-ops, life-leases, housing for 50-plus seniors, infill housing, residential rehabilitation programs, or shelter allowances, all of which play a critical role in making housing affordable for Canadians and getting them engaged in the issue and feeling good about their homes.

No political party stands front and centre on this issue. At any given point in time, government has dropped the ball. There is no question that government could be doing a lot more with respect to non-profit housing.

I am very disappointed by the lack of leadership from the Conservative government in dealing with this critical issue for all Canadians. My Liberal colleague stood in support of the bill that is before us, and calling into question the Liberal Party on this issue, I believe, is wrong. Some of the greatest investments in non-profit housing occurred during the 1970s. I would remind the member that when Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada, he invested in non-profit housing. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to non-profit housing and building non-profit housing because we recognize that shelter is important for all Canadians. I also look to individuals like Lloyd Axworthy as someone who for years advocated the importance of shelter allowance programs, not only inside the Manitoba legislature but also here in Ottawa.

There needs to be co-operation on the housing file. We need to have provincial governments working with Ottawa to be able to develop housing programs that make sense. If we look at the province of Manitoba, where there are in excess of 19,000 non-profit housing units of a wide spectrum, that would not be possible if it were not for the millions of dollars of investment that come from Ottawa to provide that non-profit housing. It is an annual operational grant that does that.

My concern is when mortgages come due. What will we be doing with that money going forward? We have advocacy groups throughout this country that want to ensure that the moneys that do come available are in fact reinvested in non-profit housing. However, it is more than just throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into blocks A, B, C and D. It is about looking at ways in which we can get the public, the non-profit groups that are out there, to also invest in non-profit housing.

There are many non-profit agencies out there that could assist in playing a strong role. All they are looking for is leadership from Ottawa to say that, yes, we need to have a national strategy and we are prepared to work with the provinces and pool the money together and engage some of these non-profit organizations. In every region of our country, we would find a high level of interest because they, like most, if not all parliamentarians, want to see affordable housing for all Canadians. We want to ensure that there is a basic standard.

When we talk about a national housing strategy, it is about more than building homes. Our housing stock in Canada needs to be maintained. We need to have revitalization programs. We need to work with cities. At the city level, they have the ability to reach into the individual communities through residential rehabilitation programs. These programs would make a difference. Through the private sector, individuals would invest in their homes. It would also create jobs when that type of investment occurred. It would maintain the housing stock.

We used to have a rental program. Through the rental rehabilitation assistance program, landlords had access to pools of money they could invest in rental stock.

Winnipeg is not alone. In many different communities there is a dire need for renovations. We need to start talking about initiatives the government could be taking to provide incentives for them to take place.

We also need to recognize that there are many different good ideas in different provinces. That is the reason the federal government has a role to play. We need to adopt a national housing strategy.

I look forward to the debate, although I suspect that it will be coming to an end relatively quickly. It would be nice to see the bill go to committee for the simple reason that there are many different stakeholders, like me, who have strong opinions on the issue.

They would like to see strong leadership. That leadership needs to come from the Prime Minister. There needs to be a commitment from the Prime Minister that whether one is living in an older community, in a suburb, on a reserve or in a rural community, and no matter what part of the country one lives in, housing and the standard of housing is of critical importance. It is one of the basic needs residents in Canada have. As members of Parliament, there is an obligation for us to ensure that we do the best we can to ensure that housing stocks are not only expanded but are improved.

I would not want any government of any political stripe to forget about the many agencies and non-profit groups that contribute to enabling individual residents to own a home or, in many cases, to afford to rent a place and to improve the quality of the home they reside in.

There are an endless number of individuals right across this country who want to see something happen on this file. That is the reason I would suggest that the government allow the bill to go to committee. If the bill goes to committee, it will afford the opportunity for representation by those who really want to see something develop. Let us see what happens at committee stage. That is why I would suggest that it is in our interest to see the bill pass second reading and go to committee. It is something that is in the best interests of all residents of Canada. I hope that as many members as possible will see the bill ultimately pass so that it can go to that stage.

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

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, a housing forum was held in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador, in September. Before this forum began, a woman in a wheelchair handed the three New Democrat MPs in attendance a sheet of paper. The paper contained just five words: “family, shelter, food, career and health”. The woman asked each of us to take a moment to visualize what each word meant in our lives. Then she asked us to take a pen and eliminate one. The woman said, there is no choice; one has to go. Then she asked us to eliminate a second word and then a third.

They were tough choices. Even hypothetically, the choices were impossible. I eliminated career first, then my own health, and then food. I was left with family and shelter. I remember the exercise leaving me with a feeling of desperation in the pit of my stomach. The woman said the point of the exercise was for MPs to imagine it. Her point was that she is living it. That was a powerful point.

There is a housing crisis. Even in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the economy is booming, there is a housing crisis. This week there are stories in the news back home about two men struggling to make ends meet. They are struggling to meet housing costs in a boom town. Rental costs have gone up by more than 18% in the St. John's area over the past four years, which translates into some people struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

According to the Single Parents Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, rent for a three-bedroom unit four or five years ago was around $650, and now it is up to $1,100 to $1,300 a month. From $650 a month to $1,300 a month in four or five years is an incredible increase. People are having a hard time coping with that. In many cases, they are not coping. Their income is constant; their rent is not constant.

The stories in the news back home this week are about two men. One is a single father with a young daughter getting by on worker's compensation. The other story is about a single man making minimum wage. These men are having an incredibly hard time getting by because of the rent.

The man on worker's compensation has a total income, including his daughter's baby bonus, which he pointed out, of $1,479 a month. His rent alone is $1,200 a month, so he has $279 a month for everything else. His daughter does not take a lunch to school because there is no money for that, and he pointed that out as well.

The single man making minimum wage heats only one room in his apartment, and he hangs blankets in the doorways to keep in the heat. His rent is going up on March 1 by another $75. Where will that money come from?

Right now that original list of five choices—food, shelter, health, family and career—has a very real face, a desperate face.

During the 2011 federal election, I remember knocking on the homes of seniors in the middle of the afternoon. They would often come to their doors in coats and jackets. They wore coats and jackets inside their homes in the middle of the afternoon because they could not afford to turn on the heat. These are the kinds of decisions that people are being forced to make. Rents are continually increasing, and for people, seniors, on fixed incomes that means something has to suffer. Food suffers. Heat suffers. Medications suffer. People often do not buy the medicine they need because these are the choices they are forced to make.

Labrador City is another boom town in Newfoundland and Labrador. The mining industry, specifically the iron ore industry, is doing very well. The vacancy rate in Labrador West is almost zero. The local college offers a mining course that practically guarantees employment upon completion, but classes are not full because there is no place for students to live.

We heard stories about how women remain in abusive relationships because there is nowhere else to go.

I also visited Fort McMurray, Alberta, in the past year. That is another place that is absolutely booming. The average income is $100,000. The average family income is $180,000 a year. However, the cost of rent is astronomical. A new three bedroom home with a double car garage and an unregistered apartment can go for between $700,000 to $900,000, so we can imagine the cost of rental units. In the meantime, the income threshold for low-income housing is about $80,000 a year.

There is a housing crisis in St. John's. There is a housing crisis in Labrador. There is a housing crisis in Alberta. There is a housing crisis across Canada.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy, which is what Bill C-400 is all about. What does it cost? It costs nothing. It costs no money. It simply requires the minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to work in collaboration with the provincial ministers responsible for housing, with representatives of municipalities, with aboriginal communities and with housing providers in the non-profit and private sectors. It requires all of these groups to work together to establish a national housing strategy.

How does that not make sense? That is smart governance.

Between 300,000 and 400,000 Canadians are homeless. They have no place to live. Three million Canadians live in housing insecurity, including 27,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and almost 9,300 in St. John's South—Mount Pearl and St. John's East alone.

The Conservatives have said that their commitment to safe and affordable housing has helped over 775,000 Canadians since 2006. The Conservatives claim that their investment in housing has led to the creation of 46,000 affordable housing units. At the same time, waiting lists across the country for social housing are consistently getting longer and vacancy rates are dropping to record lows everywhere.

Bruce Pearce of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network has described the bill as a life-saving bill. He said that Atlantic Canada would be hardest hit by the absence of a national housing strategy because there are fewer support networks in rural communities. There may be loads of shelters, for example, in downtown Toronto, but not so in places such as downtown Mount Pearl or places like it.

In areas of Canada that are doing well, where the economy is sizzling, the poorest people are suffering because of the increased cost of living, because of increased rents, because of increased everything across the board.

There was another story in the news recently back home of how 30 tenants in a low-income apartment building in St. John's were worried that they would soon be homeless. Their building is to be redeveloped into condominiums and they have until the end of April to move out. It will not be easy for those 30 families to find another place to live. One tenant stated, “Every time they put up the rent, that's less food you have every month, or it's a light bill you can't pay”.

Yvette Walton, the head of Newfoundland and Labrador's Single Parent Association told CBC news this week that rent is rising too quickly on the Northeast Avalon, which is on the extreme east coast of Newfoundland. She said that it was causing huge amounts of stress, especially for single parent families and that the solution is more affordable housing. That is where a national housing strategy would come into play.

Let me bring this back full circle. With respect to family, shelter, career, food, health, which ones can we live without? As MPs we are imagining it, but there are people who are actually living it. Maybe living is not the right word. Existing may be a more fitting term. It is those people who Bill C-400 is designed to help.

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

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In that we will have enough time left for the right of reply, we have about five minutes remaining for the intervention by the hon. member for Vancouver East.

The hon. member for Vancouver East.

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

7 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak briefly today to Bill C-400. We hear the passion in the speeches today about why we have to get this bill through, a bill for an affordable housing strategy in our country.

I want to thank my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador and others who have spoken in the House today on their experiences and perspective about why the bill is so critical. It is critical because we understand that safe, appropriate, affordable housing is a basic human right in our country. If people do not have it, as the hon. member just said, there is not much else they can do in their life. Whether it is work or income, if people do not have safe, affordable, appropriate housing, it is very difficult to get by.

The bill has had a very long history. I first introduced the bill in 1998. I was so hopping mad when I came to Parliament in 1997 because it was the Liberal government in 1995 that cut out our very successful national housing programs. When the member for Winnipeg North got up on his high horse and said that the Liberals had shown leadership and this was a great issue, it was his government that cut our programs. They were good programs and, yes, we could go back to the seventies and the eighties. They were housing programs that municipalities and non-profit societies used. We had excellent co-op housing, not-for-profit housing, seniors housing, special needs housing and what did the Liberals do? Balancing the budget on the backs of poor people, they cut out housing programs. Ever since that historic day, we have suffered because we have not had a national housing program.

The bill in the last Parliament was almost passed, but the election happened and the bill was died. Here we are again. However, we are determined and committed to keep this issue alive and not give up on the fact that we need a national housing strategy. It is a responsibility of the federal government to work with the provinces, territories, first nations, municipalities and other housing providers to bring about such a strategy. The bill is all about that.

I have heard all the arguments from the other side that government is doing it. The fact is the government had some money for about two years as part of the recession economic plan. However, since then, it has not put any money into an affordable housing plan.

I recently dealt with a group in my riding that was trying to get some money under the homelessness strategy, which does still exist. This was a church group which had its own money, land and needed some support from the federal government, but it was turned down. Why? The group was told that its development was affordable housing and therefore it could not be supported because it was not homelessness.

What kind of crazy system is this? Yes, we need to provide shelters. In metro Vancouver we have a dire situation of growing homelessness, particularly among the aboriginal community, people who cannot find shelter. However, we also need a longer term program. We cannot have people living in and out of shelters. Shelters have become permanent housing for people. That is no solution whether it is in Toronto, Vancouver or Mount Pearl, wherever it is.

I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, for bringing forward the bill again. The New Democrats are here today to say that we will fight tooth and nail to get the bill through. There is tremendous support in the community. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, major organizations, over 60 organizations have supported the bill, not because they like us, because they know this has to be done. This is about a fundamental issue in our country of people who are suffering simply because they do not have access to safe, appropriate and affordable housing. We will keep this going and ensure that the bill gets through.

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

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have put a lot of thought into what I will say about this bill before the House makes a decision at second reading.

I could recap my colleagues' arguments that added to the discussion and enriched debate. I could repeat the troubling statistics that reflect the serious shortage of affordable housing. I could quote from the scathing UN special rapporteur's report, which ranks Canada quite low. I could remind the House that we are the only G8 country that does not have a national housing strategy. Or perhaps I could talk about the co-operatives that are worried about the end of federal government operating agreements and the impact that will have on their low-income renters.

However, I feel it is more important that the House hear about the many measures being taken by civil society organizations to demonstrate the importance of a national housing strategy.

Dignity for All, which works to eliminate poverty in Canada, launched a widespread movement in support of Bill C-400. The organization dedicated part of its website to the movement and launched a massive letter campaign. As we speak, representatives from this organization are trying to rally more people and elected officials around this cause.

The National Union of Public and General Employees, and its Women 4 Change initiative, also supports the bill. On its website, it encourages its 300,000 members to sign the petition in support of this bill and to write to their MPs to urge them to back the bill.

All kinds of organizations have done the same thing. The academic community is speaking out. Groups such as the Canadian Federation of University Women and the École de services publics at Université de Saint-Boniface have done their part, as have many religious organizations throughout Canada including the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Catholic Women's League, Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice, the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada, and the Canadian Religious Conference. All these organizations have taken steps to raise awareness and convince the House to pass Bill C-400.

In a last-ditch effort, the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, or FRAPRU, published open letters in a number of Quebec's daily newspapers. One of these letters was addressed to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, my colleague from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. The letter explains the following to the minister:

This strategy would achieve much more than the federal government's ad hoc and clearly inadequate interventions of the past 20 years in the areas of housing and homelessness.

I think this is rather compelling. I do not need to remind the House that Canada is supposed to have its universal periodic review with the UN Human Rights Council in the spring. I am anxious for that to happen. Canada will have to report to member countries of the United Nations human resources committee on its accomplishments in the area of housing. We will be following this.

Many organizations, including the Social Rights Advocacy Centre, have already indicated in their submission regarding this periodic review that Canada needs to create a national housing strategy.

Lastly, my office received a number of letters of support and several hundred pages of petitions from various organizations and individuals across Canada in support of Bill C-400.

I could not possibly thank everyone, since I have only a few minutes, but I wish to commend the following: Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario; AFEAS; CHRA; the Confédération québécoise des coopératives d'habitation; the Canadian Mental Health Association; the National Aboriginal Housing Association; the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents over 2,000 municipalities; as well as all previously mentioned organizations.

I even have a letter from the Province of Manitoba in support of Bill C-400. I ask the House: what more do we need to pass this legislation?

We must remember this.

Safe and affordable housing is not a privilege, it is a fundamental right.

Secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing is a right. It is not a privilege. It is a fundamental right and it is also a determinant of health.

I encourage my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-400—although I do not know the exact date of the vote—in order to ensure that all Canadians have access to decent housing.

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

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 7:13 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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

7:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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

7:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.