Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that I will share my time with the member for Surrey North.
I rise today to speak to the Conservative government's budget implementation bill because it does not meet our expectations, nor does it meet the expectations of my constituents in Hochelaga.
This budget implementation bill is the second one this government has introduced since last February's budget. The Conservatives could have taken this opportunity to fix some of the flaws in the budget and to address the consequences the budget has for Canadian families. However, as usual, the government introduced another omnibus bill that has 400 clauses and is more than 460 pages long. It amends dozens of laws on subjects that were never mentioned in the 2014-15 budget speech.
The NDP does actually support some of the measures in this bill, which we have been asking for for quite some time, such as an end to pay-to-pay fees in the telecom and broadcasting industry and the creation of a DNA data bank to help in missing persons cases, which we have been calling for since 2007. We also support the measures to fix the mess the Conservatives created themselves when they introduced the Social Security Tribuna. That tribunal has been sloppily run and has delayed the review of several important cases for Canadian citizens.
It is too bad that this is such a mammoth bill, because I could have voted in favour of those measures that I do support. However, I have no choice but to vote against Bill C-43 as it stands, because it fails to correct several omissions and it attacks some of the most vulnerable people in our society or does nothing to help them.
Of course, as we all know, every Conservative minister likes to add a cookie-cutter phrase to their talking points at the end of all the so-called answers they give in question period, to remind us that we voted against the proposed measures.
Before anyone asks, I would like to give some of the reasons why I will be voting against this omnibus bill. First of all, the new Minister of Finance had an opportunity to correct the approach taken by his predecessor, who felt that the expiry of certain social housing agreements was an opportunity to save money and who planned to use that opportunity to balance his budget by creating a huge social and economic deficit for people who need government help.
When we show the government examples of how the expiry of these agreements affects certain individuals and families, they do not really seem to understand what we are talking about and just say that at the end of the agreement, the mortgage is paid off and the government's contribution is no longer necessary. Once again, I am forced to explain to the minister how these things work in the hope that in his next budget, he might consider those families that have a hard time making it to the end of the month, not just the small percentage of wealthy people who do not necessarily need any help from the government.
Long-term social housing agreements are two-pronged. Of course, they enable social housing projects to pay the mortgage, but they also enable low-income families to receive subsidies in the form of rent supplements. That means that they will not have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing. It also means that they will have at least a little bit of money for the family's other essential needs, such as food.
What happens when these agreements come to an end? Two things. Since they were long-term agreements—over a period of 25, 30 or 50 years—some of the housing projects have deteriorated over the years and need renovations. My colleagues opposite own a residence, I am sure. They should be able to understand that. On the other hand, and this is probably the most pernicious effect of the expiry of these long-term agreements, eliminating the subsidies means that some families will have to pay as much as $500 more a month for housing, sometimes even more.
Not understanding that $500 a month for a single mother is a lot of money is like saying that the nutrition north program is effective because it reduces the cost of groceries by $110 a month, even though it can cost as much as $1,200 a week to feed a family in Canada's north. I have seen and heard it myself: a bag of apples can cost $9 and a pumpkin can cost $75.
Anyone saying that would have to be joking.
However, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development does not really make me laugh, and neither does the Minister of Finance or the Minister of State for Social Development.
Before anyone suggests that we are the only ones calling on the federal government to play a role in making housing more affordable in Canada, let us look some of the pre-budget requests that some major stakeholders have made.
The Canadian Housing & Renewal Association is asking that the government reinvest in social housing the money that was freed up when the long-term agreements expired. It is also asking the government to provide incentives for increasing the supply of rental housing in Canada.
The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada is asking that the government continue to provide financial assistance to low-income households living in co-operative housing when their agreement expires. It also wants the government to set targets for the construction of new affordable housing.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain are also calling for the moneys reserved for long-term agreements to be renewed in order to address the housing crisis in a number of communities across the country.
The Canadian Home Builders' Association is calling for the creation of tax incentives to encourage the construction of rental housing and promote innovation in housing. By the way, innovation in this sector would be most welcome in the north.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the decision to stop investing in the construction of new social housing—a decision made by the Liberal government in power at the time—and the federal government's disengagement from anything to do with housing.
Since then, no new social housing has been built in Canada with the financial assistance of the federal government, except for when my former leader, Jack Layton, managed to get an agreement from Paul Martin's Liberals. It is time for that to change.
Let us now talk about the fight against homelessness. The minister could also have fixed his predecessor's mistakes. First of all, and at the very least, he could have restored the budget of the homelessness partnering strategy. The 2013-14 budget was cut from $134.8 million to $119 million, a $15.8 million reduction.
As well, he could have announced the indexing of funding for the fight against homelessness, which has never increased since it was established in the late 1990s, and covered the shortfalls of organizations that fund fewer and fewer services every year even though demand is increasing.
Furthermore, the Minister of Finance could have announced that the HPS would retain its general character and remain community-based, as a number of groups in Quebec and Montreal and the Government of Quebec have called for.
The Conservatives accuse us of not believing in the housing first program, which was proven to be effective by the At Home/Chez soi initiative. To that, I would say that if the members opposite truly wanted to make housing a priority, they would renew the $1.7 billion reserved for long-term social housing agreements and let the community groups continue their excellent work on the ground. They use a variety of approaches, in addition to providing housing.
We need new blood in government. We need measures that will help Canadian families, not just the wealthy and major corporations like the oil companies and banks, which already make huge profits and do not need government assistance to survive.
In 2015, the New Democratic Party will offer Canadians a viable alternative to this government and ways to make life more affordable for families.
In addition to fixing the mistakes that the Conservatives and the Liberals before them—they have been taking turns in office since Confederation—made when it comes to housing and combatting homelessness, the NDP will introduce a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour so that families where both parents are working do not have to go to the food bank to feed their children.
What is more, we will implement a Canada-wide program to create child care spaces that cost less than $15 a day. This type of program has proven to be effective in Quebec, where it has allowed more women to return to the labour force.
We will also change the retirement age back to 65, cancel the $36 billion in cuts to provincial health transfers, and protect the employment insurance fund by prohibiting the government from taking money from it and essentially stealing EI contributions, as successive Liberal and Conservative governments have done.
All that is just the beginning. In 2015, for the first time in history, Canadians will have a real progressive, social democratic option.