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House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was world.

Topics

Division No. 131Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Ottawa Centre said that he wanted to vote with the government on this issue. I would remind the member that the government should not have a position on this issue. It is Private Members' Business.

The House resumed from April 22 consideration of the motion.

Labelling Of ToysPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 1998 / 6:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, April 21, the next deferred recorded division is on Motion No. 85 under Private Members' Business.

I have already explained the procedure for private members' bills.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 132Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from April 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act respecting polution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

The Speaker

The next deferred recorded division is on the motion at the second reading stage of Bill C-32.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If the House would agree I would propose that you seek unanimous consent that the members who voted on Bill C-39 be recorded as having voted on the motion now before the House with the Reform Party members present voting yes.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this way?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 133Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Division No. 133Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 6.50 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take all necessary steps to ensure the continued viability of housing co-operatives administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Mr. Speaker, in 1884 Abraham Lincoln said: “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built”.

It was in that spirit of citizens supporting one another and by extension the community that the co-operative housing movement in Canada was born in the 1930s. Sixty years later, the viability of co-op housing is being seriously threatened through government neglect.

I want to take a few minutes to explain how this has come about and what can be done to repair the situation. I will start by outlining a brief history of co-op housing in Canada and show why it has been such a success story compared to other forms of social housing. I will then proceed to talk about the current move to devolve social housing to the provinces and the negative effects this will have on co-ops. Finally, I will outline an alternative solution that has the potential to not only save the federal government money but also save the co-ops.

The co-op housing movement began in the 1930s when Canadians in the maritimes, Quebec and Ontario built houses collectively for private ownership. It expanded with the construction of student co-operatives in the 1940s and family co-ops in the 1960s. The federal government got involved by supporting co-operative housing financially in Canada in 1970 through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. CMHC has called co-ops one of the great success stories in Canadian housing. Its record is especially enviable when we compare it to the federal government's track record on other forms of social housing.

Let me explain how co-ops work. Co-operative housing is affordable, not for profit housing owned and operated by its members. Residents pay housing charges and have the right to permanent residency as long as they respect the obligations of membership which they have a say in setting.

Joint ownership eliminates the insecurity of the rental market by putting control of the housing in the hands of the members. Each member has one vote in making decisions on important matters such as housing charges, the election of directors and the rules and regulations members will be expected to follow.

Members share common goals in the management of their co-operatives and a sense of community arises from working together. Members of housing co-ops often assist each other in ways beyond their housing needs. Housing co-ops have helped maintain or rebuild communities threatened by decay or urban renewal.

Within budget limits co-ops seek to provide high quality housing both in initial construction and through continuing maintenance. Co-ops are required to maintain capital reserves for the replacement of worn out buildings and equipment.

As I have mentioned, co-ops are radically different from other types of assisted housing providers. Only co-ops are committed to hiring and empowering ordinary Canadians to manage their own housing. Members learn skills that help them break the poverty cycle, enabling them to reduce dependence on government support.

Co-op members do not live in low income ghettos but in mixed income communities. Just over half the nearly 90,000 households receive rent geared to income assistance from the federal or the provincial government. In federally sponsored co-operatives assistance is provided to more than twice as many households as required by their operating agreements with CMHC at no extra cost to taxpayers.

Members manage subsidies economically on the government's behalf. CMHC says: “Co-operatives have been highly successful at achieving income mixing without polarization of income groups. Income was basically a non-issue for members”.

Not only have co-ops been successful in social integration, they are also the most inexpensive to operate of all forms of social housing. Operating costs are 19% less than municipal or private not for profit housing and 71% less than government owned and operated public housing. These cost saving benefits are shared with taxpayers since lower operating costs reduce the government's rent geared to income subsidy bill. Because they spend less than other housing providers and reinvest their operating surpluses, housing charges stay low. As time passes co-ops need smaller and smaller government subsidies.

However, despite all their success housing co-operatives in Canada now face a serious threat to their continued existence: devolution to the provinces. In March 1996, with very little public discussion, the government announced that it would make an effort to turn over the management of existing federal social housing resources to the 12 provinces and territories. In the two years since, agreements have been signed with Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories which would see these governments assume responsibility for public housing, private non-profit housing as well as co-ops.

In general I support the devolution of social housing administration to the provinces. I have always believed that the level of government that can best serve the needs of its clients should be the one to manage that program. But the inclusion of co-op housing in this devolution creates some serious problems for co-operatives and their members.

The two main issues for co-op members are loss of control and loss of financial security. At present members manage their own affairs, which helps to foster community pride and a sense of ownership. The new agreements threaten that control in five ways.

First, existing contracts between CMHC and the co-operatives are not protected under the new social housing agreements. According to law professor Patrick Monahan of Osgoode Hall Law School, while the agreements address the issues and concerns of the provinces and CMHC, they fail to offer legally binding protection for the co-ops that actually own and manage the housing facilities. This effectively gives the provinces complete control over the programs.

Second, the provinces can unilaterally alter the operating agreements between the co-ops and the governments. Professor Monahan found that if any of the provincial legislators were to enact legislation overriding or amending the terms of such project operating agreements, the provincial governments would not be in breach of their obligations under the new social housing government agreements.

Third, co-op residents were neither permitted to sit at the negotiating table as these deals were made nor were they even consulted in the discussions. Agreements that have been signed to date and those currently under negotiation have been worked out behind closed doors. This excludes a significant group of stakeholders: the women and men who live in, own and manage this housing. These groups are the primary partners in the successful delivery of these programs but they have not been consulted.

The new agreements could also affect the character and quality of federally funded co-ops. There are real concerns among co-operatives that the new agreements will lead to the erosion of their autonomy as property owners, especially when it comes to day to day management decisions.

The failure to protect the existing contractual rights of co-operatives makes these concerns very real. What the provinces view as flexibility in the agreements, co-op members see as an invitation to intrude. Any careful reading of the history of co-op housing will show that the greater the degree of government intrusion the less efficiently co-ops operate.

Finally, lumping co-ops in with other forms of social housing which are being downloaded to the provinces will increase costs. Consolidating the control of shared cost programs such as public housing with one level of government will reduce program administration costs.

However very few co-operative housing units receiving federal support were initiated under these shared cost programs. The remainder are unilaterally federally funded. The transfer of management of these programs to 12 provinces and territories will increase wasteful duplication and government involvement, not lessen them.

Provinces taking over these co-op programs will have to add to their bureaucracies and invest time in learning to administer programs that CMHC will continue to oversee. In Ontario the province intends to download those programs to yet a third level of government, the municipalities. In that province three levels of government would be involved.

As if that were not enough, co-ops face another threat from these new agreements, the loss of financial security. CMHC only guarantees funding to co-operatives to the end of their current agreements. The $1.9 billion the federal government currently spends on social housing are not guaranteed because the dollars are not tied to existing programs and projects.

The provincial agreements promise a steadily shrinking federal contribution. As existing programs and projects reach the end of their funding cycle, federal funding will cease and there are no assurances that anyone else will step in. The agreements reveal a slow but definitive withdrawal of federal financial support for Canadians with housing needs.

The new social housing agreements also do not require the provinces to replace the funding. There is nothing in the agreements that directs the provinces to assume that responsibility or, for that matter, that obliges them to continue spending the money they contribute now under the shared cost housing programs. In fact the agreements give the provinces and territories an incentive to reduce the number of social housing units in their jurisdiction.

Clause 7(e) of the Saskatchewan agreement states:

—for greater certainty the removal of Housing from the Portfolio of programs covered by the agreement (whether by disposition, destruction, no longer being within a program in the Portfolio or otherwise) will not entail any reduction of the total amounts of CMHC funding—

There is however another solution. Next week, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, CHF Canada, will meet with the minister responsible for CMHC and propose that a new non-profit, non-governmental organization be set up to administer co-op housing agreements.

If implemented, this new agency would save governments a minimum of $2 million a year plus $50 million over the next 20 years by reducing program administration costs and would lead to a more efficient use of federal subsidies. It would also meet the federal government's goal of devolution of administration while preserving the keys to the co-op housing success story: member control and decentralized management.

The proposed agency will adhere to the goals and principles of current programs and will operate within a strict accountability framework. As important, the CHF Canada proposal will ensure the continuing success of a housing system that many thousands of people have worked very hard to build, an effective unifying system working in every province and territory.

Recently an independent study commission jointly funded by CMHC and CHF Canada examined a new draft of the co-operative sectors proposal and compared it to CMHC's current operation with improvements suggested by CMHC.

The consultant found that compared to CMHC's approach the CHF Canada proposal would generate savings for government in program administration costs and would assist co-operatives in increasing the effectiveness of their operations. When a co-op saves money in this operation it means more money to house people in need either in that co-op or through other housing programs.

In closing, let me restate that I agree with most of what the government has done in the area of social housing. Lumping housing co-operatives with all other social housing and downloading them to the provinces threaten to destroy what has become a unique Canadian success story.

This debate is about optimizing the structure of government so that it can best serve the needs of Canadians. There is a ready alternative to the current round of provincial and territorial grievances. I suggest the government take a good, long, hard look at it before going any further.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I participate in today's debate to urge the government to take steps to ensure the viability of housing co-operatives.

I want to thank my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party for giving us this opportunity to debate this issue.

I should remind the House that, in the riding of Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, which I have been representing since 1993, there is a deeply rooted tradition of co-operative housing, with more than 2,000 units.

I think it is our duty as parliamentarians, as our colleague suggested, to outline the merits of co-operative housing. Co-op members are involved in their community. They are involved in a managerial capacity. Because they take their responsibilities, they look after the well-being of the co-op, and this can only reflect positively on the entire environment.

We cannot talk about co-ops, about ensuring their viability, by allocating the necessary resources so that 20, 30 or 35 years from now, co-ops are still a viable reality both in terms of upkeep and subsidized housing, without mentioning that the governments that have succeeded each other since 1992 have systematically withdrawn from the co-op program.

I think that the more militant among us, the staunchest advocates of social housing, will recall that when times were good, there were three separate federal programs under which housing could be built, operated and subsidized for members of a co-operative. But after 1992, the government, following the trend and figuring that subsidized housing should no longer be subsidized, cruelly withdrew from that area.

I want to point out that 29% of Canadian households with the greatest needs are found in Quebec, a province which has always been very supportive of co-ops. This means that, with 25% of the population and 19% of the funding for social housing, Quebec has more families in need of assistance for co-operative housing or any other form of social housing.

Unfortunately, in this case as in others, the list could be long. The Government of Quebec, the people of Quebec and the taxpayers of Quebec have not had the support they were entitled to expect.

It is important to say that the government announced a few months ago in the Speech from the Throne it wanted to withdraw and negotiate with the provinces the full transfer of all matters relating to public housing.

Sovereignist that I am, I would see this as a matter to celebrate, since the whole area of public housing is more a matter for the Government of Quebec and, to some degree, for municipal governments. There is, however, cause for concern, because the government wants to transfer, to all intents and purposes, nearly $2 billion.

Governments that signed agreements with the central government—including Saskatchewan, and I will come back to it, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories—signed at a loss. For negotiations to be fair and to make it worthwhile to the provinces to sign, there must be money to ensure the continued operation and upkeep of co-operatives.

The co-operative housing movement got started in the 1970s. We will therefore be looking at co-operative housing that will require important investments for maintenance, renovation and repair in the year 2000, 2005 or 2010.

What the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and its counterpart in Quebec are asking is not just that the federal government negotiate the transfer of responsibility with the provinces, but that it have the generosity, the conscience, to provide, in the negotiations to follow, for funds to be transferred as well, so that the provinces that become responsible for this co-operative housing are also given the money to maintain and repair it.

But the government opposite is short-sighted and lacking in vision, and governs by trying to offload its responsibilities onto the provinces. The $2 billion they are trying to negotiate will not be sufficient to allow us to plan long-term projects for the housing stock.

It is a strange thing. On the one hand, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, a fairly easy-going fellow, is not all that worked up about it. The Government of Quebec has broken off negotiations. The federal government is letting things drift along and, right now, there are no negotiations taking place between the Government of Quebec and the federal government.

Why are there no negotiations between these two levels of government? Because the offer on the table is unrealistic and ridiculously low, because there is no desire to right the historical wrong done to Quebec, which has, I would remind you, 29% of the neediest households within its borders. In the best years, it receives 19% of subsidies.

Of course the Société d'habitation du Québec and the minister responsible for housing in Quebec, Rémi Trudel, have calculated the shortfall the Government of Quebec has experienced in recent years by not receiving its fair share. The figure is in the millions.

It is our responsibility to remind the minister that he must give clear directives that negotiations with Quebec are to be resumed.

We are in favour of the Government of Quebec being able to regain control over this area of jurisdiction, like all governments wishing to do so, but not by selling out.

I wish to speak of a proposal to which my colleague has already alluded: an agency. Where social housing is concerned, there is already the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which administers a certain number of operating agreements in conjunction with the co-operatives.

It carries out real estate market studies. It carries out analyses and tries to understand the major trends in the housing market, not only construction, not only the private housing market, but also the co-op market.

The Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada, which is certainly the movement with the greatest expertise anywhere in Canada, has made a proposal, and I believe they wish to meet with the minister at the earliest possible opportunity. If adopted, their proposal would save billions of dollars, as it would make a community partner such as the federation the major administrator of operating agreements.

I believe that, where English Canada is concerned, this is a proposal worth considering. Once Quebec will have regained this responsibility, along with the related budgets, and once there can be a true housing policy—because the appropriate resources will be available—it will be up to the Quebec government to decide whether it wishes to have this type of partnership with a community agency such as the one that is proposed.

I will conclude by saying that, out of all the provinces, Quebec is the only one that allocated budgets for the maintenance of co-operative and social housing, and our province is also the only one that earmarked $40 million for development purposes. This shows the degree of support for the co-operative movement in Quebec, and I hope such support will continue in the future.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Reform

John Cummins Reform Delta—South Richmond, BC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate the member for Tobique—Mactaquac who brought this motion before the House. The motion directs the government to take all necessary steps to ensure the continued viability of housing co-operatives administered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Housing co-operatives play an important role in providing affordable housing in my riding and in this country. Over 250,000 Canadians are members of nearly 2,200 non-profit housing co-operatives located in all parts of Canada. The people who live in housing co-operatives are often more satisfied in their accommodations than those who rent privately or who live in other kinds of social housing.

Turnover rates are about half those in the private rental market. About one-third of renters say they would move into housing co-operatives if they could. Forty thousand Canadian households are on co-op waiting lists. Canadians who live in co-ops are members, not tenants. They control their own housing through elected boards of directors.

Co-op housing is unique. Among assisted housing providers only co-operatives are committed to empowering ordinary Canadians to manage their own housing. While co-ops are dependent on some government support, they do in fact break the cycle of dependency enabling Canadians who need affordable housing to take control of their lives. Operating costs are below those of all other forms of assisted housing, 19% less than municipal or private non-profit housing and 71% less than government owned and operated public housing.

Co-op housing would make an important contribution even if it was not substantially cheaper than comparable forms of government assisted social housing. Co-op housing allows members to learn the skills of operating and managing the co-op. Co-ops have more than twice as many single families than are found in the general population.

Canadians with disabilities and other special needs live in the more than 5,000 units of co-op housing. They are counted on to participate as full and equal members. Co-ops emphasize abilities, not disabilities.

The majority of the co-op members are women and 10% of the units are occupied by women over 55 years of age. Women participate fully and equally with co-op elected leadership and staff. Nearly two-thirds of co-op units contain families with children. Co-ops help communities achieve sensible and sustainable urban development and preservation of historic neighbourhoods.

All co-ops play an important role in this country whether they be housing co-ops, consumer co-ops, farmer co-ops or financial service co-ops. Indeed at a time of mega bank mergers I believe that financial service co-ops will play an important role in providing Canadians with options.

Perhaps nowhere is co-op housing more important than in British Columbia. In the lower mainland of B.C., affordable housing is often not available. Even modest housing can be extraordinarily expensive. There are close to 15,000 people on waiting lists for co-op housing. Housing co-operatives play an important role. Co-op housing in B.C. fills the need for affordable housing for families, seniors and low to moderate income households. I think particularly of the housing co-ops in Steveston in my riding of Delta—South Richmond.

Co-ops are adaptable and resourceful. They will seek to respond to reasonable changes in government policy. But co-ops are concerned about their very existence. The current government policy designed to download or to devolve social housing responsibilities to the provinces fails to protect housing co-ops. The plan threatens to destroy a unique Canadian success story that has taken over 30 years to build. Co-op members across Canada are deeply concerned by this proposal which will affect 250,000 residents and over 60,000 co-op homes and apartments.

I call upon the government to change direction to find a mechanism to protect co-op housing in its rush to download to the provinces. The unique co-op self-management approach may well be eroded in the downloading. Co-ops are not just another form of social housing. Co-ops are the least costly form of all federal social housing programs because of the commitment and involvement of co-op members.

In future, co-op rents may rise dramatically and the buildings may deteriorate physically as a result of insufficient federal funding which may force cash strapped provincial governments to cut spending for social housing. The risks are real because the downloading agreements with the provinces do not adequately protect the operating agreements between the co-ops and CMHC and because federal expenditures have been capped at the 1995-96 levels.

The downloading has already taken place in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan government is currently proposing changes which co-ops believe will seriously erode their accountability and authority for setting housing changes, budgets and the number of households they will subsidize. If co-ops are forced to accept these proposals, they will be forced to operate much more like public housing.

I am impressed by the work done by the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. It has proposed a viable non-governmental alternative for the country's housing co-ops. The administration of co-op programs would be contracted to a non-profit management corporation operating at arm's length from government. This approach would build on the co-op sector's decades of experience and successful cost effective self-management.

Streamlined staffing and organization would allow considerable savings in comparison with government management, be it federal or provincial. Minimum savings are estimated at $2 million a year in the cost of portfolio administration plus $50 million in savings on project costs over 20 years.

The proposal from the co-ops, unlike the current government policy of transfer to the provinces, would preserve the keys to the co-op housing success story: member control and decentralized management.

In British Columbia both co-op organizations support the national organization's proposal for an agency at arm's length from government. Furthermore I understand the province of British Columbia is supportive of the position taken by our co-ops and has written to the federal government to have co-ops taken off the table in the transfer talks. The federal government has not yet responded to this very critical need.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Kent—Essex Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I would like to respond to the motion concerning co-operative housing and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

This government understands the importance of good quality housing to Canadians. We understand the importance of helping Canadians meet their housing needs. We know that good quality housing creates sound communities and a strong country.

This government is committed to playing a strong leadership role in housing. On behalf of the Canadian government our national housing agency, CMHC, is working in partnership with the provinces and territories, municipal housing authorities and non-profit housing co-operative groups to help low income Canadians obtain adequate, suitable and affordable housing. We are currently supporting more than 656,000 units of social housing across the country at a cost of $1.9 billion annually.

We want to ensure that these resources are used efficiently and are targeted to Canadians with the greatest need. That is why we have offered to the provinces and territories the opportunity to manage existing social housing, with the exception of the housing programs for aboriginal people living on reserves. The decision to offer the transfer of administration of social housing resources to provincial and territorial governments was made in order to clarify responsibilities in the area where both Canadian and provincial governments are active.

The central goal of this initiative is to eliminate duplication, increase efficiency and promote one-stop shopping for social housing clients. It simply makes sense to have only one level of government involved in administering the social housing resources in this country. This approach will maximize the impact of tax dollars by streamlining the existing arrangements and facilitating one-stop shopping.

So far, agreements have been signed with Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia. Negotiations will continue with the remaining jurisdictions.

Co-operatives, like other social housing groups, are included in this transfer of responsibility to the provinces and territories. I would like to make very clear that there are sections of the new social housing agreements that require provinces and territories to carry out all of CMHC's responsibilities to non-profit and co-operative organizations and that oblige the provinces and territories to respect the rights of non-profit and co-operative organizations.

I also wish to highlight that existing project operating agreements with third parties, including co-operatives, will continue to be legally binding and can only be changed by mutual agreement of the parties concerned. CMHC's rights and obligations under these agreements are indeed covered.

The Government of Canada recognizes the close involvement of co-operative and non-profit housing groups in the management of significant portions of our federally assisted social housing portfolio. These groups also provide an important link between the government and the communities they serve.

I would like to assure my colleagues that CMHC is committed to finding solutions that will restore any social housing project, including co-operatives, to financial health where such solutions are feasible. In all cases CMHC works closely with sponsor groups and whenever possible provides the necessary assistance to these projects.

As well, over the past year CMHC has been working with the Co-operative Housing Federation to develop more streamlined and flexible guidelines to facilitate major repairs or renovations such as the replacement of roofs. Let me give the assurance that the Government of Canada is not withdrawing from its responsibilities to provide financial support for low income Canadians with housing needs. On the contrary, we will continue to meet our substantial financial obligations to social housing, $1.9 billion annually as I mentioned earlier.

These new arrangements are expected to bring significant benefits to a great many people. People living in housing projects will benefit far more from a streamlined management. Sponsors of social housing projects will benefit because they are now dealing with only one level of government, a level of government that will be able to better tailor programs to reflect local and regional social housing needs.

In essence, the people of Canada are going to benefit from the best of federal and provincial co-operation working together. This new approach to administration of social housing resources is about building on a solid partnership and working co-operatively with provincial and territorial governments for the benefit of all Canadians. It is about bringing government closer to communities and people across this country. It is about ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used in a most efficient manner, and that is good news for all Canadians.

Through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation our government is responsible for a number of programs that help ensure Canadians are one of the best housed people in the world. In addition to our significant contribution to social housing this government provides support for several short term initiatives designed to help certain groups make much needed repairs to their homes. Programs such as residential rehabilitation assistance program, the emergency repair program, and the home adaptation for seniors' independence reflect the government's commitment to involve as many quality housing projects as possible.

On January 30, 1998 the Canadian government announced a five year extension of these three programs at a cost of $250 million. These programs will benefit as many as 40,000 households and create thousands of new jobs across Canada.

Of course, the families and individuals who have benefited from these programs appreciate the government's role, as do the partners in the housing industry. However, I am glad to mention the interest and support shown by the provincial and territorial governments. As well, they have worked with the municipalities.

The government's decision to spend $250 million over the next five years emphasizes its commitment to stronger, safer communities, to provide flexible federalism through federal-provincial agreements and to create jobs.

One of the primary goals of this new allocation of funds is to improve the quality of housing in low income neighbourhoods. This initiative combines good social policy and good economic policy. It also is an illustration of how well flexible federalism can work. At the moment a number of provincial and territorial governments cost share a large portion of these programs. They are invited to continue under this extension and positive responses have already been received from several provinces.

I realize that in addition to the $250 million there is considerable more that has to be done over time. A reflection of the importance of government ascribes to housing is very clear. It is also a symbol of the success in controlling the deficit. We have always said fiscal restraint was not an end in itself but rather a means to a greater end. Our goal has always been to restore order to public finances to be able to focus more action and interest for Canadians.

I stress the government remains committed to ensuring Canadians maintain the best housing for people in the world. For Canadians housing is more than just a roof over our heads. It is the centre of our lives. It is an important form of our self-expression. It is a crucial determinant of the quality of life. Good housing is a key to better building communities as well as the cornerstone for a strong economy in this country.

It is very clear to say housing is one issue that unites us. From Victoria to St. John's, Newfoundland Canadians are coming together to make sure we provide desirable housing for all.

Let us be very clear at this point. The government will show leadership in housing and make certain that we have an enhanced way of life through good housing programs for all Canadians.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, when we think about housing, most of us spend our entire lives or at least 20 to 25 years paying for one house. Housing is a human right. We deserve to have shelter to protect us from the elements. We bring up our families in our houses. Yet housing is becoming further from most of us as poverty grows in this country. As the gap between those who have and have not grows, more and more people will be without housing.

The co-operative housing movement has provided places for those who would not otherwise have a chance to put a roof over their heads, for those who would not otherwise have a chance for home ownership. Over the last 25 years that movement has provided an avenue for housing.

For more than 25 years the co-operative housing movement and the Government of Canada were partners in building a Canadian co-operative housing sector. The unilateral decision by the federal government to terminate this partnership will affect more than 60,000 co-op units and far more individuals who live in those houses.

No other housing program has created the strong sense of community so characteristic of co-operative housing. Rather than terminate such a valuable partnership, the federal government needs to develop new and stronger partnerships between Canadians and their housing co-operatives. This is one of the few supports available for urban natives. There are very strong urban native housing co-operatives across this country. They are completely dependent on it. This change will destabilize that sense of ownership, belonging and long term stability that co-operative housing has brought to senior single mothers and urban natives across this country.

The federal plan to devolve housing is threatening the future of the co-operative housing movement. Co-operative housing contributes to the alleviation of poverty and it increases living standards and develops a sense of community. The transfer of the housing co-operatives to provincial and territorial governments is threatening the stable, well maintained co-op community Canadians have built over the years and the investment the people of this country have made in this unique type of good affordable housing.

It is social housing self-managed by its members who are diverse in income, culture and education. It is a tool of national unity due to the fact that co-operative housing represents communities within communities across Canada that share the same philosophy, operating agreements and structures.

The federal government needs to recognize the uniqueness of housing co-operatives and their national position in Canada's social housing program and transfer that segment of the portfolio to the co-operative housing federation to look after it under the same contract it has had for the past 25 years to 30 years. The federal government must work with the national co-operative housing sector to find an arrangement that will preserve the successful features of co-operative housing.

This housing makes up 10% of Canada's federally assisted housing stock. The non-profit agency being proposed by the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada will specialize in managing the co-operative housing portfolio. Carving out that portfolio among 12 different jurisdictions will leave the co-op housing sector divided and without countrywide links to benefit all co-ops.

They are owned by their residents who volunteer time to their communities. Their operating costs are 19% below costs of municipal and private non-profit housing and 71% below costs of housing owned by the federal and provincial governments. In 1992 the value of donated time ran between $900 and $1,400 per household per year. Co-ops are accountable to their members, their residents. This means built-in incentives to manage well and keep costs low.

The federal government took steps to undermine the continued viability of Canada's housing co-operative movement. The policy being implemented by the Liberal government violates its 1993 electoral promises. In 1993 the Minister of Finance wrote a letter to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the co-operative housing federation, the National Housing Coalition, supporters of non-profit co-operative housing and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. He stated: “Our platform document provides a framework for government in the 1990s. While it does not specifically address our commitment to non-profit and co-operative housing, let me make it abundantly clear that the Liberal government is committed to stable and secure funding for the non-profit and co-operative housing sectors”. This has turned out to be untrue.

It is clear that the Liberal promise on social housing was like the promise to eliminate the GST and abandoning people in one million Canadian households living in need of adequate shelter. It is similar to the abandonment of those with hepatitis C, the east and west coast fishermen, our medicare system, young students struggling for an education, the EI program and those who are unemployed.

Canadians need housing. The co-operative movement is ready to take on that aspect and provide housing for those in need and we should support that.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, it is not very often in the House that we actually have a debate about the need for housing. I thank the hon. member from the Conservative Party for bringing forward this motion so that at least there is some discussion in the House of Commons about what really is a most fundamental and important aspect of people's daily lives, the right to adequate, safe, affordable shelter and housing in Canada.

Like my colleague from the NDP for Yukon, I believe housing is a fundamental human right. If there is no adequate safe housing there is very little else in life that can be dealt with because it is such a fundamental issue.

I have listened to other members speaking on this motion and actually have been very interested, quite surprised and dismayed to hear the government member talk about how the government has shown such leadership on this issue. If there is such leadership on the question of housing then why is it that the federal government abandoned social housing in 1993?

In my province of British Columbia if the federal government were still continuing with its program of funding and developing social housing, we would have another 8,000 units built since 1993. In my riding of Vancouver East there are numerous very well built, very well managed, very good local neighbourhood projects that are social housing projects and co-operative housing projects. I do not think we can place a financial value on the kind of stability those housing projects and co-ops have produced in a local context. Housing co-ops and social housing generally do help provide great stability in local communities.

In my riding of Vancouver East, particularly in a neighbourhood like the downtown east side where there are still 6,000 people living in substandard slum housing, in single occupant rooms, the fact that the federal government has refused to fund social housing, has refused to provide funds for co-operative housing of which we have many in my riding of Vancouver East, is really another indication of the failure of the government to address the real priorities and the real needs ordinary Canadians have in terms of housing.

In B.C. alone there are something like 20,000 on waiting lists for social housing. B.C. is one of only two provincial governments left providing social housing, but we could do a lot better if the federal government were still a financial and committed partner to the provision of co-operative housing.

The devolution of housing has had a devastating impact for people who live in poverty and has contributed to the growing inequality we see in Canada, the growing gap between the rich and poor.

The federal government is devolving housing to the provinces and what has been very interesting is that the co-operative housing movement has shown a lot of initiative in coming forward and saying to the federal and provincial governments it wants to be involved in self-management and in the administration and maintenance of co-operative housing projects.

It has been very disappointing to see the lack of response from the federal government to this very positive initiative that is financially sound, socially responsible and will ensure local accountability, local management and a sense of national standards and guidelines, something that has really been lacking since the federal government has devolved housing to the provinces. We want to call on the government today to be very clear that if it means what it says about showing leadership in this area it should be clear with the provinces that the federal government is willing to negotiate an option with provincial governments which will allow the CHF to bring forward the proposal that it has and to provide for the management of co-operative housing. This is something that has a lot of support in my province of British Columbia, which our provincial government is seriously considering and is willing to look at. But we need the federal government to be part of that negotiation and to say that it is committed to allowing this initiative from the CHF to be successful.

I have already received many messages and cards from my constituents who are fortunate to live in co-op housing and who are writing to me as their local MP to say they support the co-op sector's proposal for a non-profit agency to administer co-op housing. I have had cards, for example, from the Paloma co-op in my riding. A member of that co-op wrote “I love my co-op because as a middle-aged woman living alone I feel safe and secure and can go to university and get a degree and improve my employment”. That is as a result of having a stable, secure, neighbourly, protected housing environment which has come about as a result of living in a housing co-op.

I would like to encourage the government to review its position and to demonstrate an understanding that housing is a human right. I believe that the government has to review its abandonment of social housing. It has to go back and renegotiate with the provinces to find a way to ensure that there is provincial involvement but, critically, federal involvement to ensure there is further development in social housing and co-operative housing in Canada.

There is no question that co-op housing in this country has been a Canadian success story. But that success story has now partially been dashed by the abandonment of the federal government in the devolution of co-op housing.

We are glad to have this debate today. We need to have more debates on co-op housing and social housing. I want to say to the government that in my riding of Vancouver East we have a desperate need for more co-ops. We have a desperate need for more social housing. We have people who are one step away from homelessness. We have people who are living on the streets because the federal government has abandoned its role in social housing.

I want to call on the government today to reaffirm its commitment to house people, to provide the funds, to negotiate with the provinces and to say yes to the proposal from the Co-op Housing Federation to ensure that the option that it has brought forward is something that can actually be realized.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member for Tobique—Mactaquac. The intervention of the hon. member will close the debate.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Reform Party, the NDP and the Bloc for supporting my private member's motion because this is a very important issue for co-op housing.

I wish I could say the same about the parliamentary secretary on the government side. It is typical that when we have a program that works well, the Liberals want to destroy it.

I heard what my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, said. I just do not agree. I believe there will be a devolution of social housing which will threaten co-ops. What we are saying is that there will be a loss of control.

I put forth five points.

The first one is that existing contracts are not protected under the new social housing agreements. Second, the provinces can unilaterally alter the operating agreements. Third, the co-op residents were not consulted on these agreements. Fourth, agreements do not protect the co-ops' autonomy. Fifth, co-ops can be lumped in with other social housing programs. A sixth point is that there will be a loss of financial security.

I will outline two points: federal contributions will dwindle as current funding expires and, two, new social housing agreements now require the provinces to replace funding.

A new independent, regionally based, non-profit co-operative housing agency will offer the federal government an affordable way to protect public investment in co-op housing and to ensure that public funds directed to co-op programs are spent as intended and properly accounted for.

Housing Co-OperativesPrivate Members' Business

7:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and this item is dropped from the order paper.

BosniaGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

moved:

That this House take note of the intention of the Government of Canada to renew its participation in the NATO-led stabilization force (SFOR) in Bosnia beyond June 20, 1998, in order to maintain a safe environment for reconstruction and reconciliation and a lasting peace for the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be in the House this evening to share with my colleague the Minister of National Defence a presentation on this take note debate on the future extension of the Canadian contingent in Bosnia.

First let me recognize and express my appreciation to members of both the foreign affairs and defence committees who travelled earlier to Bosnia to review for themselves their assessments and judgments about the activities in that area and to follow along not only on their recommendation that an extension be approved but also to take full acknowledgement of their recommendation that there be a parliamentary debate. This evening myself and my colleague are very pleased to follow through on that recommendation.

The findings of the committee really confirmed what I saw for myself just a few short weeks ago when I visited Bosnia. It was really quite dramatic to see the changes that had taken place. During my first visit to that area I was told to equip myself on a daily basis with a bullet proof vest and helmet. This time I just had to wear the bullet proof vest. It feels like great progress has been made.

More importantly, there are political changes taking place, particularly in the Republic of Srpska, where there is a new government beginning to show some recognition of and willingness to conform to the Dayton Accords. We are also beginning to see some signs of economic reconstruction and, to some extent, a reconciliation amongst the population itself.

UN High Representative Westendorp has said that the situation in Bosnia has moved from the “critical list” to the “stable list”. However, it is still quite apparent to most that a certain form of life support is required by way of the presence of the international community.

I still believe it is very essential to once again look at what we have been able to achieve to judge where we want to go in the future and also to look at the kind of priorities and targets we can set in the forthcoming years in order to ensure that the investment and the commitment which Canadians have made over the past several years both under the UN and NATO can be fulfilled.

In saying that I would like to express the real, good sense of gratitude that we have to our young Canadian men and women who have served there and particularly to recognize the 13 Canadian forces people who gave their lives as part of the Canadian commitment to Bosnia. It is a demonstration of the worthiness of the Canadian population, particularly those in our armed forces, to provide the honourable role of peacekeeping. In this case they can honourably say that is what they have accomplished.

I think what is important to note is that there has been quite an important turnaround in the last year or so.

Were I reporting to the House at this time last year, I think I might have been somewhat more pessimistic in my sense of outcome.

In the meetings last spring of both the defence and foreign ministers under NATO, the mandate was re-energized. Clear directions were given to the new high representative to take a very strong and stalwart stand to make things happen, to make the Dayton Accords a reality.

Since then municipal elections have been held and I think they were carried out successfully. The special police forces have been brought under control. The seizure of the TV transmitters by escort troops has, for the first time, opened up a degree of free media in that area so there can be a full expression of points of view. The SFOR troops were provided protection and security for the mass execution graves so that war crimes could be properly examined under the tribunal.

I think it is important to recognize that there are significant benefits in the world. Countries are coming together to work together. Some 34 countries are contributing. It is a model for the future.

This has given NATO a new sense of direction and purpose in providing a degree of stability and security. It has shown that the troops themselves are not there simply for the classic traditional peacekeeping purposes, but are engaged in a wide variety of activities.

As the minister of defence would properly acknowledge in his remarks, not only are the troops providing the basic security for the Dayton Accords, they are also showing a model of tolerance and co-operation.

Our troops are using funds provided by CIDA to help rebuild schools. They are helping to demonstrate civic pride and commitment. Once again they are an important factor in moving that area toward more democracy. They are showing that the use of military personnel is not just for conflict and confrontation, but can really be used in a peace-building capacity.

SFOR is a symbol of the international community's readiness to provide intervention and responsibility. At the same time we will provide, through the SFOR commitments, an ongoing role which is very crucial and which continues to provide stability as we look at other hot spots growing in that area.

I visited the Kosovo-Macedonia area when I was in the Balkans. Once again the fact that peacekeepers, including some Canadians, are on the border of Macedonia is a real deterrent to the spread of disruption and conflict taking place in that area. Once again the capacity of the international community to intervene to prevent conflict from taking place instead of only trying to resolve it is a clear demonstration of what we can do.

At the same time, I think it is important to note that there are lessons to be learned in this area. Each day that goes by, as the committees have reported, lessons have been learned.

The tasks which lie ahead are perhaps the toughest of them all. For those who think the job is about done, let us recognize that there are still very important and significant tasks to be done to complete the work which was undertaken when the Dayton Accords were first signed.

The first and perhaps most significant task is to provide the right atmosphere and control under which refugees can be returned. The outstanding issue in the area is still the hundreds of thousands of displaced people both inside and outside the country. Without the security that SFOR has provided refugee return would not take place.

Secondly, there are still some very difficult problems. The major problem around Brcko in Bosnia is crucial in resolving and reconciling the issues between the different factions in the area.

There is an important need for a continuing presence to ensure that the general elections taking place later this year will be again conducted with no disruption or untoward interference by those who want to destroy the Dayton Accords.

It is also important that we maintain pressure on war crimes. What has been happening in a very interesting way is that indicted war criminals are now giving themselves up because they recognize they have no other choice.

Increasingly the influence of Karadzic and his control on the area has been reduced because of the presence of the SFOR. They have undertaken the Canadian notion of shrinking the area of responsibility and control and the result has been that war criminals are voluntarily giving themselves up to tribunals.

Finally, in terms of future tasks I would like to mention the important role for Canadians that our own forces are playing in the Canadian land mine initiatives taking place in Bosnia.

With the agreement of my colleagues, the Minister of National Defence and the Minister for International Co-operation, we announced a major $10 million land mine initiative just about a month ago in Bosnia. That will provide an integrated approach between military, civilian, NGO and UN personnel to provide humanitarian demining that would complement what is being done by the Bosnia troops and would provide not only demining but also new space, new land and new opportunities for the refugees coming back. We are beginning to achieve multiple objectives by our involvement. Once again in this kind of responsibility the existence of our troops is very crucial.

Before I pass the floor to my colleague, I underline the importance of our continuing presence partly as a member of a broad international coalition and partly as a way of bringing to bear the kinds of special values, capacities and skills provided by the Canadian forces. They are also beginning to demonstrate that the international community is prepared to provide real assistance.

When it comes down to the truth the only people who can ultimately resolve the issue in Bosnia are the Bosnians themselves, but they will need continuing help. We would recommend to the House that they accept and agree to an extension.

With the kind of take note debate that is occurring tonight, my colleague and I and the Prime Minister can then go forward and make a decision about the future of this one.

BosniaGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to be able to join my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in commencing the discussion tonight on the future of the Canadian military involvement in the SFOR or the stabilization force NATO in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

I have had some firsthand experience with the situation in Bosnia. Last fall I visited there and saw for myself the destruction and devastation that followed six years of war. I saw how horrible it is to live in a land strewn with almost a million land mines. I learned how hard the men and women of the Canadian forces are working to help rebuild that country. I slept at Camp Holpina, a camp named after a Canadian solider who was killed by a land mine, and I discussed with our troops how they were doing. I was very proud to be Canadian as I listened to these fine young men and women describe how they were helping the people of Bosnia and Hercegovina rebuild their lives.

Since my visit there I have spoken with many of my counterparts in NATO and I can say that they are like minded when it comes to staying the course in Bosnia. This has always been and should remain a multilateral effort. All of us have seen the benefits of acting together in this way. We know this continues to be as important today as it has been in the past.

Canada's numerous contributions to peace in the former Yugoslavia are evidence that this tradition is still strong.

Canada has played an active role in this region since war broke out in 1991. Canada participated first in the European Community monitoring mission and UNPROFOR between 1992 and 1995 because Canadians could not stand by in silence and witness such destruction. Nor could we be idle in the face of crimes against humanity.

Because we stayed there with our allies in the NATO led implementation force and then as part of SFOR, so much has been and is still being accomplished. SFOR has helped to guarantee that municipal elections, for example, take place peacefully.

SFOR has actively supported the UN international police task force in the restructuring of civil police, significantly enhancing the freedom of movement.

SFOR has worked diligently with the local armed forces to encourage them to increase their demining efforts. As a result some 20,000 mines have been lifted in the last year under SFOR monitoring.

SFOR has also participated in operation harvest, an amnesty program intended to reduce private holdings of illegal arms and ordinances. It was conducted this spring. The Canadian battle group played a vital role in this recovery effort.

Much has been accomplished but much however still needs to done. We are still witnessing pockets of violence in places like Drvar where we have recently seen that the return of displaced persons can provoke violence.

With the expiry in June of SFOR's 18 month mandate the time has come to take stock of our involvement and the continued viability of an international military presence.

There is now enough stability to be able to put more focus on economic recovery, on more demining, on the September 1998 general elections, on police reform, on the safe return of displaced persons and on the building of common institutions. However we along with our allies believe that until such time as the many dimensions of the peace settlement are firmly in place, the secure environment provided by SFOR is the only way these and other reconstruction efforts of the Dayton accord can continue.

We can do this only by maintaining our current level of military commitment. Right now Canada has over 1,200 military personnel in the region. To continue to make a meaningful difference we need to deploy a combat capable contingent of about the same number of personnel. They would contribute to a renewed multinational force by deterring hostilities, stabilizing peace and thereby contributing to a secure environment to be able to carry out the further reforms I have mentioned.

Our allies agree that a post-June SFOR is necessary. We are not doing this alone. We are doing it in a multilateral context. We believe that we must continue to help support the return of refugees in minority areas, help install local governments and help strengthen demining efforts.

Our allies are also of the opinion that any military contribution must have clear objectives, in order to monitor progress.

There should be a precise mandate and a provision for regular review. That is why any Canadian renewal is only possible if there is a transition strategy which vigorously and frequently evaluates progress to ensure that we are constantly focused on our task at hand and so we can assess how best to reach our objectives. Once these objectives have been met we will be able to withdraw, secure in the knowledge that we have helped bring lasting peace to a troubled region.

Some may ask whether we are setting the stage for another Cyprus if we do not impose an end date. The situations are different. In Bosnia-Hercegovina there is a peace plan to which all the parties have agreed. Nevertheless we must assume that the problem there will take some years to resolve—we cannot simply pull out—and that for at least part of that time NATO forces will have to remain.

My visit to Bosnia convinced me of many things. It convinced me that the work we are carrying out there is essential. Our forces are making a difference to people's everyday lives. They are proud to represent Canada as a part of this international response.

It convinced me that Canadian participation in SFOR is a key component in this multilateral NATO operation. It convinced me that much still needs to be done and that Canada must be a part of that effort.

BosniaGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to talk about Bosnia again; it seems to happen every six months or so.

I believe Canadians have a lot of questions about our involvement in Bosnia. Everywhere I go people ask me to explain why we should be there. They ask questions about the history of Bosnia. They ask if it is a civil war, whether it has been going on for a long time, what it is really like there and what the people are really like there. They deserve answers to some of these questions.

I like the two ministers who have just spoken have been there. I have been on the ground, visited the people and taken pictures. I changed my point of view many times because of what I observed firsthand on the ground. This is an opportunity to express that and to get it on the record. I will take this opportunity to answer some of those questions.

It has been going on for a long time. We could go back to Roman times when they were fighting in this area. We could go back to the Ottoman empire when there was fighting in this area. We could talk about the involvement of many countries, of Russia, of Germany, of Greece, of France and of Britain. There has been much involvement. There is a history there. There was the first world war and Archduke Ferdinand. We could talk about the Nazi occupation. Then we could talk about Tito and his rule until 1980 when he died.

Then we come to current history and to 1991. Two of the strongest parts of Yugoslavia, which had been held together by Tito, decided to opt for independence. When Croatia and Slovenia decided to separate it was the beginning of the modern day problems that would occur in this part of the world.

There is a history there. There is a history of turmoil and of trouble. At this point there is also Canadian involvement first with the UN forces. We were one of the first countries to be involved. I like the others would say that I saw nothing but dedication and great Canadians working with the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

I was proud to be a Canadian and to see the Canadian flag on the tanks when they came around the corner. That made me proud as a Canadian. Talking to some of our troops made me even prouder. They told me about the little kids they had helped, the schools they had reconstructed and that sort of thing. That was real. That was something we could feel, touch and look at.

Many people thought at that point that Kosovo would have been the next place to explode but instead it was Bosnia. That is all history.

The 1995 Dayton accord supposedly ended the conflict. When I went there as an election observer on the ground last September I had the opportunity to see how the Dayton accord would work. I will use my province as an example.

It was like if during the war all the people from Red Deer had been moved to Saskatoon. Then the Dayton accord came along and said to the people in Saskatoon that in 1991 they lived in Red Deer so they should vote for the mayor and the council in Red Deer. However they lived in Saskatoon. People of a different ethnicity mix and of a different religion now lived in Red Deer and had to vote for the mayor and the council in Red Deer. Because of problems like the ones we just witnessed occurring there some of the people from Saskatoon decided to go back to Red Deer. That is why there is a problem.

How will that create peace? There is a built in conflict because the people who designed the Dayton accord were in Dayton, Ohio, and did not take into consideration the emotion, religion or ethnic mix there.

Yes they are all of Slavic background but they are of three religious backgrounds. There are Muslims, there are Orthodox and there are Catholics. It is very different and they feel very strongly and are very emotional. In Drvar when the Croats attacked the Serbs who were returning home it can be seen why. That is going to continue and continue.

I wanted to find out what it was really like in that country so I hired a translator and a car and off we went to cover Bosnia. I visited schools. I visited mosques. I visited churches. I visited community halls. I talked to farmers. I went to bars. I went everywhere the people were and I talked to them.

Probably one of the most emotional feelings I got occurred when I talked to a group of kids who were 10 to 11 years old. I asked them to tell me how they felt about their country. I have pages of their comments but I will quote only a couple which I think say a lot. Remember that these kids are 10 and 11 years old.

They said they could not relax or run freely because there are mines everywhere. That is what Bosnia-Hercegovina is like now. Mines are everywhere. We found mines under Coke tins. The bottom was cut out of the Coke tin and a plastic mine was inside. It was placed on a picnic table, there for someone to pick up. Boom. In cobs of corn, on the sides of roads, there are mines. There are millions of these mines everywhere. Imagine living in that sort of an environment.

“When I see my friend without a leg or a hand it makes me very sad”. “I cannot wait to grow up”. “Suddenly there was heat. My sister fell over me. Something exploded. There was smoke. There were screams. Rivers of blood. I saw both my parents dead. I called them but they did not respond. When I wanted a drink of water I saw a head without a body. Since then me and my sister cannot sleep at night”. That is what the kids of Bosnia-Hercegovina are going through.

What about the people? The people are well educated. They are handsome, good looking people. They are friendly. They are concerned about families, about school, about education, the same things we are. Yet there is something there that is different. That something is a level of history and hate I have never experienced before.

I could talk to someone and they would tell me about a war and they described it as though it were yesterday. One person told me about a war that happened in 1536 when the Ottoman Turks were there. Another person told me about when the Nazis came in 1943. It was as if it were yesterday. That is why they hate their neighbour. Because their neighbour was involved with that action and it has been regurgitated and regurgitated and everybody remembers it as if it were yesterday. They are handicapped by their history.

I will never forget the little old lady who had gone for a loaf of bread. I asked if I could take her picture. She had a beautiful face. Her face was stressed and strained and I thought of what it had seen. She said she had to go home and change her dress so I could take a picture of her with her loaf of bread. I convinced her finally that I could take her picture without her actually changing her dress.

I will never forget the old fellow who at a polling station said “You are from Canada”. He asked me if I knew how to make slivovitz. That is plum brandy. “Come to my basement and I will show you”. He was so proud. His was the best in the community. I was also advised not to drink any of it as a person could go blind. This was a real guy. He was proud of this. He was a real person, someone that makes you say how can there be such hate here? These people have such emotions, such feelings, such beauty.

In the countryside as well. It is like Switzerland. The only problem is it is full of mines. We drove through some of the valleys. The houses are destroyed. The fields are mined. The graves are in the ditches. There are no birds singing in the fields. Not having lived through a war, experiencing this firsthand on the ground in a car with a driver and a translator was quite an experience.

Should we stay in Bosnia-Hercegovina? We have several options. We could leave. We could simply leave, saying that it is a long war, that it is going to be like Cyprus and might last forever. What are the problems if we do that? My feeling is that if we were to leave at 12 noon by 12.30 there would be a full fledged war again.

What would that mean? It would mean the potential of expansion. The Turks are not prepared to see Muslims die. The Russians are not prepared to see Serbs die. The Germans are not prepared to see Croats die. The Albanians and the Greeks and the Macedonians. The list goes on and on of possible future expansion of warfare in this area. Kosovo is the exact same example. What will Greece do? What will Turkey do? There are so many people involved.

If we leave, what about the CNN factor? What about the killing we would watch on our televisions? Are we prepared to do that?

These are hard questions. These are questions we need to ask as we contemplate this decision.

Another choice would be to divide the country into three units and say this is where the Serbs will be, this is where the Croats will be and this is where the Bosnians will be. I guess that is called ethnic cleansing but I do not know that that is acceptable or possible. Certainly it is not something we would be prepared to talk about.

Our third option is a short term plan in which we would do something which I consider to be so typically Liberal. That would be to simply extend our mandate and not really propose a solution. It is similar to saying that the financial problem has been solved even though there is a $583 billion debt, but it is all solved because we balanced the budget.

My colleague is going to address the sustainability and what are the costs to our troops.

I will put forward a fourth option tonight and hopefully the minister will get a chance to read it. That option would be to show some leadership in developing a long term solution, a plan. I am not saying I have all the answers. I am not saying how we would handle the refugee return or the war criminals. However we need to have something longer than six-month intervals. I cannot help but remember standing in the lobby in this House when the former defence minister said “We will be out of there by Christmas; there is no chance we will be there beyond Christmas”. That was in 1996.

We need to look at something bigger. We need to talk about costs, about mandates, about responsibility, about length of stay, about a plan. I would like to see this government take some initiative, do some planning, show something beyond a six-month window in a problem like this one.

I cannot stand up here and say we should not stay there. I can now put a face on Bosnia-Hercegovina. It means people. It means caring. It means that little man and his slivovitz. It means school kids. However, we must do something better than simply say that the Dayton accord is going to do it all. It is not the answer and I have given just a brief insight into why it is not.

Finally, as far as the take note debate is concerned, I guess I was naive when I first came here. One of the first speeches I gave in this House was on Bosnia-Hercegovina. Did I ever work hard to prepare that speech because I thought it really was part of the decision making.

However, it was announced yesterday by the defence minister that we are staying on for at least another six months. It is already news. We are not informing anybody about anything. I think the huge turnout here demonstrates how many people are really interested in the take note debate. We are here so the government in a week's time can say “We had a full fledged debate on Bosnia and every party had a chance to speak. We debated the issue and came up with this decision. This is democracy”.

I put to the House that tonight may be the wrong night to talk about democracy when we have just gone through what we went through with a 15 year old boy being removed by our guards, I hope not to jail. We saw the vote on hepatitis C. I feel somewhat like a hypocrite to the Canadian people when I say I am here to try to make a difference about Bosnia-Hercegovina because I want to make a difference. I want to help the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina. How do we get a government that does not involve us to hear us? That is a plea I guess for the democratization of Canada. We need that.

I have a lot of disgust for this kind of procedure. Yes it is on the record, but I wish the minister could hear it or would read it.

In conclusion let us come up with a plan. Let us talk about the big picture. Let us not just do what makes us feel good. Let us show some leadership and be part of the decision making process. Let us talk about the cost of lives and the suffering. Let us really make a difference to the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

BosniaGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak this evening on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois to the motion regarding the renewal of the NATO stabilization force in Bosnia.

I also have the pleasure of informing the House at the start of my presentation that the Bloc Quebecois will support this motion and therefore the intention of the Government of Canada to renew the force's participation in the SFOR past June 20, 1998.

The renewal proposal follows an initial renewal of the mandate of the Canadian forces in Bosnia in November and December last year. The initial renewal had the support of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Standing Committee on National Defence. Several members of these committees, including myself, had the opportunity to travel to Bosnia-Hercegovina to view the situation there.

We saw during our visit the fragility, indeed the precariousness, of the peace process, which involves not only military personnel of NATO member countries and the OSCE Partnership for Peace countries, but also civilian and police personnel from many countries in the international community, we must not forget.

The events that occurred barely a few days ago, on April 24, 1998, prove this fragility. In northern Bosnia, in the municipalities of Derventa and Drvar, tensions between Serbs and Croats resulted in outbursts of violence, exchanges and altercations between people of various nationalities in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Canadian soldiers were called in to put a stop to the confrontation in Drvar after Bosnian Croats set fire to buildings and attacked United Nations' vehicles in response to threats made to the life of a Croat bishop elsewhere in the country.

The continued presence of the international community is needed to provide this safe environment referred to in the motion before this House. It is especially important to maintain this safe environment since it is necessary for the reconstruction and reconciliation efforts at the heart of the Dayton accords to finally pay off.

By its presence, the SFOR will help ensure the safety of ongoing civilian activities and particularly the social and economic reconstruction operations identified in the three-year plan, as established by the World Bank and the European Community, operations in which mine clearance instructors from the Department of National Defence of Canada are taking part.

It is the opinion of the Bloc Quebecois that the civilian activities aimed at consolidating democracy, which are placed under the auspices of the OSCE, promoting human rights and providing assistance to the great many refugees and displaced people in Bosnia-Hercegovina, could not take place without the continued presence of the SFOR. This is a force which also tends to create a climate in which other international players in Bosnia-Hercegovina can carry out their activities safely. All these players—the international police force set up by the UN Security Council, the ICRC, UNICEF, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the many NGOs such as CARE Canada which does important work in support of Bosnians—perfectly complete the work done by intergovernmental organizations in Bosnia.

The Bloc Quebecois believes that the renewal of the SFOR mandate in Bosnia-Hercegovina should be accompanied by increased support for the International Crime Tribunal, a more significant support for this international court, which is playing a fundamental role with regards to the aftermath of the conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina. We believe that SFOR soldiers, including Canadian soldiers whose dedication I salute, should be given the mandate to play a more proactive role in this respect and not hesitate to arrest individuals charged with crimes and against whom the chief prosecutor, Madam Justice Louise Arbour, has issued arrest warrants.

The timid attitude of the Prime Minister of Canada in this matter, which is the result of some comments he made, without mentioning those from his government, which by the way has not yet introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Code with a view to ensuring Canada's full co-operation with the International Crime Tribunal, is unacceptable.

The Bloc Quebecois urges the government to make amends and support more that it has so far the efforts of the tribunal to bring to justice the individuals suspected of the worst crimes, international crimes, whether they are war crimes, crimes against humanity or worst of all, the crime of genocide.

It is timely to remember, with respect to genocide, that this year, in 1998, we will be celebrating not only the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that was breached by individuals in Bosnia-Hercegovina, as the International Crime tribunal will show, if it can bring to justice the individuals charged with such crimes.

The renewal of the SFOR mandate is also important, especially as it will send a message to those in the Balkans who might be tempted to again threaten international peace and security in the area.

I am referring to tensions in the Kosovo area, tensions that are aggravated by the refusal by the Republic of Yugoslavia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with Albanians from the Kosovo area and to respond to the mediation proposal made by the international community. These tensions do not favour the withdrawal of SFOR's troops from Bosnia. On the contrary, they favour their continued presence.

The international community should consider the possibility of creating a similar force in the Kosovo area if the situation continues to deteriorate in this part of the Balkans. Last week, fighting in the region resulted in at least 23 deaths, and border tensions are increasing.

Today, SFOR's presence is more needed than ever, just as sending a protection force into Bosnia-Hercegovina was necessary a few years ago, when the UN created UNPROFOR, which was replaced by IFOR, the predecessor of SFOR, the mandate of which we want to renew today.

At that time, some people criticized Canada for having waited too long before taking action. Canada cannot repeat today the mistake it made by not taking action and by not leading the international community to take action decisively and quickly. It cannot choose the same ambivalent approach.

In closing, I also want to say how disappointed I am to see this debate taking place in the House when so very few people are present. I think an issue such as this deserves more attention. Not only should the issues of creating and setting up stabilization or peacekeeping forces be looked at seriously by the standing committee on foreign affairs, as was done in other cases involving the creation or renewal of peacekeeping forces, but it remains essential, despite the absence of members this evening, that this issue also be debated in the House.

We should probably give serious thought to legislating the creation and renewal of peacekeeping forces and requiring that Parliament be consulted and give an opinion binding on the government.

The practice in recent years seems to be lacking in uniformity. Since I joined the House on June 2, I have noticed that the issue of renewing forces is sometimes studied in committee, and sometimes by the House in plenary. There does not seem to be any real criterion behind the decision by Parliament or one of its committees to approve the renewal or creation of such forces.

No doubt we should follow the example of certain countries that accord Parliament a much greater role in the renewal and the creation of such forces.

I think this issue warrants greater study since the members of the opposition lacked important information in preparing their position. The government did not deign to provide information on the real mandate it wanted to give the Canadian forces or on other terms of Canada's participation in the SFOR, which it wanted to renew.

Without real information, the opposition parties are not able to formulate positions that are as valuable as they might be to the government in making its decision.

I would like to stress that the importance of renewing this force is related primarily to the issue of maintaining and consolidating the existing but fragile peace.

I would like to quote a friend, someone I met on my trip to Sarajevo in Bosnia, a young Quebec woman who is serving as the deputy ombudsman for Bosnia-Hercegovina and who introduced me to a magnificent work I recommend you read. It is the story of a young child who contemplates and analyzes through the eyes of a child the effect of the war on the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina. In looking at the war and trying to understand it, the child thinks primarily of the stars on the sidewalks of Sarajevo. There are many such stars in the Sarajevo market, among other places, where the many shells fell killing so many people in one night of catastrophe for Sarajevo.

Céline Auclair, my friend, wrote me at the start of this year, January 19, 1998, and referred me to this work by a young Frenchman, Mr. Lecomte. It is a very moving work and both she and I found it overpowering. I quote her “Every time I see a star on the sidewalks of Sarajevo I smile and catch myself dreaming. Much better than before, when I stepped over the scars left by the shelling, aware that I was in the shadow of death”.

The shadow of death no longer hovers so closely over Bosnia-Hercegovina. The SFOR's mandate must be renewed to keep it away from this country.