An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing)

Sponsor

Rachel Blaney  NDP

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

Status

Defeated, as of Nov. 8, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-325.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canadian Bill of Rights to include the right to proper housing, at a reasonable cost and free of unreasonable barriers.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Nov. 8, 2017 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-325, An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing)

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-325, an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing). It gives me a great opportunity to highlight some of the great initiatives and partnerships between different levels of government, private enterprise, non-profit organizations, and others that have been completed in my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga.

First, a little overview of the bill.

This legislation would change the Canadian Bill of Rights by adding a right of an individual to obtain “proper housing at a reasonable cost and free of all unreasonable barriers.” It argues that access to housing, free of financial and other barriers, is necessary to adequately recognize the “dignity and worth of all individuals” and to provide them with security and other benefits that housing gives. The bill would give the government one year from the day royal assent is given to make this change.

The Conservative Party believes that all Canadians should have a reasonable opportunity to own their home or to have access to safe and affordable housing. That is why we support broad-based tax relief, income support programs, and tax incentives to make home ownership and rental accommodation more attainable and accessible.

Rather than support these broad-based, grassroots initiatives, the current Liberal government seems intent not only on ignoring these willing small business partners, but also on placing additional roadblocks in their way or even destroying their businesses altogether. The current war on small and medium-sized businesses will have a huge detrimental effect on the construction industry and this will automatically negatively impact housing starts.

Small construction companies, whether pouring concrete foundations, framing, scaffolding, installing heat and ventilation, and plumbers, electricians, and roofing contractors, many of whom are self-employed and at the same time employing five or six workers, will be forced to lay off workers and scale back their operations, or worse yet, to wind down their businesses altogether. This will result in fewer contractors being available to build and therefore will drive up the cost of housing even higher. So much for making housing available at a reasonable cost and free of barriers.

While I can agree wholeheartedly with the overall premise of Bill C-325 to do all that we can to ensure proper housing free of unreasonable barriers and at a reasonable cost, there are far too many questions left unanswered for me to support the bill in its current form.

The use of the terms “reasonable cost” and “unreasonable barriers” in the preamble is vague. There is no indication of what might be an unreasonable barrier or what price range is a reasonable cost. The bill does not account for price differences in housing markets across the country and assumes that the creation of a “right” will fix the issue. It is not that simple.

Also there are very real financial ramifications to the implementation of the bill. Where is the costing analysis? Will the Canada social transfer be largely inflated due to this action? What about cost-sharing with provinces and municipalities?

It is our belief that the government should get out of the way of private enterprise and instead partner with the respective jurisdictions of provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, and private business initiatives, and work with social agencies and non-profit organizations in dealing with housing needs.

The bill makes no mention of empowering local stakeholders or marketplace workers who could potentially increase housing stock available and therefore make housing less costly.

Yes, every Canadian should have the opportunity to own a home or have access to affordable rental accommodation. We agree with helping Canadians who need it the most, however, the government can help through partnering with all levels of government and the private sector to ensure the creation of sustainable, responsible, and fair solutions.

Let me share with the House just one of the many organizations that are working to make housing more affordable in my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga. I have been proud to work with this organization over the past 16 years, long before I was elected as member of Parliament for Kitchener—Conestoga.

I will be quoting directly from the 10-year anniversary booklet of MennoHomes:

During the 1990s, poverty in Ontario became a growing concern. Social programs faced severe cutbacks, including in the funding downloaded from the provincial government for social housing.

...

The extremely low vacancy rate meant landlords were able to ask for premium rental prices. For lower-income families and individuals, this often made housing utterly unaffordable. Housing also became a dangerous proposition: desperate to find a roof over their heads, people took chances on unsafe, substandard housing and were unwilling to report poor conditions, for fear of losing what they had.

...

In late 2000... [the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario] (MCCO) Program Director, invited several people with social programming experience to be part of a small working group that would explore how to respond to this need for affordable housing.

...

By May 2001, the working group invited 40 people including Mennonite and Brethren in Christ pastors, together with members of their churches who were community leaders in health and social services, into the discernment process to determine the will to respond collectively to this need and to determine what form the response would take.

A number of meetings later, and after securing commitment from churches and individuals, the incorporation of MennoHomes was complete.

While individuals in other churches and denominations as well as community members at large have been strongly supportive of MennoHomes, it has primarily been a Mennonite initiative and the Mennonite community in the Kitchener-Waterloo area has responded strongly to every capital fundraising drive and has a strong sense of this being “our” project.

...

Soon after the incorporation process was completed, the Region of Waterloo put out a call to groups interested in affordable housing saying they had funding available for family housing. MennoHomes made an “Expression of Interest” and was approved. The search for property on which to build began.

At this time, Faith Lutheran Church on Village Road in the Forrest Hill area of Kitchener was planning a change to their building to improve accessibility, and decided instead to build a new sanctuary. The project would be funded by the sale of a large piece of land at the back of their property.

...

However, as Pastor Hamp said, “We ran into a bit of a struggle with our neighbours. We had a lot of phone calls from neighbours worrying and complaining about what it would do to the neighbourhood, to house values.” A series of meetings with community members followed, with angry words and even threats, but the situation remained deadlocked and intense until finally one neighbourhood resident Wendy Shaw became a bridge between the two sides. She met with each of her 66 neighbours who had opposed the project and who planned to take their grievances to the Ontario Municipal Board. Wendy brought the concerns of the neighbours to MennoHomes. This resulted in MennoHomes changing the design and reducing the number of units, as well as guaranteeing long term, active involvement with the project to ensure that it would be well-integrated into the neighbourhood.

...

Tenants moved into the eight duplexes on Village Road in July and August, 2004. They were met by Dorene and were each given a hand-made quilt. One resident said of the quilts she was given, “I appreciate every hour, every stitch and every thought that was put into those blankets. I will cherish them for the rest of my life.”

Dorene met with the residents on a regular basis. “There were a number of new Canadian families and we wanted to make sure they were aware of various agencies in the community. As a board, we wanted to develop a sense of community among the families. We held a barbecue in the summer and a Christmas dinner (where we recognized Ramadan and other holidays).” A tenant said of the Community Worker role, “No matter what the need, whether it be a ride, food, clothing, community information, or simply a shoulder to cry on, she was there. Because many of us have been isolated from our families and hometowns, every bit of inclusion and support is meaningful.”

Therefore, we can see that by working with federal, provincial, municipal levels of government, private enterprise and local benevolent groups can make a big difference. Not only is housing provided at an affordable price, but personal care and coaching are provided too.

The story continues. Currently, MennoHomes owns and operates 105 units, and recently partnered with another company to create an additional 25 units in Waterloo.

As I said, I cannot support the bill. I believe that the issue of affordable housing is best solved through private enterprise and incentives from government. I am grateful that MennoHomes is so successful in Kitchener. What we need to do is to find ways to replicate the work that MennoHomes is doing across Canada.

The real barriers to home ownership and affordable rental units are unnecessary government red tape, high taxes, and lack of incentives for the private sector to produce good quality and smaller housing units.

The implications of the bill would not necessarily resolve the fundamental issue of the housing crisis, which is fuelled by restrictive supply and government regulations. There needs to be assurance that people are able to move out of subsidized housing or subsidized rental units into market rate housing, and that they have the appropriate incentive to do so. Job creation needs to be at the forefront of any endeavour, so people have the means and the incentive to improve their social standing, including access to good quality housing.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2017 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that my Conservative colleague, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, and my NDP colleague both gave excellent speeches. I was quite impressed by her reference to Mr. Diefenbaker, a great Canadian who hailed from her province. I myself was planning to bring him up today. I will still do so with pleasure, although my take will be slightly different.

The Conservative Party opposes Bill C-325, the act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to include the right to housing, which was introduced by the member for North Island—Powell River. I could say it is because the phrase “at a reasonable cost and free of unreasonable barriers” in the preamble is vague. I could say that the bill fails to consider price differences in housing markets. I could also say that section 92 of the Constitution considers housing to be a provincial matter, whereas the Canadian Bill of Rights, which was set in motion by Mr. Diefenbaker, applies only to matters of federal jurisdiction.

However, I am not going to use this perspective in my speech today in opposition to this bill. Instead, I would like to talk about the philosophical ideas underlying the bill introduced by the member for North Island—Powell River. I will use these underlying ideas to build my argument against this bill.

I would like to start by saying that, in my humble opinion, both Canada's intellectual left, which includes Marxist theorists at the Osgoode Hall Law School or at the University of British Columbia, and the intellectual right, meaning the Calgary School, would disagree with introducing this right into the Canadian Bill of Rights.

That said, hats off to the member for North Island—Powell River for proposing an amendment to the Canadian Bill of Rights instead of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This makes me very proud, since it means that the member subscribes to the British tradition of liberal constitutionalism, in other words, the Westminster tradition of liberal constitutionalism, instead of subscribing to the American tradition of liberal constitutionalism. It is a small distinction, but that small distinction makes a big difference over many centuries. I will explain why.

Under the Westminster-type British model of liberal constitutionalism, the legislative branch is the ultimate authority and has the last word on constitutional matters. That is why Mr. Diefenbaker, a great Canadian if ever there was one, would never, not in a million years, have enshrined the Canadian Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Doing so would make the judiciary, or the judicial branch, the ultimate authority.

The member for North Island—Powell River has a great deal of respect for our Canadian political culture based on the Westminster tradition of liberal constitutionalism, a culture that, sadly, was stifled, if not snuffed out, by a cultural revolution led by that party over there and Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1982. They brought us closer to an American-style liberal constitutionalism, under which the judiciary gets the final word. We have the notwithstanding clause, sure, but regrettably, no prime minister has dared to invoke it.

Today's debate is historic. I believe this issue goes well beyond that of housing. The debate over how to strike a balance between individual and collective rights started in the age of enlightenment. Even in Canada, this debate has been going on since 1867. Since 1982, or for the last 35 years, Canadian intellectuals have engaged in a mighty fine debate.

John Locke, father of modern liberalism and individualism, believed that individual liberty predated the notion of statehood, and thus the establishment of any constitution or system of positive law. He therefore believed in natural law, and so, to his mind, all political systems based on this idea would place the individual at the heart of the constitutional state.

This is all fundamental to the debate we are having here today on housing, because John Locke would have said that the right to housing does not constitute an individual right, which forms the basis of natural law and therefore supercedes positive law.

A similar debate, although somewhat wider in scope, has been going on in Canada since the Charter was enshrined in 1982 in the midst of what I would characterize as a disgraceful cultural revolution. Progressive authors such as Mandel, Petter, Hutchinson, McWhinney, Hirscht, Mackay, and Lebel-Grenier are the standard-bearers of left-leaning, Marxist intellectual thought in academic circles. Then, there are the so-called conservative thinkers, the fathers of Canadian toryism: Banfield, Morton, Patenaude, Knopff and Martin.

Although they belong to radically different schools of thought, all of these thinkers would agree that enshrining rights or bringing in new rights is no way to address the housing situation in Canada.

My reasoning may seem circuitous but I am nearing my point. These people would have said that access to housing, food, and education is to be secured through political struggle. They would have said, for instance, that homosexuals acquired their rights through political struggle, and not by way of the Supreme Court of Canada or enshrined rights. They would have said that it is in the political arena that women fought to acquire their rights. In this case, the fight was waged by the suffragettes in the early 20th century, not by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is what they would have said.

Everything rests in that interplay between negative and positive rights. That is where we can distinguish between these two schools of thought, between Marxist and conservative thinkers.

I am circling back to what the member said. In the NDP, the hope is that we will be able to incorporate some positive rights into Canadian law. In other words, we would be looking to make concessions, a truly rare occurrence under the Canadian Constitution. That is what happened in the case of language rights granted to French-speaking Canada. That might be the only case of a positive right under our Constitution.

Conservative thought typically associated with classical liberalism would lean toward the idea that we have negative rights, or in other words, that our freedom stops where that of others begins. Canadian law is a pyramid that rests wholly upon the fundamental goal of ensuring that other people's rights are not infringed upon. There is no such thing as a positive right. This is a healthy debate.

My colleague stated that she believed to be waging a political fight. Perhaps she ought to fight to control prices or the housing market. Perhaps the fight ought to be taken to the provinces over their traditional areas of jurisdiction. Being here in the federal Parliament, seeking to incorporate new rights that will amount to nothing more than a bunch of letters on a piece of paper, does not constitute a political fight.

There were some important and well thought out observations around Diefenbaker, but my reading of the man is that he would not have gone so far as to incorporate this right into the Canadian Bill of Rights.

I disagree with both extremes, which are the Marxist thinkers of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto on one end of the spectrum, and on the other, those of the Calgary School, who believe in property rights above all else, where others believe in the right to housing. Both of these extremes are dead wrong, because in both cases, the result would be to paralyze the state. The power of the state is essential in Canada if we are to enforce our sovereignty first and foremost, namely in the military, economic and political spheres.

Enshrining property rights in the Constitution would prevent the government from running power transmission lines, for instance, or from carrying out large scale projects. Enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution would likewise paralyze the state, as it would have to supply housing to every Canadian, which is totally unrealistic, economically speaking.

Let us remain on the right track, the one we were on prior to 1982, and let us stick to the Westminster model.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

November 3rd, 2017 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fundamentally believe in the right to housing. When over 235,000 people are without homes in Canada, we know that housing must be a human right. It is a true pleasure to speak on the right to housing. I wish we could do it more often. As the housing crisis continues, Canadians are increasingly looking to us to deliver solutions. My bill would do this. It would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to introduce housing as a human right.

In 1976, Canada enshrined the fundamental right to housing when the government of the day ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, this right has never been formally incorporated into Canadian law. This bill would make it happen.

During the first hour of debate, we heard a few troubling statements from the government side regarding the right to housing. Surprisingly, in this second hour of debate, we heard absolutely nothing from a single member of the government, which I find interesting. In the first hour, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of families said, “If we read the UN report on housing, it is not simply about embracing a set of rights, it is about creating those policies..”.

Of course, we need policies, but what he does not understand is that governments come and go, policies come and go, funding comes and go, yet the need for housing is constantly there. What Canada needs is a legislative framework. My bill would ensure a level of structure that would empower people.

The parliamentary secretary also kept repeating that the right to housing was simply a slogan. I find this to be extremely troubling for a government that claims to be implementing the right to housing “through a wide range of federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal laws, policies, programs, and administrative measures.” Is the government saying that the right to housing is not a human right? It is not clear to me. The parliamentary secretary to the minister of families kept repeating, as late as yesterday at committee, that human rights are crucial in housing.

Bill C-325 is about dignity. Human rights are that, moral principles. When our fellow citizens do not have a place to sleep or to go to the bathroom, these are incredibly dehumanizing experiences. A home is more than physical space. Housing is intrinsic to the sense of security for families and the stability needed to prevent marginalization. All of us look at a home as an anchor to our community life, a retreat and a refuge. What happens to people when they do not have that is debilitating. The ramifications have been studied repeatedly, and the stress on our communities and society can attest to this.

In fact, in government consultations, the right to housing was a recurrent theme in many comments shared by experts at the round table. Stakeholders clearly spelled out the need for the legally recognized right to housing. They insisted that a national housing strategy should examine whether our laws, policies, and practices are sufficient to prevent homelessness, forced evictions, and discrimination in accessing adequate housing. They agreed on a rights-based approach to housing, and how the right to housing must be recognized and realized through laws and policies.

We have seen the Liberal government be covetous of other people's good ideas, like the bill on abandoned vessels we saw tabled recently, after the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith's bill was not allowed to proceed. The national housing strategy is soon to be unveiled, but let us be clear: a strategy is not legislation.

Although part of me hopes that the right to housing will be featured front and centre in this strategy, the reality is that it will not be the change that makes housing a human right in Canada. A decade from now, we will still be talking about the gaps in our housing sector if we do not take a different approach. I hope the Liberal government will be brave enough to support Bill C-325.

For the government to establish a successful long-term national housing strategy, it must be done within the lens of a right to housing. This allows a more cohesive outlook beyond the physical structure, by addressing the systemic causes of housing insecurity. There are too many people living in tents or couch surfing, people with mental health issues not having a home to provide them stability, working people who cannot find a home, people living in unsafe conditions, and seniors making decisions between food, medication, and housing.

The housing crisis in Canada requires leadership now. The lack of adequate and affordable housing is troubling, and Canadians deserve much better.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

moved that Bill C-325, An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am incredibly proud to stand in the House to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-325, the right to housing.

I believe having a home is a human right, and in a country as wealthy as Canada no one should be without a safe place to live.

It did not take me long to grasp the magnitude of the housing crisis in my riding of North Island—Powell River. Housing cases continue to come into our office, and the number is growing. I have heard horrifying stories, such as a single woman living in a van because she has been diagnosed with a significant health issue, which meant she had to choose between either medication and a special diet or her home; a couple with a teenage boy with special needs living in a tent in their parents' backyard; and a retired man of 70 couch surfing between several friends. As well, there was the case of a local business owner who hired a new employee but had to wait eight months for the individual to start because no housing could be found and people calling the police and breaking the law until they are arrested because they are old and have nowhere else to sleep except jail. I have heard of bidding wars on rentals, with people using over 65% of their income to pay the rent. I have heard of seniors waiting in acute care ready to go to a home, but there are no homes available.

There is no doubt that the stories of North Island—Powell River are the same as too many others across Canada. Housing is a priority that must be advocated for loudly and boldly.

I want to thank our NDP housing critic and MP for Hochelaga for working so hard. She has travelled across the country and she understands the realities of people struggling every day for affordable, decent housing, whether in a large urban centre, rural areas, or indigenous communities. She is there fighting. I am proud to be by her side and bring this important piece of legislation forward.

I am not the first member in the House to bring forward legislation on the right to housing. There is a reason that the reiteration of the bill has survived all of these Parliaments through the many members who believe that this is a right. I gather it rings true because it embraces a fundamental ingredient of our survival in finding shelter and our right to dignity.

It is my hope that together we can pass this bill. It would be timely and key for the coming years while we start to reinvest in housing.

As a country, Canada is at a crossroads. We have lived through almost 30 years of inaction and budget cuts. In the last budgetary cycle, the Liberals promised an abundance of cash. Months later we still do not truly know how this money will be spent.

I want to be very clear in the House. Whether it is in downtown Toronto, small cities, rural and remote communities, or indigenous villages, there is no more time to be had. We are in a national housing crisis, people are desperate, and time has run out.

Bill C-325 aims to be the cornerstone for that long-term plan. This bill would ensure the foundation of a national housing strategy that can be built solidly and will stand the test of time. We can no longer just say housing is a right; it is time for it to be legislation. My bill would do this. It would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to introduce housing as a human right.

In 1976, Canada enshrined the fundamental right to housing when the government of the day ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, this right has never been formally incorporated into Canadian law. This bill would make that happen.

While I was working on the bill, a few of my constituents were concerned with this approach, thinking I wanted to give free houses to people. Although this would support many people in moving towards their personal goals, this is not what the bill would do.

Adding housing to the bill of rights means redefining the lens that housing is viewed through. It is about a fundamental approach to reviewing regional differences, working with all levels of government and the market to address the reasons we are facing such a housing crisis, and then building a national housing strategy grounded in the right to housing that will address it head-on. It is about creating a long-term solution. It is my hope that as a country we never get to this place again.

We must think differently about how we approach housing. What we need is a new lens, and Bill C-325 offers that. Building a building here and there is not going to address the severity and systemic causes to our housing crisis.

The housing crisis is again and again portrayed as a big-city issue. This is simply not the reality. A recent report from one of my communities with a population of 35,000 shows we have 47 unsheltered homeless—people literally sleeping outdoors—and 32 people reported as being sheltered homeless, meaning they are sleeping in a shelter. This does not even address the concerns of overcrowded homes and people who are couch surfing.

This has led to the local municipality working hard to have accessible bathrooms. This is a serious result of having people without a home in our community.

I referred to dignity earlier in my speech. Human rights are that: moral principles. When our fellow citizens do not have a safe place to sleep or a place to go to the bathroom, these are incredibly dehumanizing experiences. A home is more than a physical space. Housing is intrinsic to the sense of security for families and stability needed to prevent marginalization. All of us look to home as an anchor in our community life, a retreat, and a refuge. What happens to people when they do not have this is debilitating. The ramifications have been studied repeatedly, and the stress on our communities and our society can attest to this.

In Canada, it is estimated that more than 235,000 people are without a home during the year. According to a joint study by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in 2014, the gradual withdrawal of federal investment in social housing is one of the primary causes of this problem.

Our society and our governments are letting people down, devoid of a comprehensive safety net. Cracks are appearing at an alarming rate. Affordability is central, but cracks are appearing because of the results of not having a stable home: mental health problems, addiction issues, illness due to stress, family breakdowns, and so much more.

I believe all of us in the House have sat with constituents and heard heartbreaking stories. We are on the front lines of hearing where the human reality of legislation lives. I recently sat with a couple who shared their story of homelessness. It is a story that I hear all too often. One partner falls ill, so they can no longer work, and the family loses their home because they cannot afford their mortgage.

To add more weight to their reality, this couple has a son with a significant disability, one that leads a child to express himself through loud yelling when frustration grows. Finding a home that is not in an apartment building where the noise upsets the neighbours is their priority.

This is just one story, and it exemplifies the need for a different approach, a more holistic model to viewing housing. Let us imagine a housing plan that respects human rights.

In the government consultations, the right to housing was a recurring theme in many comments shared at the expert round table. Stakeholders clearly spelled out the need for the legally recognized right to housing. They insisted that a national housing strategy should examine whether our laws, policies, and practices are sufficient to prevent homelessness, forced evictions, and discrimination in accessing adequate housing. They agreed on a rights-based approach to housing and that the right to housing must be recognized and realized through laws and policies.

It is inspiring to see Canadians like Leilani Farha, a UN special rapporteur on adequate housing and executive director of Canada Without Poverty, take a leadership role internationally. She said:

Crafting a human rights-based policy would include eliminating discrimination in housing programs, setting measurable goals and timelines to reduce poverty and giving people the means to hold governments to account if their rights are violated.

This accountability is so badly needed. Many first nations communities are living in appalling conditions, and homelessness continues to rise across the country. For first nations people living on reserve, the national household survey shows that almost 40% of these homes need major repairs and close to 35% are not suitable for the family's size. In some Inuit communities, the proportion of housing not suited to family size exceeds 50%.

I did several round tables on housing in my riding. What I heard was clear. Municipalities are doing everything they can with their very limited resources. Community-based organizations are working together to do what they can to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. People are desperate and ready to live anywhere to have a stable home. I also saw how exhausted they were, doing what they could and needing help.

They need help now, today, if not sooner. Hope is in short supply. The broad range of people experiencing the housing crisis is only growing.

It is alarming to talk to couples who are both working in good jobs, who cannot find a home they can afford to rent, let alone buy. There is a deep sense of betrayal because they have done everything right. They have worked hard to get where they are, and now they are hopeless. I have spoken with parents who have lost their children to care because they were evicted due to renovations and could not find appropriate housing. They can get their children back once they have a home to go to, but they simply cannot find one.

Seniors are renting out extra rooms in their homes. One senior I spoke to is even renting out her living room, because there is no other way she can afford to live.

These are just a few of the many stories that are happening in all of our ridings.

I want to say a special thanks to the Right to Housing Coalition for its hard work and continued work in advocating for these rights. Housing is and will always be a top priority for New Democrats. We want the federal government to recognize the historically vital role of government in housing. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this fundamental right by meeting the security, affordability, health, and safety needs of all Canadians. The government has a duty to ensure that all its citizens have access to suitable housing so they can participate fully in society, as is their right.

We seek action when the federal government returns to the table on housing policy, and a commitment to housing as a basic human right. We want the framework of any solution to be based in the legislative right to housing.

It is my hope that today the members will speak in support of Bill C-325. It is time to give hope to those who desperately need and deserve it.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for Spadina—Fort York for that passionate campaign speech. I would also like to thank the member for North Island—Powell River for the actual passion she has on this. That being said, I personally cannot support this bill, which would put the right to housing under the framework of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, I am concerned that this bill would not actually combat the real barriers, and those are actually the barriers the member for Spadina—Fort York focused on. The bill fails to deliver the necessary measures needed to help Canadians who are hurting the most.

I would like to first talk about the style of the bill and how it does not properly take the current state of the Canadian Bill of Rights into account. To be honest, that is one of the key issues we looked at as a caucus when we were discussing this. What is the Bill of Rights? What was put forward by the Right Hon. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker at the time he wrote this in 1960? What would be the significance of this amendment? While I appreciate the difficultly the sponsor of this bill must have faced in forging new ground by seeking its amendment, I have a few issues with the language of Bill C-325.

Primarily, the framework set out in the Canadian Bill of Rights is a prohibitive one. The Bill of Rights put forward by Diefenbaker in 1960 is not about including things like housing. The former prime minister understood that the framework and the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to expand individual freedom and to protect people from the long reach of the government. This would become a very short reach of the government if we were to start enshrining it in the Bill of Rights.

The point of the Bill of Rights was to ensure that Canada would continually be a society of free men and free institutions. All the rights currently present in the bill are to protect the rights of the individual by ensuring that the government cannot interfere with the practise of those rights. They include freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association, among others. That is why it is a key point that Bill C-325 does not actually fit into the Bill of Rights adopted in 1960.

The reason is that the right to housing, as outlined in Bill C-325, does not work within this framework and would try to create a potentially massive program and government intervention as a right. This activist role of the government is opposite to the framework of the Bill of Rights and would do damage to the rich history of the legislation, which has truly stood the test of time. We have had this legislation for more than 50 years, and it continues to be vibrant and to have a part in today's debate.

I disagree with Bill C-325 on more than just stylistic grounds. The content of this bill naively assumes that Canadians' housing needs can be resolved with a single stroke. That is something we have heard from the member as well as from the government. It seems to put forward the idea that housing is a right and that if the federal government steps in, the housing concerns of Canadians would magically disappear. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complex than that.

First, the bill completely ignores that jurisdiction for housing is shared with the provinces and territories. Almost all federal funding that goes toward housing and homelessness initiatives is funnelled through the provinces and delivered through the municipalities and individual housing co-operatives, which provide housing to those in need. As it stands, the plan put forward by our NDP colleague would simply give an unreasonable mandate to the federal government in an area that is a jurisdiction shared with our fellow governments. It is also worth noting that as a simple act of Parliament, the Bill of Rights is only able to create rights that fall within federal jurisdiction. We are talking about shared jurisdiction with the provinces, territories, and municipalities. This Bill of Rights put forward by Prime Minister Diefenbaker is specific to federal legislation, and it rules over all levels of government.

The question then becomes this. What is the point of this bill? Is it a simple token sentiment? Is it an attempt to seize power unilaterally from the provinces? I believe, after listening to the member who put this forward, that it is about passion. I do not want to say that the work she is doing is not admired, but at the same time, we have to ask what the role of the federal government is and how we can go forward with this. We need to look at the logistics.

All the issues I have raised so far need to be taken into account. However, the issue at the core of this bill is that it would not make housing more affordable for average, hard-working Canadians. This is a key issue. Allow me to be clear on this. As a Conservative member representing the Conservative Party today, I can say that we firmly agree that Canadians deserve a reasonable opportunity to own their own homes and to have access to safe and affordable housing. Unfortunately, we currently have a government that seems bent on making home ownership increasingly difficult for aspiring Canadians. Housing is one area where the truly damaging policies of the current government can clearly be seen.

By raising taxes, the Liberals have cut the ability of Canadians to save up for a down payment or a mortgage. By hiking CPP payroll taxes on hard-working middle-class earners, the people the Liberals pretend to help are being forced to give to the government their hard-earned money. We see this more and more as we continue to talk about some of the proposed tax legislation being put forward.

It is no surprise that the Liberals feel that they know how to spend Canadians' money better than Canadians, but the damaging effects of the government's entitlement mindset are clear when we see how regular people are crippled in their ability to make large financial decisions, such as moving toward permanent home ownership. The debt the government is racking up is only looking to get worse, and Joe and Jane taxpayer are feeling the pain.

When budget 2017 was unveiled, it was apparent that the Liberals had no plan to make life more affordable for regular Canadians. Although the Liberals often boast about their purported investments in housing, it has largely turned out to be a game of smoke and mirrors. One of the foremost examples of the government's failure to deliver is the recent Parliamentary Budget Officer's report that clearly demonstrated that despite big talk and flowery language, the government's money has not made much of an impact on Canadian families. Communities are not getting the funding the government promised. The PBO's report even says that it does not expect that the federal government will spend all the money on housing and infrastructure investment that has been promised.

More directly related to housing, the government has further burdened young Canadians who are working hard and aspiring to home ownership by tightening the rules for obtaining a mortgage. What is more troubling about this move by the government is that it was done without engaging any stakeholders, including young Canadians. It will push home ownership more out of reach for Canadians and will not help affordability at all.

To summarize, the government has tightened rules, requiring Canadians to pay more for a mortgage while simultaneously pickpocketing Canadian families through tax hikes, debt, deficits, and credit eliminations, not to mention slamming a carbon tax on living necessities for every middle-class family in this country. The government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It seems to be striving to set Canadians up to fail in the housing market.

In light of this, I can understand my colleague's desire to step in and more clearly define the government's role in housing through Bill C-325. However, adding it to the Bill of Rights, where it does not belong and will not be effective, is not the way to fix such a broad issue. Instead, the federal government needs to be taking practical approaches that will empower Canadians to own their own homes.

The Conservatives have a strong track record of making progress in this area. By 2014, the Conservative Party had brought the low-income cut-off poverty rate to a historic low of 8.8%, making huge strides in reducing poverty through fair-minded policies. Conservatives also expanded saving mechanisms such as the tax-free savings account, reduced taxes, and invested in responsible policies to bring home ownership within the realm of possibility for every Canadian.

The Conservatives invested over $19 billion through CMHC to improve the state of housing in Canada and began initiatives, such as the investment in affordable housing and the housing first initiatives, to empower Canadians and fight homelessness at a fundamental level. Last week, when I was taking part in a housing symposium in Ottawa—Vanier, one of the things I heard about time and time again was specifically housing first and what an excellent approach it is. Does it need additional things put into it? Absolutely, but it was a great first step in what the former Conservative government did in 2008. We need to continue to build on that.

The symbolism of the member's bill is understandable but somewhat misguided. If the federal government is serious about making home ownership for regular Canadians a reality, it needs to seriously re-evaluate its policies. Canadians deserve more action, rather than more talking, to make home ownership a reality.

I know that a government member is likely to stand up in this House and brag about how much the Liberals are throwing at housing in budget 2017, but high taxes, reduced saving capabilities, strict rules on the market, and expensive household items will not help Canadians and will continue to lock them out of this market. Broad-based relief when people are trying to own a home or are seeking affordable rental housing is essential.

In conclusion, I would like to compliment the sponsor of this bill for her attempt to make amendments to a well-crafted bill that has never seen such additions. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today. As we move ahead, I look forward to the debate.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour for me, as the New Democratic Party's housing critic, to support my colleague from North Island—Powell River's Bill C-325, which we are debating today.

Too rarely do we have the opportunity to debate a housing bill in depth. I thank my colleague for choosing to debate this bill today and for giving us a chance to advocate for housing rights here in the House.

When I was made my party's housing critic, I launched a campaign called A Roof, A Right, which I have promoted all across Canada because I strongly believe that housing is a basic right and should be treated as such.

To put things in context, Canadian law differs from that of some other countries in that, for an international treaty to be law and enforceable in Canada, it must be incorporated into our legislation. Simply ratifying an international treaty does not mean that the content of that treaty becomes part of Canadian law. True, by ratifying a treaty, Canada makes an international commitment, but that is all. The rights that Canada commits to recognizing by ratifying a treaty cannot be enforced in Canadian courts unless those rights appear in Canadian law.

This bill seeks to address this unacceptable situation by adding the right to housing to Canadian legislation. In 1976, Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or ICESCR, which obliges nations to take appropriate steps to ensure “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” In doing so, signatory states made a commitment not only to formally recognize the right to housing, but also to remove barriers to achieving that.

Here we are more than 40 years later, and unfortunately there is no federal legislation that formally recognizes the right to housing in Canada. On top of that, the housing situation in various regions of the country clearly shows that the federal government has not taken any meaningful action to remove barriers to housing and to the full exercise and realization of that right. This is precisely the reason why Canada has been chastised repeatedly by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for failing to take appropriate action on housing.

In its observations adopted on March 4, 2016, not so long ago, the committee stated the following regarding the housing situation in Canada:

The Committee is concerned about the persistence of a housing crisis in the State party. It is particularly concerned at: (a) the absence of a national housing strategy; (b) the insufficient funding for housing; (c) the inadequate housing subsidy within the social assistance benefit; (d) the shortage of social housing units; and (e) increased evictions related to rental arrears.

The committee also recommended that Canada develop and effectively implement a human-rights based national strategy on housing. It made a list of recommendations in light of its observations on the right to adequate housing and on forced evictions.

Last week, my colleague from North Island—Powell River received a response to written question Q-1086 in which she asked the government, “Why has Canada never formally incorporated the international covenants on the right to housing”?

The government's response was absolutely unbelievable:

Canada currently answers to its obligation to ensure the right to adequate housing, as it is framed in international law. The United Nations ICESCR recognizes the right to adequate housing as a component of an adequate standard of living. Canada currently implements the right through a wide range of federal, provincial, territorial and municipal laws, policies, programs, and administrative measures.

In light of the observations by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that I just mentioned, I do not understand how the government can claim to be meeting its international obligations. If the government wants to claim that it is being compliant, then it has a responsibility to incorporate the right to housing into the Canadian Human Rights Act, and especially to implement the necessary measures to ensure that the fundamental right to housing is fully realized.

The current housing situation in Canada clearly shows that since the ICESCR was ratified, successive governments never took the steps required to eliminate the obstacles preventing the full implementation of that basic right.

We have been hearing for years about a housing crisis in Canada. Rising rents, a shortage of rental housing units, the lack of federal government funding for social housing, too many families spending over 30% of their income on housing, and increasing homelessness are only a few examples of the causes and consequences of that crisis.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, housing is considered affordable if it represents 30% or less of a household's revenue. Households that spend more on housing are considered to be in “core housing need”.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, one out of four households spend more than 30% of their total revenue on housing costs. Also, one out of three Canadian households are renters, and of this number, 40%—almost half—spend over 30% of their income on rent.

The proportion of income spent on housing is over 50% for one out of five Canadians, and over 80% for one out of ten Canadians.

This means that households in “core housing need” are too often forced to choose which basic needs they will meet.

In a wealthy country like ours, no one should have to choose between buying groceries and paying rent. We must admit that we are unfortunately not respecting a person's right to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, as set out in the ICESCR.

The government must release the details of its national housing strategy this fall. If it wants to show that it is serious and ensure that this strategy will be successful in the long term, the government's measures must give everyone the opportunity to fully exercise and enjoy their right to housing.

Bill C-325 is a first step towards ensuring that Canada fulfills its international commitments by enshrining the right to housing in Canadian legislation. The bill would amend section 1 of the Canadian Bill of Rights by adding paragraph (b.1) the right of the individual to proper housing, at a reasonable cost and free of unreasonable barriers.

Because the Canadian Bill of Rights takes precedence over all other federal laws, it would offer a means of recourse to any person who feels their right to proper housing has been infringed by the federal government.

Consider the example of an indigenous family of 10 living in a two-bedroom home, which is the reality on too many reserves. I think we can assume that their right to proper housing is being infringed, so they could use this recourse to assert their rights, particularly since the federal government already has a fiduciary duty to indigenous peoples.

Given that the Supreme Court also decided last year in Daniels that indigenous peoples living off-reserve are also “Indians” under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, it is also the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that their right to housing is respected.

That is why, a few days ago, I joined the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association in calling for a targeted strategy to tackle the indigenous housing crisis.

Right now, 10% of Canadian renters are spending more than 80% of their income on rent. It is easy to imagine that any of these renters could invoke their right to housing at a reasonable cost and require the government to take the necessary steps to fulfill that right.

There is also the matter of the homelessness rate. In this country, it is estimated that more than 235,000 people experience homelessness in a given year. Any of them could potentially seek recourse under this bill to make the federal government do whatever it takes to ensure that every person in Canada has a roof over their head. The Liberal government has told Canadians all about its good intentions on the housing issue. Now it is time it turned words into action.

If the government wants to show that it is serious about keeping all of those promises, why does it not start by recognizing the right of every person to housing? On that note, I would urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to vote in favour of this bill and finally acknowledge once and for all that a roof is a right.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2017 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Bryan May Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you will indulge me for a moment, I would like to take this opportunity to wish my wife Kristin a happy 13th anniversary. We are all surrounded by people who support us, and she is definitely my rock. Without her, frankly, I would not be here today.

I would also like to thank the hon. member for North Island—Powell River for raising this important issue. Her career prior to entering the House was dedicated to helping some of society's most vulnerable people. Bill C-325 shows that she has carried this commitment forward in the House.

As chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of People with Disabilities, this is a critical issue, one which my committee has discussed and studied at length over the past years and is something we are currently studying as it relates specifically to seniors.

Housing is such an important issue. Our government believes that Canadians deserve to have safe, affordable, and accessible housing. This belief has guided our international commitments. It has been the underlying principle behind many of our government's actions; and it is the force behind the national housing strategy, which will be released later this fall.

Housing is so important, and it is important we do it right. While I support the principles and goals behind Bill C-325, I will unfortunately not be supporting the legislation when it comes to a vote.

My main concern for the legislation is how it casts housing as a right by enshrining that right into the Canadian Bill of Rights. This has the potential to shift focus and resources away from the work already being done on housing toward legal challenges. I do not believe this is the most effective way to deliver housing for Canadians or to solve the housing or affordability issues.

Our government has already been taking action and working to include a diversity of viewpoints in creating a national housing strategy. An effective strategy will require buy-in at all levels, which is why we have been consulting housing experts, municipal and community groups, and other housing stakeholders, as well as nation-to-nation conversations with our indigenous partners. We are confident that, with their support, we will be able to achieve a housing strategy that addresses the needs of all Canadians.

This widespread consultation will demonstrate that this strategy represents cross-Canada viewpoints and that it is not a made in Ottawa solution. Our government wants to create a national housing strategy that reflects the different needs of people in Tofino and in Toronto, in Vancouver and in Valcartier, in Calgary and in Cambridge.

The strategy must recognize urban and suburban living and it must appreciate rural and northern living. It must consider those living on reserves and Canadians in all four corners of Canada.

The national housing strategy will, similar to Bill C-325, work to benefit those who do not have adequate, accessible or affordable housing in Canada, but move the needle further, in ways that do not put our government at legal risk.

Before my time as an MP, I worked in the non-profit sector with organizations like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. Many of the issues I dealt with every day were either connected to or rooted in housing issues. Adequate housing is a solution to so many ancillary problems.

I am concerned the bill takes too narrow an approach to the idea of housing. As a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Canada has long been guided by the notion that adequate housing is more than simply four walls and a roof. Adequate housing has access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Adequate housing is not cut off from early learning and child care, health care, schools, or social infrastructure.

All governments, and all levels of government, must engage with and recognize that housing must be considered holistically. That holistic approach has consistently guided our government's actions. This is why budget 2017 did not just allocate funding for urgent on-reserve housing needs, but also invested in clean drinking water, repairs, and renovations of on-reserve child care centres and community health centres. This holistic approach also guides community-based initiatives like the homelessness partnering strategy, in which we work with partners at the local level to reduce the strain on shelters and on health and justice services while continuing to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This understanding has continued in our most recent budget, which included substantial investments in housing, alongside investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, and world-class public transportation systems. Through these actions, we will meet not just the letter of our international commitments but also the spirit.

A well-rounded and informed view of housing will also guide our upcoming national housing strategy. Thanks to the extensive consultations I mentioned earlier, we heard from stakeholders and partners about the pressing need to build, renew, and repair Canada's stock of affordable housing. We will act to meet these needs through initiatives like a national housing fund that will prioritize support for vulnerable citizens; a co-investment fund that will provide opportunities for our partners in the provinces, territories, and the social and private sectors to pool resources and undertake large-scale community renewal projects; together with initiatives to improve housing conditions in the north and for indigenous people on and off reserve; an expanded and reformed homelessness partnering strategy using surplus federal lands and that makes buildings available to housing providers at low or no cost; and strengthened capacity to gather, analyze, and act on housing data.

Like the hon. member for North Island-Powell River, I want the House and the government to commit to doing the right thing for all Canadians when it comes to housing. I want to see a housing policy that listens and responds to the concerns of our partners and stakeholders across Canada. I believe that our upcoming national housing strategy will allow us to do these things and so much more.

I am sure I speak for everyone in the House when I say that the hon. member's passion and willingness to work toward housing solutions is welcome and I hope that even if we cannot support this private member's bill, she will work with us as we move forward in implementing a national housing strategy that meets the needs of all Canadians.

Canadian Bill of RightsRoutine Proceedings

December 5th, 2016 / 3:10 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-325, an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing).

Mr. Speaker, the government must make housing a priority. In the communities I represent and across Canada, we see a staggering need for proper housing at a reasonable cost. In Canada, people do not have the housing they need.

For this reason, I wish to table today an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights. This bill would ensure that the right to housing is firmly recognized as law. This would redefine the way we frame a national housing strategy and finally allow us to adopt our international responsibilities regarding human rights. When housing needs are met, we as a society can grow much stronger and more prosperous.

I would like to thank the member for Hochelaga for working so hard on the issue of housing. I look forward to the debate, and I hope to see all members in this House support this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)