Good morning, Mr. Speaker. We will, of course, support the bill introduced by the parliamentary secretary since we agree with what it proposes to do, which is to increase the aggregate amount of loans that may be approved by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to $150 billion, but the fact remains that it all seems very unsatisfactory.
We must admit that, at the very least, there is something embarrassing, disturbing and unsatisfactory about the fact that we have before us a bill that reminds us that the federal government's involvement in the housing sector, through this flimsy vehicle, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, consists exclusively of loan guarantees.
We must not forget it has been some years-in fact, since 1989 but even more so since 1992-since the federal government withdrew altogether from the construction of social housing. Remember this: It completely withdrew from this sector, and I intend to give chapter and verse later on. There is something here that arouses a sense of outrage and indignation-and I hope the parliamentary secretary, who I know is sensitive to these issues, will share my sense of outrage and indignation-when we see that the federal government, with all the resources at its disposal, has nothing to offer except loan guarantees through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Meanwhile, it has withdrawn from the construction of social housing, it completely abolished its co-operative housing policy in 1992, which the Liberals had promised to reinstate, and plays no role at all in housing renovation.
We have a definite problem with this. And anyone in this House who has a social conscience must feel the same. As for amending the National Housing Act and having a debate on housing, what are we entitled to expect from the government? We have a Liberal government that does not believe that poverty is acceptable, that believes that being a Liberal means embracing the philosophy of liberalism. Embracing this philosophy means believing that the state has a role to play in putting an end to the disparities in our society.
I know the parliamentary secretary agrees with me. As the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I am disappointed. And if the hon. member does not agree with the substance of what I am saying, I am sure that by the end of my speech he will have changed his mind.
The issue is one that concerns me, as the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and as a former member of the board of a technical resources group that examined these issues. I have been involved in housing issues since I was 20, and I am now 33, although I may not look it. The fact remains that I have been involved in the housing sector for nearly 13 years. And I am shocked that this government has nothing to offer in the way of social housing.
It is particularly shocking this morning, when we are asked to discuss the role of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation at a time when poverty, both in Canada and Quebec, is more widespread than ever before. This is serious.
As members of Parliament, we all represent ridings, and when it comes down to it, we all want to work for the people who elected us. We all know that housing, the right to have a decent roof over your head at a decent price, is something that is central to people's lives.
The debate this morning comes at a time when there is more poverty than ever before. Mr. Speaker, let me quote a few figures. When we talk about poverty, we should remember that in Quebec, to give you a very specific example-or perhaps we should look at
the situation in Canada as a whole, where the poverty rate is now 17.4 per cent. So what does poverty mean? Poverty is when a household has to spend more than 55 per cent of its income on three basic items: rent, food and clothing.
We live in a society where poverty is more widespread than ever before. And since we live in this society, we have every right to expect the Liberal government to be a little more enterprising, to come up with a proposal this morning that is more intelligent and more pro-active than approving loan guarantees, since even the parliamentary secretary admitted this did not represent any additional cost to the public purse. The parliamentary secretary was very frank at the beginning of his speech when he said this was a program, a loan guarantee that was self-financing and did not cost the treasury a cent.
Is the parliamentary secretary satisfied? Does he approve of the fact that his government, considering its responsibilities at a time when more people are poor than ever before, when, according to Statistics Canada, we have never been so short of housing? When the parliamentary secretary goes to bed tonight with his beloved, will he be pleased that his government has nothing to offer but a loan guarantee which puts no strain on the public purse?
That does not satisfy me. I do not think that it is politically defensible. So 17.4 per cent of Canadian households are classified as poor. This means that 17.4 per cent of the population belongs to a household which spends 55 per cent or more of its income on the three basic items.
I know we are just coming out of a referendum campaign, and that events in the months to come will mean that the issue is not totally closed, but speaking as a levelheaded, rational man-two qualities which I think the parliamentary secretary will agree describe my character-I feel that, when evaluating federalism, it is our duty to recall that Quebec, as we speak, is the province with the highest rate of poverty.
As we speak, Quebec has the highest number of poor households of anywhere in Canada. If the parliamentary secretary is sceptical, I can provide figures. The most recent figures available are for 1993: Newfoundland, 17.7 per cent of households; P.E.I., 9.9 per cent; Nova Scotia, 5.5 per cent; New Brunswick, 14.5 per cent; Quebec, 20.7 per cent.
This means that 20 out of every 100 households belong to people who are among the poorest in Canada. This is the reality the federal regime has inflicted upon us. And this is not a mindset, a political pipedream, but something confirmed by Statistics Canada.
So the figure in Quebec is 20.7 per cent; in Ontario: 15.6 per cent; in Manitoba, 18.1 per cent; in Saskatchewan, 17 per cent; in Alberta, 17.6 per cent. In a context where Quebec has the highest number of poor households, in a context where we are aware of the importance of housing in balancing individuals' and families' budgets, we find ourselves faced with a government that has nothing to propose except the addition of a measure like any other government action relating to shelter, a loan guarantee. One that they have the gall to describe as not requiring anything from the government, from the public purse, because it is self-sustaining.
As the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, as an individual who believes in democracy, I wish to state that it is my belief that the government is not assuming its responsibilities, that this is shameful, that this is unacceptable, that it is just one more reason to separate, because we have no need of a government that cannot offer us anything in the area of housing.
If the parliamentary secretary finds that I am overdoing it, he has only to get up off his chair and add some substance to his proposals on housing-at this time, as we speak, all of my friendly feelings for the parliamentary secretary notwithstanding, we have every reason for dissatisfaction. But I want to get back to the subject of poverty in Quebec.
Quebec has 24 per cent of the total Canadian population. The federal government gains 23 per cent of its income from Quebec's individual or corporate taxpayers. Thirty per cent of all of those living in poverty live in Quebec. There is one other reality which characterizes Quebec and militates in favour of more government involvement in social housing: more Quebecers rent their homes than the Canadian average.
This means that more individuals in Quebec have insufficient income to own property. This is why we feel a government must be involved in social housing. What is social housing in its co-operative or non-profit OSBL form? I shall come back to that later.
When a government sets aside public funds for social housing in co-operative or OSBL form, this is because of a belief that there are people whose income alone, without a little hand up from the government, will never enable them to own property.
This is a trend which a self-respecting government, a government with some social democratic leanings will take action to correct-and I am sure that the Government whip either lives in a co-op or has plans to do so, since he shares our slight socialist bent.
All of this to say that, in Quebec, 44.4 per cent of households are tenants; 44.4 per cent rent their homes, while the Canadian average is 37.1 per cent. We would therefore have been right to expect this morning that the government would have a somewhat more substantial policy to provide support to the provinces in the whole area of public housing.
I say "a somewhat more substantial policy" with respect to the provinces, because it is clear in my mind that federal government involvement in housing must take the form of a transfer of funds or budget allocations, where the funds are managed by the government of the individual provinces. I say this, because it is clear, constitutionally, that the federal government has no authority to intervene in the matter of housing.
When it does, it is obviously contravening the Canadian constitution, because neither section 92 nor section 93 accords the federal government jurisdiction over housing. We must remember, however, that, if the federal government is to be involved in public housing, as I think it ought, it is by transferring money to the provinces, which want to be involved.
No one is saying the government should not set funds aside. We acknowledge that it has a fiscal capacity, access to areas of taxation that justify its setting money aside for the provinces.
I have an example for hon. members. Quebec has a program, I do not know if the parliamentary secretary is familiar with it, called Logirente. It targets people 55 years of age or older, who have difficulty paying their monthly rent on the basis of their income alone.
The government of Quebec assists those who meet the eligibility criteria with their rent payment monthly.
Some 60,000 people benefit from this program at the moment. Quebec officials asked the federal government if it could also get involved and make some money available.
Had the federal government agreed, through an administrative agreement, to become involved in the operation of the Logirente program, we estimate that 145,000 households and families could have been helped, instead of the present 60,000.
This is the role of government. What is the point in having a federal government that could care less about getting involved in people's lives when the most fundamental of needs are at issue? You will not be surprised to learn that the federal government refused to get involved in the Logirente program, thus ensuring that 60,000 households rather than 145,000 could benefit from it. This is one case where federalism is not working, and where a sovereign Quebec could have, on its own and totally, a housing policy it alone established, one that functioned independently under its control.
I would like to come back to something I consider absolutely essential, something that could have helped us through the difficult years of the last recession and could help Canadians through the next recession. The program we must talk about and one I encourage the federal government to re-establish with the provinces is, obviously, the co-operative housing program.
Mr. Speaker, you will remember that, in 1992, the federal government of the day abolished it without so much as a warning cry, a hint of its intention or consultation of any sort. Of course the parliamentary secretary will say it was not his government. That is true. Nevertheless, his government has not taken any positive action to date to re-establish it. Despite the fact that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is relatively well off, we have not found a way to use public money to establish a co-operative housing program.
What does a national co-op program entail? First of all, a national co-op program requires that people be responsible since co-op members must choose a board of directors and acknowledge their responsibility to manage and maintain the building in which they live. This implies that they feel concerned about their environment.
There are now 40,000 people-I hope the parliamentary secretary will admit that these are real figures, and I invite him to check their accuracy-on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's waiting list for co-op housing. As a member of Parliament who believes in co-op housing, I am proud to remind you that, between 1973 and 1992, 85,000 units were funded by the provincial and federal programs then in effect, particularly by the federal government because it is mostly at that level that programs were available.
Co-op housing was found for 255,000 low income people. What is the reality? The reality is that, as we speak in November 1995, 66 per cent of households in co-op housing have an income that is less than $30,000, or a third of what MPs earn. We should keep this in mind. We can still agree that, in 1995, $30,000 a year is certainly a modest or average income.
In the past, and especially during the last federal election campaign, I heard members say that some co-op members were making $60,000, $70,000 or $80,000, and that co-op housing was reserved for the better-off in our society. When we look at the figures a little more closely, we see that co-op housing is a tool available to the poor or to honest, middle class people, since 66 per cent of co-op members, 66 per cent of households, make less than $30,000 a year.
Thirty per cent of households in co-op housing across Canada are headed by single mothers. These women are their families' breadwinners. This shows that there is a need, that there are poor people who, for all kinds of reasons, were not able to buy their own homes.
It is reasonable to think that a decent government, one that lives up to its responsibilities and cares about the people, cannot tolerate a situation in which the federal government has nothing to offer people with housing programs.
The main paradox of the federal government's withdrawal from the housing sector, especially from co-op housing, is that, in the
past three years, unemployment in the residential construction sector has hovered around 20 per cent. I think that the hon. members in this House would agree with that figure.
As our grandparents used to say, and I am sure that your grandmother also said it, "as the construction industry goes so goes the world".
Why is it that, with an unemployment rate of 20 per cent in the residential construction sector, the government does not realize that one way to revitalize the Canadian economy would be to promote the construction of co-op units?
Let us not forget that, for every 1,000 co-op units built-I have the figures here-2,000 direct jobs are created. The parliamentary secretary should never forget that, every time public assistance makes it possible to build 1,000 co-op units, 2,000 new jobs are created.
There are not many sectors in which government initiatives give a 200 per cent return. But in the housing sector, for every 1,000 co-op units built, 2,000 direct jobs are created.
Why does the government not understand that reality? Why is the government so dull witted and narrow minded? Whay can the government not see the obvious? Can we rely on those government members who represent ridings, in Montreal and in the regions, where there is a need for co-op housing? I ask these members to get a little more involved and show a little more respect for the people who need the government's assistance to take action.
The influence of the Quebec Liberal caucus on cabinet is aptly described by the movie title The Silence of the Lambs . We truly feel that the Quebec Liberal caucus has no desire to make representations to cabinet to correct the major fundamental injustices suffered by Quebecers because of policies put forward by this government, particularly in the housing sector.
Since 1989, the federal government has drastically reduced its support in the renovation and the co-op housing sectors, including its support to owner occupants. That withdrawal has had the effect of destabilizing public finances, as well as the economic situation of the poor in our society.
Let me give you an example. There used to be a rehabilitation assistance program for rental housing, which allowed people living in non-profit housing to get financing for up to 50 per cent of the costs of renovations to a housing unit. That was a joint program, with the federal and the provinces, Quebec in this instance, each assuming 50 per cent of the costs.
Then, all of sudden, without any warning, without any consultation, and in a period of widespread poverty, the federal government withdrew its financial support to the program. This resulted in a $20 million shortfall for Quebec.
Let us take the important issue of social housing. There are, in every riding, people who live in low rental housing. We are proud of these people, because they are a very dynamic group within our community. People who live in low rental housing create a feeling of solidarity. They have community halls which often alleviate the problem of loneliness.
Mr. Speaker, believe it or not, the federal government bluntly withdrew its support to that sector. Since 1992, not a single low rental housing unit has been built in Canada or in Quebec. I am shocked and I find this irresponsible. I was hoping that, this morning, the federal government would have shown a desire to do more in the important co-op and social housing sector.