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House of Commons Hansard #194 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cmhc.

Topics

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there has been a lot said about homelessness and the lack of money for housing. But is it not true that over the last decade various provincial governments, including the provincial governments in Ontario and British Columbia, have systematically deinstituionalized all kinds of people who normally would be in an institution? They have been put into subsidized housing in the community, which in turn has led to a lot of these people turning up in the streets, often by choice.

Would the member not agree that part of this problem is actually a reflection of a change in the attitude of provinces toward institutionalizing people? Schizophrenics are a classic example of people who are now in the streets who 20 years ago were in institutions. Would the member comment on that please.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

The problem is not that simple. There were many cuts to federal transfer payments which affected the areas of housing, social services and so forth. The provinces were put in a position where they were not able to handle a lot of these problems. The cuts to social housing go back much further. Even before the deinstitutionalization process began, there were very serious cuts to the social housing program.

I can recall many years ago when I was in my late twenties there was a co-operative housing program under the federal government. It seemed to find a fair degree of support in a lot of small rural communities. People would band together and build housing under this program. That program no longer exists. That program could meet a lot of the needs today if the federal government were serious about capping the housing problem.

It is a bit of a folly to blame the provinces and their programs of trying to bring about the deinstitutionalization of people. We know that concept would not work unless proper supports were there for the people who are deinstituionalized. Again, that support needs funding, much of which has been cut by the federal government.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the hon. member mentioned the critical problem of psychiatric patients who are now on the streets and are homeless. It is a serious problem in our country today.

The fact that the mindset of certain provinces was to deinstitutionalize psychiatric patients was good for some of them. However, for a large number of them it was a profound tragedy which cost them not only hardship but also sometimes death.

The hon. member is very experienced in this matter. How does he feel about individuals who make a good salary taking advantage of and participating in subsidized housing? Those people are taking positions away from the people who truly need them. What would the member do about that?

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not as familiar as my hon. colleague may be with people who make good salaries and live in subsidized housing. In most instances where subsidized housing is involved, there is a means test and an income test in terms of whether people qualify. If programs are being abused, then I would be the first to say that there has to be a better way of checking up on those programs to make sure they serve the needs of the people who need the services most.

Again we come back to whether or not the departments and the people administering the programs are adequately resourced to make sure these programs are carried out properly. That comes back to the huge amounts of cuts that have taken place. In many departments and agencies people are carrying caseloads well beyond the norm. They cannot devote the time and effort required to make sure the programs run smoothly. It comes back to the federal government's withdrawal of payments that were formerly transferred for these kinds of programs.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, this bill unfortunately is about what we are losing as a country and as individuals. We would not suddenly just by lowering taxes have more houses available to those people who may or may not have jobs, because just having a job now does not guarantee one will get a mortgage to get into a home.

I know of women with decent jobs who are single parents and are not eligible for a loan. Neither were they eligible for any help from CMHC so that they could buy a home, even though they had the money to make the monthly payments.

The saddest point about this issue is what we are losing. The bill would eliminate statutory requirements for social housing to be safe, sanitary and affordable. Those are minimum requirements that we would expect for any housing, let alone social housing.

I quote from a letter dated September 22, 1993, from the current Minister of Finance to the National Housing Coalition in which he stated:

We believe the federal government has a positive, proactive role in a national housing policy and the responsibility of accessibility and affordability to over one million Canadian households living in need of adequate shelter.

I could almost cry knowing that this has not happened and that in fact the reverse has happened. The government is not even willing to shelter those who are most vulnerable in society such as those who have psychiatric problems and have ended up on the street. We are also talking about the elderly and the very young.

I have a young friend who left Yukon to return to Ontario and lived on the street for two to three months. She struggled really hard, lived in shelters and managed to get herself into high school. In fact she will graduate this year. She spends her spare time volunteering to help other kids get off the street.

Every day when I walk to work I make sure that I have money for the people who are on the street at 8 o'clock in the morning because they have no place to live. One man has lived under a bridge for the last 17 months. Why on earth would we tolerate that? We do not need people living without anything but a sleeping bag, a hat and a pair of sunglasses. We can afford to do better.

The bill shows an unwillingness to build houses, to take money from people who pay their taxes and turn it into four walls and a roof so that nobody will freeze to death in the night.

Another part of our population that suffers disproportionately when it comes to housing are our first nations people. Recently I saw a video put together by an Ontario group of first nations. In three towns the first nations people were at dumpsites using scraps to build shelters. They were living in burnt-out old vehicles. They had 10 to 20 people in their little shacks so that they could stay warm at night. This is all they had.

Those little places are regularly either burned down by the townships or bulldozed because they do not want them there. They do not want those little shanty towns outside their rather nice cities. That is all these people have to call home. Whatever piece of two by four, plastic or plywood they can put together is their home. Then as a country we say it is all right to burn them down. In those three communities alone there were nine deaths. They were called natural causes but dying of TB and exposure are not natural causes. Not having a place to live is not natural.

Another tragedy for these people is that they are the ultimate victims of the residential school system. Ninety-eight per cent of them have come out of that system. They do not fit in their own community. They do not fit in a white community. They live in our garbage dumps.

The people of one of the towns had enough compassion to have the RCMP arrest them and put them in a cell so that at least they would have a warm place overnight. Some 2,300 arrests were logged in one year just to give these people a warm place to sleep.

It has been said over and over that first nations people are living in third world conditions. They do not have equality. Our minister of aboriginal affairs has issued a Gathering Strength document dealing with building new partnerships. The problem is that they need to be equal to be partners. In no way can we say the first nations people of the world are financially equal to the rest of us. All we have to do is look at the houses they are forced to live in to know that they do not have equality. How can they be considered partners that can go out and get financing to build homes?

The CMHC bill has indicated an intention to seek joint ventures with first nations as a way of facilitating housing developments on reserves. However, it would be a radical change to make first nations borrow from financial institutions to pay for their own housing. This would be a back door abandonment of the government's responsibilities for housing on first nations. Over half of the first nations population live off reserve and in the ghettos of our cities.

Canada has signed a lot of covenants and conventions recognizing that aboriginal people have the right to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families including adequate food, clothing and housing. This is not being met by any stretch of the imagination.

As I travelled around Yukon I met a couple. They were elders and were forced to live in a burnt-out cabin. That is all they had. The older gentleman had arthritis in his hand so he could not build a new cabin. That is the kind of housing we are expecting them to live in.

When it comes to living in the north, the CMHC underwriting of mortgage insurance has been absolutely essential for anyone to get a house there. We would lose the capacity of the CMHC to absorb losses. If it underwrites these mortgages itself, it might decide that it cannot afford to insure houses in the north, that it is far too expensive and it will not do it. The state of Alaska has had to deal with the issue because it only has commercial mortgage insurance. No one would go into Alaska to insure homes so it had to depend on government intervention to insure mortgages to allow people to get homes.

It is a very different situation to try to get a mortgage for a home in the north. It is not something that happens even if one has the money to buy a home and pay the mortgage on a monthly basis.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her eloquent testimony of the problems faced by aboriginal people both on and off reserve. The member mentioned giving things to people. No one would argue giving people the essentials so they have the ability, where they are physically able to do so, to take care of themselves and to provide essentials for themselves.

I would submit that in many cases we have created institutionalized welfare states in many aboriginal communities. Rather than giving people the basic essentials and then providing them with the tools to take care of themselves, we have given people the basic essentials and cut the soul out of them by not giving them the tools to provide for themselves, by not giving them the obligation to participate in opportunities to take care of themselves. Would the hon. member care to comment on that?

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, in Yukon we have an umbrella final agreement with most of the first nations having signed on and finished their land claims to have the obligation to look after themselves, to make their laws, to produce the goods they need to support themselves whether off the land or through commercial ventures where they would join in the greater part of Canada. Land claim agreements are exactly about what the member of the Reform Party is saying.

By supporting first nations agreements, claims and treaties for their own self-determination and self-government, we would be giving them the freedom to improve their living conditions and their way of life in a manner that suits their cultural background.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I say to the member opposite that I feel very keenly that the government has not yet done enough in terms of the housing needs of the people living in remote communities.

I hear where she is coming from. She has my sympathy. I hope the government will continue to look in this direction to find ways of bringing adequate housing to Canada's remote communities regardless of whether they are on reserve or off reserve aboriginals.

I come from a riding very close to the city of Hamilton. Hamilton must be the capital of social housing in Canada. Huge tracts of social housing were built in the 1980s and early 1990s on Hamilton Mountain. This basically emptied the 19th century housing in the downtown core and transferred the population from downtown Hamilton to uptown Hamilton.

Essentially in the lower city there is block upon block of empty apartment buildings, empty storefronts basically because the people have been moved to brand new social housing on the mountain.

I suggest to the member opposite that perhaps what is wrong here, where the government should be going and where I think this actual legislation has a beginning is that it is not really a question of spending more money. It is spending money wisely.

There is no reason in my mind that the existing housing stock in Hamilton could not have received some government assistance, either directly or indirectly, so that people could be housed in the city's core rather than transferring them to the suburbs.

Surely what we are really talking about here is a reallocation of resources and not necessarily more money.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, if it were just a reallocation of resources there would not be such a big problem. It is the taking away of resources and making it far more difficult for people to have homes. It is really homes for profit and not homes for health.

We are dealing with the privatization of homes and people who otherwise would never have a chance to own a home or to even be part of a home. It is about turning social policy into profit rather than just reallocating resources, better town planning, better input. Where should this housing go? How will it benefit us as a community? If that was all it is about, it would be a really good step. It is not.

It is about taking away the prospect of a home. We see the results day after day with more and more people on our streets and under our bridges, the young and the old. Even those who are working are not able to afford a home.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief and to the point.

Point number one is subsidized housing. There are two groups of people, those who need it and those who do not. For those who do not, I have had them in my office. They are Gucci socialists. These individuals are making good money and what they are doing is taking away homes from those people who desperately need them. This is an absolute outrage.

Point number two is the issue of the people who are homeless and on the street. There are a number of groups. Group one consists of those individuals who are psyche patients, as was mentioned before. This bespeaks of the deinstitutionalization that has taken place and that has been an abysmal horror for the people who suffer psychiatric problems.

We must provide areas where these individuals can be taken care of. Not only does this make sense from a humanitarian point of view but it is also good medicine and cheaper.

Point number three is the individual on the street suffering from drug problems. It bespeaks of the abysmal failure we have had in terms of how to deal with drug problems.

What we can look at as a solution is the Geneva experiment, the post-needle park experiment, which is probably the best program in the world right now on how to get hard core drug addicts off the streets, employed and integrated members of society. I ask that this issue be dealt with in a multifactoral manner.

On the long term approach of preventing these people from becoming homeless, what we need to do is address the problem at time zero. We can have a national head start program using existing resources based on the motion I had passed in the House last year. It would go a long way in preventing a lot of the social problems that are occurring.

I implore the Minister of Human Resources Development to work with his counterparts, the Ministers of Justice and Health and their provincial counterparts, to develop an integrated approach where they can start of with the medical community at time zero, train volunteers in the middle based on the Hawaii head start program and use educational services for children starting at age four to eight.

Essentially it strengthens the parent-child bond to ensure that children have their basic needs met in those formative years. If children in their first years of life have their time disrupted through child abuse, drug abuse, being subjected to alcohol while in utero, et cetera, it has a dramatic and damaging effect on the psyche of these children and therefore does not enable them to become integrated members of Canadian society.

This has been proven time and time again. We have wonderful programs from the head start program in Moncton that the Minister of Industry was a leader in to programs in Michigan and Hawaii. If we incorporate those and use the motion that I had passed we will have a seamless program that will prevent a lot of these problems from occurring in the future.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier this day, the question to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-66 is deemed put and a recorded division is deemed demanded and deferred until Monday, March 15, 1999 at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

National Housing ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 5, I put a question to the Minister of Human Resources Development regarding the Program for Older Workers Adjustment or POWA.

The answer the minister gave me was not satisfactory. I had reminded him that on the program Zone Libre , where he had appeared, he had finally admitted that the active measures he is now offering older workers who have been laid off, such as those of the BC mine, are not the answer to the special problems of this category of worker.

I asked him:

Are we to understand that the minister is going to quickly throw together a new and improved version of POWA, a program that he himself cut?

The minister answered in general terms, too general, saying he was very pleased with the creation of 87,000 new jobs across Canada, half of them for young people.

I believe my question was very clear. It dealt specifically with the drastic situation of older workers. Their problem is that it is not easy for them to have access to the new jobs.

The work place is changing quickly. It is undergoing a mutation and requires new knowledge and skills. It is not surprising that young people eventually find a place in the labour market. We are very happy about it, but it does not solve the problems of older workers.

The minister keeps on saying that the best way to fight poverty and alienation is to create jobs, but he must understand that it is not the only way. It does not extinguish the government's responsibility to help people in dire straits.

On its own, the labour market cannot remedy inequalities and injustices. The minister himself admits this in his book. The state must correct the inequities in the labour market.

We must see reality as it is: older workers have real problems getting back into the workforce. Employers hesitate to hire them because of their age. To get any retraining is a lengthy process. The doors to the workforce are not exactly wide open to them. The minister is closing his eyes to the reality of older workers, and taking refuge behind overall market statistics.

The immediate need of older workers is financial assistance to help them survive, to meet their obligations, and to negotiate the long and difficult process of career training. These workers have paid into the employment insurance system for years without ever using it, and now they are more than deserving of our consideration and support.

When I watched Zone libre , I was hoping the minister was finally aware of the plight of older workers. Was I wrong?

Instead of shedding false tears over those who have been excluded, when will the minister take action and introduce an improved version of POWA to do something about the poverty and exclusion of older workers who have lost their jobs?

National Housing ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:35 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond on behalf of the minister. In response to some of the things the member had to say I would like to provide some information that may help her understand what the government is attempting to achieve.

The government is committed to helping unemployed workers, including older workers. We believe, however, that the best way to help unemployed workers is to help them return to the world of work. The program for older workers which ended last year offered only passive income support and it did little to help older workers adapt to a changing economy.

What the government has now done is shift its support to active employment assistance to help workers reintegrate into the workforce. Therefore our efforts are being directed to helping those older workers who need our help.

We have developed partnerships with the provinces through a number of labour market development agreements. These agreements are helping to deliver active employment measures tailored to the needs of unemployed workers. The government is showing its support for these workers by offering the provinces $2 billion a year in EI funds to help support these active employment measures.

The member may also be interested to know that the majority of older workers continue to do relatively well in the labour market when compared to other age groups. In fact, the unemployment rate for workers over 55 has decreased from 9% in 1993 to 6.3% in 1998.

Any unemployment is still too much, but certainly within the target group the member is interested in there has been considerable progress. The government has also shown its commitment to this important sector of the labour force through our commitment to the working group established by the forum of labour market ministers. The working group will seek to address the concerns raised by older workers and we are constantly in discussion with all the provinces to find ways to address the needs of this group.

I thank the member for her question and for her concern. I hope she will continue to work with us to see that the needs of older workers are addressed.

National Housing ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 5.37 p.m.)