House of Commons Hansard #224 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

10:05 a.m.

Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel Québec


Alfonso Gagliano LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

moved 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 third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-66, an act to amend the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act at third reading.

I would like to begin by congratulating members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations for their hard work on this bill. I would also like to congratulate and thank my hon. colleague, the parliamentary secretary, the member for Mississauga Centre, for the work she did in leading this bill through the House and committee.

On March 11, my colleague said that the proposed amendments support the Government of Canada's efforts to make government more efficient and provide better service to Canadians.

The benefits of this bill are threefold. Canadians will benefit from these changes because CMHC will be able to respond to shifts in consumer demand and market conditions. They will also benefit from the availability of low cost funds and access to mortgage financing no matter where they live in Canada.

Second, CMHC will be able to better promote Canadian housing products and services abroad. This will result in job opportunities for Canadians, here and abroad.

Third, CMHC will be able to provide better service to Canadians.

Every one of CMHC's core activities, whether it is mortgage loan insurance, assistance for housing for low income Canadians, housing research or export promotion, works in support of the Government of Canada's objectives for the housing industry. Over the years CMHC has been involved in every aspect of housing, from building units, to direct financing, community planning, mortgage insurance and now trade development.

The achievements of CMHC have brought enormous benefits to Canada and indeed to many of our own families and communities.

Through partnerships among all levels of governments, community organizations and the private sector, we work to allow Canadians to obtain the shelter they need.

One of the most important aspects of these amendments is the inclusion of the public policy mandate for CMHC's mortgage loan insurance.

This change will provide access to mortgage financing at the lowest possible cost for all Canadians, regardless of where they live in Canada.

This new legislation will remove unnecessary restrictions to CMHC's mortgage loan insurance business. This enhanced flexibility will enable the corporation to respond to the housing needs of Canadians more effectively. With these changes CMHC will be a more competitive and a more innovative mortgage insurer.

The legislation will allow CMHC to operate its mortgage loan insurance program on a more commercial basis. This will ensure that CMHC is able to compete fairly and effectively with any private mortgage insurer, while enabling CMHC to fulfill its public policy objectives.

By guaranteeing competition in this sector, we can ensure that Canadians have access to the best possible price, and a greater number of choices in home financing products. Furthermore, they will benefit from the availability of low-cost funds and access to mortgage financing no matter where they live in Canada.

With the introduction of its 5% down payment program, CMHC is already an industry leader. Originally a program for first-time homebuyers, repeat purchasers can now also take advantage of this popular program.

I would like to give the House an idea of just how many Canadians depend on this mortgage loan insurance product to fulfill their dream of owning a home. Since its introduction, over 600,000 Canadians have used CMHC's 5% program to buy their first home. Surveys show that 70% of these buyers could not have purchased their home at that time without the reduced down payment option.

Overall, in the past year alone, CMHC has helped Canadians gain access to over 300,000 homes with the use of mortgage loan insurance.

This was done at no cost to the government. In fact, CMHC policy requires that it be self-financing, relying solely on the premiums and fees it charges over the long run.

With the introduction of CMHC's electronic mortgage loan insurance approval system, known as EMILI, most loans can be approved in one hour or less and in most cases within minutes.

The EMILI system has now been expanded to include new houses, to the benefit of builders, lenders, and consumers alike. That means Canadians can become homeowners much faster and much easier.

This automated system is just one example of how CMHC is working with various members of the housing industry, in this case financial institutions, brokers and realtors, to contribute to the health of the sector. In recent years CMHC has been approached to support many innovative and original home financing products. Unfortunately, under the current National Housing Act, CMHC has not been able to bring the benefits of some of these new types of home financing products to the marketplace.

Once the new NHA legislation is in place, CMHC may consider products such as reverse equity mortgages. This flexible new product allows older homeowners to use the equity in their homes to obtain funds while allowing them to continue to live in their homes.

We all know that the availability of affordable, accessible housing is a critical factor in enabling seniors to live independently, and to remain active members of the community.

CMHC would also be able to develop non-mortgage financing for remote areas where the land registry system does not facilitate mortgages. It would also facilitate similar financing arrangements on Indian reserves where restrictions exist on providing land as security for mortgages.

CMHC mortgage loan insurance has not only helped Canadians become homeowners, it has also been the key to the health of the housing industry in Canada. By fully protecting lenders against default on the part of borrowers, mortgage loan insurance encourages investment in residential construction which results in the creation of numerous jobs in this key sector of our economy.

For every $100 million spent on construction, 1,500 person years of employment are created both directly and indirectly. Behind every construction worker are many other workers producing materials needed to build a home.

With this new legislation, CMHC will also be able to better respond to opportunities within national and international markets.

These proposed amendments will further increase the corporation's success in housing export promotion. Reaching out to foreign markets will mean opportunities for Canadian businesses and jobs for Canadians.

For example, by working with the housing industry on projects such as demonstration homes, CMHC will be able to contribute to the industry's marketing efforts.

The timing for these business development efforts could not be better. Around the globe, the total demand for housing is in the tens of millions of units per year. Looking at this figure, it is obvious that there is great potential in a number of untapped markets.

This is where Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation can help. These amendments will work to further increase its ability to develop international links through its membership in team Canada. They will also reinforce CMHC's ongoing commitment to provide assistance to foreign countries through the establishment of sound housing systems and building practices.

With the help of CMHC through its export promotion role, the thousands of firms that make up the Canadian housing industry can become even bigger players in international trade. Canadian entrepreneurs will be able to look to CMHC for marketing support in projects overseas.

As a result of these amendments, export promotion will become an increasingly important component of CMHC's research and transfer activities.

It is an area that holds considerable promise for expanding business opportunities for our housing industry while still promoting employment opportunities for Canadians.

The proposed amendments will enhance CMHC's ability to play a role as a promoter, facilitator and adviser in the field of export, as well as in the field of housing.

For more than 50 years, our corporation has played a vital role in helping Canadians to become homeowners. It has made an important contribution to the growth of the entire economy and the key sector of construction. It has also been a leader in research.

For all these reasons, I urge members to pass this bill so that the corporation can grow and develop in this new era of globalization, while continuing to serve the housing needs of Canadians.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on third and final reading of Bill C-66 with many concerns.

The government made claim to a bill that was to level the playing field between CMHC and the private sector and to make the mortgage insurance industry more competitive. The government promoted this bill as legislation which would strengthen Canada's housing agency, CMHC, and thereby strengthen its ability to carry out its mandate of administering to Canadians' housing needs. I feel it has done neither and that this exercise has been all the more regrettable because the government had ample input and opportunity to make a better piece of legislation.

The Reform Party opposes Bill C-66 for the following reasons. The bill does not accomplish what it sets out to do, namely, create a more level playing field with the private sector. Reform policy states that where the private sector demonstrates an ability, the government should not compete with the private sector.

The testimony of private sector witnesses before the standing committee was not acted upon and thereby rendered the legislative process ineffective. Further, the private sector's valid suggestions and proposed amendments on ways to improve the bill were systematically ignored by the minister and therefore the government which rendered the democratic process itself ineffective.

Finally, while the bill partially recognizes that housing policy would be carried out more effectively by the provinces, it does not go far enough. As a result of being vague about responsibility, a clear and concise national housing policy continues to be lacking and therefore puts Canada's housing policy, particularly on social housing, in jeopardy.

I will now turn to private sector competition or the lack of it. The purpose of Bill C-66 as put forward by the government is to modernize CMHC by enabling it to respond in a more flexible manner to changes in the workplace. The government also claims that Bill C-66 will put CMHC and its private sector competitors on a more equal footing thereby levelling the playing field in the market of mortgage insurance.

The business of mortgage insurance has been in the hands of government for so long that it currently is responsible for 88% of the market share. At this time many consumers rely on the stability of the CMHC mortgage insurance fund. Without question Canadians have benefited from this program. Many who would not otherwise be able to own their own homes now do as a result of CMHC's mortgage insurance activity.

To say at this time that CMHC should get out of the mortgage insurance business would be premature. However Reform believes that we are witnessing a demonstration by the private sector of its capability in the area of mortgage insurance. This is an indication to Reform that its policy that governments should not compete with the private sector where the private sector can do the job is on track.

However given CMHC's long history in this area of activity and the necessity to protect the stability of the mortgage insurance market, Reform would argue in favour of levelling the playing field so that the private sector can continue to demonstrate its ability to handle mortgage insurance activities effectively and competitively. In this way Canada will begin to create a stable mortgage insurance environment within the private sector.

We believe the private sector must be given an equal opportunity to capture more of the market share in the mortgage insurance business. This will create true competition, better prices and service to consumers and will encourage other private sector companies or competitors to enter the market. Is that not what it is about, better prices, better service to the consumer?

Bill C-66 does not accomplish the goal of levelling the playing field and continues to promote advantages in favour of CMHC over the private sector. It does so in several ways.

CMHC holds a 100% guarantee by the government on its mortgage insurance holdings. GE Capital, CMHC's private sector competitor, has only a 90% guarantee. Bill C-66 does not change this important inequity. Clearly the banks favour the 100% guarantee and therefore, despite good service from GE Capital, they favour mortgage insurance through CMHC. This is not a level playing field. This does not promote a competitive environment as the bill stated as a goal.

GE Capital cannot successfully introduce any new products into the marketplace because it does not have a 90% guarantee on such products, as is the case with CMHC. This means that the introduction of innovative products and services is prevented from entering the marketplace unless they are established by CMHC. This again does not create a level playing field for the private sector, nor a competitive environment for consumers.

Under Bill C-66 CMHC will now fund additional policy reserves and commence payment to the government based on capital and additional policy reserves. CMHC claims that it will do so because the private sector must do so under OSFI regulations. While the intent seems to be correct, the fee will not be calculated using the same formula that is used for private insurers and is therefore less than the fee private insurers must pay. This also does not level the playing field.

CMHC and GE Capital are governed by different legislation. GE Capital is regulated by OSFI, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, as a private insurance company whereas CMHC is not.

CMHC's corporate summary states that it wants to level the playing field where it says “CMHC needs to ensure that the basis for public private competition is fair, i.e., that CMHC has no unfair advantages”.

Clearly, Bill C-66 fails to accomplish that level playing field and therefore continues to promote an inequity to the advantage of CMHC. The failure of Bill C-66 to level the playing field between the public and private sector is a clear indication that a crown corporation cannot compete fairly with the private sector, a private sector that has clearly demonstrated it can carry out this kind of activity.

Although the government initially filled a void through CMHC's mortgage insurance fund, it is clear that there is room now for the private sector to assume more of this activity. It is both ready and willing.

What is the value of gradually devolving the government's involvement in such activity? It is that the private sector can grow, that the risk to government and the taxpayer is reduced, that the costs of government are reduced and that the marketplace is thriving on true competition. This does not mean that suddenly the marketplace is free to do as it pleases and that consumers are at risk. There are bodies such as OSFI in place to regulate such activity and to protect consumers.

The natural progression must be that government gets out of the business of the private sector where the private sector can show that it is capable. How can Canadians realize these benefits if the private sector is never given a truly fair opportunity to compete on the same level playing field and the government continues to prevent it from doing so?

I would suggest to the House that clearly the logical path toward the objective of levelling the playing field is not to continue to broaden the powers of CMHC and to make it more commercial. The logical path is to change our tack, to look at the private sector's abilities and in the long term to make the market more secure by allowing the private sector to be as strong as it can be.

In the interim we must ensure the market's stability by looking at CMHC and the private sector as partners rather than competitors. In this way through the pursuit of public-private partnership, governments can benefit from the knowledge of the private sector and the private sector can benefit from the work that the government has put in place. Government should not be competing with its own private sector. The government's ultimate objective should be to improve the economy by strengthening the private sector. Canadians can only benefit from this kind of approach.

I reiterate two reasons why Reform opposes this bill. The testimony of private sector witnesses before the standing committee was not acted upon and thereby rendered the legislative process ineffective. The private sector's valid suggestions and proposed amendments on ways to improve the bill were systematically ignored by the minister and therefore the government, which rendered the democratic process ineffective.

The government is very good at commenting on CMHC's willingness to work in partnership with the private sector, with non-profit organizations and non-government organizations but this was not demonstrated in the passage of this bill through the House.

Partnership relies on a willingness to co-operate. The actions of this government regarding Bill C-66 do not indicate a willingness to co-operate. The standing committee and members of the House outside of committee met with the private sector and non-governmental agencies that have a vested interest in ensuring that CMHC's mandate is sound and works to the benefit of all Canadians.

These groups came forward with many concrete ways in which to improve this bill and they were systematically ignored by the government. This was clearly demonstrated in committee when the suggestions for improvement by GE Capital, the Appraisal Institute of Canada and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada were ignored. Amendments put forward by opposition members were also ignored. When opposition members requested more time to deal with the bill, they too were ignored.

For the record, I wish to summarize some of the important suggestions and concerns put forward by these organizations.

The Co-operative Housing Federation asked the committee to consider the following questions: Will Bill C-66 impede the federal government from acting now or in the future to alleviate Canada's housing needs?

I would also like to point out that some of the considerations recently by the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development concerned the shortage of housing in Nunavik and in the territory of Nunavut which are areas we have so far visited and about which we have heard many representations concerning the shortage there. I would add my concern to that concern.

Second, is it intended to allow the provincial governments to alter existing statutory requirements retroactively? If not, why does the bill empower CMHC to waive existing National Housing Act provisions for existing programs and to allow provinces in turn to waive them? These are serious questions which did not receive serious consideration. Yet, today we find ourselves at third reading and none of these concerns were acknowledged.

From the GE Capital Mortgage Insurance Company we heard requests made to provide the same level of guarantee to both public and private insurance; to extend the guarantee to new private insurance products, allowing private insurers to introduce products not offered by CMHC; to require CMHC to calculate payments to the government using a model comparable to that employed by other Canadian financial institutions; and to work to ensure that CMHC is answerable to the same restrictions and regulations as the private sector. These were legitimate concerns and workable requests that would have improved the bill but they were ignored.

From the Appraisal Institute of Canada we heard the following concern, that CMHC's growing emphasis on speedy approval for its lender clients to reflect a more commercial orientation has the potential to undermine public policy responsibilities by putting the high ratio mortgage insurance at risk. In particular, the Appraisal Institute had concerns about the lack of appraisals done by CMHC; their reliance on a computer system that does not incorporate actual appraisals by appraisers; and the fact that CMHC will now have the ability to vary the price of premiums according to the risk, thereby abandoning the policy that all Canadians should pay the same price and should not be discriminated against depending on where they choose to live. Again, these were valid concerns affecting us all that were not addressed.

These groups, every single one of them, had constructive ideas as to how we might improve the bill, but none of them were acted upon. What it shows us is that while the government is willing to promote partnership, it does not always act accordingly. If it did, it would have worked with these groups to make Bill C-66 a better bill. Instead, it has been intent only on the bill's passage so as to broaden the powers of an already powerful agency.

I would also like to state what our final main objection is to this bill. While the bill partially recognizes that housing policy would be carried out more effectively by the provinces, it does not go far enough. As a result of being vague about responsibility, a clear and concise national housing policy continues to be lacking and therefore puts Canada's housing policy, particularly social housing, in jeopardy.

First, let us be clear that CMHC plays a dual role and has dual functions. As well as its commercial activities, such as mortgage insurance, CMHC has the responsibility of carrying out the government's national housing policy by ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable housing. Due to the latter, CMHC is heavily involved in aspects of social public housing, low income housing, residential rehabilitation, aboriginal housing, co-op housing and non-profit housing vehicles.

Here, too, the workings of CMHC would find a balance in a public-private partnership arrangement as there are many worthwhile organizations in Canada who work within and understand the social housing needs of Canadians. In order to facilitate this, however, in the most optimal, effective and cost-efficient manner, we must first be clear about which level of government is best suited to be responsible for housing in Canada. Where social housing is concerned we have seen the Liberal government pulling away from supporting social housing.

Since 1993, no new funding has been put aside for social housing needs and, as we have seen, the decline in Canada's housing stock through aging and other factors is causing a social housing shortage and challenging CMHC's mandate to provide not only affordable but quality housing to Canadians.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the government will not relinquish control of social housing to the levels of government that are most directly involved and active in meeting Canadians' housing needs. By way of example of the capability of the provinces and their municipal partners, I point to the recent reports that have been produced to address the growing housing concerns across the country, particularly the issue of homelessness.

I bring members' attention to Toronto's task force on the homeless and the British Columbia government's response to housing needs. In both cases these reports demonstrate an ability to recognize what is required and the ability to take action. In British Columbia, for instance, a 1992 amendment to its municipal act required that all municipalities include housing policies in their official community plan.

At those levels of government we see action on housing issues, not more talk. Despite the work that has been done, the federal government responded in its usual fashion according to the CMHC's five-year corporate plan:

CMHC plans to conduct a forum on best practices for addressing homelessness. This forum will bring together experts on the homeless, representatives of service providers and various levels of government to share information.

It is a cumbersome and long term approach to a problem that requires immediate action. Surely Toronto's task force does not need more time to talk. It has made its recommendations but it is a fact of life with government at the federal level. The federal government does not have the flexibility or the agility to act in a timely fashion and respond as well as levels of government that are closer to the people.

Canadians recognize this as well. That is why Reform's policy, supported by the grassroots of this country, states that housing should be the full responsibility of the provinces. The federal government is surely making a move in this direction by transferring the management of its social programs to the provinces but it is doing so very slowly.

Bill C-66 could have made great strides in this regard. However, it did not go far enough in moving housing responsibilities to the provinces and in fact confuses the issue by downloading some of its social housing responsibilities to the provinces while keeping others. The effect is a gap in social housing policy responsibility and a void where a solid national housing strategy should be.

Ultimately, the issues and requirements of social housing are not being met and Canada's social housing stock is in decline at a time when rejuvenation is needed. Reform would argue that it is time the federal government was clear about its role in administering a national housing policy and that ultimately one level of government should be responsible for it to ensure the needs of Canadians are being met.

The provinces, with support from their municipalities, have demonstrated a better understanding of the social housing needs of Canadians and are in the best position to ensure that Canadian needs are being met. It is time they were given the ability to move forward in this regard. Clearly they have demonstrated their ability.

The Reform Party regrets that the bill is not all it could be and that the government, intent on pushing it through, did so at the expense of input from many organizations in which support a better national housing policy for Canadians and a more vibrant marketplace for homebuyers. Like them, the Reform Party believes that housing is an extremely important and urgent issue, that more and more it calls for partnerships and the benefits of collective thinking between the public and private sectors. Bill C-66 did not promote this.

Canadians believe strongly in this country's ability to provide affordable and decent housing to everyone and it is a shame this government missed an ideal opportunity to create avenues that would strengthen housing policy in the country. It is time that a housing strategy, both clear and concise in its intent and its objectives, existed in Canada, that responsibilities are defined, accepted and acted upon, and that both public and private sectors are given the means to work together to ensure we reach our objectives.

The belief that making CMHC more commercial is the answer to the housing challenges we face in Canada is shortsighted and ultimately inadequate. Pinning all our hopes on one agency will not suffice. We need to recognize the abilities of Canada's private sector. We need to recognize there is a private sector out there willing to participate in the housing market. Its very involvement strengthens the economy. However, by competing with a crown corporation its chances of growing stronger are impeded, and so too then is the economy. Is it this government's intention to impede the growth of the economy?

We also need to recognize the value of partnership. We need to recognize that our national housing policy under the federal government has not been effective for some time. We need to recognize that there are other levels of government and organizations within the private sector willing to strengthen our national housing policy. We need to see that a national housing policy will thrive under the benefits of partnership and clear the roadblocks preventing those partnerships from working effectively.

Surely, if we have learned any one thing from debt and deficit woes it is that the federal government can no longer resolve our most important issues simply by opening the federal purse. The housing challenges that face us need much more than money. Solutions will require the participation of organizations and other levels of government which have the knowledge and capabilities of addressing Canadian housing needs. Yes, the needs of Canadians will be better served if those closest to the problems are in the driver's seat.

If we are to ensure that the housing needs of Canadians, particularly our social housing needs, are met then it is time to let Canadians build a better national housing policy. To do so will require much more courageous vision and much greater action than Bill C-66 provides.

The government made the claim that Bill C-66 would level the playing field between CMHC and the private sector and make the mortgage insurance industry more competitive, that it would strengthen Canada's housing agency CMHC and thereby strengthen its ability to carry out its mandate of administering to Canadians' housing needs. It has done neither.

Most regrettable of all, by failing to work with the organizations that came to the committee during the review of the bill and failing to recognize their knowledge, capabilities and expertise, the federal government has missed an ideal opportunity to improve housing policy in Canada.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-66.

With all due respect, I want to tell the minister right off the bat that we will be unable to support the bill. I do not want him to take it personally, but, as I will explain later, there is in this bill a potential for intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction. This concerns us.

We are not against the fact that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation will now be allowed to operate abroad. The minister wants to give CMHC a really commercial mandate. I believe we have already seem it a work in Chile, if I am not mistaken. A delegation headed by the minister travelled to that country. My colleague from Quebec was a member.

We understand CMHC, and builders, have a role to play in better promoting Quebec and Canadian housing know-how.

I will now sum up the proposed legislation for the benefit of those listeners who might have just joined us. Close to one million Canadians listen to the House of Commons debates.

The bill contains eight major elements. First, CMHC, the main representative of the federal government in housing, would be authorized to make housing loans to individuals, groups, organizations, municipalities, departments, federal or provincial agencies, a bit like a bank.

Some even compared CMHC to a bank.

CMHC will have new authority to set fees and charges for the products and services it provides.

There is also a third objective that we support: to allow CMHC to participate in research and development of housing internationally and to promote the export of Canadian expertise and products relating to housing.

This is, I believe, one truly important objective of this bill. Allow me to repeat that enabling CMHC to have a greater impact on international export markets is one of the positive aspects of the bill.

Another aspect is more problematic. I would ask the minister to take what I am about to say into consideration. CMHC will have the authority to make contributions relating to housing payments. Powers will also be given to CMHC, not to the minister. The Bloc Quebecois sees this as a legal problem. These powers will concern the provision of funds to individuals, organizations and municipalities. This is another point of concern for us.

The minister ought to have said in his speech that, when transfers to individuals are concerned, those amounts will not be subjected to the constraints of the social union the federal government has negotiated with all provinces except Quebec. When reference is made to transfers covered by the social union, if these are transfers to individuals, they are not covered by the agreement signed with the federal government.

Our main concern is the possibility that the federal government could transact directly with NGOs, and with municipalities, in matters relating to housing, without provincial agreement.

I respectfully submit to the minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that the bill is hard to follow because, in the throne speech, the federal government promised to decentralize a number of sectors of intervention. They are what we called the eight sisters. There is tourism, mines, recreation and housing, as well. Surely the minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation remembers.

As an opposition party, we assumed the government would transfer the entire housing sector to the provinces. How does the minister explain to the House the claim the government made in the speech from the throne that it would transfer the entire housing sector to the provinces, and the increased powers this bill provides for the government?

If all of the prerogatives provided in this bill were implemented, the government could establish a housing allowance. Does the minister agree, or does he think we are not reading the bill properly?

From our reading of the powers accorded under Bill C-66 to the minister responsible for housing and more particularly to the CHMC, everything hints at the establishment of a national housing allowance. That is a source of some concern.

We have opened the door for the minister. We would have liked to support the government, because we are a constructive opposition. Whenever we are given the opportunity to do so, we are always pleased to support the government, provided Quebec's interests are respected. I moved an amendment asking that no loan, contribution or money be given to municipalities, non-profit organizations or individuals without the agreement of the Quebec government.

It is with regret that I inform this House that the government took advantage of its majority to reject the amendment. The minister will remember that he rose and, without blinking an eye, very comfortable in his role as minister, had the Bloc Quebecois' amendment rejected.

Except for this amendment, we were rather in agreement with the bill. If the minister wanted to reconsider his earlier decision and support—assuming there is unanimous consent—an amendment to the effect that no contribution can be made to individuals and intermediate bodies such as municipalities in the province of Quebec, we would be prepared to support this bill. Unfortunately, it is not the case and this is why we will oppose this legislation.

I am taking this opportunity to talk about the housing sector as a whole. As we know, and the minister made reference to this in his speech, there is a very tenuous but direct link between the whole issue of access to housing and the fight against poverty.

In a riding like Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, the primary cause of poverty is that our fellow citizens must often spend 30%, 40% or 50% of their income on rent.

For this reason it is important for there to be state intervention, in the form of a housing allowance, access to ownership and low-cost housing construction, in order to give the least advantaged access to housing. However, we believe that the government that should be doing this is not the federal government but the Quebec government and the provincial governments.

The federal government has committed to transferring $1.9 billion to the provinces. If my information is up to date, there are now five provinces and two territories that have signed, for a grand total of seven.

I ask the minister to get negotiations moving with Quebec. I am familiar with his talents as a negotiator, and I know he is a man motivated by a great sense of fairness. I would, however, like to remind him of certain historical facts.

I would also like to take advantage of the distinguished presence of my colleague, the hon. member for Bourassa, to remind him that the share paid to Quebec by the federal government does not take into account either its demographic weight or the number of households in urgent need of accommodation.

I would remind the minister—whose roots in the Liberal family are deep and long-lasting, indeed I believe they are ever-lasting in his mind—that all of the governments in Quebec, one after another, have called for fair compensation from the federal government.

I might give the example of Claude Ryan, whom we all know is no sovereignist. Moreover, the Minister of Human Resources Development has worked for him. When he was responsible for the housing portfolio in the National Assembly, Claude Ryan called upon CMHC to hand over 29% of the available funds, but this did not happen.

I will provide some figures, which I believe you will find interesting. First of all, total federal expenditures for social housing are $362 million. That is not a trifle, but it is not sufficient either. This amount of $362 million represents 18.7% of the total. In other words, the federal government spends 18.7% of its social housing expenditures in Quebec.

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

If you manage to spill your water, that too will be the fault of the federal government?

National Housing ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage to not encourage me to knock over my water, because unlike his government, I never thought the dollar should be allowed to float.

So, 18.7% of federal spending on housing is in Quebec, which means that 81.3% is outside Quebec. In Quebec, 29.3% of households are living in poverty.

I would ask the minister whether he is prepared today—I would even give him some of my time if he would—to instruct the federal government's chief negotiator for housing to inform the Government of Quebec, Lucien Bouchard and Louise Harel, who is responsible for housing in the National Assembly, that he is transferring 29.3% of the funds to the Government of Quebec. It is the only one entitled to have a national policy on housing.

I think the government will agree that it is perfectly logical for the Government of Quebec to intervene in the housing sector. This sector is connected with the Civil Code, municipalities and land management. There is no reason why the federal government should intervene in this area.

In actual fact, the CMHC directly subsidizes and oversees 44,597 housing units in Quebec. The federal government's offer—and I am sure the minister responsible for the CMHC was not really himself when he made the offer—is $218 million.

However, the federal government is proposing less than what the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation spends in Quebec. Indeed, the total amount spent by the CMHC in Quebec is $289 million.

I am convinced that the Quebec government would be prepared to come to an agreement with the federal government. The minister will agree that the current Quebec government is among the best and most reasonable ones we ever had. If the federal government offered $480 million, I am convinced the Quebec government would accept that amount.

I will repeat that for my colleague: $480 million, because this is the amount that Quebec is entitled to in the housing sector.

I am counting on the hon. member for Bourassa to get involved in this issue. This will be in Canadian dollars. I appreciate the member's optimism regarding a possible free trade zone using U.S. dollars. The hon. member is more or less acknowledging that a sovereign Quebec will be able to hold its own at the international level.

I will conclude, since oral question period is about to begin, by repeating that we cannot support this bill. We endorse the mandate of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to be more active on export markets. However, we think there is a possibility the federal government will get directly involved by negotiating with intermediate bodies, and this is not in Quebec's best interests with regard to the housing sector.

I am asking the minister to begin negotiations to ensure that Quebec gets its fair share. This will be an opportunity for the minister to properly serve Quebec society.

Canada Endangered Species Protection ActStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Mr. Speaker, all members of the House should applaud the vision and foresight of the hon. member for Davenport.

Last night he introduced the endangered species protection act which calls for the protection of all endangered species and their habitat in Canada. The bill calls for science based identification of species at risk and would make listing automatic. Recovery plans would be required and it would be an offence to harm, disturb or kill endangered species or their habitat.

Overwhelmingly Canadians want strong endangered species legislation. In the words of the hon. member for Davenport, “this is benchmark legislation for the government to emulate”.

Emergency Preparedness WeekStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is an old saying that when you are thirsty it is too late to think about digging a well. When it comes to emergency preparedness this principle is no less true.

That is why in support of Emergency Preparedness Week some remarkable leadership students from Mount Slesse Middle School of Chilliwack, B.C., will hold a safety fair tomorrow to educate the community on how to prepare for an emergency, whether a flood, earthquake, fire or chemical spill. Such information is timely and incredibly valuable even as the Fraser River threatens to overflow its banks in Chilliwack later this month.

Therefore on behalf of the honourable House I thank the emergency professionals who are giving their time and energy to support this event and to help the community prepare for such an emergency.

Most of all, I thank and congratulate the students of Mount Slesse Middle School for their leadership, their motivation, and for helping to teach our community that today's preparation determines tomorrow's success and safety.

Medic Alert MonthStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Elinor Caplan Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House that May has been designated Medic Alert Month by the Canadian Medic Alert Foundation.

For more than 38 years the Canadian Medic Alert Foundation has been protecting and saving lives through the use of engraved bracelets, necklets, wallet cards and a free 24 hour hotline number, as well as lifetime updates of members' records.

Over 900,000 Canadians benefit from the protection of this universally recognized emergency medical identification and information service.

During Medic Alert Month the foundation will launch a campaign to heighten awareness of its services. I encourage all Canadians with allergies, certain medical conditions or medications, or special needs to take advantage of these services.

Let us all wish the Canadian Medic Alert Foundation the best of success in its public awareness campaign.

University Of WaterlooStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate three students of the University of Waterloo who last month won the prestigious ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in the Netherlands.

These world champions of computer programming, David Kennedy, Ondrej Lhotak and Viet-Trung Luu, beat out 61 teams from around the world.

This is the second time in 10 years that the University of Waterloo has won. Their record, consistently scoring in the top 10 with 2 wins, is the best record of any university in North America.

I join with my colleagues in congratulating these three young Canadians and wish them well in what I am certain will be their very successful futures.

Michael MariniStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, a resident of Hamilton Mountain and a student of McMaster University, Michael Marini, was recently in Washington, D.C. making many new friends and collecting his second place award in an essay competition which was sponsored by the Centre for the Study of the Presidency in Washington.

In Michael's essay, “Leadership in the New Millennium”, he discussed how technology is affecting the electoral process. He believes that the Internet is an excellent way for voters to stay in touch with all levels of government and that democracy, via the Internet, can be brought directly into people's homes.

Michael Marini is yet another excellent example of the leadership and intelligence of Canadian youth. Michael loves the cut and thrust of public life and his ambition is to work as a political consultant. With people such as this young man from Hamilton Mountain, Canada's future will continue to be a bright one.

Nisga'A TreatyStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, did you know that the Nisga'a treaty will allow unlimited tax and rent increases to non-Nisga'a living on Nisga'a land? Do you think that is not a problem? Ask the non-native residents of the Musqueam reserve who just got hit with increases of over 7,000%.

Mr. Speaker, did you know there is a clause in the Nisga'a treaty that states that if at any time the government signs a treaty with any other aboriginal group that is more generous than the Nisga'a treaty, it automatically reopens negotiations?

Mr. Speaker, did you know the Nisga'a treaty allows the banning of union certification? Do you think it will not happen? The Kamloops and Westbank bands both recently did this, claiming that it would interfere with Indian self-determination, despite the fact that aboriginal workers on the reserves voted in favour of certification.

Some claim the Nisga'a treaty is necessary to end the uncertainty over land claims, but the Gitanyow band is now suing the government and the Nisga'a, claiming that Nisga'a treaty lands are their traditional lands, and B.C. taxpayers will be paying the bill for both sides.

Canadians want treaty settlements and so do we, but the treaties have to make sense. A bad treaty is not better than no treaty at all.

Medical Assistance Programs International Of CanadaStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute today to Medical Assistance Programs International of Canada, commonly known as MAP, a very special medical aid agency.

I first became aware of MAP through my work as a member of the Canada-Cuba Friendship Association. Since the fall of 1995 MAP has shipped $7.5 million worth of medicine to Cuba to help treat more than one million people. As well, MAP has shipped more than $48 million worth of medicine, vaccines and hospital supplies to more than 60 countries, including Kosovo, since 1990.

MAP's work, which is not for profit, is carried out in partnership with various departments and agencies of the Government of Canada.

The products which MAP provides are donated by member companies of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Canada, the Non-prescription Drug Manufacturers of Canada and by providers of vaccines and hospital supplies.

Together Medical Assistance Programs International of Canada and Canadians are doing their part to improve the health of millions of people.

International Composting Awareness WeekStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, May 2 to 8 is International Composting Awareness Week. The theme is “It's your turn...Compost”, with the emphasis on the value of compost in a number of sectors of our society.

According to the last study of the Composting Council of Canada, over 1,650,000 tonnes of organic matter have been composted, representing a 23.5% increase in the last two years.

The importance of compost in improving soil quality and the need for composting are becoming increasingly evident. The end product is used for gardening, landscaping and various agricultural and horticultural applications.

Composting is a social commitment to our environment, offering a means to reduce the production of waste while putting organic matter to productive use.

It's your turn...Compost.

United WayStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to pay tribute to the United Way. While most Canadians know about the United Way's annual fundraising campaign in October, few are aware of all the preparation necessary to its success. Right now local branches are putting in place the human infrastructure of volunteers who will do the required work. Community leaders from business, labour and government are coming together as a team to steer the campaign through a series of special events designed to raise public awareness.

In my riding of Oakville all of this activity begins with a community leaders' breakfast next Friday. From that starting point the helping network will spread through the town to involve as many volunteers as possible. The result will be financial support to the social and health agencies that are the base of any resilient community.

Today I want to salute the hardworking staff and the generous volunteers of the United Way family and to wish them well as they march together to a successful campaign '99.

Surrey Police Officer AwardsStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, last Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending Surrey's third annual police officer of the year awards. The evening, sponsored by the Surrey Chamber of Commerce, allows the community to express its gratitude to the men and women of our RCMP detachment, including regular members and civilian workers, both municipal employees and volunteers.

I congratulate the following winners: Rusty Ashworth of Associated Labels for the Police and Business Partnership Award; Duane Foley for Policing Volunteer of the Year; Simmie Grewal for Municipal Employee of the Year; and a tie for Police Officer of the Year, chosen by their peers, Constable Kevin Bracewell and Corporal Robin Stutt; and Police Officer of the Year, chosen by the community, Sergeant Gordon Friesen.

The winners were chosen from long lists of nominees who we also congratulate. Just as important, I wish to extend on behalf of the constituents of Surrey North our gratitude to all members of the Surrey RCMP and support personnel for their continuing dedication and professionalism during what we know are very difficult fiscal times.

Tva Television NetworkStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Saturday, TVA took up a new challenge and went national, to the delight of all francophones across Canada.

I wish to congratulate the members of the advisory committee from each of the provinces for their excellent work, and in particular TVA and its president, Daniel Lamarre, for his vision and determination. This is a great step forward for francophones in Canada.

We know how pervasive a communication tool television is in the daily lives of Canadians.

Now they will have a much greater selection in the language of their choice. I wish TVA a long life from coast to coast.

Westray MineStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, this Sunday, May 9, will mark the seventh year since the Westray Mine disaster. The 26 victims of this tragedy, their families and co-workers have yet to see justice served.

These 26 men were the victims of a corporation that put profit before workers' lives. Workplace safety and health must be the first priority. The government and the law have failed the Westray victims and their families. We must ensure that those responsible for workplace injuries and deaths are held accountable.

The New Democratic Party has put legislation before this House that will hold companies and their managers accountable for crimes like those at Westray. Unless there are laws to protect workers there will always be companies that put profits before safety. Crimes like this must never go unpunished again.

This Sunday, as we spend time with our families and enjoy Mother's Day, let us mark a moment of silence and prayer for the Westray miners and their families.

Election In ScotlandStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the people of Scotland took a decisive step toward their future. Today, after 300 years, the Scottish parliament is alive again through democratic process and the resolute political will of an entire people.

We congratulate all parties involved in this exercise, including the Labour Party, which was victorious, and the secessionist Scottish National Party, which will be the official opposition and will defend and promote its option. This historic event is the expression of a will to debate calmly and democratically the future of a people and all the legitimate choices available to it.

The day will come when Scotland, like Quebec, will find its place among nations, thus sharing with other sovereign states its common values and proffering its differences to the world as a whole as an equal partner. Maîtres chez nous is the expression that defined the Quebec situation 30 years ago. It transcends the borders of Quebec. Still relevant today, it underlies the rise of peoples in the coming millennium.

International RelationsStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the latest separatist strategy is to provoke refusal on the part of the federal government. Their new trick is playing on the international stage.

The Parti Quebecois government is spending millions and millions of our tax dollars to strut about on the international stage trying to wage flag wars, obviously because of their obsessive drive to come up with the so-called winning conditions. We are still wading through a pre-referendum campaign.

In their paranoia, it is the fault of the federal government that Lucien Bouchard will not be meeting with Mexican President Zedillo.

The leader of the Bloc forgot to say yesterday that President Zedillo would simply not be available during Mr. Bouchard's visit there. The worst part is that the separatists already knew and nevertheless raised questions regarding the trip of their venerable leader.

There is a limit to considering people fools. Lucien's lackey must be really desperate. The polls reveal again this morning that, in Quebec, the Liberals lead the Parizeau faithful 49% to 36%.

If this trend continues, he will lose the limousine he took from his leader not long ago.

TradeStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, tonight the Prime Minister will thumb his nose at the Canadian voters again when he accepts an honorary degree from Michigan State University.

The university is using this occasion to celebrate the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In 1988, members will recall, in bitter debates across the country, the Liberals demonized the Conservative free trade initiative. Canadians will recall that the Liberals promised to tear up the agreement when elected.

In 1993 the Liberals insisted in their red book that they would renegotiate the NAFTA and scrap it if unsuccessful, something they conveniently forgot when elected, much like their shifty stance on GST, helicopters and the Pearson airport.

The Prime Minister himself repeatedly said “It is not a good deal”.

Tonight, when the Prime Minister delivers his commencement address to the assembled university graduates, it will be interesting to know if he tells the truth about his disregard for the Canadian electorate. Will he remind them that he, along with the Ministers of Finance, Industry, Canadian Heritage, International Trade and other serving Liberal cabinet ministers used the NAFTA issue to cynically exploit the concerns of Canadians? Will he tell the graduates that winning is everything? Will he tell them that it is not necessary to keep promises? Or, will he suddenly see the light and tell the graduates the truth?

Youth ViolenceStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, the recent shootings in Taber, Alberta and Littleton, Colorado have once more awakened us to the issue of violence among children.

What can we do as a nation?

I am reminded of a speech by Hetty Adams, Canada's leading educator in teaching children the skills of peace, which she gave a little over two years ago.

Children are not born with violence in their blood, but their exposure to behaviours of violence have made some desensitized to it.

When we plant the seeds of self-esteem, tolerance, anger management, mediation and conflict resolution in the hearts and minds of our young, we will harvest a citizenry skilled in peacekeeping and peacemaking.

May the federal government, in collaboration with the provincial governments, seek to establish nationwide a curriculum in peace studies at all school levels.

May this be one legacy we leave as a nation as we head into the new millennium: a citizenry of children and youth who live and champion the ethics of peace, not tragedies of school violence.

Health CareStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Lee Morrison Reform Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, two years ago my parents had the great misfortune of experiencing the Canadian health care system in Saskatchewan. That is when I discovered that even prestigious teaching hospitals are so understaffed that unless patients have relatives or friends to help them wash, eat or go to the toilet, they have a very miserable time.

How can the minister continue to deny that lack of federal funding has wrecked a system that used to be the envy of the world, and that recent budgetary measures will not begin to repair the Liberal damage?

The Liberal's pay more, get less philosophy of government has resulted in a mass exodus of Canadian doctors and nurses and the closure of thousands of hospital beds in the last five years.

In terms of service availability, we are on the road to becoming a third world country.

I wonder which countries we can expect to send medical missionaries to Canada.

ShipbuildingStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Wednesday evening, the Liberal members voted against the Progressive Conservative motion calling upon the government to develop a new national strategy to support the revitalization of the Canadian shipbuilding industry.

There is nothing surprising about that, hon. members will agree. The Liberals have a habit of voting against the opposition.

What is disconcerting is the inconsistency being shown by the government. The Progressive Conservative motion was an almost word-for-word copy of one passed by the Liberal Party faithful at their March 1998 convention. Most of the Liberal MPs supported it at that time.

Not only is this behaviour inconsistent, but worse than that, it indicates an unequivocal lack of respect for the Liberal Party faithful.

No one would ever have believed that the Liberal MPs would treat their party faithful to the same medicine they dish up for us regularly in this House: lack of respect plus inconsistency.

Canadian Labour CongressStatements By Members

11:15 a.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of all my NDP colleagues past and present to say thanks to Mr. Bob White, retiring leader of the Canadian Labour Congress, for over 40 years of service to working people and their families in communities from coast to coast to coast.

As well, we offer our best wishes to Mr. Dick Martin, retiring secretary treasurer. Both these men displayed an undying loyalty to the labour movement and to our party, and for this we will always be grateful.

Our party also wishes to welcome Mr. Ken Georgetti to the position of president of the CLC. Mr. Georgetti will continue the fight to improve the lives of working people, their families and their communities across the country.

For this we continue our pledge to the CLC and to working with it.

EmploymentOral Question Period

11:15 a.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the jobless rate is up almost a full half per cent. Nearly one and a half million Canadians are looking for work. Young people are particularly hard hit.

The government's answer is to look the other way, to turn the other cheek and to whistle past the graveyard. What hollow words would the government offer to these people, especially to young Canadians who are out again today pounding the pavement looking for work?