Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-66, amendments dealing with the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act.
I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Kelowna who this morning so aptly described the history, the background and many of the concerns surrounding this bill and CMHC.
The nature of housing covers a broad range of topics. It would be impossible for any of us to fully cover them in such a short period of time.
It is fair to say that every Canadian needs to have adequate housing. Many people suffer today from a lack of adequate housing. Tragically, many are faced with the prospect of no housing.
Thankfully, there are many private and non-profit organizations. One I have had limited involvement with is the Habitat for Humanity organization which takes resources in local communities through private donations and mobilizes community resources to provide housing for people who probably could not get it otherwise. Although these kinds of organizations do not solve all the problems, they solve many problems. With the right legislation, they probably could solve the majority of housing problems in Canada.
Housing means many different things to many different people. For those who can afford adequate housing, it may mean home improvements, care and pride and working to make their living space better for them. For those who cannot afford adequate housing, the thought of owning a house is just a dream. It puts a whole new meaning to the term dream house, does it not.
Why is it that people are not able to have adequate housing? Is it that we lack the physical resources of building materials? It does take a lot of cement, brick or wood, gyproc and nails, et cetera to build a house. However, we know this is not the major source of the problem.
My riding has a large resource base of timber. There are parts of my riding where we can stand on a mountaintop, look in every direction and see nothing but tree covered mountains. I know that sounds beautiful and perhaps those who are from the east have no idea what that is like. I do miss that kind of view when I am on Parliament Hill.
We know we have the available timber to build houses. There are many loggers and mill workers in my riding who wished everyone was building a lot more houses. They would love to get back to work. Many of them are having difficulties paying for their own houses as they have been idle for far too long. We also know we have sufficient quantities of all the other materials to build as many houses as we need in this country. Neither do we lack expertise or labour force to build them.
What holds people back from finding suitable housing? It most often comes down to one factor: affordability, money, making ends meet.
One of the simplest ways to alleviate this problem is for the government to leave more money in the hands of the taxpayers to begin with. Let us end things like bracket creep. Let us index the tax rates. Let us end the discrimination between single and dual income families in this country.
Those are all things that this government has had a chance to do but has chosen to ignore. Somehow the Liberals think it is easier to ignore the plight of those who have taxes hung around their necks like a millstone than to make fundamental changes in the way government operates to ensure that taxpayers truly benefit.
Canadians want more than just tinkering by this government, yet this government just does not seem to get it. It sends a task force out west to find out why voters do not vote for the Liberals. I want to make a prediction. I predict that when the task force returns, they still will not understand. Canadians are intelligent people. What they simply want is good government.
The public is not looking for interference and intervention by government in their day to day lives. There are models and examples which show that when government gets out of the way of business, business can grow and expand at a rate far faster than the government could have thought possible. When government gets in the way, the public loses.
As an example of government interference, I just have to think back to my home province. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia has had a government controlled monopoly on vehicle insurance for many years. What is the result of that? When I moved from Alberta to B.C., what it meant to me was a doubling of my insurance rate. So much for government interference in the workplace.
As a counterbalance, the past several years in Alberta have seen dramatic changes in the ways that the provincial government has extricated itself from many day to day transactions. The net result is that private enterprise now operates many of the services previously under government jurisdiction. My knowledge of this is that the revised system is working, and it is working well. What a concept. How novel. Government that lets the people move ahead with the business operations day by day.
We can break the category of money shortfalls into a couple of different sections.
There are those who although working and bringing in an income are simply not able to finance the type of housing they need. These are the people, perhaps single, perhaps a couple, who work hard but at the end of the month, the extra dollars just are not there.
Another category of people are those who face financial shortfalls. It may be a single parent who is trying to raise children, work a full time job and still cope with life. It may be a family that has faced unemployment for a prolonged period of time and cannot get the needed break. It may be the homeless person we see on the streets of most of our urban centres. These are the people who need some form of assistance that often seems unavailable to them.
While I do not adhere to all of the theories and beliefs of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, he made a very strong argument for people and their psychological needs. He theorized that people could not move on to other things in their lives until their physical needs were met. Personally I believe there needs to be a strong spiritual component in order to make life here on earth fulfilling and many people forget that today.
I think I understand what Mr. Maslow was trying to say in this regard. He is saying it is difficult for mankind to grow, mature and contribute back to society if every day is such a struggle that people feel they have to fight their way through daily life. I understand how that can work.
One example I can think of is when we have a loved one who is sick. I do not know about others but I find I am thinking about that person continuously, so much so that some of the other things in life just do not seem to matter as much.
So it is with those who struggle to get adequate housing, always trying to put enough aside to get the down payment and they just cannot seem to make it. The need to find a safe place to sleep and rest will occupy much of their waking moments. Only when that need is met will they be able to move on to fulfilling other parts of their lives.
We ought to be careful here. There is a difference between needs and desires in human life. I believe that those who are living on the street need housing. There are others who would desire better housing but continue to live in their present accommodation.
What can be done for those who are not able to find housing that meets their physical needs yet remain affordable for them and their families? One would hope that a bill such as Bill C-66 might be of some help to them. Let us take a look at some of the attributes of the bill and determine if it meets the needs of this stakeholder group.
As we know, the purpose of Bill C-66 is to redefine the roles and responsibilities of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, particularly in relation to mortgage loan insurance and export and international support. There are a number of things within the bill that should be looked at in this regard.
One of the questions I have with any legislation is whether or not it will be good for the free marketplace. In other words, how will the small business owner in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan benefit by the bill? Or will the bill simply add one more layer of bureaucracy, of administrative nightmare which we will all be faced with as we attempt to find, grow and build our niche in the business world?
The least amount of government in the face of business is always the best. My read of the bill shows that CMHC will enter into competition with the private sector. Is the role of government to compete with the private sector? I sincerely hope not.
There are a couple of clauses that cause me concern in the bill. The first is clause 16 which states:
The Corporation may provide protection against the effects of changes in interest rates for housing loans.
On the face of it, the protection of homeowners against sharp rises in interest rates is admirable. There appears to be a certain amount of ambiguity, however, in this clause with regard to the protection of banks from losses.
I am concerned that the current wording leaves the clause open to potential abuse by financial institutions. There is no indication in the guidelines under which proposed clause 16 would be used. The hows and the whys are always important and they are not outlined in the bill.
My second concern is clause 6 which deals with the ability of CMHC to determine whether or not an approved lender is financially sound. Guidelines need to be in place to prevent CMHC from conducting business with a financial institution that is not financially stable.
In my own life I would not make an investment in a business that I do not think will make it. I would not put my money in a bank that I think will fail. The details of how and when CMHC would be made aware that the lender is no longer financial sound are lacking in the bill.
These concerns are examples of details that are currently lacking. We cannot allow the passage of the bill without these kinds of details being sorted out. Canadians do not want the government to simply sign any more blank cheques.
The question of the federal government dealing in housing is a matter that causes me concern. This is an area of exclusive jurisdiction for provincial authorities. The provinces are in a better position to determine the type and volume of housing necessary for their locales. To add bureaucracy only increases costs with government interference. It does nothing to ensure housing for those who really require it.
Government should not be in the business of competing in the private sector. I have said it before, I say it now, and I would say it again. The housing market is enormous. There are non-public mechanisms in place which could best serve the interest of a broad range of the public. I agree and support the principle that Canadians should have access to affordable financing to acquire housing. I support competition in the private sector for the provision of mortgage insurance.
Yet housing is a severe problem for a portion of Canadian society. For many, the problem would be better solved through less government interference. The biggest form of government interference is the tax grab into so many Canadian wallets. Every Canadian would be better served by having government reduce the tax burden. Surely even members of the government would agree with that.
Let us eliminate bracket creep that has taken billions of dollars out of the hands of Canadians. Let us eliminate the disparity of unfair taxation between single and dual income families. The numbers bear this out. Leaving money in the hands of Canadians is a far better solution to major portions of the housing problem in Canada today.
My hon. colleagues and I have raised a number of very pertinent questions. I would leave the House with one final suggestion. Do the changes introduced through Bill C-66 resolve the questions and issues raised throughout this debate? Unfortunately my answer is that I do not think so. We can do better than what Bill C-66 is attempting to do. Hopefully amendments at committee stage will make it easier to support.