Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on affordable housing. This is a major issue in British Columbia. In fact, it is a major challenge. Many B.C. families do not have adequate housing. The high cost of housing is undermining the social and economic structure of our rural and urban communities.
This issue of affordable housing is not going away and it is really not improving. It is an issue that affects about 15% of all Canadian families, families that are essentially in a situation of not having stable, suitable and affordable shelter. That is known as “core housing need”. Can members imagine that, in a country like Canada?
Actually, I will correct my number; it was 13% in 2006, but my guess is that the statistics are higher now.
There are that many Canadian families not able to focus on the other important aspects of their lives, such as raising strong, responsible children. They are distracted by wondering whether they will be able to pay the rent or find housing that has enough space for family members, or whether that housing can be heated and whether the electrical wiring is safe. So many health and safety concerns are raised when one does not have access to safe, affordable housing that it would be safe to say that it would distract families from their other important objectives. As a health and safety concern, it is a matter of social justice in our country that we address that core housing need of the 13% of families who do not have access.
This issue is also hugely important from an economic perspective, because when housing is not supporting and nourishing the family, it is difficult to focus on other issues, whether it is education, suitable employment, or income mobility, meaning the efforts of the family members to lift themselves up to an income level sufficient to make housing affordable. It is a matter of social justice that we address this issue.
This is one of those big, complex issues that governments really have a responsibility to address and for which they must take a leadership role. That is something that the current Conservative government is completely failing to do.
Affordable housing is an issue that cannot be left to the municipalities, even though our City of Vancouver has made huge strides in bringing together an affordable housing task force and putting affordable housing on the provincial and federal radar again. Vancouver has made a commitment to emergency shelters and to having spaces for people who otherwise would be on the streets of our city.
Municipalities have a role, but they cannot do it alone, and provinces cannot address this complex challenge of affordable housing alone either, even though in British Columbia, as in other provinces, there have been major influxes of resources and time and effort. In downtown Vancouver, the British Columbia government—and I am sure this is happening in other provinces as well—has purchased buildings and has converted what were rundown hotels into single-resident rooms that can be combined with supports for families or individuals who have other needs in order to reduce the number of people living on the streets and create a portfolio of affordable housing.
So provinces work on this, but they cannot do it alone. What they do not need is a federal government that pumps out some money once in a while but does not have stable, predictable funding and does not take a leadership role on this issue. That is what I am asking the Conservative government to do.
A leadership role does not mean that it is the federal government's responsibility and that the federal government has to be a landlord for affordable housing. However, leadership does mean having discussions with the provinces and municipalities. It does mean taking a lead role in carefully assessing the problem in all its complexities and, with its partners, developing a strategy that will perhaps require funding or other tax measures but that has a compass point that all of the partners are headed toward. It also means having the flexibility to address the issues in the communities where affordable housing is the biggest challenge in the way they need to be addressed to get on top of this problem.
This is one of those big public policy issues, like access to affordable child care and like access to pension security, that Canadians have faced over the generations. Federal governments, especially the Liberal governments, have actually said in this regard, “Yes, this is not easy to fix, but it is our responsibility, for the fabric of our country and its future, to tackle it.” That is what the Liberal governments did with a number of our social programs that today we are all proud of, programs that provide social security upon retirement.
That is one program, unfortunately, that the current government wants to change, and to change in such a way that those with the lowest incomes will have to wait two more years to get their pensions, so the burden of the supposed fix would fall most heavily on low-income senior single women. Liberal governments over the years have had the courage and taken the bold action to put those social safety nets in place, and that kind of effort and commitment is needed on the issue of affordable housing.
In British Columbia, affordable housing was the most important and highest-profile policy discussed at the Liberal Party convention last November. The people of British Columbia, along with Liberals from across the province, agreed that affordable housing is critical to the well-being of our residents. It is the responsibility of all citizens and those who have affordable housing to help create a framework to ensure that all people have that right.
It was a primary proposal by Liberals at our last convention. The solution is federal government leadership, which we are not seeing. In fact, the Conservative government is doing a variety of things to undermine income equality in Canada. Not having affordable housing, which 15% of our families do not have, costs families not only their well-being but also their economic opportunities. In Canada the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing faster than it is in the United States, and some of the government's policies are responsible for that.
I will cite the example of tax credits. Those credits go only to families who can afford to pay income taxes. For example, the sport tax credit is a transfer of $120 million from the treasury to above-average-income Canadian families, totally leaving out those families who probably are the ones in need of affordable housing.
The government has a job to do on affordable housing, and it is not doing it.
I call upon the government, for humanitarian, economic, equality, and justice reasons, to take a leadership role and begin to do its job.