This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cmhc.

Topics

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2005 / 1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that the cart was put before the horse in explaining why Bill C-363 did not require a royal recommendation. Allow me to take a moment to go over the background, content and purpose of this bill.

First and foremost, members should know that, in recent years, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has accumulated a huge surplus, which is not part of its mission per se. This surplus is so huge that something has to be done about it. The fact is that CMHC's mission is not being respected. No effort is being made to house Canadians and Quebeckers through home ownership incentives. Accumulating in excess of $3.4 billion in surplus does nothing to help them.

It is important that hon. members be aware of the figures that I am about to quote concerning CMHC. In 1997, as I recall, CMHC had an accumulated surplus of $32 million. In 2001, its assets already totalled $1.265 billion; in 2002, $1.809 billion; in 2003, $2.476 billion; in 2004, $3.342 billion. It is also important to note that, unless something is done, by 2008, the CMHC surplus will have increased to $7 billion. That is an annual increase of more than $1 billion.

We are talking about a huge surplus. It is also important to know what the current $3.4 billion surplus represents. To give it concrete meaning, let us say that, with that amount, 60,000 new housing units could have been built to house 60,000 families. This is based on a $50,000 per unit subsidy.

Instead, a surplus was accumulated. There have been no program changes and no cost reductions to Canadians as whole. CMHC has accumulated a surplus which we feel is immoral and outrageous.

Huge surpluses have been hidden in foundations and in reserves, and in the government's general operating budget, and that was contrary to the spirit, the letter and even the ideal of natural justice that created this Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, whose purpose was to provide help to all Canadians.

This bill mainly seeks a debate on the surpluses hidden all over by the government. Those surpluses are being raked in while people's essential needs are not being met.

What could the government and Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation have done with such surpluses over the years? They could have done a lot of things.

I used to live in the world of housing co-ops. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation under-invested in that field for a very long period of time. In fact, it stopped investing between 1993 and 2002. Before 1993, in some places, it also applied modesty criteria, which is how a significant housing stock could be renovated with very little money being spent.

In Quebec alone, there was a shortfall of $555 million in investments made. The housing stock currently being financed by CMHC would need renovations in this amount. No investment was made in this project.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has generated this $3.4 billion by all kinds of means, for instance, by overcharging people who take out mortgage insurance when purchasing a house. I believe people know that when someone is purchasing a house for $100,000 and cannot come up with a $25,000 down payment, that person must have CMHC guarantee the loan. These fees are high and extremely profitable for CMHC.

CMHC is basically acting as a bank, not a cooperative or a social bank, but a real bank.

It is important to note that CMHC generated surpluses of some $3.4 billion even in its social program management. The government had given CMHC money for social housing programs, and when the interest rates went down, it pocketed the difference between the agreed and the actual rates. CMHC thus made a lot of money in social program management.

It is all the more odious that when a housing cooperative has problems, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation strips it of its autonomy. CMHC only guarantees second mortgage loans at high interest rates, with conditions that take away all its autonomy. To reach that point, the housing cooperative really has to be on the brink of bankruptcy. It is forced to readjust all its rents according to market prices, and it systematically loses the second stage of assistance, rent supplements.

We can therefore say that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is an inhumane bank in the way it applies its programs. This is evidenced by the way it treats the cooperatives and the not for profit organizations that do not have enough money to help the poorest of their members. If these organizations need to invest to renovate their housing units because of underfunding, they are faced with foul and appalling conditions that profit Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Unfortunately, CMHC has failed in its mission. It chose to build up exorbitant surpluses now reaching $3.4 billion. If we do not do anything, these surpluses will reach $7 billion in 2008. There is no sign that CMHC will use this money to improve the housing situation for all Canadians and all Quebeckers.

An important signal has been given. Bill C-363 would transform into assets any amount exceeding a reasonable limit set at about $1 billion. This is an important measure. In fact, is exactly 0.5% of CMHC's assets. Today, according to the available information, that would be a little bit more than $1 billion. Bill C-363 would allow CMHC to keep a $100 million annual reserve. Let us be clear: out of its $3.4 billion, it could keep $1 billion for contingencies, such as major losses.

In fact, nothing forces the CMHC to produce a surplus. For years, CMHC did not produce any surplus but only did what it was intended to do. However, during that period, it was allowed to keep a $1 billion reserve fund or 0.5% of its assets, which is quite enough. Moreover, CMHC pays fees to the government each and every year to have its losses guaranteed. Last year it paid $21 million to the government. So, in fact, CMHC had two insurance policies: it kept a huge reserve fund for contingencies although it was impossible to lose that much, and it paid the government $21 million to be insured against possible losses. That was double insurance and double payments too, and the situation allowed CMHC to accumulate a completely outrageous surplus.

With Bill C-363 we are sending a message to CMHC to suggest that it retain $1 billion. Any other unspent money proves CMHC does not have the ability to spend it. CMHC must therefore pass it on to the provinces on a pro-rated basis. By the way, at the suggestion of my colleague, the leader of the NDP, I will be making an amendment to the bill, so that it will read “provinces and territories”. This we will do in committee if the bill is passed at second reading. I encourage all hon. members to vote accordingly, so that we may debate the bill thoroughly in committee and make improvements to it. We will also be able to make another little technical correction to the English, where the word “provide” is missing.

The signal is clear. CMHC can maintain a reserve that is more than reasonable at $1 billion. It cannot, however, accumulate profits to detriment of its mission. The needs in the provinces and territories are huge. Housing is their primary responsibility.

If it has not been true to its mission, then, right now, everything in excess of that $1 billion figure—we are talking about some $2.4 billion, which would mean $500 million for Quebec, more for Ontario and the rest on a pro-rated basis according to the population of the provinces or territories—should be handed over to the jurisdiction of those provinces and territories. This money is needed. These jurisdictions know what to do with it, and will. This does not prevent CMHC from correcting the situation subsequently and presenting balanced budgets.

The planned $1 billion per year for 2006 and 2007, plus another nearly $1 billion for 2005, could be used by CMHC to invest in social housing and to help cooperative housing.

Yesterday, the Minister of Labour and Housing was asked a question—I nearly called it a planted question—by one of his colleagues. He said that he, unlike the Bloc Québécois, was looking after cooperative housing. That was what we call a cheap shot, intended to denigrate me, when I have been involved in cooperative housing all my life.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation could very well use the money that will be left to balance its budget. It should invest in housing cooperatives and in not-for-profit organizations, and it should also reduce the interest rates that it imposes on owners. It could also invest for the homeless. The SCPI program, which helps the homeless, will end in 2006. CMHC could easily use the money that it has left to renew this program, if the government is strapped for money.

This is very important: if after agreeing to go along with the New Democratic Party with Bill C-48, the Prime Minister—and this is from him—following some cold calculations, not because of convictions or principles, or because this was part of the initial budget, were to decide, in the next year or two, to invest $1.6 billion in social housing, then, perhaps it could be said that, because of convictions or principles, he could, over the past few years, have used the CMHC surpluses to fulfill its mandate and provide appropriate housing.

Currently, there are 1.7 million Canadians in Quebec and in all the provinces who do not have good housing conditions. They are spending too much money on housing. This phenomenon has been on the increase since the current minister of Labour published his report, in 1990, along with the current Prime Minister. Indeed, there are now 400,000 additional households experiencing that problem. At the time, there were 1.3 million, but there are now 1.7 million.

We are being told that something will be done later, because the government was forced to act following some cold calculations. Something can be done now. With this bill, I am proposing that something be done now.

If this government is not capable of doing it, if it does not have the integrity or the morals to spend money properly, if it prefers to accumulate billions of dollars at the expense of the poor, when it could have built 60,000 new housing units, if it does not know how to manage, if it cannot stand the heat, then it should get out of the kitchen. It should give those surpluses, or a good chunk of that money, to the provinces. They will know how to use it.

The bill states that this money would be used for social housing, to help all Canadians and Quebeckers find lodging and to improve their housing conditions. That is what the bill says and that is what will be done. It is an important political message. We cannot accumulate immoral surpluses without public debate, without talking about it in the House and without doing anything about it. We cannot get away with keeping people in poor housing conditions.

I also invite the Conservative Party to support this bill. In a way, it is also a Conservative bill, in that it tells the government to manage this money better and not to spend it. When there is a $3.4 billion surplus, internally there is a tendency to spend less carefully.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation was used as a screen in the sponsorship scandal. CMHC did not manage the $2 million advertising contracts, but the money came from CMHC and they had no say in the matter. On the inside they have a tendency to manage things poorly and to forget what their primary role is. It is inefficient and ineffective to allow a crown corporation to accumulate outrageous surpluses that go beyond its mandate.

I invite the Conservative members who have spoken out against the fiscal imbalance to support this important bill that respects provincial jurisdictions. Together we could improve it in committee, if necessary. As I said to the leader of the NDP and to the Conservative Party critic, I am prepared to improve the bill after second reading.

Let us debate, in this country, the importance of surpluses. That is what I invite my colleagues to do.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always sad to hear such speeches which briefly but so eloquently summarize 10 years of federal government withdrawal from such areas, meaning 10 years of mismanagement.

I want to clarify something. Even without legislation such as Bill C-363, could the government have used available funds equal to the CMHC surpluses to meet the greatest needs in social housing, among other things, and in related areas?

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier for his question. In fact, the government could have done that.

When the current Prime Minister was finance minister, he stopped all new funding for social housing, instead merely allocating the budgets in keeping with previous commitments. As a result, until 2002, no new money was allocated. Even in 2002, when the federal government started to reinvest, it was no longer under the responsibility of the finance minister, now Prime Minister. His insensitivity to social and cooperative housing is legendary to those in the field.

At the same time these commitments were being fulfilled, the surpluses were accumulating. So, the essential needs of the public are not being met, which has a direct impact on people's daily lives. There are housing cooperatives in Quebec City and Montreal that had to sell housing units to the private sector or even abandon them because they did not have the money to renovate them and the conditions CMHC was offering were impossible. People were living in social housing that had turned into slums. I could even give the addresses. I could invite the minister and the members of the party opposite to come and see these housing units.

At the same time that social housing projects were abandoned, people were left living in unacceptable conditions. I saw dwellings where water was leaking through light fixtures, which was extremely dangerous. Quebec City had to recommend that a housing coop be closed down not because it was badly run, but because the CMHC had not invested enough to begin with.

So, in response to the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier's question, it is clear that the government could have used these surpluses to respect the CMHC's mission. It did not. Now, they are engaging in electoral blackmail with Bill C-48: if you want money, you will have to vote for the bill, when we know that $3.24 billion is hidden in the CMHC's coffers. We are asking the government to withdraw that money from those coffers with Bill C-363 and to give it to provinces, which will do the work and better respond to people's needs. It the federal government cannot stand the heat, it should get out of the kitchen.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the member for Beauport—Limoilou for his valuable intervention and his valuable information. I will ask him the following question.

We know that the money that the federal government earmarks for social housing or affordable housing is entrusted to a crown corporation, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Under the circumstances, if we were to maintain the present administration, including the inappropriate reserves, would it not be preferable to transfer everything to Quebec and the provinces? The provinces, Quebec in particular, are already willing to take full responsibility for social housing.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, negotiations, which began in 1997, are under way. We know that whenever we ask for something in Quebec, it generally takes ten years to get it, and sometimes longer. In this case, it will likely be more than 10 years.

We are talking about the transfer of the administration of social housing to the province, with full financial compensation. All co-op groups and non-profit organizations are demanding this transfer. And because it has not been done, there are consequences.

There has been no transfer, but at the same time, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation directs municipalities not to subsidize housing cooperatives because it says they already benefit from its subsidies. I will be very brief on this topic.

Thus, the social housing stock should be transferred with full financial compensation. One day, it will be interesting to see provinces take back all their responsibilities. But that day has yet to come. We think that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation can continue to operate, but on a smaller budget. It cannot continue piling up immoral surpluses without any action for housing. This is the goal of the bill.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. member opposite. First, I did not want to raise a point of order earlier, but I take this opportunity to point out that this is a new expenditure for the Crown. We would take money out of a federal agency to hand out to the provinces. I do not think there is any doubt that this involves an expenditure. The hon. member opposite said that these programs are not new. As you know, this has nothing to do with the issue.

Here is an example. If I introduce a private member's bill that provides for the hiring of 100 inspectors by Agriculture Canada to inspect some kind of food that was not inspected up to that time, the problem will not be the hiring of inspectors in a new area, but the fact that a greater number of inspectors will be hired. So this is an extra expenditure, even if it is in the same category.

The member argues that he is not proposing new programs and that he is only suggesting taking money that is in the government's coffers and transferring it to provinces. However, that is of course money spent by the Crown. Be it the same program, an old program or a new one, a royal recommendation is needed, in my opinion, because it is a new expenditure.

The criteria are different in the case of reducing revenues. For example, if the bill sought to reduce premiums or something like that, I admit that it is not always the same criteria that apply. Here, in the House, we have had examples of private members' bills, which I did not always like, that sought to reduce the tax rate for certain people. The Speaker said that that met the requirements of the Standing Orders. The government's revenues were reduced, but there was no new expenditure. The criteria are different.

In any case, many Canadians wish to become homeowners. Without mortgage loan insurance, many would not be able to buy a house, ever if they could afford the necessary monthly payments. This is because many families would find it hard to save money to make the down payment for a normal loan. The down payment is always a problem for first-time buyers, particularly for young people and people with children.

Through its mortgage loan insurance, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, has helped millions of Canadians finance the purchase of their home with a down payment of only 5% and interest rates comparable to those offered to buyers making a down payment of 25% or more.

I suspect that most of us in the House have, at some point, benefited from the mortgage loan insurance of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It is easy to say today that the CMHC has higher reserve funds than before, through sound management by the current Prime Minister and the government. However, this does not mean that we should be less careful in how we manage public funds.

The Canada Mortgage and House Corporation approved more than 650,000 mortgage insurance applications last year. In some cases, the CMHC mortgage loan insurance has allowed individuals or families to buy homes sooner, giving them a head start on the road to financial stability.

There is no doubt that the sooner people buy their first home, providing of course that they can make the monthly payments, the sooner the cycle of mortgage payments will finish. Owning their own home, presumably without a mortgage, will provide them with the kind of stability that people enjoy when they own their home.

In other instances, the CMHC has helped open the door to homeownership for countless Canadians who might otherwise have been unable to buy a home of their own. For others it has played a key role in increasing the availability of affordable rental housing or the supply of beds in nursing homes, retirement homes, shelters and so on across the country, including the riding that I have the honour and privilege to represent.

Over the years the CMHC's mortgage loan insurance programs have also evolved to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements of the housing industry and the changing needs of Canadians.

While its investments in solid risk management tools and cost effective processes has meant a strong financial performance, the CMHC has consistently and proactively lowered its insurance premium to maximize the number of Canadians it can assist in attaining their dream, the dream of home ownership.

For example, the CMHC lowered its home owner mortgage loan insurance premium for the second time in two years this April offering first time home buyers with 5% down a total reduction of 30% in their mortgage insurance premiums relative to what it was a mere two years ago.

I do not know about other members in the House but I sure wish my car insurance and my regular home insurance could have premiums of 30% less than what they were two years ago.

If the CMHC is able to achieve this, this means that it has had prudent management, it is well run and it has been able to give these kinds of reductions for the benefits of Canadians who have mortgages.

At the same time, the CMHC has introduced a further 15% premium reduction on affordable rental housing developed through the CMHC's partnership centre, as well as a full waiver of premiums for rental housing projects funded under the federal affordable housing initiatives which were designed to serve those in greatest need.

To stimulate construction of affordable rental housing, the CMHC has also made several improvements to rental property mortgage insurance in recent months by permitting, among other things, high value loans in this sector; by reducing mortgage insurance premiums for rental properties; and by providing more leeway to borrowers in terms of cash flow, cash advances and conditions of repayment.

To allow more Canadians to obtain residential mortgage credit, the CMHC continues to improve its guidelines and to develop new mortgage insurance products. In recent years, it has introduced insurance for loan-to-value ratio refinancing loans provided to occupant-owners, and for mortgage guaranteed lines of credit, to provide Canadians with more flexibility in managing their finances.

To assist more buyers, the CMHC has also introduced a new product, thus enlarging the sources of funds permitted to form the down payment. CMHC has also improved its policies to allow self-employed Canadian workers and people buying a second home to obtain mortgage loans with a high loan-to-value ratio more easily than in the past.

The CMHC has established a track record of helping to make housing more affordable and accessible for all Canadians in every corner of the country. As all members of the House will know, in recent years Canada has experienced an extremely strong, healthy housing market thanks to the good finances and the well run government of this Prime Minister. That is why we should reject the private member's bill before us today, unless of course the Speaker rules it out of order at third reading, which I suspect he will.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-363. I am always pleased to be in the House at the same time as the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell because he is such a great presenter. He never misses a chance to ensure that in his speech he manages to give the government some credit for jobs that are done actually by people who are at arm's length from the government.

I would like to congratulate the management of the CMHC who has been able to operate that institution despite the bad management of the government. Hats off to the CMHC and thumbs down to the Liberal Government of Canada. That applies in many jurisdictions across this country, in provinces and cities, that manage to operate in a fiscally sound with responsible manner despite the bad management of the Government of Canada.

While Bill C-363, an act to amend the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation with regard to distributing surplus profits from its insurance fund, is a noble bill, my party cannot support it because we think the direction of the CMHC to get into the social housing market is actually a little misguided. We do not believe the CMHC should be directing its surplus funding into the social housing market because it would take the planning by government departments, which are responsible for social housing, out of the picture. It would allow the CMHC to simply turn over surplus funding to social housing programs without having to bring that to Parliament.

I do not think social housing needs should be met by profits generated from the CMHC, particularly profits realized from the CMHC insurance fees. Funds for social housing investments of various types should originate from federal budgets and be appropriated by Parliament giving parliamentarians the right to vote on expenditures as opposed to making the expenditures a statutory requirement. The mortgage fund of course should be operated on a sound commercial basis in accordance with sound actuarial practices, and premiums should be set accordingly.

I noticed my hon. friend made some very nice points, one being that the CMHC had reduced its mortgage premium of 30% about two years ago and that it has another 15% premium reduction on rental development. That is a good thing because what it is doing is operating the CMHC insurance fund using prudence and taking the responsibility to pass those surpluses on to the users of the fund, the people who apply to CMHC to enable them to buy a house with little or no down payment where normally they would not be able to do that.

It is rather coincidental that I am speaking on this today because my son and his new bride who live in Calgary just bought their first house. Without the CMHC and the provisions that were made available to them they would not have been able to buy that house. Hurray for the CMHC again.

I have to do some comparisons. When CMHC applies surpluses to the lowering of premiums, it could teach a lesson to the EI people. It could also teach a lesson to the government. The government should take an example from CMHC and see how it has applied surpluses to a lower premium. If only it would understand that this is the proper way to do things, it might apply reductions to the EI premiums at both the employer and the employee level to bring the premiums down to a level that actually relates to the money needed to sustain EI as well as maintain a rainy day fund in case of a downturn in the economy.

Instead, the government has not done that. Over the past 12 years, because it has refused to lower premiums in the EI program, it has amassed a $40-some billion surplus which did was not returned to the payers of the premium. That $40 billion disappeared into the general revenue of the Liberal government.

Despite calls from every party in the House, working Canadians and employers across the country, the government is still maintaining an abnormally high premium rate and an abnormally high surplus. That is far above the rainy day fund needed in case of an economic downturn. It refuses to acknowledge that the people who are paying the bill deserve to have a break on premiums.

After all these years we, the Bloc and the NDP have been talking about it, but the Liberals in their arrogance and in their desire to have this pot of cash at their fingertips so that they can feed it out to their political whims, have ignored that.

Bill C-363 would impact on general revenues by reducing CMHC profits. It would go into social housing. That is not the place that these surpluses should go. Social housing is part of another department of the government and is accountable to Parliament. That is how it should be. Potentially, by passing this bill, it could easily allow for higher than necessary insurance premiums. That would be unfortunate and it is certainly not what we want in Canada.

CMHC would be allowed to make social housing policy decisions without the input of parliamentarians. It would have the potential to utilize higher than necessary premiums for purposes other than insurance risks. Let us be clear. CMHC has a mandate. It has worked very well, as was indicated by my colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, and certainly, members of the Bloc know that CMHC is an organization that is capable of generating excess revenue from its operations.

It appears to be prudently run with good management. But what is not realized is that the money should be returned in the form of lower premiums which would be even more help to young people such as my son and my daughter-in-law to enable them to buy their first house.

I spoke about the example that CMHC is setting by returning surplus funds into lower premiums. That is the thing to do. I would just mention again that the Liberals should take a lesson from the way CMHC has been responsible in recognizing who is providing the income to it, the premium payers. If the EI people would recognize that too, and recognize that by keeping artificially high premiums they are in fact decreasing the opportunity for the creation of new jobs, decreasing the opportunity for businesses to have the money to expand and create new jobs, and they are in a way putting blockades on the economy taking some leaps ahead.

We are going to oppose this bill because, while it is a noble thought, it simply does not work with the mandate or the successful operation of CMHC. I am sure that Parliament will see that Bill C-363 is not a bill that we must pass into legislation at this time.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today and have an opportunity to speak in support of this bill on behalf of the NDP. I would like to congratulate my colleague, the housing critic, the member for Beauport--Limoilou. He has done a terrific work on this bill. It is a very good bill.

I want to make a comment because he made a point of mentioning that yesterday in the House, the minister responsible for housing, in response to a question from a Liberal member about co-op housing, went after the member from the Bloc and implied that somehow he had never asked a question or had never done any work. I want to attest to the fact that the member is well known for his dedicated work, both in the community before he became a member of Parliament and certainly since he became a member of Parliament, in fighting for co-op housing.

I too was very surprised as to what on earth the minister was up to there. Maybe he was a bit defensive about the pressure that he has been under from a number of us to move on this and get co-op housing moving again. I would like to thank the member for the work that he has done because he has certainly made a huge contribution to that.

We are supporting this bill. It is an important bill because it brings to light what many in the housing community have known for many years and have been quite shocked that CMHC is rolling in dough. It has so much money it does not know what to do with it. When the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell says that CMHC has helped millions of Canadians, that might be true, but what is also true is that CMHC is also hoarding millions of dollars and it is going into general revenue.

Frankly, I have some difficulty understanding the position of the Conservative Party in saying that it does not support this bill because somehow Parliament will not have oversight of what happens to that money. We have no oversight or influence now. It is far better that the surplus from CMHC should be rededicated and reinvested into providing housing for Canadians. It seems to me that this is the logical and fiscally responsible position to take.

I do not know what the Conservative Party position is other than that it just does not like social housing. It does not want to see that investment. I thought its opposition to this bill was incredibly weak, but enough said about that. I am going to focus on why this bill should be adopted.

There are many housing advocates in this country who have done an incredible job. Groups like the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and the National Housing and Homelessness Network have drawn to our attention day in and day out the plight of millions of Canadians and hundreds of thousands of families who are without appropriate, affordable, safe, secure and accessible housing in this country.

In fact, the Minister of Housing has been telling groups across the country that something like 1.7 million households, not people, in this country are in need of affordable and social housing. We certainly have a huge issue and a huge problem.

It is quite incredible that in a country as wealthy as Canada, we still have people sleeping on the streets. We still have families that every day do not know if they are going to be evicted, if they will be able to pay the month's rent or if their kids will go hungry. Every day we have people desperately looking for secure and affordable housing.

In a country as wealthy as Canada, it is a shame. It has been noted by the UN, in an international report, our lack of compliance with international conventions on that score.

The need has been demonstrated. However, the problem has not been our inability to pay for the housing that is needed. That is not the issue here. It is not a lack of capacity to produce the revenue that would be required for a national housing program to meet the needs of 1.7 million households, or what is often being called the 1% solution.

The National Housing and Homelessness Network and people like Michael Shapcott, Cathy Crowe and Linda Mix and other organizations across the country, like FRAPRU in Quebec, have fought so hard to get a commitment for 1% of the federal budget for housing.

It is not a lack of financial capacity that is the problem. What has been lacking is a political commitment to carry through a national housing program which ensures that the provinces, the territories and certainly our first nations communities see that those housing units are delivered.

In fact, the 1% solution for housing talks about the $2 billion that is required annually. Here we have already been told, as a result of this bill and the accumulated surpluses in CMHC, that it is sitting on a surplus of $3.4 billion. Some federal funds were already committed in the national framework agreement. Bill C-48 commits an additional $1.6 billion for affordable housing initiatives.

Therefore, the financial capacity is there. By zeroing in on these surpluses at CMHC and saying that they must be reinvested in a fiscally and socially responsible way, what better way to build housing, with good jobs? That creates a very good investment in our economy.

If we did that, the first priority for that reinvestment should be to give back to co-ops in this country the section 95 subsidies they have lost and have been fighting to get back as a result of their mortgages rolling over.

What a scandal that when a co-op happened to get a rollover on its mortgage it also lost the subsidy which allowed it to ensure that its housing co-operative had a mix of incomes and that low income people could be in that housing co-op. The co-ops have been a great Canadian success story, but this Liberal government has been committed to driving that success story into the grave by ensuring that low income families are evicted from housing co-ops because the co-ops have not had the subsidy.

The co-ops are candidate number one for reinvestment from the CMHC surplus. Let us make sure that the co-ops are able to get those subsidies back. So far the housing minister has said he will do it only from this point on, but we want to see those subsidies retroactive at least to the beginning of the year. As a result of this debate today, I call on the minister, as many of us have, to go back and do this properly and make sure that those section 95 subsidies are available for co-operatives across this country so that the success story of housing co-ops in Canada continues.

A second priority for the CMHC surplus reinvestment could be to make true the goal of the 3,300 units that are required across the north for the Inuit people. The Nunavut Housing Corporation has identified a severe housing crisis in the north. It has the highest housing costs in Canada. It has the most severe overcrowding anywhere in this country. It has people living through very harsh winters with very inadequate shelter.

Thirty-three hundred units is not a huge issue in terms of the financial investment required, but has anything happened? Has that plan been delivered? No, and again because of a lack of political commitment by this government.

Again, I want to say that a priority for the reinvestment of these surplus funds or other moneys that exist within that department should be to meet the goals of the 10-year housing plan of the Nunavut Housing Corporation to ensure that housing is built in that part of the country, because people are desperate.

In my own community of east Vancouver, we have always struggled to meet the housing needs of people. There are many people who are living in inadequate single-room occupancies. There are many people who are paying way too much money for rent every month. This surplus from CMHC could be a positive contributing factor to solving the housing crisis in this country.

I would urge members of this House to not tie this up in technical knots, to not find excuses why it cannot be done, but to see this as a legitimate and proper reinvestment of CMHC surpluses to go back into that very critical high priority of meeting our housing needs in Canada.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Vancouver East for her speech. She made it with conviction and above all with common sense. Unfortunately, understanding common sense is beyond the grasp of the party in power, the Liberal Party. So, we should listen carefully to the wise words of the member for Vancouver East.

I also want to thank and congratulate the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou for introducing this bill, for the clarity and conviction of his comments and also for his competent work on the issue of housing. Defending the poorest in our society and particularly the most poorly housed is not something new for him. He knows housing matters very well and he fights for housing not only with courage but also with skill. I can say that the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou is an example that the government members across the way should follow.

The concerns expressed by the member do not seem to be those of the government. In fact, the government seems to be working against the social concerns that are expressed in the bill we are debating today.

A famous person once said,“You can judge a society by the way it treats its seniors and its youth”. Another one said that one can judge a government by its capacity to be compassionate and understanding and, more importantly, its capacity to manage the country's finances and to ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth.

This bill deals with a concern that we in the Bloc Québécois have, one which I feel our colleague from Vancouver East shares, and that is to have a bill that is fair to all segments of our society. To be able to find decent housing is part of the blueprint for society that is needed.

Where respect for human dignity is concerned, three basic needs have to be met: food, shelter and clothing. In whatever order you put them, these three things basically ensure that a person is protected. In that respect, we can say that the Liberal government has failed miserably in terms of its responsibility to provide these three essentials to protect human dignity.

Through employment insurance restrictions, among other things, this policy has impoverished families. Some people can barely afford the shelter, food and clothing they need. There is a lack of vision and foresight surrounding the industrial policy. We see in particular what is happening with the clothing industry policy, especially with the textiles. Unfortunately, housing is no exception. It is the third essential need which must be met.

Two people who are now part of the government were outraged about the policies on social housing adopted by the Mulroney government in the 1990s. They are the present Minister of Labour and Housing and the present Prime Minister.

In 1990, they criticized Mr. Mulroney's policies by saying that when he was in the opposition, he had the same position they were now defending and he had come to the same conclusions. But when the Liberals were elected, they did nothing to remedy the situation. In fact, they made it worse.

Here is what the present Prime Minister and the present Minister of Labour and Housing used to say to denounce the increase in the number of households in dire need of housing.

Canada is presently confronted with a major housing crisis [...] The availability and cost of housing as well as the issue of homelessness is raising a great deal of concern across Canada. In our country, it is unacceptable for 1.3 million households to have to live in mediocre housing--

This is what my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou was referring to earlier.

In 1990, the present Prime MInister and the present Minister of Labour and Housing, now in charge of social housing, also said:

These are the official numbers: but the depths of despair resulting from the housing crisis in Canada affect many more families and individuals than are reflected in these numbers [...] The Mulroney government has cut housing programs and budgets. It has dumped its responsibilities--

That is not a common word in French. It is not I who has used that word. It is in the text. I do not know what he meant by that.

-- its responsibilities onto the provinces without giving them the corresponding financial means. And it has been insensitive to the dire needs of thousands of Canadian households.

While this was being said, there were 1.3 million poorly housed families in Canada. There are now 1.7 million, 450,000 of which are in Quebec. This is 400,000 more poorly housed families in Canada.

How did they achieve that? They really did the job. They made cuts, not only in one part of the program, but in the whole program, between 1990 and 2001, which is what led us to this situation.

A Quebec author once wrote that members of Parliament are like carpets, we have to beat them to get them clean. Back in those days, Canadians did “beat” the Mulroney government, thinking that the next government would restore things. But it was not the case. This party was not clean, even when it first came in. It made cuts. The rule saying that a 3% vacancy rate is necessary in order to ensure a sufficient supply of affordable housing to meet the people's needs just disappeared. In most of the big cities, the rate is not even 1%.

Is my time up already, Mr. Speaker? I was supposed to have until 2:30.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:28 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, June 6, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:28 p.m.)