Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act

An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.


Libby Davies  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


In committee (House), as of Sept. 30, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

The purpose of this enactment is to require 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.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Nov. 24, 2010 Passed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for the purpose of reconsidering Clauses 3 and 4, or to add new clauses, with a view of clarifying the role of provinces, specifically Quebec, within the jurisdiction of the Bill.”.
Sept. 30, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2013 / 3:50 p.m.
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Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP contributed to these changes, but the Conservatives are taking all the credit. They do not deserve the credit; Jack Layton does. He worked very hard advocating for social housing.

Bill C-400 almost passed, which was the then Bill C-304. Everyone was in favour of it.

This time around, it is totally ridiculous that the Conservatives all voted against the bill. We were previously unable to pass the bill that the Conservatives agreed with and now suddenly they no longer agree with it. What changed? It is not true to say that it cost money. As I was saying earlier in my speech, a private member's bill cannot give rise to expenditures.

We were simply asking to sit down and talk. Why does that intimidate them? Are they afraid of what they might find? How did they come up with the figure of $5 million, or thereabouts? Were they already aware of the need in this area? Have they identified that need? Is the figure they came up with the one that they should be spending but are unwilling to? Is that the real reason?

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2012 / 7:50 p.m.
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Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.

I congratulate my colleagues who have spoken on the bill today, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot who presented this important piece of legislation before us, and the member for Hochelaga who speaks for our party on housing issues.

I also pay tribute to my colleague and friend, the member for Vancouver East, whose Bill C-304 from the last Parliament is the basis of the current legislation before us. It illustrates the commitment of the New Democratic Party to dealing with one of the most important issues facing Canadians: affordable housing.

This is not just about homelessness, as the member opposite would have us believe. There are many people in Canada who are under-housed and do not have enough housing. In my riding, for example, there is a widowed and disabled woman living with three teenaged children in a one-bedroom apartment, because that is all anyone has for her. Raising three children in a one-bedroom apartment is not good. She has been on a waiting list for seven years and is told it will be another five years she has to wait. Her children will have grown up before she receives adequate housing.

That is the message the government opposite seems to be missing in the debate. This is not just about homelessness; it is about adequate housing for all Canadians. It is one of the most fundamental needs of our society. Indeed, Canada is a signatory to a number of international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognizing that adequate housing is a basic human right.

Unfortunately in Canada there are too many families without adequate and affordable housing in their reach. Nearly 1.5 million Canadian households pay too much on their rent, over 30% of their gross income, leaving not enough money to spend on their children, their health and their future. This is not acceptable when we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

My own riding of York South—Weston in the city of Toronto is home to 115,000 people. It is an urban riding within the metropolis of Toronto, Canada's largest city. Of the 42,000 homes in York South—Weston, half are rental apartments. Many of these apartments can be found on Weston Road, Lawrence Avenue, Jane, Keele and Eglinton. In half of those rental apartments, or some 10,000-plus apartments, we have seniors, single persons, lone-parent families and families with children paying more than 30% of their gross income on rent. That is not acceptable to the NDP.

The members opposite have suggested that maybe we should get all of them better jobs. That will not happen to seniors or children. Moreover, it certainly will not happen when there is no industrial strategy on the part of the government to create the jobs that will pay enough. Every chance the Conservatives get, they want to lower wages and expectations. However, people cannot afford housing if their wages are being lowered by the government. By paying more than 30% of their gross income, they have less money to support their children, their health and to provide for their future.

In York South—Weston, why do we have so many paying more than they can afford for rent? Despite the government's action plan, it is because there are so many low-paying minimum wage jobs in our economy today that someone earning $11 an hour will be paying 40% of their before-tax income to rent a bachelor apartment in Toronto. No one can raise a family in a bachelor apartment in Toronto, and even that is over 40% of their before-tax income.

According to the CMHC, the average rent for a bachelor apartment last year was $822 a month. It is higher now. For a two-bedroom apartment, which the women I talked about earlier would need at the least, was $1,161 a month last year. Again, that is now higher. That is the average.

No wonder we have over 10,000 households in my riding alone paying more than they can afford in rent. That means less money for their health, less for their children and less for their future. That should concern us all, not just this side of the House.

It is not a story unique to my riding of York South—Weston, as the briefs from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, among many other groups, have made quite clear for over a decade now. The social costs of bad health outcomes, of lower educational attainment, of inadequate pensions that people with low incomes live with and endure are well-documented and indisputable.

We need a national housing strategy to be developed under the leadership of the federal government in concert with our provincial and municipal partners in order to address this housing crisis. A national housing strategy is needed now more than ever and Bill C-400 seeks to achieve that very necessary goal.

Earlier this summer, the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association released its 2012 survey of social housing waiting lists in Ontario. It illustrates the deepening housing crisis for low-income families. The data showed that, in 2011, there were 156,358 households in Toronto alone on the social housing waiting lists. Another year of increased numbers, a net increase of 4,281 more households waiting for housing whose rents they can afford. Of the 156,358 households on that waiting list, over one-fifth were seniors, one-third were families with children and, as Ontario has only 260,000 social housing homes, it takes a long time to gain access to this affordable housing.

Last year only 18,500 in Ontario were successful in getting into social housing, but despite that, the waiting lists grew larger for the fifth consecutive year. For some families, according to the Non-Profit Housing Association, the wait can be over 10 years. That is unacceptable in Canada.

In my hometown of Toronto, the survey showed there were 69,342 households on the waiting list for social housing in 2011, representing over 44% of the Ontario list, despite the fact that Toronto represents only 20% of Ontario's population and despite the fact that Toronto only has 96,000 rent geared to income social housing units. That means that for every 10 social housing homes in Toronto, there are 7 families waiting to get in, 7 families paying more rent than they can afford while they wait.

I met with the vice-president of the Toronto Community Housing last week. One of the things it has had to do in order to maintain the housing stock it has is to sell off housing stock. We are reducing the amount of housing.

April 26th, 2012 / 11:10 a.m.
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David Matas Senior Legal Counsel, B'nai Brith Canada


I'll be equally brief, if not briefer.

One of the lessons of the Holocaust is the need for an effective effort to combat hate speech. The Weimar Republic had laws against hate speech. They did not work.

If eliminationist anti-Semitism had been effectively combatted in the years before 1933, the Holocaust would never have happened.

Canada, both federally and provincially, has engaged in a plethora of efforts to combat hate speech. The laws, though, suffer from two extremes. Some laws, the criminal laws, are almost dead letters, rarely invoked. Other laws, the civil human rights laws, are too easily used, indeed abused, harassing innocents and threatening freedom of speech.

The solution that Bill C-304 presents to Parliament is abolishing the jurisdiction to deal with the abuse.

In our view, there is room for a civil remedy, and the civil remedies exist provincially, as well as, at least now, federally. Those civil remedies, though, have been abused, and provincially, if they are going to survive, they are going to need reforms to keep them working.

Some of the abuses we've seen, which lead to the reforms we've recommended and still recommend, are ensuring full disclosure to the target of the complaint, not allowing for the making of anonymous complaints, giving the power toward cost to the target of a complaint, requiring the complainant to choose only one form or venue, and screening cases even where commissions do not conduct cases.

We would hope that the coming abolition of the federal law does not serve as a model for the provinces, but it should be a warning for the provinces that they amend their jurisdictions to prevent them from the sort of abuse that we have seen and that my colleague Marvin will talk about.

It is unsatisfactory, though, to abolish a civil remedy open to abuse and leave standing only a criminal remedy, which is almost never invoked. Obstacles to use of the criminal law need to be removed. Crimes that reform the criminal law should include banning racist groups; giving courts the authority to allow impact statements from victim groups targeted by hate speech, including hate motivation as a constituent element of aggravated offences rather than just an aggravated factor in sentencing; and setting out guidelines for courts and for attorneys general, so that attorneys general, when they're exercising their discretion to consent, have these guidelines. Also, legislating a specific offence of Holocaust denial....

Combatting anti-Semitism means dealing with anti-Semitism as it is today in its modern forms. Ultimately, the subject matter of this committee and our concern is combatting hatred effectively, whether through the criminal law or the civil law. We do have a problem and we do need a legal remedy for it.

Marvin, why don't you add to that?

April 26th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

I call this meeting to order, this being the 32nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 15, 2012, we are here to consider Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom).

This morning we have three witnesses, all from the same organization, from B'nai Brith.

I think in the correspondence you received from the clerk it was indicated that you have five to seven minutes for an opening address. Whichever member wishes to make that address, or share it, you can start now.

November 16th, 2011 / 7:25 p.m.
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Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, we have voted against them because tax credits are of absolutely no help to people who have no income. These are people who are living on the streets, who cannot work, who cannot find jobs.

I am sorry, but this plan does not work; just look at the 76,000 jobs that were lost in a month. They do not have a plan, but they do not want to admit it. The government's obsession with tax credits and reductions does nothing for low-income Canadians because these people do not pay taxes. The government's tax reduction program for big business has done nothing to reduce the unemployment rate or improve the quality of jobs. What is more, this government has not invested any new money in social housing to improve social and urban diversity and reduce the tax burden.

I am proud to be part of the NDP, which introduced real plans to fight poverty during the last Parliament, such as Bill C-545 and Bill C-304.

Opposition Motion--Seniors' PovertyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

I begin by thanking the member for London—Fanshawe for introducing this very important motion for us to discuss in the House today. Contrary to what other members have said, New Democrats do have a plan for poverty reduction. That was Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada introduced in June 2010. It laid out a detailed strategy for poverty elimination in the country, and I was pleased to reintroduce that bill today.

I again want to acknowledge the very good work that Tony Martin, the former member for Sault Ste. Marie, did.

As well, New Democrats have also had other plans around helping people living in poverty. One was the former Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians introduced by the member for Vancouver East.

Contrary to what we have heard in the House, New Democrats do have plans around poverty reduction.

I want to remind the House, because we have had a bit of a break, about what we are speaking about today. The New Democrat opposition day motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, ending seniors' poverty in Canada is fiscally feasible, and, therefore, the House calls on the government to take immediate steps to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement sufficiently to achieve that goal.

There has been much talk so far today about the 2011 budget. Contrary to what members of the government have said, I can assure members that many New Democrats have read that budget as have many members of the public.

I will quote a couple of things from a news release from Campaign 2000 dated June 6, 2011. This reflects in part why New Democrats do not want to support that budget.

Gerda Kaegi of the Canadian Pensioners Concerned said, “The one measure to address poverty among seniors' is paltry”. The release goes on to say:

The $50 monthly increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors is only available to those on the very least income. This proposed change is about one-third of what is needed to bring single seniors – who are mostly women - out of poverty.

Further on in the news release it says:

This budget does little to bolster the tattered safety net that has left Canadians in economic insecurity. Aboriginal people, sole support mothers, recent immigrants, racialized groups, and people with disabilities face greater risks. At the same time, inequality between the rich and the poor in Canada has grown more than in any other OECD country (except Germany).

That comment was by Dennis Howlett of Make Poverty History.

I only have 10 minutes, so unfortunately I cannot go through all the reasons why New Democrats would not support the budget.

I want to turn briefly to a report “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada ”from November 2010. This was an extensive piece of work that looked at the state of poverty reduction plans in the country and made numerous recommendations. I want to quote a couple of statistics out of this, and we are talking about seniors today.

It says:

The GIS is an ideal means of reducing poverty among seniors because it targets those with a low income, particularly seniors living alone. In 2007, seniors living alone represented 28% of all seniors, but 60% of GIS recipients and 82% of seniors living below the LICOs. A senior living alone with no income other than the maximum OAS and GIS benefits would receive combined benefits of about $14,033 (January 2010 rates), which is below the LICOs for 2008 (the latest available) for a person living alone in an urban centre with a population of 30,000 or more.

The people who are receiving GIS and OAS are the poorest of the poor of the seniors and often between OAS and GIS that is pretty much all they have for an income.

This article goes on.

The member for London—Fanshawe ably outlined all of the reasons why the House should unanimously support the New Democrat motion, but I want to raise another issue that has not been raised.

Again, in this report it says that other witnesses spoke about the lack of awareness of the GIS. I want to turn briefly to the National Advisory Council on Aging, “Aging in Poverty in Canada: Seniors on the Margins”. It pointed out a couple of serious problems.

First, we have a program that is inadequate, but what we actually know is that many seniors are not accessing this already inadequate program. It says in this report that as no reliable statistics existed on under-subscription or late renewals, the National Council on Aging had research carried out in the summer of 2004 to assess the situation.

This research yielded a clear picture of under-subscription to the OAS and the Canada pension plan, revealing that large numbers of elderly seniors have not applied for these programs.

For a variety of reasons, seniors simply do not apply for these programs. New Democrats have argued that they should just be incorporated into a system like the income tax system, so that seniors at the age of 65 would not have to apply. They would automatically be considered.

Under OAS, the NACA report says about 50,000 have not applied and under GIS about 300,000 have not applied. Under CPP retirement pension about 55,000 have not applied. There is no estimate available for those who have not applied for disability benefits or survivor benefits. Many New Democrats have done CPP, disability and survivor benefit workshops in their ridings because many Canadians are simply not aware that they are entitled to those benefits.

This article goes on to say:

The sums in question are considerable. For example, the 50,000 seniors who are eligible for OAS but do not apply sustain a total income loss of $250 million a year.

That is $250 million that is not going back into our communities. When seniors apply for these benefits, they spend the money on food, on shelter, and minimal living expenses, which is all money that comes back into our communities.

The article goes on to say:

It is more often women, particularly elderly women, who fail to apply for the GIS – a group that is most at risk of living in poverty. It is worth noting that seniors who are entitled to the GIS but who do not apply are deprived not only of their GIS income, but also of all the other benefits provided through provincial and territorial programs that use the GIS as an eligibility criterion.

Not only is it affecting their GIS, but it is affecting some of their other provincial benefits. That is why it is so important that we look at a system that makes it far easier for seniors to access these benefits.

I know we are talking about the GIS, but I want to talk briefly about CPP because there is another huge injustice built into this program.

Lateness in applying for CPP benefits causes serious prejudice. Currently, a person who is late applying for his or her pension under the CPP is only entitled to 11 months of retroactive benefits. The case of a woman named Isabel, age 90, is cited. She discovers that she has been entitled to the CPP survivor benefit for the past 15 years but did not know it. Her husband Jim died at the age of 83 without ever drawing a pension. Her late application means she is entitled to retroactive benefits for a mere 11 months, even though her husband contributed to the plan while he was working and the money was his due and hers. That is a very sad statement. This is another case of late renewal.

In July year after year GIS and allowance recipients must renew their application for benefits by filling out an income tax declaration or a renewal form. Every year close to 100,000 seniors fail to renew their application on time. At present, they are sent a reminder with an enclosed renewal application form. If they fail to respond, they are temporarily excluded from the program and do not receive their benefits for July or the following month until the application for renewal is completed.

The report goes on to talk about 105,000 seniors who did not receive their GIS cheque and more than 9,000 who did not receive their allowance benefits because they had not completed their renewal on time. For many seniors this is an issue of low literacy, little or no knowledge of the programs, language barriers, and sometimes there are mental health issues. We need to make it as easy as possible for seniors.

I will just make a little note on this. A person receiving GIS benefits can lose up to $561 each month. So it is a significant amount of money for people who are living in poverty.

It is unfortunate that my time is up because I wanted to talk about hunger count and the food banks, and the fact that we are seeing an increasing number of seniors using food banks. The 2010 report indicated that the number of seniors helped by food banks grew this year from 5.5% of adults in 2008-09 to 7.2% in 2010. In some provinces, like Ontario, it was 12% and in Manitoba it was 15%. We are seeing some serious problems in our country. Seniors are being forced into using food banks just to keep food on their tables.

I would urge all members of the House to support the motion put forward by the member for London—Fanshawe. This is a small step in the right direction to help lift seniors out of poverty.

HousingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 21st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has to do with Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to play an increased federal role in housing and to create a federal housing program.

I note today that the bill was tabled in the House. There have been many petitions on this issue right across the country calling on Parliament to move on this bill swiftly because it is an urgently needed matter to provide accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 21st, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
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Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th and 12th reports of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, and Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age). The committee has studied both bills and has decided to report each bill back to the House with an amendment.

I wish to thank all of the committee members for their work and collaboration in the course of this process.

March 8th, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.
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The Chair (Ms. Candice Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, CPC)) Conservative Candice Bergen

I'd like to call to order meeting number 48 of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Pursuant to the orders of the day, we will continue to look at Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The last time that we met on this particular bill, we were going through the bill clause by clause, giving it clause-by-clause consideration. We were looking at an amendment. The amendment was a Bloc amendment, and we were actually in the middle of discussions surrounding the amendment.

Now I'm just going to check with Mr. Komarnicki. When we adjourned the last meeting, you were still speaking. Do you wish to continue to speak, or had you completed your thoughts?

February 15th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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The Chair Conservative Candice Bergen

This is what I want to discuss with you.

We have planned for the last four weeks to finish up the adoption study. So we have one hour of witnesses in the first hour. In the second hour our analysts want to discuss the options for their report on the adoption study.

That's what we have planned. We have had some difficulty getting the witnesses we had been trying to bring in, but we have another panel of witnesses who have contacted me, at least. I think they've contacted all of us.

So we do have witnesses for the first hour. In the second hour we will be wrapping up the adoption study.

When we come back the week after break we will be dealing with your study.

Do we have a consensus to meet here at 10:30? Can we all be here at 10:30 on Thursday? I see that some can and some can't. Then at least we can resume this, finish this up, so we know when we're going to be looking at your bill, when we'll be finishing with Bill C-304.

Is there a consensus?

February 15th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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The Chair Conservative Candice Bergen

To answer your question, we have until April 14 to get to Bill C-304 and report it back to the House.

We have so much to do, but that's why we have a work plan. Part of our problem is that we keep getting off our work plan, because we're quite reactive and I think we need to be proactive. I think we have a good work plan set until the Thursday after we get back from break. After that, there's nothing scheduled, so that's when we can finish Bill C-304. I would think we could finish Bill C-481. We also have an invitation out to the minister to come. Then we would also begin the disability study.

I think rather than being too reactive on some of these things, let's stick to our plan. It's amazing how we can actually get some things done if we do.

I hear you, Mr. Martin. We have a motion right now that we have to deal with. We're almost finished our time. Let's deal with the motion. Then I can get a consensus and we can maybe begin half an hour earlier on Thursday and at least see if we can discuss this and then finalize our plan. I'm not saying that we can get to Bill C-304 on Thursday, but we can decide what date we will look at Bill C-304 and what we will do after Mr. Lessard's study, unless Mr. Lessard is willing to give up that study. But I know that he was very adamant that he wanted to get to that, and that was what we had all agreed to.

Right now we're looking at March 3 to resume. That was the date you were looking at. Did you want to keep that date?

We are just about out of time. We do have a list of speakers.

Go ahead, Mr. Vellacott.

February 15th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you for the opportunity to make my case here.

I'm in agreement with the motion by both Mr. Komarnicki and Madame Folco on Bill C-481.

I guess I'm looking for some advice from the clerk as to what a reference from the Speaker means in terms of the order of business of the committee.

We had a reference, before Christmas, of Bill C-304. We're very close to getting it done. If we put it on the agenda for Thursday, I think we could get at least that piece of business out of the way and get it back into the House, where it can be dealt with in a more fulsome fashion. Then we would have lived up to our responsibility here to respond to that kind of reference and to make sure that it in fact happened.

We have a whole bunch of things hanging out there now. The biggest priority for me, and at one point for this committee, is Bill C-304. At a meeting a week ago, we suggested--I believe it was Mr. Lessard--that we take half an hour before our regular meeting at some point. I thought that was going to happen over the last week or so. It didn't happen, even though I thought we had unanimous consent to in fact do that.

If we could get to Bill C-304 at some point on Thursday, I think we would be living up to our responsibility here of responding to the Speaker's referral of this very important matter to our committee.

February 15th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Chair.

I think I support both Mr. Komarnicki and Madame Folco on this. It's very simple. This was a bill for which we only allocated a small amount of time because it seemed at the time everybody was supporting it. Now some good issues have been brought up that need to be dealt with, so we need to deal with those. I think Madame Folco has indicated some openness to doing that.

But because we only allocated a small amount of time doesn't mean that it now goes to the bottom of the heap, so to speak. I think we should give Madame Folco the respect of setting a date. It's two weeks away or more. I think that's reasonable. We can get everything done, in my view.

I also think we need to allocate some time on Thursday to have a look at our agenda over the next couple of months and reallocate Bill C-304, which Mr. Martin mentioned. It's important. We have a couple of motions that we have to discuss that haven't previously been dealt with by the subcommittee or by the whole committee.

I think we need to spend some time on our agenda, perhaps on Thursday.


February 15th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

What happened to Bill C-304?

Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

February 11th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate concerning Motion No. 515 which states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should continue to recognize the vital role of older workers in the Canadian economy and ensure its labour market programs and policies encourage older workers to contribute their skills and experience in the Canadian workforce.

This is a pretty innocuous motion. Of course, I support it. Anybody would be foolish not to, I think. However, I am left with the question, what will this motion do?

I know that for private members' bills and motions, in order for one to be effected by government, they cannot trigger a royal recommendation, so they cannot be money bills so to speak. Private members' bills and motions are somewhat constrained in how they are drafted, but there is still a lot of room to draft motions and bills that actually have substance. We are sent here to be legislators, after all.

Recognizing and supporting older workers is not only laudable, it is actually essential. The problem is that the rhetoric of the motion does not even take a baby step toward that goal. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain spoke to this motion earlier in the debate. She said, “It is as inoffensive as it is ineffective”.

I would like to use my time in the House to move beyond the empty words in this motion and actually address what needs to happen if we want to do more than talk the talk, if we want to actually walk the walk. I want to use my time to discuss the real issues facing older workers in Canada.

Older workers will not be workers forever, obviously, and we need to consider life after work. A new survey confirms what the NDP has been saying for a long time that improving the Canada pension plan is the best way to secure a comfortable retirement for all Canadians. The survey found a whopping 76% of Canadians want the government to increase CPP benefits. However, that flies in the face of the Prime Minister's recent decision to ignore the CPP in favour of a private sector retirement plan.

The survey also reinforces the New Democrat retirement security plan. Our plan proposes a phased-in doubling of CPP benefits to $1,868 a month. A full 93% of Canadians are already members of the CPP. It is low cost, secure, and inflation protected. That really makes it the best retirement option out there. Canadians know it, the New Democrats know it, but the Conservative government still does not have a clue.

Canada is facing a retirement crisis. The recession exposed deep flaws in the way we prepare for retirement. Families have lost their savings and they simply do not have enough to support themselves. That is why the NDP wants to take a lead on pension reform. In addition to raising CPP, we want to protect workplace pensions from corporate creditors and raise the GIS to lift seniors out of poverty. While the Prime Minister is ignoring the crisis, we are taking leadership and actually proposing practical solutions to make Canadians' lives better.

As I said, the recession revealed deep cracks in Canada's retirement security plan because years of savings suddenly vanished, leaving millions of Canadians unprepared for the future. We did take the lead on calling for comprehensive reform to the Canada pension plan, like proposing doubling of the maximum monthly payout over time to ensure that all Canadians could retire comfortably.

The Conservative government seemed on board, hinting for nearly a year that it would improve the CPP. Then, the Conservatives abruptly changed their mind. In December, the finance minister announced that the government would ignore the CPP, choosing instead to introduce a private sector plan administered by financial institutions.

Pension advocates and most provincial leaders, including the provincial leader and the minister of finance in Nova Scotia, expressed shock and disappointment. They asked, why would the government abandon the CPP, which is secure, portable, and low cost? Why would they turn over retirement savings to the very financial institutions whose outrageous management fees could wipe out up to 50% of a person's pension contributions over a lifetime?

The Conservative government's plan just does not make sense for older workers and when older workers move into retirement.

Canada is in a pension crisis and that is why the NDP will continue to push for practical reforms to CPP; ones that benefit Canadians and not the big banks.

Older workers are disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed. This is true across Canada, but it is especially true across the industrial heartland of our country.

These companies were institutions in our communities. They were unionized workplaces where seniority mattered and where companies had the benefit of the skills, experience, and expertise of their long-tenured workers. A senior workforce also means that when a plant closes or downsizes, 60% to 70% of the newly unemployed are older workers.

One would think that successive governments might have assumed some responsibility for addressing the unique issues confronting older workers in Canada. Despite often lauding our incredibly skilled older workforce, they did nothing to ensure that these workers would remain a vital force in our economy.

To this day we do not have a manufacturing sector strategy for our economy. To this day we do not have an auto sector strategy. To this day we do not have a green industry strategy and we also do not have an industrial strategy. Instead, we allow foreign companies like U.S. Steel, Xstrata and Vale to buy up Canadian companies without an ounce of a guarantee that they will protect Canadian jobs. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Compounding the problem is the fact that this is the very government that did nothing to protect these jobs in the first place. It is the same government that is doing nothing to protect displaced older workers.

These unemployed Canadians need to keep working. They need a few more years of income before they can retire. They cannot cash in their retirement savings because that would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Surely, we cannot expect them to sell their homes or take out a new mortgage. These older Canadians have worked hard all their lives. They played by the rules and now, through no fault of their own, they have become incapable of building a secure future for themselves and for their families.

It is time for the government to step up to the plate and offer real assistance to these displaced workers. Unfortunately, instead of setting up effective programs for worker adjustment, the Conservatives have been setting up barriers to re-employment instead.

In the time I have left, I would like to talk about the health of older workers.

To support our senior workers, we need to support their health and the health of their families. In addition to protecting seniors financial security through our pension proposals and increasing GIS, we need to look seriously and critically at the issue of health for older workers and retirees.

First and foremost, we need to tackle the issue of social determinants of health. People cannot be healthy unless they have a home to live in. We need an affordable housing strategy for this country. I am very proud that Bill C-304, our bill for a national housing strategy, is actually at committee and hopefully coming back for third reading soon.

We need something like a pharmacare strategy to ensure that older workers, their families, and all Canadians have access to the prescription medications they need to stay healthy. We hear time and time again from pharmacists who tell us that every single day at least one person, often more, will come to the counter, put in their order for prescription medication, but when they get the package and look at the bill, they walk away and leave it behind. That happens every day.

In my old job as a community legal worker, I had clients who would often cut their pills in half or take their pills every second day. They simply could not afford the cost of the prescription to take their medication as prescribed.

A universal pharmacare plan for all Canadians to access the drugs they need to stay healthy would be a definite support to older workers and their families. We can do it if we work with the provinces and territories to establish a Canada-wide prescription drug program.

Further, once older workers have finished working, we need to look at a system of home care and long-term care. It is much less expensive than acute care in a hospital and it makes good financial sense for supporting retired workers.