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.