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House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was affordable.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member's speech on the budget. I did not hear him speak about raising the age of OAS eligibility from 65 to 67. Why did the government not campaign on the fact that it would raise the OAS eligibility age?

A few minutes ago, after question period, I presented a petition asking the government to eliminate poverty in Canada. It was signed by dozens and dozens of people from across my riding. Why is the government raising the age from 65 to 67, which will, unfortunately, cause more poverty for seniors in Canada?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the member's question, even though it has little relevance to what I had just spoken about. What he needs to understand is that in order to have an affordable pension system we need to increase that age. That is the negative part. Also we need to develop our natural resources to be able to provide for social programs like that. We need to do it responsibly, but we absolutely need to do it.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member will acknowledge that the budget debate and this bill are very important. The bill establishes the priorities of the Conservative government. I will stay away from how the Conservatives have bundled in other legislation that should have stood alone.

The question I would like to ask the member is in regard to priorities of expenditures. How would the member justify to his own constituents that on the one hand the Conservatives are cutting back thousands of civil servant spots while on the other hand they are increasing the number of politicians inside the House of Commons and the staff that would accompany that increase?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, once again it has little relevance to what I just spoke about but I will answer his question.

One of our members who just stood up in the House represents a riding of 228,000 people. I represent a riding of approximately 105,000 people. There is clearly a disparity there and something needs to be done about that. That is why our Minister of State for Democratic Reform has introduced the expansion of seats, to address that democratic deficiency.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk to my colleague more about what this budget means for the development of our resources, both in western Canada and right across this country of ours. He talked about the—

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I hate to interrupt the hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West. There is too much noise in the chamber. When an hon. member is speaking, we ask that other members keep their conversations low enough out of respect for the hon. member who has the floor.

The hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member to expand on what it means to debate the issue of proper environmental assessment. How is this going to help increase investment in our country so that we are able to export to the rest of the world and create jobs right here in Canada?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, what we are seeing right now, especially in northeastern B.C., is projects that are literally being timed out. By the time a project has been finally approved there is no longer even a desire to use that natural resource because somebody else has beaten us to the market.

What the member asked is exactly what we are trying to do. We are trying to expedite those assessments so we can get to those markets in a timely fashion. We want to develop our natural resources responsibly so once again we can add to the 760,000 jobs that we already produced in Canada and make Canada a better place because people have jobs.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-38. Unfortunately, not everyone in the House will have that opportunity because, once again, the Conservatives have moved a time allocation motion. This is the 18th closure motion we have had this year. It is truly scandalous and shameful of the Conservatives to prevent us from exercising our democratic right.

The incredibly massive Bill C-38 will completely change Canada's environmental laws, among others. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, of which I am a member, studied the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act quickly, without bothering to properly assess all the necessary situations or hear from the witnesses it needed to hear from in order to do this report justice. The report was rushed and clumsily written. Yet the changes in the bill are based on this report. These changes, as we see very clearly, will hinder development. My hon. colleague says it is common sense, but I beg to differ. It is dangerous. Putting all our efforts into oil, gas, industries and pipelines will not protect the environment. That makes no sense.

In his speech, my hon. colleague said that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will benefit industry. I am sorry, but an environmental assessment act is there to protect the environment, not to invest in industry. What he said earlier is far from common sense.

This bill is truly worrisome. The cornerstone of federal environmental protection will be totally shattered. It will break. This is all happening quickly without any opportunity for study.

In the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, we pleaded for the chance to study this bill that will truly change things and turn Canada on its head when it comes to environmental protection. Do you know what we were told? That this would be debated and reviewed in the Standing Committee on Finance. That is not where this work should be done. This bill should be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

I know that the report on the Environmental Assessment Act has been read. The NDP presented a dissenting report. I must point out that, when the report was studied, we did not hear witnesses from the National Energy Board, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development or Parks Canada. Parks Canada was not even invited. We have learned that many jobs at Parks Canada are being eliminated. Does anyone realize that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development is currently studying a national conservation plan? We want to protect biodiversity. Canada is the country that is doing the least to protect biodiversity.

Furthermore, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy will be shut down by this budget. We are going to abandon a forum that brought the economy and the environment together. Is that common sense? The round table will be eliminated even though the report clearly shows that marine biodiversity is endangered. We have to do something. We have signed an international agreement that says we must protect 10% of marine habitats. How many of our marine habitats are protected at present? Only 1%. We want to develop a great national conservation plan but cuts are being made to Parks Canada. That is truly shameful.

I could provide many more examples. I urge my colleagues to read the NDP's dissenting report on the Environmental Assessment Act. It clearly shows all the work that was not done and makes it clear that this bill is an attempt to hide the problem.

I really want to talk about the fact that they are also going to get rid of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. Right now, are my colleagues in this House aware of the position we are taking and what work is being done on addressing climate change and greenhouse gas emissions?

In terms of the fight against climate change, in 2009, Canada ranked eighth and last among G8 countries and 59th out of 60 major countries in the world, just ahead of Saudi Arabia. That is really bad.

Recently, Inuit representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. They told us that some people want development in the north and want to build pipelines, even though the north is suffering the effects of climate change and polar bears have become a threat to northern residents because the ice is melting and they do not have any place to fish.

Do people know that, right now, the permafrost is almost all gone and all the infrastructure in the north is going to have to be rebuilt? Climate change is not just something that is going to happen in 10 or 15 years; it is something that is happening right now. We absolutely must fight climate change. But this budget contains no concrete measures or efforts to do that.

In fact, the Conservative government has eliminated a great program that worked really well, the eco-energy home retrofit program, which allowed all Canadians to do their part. It was the only program that made sense; the only program that existed to fight climate change.

And what is being done in this budget to fight climate change? More industries are being created and more oil is being produced from the oil sands. They want to increase our production of oil from the oil sands, not to meet our needs here in Canada, but to meet the needs of China and Asia. Is that what Canada's natural resources plan involves? Is that our plan for a diversified economy?

The minister wrote in the budget that this is a long-term budget. No, it is not. It is a short-term budget that aims solely at making money in the short term with the oil from the oil sands, and then they will take the money and run. I am sorry, but they will not be able to go anywhere else, because the issue of global warming is a priority for the whole planet, right now.

We have a target to meet: not more than 2% of global warming over the next few years, or else we are headed for disaster.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which our dear friends the Conservatives are unfortunately going to abolish in this budget, has stated that the longer we wait to invest in the fight against climate change, the more it will cost Canadians.

The Conservatives think that sitting back and doing nothing will bring down taxes. That is not true. The Conservatives have told us many times that it is the NDP that wants to increase taxes, but the only program that is really going to increase taxes is the budget. It will lead to higher taxes for Canadians. That is what is going to happen.

If we do not start fighting climate change immediately, it will cost us more in the long run. And this is in the reports of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Unfortunately, they are going to get rid of the round table, which was fair and which brought together business people, people from industry, environmentalists and the first nations; all these groups were invited to sit at the same table to draft completely impartial reports.

How can we fight climate change and improve the environment when we are cutting back on science? That is serious now. We do not think that science is the be-all and end-all, but science makes it possible to make the right decisions.

In conclusion, I would like to urge the Conservatives to make an effort and allow the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and the other appropriate committees to examine the laws that are being amended.

I have not talked about the Fisheries Act, even though dangerous changes can be foreseen in fish habitat. This is very serious and it absolutely must be studied by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, some of that absolutely defied logic.

We introduced this budget on March 29, which was five weeks ago. We had some incredible support from economists across Canada. Avery Shenfeld from CIBC World Markets, Tina Kremmidas from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Craig Alexander from TD Economics and Doug Porter from BMO Capital Markets want us to get this job done and get this budget passed.

We had a member from the opposition who stood in this House for 13 hours taking up time that would have been given to members of Parliament to debate this budget and yet the member who just stood here in the House said that there has not been enough time. I wonder if he has spoken to his colleague and asked why he used that time that was so ineffective and not give other members of the House the opportunity to debate.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can quote people too. According to a group of some 100 scientists—I said 100 scientists—the proposed repeal of habitat protection measures under the Fisheries Act would be an extremely ill-advised action that would endanger some very significant fish stocks, as well as the lakes, estuaries and rivers where they live. The weakening of habitat protection measures, consistent with the description in section 35 of the Fisheries Act, will have a highly negative impact on the quality of water resources and fisheries across the country.

It is impossible to chip away at the Fisheries Act, saying that we will protect only one fish species, but not its habitat or the ecosystem in which it feeds. That will not work.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will continue on with what my colleague on my left made reference to.

We have a substantial piece of legislation that would have a profound impact, not only on budgetary items. It talks about the fishing industry and the environment. I believe there are some 70 pieces of legislation. One could argue that this in itself is almost four years of legislation that is tied into this one bill.

I wonder if the member could provide comment as to how democracy has been served a huge blow because the Conservative government does not seem to prioritize democracy as something that is important to Canadians.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

I entirely agree with his analysis. We are currently witnessing a flagrant lack of democracy. We have asked, are asking and will continue to ask the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to analyze the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. As I mentioned earlier, that act is the cornerstone of environmental protection at the federal level.

Unfortunately, they want to weaken the act to the point where my Conservative colleagues claim there will be more industry and pipelines as a result of this legislation. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is supposed to protect the environment, but the Conservatives tell us it will make it possible to have more industry and more pipelines. That makes no sense.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday we learned that the president of Taseko Mines had sent the Minister of the Environment a letter requesting three things: that no aboriginals be appointed to the committee assessing his project; that the hearings not start with an aboriginal drum and prayer ceremony; and that spirituality not be considered an aboriginal right.

I would like my colleague to tell me whether the measures proposed by this government will help in meeting that kind of request.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my distinguished colleague for his question.

It is one of the federal government’s fundamental duties to sit down with the first nations, with the aboriginal communities, to ensure that their rights are respected. That is one of the important points in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. People must be allowed to speak and to be consulted. Their rights, which are international rights, must be respected.

Unfortunately, no one has taken the time to conduct proper consultations on all these measures, all these changes. A lot of people have not been met, and the job has unfortunately been botched. The Conservatives have botched their job.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak in the House today in support of the government’s economic action plan 2012.

It is an excellent budget that keeps taxes low, creates jobs and ensures growth and long-term prosperity. It is a solid plan that will help my constituents to benefit from a firm economic foundation for Canada and to prosper from low tax and deficit eliminating policies that will benefit our country.

What are we trying to accomplish through our budget? We are focusing on strengthening our Canadian economy, on creating jobs, on streamlining government operations and on ending wasteful spending in order to move Canada to balanced budgets, all without raising taxes and without cutting important transfers to the provinces. I simply must emphasize that we are the only party in the House that advocates for lower taxes and that defends lower taxes.

The economic action plan is important for Canadians, as it is for the people of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell who gave the government a clear mandate to focus on the important issues: jobs and economic growth.

I have assured the people of my constituency that our strong, stable Conservative majority government will not rest until it has led Canada onto the road to certain economic prosperity, and when that has been done, there will still be much more to do.

I therefore hope that the NDP members will join me in supporting the budget this year, a budget that, I have to say, Canadians are satisfied with.

In terms of specifics, our economic budget is one that will bring back the hiring credit for small business. I know how important that is to the business owners in my riding. This hiring credit will help them create jobs and hire new employees, skilled people who will move their businesses to increased prosperity. This and other job creation initiatives will allow businesses to take advantage of economic and market opportunities when they present themselves. Our latest budget extends this valuable hiring credit for another year.

It is also heartening to see the return of the youth employment strategy in this year's budget. This program, which enables businesses to hire skilled youth over the summer, will allow our youth access to mentorship in their own communities, and the skills they help develop within our youth will have long-lasting value.

It is clear to me that federal employment initiatives like this one produce good results in the communities and benefit both students and businesses.

The government will also make a generous $30 million investment over three years in the opportunities fund and will create a special group on job opportunities for persons with disabilities.

These are excellent employment strategies and, again, they will contribute to job creation. These strategies will ensure that persons with disabilities, who sometimes have considerable difficulty finding jobs, will not be left by the wayside.

Our economic action plan does not end here. In fact, there is more.

For example, we have studied employment insurance carefully and we are committed to improving this program so that it better serves Canadians. Our budget, therefore, includes important measures to connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs without penalizing them.

Our economic action plan 2012 proposes introducing a new national working while on claim EI pilot project. It is my hope that my colleagues within the opposition parties will have a careful look at this initiative. The proposed initiatives would remove disincentives to work by ensuring that EI claimants benefit from available work, particularly part-time employment, and are not penalized by EI as they seek a full-time position.

I would like to make a few comments on agriculture as agriculture is a crucial sector for my riding and accounts for approximately two million jobs nationwide.

Our budget continues to focus on establishing and strengthening the right conditions for farmers to succeed, and our farmers are succeeding. Agriculture contributes enormously to our country's economy, with nearly $35.5 billion in exports, which makes Canada the world's fifth largest exporter of agriculture and food products.

To be prosperous, farmers have to have access to the resources they need to remain competitive and meet the increased needs and demands placed on them. Our budget demonstrates our ongoing objective of helping farmers to penetrate foreign markets.

Under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the government has achieved significant victories in this regard, as witnessed by our agriculture sector, which is more vigorous and dynamic as a result of exporting top quality Canadian products around the world.

We have put in place nine free trade agreements already, and we are working on many more. In addition, we are opening markets for our Canadian beef, pork, canola, pulse crops, wheat and the list goes on. Our efforts and our successes have been well recognized by the agricultural sector, by industry and by our opposition colleagues themselves.

Our economic action plan states clearly that we will continue our work to expand market opportunities for our farmers. We will continue to work on their behalf to ensure that people in other countries have access to our high-quality Canadian food.

I would like to say a few words about food safety. Canadians know that the government takes this issue seriously and that here in Canada, food is safe. I know that my opposition colleagues are concerned about food safety. In fact, in both the House and committee, I have heard opposition members ask questions that would suggest that funding for this has been reduced.

I have good news for my opposition colleagues, news that will ensure they do indeed vote for our budget implementation act. The news is that this year's budget includes an additional $51 million for food safety initiatives. I saw some opposition eyebrows raise when I said this, but I invite opposition members to read page 168 of the budget.

I know they secretly support this great initiative, and I would say to them that even if there is not one other thing they can support in this budget, at least vote in favour of increased funding for food safety. It is the right thing to do.

I just do not know how they could possibly vote against food safety, but they will likely find a way.

I know what you are thinking, Mr. Speaker: “Do not despair, have courage; it is increased funding for food safety, which is what they have been asking for”, but let us remember that in the last budget, we increased funding for food safety by $100 million. However, the Liberal and NDP MPs all voted against it. They asked for increased funding for food safety and we gave them increased funding for food safety, but they still voted against it.

Despite this pattern, it is my hope that the opposition will indeed vote in favour of this budget.

Canadians have long awaited the tabling of our economic action plan, and since the budget was tabled it has become apparent that Canadians like our budget and that they support our budget.

Our economic action plan focuses on what is most important to Canadians in these difficult economic times: strengthening our economy, creating new jobs, reducing government expenditures, eliminating waste and eliminating our deficit, all without raising taxes.

I listen to Canadians, as do my Conservative colleagues, and we will be voting for this budget. I sincerely hope that the opposition members, and particularly the New Democrats and Liberals, will also listen to Canadians and vote for this budget, as Canadians want them to do.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have five minutes remaining for questions and comments when the House next returns to debate on the motion.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 28 consideration of the motion.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the motion before the House today.

First, let me state that our government supports the motion, as it provides a great opportunity for the government to share the unprecedented federal investments that have been made and continue to be made in housing initiatives. I am sure the hon. member for Shefford would agree that important progress is being made to prevent and reduce homelessness and to ensure Canadians have access to affordable housing. Our government has already made investments to improve access to affordable housing and to address the issue of homelessness in communities across the country. We have funded more than 16,500 projects to do just that.

Motion No. 331 calls on the government to ensure that federal housing programs provide economic benefit to local housing construction businesses. I would like to focus my remarks today on this particular aspect of the motion. Specifically, I want to explain how federal housing initiatives and investments under Canada's economic action plan help create jobs for Canadians while expanding and improving the stock of social housing across the country.

As I am sure the member opposite is aware, our economic action plan invested record amounts in social housing, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across more than 10,000 projects. Our government responded decisively in January of 2009 to the global economic crisis with a plan to stabilize the economy and put Canadians back to work. Over the past few years, we made important investments that have helped Canadians weather the global recession and provide the solutions needed to secure our long-term growth and prosperity.

Our government mobilized all its resources and engaged with all its partners to deliver a $60 billion shot in the arm to the economy, and the plan worked. Budget 2012 reported that more than 30,000 projects were completed under the stimulus phase of the economic action plan, while projects have contributed to a strong labour market recovery with more than 693,000 net new jobs created since July of 2009.

A good number of those jobs have been in the housing sector. Thanks to targeted government investments in housing and the industry's ability to quickly ramp up construction and renovation activities, housing was a source of economic strength and stability in Canada throughout the recession. This was no accident. Our government recognized that housing is a great job creator. Housing construction and renovation employs a large number of Canadians with good wages, and people were put to work quickly. We know that most of the materials used are Canadian-made, and this generates even more jobs and economic activity.

There are other good reasons to invest in housing. Benefits flow to communities all across the country. Certainly not the least of all, investments in housing provide permanent benefits in the form of improving housing and living conditions for Canadians. This is why Canada's economic action plan provided a total of $7.8 billion to build quality housing, encourage home ownership and enhance home energy efficiency. This resulted in more than 15,000 individual projects, which is truly a testament to our strong, decisive action to support Canadians during the downturn. It included everything from tax breaks for first-time homebuyers to a temporary home renovation credit that millions of families took advantage of. These investments encouraged Canadians to improve their homes, generating business for renovation contractors, building product manufacturers and retailers across the country.

Even though the party across the way voted against all of these initiatives, I am sure the hon. member will be pleased to know that we continue to invest heavily in housing. The economic action plan also included more than $2 billion over two years to renovate existing and build new social housing, which has resulted in more than 1,300 social housing projects. To ensure that these funds flowed as quickly and effectively as possible, the majority of these investments were delivered by provinces and territories through amendments to existing housing agreements.

These initiatives in social housing targeted some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Over two years, our government provided $400 million to build more housing for low-income seniors, which created 21,000 projects, and $75 million to build housing for people with disabilities, which created more than 400 projects. A further $200 million was set aside to create more than 200 projects for Canadians living in the north, and $400 million was invested in housing on reserve.

Our Conservative government also invested $1 billion to renovate and retrofit existing social housing, to help vulnerable Canadians with needed improvements to their homes.

This funding supported energy retrofits, such as upgrades to heating, electrical and ventilation systems, as well as improvements to structural elements and other building components so that these units could continue to provide safe, affordable housing for years to come.

Thanks to these economic action plan investments, budget 2012 reported that an estimated 16,500 social housing units and first nations housing projects had been completed or were under way across Canada. In addition to expanding and improving the stock of social housing, these projects created jobs and helped protect Canada's economy from the deepest global economic downturn since the 1930s.

Hon. members will recall that Canada's economic action plan also included $2 billion in low-cost loans to municipalities for housing-related infrastructure projects in new or existing residential areas. These loans were intended to help municipalities undertake a wide range of projects, everything from upgrading or expanding water, waste water or solid waste systems to building or repairing roads, bridges, sidewalks or green spaces.

As we would expect, the interest from municipalities was strong. More than 270 loans were approved under this program for the full $2 billion that was available. The municipal infrastructure lending program not only allowed municipalities to undertake needed projects earlier and at a lower cost than expected, but it also freed up municipal tax dollars for other important purposes.

What this means for Canada is communities that are better able to meet the needs of current residents and better positioned to manage growth in the future. It also meant jobs, a lot of jobs, more jobs for Canadians.

The Canadian economic recovery is under way, reflecting the extraordinary measures in our government's economic action plan and Canada's strong economic fundamentals.

Canada's economic action plan is now in its next phase, a low-tax plan for jobs and growth. Economic action plan 2012 focuses on the drivers of growth and job creation: innovation, investment, education, skills and communities.

Our government continues to invest in housing. We know from past experience that these investments will provide economic benefits to local housing construction businesses as called for in the motion by the hon. member for Shefford.

We also know that they will expand the stock of affordable rental housing. They will improve quality of life for low-income Canadians, seniors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in society, and they will contribute to stronger communities and a stronger economy.

Let me again thank the hon. member for his motion. Ensuring safe, affordable housing for Canadians is a matter of interest for everyone in this House. We have no hesitation in supporting the motion by the hon. member for Shefford because we have delivered on housing initiatives for Canadians.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

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.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Motion M-331, which was moved by the hon. member for Shefford, concerning the right to housing and the fight against homelessness. I would like to commend him for his work on this issue.

Since this is a short motion, I would like to read it in order to make sure that the people watching know what we are talking about. It states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) keep with Canada’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to housing under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (b) support efforts by Canadian municipalities to combat homelessness; and (c) adopt measures to expand the stock of affordable rental housing, with a view to providing economic benefits to local housing construction businesses.

Access to housing is a problematic situation across Canada. According to the CMHC's most complete data, in 2008, 13% of urban households had core housing needs. Households have core housing needs if their housing is unacceptable because of its quality, size or price. The CMHC found that 1.3 million Canadians in urban centres live in poor-quality housing, housing that is too costly or housing that is too small for the number of family members.

As one may imagine, low-income families, single-parent families and persons living alone are the ones most likely to be facing core housing needs.

According to the Observatoire Grand Montréal of the Montreal metropolitan community, 21.8% of rental households in greater Montreal have core housing needs; 49,945 are households with minor children and 23,685 are households in which the primary financial support is a recent immigrant.

According to the 2006 census, of the 706,619 rental households in the Montreal metropolitan community, 126,580 must spend more than half of their income on housing rather than on other basic needs, such as medication, food and transportation. In the past 10 years, the average rental cost of a two-bedroom home has increased 38% in the greater Montreal area.

Despite relative prosperity, the situation in the northern ring of Montreal is a concern as the growing population there is putting pressure on housing availability and prices. In the town of Saint-Eustache, for example, 23.2% of households have core housing needs.

I recently commissioned a survey from Segma Recherche to get a clearer idea of the priorities of people in the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. One thousand people were surveyed there in March, and the figures from that survey are consistent with the Observatoire Grand Montréal’s data.

In Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, 25% of tenants say they have been forced to cut spending on food or medication in order to pay rent in the past year. One in four individuals is paying too much for housing.

Housing accounts for more than half the disposable income of some households. As that cost cannot be reduced, other basic needs are not being met.

In view of this disastrous housing situation in Canada, it is not surprising that in May 2006, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights described the situation as a national emergency and demanded that Canada meet its international obligations respecting the right to housing. Little meaningful investment has been made since then.

The latest Conservative budget contains no satisfactory measures to address the problems of homelessness and housing. On the contrary, the government is making matters worse by cutting CMHC's budget by $102 million by 2014-15.

The government has also refused to increase its investments in housing and homelessness, which, in real dollar terms, are at their lowest level in 10 years, as they have not increased during that period.

The Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain condemned the housing provisions of the last budget as follows:

...Over the next two years, Ottawa will continue to allocate a total of only $250 million a year to all provinces and territories, including $57.7 million to Quebec, for all of their affordable housing construction and renovation programs...in addition, the budget earmarked to fight homelessness will remain frozen for another two years at $134.8 million, despite the growing number of homeless people in Canada and Quebec.

Similarly, Bruce Pearce of the Canadian Housing & Renewal Association said:

The 2012 federal budget outlines no plans to invest in affordable housing or in measures to end homelessness.

...

...we are disappointed that this budget was effectively silent on affordable housing because so many needs remain.

The Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal and the people helped by that organization were among the big victims of the most recent budget. I simply cannot understand how the Conservative government could have denied RAPSIM a subsidy, when that organization does such remarkable work with the poorest of the poor.

I would remind the House that RAPSIM has been receiving financial support from Ottawa for several years now as part of the homelessness partnering strategy. Federal support for RAPSIM was supposed to help safeguard rooming houses and encourage stakeholders to work together on issues like access to services for homeless people.

The NDP has studied the housing problem very thoroughly and has proposed real solutions over the years. While waiting lists for affordable housing continue to grow, which is completely unacceptable, we think it is crucial that Canada have a national housing policy to ensure that the federal government contributes to the construction of new housing, which it has not done since the 1990s. This is unacceptable.

In February, the NDP again presented a Canadian housing strategy. It is time the federal government made substantial investments in social housing and affordable housing. Canada is in fact the only G8 country in the industrialized world that does not have a national housing strategy. I say investment, because funding for social housing creates jobs and reduces the social costs associated with poverty.

The objective of the NDP’s bill is to develop an effective affordable housing program by requiring that the federal government hold consultations with organizations that work in the field of housing, aboriginal communities, and provincial, territorial and municipal governments. The NDP is also committed to restoring funding for homeowners under the residential rehabilitation assistance program and the affordable housing initiative.

As well, with the cost of living and the need to address homelessness constantly rising, funding for the homelessness partnering strategy has never been increased or even indexed since it was created early in the last decade. It is high time the government lightened the load on community organizations that assist people who are homeless.

We must remember that there are currently 300,000 people without homes in Canada. The NDP supports the Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec, which is calling on the Prime Minister's government to increase funding for the HPS to $50 million in Quebec and to make that funding available starting in 2015.

I would like to conclude by saluting the extraordinary work done by the Association de promotion et d'éducation en logement de Saint-Eustache. APEL is a community organization dedicated to doing advocacy work for tenants, educating, and developing social housing in the Deux-Montagnes RCM and the southern part of the Mirabel RCM. APEL has a broad network of partners and receives support from, among others, Centraide Laurentides and the Government of Quebec’s Secrétariat à l'action communautaire autonome et aux initiatives sociales.

If the Conservative government listened more to communities and community groups like APEL, it would realize that access to safe, affordable housing comes well ahead of F-35s, gazebos and the minister’s $16 orange juice on the public’s list of priorities.

The housing shortage affects the health and well-being of tens of thousands of families. We have to remember that investing in housing creates jobs that stay in the communities. It is time the government took action.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his work on this issue.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise today in the House to speak on Motion M-331 moved by my colleague from Shefford. I would like to thank him sincerely for his work on this issue. I would also like to thank all my colleagues who support my colleague from Shefford.

The New Democrats have a clear position on affordable housing: it is absolutely essential to make affordable housing accessible for Canadian families. We are committed to implementing legislation to ensure that housing is adequate and accessible. This is what we are proposing today.

In Canada, the shortage of affordable housing is flagrant. In Quebec, for example, it is estimated that about 325,000 households have core housing needs. It is appalling that, at the present time, only 10% of all housing starts will provide rental housing. Given that housing is being lost at a greater rate than new housing is being built, the number of rental units offered by the private sector is shrinking every day.

Moreover, according to estimates by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, there will be an additional 50,000 rental households every year over the next decade. The low supply of suitable accommodation is increasing pressure on rents and making it more difficult to find affordable housing.

Some of my colleagues will of course prefer statistics and figures. So here are some that clearly show that the shortage of housing in Canada is critical. Of the households that cannot afford housing, 750,000 have children under the age of 15, 26% are single-parent families, 15% are immigrant families and 20% are aboriginal households.

In addition, nearly 1.5 million households in Canada cannot afford decent housing, which is totally unacceptable. Of this 1.5 million, 25.7% are single-parent families, 18.2% are immigrant families and 20.4% are aboriginal households. The situation is disturbing and now is the time to act.

The shortage of affordable rental housing forces renters into deplorable situations. In the vast majority of cases, if housing is affordable, it is in poor condition. It is also sometimes the case that, given the lack of options available to renters, they are faced with owners who take advantage of their circumstances. This is the situation we are currently seeing in the Montreal area.

Some owners neglect to maintain their units. For example, damage goes unrepaired, pest infestations go unresolved, and problems with mould are left untreated. Residents have their backs against the wall and have no option but to live in these conditions.

Canadian families should not have to live like this. Families in Quebec and in Canada deserve much better.

In the past, the federal government played a major role in the construction of social housing, particularly between 1967 and 1993. Thanks to the funding that was available during that period, many co-operatives and all the low-income housing units were built. It was the Mulroney government that made devastating cuts to that funding.

FRAPRU estimates that, if that funding had continued after 1993, there would be an additional 60,000 social housing units in Quebec alone. There are currently 1,120 low-cost housing units in Laval, 93 of which are located in my riding of Alfred-Pellan. Only 12 of those 93 units are set aside for families and the rest are reserved for seniors.

There are clearly not enough units, and it has come to the point where every week my riding office receives requests from my constituents for help in finding social housing. People are desperate. Some, like Ms. Galipeau, have been waiting for a place in social housing for nine years. Nine years.

The lack of social housing was underlined by my predecessor, who tabled many petitions, including one signed by 135 tenants of social housing asking for funding merely to renovate the low-income units and another one signed by 2,813 residents in Laval asking that the old Saint-Vincent-de-Paul prison be converted into social housing.

There is an urgent need for the government to deal with the social housing it has built. Many low-income housing properties are coming to the end of their agreement with the federal government. Low-income housing was built in partnership with the municipalities and the federal government. Tenants spend 25% of their income on rent, and the federal subsidy pays the remaining operating costs only until the mortgages are repaid. As a result of the expiring agreements, 85% of the social housing stock is facing radical rent increases. In addition, as we all know, once the first mortgage is repaid, major work on the buildings is often necessary. However, the federal government does not appear to be interested.

What is even more alarming is that some families are being forced into homelessness as a result of the housing shortage. In recent years, homelessness has persisted and increased in Canada, and an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians are currently homeless.

Contrary to what some would think, homelessness is also a problem in the Laval region, as the program Les Francs-Tireurs showed last March. I suggest that anyone who did not see it go to the Les Francs-Tireurs website and watch the episode on the homelessness problem in Laval. It is extremely relevant to this issue.

However, there is very little in the way of resources to assist homeless Canadians, and funding still appears unstable. Needs are growing, whether it be in Montreal, Laval, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax or any other city in the country, but funding under the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS, has not been indexed since 1999. In fact, the program will be expiring in 2014, and this government, the one opposite, is refusing to be clear and specific about its plans after 2014. Will this government abandon Canadians? I wonder.

The last budget, which the government brought down in March, does not offer even a glimmer of hope to families looking for housing. In fact, it announces a $10.2 million cut to CMHC's budget by 2014-15. There is also no provision for affordable housing and absolutely nothing about renewing social housing operating agreements.

In reaction to that budget, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association indicated that a commitment to at least extend existing programs, such as the homelessness partnering strategy, would have been appropriate.

The right to housing is part of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for good reason, as a number of my colleagues have already said.

This is also an issue that overly affects people who are already marginalized such as women, aboriginal populations, newcomers, people with disabilities, seniors, and many others.

Access to decent, affordable housing is a health and safety issue in Canada. The report entitled “Housing and Population Health”, by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, indicates clearly that the type of housing affects health. Renters have average health or, at least, their health is not as good as that of homeowners. The poor conditions that exist in some housing are one reason for this disparity, but the percentage of income spent on housing also has an impact, since it influences the ability to spend on other needs such as food, suitable clothing, health services and so forth.

I want to reiterate that I subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that access to suitable housing is a fundamental right, not a privilege. I urge the government to take this declaration seriously. Canadian families have the right to have a roof over their heads for their safety, health and survival.

I want to thank my colleague who took the initiative to move this motion and my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who introduced Bill C-400 to ensure that Canadians have secure, adequate, accessible housing.

I invite the government to support this motion and our affordable housing initiatives because housing is a necessity, not a luxury. It is time to open a dialogue on this.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, I am truly pleased to support the motion of my colleague from Shefford, and I thank him very much for introducing his bill on affordable housing.

The motion clearly indicates the social and economic aspects of rental housing and articulates a vision for housing in Canada. The motion addresses a matter that is a national emergency, and it is vital that we advocate for rental housing in Canada.

First, I would like to make you aware of a reality that is unfamiliar to many, but one faced by many Canadians every day. Access to affordable rental housing must also be considered from the viewpoint of people with disabilities. Finding rental housing suited to their needs is a difficult task.

Housing is of vital importance for people with disabilities because it gives them the autonomy and independence needed to believe in themselves, knowing that they are valued and accepting their qualities and their limitations. It helps them appreciate and accept themselves for who they are.

Housing also fosters full participation in the community. People with disabilities cannot live wherever they want. Some neighbourhoods simply do not have suitable rental housing. These people find themselves constrained by the fact that they have to find housing close to their place of work, which limits their options and often forces them to pay much higher rent.

I had a great deal of difficulty finding housing that met my needs in close proximity to Parliament, in Gatineau. I needed an entrance that was easily accessible and, above all, a bathroom that could accommodate a wheelchair, not to mention the fact that most buildings do not have elevators.

You will realize, Mr. Speaker, that I quickly abandoned the idea of having an affordable place to live just a few minutes from Parliament. I can assure you that I quickly realized that there are very few areas that have truly accessible housing that is affordable, and where people with functional limitations can live.

A person living with functional limitations must basically, out of necessity, have criteria not just for the layout and accessibility of the building but also for their safety. I am not talking about one or two criteria, but of many criteria.

I would like to mention a few of them.

To begin with, parking lots must be accessible and well lit. Imagine getting out of a car into a wheelchair and standing on ice in an unlit area: it is dreadful.

Moreover, very few landlords want to widen access at entries and doors. And too often, it is impossible to move around in the common areas. I am not asking for access to balconies because that would be a real luxury for disabled people.

Building access ramps should also be a prerequisite in many cases. Improving the flooring by removing carpets and installing simple linoleum costs money and few landlords are prepared to pay the price—imagine what a carpet is like when you come inside with snow-covered wheels; it is awful.

Adaptive bathrooms that make it easy to move about and access the shower and bath are also very rare. Sometimes, it turns into an acrobatic feat for people using wheelchairs.

Finally, to guarantee real autonomy, there must be access to switches and taps and to windows so that they can be opened in the summer.

That is a list of features required to adapt housing to the special needs of a person living with a functional limitation.

It is clear when adaptive housing is adequate, because the abilities of the disabled person are matched to the characteristics of the housing to ensure full autonomy.

Unfortunately, this kind of match is all too rare, and I have experienced this myself on many occasions.

The list is long and the obstacles to carrying out work on an apartment block are also numerous. You can imagine therefore just how rare it is for rental housing to meet all these criteria because each individual has specific needs, and expecting this kind of housing to be affordable is almost inconceivable.

I hope that this brief overview of what it is like for people living with a functional limitation to reside in rental housing has demonstrated just how vulnerable Canadian households can be in these situations.

Yet, housing is a human right. And this government's negligence is not without consequences for the welfare of Canadians, especially since Canada has a legal obligation in this regard, whether the government likes it or not.

Canada is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to adequate housing. It is very unfortunate that the government does not approach the issue of housing and poverty from a rights perspective.

Genuine equality of access to rental housing has to be promoted. To achieve that, there has to be a better balance between the supply of housing and the demand, and location must also into account. We are looking at an extremely disturbing situation, where one-third of Canadians are renters but rental housing accounts for only 10% of total housing construction. This is unprecedented in Canada, in fact, because the number of rental units declined between 2001 and 2006.

Rental housing construction carries benefits for many segments of the population. And yet Canadian households are facing high rents because of tight supply, which makes finding affordable housing increasingly difficult for many households. This is an issue that affects households across the country, regardless of the region where they live or whether they are in big cities or small towns.

This is a financial choice made by young families, newcomers, the aging population and young people. We have to make sure that we continue to offer them this choice, because they are entitled to make it. Homelessness should not be one of their choices, but it is unfortunately widespread in spite of everything. As well, organizations working to combat homelessness are not receiving the support they need from the government, and this is undermining the effectiveness of their work. That is the situation for the Réseau d'aide pour les personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal, for example, which was recently denied support from the federal government to fund a project that would cost barely $80,000 over two years. That is nowhere near the $16 that a glass of orange juice costs, in any event.

This is happening at the same time as homelessness is on the rise in Quebec. The government has to shoulder its responsibility for helping individuals and families. Support for renter households is also particularly crucial in economic terms. Renter households have lower than average incomes and must have access to affordable housing. When households spend less on rent, they are able to buy more consumer goods—necessary goods like clothing, food and electricity.

An adequate supply of affordable rental housing also facilitates labour force mobility. This is an important economic stimulus. It is therefore essential that we have available a larger supply of affordable, better-quality housing in Canada, to give full effect to the right to housing.

Supply is simply not meeting demand, particularly when we consider the predictions made regarding demand in the next decade. It is estimated that there will be about 50,000 new renter households per year over the coming decade. If nothing is done, we will have to anticipate the worst. Homelessness is a threat that too many people in this country unfortunately live under. The government has a role to play when it comes to encouraging rental housing across Canada.

It must work with the municipalities to do that. It must also recognize that housing is an economic incentive. Our economic growth depends on expanding the rental housing market and also on more jobs in the construction industry. Cutting jobs in that industry is extremely harmful to our economy.

Because of the shortage of rental housing units, the government should take a leadership role and work alongside stakeholders in the rental housing community, including the municipalities. The government needs to understand just how bad the problems of housing and poverty are in this country. The government has an obligation to implement the policies necessary to promote affordable rental housing.

I therefore urge the government to recognize the need to increase the supply of rental housing units in Canada while maintaining the current housing units. The government must take steps to ensure that the right to housing is fully respected in Canada. I thank my colleague from Shefford along with all my colleagues who are going to support this motion.

HousingPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I will let the hon. member for Nickel Belt know that I will need to interrupt him at 2:25 p.m. in order to leave time for the right of reply of the hon. member for Shefford.

The hon. member for Nickel Belt.