Madam Speaker, as someone who will be getting married in the summer, I hope you will pass on tips on how to have a happy long marriage, beyond just saying, “Yes, dear.”
Budget 2023 has some positive aspects, but they are achieved by abandoning the now politically inconvenient fiscal anchor, which was the Liberals' long-boasted-about measure of fiscal responsibility. The Liberals are also jettisoning the people who helped them first come to power in 2015: young people and the middle class, their electorally convenient but quickly forgotten voter base. Additionally, the budget threw Toronto under the bus. They are the same people whom the Liberals relied on to cling to power, but continue to ignore now that they are back in government.
Budget 2023 would not do enough to offset the challenges facing Canadians, especially the failure to combat the most pressing housing and cost of living crises in Canadian history. We are in a crisis. A recent report on housing affordability from the National Bank of Canada states that it now takes 311 months, or just about 26 years, for a Toronto household on a median income to save enough for a down payment for a home. I want to reiterate that point. The unit of measure that Torontonians are using to project when, if ever, they can own a home is fractions of a century. That is wrong.
What the government is doing is clearly not working. It should be consulting experts, yet it ignored the National Housing Council, which is the advisory body that the Liberals themselves set up in 2019. It called for $6.3 billion over two years, beginning in 2022-2023. This call, I guess, was no longer politically useful, so it went by the wayside, as did the hopes and dreams of Canadians wanting to get their first home and those who have no home at all.
The failures of budget 2023 also point to an urgent need to rethink the national housing strategy. The government has sunk $82 billion into the strategy, but so far has little show for it. Adequate and affordable housing has become a dream. The state of housing in Canada is in crisis.
With housing the way it is, it is no surprise that homelessness is getting worse in Canada, yet the homeless crisis in our country was mentioned all of three times, and not in anything of substance or real policy, just three buzzwords. Sadly, if we examine the national housing strategy from the perspective of homelessness, even the Auditor General has found that the strategy “is not resulting in measurable decreases in chronic homelessness.”
The strategy is failing to meet its goal of cutting in half core housing needs and eliminating homelessness by 2030, yet despite having the independently researched and confirmed analysis of the government's failure to address homelessness by the Auditor General, budget 2023 does not include measures to improve homelessness in the national housing strategy. Homelessness in Canada is a crisis.
Canadians are facing some tough challenges, and it is not getting any better. In fact, it has gotten worse. Canadians have been hit with inflation, especially in food; increasing interest rates; and an economy sputtering along toward a potentially mild recession. I heard from Amy in my riding, who lives with celiac disease. She shared how rising inflation in food costs is especially hard for her and for everyone in Canada living with this lifelong condition.
We have new records being set, all of them the wrong records, on seemingly a monthly basis by food banks. In March, 270,000 people, which is the equivalent of more than four Skydomes, or Rogers Centres, or over 13 full Scotiabank Arenas, visited a food bank just to ensure that they did not go hungry. Worse still, the Daily Bread Food Bank has warned that among the fastest-growing number of food bank users are people with full-time jobs.
I want to zero in on Toronto, where these three crises of housing, homelessness and inflation have come together to present Torontonians with some of the most challenging barriers right now to their prosperity and the future of our city.
On March 29, the deputy mayor of Canada's largest city, and the engine of our Canadian economy, bluntly stated that the federal government shut the city out of the federal budget. Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie further stated that the government ignored a direct financial commitment it had made to Toronto during the last federal election to assist the city with ongoing COVID costs largely associated with transit and shelter.
At a time when the government wants to tout this budget as one focused on growth, it is unwilling to acknowledge that Toronto is in a state of recovery. The city is facing a budget shortfall in 2023 of $933 million. There is a lot at stake. To touch on a few major things, the city's ability to provide social services and to operate the largest transit system in Canada comes to mind.
The transit system is facing line cuts and decreased TTC ridership. Services combatting homelessness and the provision of social and mental health services are stretched to the brink. Our city is also facing policing reductions, even with increases in violent crime. Moreover, Toronto did receive federal assistance for a refugee shelter in 2022, but heard nothing for this year. What does the federal government think happened to the refugees? Did they just go home? No other municipality in Canada operates its transit and social services at the same levels as Toronto with three million residents.
Let us discuss an election promise. After almost a year and a half after getting re-elected, the government will finally remove the interest on Canada student loans and apprenticeship loans. There is no better investment a country can make than in its youth. I am grateful that the Liberals will finally honour an election promise.
Sure, it took me holding it accountable in my question to the minister responsible on February 17, 2022, and calling it out on September 23, 2022, when they quietly tried to sneak into the Canada Gazette the expiration of the loan interest waiver for students. I was more than happy to do the heavy lifting for the government with my private member's bill, Bill C-301, which mapped out exactly what needed to be done.
I am sure it was just a coincidence that, after the National Post featured my bill on November 2, and how the Liberals would have to potentially be forced to vote against their own election promise, the very next day, on November 3, the Liberals finally declared to the nation, in the fall economic statement, that they would do what they had promised.
If only the government could also move on creating a national pharmacare program. It would also help if it removed the tax it applied to all of the other taxes on gasoline. Surely, the government would agree with me that taxing taxes is wrong.
I also want to highlight that, while the government proudly boasts about child care, which I support, it does not contain a workforce strategy or advance higher wages for child care and personal support workers, as promised by the Liberal Party in the 2021 election. Affordable child care is great, but only if one has the spots and the child care workers to actually care for the children.
Budget 2023 could be viewed as a stopgap document, one that gives the government time to prepare for its next election platform. However, Torontonians and Canadians should not have their needs held in abeyance to the Liberal Party's re-election hopes down the road. Canadians want action now, not later.
Many Canadians are facing tough times and are having to make tough choices. With higher interest rates and the ensuing rising costs associated with inflation, Canadians are seeing higher food prices, higher housing costs, increased energy costs, and higher rent and mortgage payments. Canadians are feeling the pinch, and not just the low-income Canadians. Some of the government's much-discussed middle class are now visiting food banks. If they were looking for the government to help them, budget 2023 does not look like it is the answer.