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.


National Housing ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.


Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

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.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether the member heard my earlier comments in reference to the Toronto situation when I gave some statistics. Very briefly the make-up of the homeless in Toronto as a result of the Anne Golden report was 28% youth who have been alienated from their families, 15% aboriginals, 10% abused women and 30% who are mentally ill. None of them were as a result of economic deprivation. Some 83% of them are a result of what would normally be termed health and social problems.

The member asked an rhetorical question in his speech about what the bill would do for the people of Nanaimo—Cowichan. I want to share with the member another statistic from the Golden report, that 47% of the homeless in Toronto do not come from Toronto. They come from all across Canada.

It reminds me of the line from the movie Field of Dreams : “If you build it they will come”. In fact Toronto built it. It built up a social housing bank. It provided all kinds of support services for the homeless which attracted people from across Canada. The same has been experienced in other centres like Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal, et cetera. Major centres are attracting people who need help.

The member's question is very relevant, the rhetorical question about how the bill helps Nanaimo—Cowichan. It would appear there are no necessary services or no supports for those who have these problems.

Does the member really believe that the provinces would be better able to do it? If the provinces were trying to save some dollars they would not provide the supports at all. They would let them all go to Toronto.

The problem is that communities have to start investing in their people and in their families. When people have these kinds of health and social problems, it is up to all of us to identify them and to provide those needs so they do not become homeless as a consequence.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for that observation and question. He is certainly right in terms of getting to the root cause of poverty and displacement in society which makes inadequate housing a symptom of the problem rather than the problem.

I am a strong believer in community action, in local communities taking hold of local problems. Government has a role to play in this but it is not the major player. I do not see, in answer to the member's question, that the bill has any effect upon the particular concern he has raised.

We need to be doing things in our communities, fostering the kind of community spirit that will help people get off welfare and find jobs and take a fresh look at their lives so they do not end up on the streets and move from community to community following free housing.

I appreciate the hon. member's comments and take them under great advisement.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I also thank my hon. colleague across the way for his question to my colleague.

I would like to go one step further. We need to recognize the differences between social housing and public housing and homelessness. The characteristics of the homelessness are rather different from other kinds of housing that need to be provided for people suffering from mental health, drug addiction or convergent addictions. Maybe there comes a point where we need to separate homelessness which has all kinds of causes that are quite different from low income, for example.

Would my colleague like to say something about what has happened in society that puts all of them into one category: the poor fellow or gal who has a convergent addiction problem with drugs, alcohol or whatever the case might be, and the person on employment insurance or with an inadequate income? Those are not the same kinds of problems. If we simply took one size fits all, one solution fits all, would that really help the situation? I wonder if the hon. member would like to comment on that point.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Kelowna for that observation and question. I suspect that one reason this has happened in society is the preponderance in government at every level to look upon itself as big brother knows best. This is the philosophy that exists among governments today. When that kind of philosophy gets going through government and starts to permeate society, certain segments of society will naturally become dependent upon government for every aspect of their lives.

Government takes an approach to people which lumps them together in this regard. It is unfortunate because it does not foster the entrepreneurial spirit we need to get us truly working again in every aspect of our lives. We can do this if we start to work at it ourselves. There are agencies and people who will help, but in the final analysis we are the ones who have to do the job, take care of our lives and are responsible for that.

National Housing ActRoyal Assent

3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

March 11, 1999

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Michel Bastarache, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his capacity as Deputy Governor General, will proceed to the Senate Chamber today, the 11th day of March, 1999, at 16:30, for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to certain bills.

Yours sincerely,

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, an act to an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be involved in the debate on Bill C-66 which deals with the very critical issue of housing, something that we believe has been left behind in national debates and has not had the attention it truly deserves.

Canada is probably the only developed nation in the world that does not have a national housing strategy. This is shameful. We are feeling the impact of it now in our cities, in our rural communities and in our northern communities. We are seeing the predictable consequences of not having any strong national standards or strong national plan in terms of providing clean, affordable housing for Canadians who cannot take part in the mainstream of the real estate market.

We have just heard the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan advocating strongly that this matter should be left to the free market, that if we let industry take care of it without government interference the market will take care of itself and provide an adequate number of units to meet the needs of people all over the country. If we take a serious look around, I would argue that is clearly not the case. We have failed the people waiting for clean, affordable housing by leaving it up to the market.

I am not blaming the private sector. I am merely pointing out that in some marketplaces, like my own riding of Winnipeg Centre, it is simply not economically viable to get involved in low income housing as a private landlord.

Landlords have been making representation to provincial governments and the federal government saying that this is so, that they simply cannot make a buck on it because of aging housing stock and the amount of rents they can charge. It just does not add up. Frankly they have been letting it go.

What we have is a ghettoization in the inner city of Winnipeg. I am not proud of this but the riding I represent has terrible aging, crumbling housing stock with landlords who no longer want it. One of our biggest problems is that these landlords cannot turn a buck on it. They cannot afford to pay for the necessary renovations so the houses are catching fire. There have been 85 fires in the last 3 months in a 12 square block area, 85 arsons in the last 3 months. This is an urgent situation. It is not a safe situation.

One reason we know it is arson and not some coincidence is when the firemen come to put the fire out, they find big holes cut in the first and second floors to allow the convection of the smoke and the flames in order to more seriously level the house rather than just damage it. It is a real hazard for the firemen who walk in and cannot see their hands in front of their faces for the smoke and who are then faced with four square foot holes cut in the floors. It is my feeling landlords are giving kids $50 and an address on a piece of paper and saying torch this house because it is a burden and a liability to them.

That is the desperation the private sector has found itself in in terms of trying to provide affordable housing in that market. As a result we have thousands of families that would happily move into some kind of social housing project within the city of Winnipeg. We have literally thousands on the registry looking for housing. It is not being built. It is not going up anymore.

This is another issue on which I think we are missing the boat. As a carpenter by trade I have built a lot of houses. I have built a lot of houses in the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the riding of the last speaker. We all know what an engine for economic growth it is to have a healthy construction industry. There is a pent up demand for thousands and thousands of units. I do not have to go through the details of how many jobs that would entail, not just the actual trades people but all the building materials that go into it.

During the 1980s under Mulroney the Tory government pulled the rug out from underneath what we used to think of as the co-op housing program and other social housing initiatives. Had we not allowed that to happen and had the Liberals not allowed it to carry on, we would have built 75,000 more units in the country. That is the prediction. That is the pent up deficit. We got shortchanged by the 75,000 units of clean affordable housing that would have been built in our inner cities.

I will talk more about the need in my riding of Winnipeg Centre. A group of neighbours formed a housing co-op to try to take care of my own street. This was not because we needed housing since we all owned our own homes. We wanted to buy up some of the slum properties on my street and either tear them down or renovate them and put them back into the hands of families that needed them. We called ourselves the Ruby Housing Co-Op since we were on Ruby Street.

We did the research on one of the units we were trying to tear down and found out who the people really were and what kind of business it really was. The guy who owned this property owned 250 other units all through numbered companies and all through rings of other slum landlords to the point where one landlord might subcontract 10 units from the parent slum landlord. The landlord might owe the parent landlord $1,000 per month per unit and be able to keep the rest. The onus is on the landlord to stuff that slum unit full of so many welfare people that the landlord will get more than $1,000 and the profit is the difference.

We had a house on our street zoned R2T. You are allowed to have a duplex or transition, but a duplex at best. There were 17 units stuffed into a house rated R2T. To get to one person's bedroom you would have to walk through another person's bedroom. City welfare is paying for all these rooms. At $237 a month for each room times 17 rooms, he would be giving the slum landlord $1,000 and keeping the rest. His main interest is just stuffing that place full of the most disreputable people you would ever want to meet, people who were our neighbours.

That is what motivated us to start doing some research and finding out who these people were. I will not use the individual's name here but he is one of the wealthiest, well known businessman in the city and I have every reason to believe that when he is at a cocktail party and someone asks him what he does for a living he says he is in real estate. He does not say he is a slum landlord which is what he should say because we know how he makes his living.

I was not pointing at anybody in particular on the other bench.

There are some bright lights. People are reacting to and dealing with the pent up shortage of housing in the inner city of Winnipeg. The Lion's Club, to its credit, is buying up gang houses and crack houses in the inner city and putting training programs on for inner city welfare kids who then renovate these homes and put them back on the market at low interest loans. It has been a good project. We are dealing with one or two units at a time.

That is also my criticism of Habitat for Humanity. Frankly, as much as I appreciate the volunteerism and all the goodwill, it is dealing with five or ten units at a time in a city that needs thousands of units. If we put the same amount of energy and volunteerism into lobbying for a social housing program through the federal government maybe we would be putting 500 units a year into the city, or 2,000 units a year, somewhere at least reasonably close to the actual need.

The issue is not just limited to the inner city of Winnipeg, although, as I say this, donut shaped city phenomenon is certainly happening to us as it is happening to other major cities. They are building good quality homes in the suburbs and going through all the cost of delivering services to those high end homes while letting the inner city rot.

The inner city is burning, frankly. It looks like the late 1960s in American cities. It is like burn baby, burn. These people are torching their homes out of desperation. It is Watts, Detroit or something. That is what it looks like. Every night these people are voicing their discontent by torching houses.

It is interesting to hear the Reform Party member say that government has no role to play here. In this example one would have to be ideologically driven with blinders on to even intimate that government has no role to play in at least setting the stage to provide for clean affordable housing for people who live in this country. It is a basic right. We have just heard the member for Vancouver East speak very passionately about the United Nations declarations while recognizing the plight of homeless people as a national disaster.

I am very proud that our housing critic, the member for Vancouver East, toured the country recently and went to just about every major city and wrote a very good report on her findings on homelessness and substandard housing. That was the theme and it was not just people with no homes whatsoever, it was clearly about people living in inadequate housing.

From the front page of the report I will read a brief quote. I think she made reference to it in her remarks. It was written by the finance minister when he was in opposition. It was the way he felt when he was lambasting the Tory government for its woeful inadequacy in addressing this problem: “The government sits there and does nothing. It refuses to apply the urgent measures that are required to reverse this situation. The lack of affordable housing contributes to and accelerates the cycle of poverty, which is reprehensible in a society as rich as ours”.

It is an excellent quote. I could not have said it better myself because a lack of adequate housing is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. It is one of those things that comes at us from both ends. We do not have to go through all the social aspects of adequate housing but we can imagine a young family trying to get on its feet or trying to keep kids on a straight and narrow direction if they grow up in absolute desperation in terms of their housing situation.

I have raised this in the past. There is a group in Winnipeg called Rossbrooke House. It is a safe house for inner city street kids. They can drop in and have some place to hang out where they are not at risk or getting into trouble. It is run by two catholic nuns, Sister Leslie and Sister Bernadette. They do a wonderful job. The member for Vancouver East and I visited the safe house as part of the study.

One of the things pointed out to us was that the people who live in that area in often terribly substandard housing will not sleep in the outer rooms of their house. They will sleep only in the inner rooms of their house like the den or the living room because of the gunfire every night. They will not sleep next to an outside wall. These two sisters pointed this out to us as being the reality people in that neighbourhood live with.

The reason I raise this is the biggest challenge they have in trying to deal with the problem youth who come through their doors is making them feel safe somewhere. One cannot work with a kid if that kid does not feel safe and trusting.

These kids all exhibit physical characteristics that are common among people who never feel safe wherever they are. If they are at home with a substance abuse parent they never know if they will get hugged or swatted on the head. They are insecure about that. When they are on the street they are not safe so they are always spinning around looking to see if someone is going to jump them.

These kids have nervous ticks. It is hyper acuteness and they are fearful of their environment. I say this is largely due to the fact that even when they are at home, if it is not a secure setting, they can never relax. It could be a 10 year old kid on pins and needles all the time. These women work with these street kids who have these nervous characteristics that we see so often. Their argument again is that housing is the second biggest problem in terms of rehabilitation of these kids.

I have been involved in this issue for quite some time, first as a carpenter building houses. I know the value of the industry. I know a great deal about the technical side of housing, whether it is multifamily or single family units. As the president of a housing co-op I have been actively engaged in trying to get the resources together to build clean, affordable housing.

What we should point out is nobody is asking for any handouts in this regard. When social housing used to be built the numbers still had to crunch. A business plan had to be put together to prove that the revenue coming in would meet the debt service to the loan. The only favour the government would do was provide 0% down or 100% financing and it would be amortized over a longer period of time, maybe 35 years rather than 25 years. That is not some kind of handout.

That is not to say here is $2 million, build 40 units of social housing. The applicant group, usually an ethnic group or a group of like minded people who come together and put together a proposal to build social housing, has to sit down and crunch the numbers. It has to figure out the bridge financing, the hard costs of the construction, the soft costs and the debt servicing on the loan, add all those things together in a total package and find a rent people can afford and be able to meet the debt service.

It all gets paid back. This was the beauty of CMHC's many housing programs that have been gutted and cut and offloaded to the provinces. There was no kind of handout. It was an empowering kind of thing where citizens were taking their housing needs into their own hands and learning about running a business plan and executing the actual building of this project and then managing it for many years afterwards with some kind of tenant association.

It is a very positive thing. It is a very community building thing. It is not any type of government handout. When I listen to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan trying to make it sound that any kind of social housing is some kind of government handout, he clearly does not know a great deal about the programs that have been cut.

We are very concerned that Bill C-66 will put the final nail in the coffin of any hope to have a national housing strategy. We are very concerned that this pushes it just that much further to privatization of social housing. Who knows what kind of free marketers will swoop in and take this over.

We have seen what happens when things turn bad, when profit motive is the only reason for doing something. As soon as it is a little less than profitable, they turn their backs on it. These units are torched or they erode to the point where nobody should be living in these units. It is a time honoured expression where I come from that capital has no conscience.

Let us face it. It is the government's job to inject some conscience into the whole picture of providing social housing. Other countries such as Chile are leaps and bounds ahead of Canada.

I do not usually blow Chile's horn. It is not my favourite place because of its checkered history, although it seems to have cleared that up. It is building 200,000 units of social housing. It is nice that a Canadian company is signing contracts to build the first ones now. It will move a whole plant down to Chile and use Canadian building materials such as drywall and shingles, the whole shooting match, as well as Canadian expertise and technology.

The reason for that market for Canadian housing technology is that Chile has the vision to upgrade building stock. It realizes that over the years it has let it slide. Free marketers were not providing the necessary units. There will be a couple of thousand now and many more thousands next year, for a total of 200,000 units of social housing for Chile. In Canada it is zero. Since 1993 there has been nothing.

In an earlier intervention I mentioned the member of parliament I defeated in the riding of Winnipeg Centre. He joined my housing co-op just to demonstrate that he was sensitive to the issue. He was elected in 1988 and fought the Tories in their gutting and dismantling of the social housing system. In 1993 when it became a campaign promise he was a little taken aback, to be fair, that his government would not reintroduce any social housing. That became abundantly clear as 1993-94 went by and nothing was being done. From 1995-96 to this date all we have seen is a downward slide in this regard. He was probably as disappointed as we were.

My biggest insight into the condition of social housing in my riding was while knocking on doors for other candidates during the 1988, 1990 and 1993 federal elections and then in 1997 for my own campaign. I could walk down the same streets and knock on the same doors and see the dramatic slide in the condition of the building stock. There was no hope for property in that area. One could buy a pretty good little house for $10,000 to $15,000. It had no real value.

When a community is in decline like that it is very hard to pull it back up. That is why no private sector housing initiative will be viable without social housing being introduced and managed by the federal government.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague's presentation, in which he quoted the very famous phrase “Capital has no conscience, capital has no morals”. Members opposite should take this phrase down, so that everyone may reflect on it.

If capital has neither conscience nor morals, then people must think about people and respect one another. The homeless are people too. Perhaps they have more problems in their lives, sometimes since birth. We treat them a bit like a herd, very often we put them together in places that cost as little as possible, but we do not respect the human being.

At the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995, 117 heads of state and the 185 governments represented renewed their commitment not only to reduce poverty around the world, but also to eradicate it from the face of the planet.

They undertook to pursue the elimination of poverty in the world through determined national action and international co-operation, “as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative”. Participating countries pledged to take national action to eliminate poverty within their boundaries.

Here in Canada, what are we doing for those who suffer the most? I am under the impression that members opposite do not understand and do not listen.

In my riding of Matapédia—Matane, which is a rural riding, there are many people waiting for housing units. This is the situation in 1999, not in 1979. In 1999, there are still people waiting for housing units. I find this completely inhuman.

I wonder if the hon. member could tell us how we could get our friends opposite to understand that capital is not everything, that human beings are also important, particularly those who are in dire straits.

The budget states that those who earn $250,000 will save between $8,000 and $9,000 in taxes. Why is there nothing in the budget for the homeless?

How could we, once and for all, make everyone in this House realize that there is a major problem as the year 2000 nears? Why not give ourselves one year to solve this problem to some extent?

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for those very thoughtful remarks. I can be quite brief in answer to the member's comments. The whole issue seems to be about the redistribution of wealth. That is as simple as I can state it. When we live in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world, it is very difficult to excuse the huge division and the huge inconsistencies in the distribution of wealth.

The simplest and the best way I can put it is when I was visiting Washington, D.C., Reverend Jesse Jackson once spoke to a group of carpenters. He had a way of trying to articulate this difference. He said, I think it went this way: “If you have five children and only three pork chops, the solution is not to kill two of the children”. Right-wingers and people like the members opposite would probably tell us that the solution is to cut those three pork chops into five equal pieces. Then all the kids go to bed hungry because nobody has enough to eat.

The way that a socialist would review the problem would be to challenge the whole lie that there are only three pork chops and challenge the absolute baloney that there is not enough wealth to go around so that we can all enjoy a reasonable standard of living. It is not about the amount of wealth in the country; it is about the distribution of wealth. I thought Reverend Jackson had a very good way of pointing that out. He has a real gift for communication.

When it comes to housing it is not so much the distribution of wealth. We have other ways of dealing with that in terms of fair wages and the opportunity of workers to get a reasonable reward. Social housing should not be stripped down strictly to monetary terms. As I pointed out, most of the social housing programs, which were gutted by the Tories and then further gutted by the Liberals, did not require a huge cash outlay. Nor did they necessarily require grants.

They needed some enabling measures so the people involved could finance their own projects, friendly financing. Zero per cent down was the big thing. If one had a $2 million project to build a 40 unit social housing project, one had to come up with 25% down or a half million dollars. Those people do not have half a million dollars to put down.

The government would underwrite them, giving 100% financing and a longer period of amortization, another thing we strongly recommend. Seeing that the lifespan of a brand new project with modern technology is 50 to 70 years, it is not a risky business move to let these people have a 35 year mortgage rather than a 25 year conventional mortgage. Those two things alone made the numbers crunch in both situations. Having that ability is what made a deal viable. That is how most of the ethnic based seniors' homes such as the Filipino seniors home in my riding, groups of otherwise powerless individuals, people with no money and no resources, manage to build good quality housing, a really fine place that they can be proud of and in which to raise their kids.

It does not take a huge redistribution of wealth to embrace the idea of a national housing program. We are not talking about anything radical or innovative. We are just talking about catching up to where the rest of the world is already in terms of embracing the idea of clean, affordable housing as one of the rights of citizenship. No one is talking about giving it free but about making it accessible.

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4:25 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. The official opposition will oppose the bill unless we have clarification on certain elements and see certain amendments to the bill, some of which I want to speak about today.

Earlier my colleague, the hon. member for Kelowna, the official opposition critic for public works and government services, spoke very eloquently about the bill and stated the position of the official opposition. I hope my remarks add to his comments.

I would like to emphasize that there has been a steady erosion of federal funding support for new social housing, culminating in its virtual termination from 1994 onward. Effectively by disavowing the spirit and substance, if not the letter of its social housing agreements with provincial governments, the federal government was deliberately offloading its social and financial responsibilities on to the provinces and territories at a time when they could least afford it.

In the process, despite its commitment cited in the CMHC mandate to maintain the flow of affordable housing as part of the nation's social safety net obligations, the federal government has virtually gutted its new social housing programs, thus adding to the plight and suffering of homeless persons and inadequately sheltered households in Canada.

Let us look at the purpose of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to redefine the roles and responsibilities of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, in relation to mortgage loan insurance and to export and international support.

Let us deal with housing financing. The bill will enable CMHC to adjust its insurance and guarantee operations under the National Housing Act to help ensure the continuing availability of low cost financing to home buyers in all region of Canada, promote market competitiveness and efficiency, and contribute to the well-being of the housing sector.

These amendments will give CMHC the necessary tools to compete effectively and fairly in the loan insurance marketplace. They will simplify our National Housing Act by removing unnecessary restrictions and enable CMHC to respond quickly to shifts in consumer demand and market conditions.

This is important because, as we know, since 1993 the Liberals have stopped funding new social housing projects. They have caused Canada to be the only western nation that does not have a national housing policy.

British Columbia and Quebec are the only provinces pursuing a social housing policy. We have a housing problem in the country. We have as many as 200,000 homeless people in Canada. Thousands and thousands of people do not have a place to live. This is a tragedy in our nation that has so much prosperity everywhere.

Many thousands of people are living in substandard housing. These Canadians are very uncomfortable. They lack running taps with hot water. They lack enough room for their children. These are the people whose homes lack the appliances and furniture that would greatly improve their day to day lives and serve the needs of their young children. Many Canadian mothers have no place for their families to live. They miss the conveniences of, for example, a microwave oven. Their children are hungry.

The government is having us debate a bill that addresses mortgage loan insurance and facilities to export housing technology and to provide support for our housing industry as it takes on an international capacity. Today we are debating housing, but it is amazing that we are not talking about the homelessness crisis in this country.

I wonder how the Liberals can ignore homeless people and pass legislation dealing with mortgages and providing housing for people in foreign countries. This would be a funny joke if it were not true. There are about 200,000 Canadians who are considered homeless. They are not worried about mortgage insurance, they are worried about homes and shelters in which they can live.

We want to support the bill, but only with clarification and amendments. However, it is very difficult to deal with the concerns of this bill given our country's housing crisis and homelessness crisis which we can even see a few blocks away from Parliament Hill. We see it every day on our way to work and on our way home. We feel that we are fortunate to have homes or, at least, hotel rooms or apartments.

One wonders if the Liberals can relate to the housing crisis. They are out of touch with the rest of Canadians. They do not know about drug problems, refugee problems, immigration problems or the problems Canadians have paying taxes. Even if they know, they do not deal with these problems properly because they do not know how.

I will turn to the second part of Bill C-66, which concerns export promotion. These elements of the bill will expand export opportunities for Canada's housing industry by giving the CMHC broad authority to help Canadians sell their housing expertise to foreign countries, to participate in housing development and financial infrastructure projects and to better promote Canadian housing products and services abroad. This is said to result in job opportunities for Canadians at home. I doubt that, but let us take it at face value. This is a good thing because Canadians are so heavily taxed that they cannot find jobs and we cannot create jobs.

Liberal government policies have been killing jobs since 1993. Payroll taxes kill jobs. Even if you have a job, the taxes you pay are unbelievable. Paycheques are cut in less than half in this country.

I have copies of recent press releases from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation which I can table if members want. We can see the dire straits of our housing industry through the press releases. It is no wonder the Liberals want to construct housing offshore. Clearly they are not doing it inside our borders. For example, as of February 11, 1999 residential construction was expected to stay at the same level as 1998. This is disappointing, particularly to me.

The CMHC is being given no direction from the minister to help his officials increase residential construction for Canadians.

Before becoming a member of parliament I was a real estate agent. I can relate to how this is affecting homelessness. I can relate to how first time homebuyers are facing problems. Construction of new housing units is actually dropping under this government, while the homelessness crisis is growing.

The housing crisis is getting worse, but the Liberals only want to help the CMHC build houses outside Canada. Maybe the Liberals think they can do a good job helping the homeless in other countries. They certainly have done a poor job in Canada.

I have a press release from the Infrastructure Works department, dated March 5, 1999. I can table it if members want. Backbench members of the government do not normally read Government of Canada press releases because they are told everything they are supposed to say by the Liberal Party whip, so those press releases become irrelevant.

The press release I am talking about is entitled “Infrastructure Program funds Seniors' Housing Project in Brandon, Manitoba”.

Why are infrastructure funds needed to build homes for seniors? Why can the private sector not provide those services? The private sector can build homes. Why does the government have to get into that business? What lessons we learn when we read these kinds of press releases.

The Liberals are using our tax dollars to build seniors' homes, yet they are now trying to send our housing industry offshore.

There is enough work for the housing industry right here in our country where 200,000 people are homeless. They do not know where to live.

I would like to emphasize what Canadians want to see with respect to Bill C-66.

They want to see that the bill is effective and efficient and that there are real cost controls on what is being proposed.

Regarding efficiency, the bill is silent on administration. I do not see anything in the bill that talks about how it is to be administered. The bill is silent on the relations the government intends to have with the provinces.

Regarding effectiveness, does the bill really help the banks and other financial institutions? I cannot say that with confidence because I do not see anything in the bill which would do that. We need to know the details of this bill.

We already know that Bill C-66 is not helping Canada's homelessness and housing crisis. Therefore, we would like to be sure that it is really effective in terms of doing what it is supposed to be doing.

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4:35 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments of the member for Surrey Central. There is no question that all members of this House should be deeply concerned about the housing crisis in Canada.

Recently we heard from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities about the national disaster of homelessness, not just in Toronto, but in my own community in the lower mainland of British Columbia, in the greater Vancouver area and in many other parts of Canada.

We know as well that this Liberal government has completely abdicated any leadership in the area of national housing strategy. This is one of the only industrial countries in the world that has no national housing strategy.

It used to be that Liberals believed in co-op housing. There is not a penny in funding for new co-op housing in this country.

It used to be that Liberals believed there was a federal role for housing for seniors, for students and others. There is nothing at all.

We know as well that the great market simply is not delivering affordable rental housing. The federal Liberal government is silent on that as well.

My question is for the Reform member. He said that he agrees that the Liberals are not doing what they should be in the area of housing. He said that the Liberals should be doing more to support social housing and to tackle the plight of the homeless in our country. Yet I read with great care the budget document that was prepared by the Reform Party before the government budget was tabled. I looked everywhere. I looked on the cover. I looked inside. I looked on every page. I looked on the back cover. There was not a single word, not one word, in the Reform Party's proposals to the Government of Canada about housing or about homelessness.

What planet is the hon. member on when he stands and rightly attacks the Liberal government for its failure to show leadership on housing when his own party is totally silent on the fundamentally important issue of federal support for housing? Why the double standard?

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4:40 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has been in the House for a much longer time than I, so I do appreciate the concern raised by him. He knows very well that we have not formed the government yet, but when we do sit on the other side he will see a much more effective and efficient budget. We want to have that opportunity.

I would ask the member to look at our policies. I am happy that he has at least shown interest in our policies. I hope that he will look at the policies of the united alternative movement.

He did not fully read our document. If he had done that he would have seen what we are talking about. We are talking about poverty in this country. We are talking about high taxes in this country. We are talking about creating jobs in this country. The unemployment rate in this country has been quite high compared to our neighbours. The unemployment rate, particularly among youth, is very disappointing. What is the motivation for youth to get jobs? It is a vicious cycle in which we are living.

When children are young, they worry and struggle. When they go to school to get a better education they must be safe on the streets. When children grow up they worry about getting a job. When they do get a job they worry about paying taxes. When they get older they have to worry about their own families. After that they have to worry about their pensions.

We have to tackle this vicious cycle at a broader level. I can assure the hon. member that when we form the government he will see effective and efficient results.

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4:40 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will try again with the hon. member because it is important for Canadians to understand clearly that the Reform Party made a written proposal to the Government of Canada with respect to what it said were its priorities and what it wanted the federal government to do. In that list of Reform Party priorities there was not a word about housing or homelessness.

When the hon. member stands and cries great crocodile tears about the fact that Liberals did not do anything about housing—and he is right in that criticism—how does he explain that his own party, the Reform Party, did not have any proposals whatsoever on housing?

Let me give him one last opportunity to fess up and acknowledge the error of Reform Party ways. Will the hon. member tell this House now just how much money the Reform Party is suggesting the federal government put into a national housing plan?

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4:40 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, while the hon. member is wiping his crocodile tears, let me point out that Reform Party policies are policies with vision. We are for lowering the taxes in this country which are the root cause of all our problems. The social safety net that we are getting from this government is damaging our health care system, elevating poverty, creating unemployment, homelessness and so on in this country.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Deputy to the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber. And being returned :

National Housing ActThe Royal Assent

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Deputy Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the Royal Assent to the following bills:

Bill C-59, an act to amend the Insurance Companies Act—Chapter No. 1.

Bill C-20, an act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other acts—Chapter No. 2.

Bill C-57, an act to amend the Nunavut Act with respect to the Nunavut Court of Justice and to amend other acts in consequence—Chapter No. 3.

Bill C-41, an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mint Act and the Currency Act—Chapter No. 4.

Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act—Chapter No. 5.

Bill C-465, an act to change the name of the electoral district of Argenteuil—Papineau—Chapter No. 6.

Bill C-445, an act to change the name of the electoral district of Stormont—Dundas—Chapter No. 7.

Bill C-464, an act to change the name of the electoral district of Sackville—Eastern Shore—Chapter No. 8.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Jonquière, the Program for Older Workers Adjustment.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among representatives of all parties in the House and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following. I move:

That no later than 5.30 p.m. this day, all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-66 shall be deemed put and divisions thereon deemed requested and deferred until the conclusion of Government Orders on March 15, 1999, and that immediately thereafter the House shall proceed with business pursuant to Standing Order 38.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before royal assent the hon. member for Surrey Central had the floor in response to a question.

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4:55 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure by now the crocodile tears will be dry and I will give the answer to the hon. member.

Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, these are the byproducts of high taxes. These are the side effects of high taxes. We do not offer any band-aid solution. We want to offer a permanent solution. That is why we are asking for the taxes to be lowered. Taxes are killing jobs, creating poverty, unemployment, homelessness and all those things. We are offering a permanent solution.

I strongly believe people are not able to own a home unless jobs are created and unless the ability is created to earn the money to buy and live in a home. I think the hon. member will see that the solution to the problem is creating the ability to own a home, creating jobs and lowering taxes.

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4:55 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have children who are married and have families. In all cases both parents are working, trying to struggle to make a living. They find it very difficult to buy their own homes. They are all buying their own homes but it is very difficult because of the amount of money they are paying out in taxes.

Would it not be a better solution to the problem to cut taxes and leave more money in people's pockets so they can have the money at their discretion to do what they want with it, whether they want to rent or build or whatever?

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4:55 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is bang on. That is the solution.

All of us are homeless at one time when we leave our parents' home. For us to get a home we have to have jobs. Jobs can only be created when taxes are low. We can create more jobs. When taxes are high small businesses, the engine of the economy, feel the engine is smoking. The engine is being derailed with high taxes.

The hon. member is right on. The solution to the problem is lowering taxes. Government members do not get it. I plead with government members to lower taxes. That is what we do in our policy.

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5 p.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, I must tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Yukon.

I am very pleased to speak to this bill, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. This bill does a number of things. It is very important that we understand exactly what this bill does.

This bill in amending the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act, gives more options to CMHC in carrying out its mandate, such as increased ability to enter joint ventures and the ability to offer more financing options to borrowers.

The bill gives CMHC broad powers to set eligibility and other conditions for social housing grants. This broad discretionary power replaces the very detailed definitions and restrictions that have been laid out in the old act which causes us some concern.

The bill increases the ceiling of capital CMHC can control and gives the privy council the power to modify this ceiling through orders in council.

Finally, this bill commercializes, and take note of the word commercializes, CMHC's mortgage insurance function. Any losses CMHC incurs from underwriting mortgages will come out of CMHC rather than the general government revenues. CMHC would use a mortgage insurance fund to cover these losses.

Giving CMHC the ability to enter into joint ventures is the first step toward privatization of social housing. This causes us great concern. We see today this great trend toward privatization and we know that the bottom line in privatized ventures is usually profit. Usually privatization is aimed at profit, quite often to the sacrifice of the very important human values of compassion, affordability, accessibility and so forth. We have some concern about this.

We note that definitions such as those for “public housing project” and “eligible contribution recipient” are being taken from the act. This opens the door for private for-profit corporations to be recognized as social housing providers. The statutory requirements that social housing be safe, sanitary and affordable are also being eliminated.

We see along with the trend toward privatization the removal of standards which should apply to housing for Canadian citizens. This caused me great concern as well. In the city of Halifax, and I am sure in many other cities across the country, there are many what we refer to as slum landlords. People have properties that are really not fit for human habitation, yet they are renting out these properties to people who are in unfortunate circumstances, who are drawing social assistance. Quite often people are living in wretched conditions. They are unable to advance themselves beyond that state of housing. The move to privatization facilitates this. We are very much concerned about that. We would certainly be opposed to this bill because it enables that to take place.

There is also the commercialization of mortgage insurance. This is something that might have eventually been forced on CMHC by a NAFTA challenge from a foreign insurance provider. We know that the GE corporation, which has large interests in the insurance industry, has been lobbying the Liberal government for these changes to remove what it calls CMHC's “unfair competitive advantage”.

It is true that CMHC had a big advantage in providing financing to high risk borrowers such as low income people. This was very necessary to enable people in less fortunate circumstances to have housing. Removing this advantage will hamstring CMHC's ability to fulfil its mandate to provide mortgage insurance to people who need it, such as high risk customers that the banks will not touch, and people living in remote areas without the full range of financial services available to them.

These changes really concern us because we know that today there is a great problem with homelessness. We also know that housing itself is a very basic human right. It is right up there at the very top along with the right to food, clothing and medical care. Every woman, every child and every man in Canada has a right to live in decent, affordable, secure and safe housing. This is a very important human right. The declaration of human rights in article 25(1) bears this out:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care—

Yet we can look around today and see that homelessness, a very unnatural disaster, is present with us. All I have to do is leave this place and walk down Rideau Street. On my way home I pass by many homeless people, many people who through very unfortunate circumstances have no shelter, no place to rest at night, except on the cold streets in which they find themselves living.

This is true right across our country. It is becoming more and more serious every day. We see people dying on the streets. People without homes and without proper shelter are dying. This is a very disturbing thing in our society.

More than 100,000 Canadians are homeless. Some find temporary beds in shelters. Thousands of others sleep on park benches or huddle in doorways for warmth. Still thousands more live in ramshackle substandard housing in the urban core or on remote reserves. Homelessness is a national emergency.

The homeless are men, women and children. The streets and the cold do not discriminate against these people. The government does. The government has cut all funding for social housing.

I recall in 1993 when I became the deputy minister for housing in the province of Nova Scotia, it was right around the time when the federal government had withdrawn its financial support for the social housing program. Over the years it continued to get worse. Eventually the federal government withdrew from social housing to the point of devolving all the responsibility to the provinces. In 1996 the government started downloading to various provinces. It has concluded downloading agreements with seven out of ten provinces, with B.C., Alberta and Ontario being the only holdouts.

It is a disturbing situation when our federal government does not accept any responsibility in the area of housing. We hear from time to time the minister speaking about the various things that the government is “doing” in providing more money for grants, RRAP and programs of that nature, but this does not get to the core of the problem.

Last month members of our party took to the streets to find out what was actually happening. We found that many people are homeless. The trip resulted in a very important report by one of our members who deals with these issues. We gathered opinions of people on the streets who are making a difference, activists, local politicians, volunteers, people seeking refuge from the streets, people living in shelters, rooming houses or substandard housing on reserves.

Our intent was to raise awareness, strengthen coalitions, present recommendations and to force the Minister of Finance to make housing a priority in the last federal budget, but this was not done. There was no real commitment to the homeless. There was no real commitment to those people who are living on the streets without adequate shelter.

Until 1993 the federal housing program helped contribute to the stabilization of low income neighbourhoods through the development of social housing. Regrettably, the Liberal government's retreat has meant that the vulnerable communities are increasingly defenceless with more and more people becoming homeless.

I want to emphasize that homelessness is not something that happens in isolation. Homelessness is very much connected with the unemployment situation and with the lack of benefits through EI. Today a bill concerning young offenders was tabled. Young offenders are sure to appear in our society if there are people who do not have adequate housing and adequate protection. Health problems are connected as well.

What has actually happened over the years is the Liberal government has sacrificed our social safety net for the sake of balancing the budget. This has been done on the backs of the most vulnerable.

We urge today that we not be fooled by this legislation and that we do not support something that will antagonize the problem. Rather, let us look for real solutions to the problem of homelessness and housing.