We, in the Bloc Quebecois, have been demanding social housing since the beginning of this session. Local organizations also put a lot of pressure on the Liberals. Alas, the government has remained insensitive to the needs of the poorly housed. This refusal to improve housing conditions for the poorest is unacceptable.
What happened to the nice promises made to the poorly housed and to local organizations during the election campaign?
Why did the Minister of Finance write this last September to a coalition of organizations advocating co-operative and social housing: "No doubt a Liberal government will help finance co-operative and non-profit housing"? In the same letter, the minister added that it was up to the federal government to ensure that over a million Canadian households are housed decently and affordably. Does the minister remember what he said? It was a smoke screen. It was a lie!
Other members opposite engaged in pre-election opportunism. The present Minister of Foreign Affairs was an ardent defender of social housing. He loudly proclaimed that the real power was in Cabinet. Where is this famous power today? Did he try to influence the government in favour of social housing? Looking at the budget, we must conclude that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has no clout or that social housing is no longer worth it, or maybe both conclusions are true.
The Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources Development were also fervent defenders of social housing. What happened to them? They have disappeared into the luxury of limousines, Challenger jets and ministerial pomp. That makes you quickly forget about the poorly housed.
What is the other advocate of the poorly housed, the member for London East, doing now to get his government moving on this issue? After such trickery, there is no need to look very far to see why the people are disillusioned with politicians.
The government made a choice. It chose to say no to social and co-operative housing. In saying no to the 1,200,000 people who are poorly housed, the Liberals are also saying no to many positive aspects associated with multiple-dwelling units.
The social and co-operative housing industry creates jobs in the construction industry and generates spinoffs for construction companies and suppliers of building materials and residential fixtures. It stimulates consumption at neighbourhood stores.
From a social standpoint, the construction of social and co-operative housing generates enormous benefits. Clean, well-heated and well-lit units have a positive effect on the health of the occupants. Health care costs are therefore reduced. People who live in co-operative housing are not isolated. In the long run, social housing helps to lower the cost of social services.
Social housing provides senior citizens with the sense of security they have a right to expect. The Liberals have turned their backs on these positive effects. However, the Minister of Finance has forgotten that there will be a price to pay for this rejection and all of us will be paying it, directly and indirectly. I call this governing without vision and without a sense of humanity. And this is completely unacceptable to me.
I wonder what response the Prime Minister will get in Shawinigan where nearly 41 per cent of households spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing. The situation has grown desperate. Poverty is gaining a toehold in Quebec and in Canada. A total of 1,200,000 Canadians live in substandard housing conditions. In Quebec, the housing crisis is even worst, with 44.3 per cent of rental household, compared to 37.1 per cent in Canada. In Quebec and in Ontario, 194,000 households spend more than 50 per cent of their income just on rent. In Canada, 583,000 households are in the same situation.
In some cities, the problem is even more dramatic. In Montreal, one in five rental households, 19.1 per cent, must spend 50 per cent of its income on rent. Twelve thousand households in Ottawa, 26,645 in Toronto, 22,095 in Vancouver, and 4,940 in Halifax set aside more than half of their income for rent.
Behind these figures are single individuals and lone-parent families, which are increasing in numbers in our society. The people living in the worst conditions are young Canadians between the age of 15 and 24, pre-retired individuals 55 to 64 years old and individuals over 65 years old. The Liberals have abandoned these people. There are children in these households, members of the next generation, living in poverty. In Canada, child poverty affected 1,210,000 children in 1991. The Liberals have abandoned these children too. I strongly believe that we all have to take stock and ask ourselves if children must be left destitute in unhealthy housing.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the homeless. Homelessness has reached unbelievable proportions. More and more people find themselves without shelter, mostly women but also an increasing number of young kids. Natives living in urban areas, of which there are 15,000 in Montreal, are among the worst hit people. To all you poverty-stricken people, the federal government says: no! It is telling you that you can keep living in substantial housing or in the streets. It is telling you that you must continue to cut on food, clothing, and basic care. The government is telling you that you do not exist. Such contempt is unbelievable!
By opting out of new public housing programs, the federal government has badly damaged the social fabric of our country. With the federal contribution decreasing from $113 million in 1989 to zero dollar nowadays, it is obvious that Ottawa has willingly and voluntarily decommitted itself from such programs. The Minister of Finance is well aware of the situation and is depriving people of their fundamental right to a decent and adequate housing.
What is even more upsetting is to see that because the members opposite are so insensitive to the needs of people who have inadequate housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is considering a rent increase of 25 to 30 per cent for social housing. What a shameful idea.
The government is saying to the less privileged: Give us more money and we will use it to provide housing for other destitute people. That is how mean this government is. I firmly believe that the minister could have eliminated the waste and trimmed the fat of the government in order to find some money for the people who have inadequate housing, instead of making the underprivileged pay for the housing needs of other underprivileged people. The minister should be ashamed of himself.
Quebecers and Canadians of all backgrounds, the underprivileged, the poor who live in awful conditions and the elderly all feel betrayed by this Liberal budget. While they do everything they can to stay in the black, to make ends meet, the government does not do its homework, does not take its social responsibilities, and lets the poor live in substandard housing.
In conclusion, we now see the real face of this government which, before October 25, was talking about a better and a fair society, where individuals would regain their dignity and their pride. The government has shown its true colours. The members opposite are acting like robots, like cold and uncaring people.
The government has betrayed those who longed for a better future. This budget is a shame.