Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting CHRA to appear today.
As you know, CHRA represents the social, non-profit and affordable housing sector in Canada.
Budget 2019 is another step in the government's efforts to deal with housing insecurity. The budget includes measures to increase access for first-time home buyers and it follows previous decisions seeking to consolidate and strengthen the community housing sector, decisions which were mainly contained in the National Housing Strategy of Canada of 2017.
Without seeking to minimize the importance of these measures, I would like to use most of my time to talk about two main issues. The first one is the proposed National Housing Strategy Act, contained in Bill C-97, and the second issue is the huge gap between the bill and the government's vision on housing, specifically the absence of a housing strategy for indigenous people living in urban and rural areas, as well as in the North.
The 2017 national housing strategy contained a commitment to “progressively implement the right of every Canadian to access adequate housing.” As discussed by my colleague Tim, this promise is being realized through the national housing strategy act, in clause 313 of C-97.
CHRA has long advocated for such legislation, as it would not only enshrine the progressive rights of people in Canada to housing, as recognized in several United Nations declarations that we've already signed, but would also legislatively require the relevant minister to “develop and maintain a national housing strategy”, which would have as a guiding principle, “(c) focus on improving housing outcomes for persons in greatest need”. Not only do we fully support these goals, but we wish to commend the government for taking what is truly a historic step in social policy development in Canada with this bill.
However, there are ways in which the bill can be improved. My colleague Tim has outlined a few proposals in that regard, and we support what Mr. Richter has said.
I'd like to add three additional proposed amendments. All of those amendments have been summarized in a letter that we've sent to the minister, which we have provided to the committee clerk.
First, we strongly feel that there needs to be explicit recognition of the progressive right to housing for indigenous peoples, including very importantly, indigenous peoples living in urban, rural and northern areas of Canada. An explicit reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within the legislation would be useful in this regard. Although I recognize that Canada's ratification of UNDRIP is still not entirely complete—I understand we're still waiting for a royal assent—it would absolutely be a disservice not to include an explicit progressive right to housing for indigenous peoples simply based on a technicality.
Secondly, the legislation currently states:
18 (1) The Minister must, before March 31, 2021 and within every three years after that date, cause a report to be made on the effectiveness of the National Housing Strategy, with respect to the achievement of the desired outcomes, and the initiatives related to its implementation.
We'd suggest amending that reporting period to annually rather than every three years. Frankly, it will be very difficult to make changes to the strategy or to identify gaps or shortcomings based on a three-year report. An annual report would be a much more effective accountability period.
Lastly, we recommend that the legislation clearly spell out that the new housing advocate position—again, as Mr. Richter referred to—report directly to Parliament rather than potentially the minister. As it stands, the legislation is somewhat vague on this point. Such an amendment would remove any sort of political considerations and would really strengthen the non-partisan role of that advocate position.
Mr. Chair, there is a final point I wish to raise, and that, frankly, is what is not in Bill C-97.
As the committee knows, housing conditions for indigenous peoples, especially living in rural, urban and northern settings, are considerably worse than for non-indigenous peoples. In the national housing strategy, the Government of Canada committed to developing three distinction-based indigenous strategies, for first nations, Inuit, and Métis. Although this is welcome, these strategies do not directly address the housing inequality faced by indigenous peoples living in urban and rural settings, which is where approximately 87% of indigenous peoples live.
Until that fourth housing stream focusing on urban and rural and northern indigenous peoples is introduced, frankly, the government's overall housing policy will not be complete. In fact, this committee, the finance committee, recognized this inequality when, in your pre-budget report to the Minister of Finance released in December, one of your recommendations was to “Work with Indigenous governments and organizations to develop an urban, rural, and northern indigenous housing strategy.”
We would ask that you continue to advocate for that recommendation. Our own indigenous caucus has developed a proposed strategy for indigenous by indigenous, or FIBI, that provides a road map for how such a strategy could be enacted. It's on our website, and we encourage you all to please download a copy.
Bill C-97, the National Housing Strategy Act, is an important tool in the national strategy toolkit. By bringing a few improvements to the bill and incorporating a strategy based on the needs of indigenous peoples living in urban and rural areas as well as in the North, the federal government will establish a solid housing legacy. Moreover, these measures will help CMHC meet its objectives and enable all Canadians to have a place to live that meets their needs by 2030.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.