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.


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12:15 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. Over the next 20 minutes, I will address Bill C-66, which is currently before us.

At the end of World War II, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, commonly called the CMHC, was given the mandate—

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12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member. If he wants to share his time, he must first get the unanimous consent of the House.

Is there unanimous consent?

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12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:20 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

I will resume, Madam Speaker. As the previous speaker pointed out, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation was established in 1946.

At the time, its role was to implement a program designed to create housing units and thus meet a basic need, particularly for the troops coming home. These young people wanted to start families and to settle down. They would often come back to settle down in a region that was not necessarily their place of origin.

Following the signing of the peace treaty in 1945, cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa welcomed large numbers of new residents. With the large increase in the number of immigrants, the CMHC's mandate was broadened in 1954 to open up Canada to immigration and to make it possible for people coming from countries the world over to at least have a decent roof over their head.

The CMHC therefore began to guarantee the loans certain financial institutions made to these new residents of towns and cities so that they could build their own home, even if they lacked the necessary capital for a down payment.

The CMHC continued in this role over the years, with the odd legislative amendment to its status, a name change, and so forth. The primary role of the CHMC has been to put in place mechanisms making home ownership possible for many people and allowing them to live decently in our society.

As the years went by, the CHMC also acquired know how, and because of its involvement in loan insurance and housing development, invested in research and development.

Building materials unknown at the end of the last war became popular and were used almost constantly, because one of the things the CHMC did was approve new materials, supervise the quality of construction. It also had a program under which, when it was loaning money or guaranteeing loans, it sent out inspectors to check that housing was up to code.

The party I represent in the House admits this. We are not necessarily congratulating the government, but all Canadians who, back then and even today, have made the CMHC and its mandate possible. It did not spring up out of thin air. CMHC was not created with money that came out of thin air. It was created with public funds, with the money of all Canadians, through their various taxes and other means.

However, despite CMHC's good intentions, it is not entitled to hog all the control over a specific area. I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, who is responsible for administering CMHC, that when housing is considered according to the areas of jurisdiction set out in the 1867 Constitution—unfortunately none of us here today were present at its signing—it is a provincial responsibility.

In the past, there was an implicit acknowledgment of this by CMHC, since most of its programs were joint efforts with provincial authorities.

The situation in Quebec is rather special, because we have the Société d'habitation du Québec, which is kind of the Quebec equivalent of CMHC. Judging by my experiences with several transactions, it seems to me that—at least in the eyes of the general public, or even the smaller group of those involved in real estate transactions—there is, or at least was, a certain degree of harmony between the texts and policies of the two, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Société d'habitation du Québec.

There was a throne speech, in 1994 I think, before the time of the Minister responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs. Much has changed since this troublemaker has been on the scene. When he enters the lions' cage, they do not attack him, but devour each other instead. This troublemaker comes out unscathed.

But before the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs arrived, in a speech from the throne in 1994, the federal government—which at the time, before the arrival of the troublemaker, showed some understanding, indicated a certain intent to work with the provinces on matters of varying degrees of difficulty—indicated that social housing would be returned to the provinces.

Following the sudden urgency that brought about the creation of the CHMC, the situation calmed down somewhat, and the government considered that, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation having fulfilled its mandate, it might be time to give back to the provinces the jurisdiction that was theirs to begin with, a jurisdiction they could exercise in the normal course of events.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of the troublemaker, these things are no longer the case, and this is reflected in Bill C-66, which is currently under consideration.

This bill reflects in many of its terms what the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation did or does, but it goes further. We may well raise questions. We know that the Government of Canada, a member of the OECD, negotiates WTO, world trade organization, agreements. It almost got taken as well in its negotiations on the multilateral agreement on investment, MAI.

A government, like the federal government, does not like to become entrapped. In international negotiations, they do not like to have to say to their negotiating partners “Sorry, this area is not completely under federal jurisdiction, we will have to ask the provinces, we need their approval. We cannot say yes immediately, we must consult at home”.

This gets to be embarrassing. We are not at fault. As I said, we were not there when the Constitution of 1867 was signed, and we were not there either when the Constitution of 1982 was signed. Quebec was never there.

It is embarrassing for a government to have to say “Listen, we cannot make a decision and sign right away. We must go back home and see what the provinces think about this”.

This is happening in several areas. The federal government decides to go over the head of its provincial partners and to enter into high level international agreements that affect jurisdictions which come under the provinces by virtue of our Constitution of 1867.

The spirit of Bill C-66 is a first reflection of this. I am convinced that the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve will elaborate on this, because I know he is in full agreement with me, and so is the hon. member for Châteauguay.

I was hoping the bill would provide that “If the CMHC wants to finance construction and residential development projects, it should reach an agreement with the provinces, including Quebec”. I realize the other provinces do not have a housing corporation such as the Société d'habitation du Québec. But let us not blame Quebec for exercising its legislative and constitutional jurisdiction, for assuming its responsibilities. This is why it created its own housing corporation. It could not let others look after its problems, because the cost was too high. No. With all the courage that such a measure implies, the Quebec government established the Office municipal d'habitation and manages what comes under its constitutional jurisdiction.

And then, in 1999, the troublemaker, with his colleague the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, ups and produces a bill that appears to ignore the policies announced in the 1994 and 1996 throne speeches. A new policy is taking shape and, as always, this government is inconsistent.

One example is the trade missions, where the Prime Minister invites a gaggle of businessmen from all sectors, informatics, housing construction, modular housing, or whatever, to accompany him to Asia. They all head overseas, contacts are made and the foundations for future trade relations are laid.

There are people in my riding who excel in modular construction and are establishing contacts in China to try to sell their products, houses that are made in the lovely riding of Chambly, which I have the honour to represent here in the House. Business cards are exchanged and there are handshakes all round.

When the Chinese indicate an interest in coming over here to examine the modular housing they have been hearing about, and wonder if there are factory models they can actually see and touch, they are encouraged to make the trip, but are refused a visitor's permit that would enable them to enter Canada and see which of our products they might like to buy.

This has happened in my riding. The excuse given was that there is some concern that the Chinese—presidents of Chinese corporations who have the buying power—will not want to return to China and that this will become a problem for Canada, and so all the good intentions shown by both groups during the trade mission to China come to nothing.

One might say that the right hand in this government does not know what the left hand is doing. This is not the first such case I have seen; it happens frequently. It is far less alarming if it is a Quebec company that is unable to export its know how or its products to another country. If an Ontario company had been involved, I think the reaction on the other side of the House would have been much faster in coming. This being a Quebec company, however, the reaction is much slower, the urgency less. We have learned to live with that.

I am certain that, given its expertise and its finished product, the business in question will eventually manage to export. Perhaps it will manage to export its first modular home in two years, because this government is such a piecemeal operation. It is my impression that the ministers do not speak to each other much, with the exception of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who talks to everybody, and issues orders right and left. I am sure he is listening to my words with great interest, this man whom I have just described as a troublemaker, but of course I did not mean that in a bad way.

I just want to point out that I might have been inclined to accept the bill, as it stands, to see some good in it. When those of us in the Bloc Quebecois say that we are a constructive opposition, it has to show; we have to ensure that we give people concrete evidence of that. We have never been untrue to that vocation.

We do indeed want things to go well, but with this bill again I have unfortunately to tell you that the government is once again denying an area of Quebec jurisdiction accorded under the Constitution. They are meddling in an area that is not theirs. They circumvent the provincial government with provisions such as the one now enabling the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to undertake negotiations or discussions with municipalities, organizations, business groups or any other body. They are circumventing provincial authority, which despite all, has jurisdiction in this area.

As a Bloc Quebecois member, I cannot allow that. I do not know whether my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve is more forgiving than I am, but I find it unacceptable. Once again the government is treading on provincial jurisdiction. Why? To gain visibility it cannot gain through good management, by doing a good job, realizing savings, not on the backs of the poorest with money literally stolen from the unemployed, but by cutting operating costs by so many millions—or billions—of dollars through good management.

Government spending has not significantly decreased in the past five years. At best, it has dropped by 9%. On the other hand, the income of the unemployed has dropped by about 100%. This is where the savings are made and this is what they hold up to the public as a success. We are not fooled. I find no interest at all in this bill.

Before concluding, I want to briefly say that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation guarantees loans when borrowers do not have the 25% for their mortgage equity, which is the rule with the banking system. People are told they can buy a house by putting down 5% of the purchase price. The CMHC lends the rest of the money.

Take, for example, a house being sold for $100,000. A young couple interested in buying that house could get it with a 5% downpayment. The CMHC would then lend $95,000, to be repaid over a 25-year period perhaps, and an insurance fee would be added to that amount. If I am not mistaken, the fee on a $95,000 loan is 3.5%.

The downpayment on a house is often less than the fee required to guarantee the buyer's loan. This does not make much sense. First, we help the buyer and then we hit him hard.

Worse yet, the CMHC does not appraise the property for which it guarantees the loan. The buyer figures “If the CMHC is prepared to lend me $95,000, this means the property is worth that much”. Not so. The CMHC now proceeds by appraising large groups or sectors; as a result, it often ends up taking back properties for which people paid $100,000, but that are hard to sell back for $40,000 or $45,000.

It is not the government that loses. It is ordinary people, with the insurance fee they area charged. They are the losers, because it is this 3.5% fee that is used to pay for all that. However, if things were properly managed and buildings were appraised, people might be charged 2% instead of 3.5% on a $100,000 loan. It would feel more like the CMHC is helping someone buy a house, which was the ultimate goal of the act.

I will end on that note. I am convinced the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve will go into much more details and discuss much more detailed cases than I did.

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12:40 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with no small pride that I share my time with the member for Chambly. We both have points to bring to this issue, and I will try to make mine well.

I dedicate my speech to our colleague, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who is here in the House. I will be referring to a federal-provincial dispute and presenting a few points of analysis, particularly as we both hail from the same political science department, he as a professor and I as a student. I am sure he has wonderful memories of the time I spent in the department. I do not have any bad memories of the days when he was a professor of organizational theory and the public service.

That having been said, we would have liked to support this bill. Why? Because we are all positive people. I think that is known. Examples of an opposition more responsible and constructive than the Bloc Quebecois in recent years could not be found.

But there is a problem. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs knows very well that the throne speech is sacred, because it is a sort of blueprint of what the government intends to do during its term of office. As such, the throne speech contained a commitment, just as sacred, to decentralize a certain number of powers to the provinces. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs cannot fail to recall that housing is one of the sectors the government was going to give back to the provinces.

How can it be that we end up with a bill like this one, when what is needed is recognition of the full jurisdiction of the provincial governments over housing? I would like someone to explain this to me in the course of this debate.

There are two problematical clauses. I do not want to get into technicalities, but there is clause 58(1)—I am sure that the minister is familiar with it—which reads as follows:

58.(1) The Corporation may make loans and contributions for the purpose of assisting in the payment of, or providing allowances for, expenses that, in the opinion of the Corporation, are related to housing accommodation, and may forgive amounts owing on those loans.

This raised questions in my mind, which I put to the staff. My thanks to those who made themselves available to me, particularly Mr. Asselin, who was extremely kind.

I had the feeling that it was possible the federal government might be tempted to use this clause to create a national housing allowance.

So I asked him directly, and his reply was “Yes, that is a possibility”. This is of concern to the Bloc Quebecois, and we would not view such a possibility favourably, since it would of course lead to encroachment on a provincial jurisdiction.

Our second area of concern is that this bill opens the door to the very real possibility that, with respect to housing, the federal government could deal directly with intermediary bodies such as municipalities, co-operatives and others involved in this field.

We do not understand how such a clause can be in a bill. If the government wants the Bloc Quebecois to support the bill, I would ask the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, in the same spirit of positive and open co-operation that has always guided us, to be this voice in cabinet. We ask him to draw on clause 88(2) of the bill and to broaden its scope. This clause, Madam Speaker, I dedicate to you. It reads, and I quote:

(2) Loans or contributions may be made and amounts owing on those loans may be forgiven under this section only with the approval of the government of the province where the corresponding rental housing project is, or will be, located.

In other words, to synthesize, as we learned in political science, we are delighted that this government wants to invest in the housing sector. It is well known that there is a tenuous, almost incestuous, link between the fight against poverty and housing. I will come back to this.

If the government has money for housing, it must go through those whose mission this is primarily: the provinces. The Government of Quebec is the only government in Canada to have a housing corporation, with the expertise, know-how, tradition, planning and management required to meet the housing needs of its citizens.

I ask the government to take note, and we will introduce amendments as we consider this bill, at committee stage or at third reading. It will all be considered to ensure that no direct intervention is possible in the housing sector without the provinces being involved.

I see that Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs is nodding. I would ask him to share this idea with his cabinet colleagues.

The second issue of concern to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs is the whole matter of the $1.9 billion. The federal government is negotiating with the provinces so they will be the only ones to intervene in matters of social housing. That is good news. We have long awaited that. However, the amounts involved are totally ridiculous. I want to be very clear, because there is no room for generalization.

Canada wide federal spending on social housing is approximately $1.5 billion. In fiscal year 1995-96, $362 million of that amount went to Quebec.

A quick calculation shows that Quebec receives 18.7% of federal spending on housing. I imagine the parliamentary secretary is listening to the interpretation, so I repeat that Quebec is getting 18.7%. This means that 81.3% of federal spending on housing takes place outside Quebec.

But what is Quebec's demographic weight within the Canadian federation? It is 25.3%.

How many households are living in poverty in Quebec? Still with respect to 1995-96, there are 341,000 such households. I appeal to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs to note that 29% of Canada's poor households are in Quebec. Yet 18.17% of federal spending on housing is all we get.

All governments have decried this trend. I could tell members about someone who has the respect of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, an intellectual in Quebec society, for that is what he is, by the name of Claude Ryan. Some people will immediately think of the beige paper, others of the 1980 referendum, others still of Robert Bourassa. However, the reason I am mentioning Claude Ryan today is because he was once minister of housing. And in that role, he made the same arguments as I have. All this to say that there is a strong consensus that Quebec has not received its fair share.

Madam Speaker, is there unanimous consent for me to table figures that could be passed out to members, particularly to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs?

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12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member is seeking leave of the House to table a document. Is there unanimous consent?

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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:50 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I think members will be the richer for it. Please pass it out on that side.

I mentioned earlier that the federal government wants to transfer $1.9 billion to the provinces under this proposal. Have you any idea how much is being offered to Quebec? I could not believe it when I first heard it. Quebec is being offered a mere $289 million, which is less than what the federal government spent on Quebec in 1995-1996.

I have the breakdown here. Last year, the federal government spent $362 million on housing in Quebec, but now, under this proposal, it wants to transfer $289 million to Quebec. The Minister of Public Works and Government Services, who is also the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, will have to work hard and meet with his counterpart, Mrs. Harel, one of the most endearing members of the National Assembly, with whom I have the pleasure of sharing some of my constituents.

The federal government will have to discuss the issue with the Quebec government and try to settle this once and for all. Quebec is ready to take on all of the responsibilities for social housing. It makes perfect sense. Which of the governments is best suited to adequately and efficiently meet the housing needs of the people and solve the housing problem? Quebec, of course, since it is the government nearest to the people.

However, Quebec does not want to incur losses. What the federal government wants to do is to transfer a lump sum that will keep on shrinking. You have to understand that, with a housing stock for which mortgages were signed 20, 25 or 30 years ago, at the time when the money starts decreasing, more and more repair, renovation and restoration work will have to be done. That is why the Quebec government is asking for $440 million just for the transfer, plus 3 tax points. If that were on the table, the Quebec government would not hesitate to sign an agreement and to meet its responsibilities.

I hope our voice can be heard and I hope we can count on the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who we know is not afraid to speak loudly on some issues, to defend Quebec's interests.

This brings me to another issue. Members will recall that we were elected in 1993 but, since the Prime Minister had to attend a NATO conference, parliament convened only in January 1994.

In 1994, in the first budget of the current Minister of Finance, the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation was asked for a contribution over a number of years, ending in 1998-1999.

If members add all the amounts the federal government took from the CHMC, they will see that the total comes to $487 million. It is a lot of money. Now it would appear that, over the next few years, there will be money available in the budget for housing. The CHMC will therefore be able to use for other purposes the $487 million and all the money it was supposed to send to the Treasury Board or to the Minister of Finance.

We hope this money will be used for the development and construction of social housing, through the provinces, of course. I think this cannot be avoided. Housing initiatives must be linked to land management, income security and the fight against poverty.

Again, I repeat and I hope they are listening, my question is for my colleagues across the way: Which government is better able to meet the needs of our fellow citizens in the most efficient and direct way? The Quebec government, of course. It is closer to the people. The main areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as health, education and income security, are central to our fellow citizens' lives.

This is why we want money to be invested in social housing. If the hon. member for Chambly was to trade places with me, I am sure he would be just as passionate as I am in his defence of social housing. I know this is an issue of great concern to him. I am sure he will fondly recall going door to door in the riding of Sherbrooke, which resulted in a resounding victory for us. I believe we should still today celebrate our victory in the riding of Sherbrooke a few months ago.

All this to say that the hon. member for Chambly personally went door to door in the riding of Sherbrooke. I had the opportunity to talk to him about this, since he knocked on every door in a low cost housing project and has fond memories of this. I dare not say it was a revelation to him because he was already quite aware of the problem, but he came face to face with it and was able to see with his own eyes—the member for Chambly is a hands-on kind of guy—how important low income housing, co-op housing, is in terms of social action.

What is low income housing about? It is about people who form a community and know that no matter what happens to them, they never have to be alone. These people can count on a community room, but also on a support network and a solidarity that are always there, in good times as in bad times.

Again, this bill is a grave source of concern, since two of its clauses would allow the federal government to get directly involved in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This bill seeks to give a more commercial role to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It sends a conflicting message.

On the one hand, the government said, in its throne speech, that it wants to decentralize things and give back to the provinces the responsibility for social housing, but on the other hand, it gives greater powers to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

We would love to support this bill, because we realize something must be done in the area of social housing. But there has to be the assurance that this will be possible, to the extent that provincial governments, including the national government of Quebec, agree to that. It is our hope that this will be included in the bill.

How? I ask government members to look at clause 88(2). I will read it again, because I think this provision should be a model, a source of inspiration. If this condition were met, we could support the bill.

Clause 88(2) reads:

88(2). Loans or contributions may be made... only—

<“may be made... only”. These words mean something. I will read the rest of the clause:

—with the approval of the government of the province where the corresponding rental housing project is, or will be, located.

This is not rocket science. We are not asking for the impossible. We are asking that provincial jurisdictions be respected. If this is put in writing in the bill, we will be very pleased to support it.

Before concluding, I want to ask the government to resume negotiations. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs must do his utmost to have Minister Harel and the Minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation sit down together and come to an agreement regarding traditional demands.

I will conclude by saying that all the governments in Quebec, regardless of their political stripes, have asked for more money from the federal government for social housing.

I am pleased to have taken part in this debate. I hope we will be able to support the bill. However, we will not do so without the assurance I have asked for today.

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1 p.m.


Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore.

If I were to summarize this bill in one word it would be destructive. It is destroying the hopes and dreams of Canadians who can only imagine living in decent housing and who see this bill as the final step away from any chance of their dreams being fulfilled.

These are people from across Canada who can talk of the difference social housing has made in people's live. However, as the member of parliament representing the community of Reserve Mines I feel I have a unique perspective on what we will lose if this bill is allowed to go through. It was in Reserve Mines that the first housing co-operative in Canada was built. At one time people in Reserve Mines were forced to rent houses from the mining company that were overpriced and often substandard.

Owning their own homes was a dream many thought was unachievable. However, with the encouragement of their parish priest, Father Jimmy Tomkins, the co-operative that the people of Reserve Mines formed succeeded in planning, financing and building houses for its members. For people who had never thought they would have a decent home for themselves and their families, it was a dream come true.

The dream of living in well maintained affordable homes that inspired the people of Reserve Mines in 1938 continues to be the driving force behind efforts to build and maintain social housing. Unfortunately in the last few years the federal government has been doing its best to kill that dream.

On the surface Bill C-66 appears harmless. The government has attempted to portray this bill as little more than a housekeeping measure to simplify the current legislation, remove unnecessary restrictions and improve the flexibility of the CMHC. To use an old saying, the devil is in the details. There are a number of details to which this government is not keen on drawing attention. It is these details that administer the coup de grace in the Liberal government's retreat from social housing. They pave the way for the privatization of social housing in Canada.

We have already seen the first step in the destruction of social housing in Canada with federal downloading. Every province except Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia has had the complete social housing portfolio dumped on them. It is disappointing but not surprising that my own province of Nova Scotia was the first to agree to the downloading. Housing activists warned that the compensation offered by the federal government for taking over its housing responsibilities would not be enough in the long term but, as with DEVCO, a small pile of cash persuaded the Nova Scotia Liberal government to bend over backwards to capitulate to Ottawa.

In contrast, New Democrats in British Columbia have held out against the download. They have looked at the long term costs of downloading and they know the federal government has an important role to play in housing. I know housing activists appreciate the efforts of British Columbia to get the federal government to live up to the commitments made in the many operating agreements it signed with individual non-profit housing providers across the province.

In the provinces that have accepted the downloading we have seen that the end result is abandonment of social housing. For instance, the Filmon government in Manitoba has made clear its intention to gradually withdraw all funding from social housing. In my own community we see the effects of abandonment of housing by the federal government.

The Open Door shelter is one of two homeless shelters in Sydney. The building it is in is 60 years old and is in need of repair. In a region where the real unemployment rate is 40%, there is not a lot of money to go around. Since the federal government is not providing support for the community, the staff and board of the shelter must go elsewhere to look for money.

In the last few months I have had constituents coming to my office desperate for help. There are people in my riding who are living in homes with plastic sheeting for a roof. They are looking for help from the federal government and all too often there is none.

Now the federal government is preparing to take the final step toward abandoning any responsibility or obligation for responding to housing problems in this country.

Current statutes contain very clear definitions of what is meant by terms like public housing project or eligible contribution recipient. This bill eliminates these definitions from the act and puts them at the discretion of CMHC. This opens the door for private, for profit corporations to be recognized as social housing providers. This bill also eliminates the statutory requirements for social housing to be safe, sanitary and affordable. These are currently minimum requirements for social housing units. Now this Liberal government apparently feels that getting rid of these requirements will, to use its language, remove unnecessary restrictions.

It would be nice to believe its intentions are honourable. It would be nice to believe that the maintenance of social housing projects across Canada is so good that including any minimum standards in the legislation is redundant.

Unfortunately the evidence points to another, nastier conclusion. The reason the Liberal government is getting rid of these requirements is so it will not be required to live up to them.

The government has tried to justify getting rid of these definitions on the grounds it needs flexibility. According to it, dumping minimum standards for housing is just a little housekeeping measure.

What I want to know is exactly why requiring homes to be safe, sanitary and affordable is so restrictive. Is the government trying to tell us it needs the flexibility to allow people to live in fire traps, to allow conditions where diseases develop and spread, to raise rents through the roof?

Either one believes all Canadians should have a right to decent, safe, affordable accommodation or one does not. By removing these requirements the government is saying it does not think the homes of Canadians should have to meet even the most minimal standards of safety, sanitation or affordability.

I would also like to touch on the proposed changes to mortgage insurance. Under the current CMHC act, if the CMHC takes any losses when it underwrites someone's mortgage, the federal government absorbs those losses. This enables CMHC to underwrite mortgages for people who cannot get mortgage insurance from banks such as people with low incomes, people with poor credit ratings and people in remote areas who do not have access to a bank or credit union.

What the government is proposing is that CMHC will have to absorb any losses from underwriting mortgages itself out of the mortgage insurance fund. Having to absorb any losses itself may force the CMHC to deny mortgage insurance to high risk applicants. This will exclude applicants with low incomes.

Under the current mortgage insurance system the CMHC acts as a bulwark against a recession because it can underwrite mortgages in poor market conditions without risk. This encourages housing development at a point in the market cycle where the market may discourage it. This will change with the commercialising of CMHC's mortgage insurance. CMHC will now be forced to weigh risk according to market cycles. Thus it will no longer be able to play this valuable counter-recessionary role in the economy.

Now we come to the real reason for these changes. It is well known that GE Corporation of the United States, which has large interests in the insurance industry, wants to expand into Canada. It is well known that it has been lobbying the Liberal government for the commercialization for CMHC's mortgage insurance to make this possible.

In this bill, the agenda of GE seems to have been put ahead of the needs of Canadians. According to the government, there was a risk that if it did not make the changes in this bill, GE could have forced the changes using NAFTA. In which case why, if NAFTA is such a fundamentally flawed agreement, was this government willing to sign it in 1993 and why has it not tried to change it since?

I would like to touch on what this bill says about the real agenda of this government. In the last few months we have heard regular expression of concern from this government about the problem of homelessness. The recent announcement that social housing would not be transferred to the province of Ontario was portrayed as an attempt to protect social housing in that province.

This bill proves that all the lip service the Liberal government has paid to the problem of homelessness was nothing but hot air. Homelessness has skyrocketed since the Liberal government came to power. More and more Canadians are freezing to death on the streets. This bill could have addressed these problems. Instead it will make things dramatically worse.

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1:10 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise today with great pleasure to speak on what I consider to be one of the most important debates in the House of Commons when it comes to the social housing needs of all Canadians.

I wish to give accolades to my colleague from Churchill, the critic for this area. She has done an excellent job on behalf of the New Democratic Party in pointing out the major flaws within this bill.

Members may wish to have a copy of a book written by our member for Vancouver East entitled Homelessness, An Unnatural Disaster: A Time to Act , a guide to the study she did across the country with members from social housing, NAPO and groups of that nature to discuss the social housing needs.

I also recognize that the Conservative Party of Canada is now doing a similar tour of its own. I wish the party good luck with coming up with long term solutions for the problems that exist.

As a young lad in 1974, I attended the UN sponsored habitat conference in Vancouver on housing and the need for housing not only in Canada and the Americas but around the world. It is interesting to sit here today in the House of Commons and now have this debate on a domestic level 25 years later. It is quite fundamental.

I want to start with something very interesting which is how Liberals, especially those in cabinet, can flip-flop and change their opinions literally at the drop of a hat.

In 1990 the then official opposition and chair of the Liberal Party task force on housing, the current finance minister, condemned the government of the day for doing nothing while the housing crisis continued to grow out of control: “The government sits there and does nothing. It refuses to apply the urgent measures that are required to reverse this deteriorating situation. The lack of affordable housing contributes to and accelerates the cycle of poverty, which is reprehensible in a society as rich as ours”.

I and my party could not agree more. The question is why did the finance minister change is mind. Why did the Liberal Party change its mind on many other issues? On such a fundamental issue as this one, why did the so-called caring finance minister change his mind and literally destroy the advancement of 75,000 new social housing units in this country?

I come from the beautiful province of Nova Scotia where the federal government has abandoned all responsibility for social housing and literally tricked the current Liberal government in Nova Scotia to take over responsibility for it. It is absolutely reprehensible that a federal Liberal government would abandon its social housing policies in the beautiful province of Nova Scotia.

I would like Liberal or opposition members to come with me to Catalina, Newfoundland. When we did a fisheries tour with the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans we saw a row of houses completely abandoned because those people had no more jobs and there was no more work. They had to go elsewhere in Canada to find a place to live and work. Meanwhile, a perfectly good home was left abandoned. This is the history of our country. Farmers in the prairies and in the Atlantic provinces and fishermen in the east and west have had to abandon their homes to look for work elsewhere in the country because the centralized governments of our day completely abandoned the extremities of this nation.

There is no way we can support the bill because of what it does to aboriginal people and first nations reserves. I will not go into the details of it as it has been explained quite well already.

All members of the Liberal Party of Canada have to do is read a fantastic magazine out of Newfoundland called The Downhomer . The Downhomer will send them at a cost of $36 Canadian, no tax, a copy of a Ted Stuckless print. It is a picture of two Newfoundlanders in a dory with a make and break engine. They are towing a home on logs across the bay as was done during the resettlement program. That picture says a thousand words on the devastation of the resettlement program which moved people from their ancestral homes for so-called economic development. People from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are abandoning their homes now and moving elsewhere to other parts of the country.

Homelessness is no surprise. Cities like Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax are in a crisis state. It only makes sense. They cannot keep taking, taking, taking and destroying the social programs and then turn around and say it is a surprise that there is homelessness in Toronto. They cannot say “What a shock” or “When did this happen”.

For the life of me I cannot understand why the Liberal government abandoned all of the principles of their sixties agreement. Back in the sixties the current deputy minister was left of centre and has now completely abandoned all those principles. The government has abandoned the great principles of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson. It has abandoned the principles of Warren Allmand. It has abandoned most of those principles for the so-called fiscally conservative right which benefits the few and puts the majority at disadvantage.

I recommend that the Liberal Party of Canada, especially the deputy House leader, if he wishes, go to Newfoundland, or The Downhomer would be proud to send a lovely print of the two Newfoundlanders in the dory with the make and break engine. I have a copy of that beautiful print hanging on the wall of my office. Every day it proves to me that we have a serious crisis when it comes to homelessness.

A fundamental basic right of the nation and of all world citizens should be decent shelter. I do not understand why a rich and wealthy country can abandon that basic, simple principle. It just does not make sense.

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1:15 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I followed carefully the hon. member's speech on this subject. He was in a big rush to condemn the Liberal Party and every other government. He forgot to mention the NDP in Saskatchewan and B.C. B.C. did not sign on to RRAP.

Would the hon. member comment on the refusal of the British Columbia NDP government to sign on to that program to help the homeless?

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1:15 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I welcome the question from my hon. colleague for whom I have great respect. He basically premised his question in a very answerable way.

Housing is a federal responsibility. To try to manoeuvre the provinces to say it is their responsibility is absolutely false. Social or co-operative housing should always be a federal responsibility, not a provincial responsibility.

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1:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. friend telling us his points of view on housing. I have some personal interest in this area as I used to be the president of a housing co-op that was seeking allocations of units so we could build social housing within the inner city of Winnipeg.

The Liberal member of parliament who I defeated in that riding joined my housing co-op to show that he was interested in social housing. That is the only reason he would pay $10 to join our co-op. At the only meeting I saw him attend he said that Canada was the only country in the world which did not have a national housing strategy. He made that comment because prior to 1993—this is what I was leading into and I would like the member to comment on—it was Mulroney who started to tear down any kind of a national housing strategy.

Members opposite were incredibly critical of that. I remember passionate debates and arguments that Mulroney was doing a terrible thing by tearing down the national housing program. There were campaign promises to the effect that the Liberals intended to reinstate some kind of national housing program.

In the inner city of Winnipeg none of the normal market controls or influences work. The value of the property is too low to interest landlords in investing in low income housing. In the absence of social housing, or some kind of subsidized housing, no new units will be built. We are facing a ghettoized situation where we have a donut shaped city.

The result has been epidemic arson. Landlords are turning in desperation to torching their houses. It looks like burn baby, burn in the late sixties in Watts. There were 80 or 90 arsons in a 12 block area in three months. That is five or six a night sometimes, places being burnt out of desperation. I would argue this is because of the complete absence of any commitment to a national housing strategy.

In the member's personal experience in the communities in which he has lived, has he seen a similar deterioration of housing stock without new housing being built through social housing programs?

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1:20 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, the hon. colleague is absolutely right. It is something we have been saying time and time again: Liberal, Tory, same old story. The Liberals have reformed Tory policies. That is exactly what they have done.

My hon. colleague is absolutely right. The Liberal government has abandoned its heart when it comes to policies on medicare, EI and especially social housing. It is a national disgrace. In the next election the Liberals will be paying for it.

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1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address the House today on Bill C-66 which proposes amendments to the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Act.

I have divided my speech into two portions. I would first like to speak about the bill as proposed. There are a few things in the bill that are good and I would like to talk about some of those areas. However, our party also has some serious concerns with some of the provisions in the bill. I would like to walk members through some of the proposed changes and explain exactly our concerns.

Specifically I would like to deal with the proposal to commercialize mortgage insurance and the effects this would have on the risk aversion of corporations and the $200 million payment to the federal government from CMHC for the crown backing of its insurance and loan guarantee operations. I would also like to discuss the changes to the structure of CMHC's board.

In the second part of my speech I want to talk about the social housing sections of the bill or, more specifically, what has been left out of the bill and how the government has missed a prime opportunity to address some of the problems involving affordable housing and homelessness.

CMHC is mandated to deliver federal housing programs in four general areas. First, under housing finances, CMHC promotes the availability, accessibility and choice of housing funding. For many home buyers this takes the form of mortgage insurance.

Second, CMHC strives to encourage competitiveness in and the health of the housing market by conducting research, by improving housing, by supporting the housing market and by the dissemination of information.

Third, CMHC has an ongoing responsibility for federal assisted housing initiatives, including support for aboriginal communities in their efforts to become self-sufficient in developing and maintaining their housing.

The federal government provides the corporation with $1.9 billion of funding each year. The lion's share of these funds goes to meet the long term financial obligations arising from subsidies for 656,000 social housing units such as non-profit housing, public housing and housing co-operatives.

Early in its first mandate the government announced that it would withdraw from funding further social housing units. Since then the government has signed agreements with seven provinces and territories to offload social housing on to them. Finally, CMHC supports the export of Canadian housing products and expertise.

Bill C-66 contains the most extensive changes to the National Housing Act and the CMHC Act since 1985. Among other things, the government is proposing changes to CMHC's mortgage insurance activities.

In essence, the government wants to commercialize the corporation's mortgage insurance functions. Any losses as a result of mortgage insurance underwriting must come out of CMHC rather than general government revenues. This removes any competitive edge the government agency has in the marketplace and puts CMHC's mortgage insurance on a level playing field with private insurance.

CMHC would be able to introduce new mortgage products such as reverse equity mortgages. These mortgages enable older residents to use the equity in their homes to obtain funds to supplement their income while allowing them to continue to live there.

The changes will also allow CMHC to accelerate the growth of the secondary market by providing a wider range of secondary mortgage market products through mortgage backed securities guaranteed funds.

The pooling of individual mortgages provides lenders with a lower cost source of funding and ensures an adequate supply of mortgage funds. These commercialization measures are a response to potential challenges under the North American Free Trade Agreement. While these changes would give Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation the flexibility to offer new products, they also eliminate the advantages of government underwriting.

For example, forcing CMHC to cover any losses will decrease its willingness to finance high risk borrowers such as low income people. If it also makes it more difficult for borrowers in rural Canada to qualify for mortgage loan insurance, speaking as someone who grew up and lives in rural New Brunswick it would not go too well in my riding.

The second problem we have with the proposed change to CMHC's mortgage insurance activities involves the payment to the federal government in compensation for the crown's backing of its insurance products retroactive to January 1, 1997.

I understand the objective of the new section 18 in that the government wants to create a level playing field with the private sector sellers of mortgage insurance. It has to pay compensation for the backing of its insurance operations. To be fair, CMHC should have the same obligations. I agree with that.

The problem arises when it is realized that over the next few years the government will pull $200 million out of the corporation. According to CMHC's summary of the corporate plan for 1998 to 2002, by the year 2002 the government will have starved Canada's social housing programs by $197.9 million to pay this fee.

How can the government possibly justify taking $200 million out of CMHC that is charged with helping house Canadians while thousands of Canadians are forced to sleep in shelters each night?

The government needs to find a way to reinvest this money into social housing programs so that no Canadian who is in need of housing suffers because of this measure. It seems the government has not completely thought this issue through.

Another problem that concerns my party and should concern all Canadians involves one proposed change to the CMHC Act with respect to the composition of CMHC's board of directors. Presently the board consists of the chairman of the corporation, the president, a vice-president, two public servants and five political appointees, for a total of 10. All in all this is not a bad balance. We would have a board of five highly qualified housing professionals and five people appointed by the Liberal cabinet.

I would not want to speak against the Liberals, but the government has developed a reputation, deservedly so, of appointing Liberals to government boards, qualified or otherwise. The minister is proposing in the bill that we should reduce the number of qualified professionals on the board by three and replace them with Liberal appointees.

Under the legislation the requirement to have a vice-president and two public servants sit on the board would be removed. Only the chairman and the president would remain and the Liberal patronage appointees would have a healthy majority of eight of the ten director positions.

Aside from the distasteful nature of this change that could put three more Liberals on the CMHC board, it would also threaten the independence that CMHC enjoys as a crown corporation. Just think, right now CMHC management has to answer to a board that at least has some balance between five highly qualified professionals and five Liberals. However, under the new board CMHC management will be under the direction of a board comprised of a majority of Liberal appointees.

Just as important as what is proposed by the government in this bill is what was conveniently left out of it. I will take a few minutes to talk about social housing policy in general and how it relates to this bill.

In the past month the government missed two prime opportunities to deal with the problem of the lack of affordable housing in Canada and its impact on homelessness in particular. The first opportunity occurred on February 11 of this year when the bill was introduced and the second was when the budget was brought down on February 16.

It is ironic that the person who introduced the budget, the finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, was once the champion of social housing. In 1990 he and his colleague, the MP for London North Centre, published the report of the national Liberal caucus task force on housing. In that document the current finance minister set out a manifesto on how a Liberal government would provide affordable housing for all Canadians and eradicate homelessness.

Alas, like so many other broken Liberal promises, like the GST and free trade, the finance minister's promises on social housing were relegated to the dustbin just as fast as the Liberals took power in 1993. That may suit the finance minister just fine, but he and his government have done nothing to provide affordable housing for Canadians and to eliminate homelessness. It is exactly the opposite.

If the government is looking for some good ideas on what should be included in Bill C-66 to deal with these problems, I will quote liberally from both its party's task force document as well as a report that was released in January of this year by the Toronto task force on homelessness, chaired by Dr. Anne Golden, entitled “Taking Responsibility for Homelessness.”

In his report, the finance minister promised that a Liberal government would recognize in the Constitution the right to adequate shelter. It never happened. He said that housing is a fundamental human right and that a Liberal prime minister would discuss housing rights at a first ministers' conference. We are still waiting.

He told Canadians that he would provide more money for housing in provincial transfers, but instead he cut provincial cash transfers by 40%.

He promised a new federal-provincial social program to assist the working poor with housing costs, but none ever materialized. He told anyone who would listen that his government would increase funding for housing co-operatives and look for new ways to use housing co-ops to provide affordable housing. Instead it froze and then decreased funding for co-ops. Now it is trying to offload housing co-ops to the provinces and cut off funding entirely.

This is my favourite. The finance minister promised that he would eliminate all substandard aboriginal housing by the year 2000. I guess he has missed that target.

According to the Assembly of First Nations, almost 50,000 or 60% of the 83,000 housing units on reserves are inadequate. More than 10,000 of those units have deficient or non-existent water and sewer services and 16,000 units are overcrowded. So much for the word of the finance minister.

With respect to this bill, there are some concrete steps the government could take to deal effectively with the problems of inadequate housing. As I have already mentioned, many of these proposals were outlined by Dr. Anne Golden in her report released in January. In her report she refers to four causes of homelessness: increased poverty, lack of affordable housing, deinstitutionalization and a lack of discharge planning, and social factors such as domestic violence and physical or sexual abuse.

Because the scope of Bill C-66 deals only with housing issues I will limit my discussion to how the government could increase the supply of low cost rental units and rooming houses, and the need for increased support for social housing.

The federal government has been a key player in social housing development for over 50 years, since the founding of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation after the second world war. The decision by the Liberal government to offload social housing on to the provinces has contributed to the growing shortage of affordable housing.

Indeed, the Golden report notes that among major western industrialized countries only Canada has no policy on homelessness. It recommends that the federal government provide capital assistance for the construction of new affordable housing and the rehabilitation of existing affordable housing. Because the federal government is largely responsible for aboriginal people, immigrants and refugees, it also suggests that Canada should fund projects to prevent and reduce homelessness among these groups at risk.

The report also recommends that the federal government should change the mortgage and valuation rules so that in addition to commercial transactions through the CMHC mortgage insurance fund the government could introduce policies that encourage not for profit rental construction. Right now CMHC permits lower debt coverage ratios for certain special purpose projects and it could do the same for non-profit rental projects, including innovative housing forms that may have uncertain market values such as single room occupancy units.

The Golden report suggests that CMHC get into direct mortgage lending. Direct lending is the cheapest source of financing and could generate revenues for the corporation. Additional mortgage funding could be piggybacked on to the mortgage backed securities that now fund social housing mortgage renewals. It also recommends that the federal government provide land at less than market value from its holdings of surplus land and buildings through Public Works, CMHC and the Canada Land Corporation.

The report also calls for an investment of up to $300 million in capital support for new low income housing and for CMHC to reinvest the savings realized each year for the devolution of social housing to the provinces. Unfortunately, as I noted previously, the Liberals have instead decided to take $200 million out of social housing, which is disgraceful by any measure. Perhaps we can persuade the government to change its mind.

Another recommendation of the report calls on the government to channel federal capital to new affordable housing by way of an infrastructure program for housing or set up local foundations for affordable housing and/or a tax incentive for contributions to eligible foundations or projects. The residential rehabilitation assistance program should also be expanded to include rental apartment buildings, rooming houses and second suites.

Finally, it is very difficult for the operators of rooming houses to obtain mortgage financing or insurance. When they are successful it almost always at a premium rate, reflecting the higher perceived risk by lenders. Since CMHC has expertise in mediating lending rates, the report suggests that CMHC assist rooming house owners in accessing mortgage financing.

These are all simple steps the government could take in part through Bill C-66 to alleviate homelessness and to increase the supply of affordable housing for all Canadians. The Liberals, through the finance minister, promised they would deal with this problem. They have recently had two opportunities, through this bill and in the budget, but they have not.

There could be no more potent reminder of the need to find solutions to the housing problems in Canada than we saw a week after this bill was tabled and a few days after the budget. A few blocks from Parliament Hill, Lynn Maureen Bluecloud, a 33 year old homeless, five-month pregnant aboriginal women was found dead in a park at the corner of Nicholas Street and Laurier. She died from hypothermia.

We need action on homelessness now. The government must live up to its promises and use the means available to it to increase the supply of affordable housing for all Canadians.

There is much room for improvement in the bill. I look forward to dealing with this bill in committee so that we can propose ways of doing just that.

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1:35 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, what we have heard is a change of policy from the Conservative caucus.

I would like to ask the hon. member a couple of quick questions, but I will make a brief statement beforehand.

In 1993 the Liberals were responding to what the Tories were doing to social housing policy and what they were going to do to social housing in this country. Is this a change in the Conservative position with regard to social housing? Does he not believe that all the Liberals have really done is reformed Tory policies?

I do not want to pick on the hon. member that much because he is a decent fellow from New Brunswick.

He is absolutely right that this bill needs a lot of work. I wish him and his party, along with our party and other parties, the best of luck in committee in putting amendments in place. He is absolutely right when he says that all Canadians deserve affordable housing no matter where they live in this country. I wish him and his party the best of luck when they go on their cross-country tour to discuss homelessness and poverty issues.

Would the member not agree that with CMHC becoming more privatized that would in effect set up a privatized for-profit social housing policy in this country?

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1:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member from the NDP for his question. I have a great deal of respect for that gentleman, but it is too bad for his line of questions. When the member speaks he makes us feel as though the NDP is the only party that has ever said anything right in this House. Over the years the Conservative Party has said some good stuff, which was right, as well as the Liberals.

When we were in power between 1984 and 1993 we had our own record on housing. We had a lot of money attached to it. When I open this to the second page I see that under the National Housing Act from September 1984 to November 1988 some $4.8 billion went toward social housing in this country. Today there is $1.9 billion going toward social housing. Therefore I wonder why he criticizes the previous Conservative government.

He also said that my party has changed its mind. The money was there and we did great stuff to make sure that every Canadian had affordable housing.

I will go even further than that. In 1986 we put money upfront to help persons with disabilities. In 1986 we increased assistance to renovate housing for persons with disabilities from $1,500 to $5,000. That was done under the previous Conservative government. The NDP was never in power.

I will go even further. Today the budget of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is $1.9 billion for 656,000 homes. In 1992-93 we had a $2 billion cap on social housing for 652,000 homes. Today we have 4,000 more homes, but less money. That is where the gap is.

In our 1993 budget we said that we would continue to fund all existing social housing stocks, which included co-ops.

In December 1991, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation rural and native housing programs were to receive $33 million in additional funding over what they were already receiving. This followed discussions with interest groups in meetings across Canada. From 1986 to that time the program had helped over 96,500 rural households across Canada. It said that it would spend $108.4 million in 1993-94 for on reserve social housing.

I was listening to the national news last night. Peter Mansbridge was saying that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation or Public Works would contribute an extra $20 million to help natives on reserve.

Today a contractor who purchases land and builds a house will have to put in a sewer system and dig a well. A well would have to be dug especially in rural areas where the reserves are because they do not have city water. This adds to the construction costs of the house. Building a house today with all those incentives, $80,000 a house, there will not be much luxury. By the same token, using the price of $80,000 for a house, $20 million will only build 250 houses to help the natives of this country.

The same report last night said that over 100,000 new houses were needed on reserves to help families. Pictures of the inside of some of those houses were shown last night. I was very disgusted to see that in as rich a country as Canada is. Aboriginals are Canadians too.

I live four kilometres away from the second biggest reserve in New Brunswick. I own a little business and 85% of my business is with those people. They are good people. I am also associated with the Knights of Columbus on that same reserve. I am not saying they do not have any problems, but problems can be fixed. People should see the number of people who live in a small house or a small room. They should see the condition of some of those houses. I cannot describe it.

We have to work together. I am not trying to bash anyone. I say to members on the government side and to all parties on the opposition side, let us all work together so that we can have a good housing bill so that we can put money up front. It is money that is not going to be wasted. The money will go to Canadians who need a good and decent home to raise the kids of today.

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1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my hon. colleague for his excellent speech on this bill.

However, I cannot help but smile when I hear members of the New Democratic Party pick on my party. I have a lot of respect for the hon. member, but a little bit less for his party.

Take the situation in Ontario for example. When they were in office, the New Democrats have put the province in a very difficult position. The people can thank the Ontario Conservative Party for getting the province's fiscal house in order.

The Conservative member mentioned that, as a result of the reform brought about by this bill, rural areas would have more trouble qualifying. Could he elaborate on what he meant when he said it would be harder for rural areas to qualify for this program?

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1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member from my party. He is a great colleague and a next door neighbour to my riding.

I will say it in French since my seatmate from the Bloc is telling me to speak French.

I am saying that rural communities will be affected because I believe the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is going commercial instead of answering the housing needs of Canadians in urban as well as rural areas.

When we look at the bill, we realize that the corporation would rather do business abroad. I understand substantial amounts will be invested outside Canada because the CMHC will have the power to sell new products.

My father taught me that charity starts at home. There are Canadians who are homeless. I know families of 15 living in one home, sharing a small room.

What is going to happen with the new CMHC insurance is that $200 million a year will have to be paid to the government of Canada. This will mean $200 million less for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. If I wanted to buy a house, it would be easier for me to borrow the money from the CMHC than from the bank.

It is going to be harder for them to give me the money. I am going to be at a higher risk because I live in a rural area, maybe with seasonal work six months of the year. That is a big concern.

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1:50 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter as homelessness is of considerable concern to the people in my riding and to the people of Toronto generally.

Coincidentally, the mayor of Toronto was here yesterday for a meeting with the Prime Minister. It is ironic. Toronto fancies itself as the centre of the universe and indeed it is an economic engine and does house many of Canada's largest corporations. There is a level of prosperity in Toronto which is seldom matched in the rest of the country. Toronto, as I say, is a bit conceited in seeing itself as a world class city.

One would therefore think that the topics on the agenda between the Prime Minister of Canada and the mayor of Canada's largest city would involve something like the Olympic bid or a fixed rail link between Pearson airport and downtown Toronto. I regret to inform the House that the number one topic between the Prime Minister and the mayor of Canada's largest city yesterday was homelessness. That is distressing.

Homelessness is an enormous problem in Toronto and I dare say it is an enormous problem in various other centres across the country. At least 5,000 people are homeless each and every night in Toronto. In my riding alone there are 1,100 homeless people each and every night. They are from everywhere. They are from every province and virtually every city in this nation and from around the globe. They are not overly fussy where they come from, but they all end up in my riding.

Let us take a tour of my riding. My riding is at the east end of Toronto. It butts up against Lake Ontario and the Rouge River. It used to be the entrance to Toronto before the 401 was built. As a consequence, there are a number of motel units, 23 motel units in all, of which 11 are retained by metro housing to house homeless people. This was supposed to be a temporary solution. As a consequence, when someone is homeless from anywhere else in the country and is in Toronto or lands at Pearson airport, the likelihood is that he or she will end up in my riding that night. There are 1,100 people each and every night.

It simply overwhelms our school system. The local school, West Hill Public School, has a 200% to 300% turnover for children on an annual basis. I do not know how the principals and the staff cope. I do not know how the children cope. How can they expect to run a soccer team or conduct a science fair when all of their schoolmates are leaving for other places. Similarly with food banks, there is an endless lineup at food banks.

I am extremely proud of my community because we have coped magnificently. The local churches have stood up to the plate. They provide meals on a weekly basis, whether it is a breakfast or a dinner. However, we are starting to have compassion fatigue. We cannot continue to cope with 1,100 people in my riding each and every night. In some respects, I would dare say that the people of Scarborough East are being unfairly asked to house the rest of the people from Canada and around the world who are homeless.

All forms of housing are linked. In some respects Scarborough East can be seen as a microcosm of the country.

In my riding we can buy a $2 million house. We can literally go from a $2 million house, to a $1 million house, to a half a million dollar house down to townhouses, to apartment buildings, to social assistance housing. Twenty-five per cent of the people in my riding are on social assistance of some kind. Then we get down to the motel units.

If a family was a functioning family when it entered one of these motel units, I dare say by the time it exited the motel unit, the family would have become dysfunctional. These motel units are no way to house homeless people. I dare say that anyone in this House who spent any amount of time with a spouse and children in these motel units would not have a functioning family when they left.

All forms of housing are linked. This bill addresses those forms of housing. It is a mark of a civilized society as to how it shelters its people. That is fundamental. It is a mark of a civilized society as to how it houses its people particularly in a northern climate. There is no choice. We cannot have people on the street in a northern climate. This bill somewhat addresses that issue. The purpose of the bill states:

The purpose of this act, in relation to financing for housing, is to promote housing affordability and choice, to facilitate access to, and competition and efficiency in the provision of, housing finance, to protect the availability of adequate funding for housing at low cost, and generally to contribute to the well-being of the housing sector in the national economy.

The test of the success of this bill will be how it meets its purpose.

I address the House's attention to clause 8 which provides insurance for reverse mortgages. This is a form of protection of housing for elderly people. This is a response in some measure to the feeling that people who are in a certain situation, a certain age bracket, are unable to stay in their home and stay there together.

I notice that time is going on, Mr. Speaker. If I may, I will continue my speech after question period.

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member will have in excess of 13 minutes left and he will be recognized first. We will now go to Statements by Members.

Canada Cord CeremonyStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize a group of young women from my riding of Scarborough Centre.

The Canada Cord Ceremony was recently held for Pathfinders who achieved this award in 1998. For those who are not aware, the Pathfinders are part of the Girl Guides of Canada, and the Canada Cord is the highest award which is earned by successfully completing levels which emphasize experiences with the community, the world, and leadership, among others.

I want to congratulate Katherine Atkinson, Cheryl Brown, Gayle Brown, Lisa Gasson, Heather Goodyear, Jeanette Jackson, Lindsey Kirchner and Andrea Nyhuis on receiving the Canada Cord award.

I commend these young women on the time and effort they put into reaching their goal. With the recent celebration of International Women's Day, these young women are perfect examples of the dedication and participation that women indeed contribute constructively to our society for a better tomorrow.

Member For Edmonton NorthStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this Saturday will mark the 10th anniversary of the election of the first Reform member of parliament, the hon. member for Edmonton North.

Few of us can appreciate the hardship and isolation that she withstood for four and a half years as the sole Reform member of parliament, tucked away in a back corner of this House. But many of us will remember the pure delight she experienced the first time she took her new seat in the front row surrounded by dozens of her Reform colleagues.

This weekend will be a very special time for the member for Edmonton North as she celebrates this anniversary with family, friends, colleagues and constituents.

I can assure Canadians that she will not be celebrating it in the kitchen. They may want to check out the local Swiss Chalet.

Family And Children ServicesStatements By Members

March 11th, 1999 / 2 p.m.


Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the Family and Children Services of Leeds and Grenville located in my riding.

This organization has recently received its accreditation from the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Society. I am proud to say that it received 94% full compliance, the requirement set out by that association.

I commend all those involved and thank them for their tremendous efforts made on behalf of all children in their care.

Congratulations to the Family and Children Services on receiving this prestigious status and on its outstanding contributions to our community.

National Farm Safety WeekStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week is National Farm Safety Week. Having a riding such as Waterloo—Wellington in which there are many farms and still living on my own family farm, I realize the importance of this nationwide event.

The farm can be a very dangerous place, as members know, if precaution is not taken. It is very important for all Canadians, especially those living in or visiting rural areas to learn about the dangers surrounding farm equipment and farm animals. Children and adults alike must acknowledge these dangers and act accordingly.

This week offers an excellent opportunity for Canadians to learn about and identify the possible dangers of farms. Events taking place across the country can provide education and awareness of farm safety procedures.

I urge all members of my riding as well as all Canadians to get involved in this event, to learn more about what they can do to keep their farms safe.

I would also like to commend the Canada Safety Council for putting on the National Farm Safety Week. Its efforts in this and other fields must be appreciated and acknowledged.