House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.


HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, the government spends $1.7 billion a year on existing social housing in support of some 615,000 households. Canada's economic action plan provided $2 billion over two years to build new and renovate existing social housing, plus another $2 billion in loans to municipalities for them to put money into related infrastructure projects for social housing. Under the current infrastructure affordable housing framework, the government is spending $253.1 million a year in affordable housing.

We have put this forward in a number of budgets. Why has the member always voted against it?

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Réjean Genest NDP Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, the tax credits we are asking for would cost about $250 million. In addition, encouraging energy retrofits would cost about $150 million. That is much less than the government has already invested in housing and affordable housing. We must not forget that investing in rental housing would be one way to achieve our goal of not spending a fortune on so-called social housing.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for this excellent motion.

I would like to share with you the situation in my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. It is a rural riding, but in the city of Saguenay—which includes Chicoutimi and La Baie, among others—approximately 875 families are spending more than 80% of their income on housing. These people obviously live in rental housing. I am pleased to vote in favour of this motion because it will help families that unfortunately must spend much less on food, clothing and medicine.

I would like to ask my NDP colleague in what other ways this motion would benefit low-income families, of which there are far too many in all ridings across Canada.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Réjean Genest NDP Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, the first reason is quite simply that everyone has the right to adequate housing. The second reason is that when adequate housing is expensive, there is not enough money left over to put food on the table, and that is a problem. I have had that experience. I was rather poor. I went to soup kitchens and food banks in our neighbourhood in order to feed my children who were living with me.

I find it difficult to understand how people can spend 80% of their budget on housing. It is indecent to live in a country as rich as ours and allow this to happen.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member and thank him for this excellent motion. I would also like to thank him for so generously sharing parts of his life with us. It helps us to better understand what can happen when there is no affordable housing available.

We know that the government has invested $1.7 billion in housing. That is a good thing. However, there are still 1.5 million Canadian households in dire need of housing and over 150,000 homeless people in Canada.

I would like hear more about the positive effects that appropriate government investments in affordable housing and the fight against homelessness can have on a society.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member has 30 seconds to respond to this question.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Réjean Genest NDP Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, the positive effects are simple. If people are happy and they see that the government is taking care of them, then they will applaud the government and think of it every four years.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Motion No. 331 and to indicate our party's support for this motion.

I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter before the House. It gives me the opportunity to talk about the unprecedented investments our government has made to improve access to affordable housing and to address the issue of homelessness in communities across the country.

I hope the member across the way is aware that our economic action plan invested record amounts in social housing, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in over 10,000 projects. This is in addition to the extension through 2014 of the homelessness partnering strategy, where we are working with communities, both urban and rural, to prevent and reduce homelessness.

Through these investments, we are helping to expand the stock of affordable rental housing across Canada, while creating jobs and stimulating demand for Canadian made building products and services.

I do not believe there is a person in this chamber who does not recognize the importance of housing. We can all agree that everyone in Canada deserves a stable, safe and affordable place to call home.

Prior to coming to this place, I was the president of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association and spent close to 20 years in the property management and rental housing sectors. I have seen federal housing programs first-hand and can tell the House that no other government in that time has done more, provided more local flexibility and maintained stability in programs like this government.

Having access to stable affordable housing is a foundation for healthy living and a building block for success in so many other areas such as education, the labour market, personal relationships and community engagement. This is why we have a range of policies and programs in place to support Canadians from all walks of life and in all parts of the country in accessing housing that meets their needs. This includes providing housing assistance for those whose housing needs cannot be met in the marketplace, including low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities and first nations people on reserve.

In fact, our government has made unprecedented investments in housing over the past number of years. Since 2006, we have invested an estimated $12.5 billion in housing programs. These investments have improved living conditions for tens of thousands of Canadians, helped build stronger communities and created thousands of jobs across Canada.

Sadly, these investments were opposed at every opportunity by the opposition parties. The official opposition and the third party stood against budget measure after budget measure that funded these projects. However, our unprecedented investment in housing programs happened in spite of the opposition.

Even though his party voted against the money, I am sure the hon. member across the way will be pleased to know that we continue to invest heavily in housing. This year, through CMHC, the Government of Canada will invest approximately $2 billion in housing. Of this amount, $1.7 billion will be spent in support of almost 615,000 households living in existing social housing to ensure they can continue to afford their homes.

I recently visited two federally funded co-operative housing complexes in my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville, and I can report to the House the very successful operations at Tecumseh and Meadows Co-ops and what these projects mean to the people who live there.

We will also spend more than $250 million this year to continue to reduce the number of Canadians in housing need. This is part of a commitment we made in 2008 to invest $1.9 billion over five years in housing and homelessness programs.

As a first step in delivering on this commitment, the affordable housing initiative and the federal renovation programs for low-income households were extended for two years. In July 2011, federal and provincial housing ministers announced the investment in affordable housing 2011-2014 framework agreement to guide the deliver of federal investments in affordable housing off reserve over the final three years of this five year commitment.

The overall objective of the framework is to reduce the number of Canadians in housing need by improving access to affordable housing that is sound, suitable and sustainable. It is being implemented through bilateral agreements with each province and territory that are best positioned to design and deliver programs to address housing needs and priorities in their respective jurisdiction.

Under these arrangements, federal funding will be matched by the provinces and territories. When these contributions are included, the new framework provides for a combined investment of $1.4 billion over three years toward reducing the number of Canadians in housing need.

Over and above these investments, our government will spend about $407 million this year to address housing needs on reserve. This funding is used to subsidize existing rental housing, build new homes and renovate existing houses that are in need of repair.

The homelessness partnering strategy was renewed at $134.8 million per year until March 2014. So far this money has supported over 2,900 projects across Canada. I have seen, first-hand, in Toronto how successful the HPS is through its funding of the internationally recognized streets to homes program.

In his motion, the hon. member also calls on the government to expand the stock of affordable rental housing. Again, he will be pleased to hear that our government offers strong support for this housing option. The federal investments I have already mentioned go a long way in helping to make affordable rental housing available to Canadians.

For example, an estimated 5,000 new affordable housing units were created through the two year extension of the affordable housing initiative. More than 50,000 units have been created since this initiative was established, and we expect that that thousands more will be created under the new investment in affordable housing framework agreement.

Renovation assistance is also available from CMHC for repairs to rental properties occupied by low-income tenants, including rooming houses. CMHC also supports the conversion of non-residential properties into affordable self-contained rental housing units or bed units, and provides financial assistance to assist in the repair of existing shelter housing and the creation of new shelters for victims of family violence.

CMHC's Affordable Housing Centre also facilitates the development of affordable housing solutions that do not require ongoing support from government. In addition to providing guidance and expertise to project proponents, the centre offers seed and proposal development funding to help get projects started. In 2010 the centre facilitated the creation of close to 2,900 new affordable housing units and projects across Canada.

Our government provides other support for rental housing. For example, CMHC is the only mortgage loan insurer for large, multi-unit rental properties, nursing and retirement homes. Mortgage loan insurance from CMHC is critical to ensuring these housing options continue to be available to Canadians. Without it, many large rental housing projects simply would not get the financing they need to be affordable.

The motion currently before the House also calls on the government to ensure that federal housing programs provide economic benefits to local housing construction businesses. Our government recognizes that housing is an important source of job creation in Canada. That is why investments in social housing were a key element of Canada's economic action plan.

As hon. members will recall, the stimulus phase of our economic action plan included an additional $2 billion over two years to renovate existing and build new social housing. This funding has supported more than 14,000 social housing and first nations housing projects across Canada. If I had the time I would point out some of the great things about these 14,000 projects.

In conclusion, our government is proud of its housing record. We will be supporting the hon. member's motion.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure that I address the motion before us. Affordable housing has been an issue for a long time.

The member referred to CMHC which is one of the cornerstones in terms of providing affordable housing for all Canadians. It was created shortly after World War II. As soldiers returned and started families, the need for additional housing was recognized. CMHC in essence set the groundwork. Nothing has changed. Whether it was after World War II or today, there has always been a very high demand for housing.

With respect to this motion, most people would recognize that we need to support the housing industry in a very direct way. I would like to provide a different perspective. I was housing critic for the Liberal Party a number of years ago. I have some fairly hard thoughts and opinions about our housing situation. In some provinces there is virtually a housing crisis. In some corners of Canada there are housing crises, and they vary. On many of the first nations reserves there is a huge demand not only for houses but for houses to be fixed. In municipalities of varying sizes it becomes an issue of affordability because of the cost of housing, especially in some of the larger cities, where there is a need for the government to get directly involved.

There are many different ways in which the government could help with housing. Shelter allowance programs have always intrigued me. They were initially talked about by Lloyd Axworthy in the late 1970s. He advocated for the establishment of shelter allowances for renters. He focused on seniors and families. There is a strong need today to support programs of that nature. It is one of the ways government could work with the private sector to ensure there are more affordable housing units. That would go a long way toward addressing the needs of many, whether they are homeless or individuals who are living in other situations who are trying to find a place they can call their own.

There are many different organizations. What I like about Winnipeg North is that it spans the spectrum. There are the wartime houses that were built, and just a few weeks ago I was talking to members from St. Mary The Protectress Villa, a wonderful Ukraine-run community housing facility. It was created because of the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg. It has provided homes, apartments with balconies, for a number of people in Winnipeg North. Its members have done incredible work in providing alternative housing for seniors who live in the north end. Not only did the members build the facility, but today they are looking at expanding it. They are looking for some support from the government, federal, provincial or municipal, to enable them to do that.

That is the type of housing we should be looking at. We should be looking for organizations that are prepared to get involved with the communities, whether it is being involved in the expansion of a project or developing new projects or something of that nature. What I especially like about St. Mary The Protectress Villa is that it is managed by individuals primarily from the Ukrainian community. They have provided shelter for a good number of years.

I could talk about Ivan Franko Manor, St. Josaphat Selo-Villa, or the Canadian Polish Manor on Selkirk Avenue. These are wonderful housing facilities, many of which rely on the Government of Canada to subsidize the units.

When we talk about the $1 billion-plus that has already been spent on housing, that is not new money. We have been spending billions of dollars annually to subsidize literally tens of thousands apartments and housing units across the country. This is an ongoing expense.

Quite often there are agreements between provincial jurisdictions where the federal government subsidy is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 80%, and I suspect it varies at times maybe even between provinces. In reality, individuals who live in such a community are obligated to spend somewhere around 30% of their household income on rent and the government covers the rest. This way individuals are able to have shelter. They can establish homes for their families and hopefully become more engaged in the economy. They might eventually be able to search for a permanent home and afford to buy a house.

It is more than just the issue of money. We need to look at many of the tens of thousands of units. Why are we not investigating ideas such as converting some of that housing stock where the government is the landlord and citizens are the tenants to ones that are tenant managed or housing co-ops? I would love to see the government play a leadership role and look at ways in which that could take place. There are so many units and it would be wonderful to look at the possibility of converting them into housing co-ops.

There are other ways in which government could directly get involved. We have seen in the past things such as infill housing. The housing stock has a profound and dramatic impact on an entire community. Two or three houses that are boarded up on one block have a negative impact on the whole block. Quite often a boarded-up house will catch fire or be torn down. This is where the government can play a role and provide the incentives, where possible, for infill housing. New houses pop up in some of the older communities which have a great deal of heritage and character. To do things of that nature would do wonders.

When we talk about providing more housing for our population and supporting low-income renters, we have to take a broader look and develop an overall strategy that takes into consideration things such as direct subsidies. This is a non-profit housing complex in which government provides the money to housing co-ops, to 55-plus lease programs, to the idea of infill housing. Also, there is the idea of shelter allowances, where the government would provide dollars for individual renters to look to the private sector for housing.

In conclusion, there are many different options. We need to see strong leadership from the national government and a sense of commitment that goes beyond the status quo in fulfilling what it is already obligated to fulfill. That is the money that has been spent to date. That is the status quo.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend and thank the hon. member for Shefford, which is the riding next to mine, for his excellent initiative in moving this motion. I know that all my colleagues have an interest in housing but to see one of them show such an interest as to move a motion on this issue is a great honour for me in my capacity as housing critic for the official opposition. Clearly, I support this motion on housing and homelessness.

Since I was elected last May, I have met with many people in the course of my duties: representatives from community organizations who are particularly committed to housing issues and the fight against poverty and homelessness; people who are affected by homelessness; private housing providers, co-operatives and others; and provincial and municipal officials and RCM reeves. All of them, without exception, told me that they are concerned about the way Ottawa is ignoring the issues related to the current housing crisis.

They have good reason to be concerned; their fears are quite legitimate. That is why this motion is more than welcome.

On February 16, I introduced my very first bill, which proposes a national housing strategy and seeks to ensure that all Canadians have safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing. As we speak, Canada is still the only G8 country that does not have a national housing strategy.

This motion moved by the hon. member for Shefford complements my bill and shows how desperate the need for housing is. The municipalities and provinces that have the burden of housing without the appropriate resources need support from the federal government. We know that since 1993, the federal government has been increasingly abandoning its responsibilities for housing, and the provinces and municipalities can no longer pick up the slack. They need support, help, money and resources.

The current housing crisis exists across the country in small municipalities like Saint-Hyacinthe in my riding and Granby in my colleague's riding and in big cities like Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto. The waiting list for social housing gets longer every year, and the inflated price of housing does not allow everyone to live in decent housing.

As my colleague was saying earlier, under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, access to housing is a right, not a privilege. The Conservatives' funding and strategies are inadequate, given the urgency of the situation. My colleague said earlier that the government invests roughly $1.7 billion a year in housing. That is a good start, but it is not enough and the need is there.

Right now, about 1.5 million Canadian households have an urgent need for housing, which means that they are hanging by a thread. Many of them spend as much as 80% of their income on housing that is too small, unsanitary, or inadequate for their family's needs. To make ends meet and enjoy a decent standard of living, families should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing. When families spend 80% on housing, they have less to spend on food, clothing and everything else because they need a roof over their heads.

People with urgent housing needs are at risk of becoming homeless and ending up on the streets. This includes single people, families and seniors. The situation is serious.

What is more, 30% of aboriginal households on reserves live in substandard housing. That is a problem too. People with reduced mobility do not have access to housing that meets their needs. People in wheelchairs who live in housing that is not accessible have a very hard time. Currently between 150,000 and 300,000 Canadians live on the streets, and that number is increasing. I know that I did not give an exact number, but as I have often said, people who are homeless do not usually fill in their census forms and report that they are homeless. That is why it is tricky to determine how many of them there are, and that is why we do not have an exact number. All we know is that their numbers are growing and they need help. We need government funds to fight homelessness.

For example, last winter in Montreal, large homeless shelters provided 10% more services and still had to turn away people who needed help. As a result, there were people sleeping on the streets in January when it was -20oC. Words fail me. I will give my colleagues a chance to think about that.

We also know that we do not have nearly enough rental housing in all regions of Canada, including in the Prairies, where development is somewhat accelerated right now.

What I would like to say here today is that the Conservatives have a duty to help those who are less fortunate. We cannot accept that people live on the street. We cannot accept that 1.5 million households are at risk of becoming homeless and winding up on the street. The government must take action. As I just said, it has a duty to do so. Having decent housing is a right, not a privilege.

The government must act now. It must support this motion and implement its provisions as soon as possible.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to Motion No. 331, proposed by the hon. member for Shefford. Our government supports this motion because the actions of our government have addressed and continue to address the content of the motion.

As a government, we have made unprecedented investments in helping Canadians find the housing they need. We have invested significantly in programs that offer a way out for those who want to break free from the cycle of homelessness and poverty. We have established and empowered local communities, both rural and urban, to set the priorities for combatting homelessness in their communities.

Let me give the House a concrete example of what our government is doing to assist people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Just a few months ago, in December 2011, we celebrated the opening of the Aboriginal Mother Centre in Vancouver. This facility will help aboriginal women and children who are in need to access housing and support services. Over $370,000 in funding was used for the project by the Lu’ma Native Housing Society. The funds helped renovate and refurbish a building to provide transitional housing, meal services and a daycare centre. This funding was provided through the federal homelessness partnering strategy.

As my hon. colleagues may know, the homelessness partnering strategy, HPS, was launched in April 2007. It is a unique program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness by providing direct support and funding to communities across Canada. At the community level, our government has partnered with leaders in the social services sector to set local priorities for combatting homelessness. These local priorities are then used to set the criteria for funding in that community through this program. This approach has been a cornerstone of the federal government's response to homelessness, and a key ingredient of its success.

The causes of poverty and homelessness are complex and differ from one community to another. We believe that communities play a critical role in addressing the problem, as they are the best place to identify and address their own local needs. This approach ensures that federal funding will go to where it is most effective. For these reasons, the homelessness partnering strategy encourages people and organizations with an interest in homelessness to work together to determine their local priorities. This is why the homelessness partnering strategy has strong support from communities, who appreciate the flexibility it offers as well as its recognition that they are key partners in the fight against homelessness.

Since the HPS was launched, a total of 2,900 projects have been approved, with funding totalling over $637 million. To date, HPS investments have enabled communities across Canada to create more than 5,000 new beds in emergency, transitional and supportive housing facilities. In addition, since the HPS was started, more than 35,000 individuals have been placed in more stable housing.

Of course, people who are homeless or at risk need more than just a place to live. They often require a variety of services to help them overcome certain challenges and to start a new life. This is another feature of HPS. For example, as part of the support services it funds, a total of 9,500 people have started a part-time or full-time education or training program.

Let me remind the hon. members that in September of 2008, our government committed to investing more than $1.9 billion over five years in housing and homelessness. As part of this commitment, we have renewed the HPS at the current funding level of $134.8 million per year until March 2014. This funding will ensure that we can continue to assist people who are homeless or at risk, including low income Canadians, seniors, people with disabilities, recent immigrants and aboriginal people in need of support. We are working with provinces, municipalities and charitable organizations to develop ways to improve the effectiveness of federal investments in the area of housing and homelessness.

Over the years, our government has also made significant investments in affordable and supportive housing. Canada's economic action plan built on these investments with an additional one-time allocation of more than $2 billion over two years in new and existing social housing, and by making available loans of up to $2 billion over two years for housing related infrastructure projects.

These investments helped complete over 14,000 housing projects. There were over 1,300 projects to renovate existing social housing and over 400 projects were funded to help people with disabilities. In the north, over 200 social housing projects, including many multiple units, were funded.

Sadly, every investment our government has made to help the most vulnerable Canadians was opposed by the official opposition, and often with the support of the third party.

I would like to conclude by paying tribute to our community partners. All across the country there are dedicated people, both professionals and volunteers, who are working with us to get their fellow citizens off the street and into a stable home. By providing essential services, they are enabling vulnerable individuals to achieve self-sufficiency and full participation in society. The fact is, we are making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable Canadians.

We are pleased to support this motion today. Our government has given unprecedented support for housing and homelessness over the past years, and will continue to do so.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I should tell her right at the beginning that I will have to interrupt her at 7:29 p. m.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Motion No. 331 introduced by the member for Shefford. I want to congratulate him on the good work he has done on this motion and his deep understanding of the challenges facing many Canadians.

I am not going to read the motion, but there are two things I want to discuss. One is that the motion is about respecting and protecting the right to housing under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the good work that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has done on rental housing. I am going to refer specifically to its report because it sets the background for why this motion is so important.

Members opposite continue to talk about how New Democrats voted against every measure. Of course, they fail to tell Canadians listening that was in the context of a budget bill, certain measures of which we simply could not support. They are being disingenuous by cherry-picking one aspect of a budget.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities produced a report called “The Housing Market and Canada's Economic Recovery”. That report indicated:

For many Canadians, the cost of buying a home has become prohibitive. Average costs for single detached homes doubled between 2001 and 2010, while household incomes have not kept up...

We have entered a period during which a growing number of Canadians will need access to rental accommodation.... New demographics include young people entering the rental market; new immigrants, who are sorely needed to fill labour gaps; a more mobile labour force; and Canada’s aging population, which is projected to downsize and save for retirement.

It goes on to indicate:

...on average tenants make up almost one-third of all households: 4 million dwellings with over 10 million people.

The rental sector plays a critically important role in Canada’s housing system. Reflecting transitions in life, many tenants are young, creating new tenant households when they leave the family home. Others are older, seeking apartment living when they no longer need or want to maintain larger family homes. Similarly, immigrant households, a critical component of labour market supply, initially rent before they transition to ownership.

These are important factors. Madam Speaker, you come from Victoria and I am from the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. Both of us have significantly larger than provincial averages of seniors. That is the one piece that I want to speak to at this moment. I have been conducting seniors' forums throughout my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. I have been to Mill Bay, Duncan, Gabriola, Ladysmith, Chemainus, Nanaimo and Lake Cowichan. A common thread throughout all of those forums was the fact that many seniors are no longer able to live in affordable housing.

Some seniors own homes. What I heard from them is that they are asset rich and cash poor. Their incomes no longer keep pace to allow them to pay for the maintenance and municipal taxes on their homes. They are caught in a bind because in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan there has not been significant rental housing built for many years. Seniors are able to look after themselves and are still physically fit, but they need to get out of their homes because they either cannot afford them or cannot continue the upkeep. They are now faced with having to leave the riding because they cannot find any affordable housing.

I know there are many seniors in Victoria who are in exactly the same spot. Victoria is far more expensive to live in than Nanaimo—Cowichan, whether it is the cost of renting or home ownership. The member for Shefford is saying that we need to look at an affordable rental stock that accommodates seniors, immigrants and new young families. It is interesting that in Canada we do not have a national affordable housing strategy which would include things like affordable rental housing stock.

Members opposite have talked about the fact that they have invested all of this money in housing, but what they have not said, and this is again from the report of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

Expiring federal operating agreements—which will see a growing reduction in federal annual housing expenditure, reaching $500 million by 2020—further threaten the viability of one-third of Canada’s social-housing stock. Most low-income tenants live within the private-housing sector, and there is a need to preserve and enhance the affordability of this part of the housing system.

Accordingly, the federal government will not be spending $500 million a year on affordable housing stock by 2020. Yet it still claims that it is investing in such housing to make everything okay for all of those folks who cannot afford a decent place to live.

We would not even put our dogs in some of the rental housing stock available for seniors. There are cockroaches. The water does not run regularly. There is noise and they are dirty. There are drug problems in that housing and we would not allow anyone to live in that housing stock.

I believe that we have an obligation in Canada to acknowledge the UN convention and the point that housing needs to be protected, that it needs to be a right. We need to ensure that Canadians have access to affordable safe housing. We need to ensure that young families when they are starting out, and seniors when they are ready to retire, can find a place to live.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I am afraid I must interrupt the hon. member. She will have four minutes remaining for her intervention when this motion returns to the order paper.

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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:30 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for taking the time to be here tonight.

We are here tonight to discuss the cost of post-secondary education in Canada. Tuition fees across the country are at a record high, and it does not look like they will decrease any time soon. On average, Canadian students are graduating with a debt of over $25,000, and tuition fees are still rising at four times the rate of inflation.

In February, students across the country gathered and took to the streets, calling for action to reduce tuition fees and the ever-rising student debt load.

Education is the key to moving our economy forward. The government has done nothing to make university and college more affordable. Every dollar it claims to have spent has been clawed back by tuition fee hikes.

Rather than assisting the already cash-strapped provinces, the government is pushing a prisons agenda and downloading the costs of this program onto the provinces as well. Yet every time we bring up the ever-rising costs of tuition and the growing gap between those Canadians who have real access to post-secondary education and those who do not, the government talks about tax credits.

How do tax credits make tuition fees more affordable? How do tax credits make post-secondary education more accessible? The government loves tax credits. We see this all the time. We saw it with daycare and we saw it with children's arts and sports programs.

The government claims it is improving Canadians' access to these programs, but it really is not. All it is doing is making these programs cheaper for those who already have access, making them cheaper for those who already can afford these programs.

A tax credit does not help a single low income parent pay to go back to school to improve his or her skills. It does not help that parent access daycare while at school. Why, one might ask? It is because a tax credit does not give them access to the funds now, today, when the funds are needed to pay for their education. It just gives the parent a rebate in April when they file their taxes.

That is not true access. True access comes from reduced tuition fees so that all who wish to pursue post-secondary education can. True access comes from providing programs that will assist those Canadians improve their skills.

An educated population is key to our development and success as a nation. It is paramount to our international competitiveness. It is essential to our economic recovery and economic vitality. It is imperative to our social development.

Therefore, I will ask my question again. When will the government work with the cash-strapped provinces to make post-secondary education more affordable?

7:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member for Scarborough—Rouge River on the issue of affordable post-secondary education.

Our government recognizes the vital role that post-secondary education plays in our country's economic success. Over the past six years, our government has done more for students than any government before it. We are aware of the rising cost of education and the challenges students are facing. To ensure higher educations remains affordable and accessible to Canadians, we put concrete measures in place to help students reduce and manage debt.

To start, we introduced non-repayable grants. In the 2009-10 academic year, nearly 300,000 students received close to $600 million in grants. These grants are aimed at students who need it the most. For example, students from low-income families received an average of $1,900 in grants last year.

Grants are not the only measure we have introduced. Student loan borrowers who have difficulty repaying their loans can turn to the federal government for support. We introduced repayment assistance plans to help borrowers who are having trouble making ends meet. Under this plan, no student will have to pay more than 20% of their income toward their student loan and no borrower will have a repayment period of more than 15 years, or 10 years if the borrower has a permanent disability.

For many of these borrowers, they will not be required to make any payments until their income increases. This plan has already helped 160,000 student loan borrowers in the last academic year. Of those, 90% did not have to make any payments at all.

Our government is doing its part to ensure that Canadians have access to post-secondary education and that they have the means to pursue that education.

We set out new measures for students in budget 2011 and we are acting swiftly to implement them.

First, we have eliminated the interest on part-time student loans while students are in school.

Second, we are increasing the income threshold used to determine eligibility of part-time Canada student loans and grants. This will allow more part-time students to qualify for financial assistance.

Finally, we have increased the amount full-time students can earn, from $50 to $100 to per week, without affecting the eligibility of their loans.

I would like to remind the member for Scarborough—Rouge River that provinces and territories are responsible for tuition levels and the federal government provides funding to the provinces and territories in support of post-secondary education through the Canada social transfer, which ensures that they have the flexibility to manage their own spending.

Our government is working diligently to make post-secondary education accessible and affordable for Canadians. We are committed to having the most educated and skilled workforce in the world. We have put forward more measures to help students in order to ensure this occurs, and we have done it in spite of the opposition voting against all of these measures.

7:35 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the government can talk all it wants about the tax credits it has implemented, or the half measures with loan repayment assistance, or making loans more available for students and perhaps the infrastructure programs it has implemented that allows for more buildings to be built on campuses across the country, but at the end of the day, the government has not helped increase access to post-secondary education.

I have already established that a tax credit does not make tuition more affordable and many of these nice new buildings across the country are sitting vacant because there are not enough students and instructors to fill them. I have visited many campuses across the country where presidents and vice-presidents are telling me this is their problem.

We need accountability with regard to the funding that the federal government already provides each province and territory for education. As the parliamentary secretary mentioned, we need to ensure that the money earmarked for post-secondary education is actually being spent on that.

Yesterday's Ontario budget, with no investment in post-secondary education, proves that point further.

That is why, on this side of the House, we presented a bill to create a post-secondary education act in Canada that would ensure—

7:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources.

7:35 p.m.


Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, in reply to the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, I would like to highlight the measures in place to help post-secondary education students pay for their education, once again.

In the 2009-10 academic year, nearly 300,000 students received Canada student grants. That represents an increase of 150,000 compared with the previous year.

Canadians received up to $600 million in grants to help them pay for their education. That is money students do not have to pay back.

Furthermore, through budget 2011, the government is continuing to invest in financial assistance for post-secondary students. For example, more part-time students will be eligible to receive loans and grants and they no longer have to pay interest on their loans while they are in school.

We have doubled the amount full-time students can earn while studying without affecting their eligibility, from $50.00 to $100.

We are providing students with more funding and with even more flexibility.

My apologies for my French.

Post-secondary education is a priority for our government, and I assure members our commitment to Canadian students is steadfast.

7:40 p.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take advantage of this evening's late show to explore certain issues that I brought up in my initial speech about the living conditions of Attawapiskat residents. I would like to express some criticism regarding the government's wilful blindness to findings that have an undeniable impact on efforts to revitalize the social fabric of aboriginal communities in Canada.

The Conservative system, which is highly regulated but dehumanized, was unable to adequately deal with the media frenzy surrounding the living conditions of the Cree people in Attawapiskat. One of the government's major mistakes was its lack of on-site intervention and its unwillingness to implement culturally appropriate socio-economic rehabilitation measures. Third-party management is a prime example of an uninspired solution and demonstrates the failure of the government's blind delegation policies and of the fiduciary relationship between the Crown and Canada's aboriginal groups.

For two years, I worked for my own band council in Uashat, and I know that the federal government makes sure that it has specially selected representatives on the band councils and within the communities. The power of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is now at the point where the federal government already has its pawns in place. Given that such is the case, the only alternative is to stand up to the federal government by invoking this principle of law that applies to all Canadians: No one can plead his own turpitude.

Through its wilful blindness, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has allowed a number of harmful situations to continue in aboriginal communities throughout the country. Believe me, the embezzlement, white collar crime, influence peddling and insider trading that interfere with the decision-making processes of tribal management entities—the band councils—have been reported by Canadian intelligence agencies. By way of information, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development sent workers into the community of Attawapiskat 10 times in the past year. The department was thus well aware of the deterioration of the social fabric and the problems related to housing and education, among other things.

This situation leads me to think that many aspects of socio-cultural dysfunction that can be seen on reserves in this country are in fact exacerbated by the importance placed on the extraction and wholesale use of the natural resources that are plentiful on our traditional lands, at the expense of any real implementation of culturally integrated intervention measures in communities that are struggling socially.

Indeed, when aboriginal people live in problematic situations and must focus all of their efforts on trying to find solutions to daily problems related to housing, for instance, their attention is turned away from their traditional lands, where mining exploration and huge forestry projects are under way at this time.

All of this distress and turmoil in communities allow the industry to focus its efforts on extracting resources from the land.

That is my submission.

7:40 p.m.

Kenora Ontario


Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to respond to the question asked by the hon. member for Manicouagan. Let me begin by assuring my hon. colleagues that our government continues to work with willing partners across a broad spectrum of initiatives to improve the quality of life of aboriginal people. We have made significant, targeted investments in first nations priorities, including education, water and housing

We recognize the importance of safe and healthy communities, and we are actively supporting first nations by strategically planning investments that will support infrastructure projects that address these needs. Since fiscal year 2006-07, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada alone has allocated approximately $1 billion to on-reserve housing. And over the last two fiscal years, that is from 2009 to 2011, $150 million was provided through Canada's economic action plan, to support new housing construction, renovation, lot servicing and market-based housing on reserve.

The Government of Canada as a whole makes significant investments in infrastructure in first nations communities. Specifically, we provide approximately $1 billion in funding annually for community infrastructure. This includes housing, water and wastewater systems, education facilities and other infrastructure. In fact, between 2006 and 2013, the Government of Canada will have allocated over $2.5 billion in water and wastewater infrastructure alone in first nations communities.

Our government has shown its commitment to first nations through significant investments and concrete actions to enable them to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from Canada’s prosperity.

Let me assure my colleagues that we will continue to work with first nations communities to address their infrastructure issues and support their well-being and prosperity.

This government is working with first nations to improve the quality of life in first nations communities. We are working to make a real and practical difference in the lives of aboriginal people. We continue to make major investments to support a wide range of infrastructure projects; water and wastewater projects; education and economic development.

Our government is making a difference in the lives of people living on reserves in our country.

7:45 p.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, we can see what the real problem is here. I attend many meetings of various aboriginal groups in the country and have been to many committee meetings. The real problem is that the Conservatives believe that all problems can be solved with massive injections of money. In the Innu language we say, mishta shuniau, which means that money cannot solve all the problems of these groups and cannot meet all the needs that the nations have identified.

I know that the Conservatives want to ensure that the monies invested will be used for the intended purposes. However, the transparency act, or rather, the measures for transparency of communities and band councils, will focus primarily on the chief's salary.

What we need is concerted action on the ground, culturally integrated action that will truly help the nation and focus on where the monies are invested because mishta shuniau is not the only answer to the problems of aboriginal communities in Canada. I submit this to my colleague.

7:45 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, as I said, our government is continuing to work with first nations to meet their communities' needs and to ensure that long-lasting infrastructure is in place to meet their current needs and support their development.

I want to make it clear that our government's infrastructure investments in first nations communities are helping to stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life on reserves.

Every year, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada works with the first nations to develop the national first nations infrastructure investment plan, which includes strategic planning for investments that will support greater economic stability for Canada's first nations.

All told, we funded over 1,034 infrastructure projects during the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Investments in these areas will have a significant, positive impact on improving the quality of life for first nations.

7:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Windsor West not being present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice has been given, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:51 p.m.)