Mr. Speaker, I consider it an honour and a responsibility to speak in support of Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.
Our country has so much to be proud of. Canada ranks eighth on the United Nations development program's human development index, but sadly there remain many national issues completely unattended and unnoticed by the government, issues in desperate need of improvement and a meaningful commitment.
We need the government to begin to respect the intent of the veterans charter so that the brave men and women who fight for Canada receive the reparations and services they need and deserve. To do anything less diminishes the efforts and the unlimited risks that our veterans expose themselves to on our behalf.
Colonel Stogran believes that between 700 and 2,000 Canadian veterans are homeless, and this needs to change. I implore all members to vote for this legislation so that the very men and women who have defended our country do not have to sleep on its streets.
Canada has, in the last five years, become the single biggest recipient of international fossil awards and is now known as an environmental laggard. We and, more importantly, our children and grandchildren require that the government make a meaningful commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to reconstituting programs that encourage green building and renovations and to supporting renewable sources of energy for both environmental and economic benefits. When will the government understand that doing so will both create jobs and save our planet?
We require that the government begin to work for lower income Canadians who are left behind whenever the government cuts corporate taxes, like the $6 billion corporate tax cut planned for next year.
We need a national housing strategy, and we need that strategy to work for lower income and marginalized Canadians now.
Secure housing and early learning and child care are fundamental to eliminating poverty, and while the government abandoned the full early learning and child care strategy deployed by the previous Liberal government, it now has the opportunity to commit to an integral part of the equation, a national housing strategy.
There are gaping holes in our social safety net, through which the most vulnerable Canadians are falling. It is our responsibility as decision makers to close those holes and ensure that all Canadians receive the services they require: universal health care, food security, education and housing security.
The link between these is reduced crime rates, lower social and health care costs and higher productivity, proven time and time again in countries that deploy such strategies. We must demonstrate ourselves to be a compassionate country, committed to helping those in need for moral reasons and, frankly, for economic ones also.
We have an opportunity to pass Bill C-304, which will initiate a dialogue to create a national housing strategy. This will bring Canada closer to meeting its international obligations and will help to ensure that Canadians are protected from the affliction of homelessness and the overwhelming cost of housing.
A recent study on increased food bank use made the following statement:
The need for food banks is a result of our failure as a country to adequately address a number of social issues, including a changing job market, a lack of affordable housing and child care, and a social safety net that is ineffective.
It has been proven that passing this legislation would help to strategically increase the availability of adequate housing, so that marginalized Canadians' health is better protected and that crime is reduced, so that federal and sub-national governments' spending is focused on achieving a clear set of objectives to maximize the value of every dollar spent reducing homelessness, and to help alleviate the pressures on municipalities that are also overwhelmed by the delivery of so many publicly provided services.
My time on the Wellington and Guelph Housing Authority, working with Onward Willow, and on the Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination has 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.
It is with this experience and these convictions in mind that I am extremely disappointed that Canada is the only G8 country without a national strategy to ensure its citizens have affordable and accessible housing. Housing is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [or herself] and of his [or her] family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care...
In 1976 Canada, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, committed itself to “make progress on fully realizing all economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to adequate housing” for all citizens.
Despite our clear commitment to providing housing for all Canadians, an astounding number of citizens either remain homeless or live in inadequate housing. More than 300,000 Canadians are homeless, approximately 3.3 million live in substandard housing and more than three-quarters of 1 million families live in overcrowded housing. These numbers predate the recession.
A recent study completed by the Canadian Payroll Association documents that approximately 59% of Canadian employees would “have trouble making ends meet” if their paycheque were delayed by only one week. This means that homelessness and inadequate housing could, should we experience further economic difficulties, be even more protracted, more catastrophic than it currently is.
This is but one reason we must pass this legislation and move toward a national housing strategy, built with all stakeholders' input to incorporate Canada's regional, cultural and economic diversity.
These numbers are staggering and the world is taking notice. On February 3, 2009, Canada was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Working Group. Given the state of housing in Canada, the working group, composed of 45 countries, actually felt compelled to make recommendations on how Canada could better meet its international obligations. In response to its recommendations, the government said the following:
Canada acknowledges that there are challenges and the Government of Canada commits to continuing to explore ways to enhance efforts to address poverty and housing issues, in collaboration with provinces and territories.
The intent of the government has been clearly stated. This is the perfect opportunity for it to join words with action, which it is typically so disinclined to do. Intent is not enough; it must be transformed into action. This means all of us in this House agreeing to create a national strategy and honouring the Canadian response to the working group's review. It means voting in favour of this legislation to create one.
Liberal Senator Eggleton and PC Senator Segal recently published a well-researched Senate report on poverty elimination, entitled “In From the Margins”. They are clear that fundamental to poverty elimination is the need to provide sustained and adequate funding for affordable housing through a national housing and homelessness strategy.
Michael Shapcott, director general of the Wellesley Institute, funding provider for multiple expert studies on housing and health, is clear: Canadians with homes are healthy Canadians, and healthy Canadians mean reduced health care costs. This is yet another reason that we need to pass this legislation.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, currently on the Hill advocating for municipalities, is also clear in its support for this legislation. FCM policy advisor Joshua Bates said in committee that:
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.
The United Nations, the Wellesley Institute, FCM and the Assembly of First Nations are but some of the bodies in support of this legislation, and from past statements of intent, so too it seems is the Government of Canada. Remember, the government has pledged to “enhance efforts to address poverty and housing issues, in collaboration with provinces and territories”. We need a national housing strategy to do so effectively.
It is not only imperative that we pass this legislation for compassionate reasons, to lift Canadians from poverty and to give the most vulnerable better lives. We must also introduce a national housing strategy so that our housing dollars are spent in the most effective way possible.
Therefore, I am appealing to all members today, on both compassionate and fiscally responsible grounds, to pass this legislation and begin the dialogue that will bring Canada closer to having a national housing strategy, which will bring our country into compliance with our international obligations and reduce poverty and crime through addressing Canada's housing crisis. Members' votes, simply put, amount to doing the right thing.