Madam Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to address this important issue, namely the budget.
A government's budget is an extremely important political speech. Beyond the rhetoric, the election promises and the meaningless statements, a government's budget spells out what a government will do or will not do. It clearly shows the government's degree of compassion and, for example, how it understands the situation of the provinces or of the poor. This is shown by the budget, depending on whether or not moneys are allocated.
I want to talk more specifically about social housing. I think that this issue clearly shows the cynicism of this government and how it reneged on its commitments and promises.
Today, some government members used a beautiful slogan to depict the situation. They said, “Promise made, promise kept”. In the area of social housing and as regards the unemployed, including older workers and the issue of assistance to refugees, where the government could have funded an appeal court and allow refugees to integrate, the promises were not kept. We have older workers, tenants and unemployed people who were all misled by this government, which had promised them a lot but delivered very little and, in some cases, did not deliver at all.
In the case of social housing, there is nothing, nada, rien. Not a cent, not one red penny, for social housing. Promises were made. In the last election, $1 billion to $1.5 billion over five years was promised for affordable housing, for help for the homeless, for housing renovations. That commitment was repeated in the throne speech.
Even without any figures being included, the throne speech did repeat the government's intentions. So that makes two mentions before the budget, which is where it really counted. Despite the enormous pressure from the public and despite the needy households of Canada and Quebec, nothing was forthcoming.
Instead, what we find is up to $12.8 billion—close to $13 billion—in increased military spending. Yet there is nothing whatsoever for the 1.7 million Canadian households spending more than 30% of their income on housing. More than 600,000 of that number pay more than 50% of their income. And then there are the 150,000 homeless in this country. What is there for them? Nothing, nada, rien. This is immoral and scandalous.
The content of these budgets, rather than the PM's campaign promises—and rather than his rather vague smile, which leaves one wondering whether or not he has any clue about the realities of Quebeckers or Canadians—and the actions of his government, are what lead us to clearly understand that he is not clued in to other people's realities, that he has never been out of a job. I must admit that we had wished for that to happen on the political level.
It is obvious that all of them, including the minister responsible for this portfolio, have never had to suffer. They have never been in a tight spot, with debts to pay, wondering how they would pay for medicine or food. When those people, who are swimming in a surplus of numerous billions of dollars, have a budget to prepare, they do not even feel obliged to meet their own commitments, to provide even the barest minimum, which is still far from meeting needs.
At times like these, people are justified in being cynical, not about politics but about a government that is incapable of even being consistent with its own statements, with the values it claims to espouse. Obviously those values are only an act, since they can be forgotten when it comes to budget time and those most in need are forgotten. This is why we feel it is scandalous.
I am not the only one saying this. There is nothing in this budget for the homeless and the prevention of homelessness. If a society can be judged for anything, it is how it treats the children and most vulnerable citizens. Judging by this, the government is not worth much.
Pierre Maheux, of the Réseau Solidarité Itinérance du Québec, said he was “scandalized by the lack of funding for homelessness initiatives and social housing in the federal budget.... With, by Ottawa's own admission, 150,000 homeless people in Canada, it is unacceptable that the federal government is not funding homelessness initiatives”.
He also repeats that this contradicts the commitments made. These groups believed those promises.
Today, I got a call from Micheline Deschênes, of Hébergement urgence Lanaudière.
I think that my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville knows her; she has one such resources in one of the main municipalities in her riding. This woman was at her wits' end: on April 1 in Joliette, if nothing is done, she will have to cut the number of available beds from 14 to 6 for people in dire need, in addition to having to lay off four staff members. This is something concrete in the ridings.
She had hoped that a budget announcement would ensure, by next year, the continuation of the SCPI 3 program. That way the service could have once again been maintained. It must be said that these people work miracles each year to make ends meet. But no, she is left with nothing. There is no hope for the people of Lanaudière.
We could say that again. I have here the comments of people throughout Quebec. I have just returned from a tour on housing with many of my colleagues. We heard these sad stories everywhere: buses for the homeless unable to operate, due to a lack of gas and resources; shelters being built, but which no longer receive funding for the resources to accept and provide support to people.
Is fighting poverty not the greatest challenge that a society can meet? This government is good at giving candies to some and at spending ineffectively, as it does regarding climate change.
Unfortunately, this government is also great at smothering the provinces, the unemployed and the poor. This is most unfortunate. I hope it will be judged very severely for making these choices which, in my opinion, are truly immoral.
I have here a note from a spokesperson for the Sherbrooke tenants association, Normand Couture, who says:
It is shameful. There is nothing for social housing. In the previous budget speech, the minister had not even mentioned the word “housing”. This time, he said it once, but it had nothing to do with social housing.
Indeed, the minister talked a bit about housing in this budget, saying that everything was fine, that there were no longer any problems and that many housing units were being built in Canada. The minister even denies that there is a poverty issue and a lack of housing units.
This government is rolling in surpluses. I listened to the Liberal member, who said it was wonderful that the government was generating surpluses and reducing the debt. However, this is done without any debate. Moreover, he said things that were totally inaccurate. This government would not have to automatically use these surpluses to reduce the debt if it had decided by March 1
—and this is from the Auditor General—how it will use this money. In fact, it does so to some extent in this budget.
But there is no debate. The government uses the surpluses to reduce the debt and it smothers the provinces. This type of surplus, which is always hidden, was accumulated at the expense of the unemployed. If I am not mistaken, the government took $46 billion or $47 billion from the employment insurance fund, at the expense of those who need housing units. This is outrageous.
Meanwhile, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a $3 billion surplus in its coffers. That is, $3 billion in profit. Nowhere in its mandate does it say that this corporation will make a profit, instead of fulfilling its mission to house Canadians and Quebeckers at a better price and make housing accessible. Nowhere does it say that this corporation will make a profit at the expense of the most needy. That is not the plan, but that is what happens in reality, and it is immoral.
If nothing is done, this corporation, on its own, will have accumulated a surplus that many governments, people, corporations and provinces throughout the world can only dream of having. This crown corporation, whose mandate is to provide housing to the people at a better price, will have generated a $6.1 billion profit by 2008, if we let it get away with the fund. This government could have funded its promises from these general surpluses. But no, it prefers to put money into military spending, to please the Americans, to make them swallow its decision not to join in the missile defence shield project.
I can readily imagine a private chat between the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Labour and Housing, in which the former tells the latter not to worry, that he is taking the money from him to invest in the military sector, that he might get it back later and that they need only tell the people that there is still a little money in the other budget. In that way, the public will once again be deceived and led astray. But the people are beginning to understand this government. It is not possible to keep fooling all of the people all of the time, year after year.
They are going to learn a costly lesson. The storm has already begun and is not over yet.