Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words to Bill C-416, the short title of which is the housing bill of rights. I commend the member for Vancouver East. On many occasions she has been on her feet in the House on housing issues. She has also spoken on some of the other social problems in her riding which is not an easy riding to represent knowing some of the social ills she has dealt with in this place in her efforts to get some help for the people she represents. It is not an easy job for her.
Other members are absolutely correct when they say that this issue has never been debated as a government bill in the House.
The interesting thing to point out is that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation is only a skeleton of what it used to be many years ago during the Trudeau era and the Mulroney era. Giving some credit to the Liberal government at that time, it actually had a housing policy with some teeth and some money to do something. I only have to remind the House of the big hit health care took following the 1993 election. In addition there was proportional gutting of the government's housing policy and CMHC is simply a skeleton of what it used to be.
Prior to that there was co-op housing, seniors housing and not for profit housing. Family units were built. The Government of Canada provided capital to help make family housing affordable. I can remember as a member of parliament in the early 1990s cutting the ribbon at the openings of many of these projects.
Many projects were done with assistance from service clubs in our individual communities. The Canadian legion became involved and co-sponsored some of the housing projects. It helped to raise money in the community, as did the Kiwanis club, and in some cases even volunteered labour to help build some units. I do not think there was a member on either side of the House at that time who did not partake in some of these openings over the years. That all ended abruptly with the election of the Liberal government in 1993.
I want to get into some of the detail in the member's bill. The preamble of the bill is interesting. It is quite long. It quotes the UN universal declaration of human rights, the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights to which Canada is a signatory, and the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights.
In particular, the preamble points out that the United Nations committee recommended that the federal, provincial and territorial governments address homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency by reinstating or increasing social housing for those in need, improving and enforcing anti-discriminatory legislation in the field of housing, and it goes on. All in all, it is a very laudable goal.
The other thing that strikes me about the bill as opposed to any government bill is the specific way it attacks the problem whereas government bills are very general and do not flesh out the detail. I have to give credit again to the member for Vancouver East for being very specific in what she wants to do and what she would like to see the Parliament of Canada do.
The bill has two main parts. One part makes it illegal to discriminate against people for housing purposes and the other part of the bill lays out a proposed national housing strategy.
I do not have to remind you, Mr. Speaker, because you have seen it happen as we all have, but there is a discriminatory aspect to housing. There is no question about it that the poor in our country are discriminated against in terms of housing. It has nothing to do with anything other than being poor. The bill addresses that in addition to a number of other discriminatory practices that happen from time to time in the country. In general, the anti-discrimination section of the bill states “Every individual has the right to secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing”. The bill then goes on to state:
No person shall make any discrimination in respect of another's right to housing under this act on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion--
The author of the bill has gone on in detail to list nearly 20 grounds of prohibition against discrimination. In all fairness she has covered just about every possible discriminatory angle in the bill and I give her full credit for that.
I agree with the thrust of the bill, but I do question, and it is just a question because none of us know for sure, how many of those would actually hold up in a court of law. Certainly many of them have been tested but how many of them would hold up we do not know. We do know the courts might have something to say regarding our right to be more discriminatory, for example in renting a basement apartment as opposed to renting an apartment in a large complex. That is something that will have to be fleshed out if the bill ever gets to the committee stage.
The second part of the bill outlines a national housing strategy. The terms and conditions are somewhat utopian, but if we are trying to do something we might just as well set our goals very high. Again, I give the member full credit for this.
Prior to 1993 we used to have a national housing strategy. Back in the 1970s and the 1980s, in the Trudeau era, urban affairs was one of the biggest departments with the most clout here in Ottawa. We can say that the department got too big and bloated and maybe out of control, but the fact of the matter is it was addressing the very need the member now sees as a priority that has to be addressed. With a bit of fine tuning we could go back to the same principles that were exercised in the 1970s and 1980s and make them work. That is the challenge the government should take up.
I notice in this week's edition of Maclean's magazine that saving our cities is the front page story. In fairness to the member, it is not just cities that she is addressing in her bill because obviously there is rural poverty and rural housing needs which have to be addressed as well. That is also part and parcel of her bill. There is no question the needs of our cities have to be addressed. The government has to take a lead role on this and get out from the constitutional blanket under which it has been hiding.
We will have to see what comes out of the meeting on May 31 to June 3 in Hamilton, Ontario. We are hoping the finance minister will come out of that with some kind of clear intention on the part of the government.
In conclusion, we support the member in her efforts. We would love to see this as a votable item. Unfortunately it is not, but maybe the member can resurrect the bill, as is often done, bring it back as a votable item and move it on to committee stage where we can flesh out the details in support of a very worthy cause.