House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fcc.


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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare Motion No. 1 lost. I therefore declare Motion No. 2 lost.

Before putting the motions in Group No. 2 to the House, I wish to make it clear that the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm no longer wishes to proceed with Motion No. 5 in Group No. 2.

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1:10 p.m.

Ottawa South Ontario


John Manley Liberalfor the Minister of Justice


Motion No. 3

That Bill C-24, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing line 4 on page 13 with the following:

`justice system participant or journalist),”

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-24, in Clause 11, be amended by replacing lines 7 to 36 on page 18 with the following:

“423.1 (1) No person shall, without lawful authority, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) with the intent to provoke a state of fear in a ) a group of persons or the general public in order to impede the administration of criminal justice; b ) a justice system participant in order to impede him or her in the performance of his or her duties; or c ) a journalist in order to impede him or her in the transmission to the public of information in relation to a criminal organization.

(2) The conduct referred to in subsection (1) consists of a ) using violence against a justice system participant or a journalist or anyone known to either of them or destroying or causing damage to the property of any of those persons; b ) threatening to engage in conduct described in paragraph ( a ) in Canada or elsewhere; c ) persistently or repeatedly following a justice system participant or a journalist or anyone known to either of them, including following that person in a disorderly manner on a highway; d ) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, a justice system participant or a journalist or anyone known to either of them; and e ) besetting or watching the place where a justice system participant or a journalist or anyone known to either of them resides, works, attends school, carries on business or happens to be.

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-24, in Clause 81, be amended by replacing line 22 on page 68 with the following:

“justice system participant or journalist),”

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1:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I will speak very briefly to this since I did not touch upon it in my earlier remarks on my own amendment.

I would again reiterate that it is not the position of the Progressive Conservative Party, and I think I am safe in saying it is not the position of any party in the House, to impede or in any way hold back the police in their very important duty to protect citizens and the country from this growing threat of organized crime.

This amendment was proposed by the Bloc. I again wish to congratulate the members of the Bloc who contributed a great deal to this particular piece of legislation, who brought forward amendments, who proposed supply day motions that I would suggest very much pushed the government toward the point we see today where legislation has been brought forward.

As I indicated, members, particularly the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, know first hand the means by which organized crime can invade a person's life and very much affect day to day existence through threats to family. Often it is very much implied. It is very subtle. It is very nefarious in its means. This is something that can be most disturbing. It is a cancer, a plague on our justice system, when it occurs.

It stands to reason that we would extend this practice of protection beyond our own means, beyond the members of parliament and the Senate, and extend it to provincial and municipal politicians and to journalists as well, because we have seen the extremely important role that journalists play in public awareness, in the reporting of the activities of organized crime and, I would suggest as well, in the disclosure and the pulling back of the cloak of secrecy that is very often part of the threat that organized crime can pose.

In many instances revealing who these individuals are strips them bare of their ability to intimidate. If the bright light of day shines upon them, they are no longer able to work from the shadows and cause fear in the hearts of those who are seeking justice. Whether it be through disclosing information, whether it be a journalist, jury members or participants in the justice system in any way, intimidation can very clearly take the underpinnings and shake the cornerstone of the justice system.

To that end is the government adoption of this amendment that originated from the Bloc. I must congratulate the member for Berthier—Montcalm as well. I know that he has worked extremely hard and has made significant contributions to the bill as well. The government in its wisdom has seen its way clear to including journalists in this envelope, in this protection from intimidation.

Expanding this so that journalists are included means that they too can go about their tasks and their reporting without the fear of reprisal. If it does happen, the justice system is now mandated to intervene. We do not have to look any further than a very recent example involving Michel Auger in Montreal. What is quite timely is that we are informed that members of the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal city police, I believe, have apprehended individuals connected with his shooting.

He was a very courageous man indeed, Madam Speaker, as you would know. Not only has he recovered, he continues to write on the subject of organized crime. He continues to provide the public in the province of Quebec with information about this story of organized crime and with other stories he has taken on in his passion as a journalist.

We in the Progressive Conservative Party are supporting this amendment as well. We encourage other members to do likewise. We look forward to seeing the legislation come into being upon passing through the other place.

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1:20 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the Progressive Conservative member for his kind words with respect to the Bloc Quebecois members, particularly the member for Berthier—Montcalm, who led the battle for this amendment to the criminal code.

We are going to vote in favour of this amendment: first, because we feel it is very fair and, second, because it was our colleague, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, who suggested it to the Standing Committee on Justice.

As I mentioned earlier, it is a bit much that the Liberal members must always be practically intimidated before they will come around to a point of view or an analysis which has always been right. The Bloc Quebecois has always put its finger on the problems and the shortcomings of the criminal code, and the tools the police are given to conduct their investigations.

During the last meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice, the Liberal members were completely opposed to journalists being protected. Even in the case of Mr. Auger, it was something they would not do. It took the Bloc Quebecois moving a motion calling for a recorded division and threatening to release the names of those Liberal members present to convince them.

It is a bit much to have to operate in this way to bring about improvements. This government does not readily understand the importance of what it includes in a bill, in terms of actions and wording.

This amendment deals with intimidation. This is a very important issue; with money, it is the key element in the war being wagered by all criminal groups. If, with the wealth derived from drugs, car thefts and prostitution, one is unable to buy another person, he will use intimidation. It is the one or the other.

We welcome this amendment. For about three months, I lived through this hell. It was as if I had been in some kind of jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while I could see on television criminals clowning around, smiling and acting like movie stars; they are incredibly arrogant when they become powerful.

Their arrogance is directly proportional to their power. For an honest citizens, particularly a three year old girl, to be deprived of their freedom even for an hour, is the most horrible experience they can go through. Freedom is important, particularly when one has nothing to reproach oneself with.

Why should we be shy when comes the time to fight organized crime, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, supposedly to respect the rights of these people who have absolutely no respect for others? They destroy families, they kill, even 11 year old children.

Why should we not include clauses such as the one proposed by my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm to protect journalists? In a democracy, these people have an incredible job to do, that is, to dig up the truth and denounce criminals. In this democracy, they often complement our work. Without them, democracy would be incredibly flawed. So it was quite normal that we should include journalists in this new clause on intimidation.

I am also pleased with the new provision that will protect the general public from certain acts of intimidation. Other provisions provide for the prosecution of those who help out organized criminals or have close ties with them. I am also very happy that, under this bill, the thugs who take over farmland in my riding and elsewhere in Quebec will be prosecuted.

By linking those two provisions to the crimes they commit, we will be able to put them behind bars. First, they use intimidation. For about four years now, they have been intimidating farm families. That is unacceptable. They terrorize them for six months every year, from the moment they sow and transplant to the moment they harvest. They intimidate farmers, their families and their children.

We now have the extra tools we need to prosecute them. After catching these criminals right there in the fields, and I am talking directly to them now, we will have the tools to prosecute them for contributing to organized crime, the operations of biker gangs in particular, and to ensure they get real tough sentences. We will put an end to institutionalized terrorism in the rural areas of Quebec and particular in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. We will let those farming families alone, undisturbed, to enjoy the use of their land and make the economy roll.

I am particularly proud of the new provisions. However, we would have liked the minister to show even more openness. We will have to wait another two, three or maybe four years to find out that there are still flaws.

I do not know what is happening, but on our side, we work, we analyse and we plan. We have a problem with a number of things in this bill, irrespective of the good in it, and the bill satisfies about 80% of our expectations, for example, the whole issue of the solicitor general approving of the commission of crimes by policemen.

Why is a judge not involved as is the case for search warrants, so that the political power does not interfere with the judiciary, with all the abuses that this may entail? There will be abuses. It is easy to foresee that. Why not also limit police immunity with respect to the organized crime?

We have asked the Minister of Justice why she was not referring to criminal organizations, to organized crime. It is becoming disturbing to see that we can extend immunity to the police for any reason, basically for any group. It is just like an open bar. Once again, we want to give the police all the tools they need to fight organized crime and to help them do their work. That is obvious. However, we have to put restrictions and we need to be very careful.

We also asked the minister to reverse the burden of proof for the proceeds of crime. Let the criminals explain how, when they do not have a regular job and do not file income tax returns with Revenue Canada or Revenu Québec, they can afford a Mercedes, a boat and a mansion.

It would have been nice if the government had avoided a situation where it will have to spend thousands and millions of dollars investigating the assets of criminals to prove that they are the proceeds of crime. We will have to wait once more, maybe for three, four or five years.

It would have been so easy to pass this bill before operation Spring 2001. It was possible. These problems have been pointed out since 1997. I would have liked to see the 160 criminals who were arrested in Quebec charged under the principles of the new bill. It was possible. We knew what was missing in the criminal code. We knew how difficult it was to prove gangsterism with the so-called rule of the three fives: a group of five people having committed in the last five years a crime punishable by imprisonment for five years.

We will have to continue our education efforts, and the next time around the bill will be better and will give us 100% of what we need to fight organized crime effectively.

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on Motion No. 3. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare Motion No. 3 carried. I therefore declare Motions Nos. 4 and 6 carried.

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1:30 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario


David Collenette Liberalfor the Minister of Justice

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in with further amendments.

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 1.32 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

June 8th, 2001 / 1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop a precise and workable definition of the terms “affordable housing”, “poverty' and “homeless” to guide government policy and to establish legislative parameters for related government spending.

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague from Prince George—Peace River for seconding the motion. I am pleased to rise today to speak on my motion, Motion No. 245, and I would like to repeat it for the record:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop a precise and workable definition of the terms “affordable housing”, “poverty”, and “homeless” to guide government policy and to establish legislative parameters for related government spending.

The reason for this is very simple, that is, the most basic of terms, these three, affordable housing, poverty and homeless, have so many different meanings across the country that it makes it rather impossible to legislate for the needs of the citizens of Canada with so much variety in interpretation.

The term homeless, for example, has so many different definitions that it has the number of homeless people in Canada varying from some three million people at the high end to a low end of some three thousand if we are talking about people who simply do not have shelter or a home.

With this in mind, I will first refer to the dictionary definition of homeless. Three dictionaries, American Heritage , Canadian Oxford and Webster's , simply say it means having no home or lacking a home. That is very simple.

One would think it would be very simple for various organizations across Canada to be able to use those simple terms, but what appears simple is not necessarily so. Out of 10 homeless reports I reviewed from across Canada there were 38 different definitions of homeless.

With that in mind, and because it is important, I will read into the record the different definitions so that we can examine the problem to see if we cannot come up with a solution, something simple and basic that we are able to legislate and follow.

I will start with the different definitions of homeless and homelessness. The definitions describe homeless people as: having no housing alternatives; being absolutely homeless; being sheltered homeless; living in emergency accommodations; living in condemned housing; living in transitional accommodation and ready to be discharged but having no permanent residence to go to.

The definitions continue, describing homeless people as those who: are expected to be on the street at the end of a stay; are expected to be on the street in the immediate future; have an extremely low income; have no fixed address; have no permanent place to reside; have no housing at all or are staying in a temporary form of a situation. They also include people who: sleep on the street; sleep in a stairwell; end up staying with friends; live in housing that is extremely expensive; live in overcrowded or inadequate housing; live in places not meant for human habitation; live in parks and on beaches; live in vehicles; squat in vacant buildings; live in hostels; and live in substandard hotels and rooming houses.

More definitions include: being absolutely, periodically or temporarily without shelter; living in housing not within easy reach of employment and costing more than 50% of income; lacking privacy, security and tenant document rights; having mental health or social disorganization; not being a member of a stable group; being in extreme cases of failure to provide the conditions needed to ensure quality of life; paying more than 30% of income for rent; having no home or haven; lacking a home; having no home or permanent place of residence; having the quality or state of being homeless; being chronically homeless; being cyclically homeless; being temporarily homeless; and suffering from the homeless disease.

It rather defies belief that in 10 reports we can have 38 different definitions. How on earth can we develop policy when we have such misunderstandings and misinterpretations across the country in 10 simple reports, let alone practically every city having its own individual reports?

If that is not enough of a problem in regard to the definition of the term homeless, we follow through with the problem of defining poverty. The problem with poverty, and why it impacts and varies so much, is that the largest single group in the homeless category across the country is single people.

If we try to understand what the poverty level is for a single person, we will see that it varies from the $450 a month in Edmonton, which is provided by social services for a single person to live on, to the low income cutoff of $1,757. It varies from social assistance of $450 to $1,750. Once again, how do we rationalize it? Those numbers are for one city, the city of Edmonton. Let us look at Alberta assisted living wages in Edmonton. That is $855 a month. Minimum wages are $5.90 an hour, which means that full time employment of 170 hours is worth $1,000 a month.

Surely we have to come up with some opinion of what we consider to be a rational level for a single person who is living in poverty. In other words, what is the poverty level for a single person? Certainly I do not believe that it should be $1,700 a month, which is approximately 80% more than a person living on minimum wage. On the low end, $450 a month does not provide sustenance of life either. Therefore we have a problem defining poverty.

The third area we have a problem with is affordable housing. What is affordable? How do we characterize and provide for affordable housing across this country when there are such wide discrepancies in our understanding of what is affordable? For example, a brand new six-plex row housing unit was built in Edmonton at $117,000 per unit. In the city of Edmonton that is simply not affordable. That is high end housing. A builder can build the same housing for $55 a square foot in Edmonton, for a cost of approximately $60,000 to $70,000 a unit. If the builder can build units to code, to regulations, to all standards including health standards, and build these units for $55 a square foot, why are we considering affordable housing in the range of $100 to $110 a square foot?

How can that be provided on a national basis if we are looking at providing assistance with funding for 1.7 million households across the country? The difference between those two I mentioned is a factor of 2 to 1. Surely we have to come up with some legislation and terminology so that we can examine what we mean by affordable and what is proper for us to provide. We need to have that before we look at funding.

In this case, we simply could not afford to provide a six unit row house complex at a cost of $117,000 per unit to all those across the country who do need it.

The other issue with affordable housing is how we make it affordable. There are great concerns with that as well, because 100% of the funding for this same six unit affordable housing project in Edmonton came from Alberta lottery funds or from taxpayers. By the same token, now that the complex has been opened taxpayers are paying subsidized rents up to market value. We have to address not only the problem of affordability but the problem of how we appropriate grants and loans for new construction. In this case the taxpayers paid to build the building and are also paying to subsidize the rents. That obviously cannot be done across the country.

There are various issues that must be addressed and considered. We absolutely must have working definitions for the terms affordable housing, poverty and homeless in order to be able to go on to the other issues, which would be to develop regional housing shelter ladders and affordable housing standards and to address deinstitutionalization concerns and charter of rights and freedoms concerns. All of these will have to be addressed before we can start to look at properly addressing the concerns of the homeless and of those across the country who need affordable housing.

I ask all members to agree that the first step in providing affordable housing and addressing shelter needs and concerns is to understand the terminology so that we can define it in terms of where our needs are before we proceed to other areas.

As I indicated, one of the largest concerns in the country, one of the largest needs, is that of providing housing for singles. Whether we are talking about Toronto or Edmonton, our shelters across the country are filled with single people, a large number who have the means to pay at least some rent. Whether it is in Toronto or Edmonton, one-third of the people in the emergency shelters need clean affordable rooming house rooms. For example, in Edmonton that would be a rooming house room that would rent for $250 a month and in Toronto it would probably be $300 to $350 a month.

The problem is that we have not built any new rooming house rooms in Canada in 20 years. More than that, we have closed two-thirds of the rooming house rooms. Affordable housing is one of the most critical areas that must be defined and defined soon.

Ninety per cent of funding that has been going into RRAP repair programs has been going into upscale apartment projects, not into the most needed area, rooming house rooms. Part of the reason for that is the explanation and definition of what a rooming house room is and what an apartment is. That underlines the concerns and the need to develop national understandings and definitions for the terminology that we are using.

With the affordable housing definitions and terminology it is very important to define whether it is a rooming house room for singles or whether it is the shelters themselves, so that we know what we will provide for basic shelter and for affordable housing units.

It is estimated that some 7,000 rooming house rooms in the Toronto area have been closed down. When I visit the shelters in Toronto and Edmonton I am told time and again that the men and women staying in those shelters want rooming house rooms. They could afford to move into something but they just do not have enough money to move into upscale apartments.

Due to the importance of my motion and the need for affordable housing on a national basis, I ask for unanimous consent to make it votable.

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there unanimous consent?

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Whitby—Ajax Ontario


Judi Longfield LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Motion No. 245. I will start by addressing the part of the motion that asks the government to develop a precise and workable definition of the term homeless.

What might appear to be a fairly straightforward request is not nearly so straightforward. The member opposite gave a very lengthy and accurate accounting of valid definitions used by government and agencies throughout our country. I would argue that we should concern ourselves with definitions of the problem. I believe it is more appropriate for us to focus our attention on meeting the challenges of homelessness.

We know, for example, there is no single cause of homelessness. Therefore we cannot simply assume that any definition we come up with will adequately address the situation of Canadians who find themselves in need of housing, mental health care, rehabilitation or employment training.

People who are without shelter are on the streets for many reasons: some because of alcohol or substance abuse, some because of spousal abuse, and others are chronically unemployed or have mental health problems. There are many reasons people are on the streets and they should all be defined differently.

A community worker dealing with a single mother looking for shelter, a discharge worker trying to help a psychiatric patient reintegrate into the community, or any other type of homeless causes that community workers in Canada deal with every day could all produce a very different definition.

Similarly different communities also define the problem in different ways. Finding affordable housing in Toronto is very different from finding affordable housing in rural Saskatchewan. Living in poverty in Edmonton is different from living in poverty in rural New Brunswick. While these problems may both be equally acute, they are different. I feel that it would be almost impossible to develop a definition that would suit these situations which are equally unique.

The issue of homelessness is quantitatively different in large urban centres than it is in smaller towns and rural areas. For example, when the Minister of Labour and the federal co-ordinator for homelessness went across the country to discuss the homeless issues with mayors and community workers she heard many different definitions of the problem.

Some community groups were concerned with street youth, others with women who needed refuge from a difficult family situation. Others thought the priority should be unemployed men who needed food and temporary accommodation. These people did not have a common definition of homelessness but they did see a common problem.

They were not so much interested in defining the problem as they were in solving it. These community leaders told us that they wanted support from the Government of Canada that would meet the needs that they saw. They wanted the flexibility to develop local solutions that would meet the needs of the homeless in their individual communities.

Successive federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments have responded by bringing in countless different measures over the years that are designed to help those who are in need; measures such as the federal government's national homelessness initiative, which is attempting to co-ordinate an adequate response to this growing crisis on the federal side while working together with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, as well as community organizations and the private sector to address the issue.

The goal of this initiative is to prevent and alleviate homelessness. Its objectives are as follows: to facilitate community capacity development to address the local needs of the homeless by co-ordinating Government of Canada efforts and resources and enhancing the diversity of tools and resources available; to foster effective partnerships and investments that contribute to addressing the immediate and multifaceted needs of the homeless and to reducing homelessness in Canada; and to increase the awareness and understanding of homelessness in Canada.

There is also the supporting communities partnerships initiative that the government introduced last year to support communities across Canada in meeting the unique needs of the homeless in their communities as they see them.

The federal government is a partner, often along with provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government, community organizations and the private sector. However the needs are locally defined.

Of course there are some criteria. For example, one of the federal government's key objectives is to ensure that no individual is involuntarily on the street by ensuring that sufficient shelters and adequate support systems are available. Another is to reduce the number of individuals requiring emergency shelters and traditional and supportive housing through preventative initiatives, early intervention, health services, low cost housing and discharge planning. These are all based on a continuum that leads to independence and self-reliance.

A wide variety of organizations, including public health and educational institutions, not for profit organizations, and even individuals, are eligible to receive funding. The private sector also has an important role to play. We have encouraged them to contribute and in some cases participate in joint initiatives.

The Government of Canada has included the following 10 cities in the initiative: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax. They are designated as large urban centres where homelessness is most acute. Smaller communities or groups of communities working together in a region that can demonstrate a homeless problem are also eligible.

Recently, for example, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, on behalf of the federal co-ordinator for homelessness, announced federal funding of $19 million to assist the homeless in Edmonton and other parts of north and central Alberta as defined by these communities. Some $17 million will go to the Edmonton housing trust fund to work with the city agencies and private sector to meet the needs of the homeless in that city.

Edmonton mayor, Bill Smith, expressed his support for this approach. He said that his city was pleased to be working with the federal and provincial governments to address the issue of homelessness in Edmonton. Similarly, the provincial minister of seniors responsible for housing in the government of Alberta is also in favour of the partnership approach. However he reminds us that every community has different housing needs and circumstances that are best resolved by local planning and decision making.

From the federal government's perspective, we see homelessness as an issue that goes right to the heart of the kind of country we want to live in. Do we want a society that is generous and fair, that includes everyone and that is willing to provide support to those in need? Clearly, the vast majority of Canadians have already answered yes. They want a society that is generous, progressive and inclusive. Our experience to date tells us that our partners in the provincial and municipal governments and the community organizations that are working directly with the homeless, however they are defined, share this perspective.

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to have an opportunity today to try to help clarify the terms affordable housing, poverty and homeless.

This is a topic of great interest to me, all the more so as I am a woman. When one talks about poverty, the homeless and affordable housing, the majority of those affected are women. I am also the Bloc Quebecois critic for the status of women.

I will begin right away by saying how very disappointed I am in the answer given by the member opposite. I thought that we were here this afternoon to clarify, as set out in the motion, the terms affordable housing, poverty and homeless, and not to list off what the government is doing with respect to affordable housing, poverty and the homeless.

Since the beginning of this parliamentary session, the Bloc Quebecois has repeatedly asked questions on these topics. We have tried in various ways to find out whether the government is on the same wavelength as we are, if its understanding of the concepts of affordable housing, poverty and homeless is the same as ours.

As the House knows, the federal government stopped funding social housing in 1994, and perhaps that is why we have been asking so many questions. It is no longer providing any funding for this. It chose instead to put in place an affordable housing program, which is totally unacceptable for Quebecers and Canadians.

The federal government is about to invest $680 million in housing that does not meet the needs of the poor and the homeless.

The motion brought forward today will give me the opportunity to explain the difference between social and affordable housing and to give a clear definition of the words poverty and homeless, and I thank the member for Edmonton Centre East for that.

As the Bloc Quebecois critic on the status of women, I will cannot claim that I live in what would qualify as poverty. I am one of those women who, through their work, were able to make a decent living.

However, I went to meet people, to meet groups in Quebec as well as in the rest of Canada. I went to see if these groups had a definition of social housing. I went to see what they thought of affordable housing. I went to see what the words poverty and homeless meant to them.

The idea of affordable housing is directly related to the issue of social housing. Social housing means housing designed exclusively for unattached individuals, elderly people, men, women, families and households with a very low income. It means that these people pay at least 30% of their gross income, and maybe more, to have a decent place to live, including heat and electricity. We are talking about more 1,670,700 households, the majority of which are single parent families headed by women.

I believe it is important to define what social housing is because it is not affordable housing.

During the last election campaign, the Liberals promised affordable housing. Today we can state that they have not yet begun to fulfil those promises, because negotiations between the federal government and the provinces are at a standstill.

Promises were made about the construction of housing by independent building contractors, with a minimum investment of $12,500. We know that decent housing requires an investment of at least $25,000 investment. I am referring here to four-room accommodation. This is housing that will then rent for between $600 and $800 a month in Quebec. My colleague from Edmonton Centre East has said that the rent would probably be far higher in a certain other region.

During the election campaign, the minister responsible for social housing stated on a radio program that this type of housing would be made available for families. Thus, the affordable housing would be reserved for families able to afford this amount of rent. That is not what social housing is all about.

Obviously, the Liberal government does not have the same definition of poverty as we do, or perhaps it does not even realize what poverty is, or it just does not want to acknowledge its existence.

People need social housing because they poor. When one is poor, one cannot pay $600 a month for housing. When one is poor, one often depends on food banks or soup kitchens. When one is poor, one often faces a dilemma: pay the rent or buy food, pay the rent or pay for drugs. A growing minority is no longer able to pay the rent and services like electricity or gas at the same time.

Poverty amplifies another problem, that is the discrimination one faces when looking for housing. Owners of rental housing are increasingly invoking the presumed insolvency of poor people as a reason to reject them as tenants. These people are often forced to accept inferior housing.

As for the homeless, what I earlier called the problem of homelessness, and I would only like to say to my colleague of Edmonton Centre East that that it is not an illness, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to housing problems.

It was said earlier, more than one million tenant families are inadequately housed, a record number of people are condemned to live on the street in every big city and people living in the street are there for a number of reasons, many of them having to do with housing.

Community groups that have this expertise on homelessness agree on the following definition of homeless: people who are of no fixed address and who do not have the assurance of a stable and safe dwelling for the next 60 days; people with very little income who do not belong to any group on a stable basis; and people who have mental health problems or problems with alcohol or social disorganization.

These people are often too poor to have access to a dwelling or a room, and when they do, it is often in slums. Social housing units for the homeless are too rare. We know that there are other reasons for homelessness, but we can say that the housing problem is one of its structural causes.

As we can see, the three themes in this motion all relate to poverty. Based on what we saw, it was obvious that the concept of affordable housing did not at all reflect the needs expressed by the public.

It is my hope that today's debate will develop an awareness among members and make them more vigilant regarding the affordable housing policy to which this government is committed. In our opinion, the government is headed in the wrong direction in this area.

If, as my colleague from the party opposite said, there are as many definitions of housing as there are regions in Canada, why does the government not give the money to the provinces so that they may meet the needs of their citizens?

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to thank the member for Edmonton Centre-East for bringing forward this important motion today. It gives us an opportunity to debate the issue of definitions around affordable housing, poverty and homelessness.

I will begin by saying I represent the riding of Vancouver East which includes very low income areas, in particular the downtown east side.

One constituent I visit fairly frequently lives at Main and Hastings in an old building that was probably built 80 years ago. She lives in what the member referred to as a single room occupancy, the room being barely 8 feet by 10 feet. She has a sink but shares a toilet and a shower with probably 25 other people. It is an eight storey building where the elevator does not really function, so people climb up and down the stairs.

That young woman is only 30 and in very poor health. She lives in poverty and is on social assistance. Luckily the housing is managed by a very good non-profit housing society, but the housing conditions she endures are something that no one in this room could endure. It is something I think most Canadians would describe as appalling in a country as wealthy as Canada. To me she could be characterized as someone who is homeless.

A young man came to see me a few weeks ago. He had a shopping cart that he pushed around on Terminal Avenue. The cart was filled with clothes that he tried to sell. However it was confiscated by the city engineering department because it was getting tough on panhandlers and people who lived on the street. That man, who lives in poverty, was literally trying to sell the clothes off his back in order to make a few bucks so he could buy a cup of coffee.

I met another man a few days later who could not get a prescription filled for pain killers. His teeth were so rotten they were falling out and he was in incredible pain. Although he was covered by pharmacare, he could not get his prescription filled because of the way he looked. It was a clear example of what we call poor bashing, which is discrimination against poor people.

When he went to the pharmacy and handed in his prescription to get some painkillers. The pharmacists looked at him and said they thought he would sell the drugs on the street or do something wrong. Therefore they did not fill the prescription. He continued to try to find a pharmacy that would fill his prescription, all the while in pain because he was so poor that he could not get his teeth fixed.

I use these examples because the real issue before us today is not so much the definition of poverty and affordable housing and homelessness. It is what the heck we are going to do about it. I have met people all across the country, beginning in my own community in east Vancouver, who are suffering under the oppression of poverty, homelessness and lack of housing every single day. This is as a result of government policy.

I listened to the parliamentary secretary, someone who I respect very much. However it drives me crazy when I hear people ascribe homelessness to mental health, alcoholism and somehow being all about individual problems. Never once do we talk about the fact that homelessness is as a result of not building housing. The reality is homelessness exists in the country because the government abandoned its housing policies in 1993. It makes me feel pretty damn mad when we get into the whole policy speak of blaming individual people.

I have a very good friend in Vancouver, Jean Swanson, a leading anti-poverty activist in this country. She just wrote a book called “Poor-Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion”. She details very clearly how government policy, not just from this government but over the years, has really been a policy of bashing poor people by excluding them and deliberately designing policies that keep people where they are in terms of economic disparity and economic inequality.

I could tell the member for Edmonton Centre-East very quickly what definitions are used by groups, and indeed the government every single day. Basically, CMHC says that people who are paying more than 30% of their income for housing are living in housing that is not affordable. That is the rule that CMHC lives by. It used to be 25% in the 1970s.

For the definition of homelessness, just to talk to the United Nations or to any group in Canada that deals on the frontline in trying to cope with an increasing number of people who are facing homelessness. They will tell us that the UN definition of homelessness is anyone whose housing is insecure, threatened, unsafe or unstable. In fact all the things the member listed. There does not have to be just five words about it. It really describes the situation.

People who live in slum housing, or housing that is substandard, or where they are paying exorbitant rents of 50% or more of their income are homeless because they are threatened. People who live in housing where they face conversion or demolition are homeless.

It is very important that we understand that there are people who are literally on the streets and have no a place to go. There are people who rely on shelters. It is awful to see how that has risen and has now become a crisis. Millions of Canadians are one step away from that. They are so insecure in terms of their income or housing support that they are also characterized as being homeless.

When it comes to the issue of poverty, if we talk to any organization in Canada, whether it is the National Anti-Poverty Organization, NAPO, whether it is FRAPRU in Quebec or whether it is the Canadian Council on Social Development, they will tell us that the standard definition used for poverty is the low income cutoffs established by Statistics Canada.

What is really worrying is the Liberals are likely poised to change that definition to a so-called basket approach. By the very fact of doing that, they will with the stroke of a pen say that poverty in Canada is not as bad as they thought, that they just changed it and that now a couple of hundred thousand or maybe half a million people no longer living below the poverty line.

I come back to the point that the issue here today is not so much the definition. The issue is that there are glaring examples of income inequality. Report after report shows us that income inequality in this country is growing. A recent report from Statistics Canada, the so-called wealth study, measured income inequality. We know it exists. The evidence is there. The issue is what will we do about it?

I agree with my hon. colleague from the Bloc that one of the greatest failings of the government is its lack of responsibility to provide the necessary funds and support to the provincial governments to create a housing strategy to ensure that social housing is built. It is a crime that the program was ended.

Canada used to have really excellent housing programs. The co-operative housing movement began in Canada. It was a huge success story. That has been abandoned at the federal level. Only two provinces still maintain their commitment provincially to social housing, Quebec and British Columbia. Although who knows what will happen in British Columbia with the new government. Again, the finger comes back and points to the federal government that basically abandoned that responsibility in 1993.

The New Democrats welcome the opportunity to talk about definitions but we must get down to the important matter here, which is to determine the priorities. What are the priorities for members as legislators? What is the priority of government in terms of dealing with an $18 billion surplus and where it will go?

If we truly want to eliminate poverty and homelessness in the country, it could easily be done because we have the resources to do it. It comes down to a matter of political will, leadership and what the priorities are. That is what the debate should be about.

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I also rise in support of the motion. I must say that I am a little disappointed that members opposite did not see it right and proper to support the motion as votable because it is certainly one that should receive a lot more strength than an hour's homage through the words that we utter and then to be forgotten. This is an extremely important issue all across the country.

Three words are highlighted in the motion: homelessness, poverty and affordable housing. I would suggest that if the affordable housing issue were addressed, the other two words would not be of such significance. A lot of the poverty in Canada is caused by the fact that people have to spend the little money they have on the real necessities of life, and what is more important than housing? Housing is so expensive for many people that they are in what we call a state of poverty.

Many people wander around homeless. Some admittedly are homeless because that is the style of life they want but many of them are not. It is a style of life that is imposed upon them by the restrictions of society.

What is happening in the country when we see people who are destitute, homeless, living in a state of poverty and cannot afford a place to live? All of us here in this Chamber are in the position to leave here in the evening and go home to a nice, comfortable home. Even if it is an apartment somewhere here in the city, at least it is warm and comfortable. As we walk to our homes, we pass people who are without homes. They cannot always afford shelter because we have uncaring governments that do not consider it a priority to look after those who need help most.

I had two experiences that will always remain with me. The first one was because of the impact it made on me and the other was because of the red tape and bureaucracy that governments create and the walls they put up.

The first experience I had was when I visited London, England, several years ago. I had just walked past Buckingham Palace and everyone was in awe of the tremendous building, the richness of the area and the riches displayed. About five minutes down the street from Buckingham Palace is Westminster Station. As I passed through the station to catch the train at about 11 o'clock at night, there were a number of homeless people starting to gather. It was an open shelter which was just a covered bridge operation or a large building with no ends. The heat from the trains underneath apparently warmed the pavement which made it a good place to sleep during the cold nights.

People say that Newfoundland is in a state of poverty. I challenge them to drive around our province. We might not be making a lot of money on average, but it depends on what we do with what we have. We are very fortunate. Even though incomes might not be as high as the national average, many people own their own homes, which they built on their own land, and provide a lot of their own food and materials. They are doing very well.

Seeing people lying around on pavement in London was something I had never seen before. What made it more heart rending was the fact that some of them were very old. I will always picture one lady who appeared to me to be in her seventies. That might have been because of the hardships she endured. Maybe she looked older than she actually was. To see a person the age of our mothers trying to lie on concrete and pull a newspaper around her to keep her warm is a sight I will never ever forget, particularly when we were within a stone's throw of Buckingham Palace.

Another experience I had will perhaps show why we have these problems. Some years ago when I was a provincial member serving a rural area I was approached by a gentleman who wanted to move from an old, dilapidated home in which he lived with a couple of daughters to a home that would be much more comfortable and reasonable and close to his relatives. The price of the new building was $24,000, which was very reasonable. It had been completely renovated and modernized with new wiring, new plumbing and whatever.

We went to the department of housing and arranged for the loan program provided to those looking for affordable housing. The gentleman was extremely pleased he was to get this new, comfortable home, which would solve a lot of his problems.

A couple of days later the department said that it could not provide funding to buy the home because its inspectors indicated that the upstairs ceilings were not eight feet high. They were only six and a half feet high. Its regulations stated that they must be eight feet high to meet its standards, or otherwise it could not provide funding. However, there was another house for sale in the community. It was a very modern bungalow that was selling for $50,000. As its maximum was $55,000, it could buy that house for him.

I approached the gentleman and he asked why he should buy that house, even though it was much better, more modern and whatever. He was quite satisfied with the other one, but if the department would not give him money for that house he was willing to accept the bungalow. The request went in to provide funding for him to buy the $50,000 home, which was a very good, modern home.

However the request was rejected because the appraisers stated that the day after he bought the house the resale value would be only $30,000 because of its location. Even though it was selling for $50,000 and worth a lot more, they could not provide it because the quick sale value would only be $30,000 the next day.

The department indicated that it could build him a house. It would not be as good as the one for sale, but it would be worth around $50,000. Because it was building the house, it could provide the $50,000. I asked what would be the resale value of that house the following day and the answer was $30,000.

I do not lose my temper very often but I did on that occasion. Within a couple of days the gentleman had his $24,000 original house. It was nothing but red tape and bureaucracy.

This is what we face. Within a stone's throw of Ottawa, and I am sure within the town, a number of housing units could be provided for people who are homeless. There is a base just outside Ottawa with all kinds of beautiful houses that are closed up because some department or other had to divest of it in a certain way.

It is about time we used some common sense and did what must be done for the people who are so much in need.

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Madam Speaker, I will reply to the comments of the member opposite who said it was not necessary to provide definitions for homelessness, poverty and affordable housing.

I disagree. The amount of money recently put into the city of Edmonton housing trust fund by the ministry for the homeless, $17 million in federal funding for a total value of some $50 million, has not resulted in even one new home. The funding is going into existing shelters, additions on shelters or assisted living. It has not gone into even one designated new private home.

The funding going into Edmonton and being transposed across the country from coast to coast is a phenomenal amount. The problem is that it is not creating any new housing. The problem with creating no new housing is that it forces people to stay in emergency shelters.

In the city of Edmonton another federal government program, RRAP, for persons with disabilities has also been an abysmal failure. Ninety-five per cent of the program's funding is not going toward the greatest single need in the city of Edmonton: the need for rooming houses.

The funding for RRAP is going into upscale housing. That is a problem because the men and women who live in the Herb Jamieson Centre and other shelters in Edmonton are locked into that condition on a perpetual basis. They cannot move to new housing.

The long and the short of it is that not one new rooming house has been built in Edmonton in three to five years. The result is that shelters in Edmonton are as full as they are in Toronto. The $17 million that the member opposite mentioned has been put into the city of Edmonton will simply build more shelters.

It is time to start building homes, not shelters. That is the main direction we should go in. I feel very strongly that this is happening because there is a misunderstanding about where the funding is going. The misunderstanding exists because there is a lack of common terminology or definition for the basics.

The basic questions are: What is affordable housing? What is poverty? Those terminologies must be defined. That is why there is such a discrepancy and why shelters across the country are filled.

I agree with the Progressive Conservative member that, yes, if we had affordable housing the majority of the population in shelters would be gone. They are there simply because they need affordable housing.

The need for affordable housing is strong. However first and foremost we must come up with common identifiable determinations on what are the basics. We must then look at a national plan to build affordable housing for the country again. For too many years the federal government has been out of it. It is time the government developed national standards to help builders re-enter the affordable housing market.

It is absolutely essential that be done. It has been far too long now. Simply putting more and more money into more and more shelters across the country is not the solution.

The $17 million which has gone to the city of Edmonton, combined with the provincial funds and city funds, provides a total fund of $50 million. The identifiable homeless population is 1,000. Simple mathematics would indicate that is $50,000 for every homeless person.

We could build them a home and give them a home. It would be far better to spend the money there than to continuously build on the shelter system and keep our people locked up in a shelter system when what they want and need is affordable housing.

Social HousingPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for consideration of private members' business has now expired. Since the motion was not selected as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

It being after 2.30 p.m. the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2.30 p.m.)