Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-325, an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing). It gives me a great opportunity to highlight some of the great initiatives and partnerships between different levels of government, private enterprise, non-profit organizations, and others that have been completed in my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga.
First, a little overview of the bill.
This legislation would change the Canadian Bill of Rights by adding a right of an individual to obtain “proper housing at a reasonable cost and free of all unreasonable barriers.” It argues that access to housing, free of financial and other barriers, is necessary to adequately recognize the “dignity and worth of all individuals” and to provide them with security and other benefits that housing gives. The bill would give the government one year from the day royal assent is given to make this change.
The Conservative Party believes that all Canadians should have a reasonable opportunity to own their home or to have access to safe and affordable housing. That is why we support broad-based tax relief, income support programs, and tax incentives to make home ownership and rental accommodation more attainable and accessible.
Rather than support these broad-based, grassroots initiatives, the current Liberal government seems intent not only on ignoring these willing small business partners, but also on placing additional roadblocks in their way or even destroying their businesses altogether. The current war on small and medium-sized businesses will have a huge detrimental effect on the construction industry and this will automatically negatively impact housing starts.
Small construction companies, whether pouring concrete foundations, framing, scaffolding, installing heat and ventilation, and plumbers, electricians, and roofing contractors, many of whom are self-employed and at the same time employing five or six workers, will be forced to lay off workers and scale back their operations, or worse yet, to wind down their businesses altogether. This will result in fewer contractors being available to build and therefore will drive up the cost of housing even higher. So much for making housing available at a reasonable cost and free of barriers.
While I can agree wholeheartedly with the overall premise of Bill C-325 to do all that we can to ensure proper housing free of unreasonable barriers and at a reasonable cost, there are far too many questions left unanswered for me to support the bill in its current form.
The use of the terms “reasonable cost” and “unreasonable barriers” in the preamble is vague. There is no indication of what might be an unreasonable barrier or what price range is a reasonable cost. The bill does not account for price differences in housing markets across the country and assumes that the creation of a “right” will fix the issue. It is not that simple.
Also there are very real financial ramifications to the implementation of the bill. Where is the costing analysis? Will the Canada social transfer be largely inflated due to this action? What about cost-sharing with provinces and municipalities?
It is our belief that the government should get out of the way of private enterprise and instead partner with the respective jurisdictions of provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, and private business initiatives, and work with social agencies and non-profit organizations in dealing with housing needs.
The bill makes no mention of empowering local stakeholders or marketplace workers who could potentially increase housing stock available and therefore make housing less costly.
Yes, every Canadian should have the opportunity to own a home or have access to affordable rental accommodation. We agree with helping Canadians who need it the most, however, the government can help through partnering with all levels of government and the private sector to ensure the creation of sustainable, responsible, and fair solutions.
Let me share with the House just one of the many organizations that are working to make housing more affordable in my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga. I have been proud to work with this organization over the past 16 years, long before I was elected as member of Parliament for Kitchener—Conestoga.
I will be quoting directly from the 10-year anniversary booklet of MennoHomes:
During the 1990s, poverty in Ontario became a growing concern. Social programs faced severe cutbacks, including in the funding downloaded from the provincial government for social housing.
The extremely low vacancy rate meant landlords were able to ask for premium rental prices. For lower-income families and individuals, this often made housing utterly unaffordable. Housing also became a dangerous proposition: desperate to find a roof over their heads, people took chances on unsafe, substandard housing and were unwilling to report poor conditions, for fear of losing what they had.
In late 2000... [the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario] (MCCO) Program Director, invited several people with social programming experience to be part of a small working group that would explore how to respond to this need for affordable housing.
By May 2001, the working group invited 40 people including Mennonite and Brethren in Christ pastors, together with members of their churches who were community leaders in health and social services, into the discernment process to determine the will to respond collectively to this need and to determine what form the response would take.
A number of meetings later, and after securing commitment from churches and individuals, the incorporation of MennoHomes was complete.
While individuals in other churches and denominations as well as community members at large have been strongly supportive of MennoHomes, it has primarily been a Mennonite initiative and the Mennonite community in the Kitchener-Waterloo area has responded strongly to every capital fundraising drive and has a strong sense of this being “our” project.
Soon after the incorporation process was completed, the Region of Waterloo put out a call to groups interested in affordable housing saying they had funding available for family housing. MennoHomes made an “Expression of Interest” and was approved. The search for property on which to build began.
At this time, Faith Lutheran Church on Village Road in the Forrest Hill area of Kitchener was planning a change to their building to improve accessibility, and decided instead to build a new sanctuary. The project would be funded by the sale of a large piece of land at the back of their property.
However, as Pastor Hamp said, “We ran into a bit of a struggle with our neighbours. We had a lot of phone calls from neighbours worrying and complaining about what it would do to the neighbourhood, to house values.” A series of meetings with community members followed, with angry words and even threats, but the situation remained deadlocked and intense until finally one neighbourhood resident Wendy Shaw became a bridge between the two sides. She met with each of her 66 neighbours who had opposed the project and who planned to take their grievances to the Ontario Municipal Board. Wendy brought the concerns of the neighbours to MennoHomes. This resulted in MennoHomes changing the design and reducing the number of units, as well as guaranteeing long term, active involvement with the project to ensure that it would be well-integrated into the neighbourhood.
Tenants moved into the eight duplexes on Village Road in July and August, 2004. They were met by Dorene and were each given a hand-made quilt. One resident said of the quilts she was given, “I appreciate every hour, every stitch and every thought that was put into those blankets. I will cherish them for the rest of my life.”
Dorene met with the residents on a regular basis. “There were a number of new Canadian families and we wanted to make sure they were aware of various agencies in the community. As a board, we wanted to develop a sense of community among the families. We held a barbecue in the summer and a Christmas dinner (where we recognized Ramadan and other holidays).” A tenant said of the Community Worker role, “No matter what the need, whether it be a ride, food, clothing, community information, or simply a shoulder to cry on, she was there. Because many of us have been isolated from our families and hometowns, every bit of inclusion and support is meaningful.”
Therefore, we can see that by working with federal, provincial, municipal levels of government, private enterprise and local benevolent groups can make a big difference. Not only is housing provided at an affordable price, but personal care and coaching are provided too.
The story continues. Currently, MennoHomes owns and operates 105 units, and recently partnered with another company to create an additional 25 units in Waterloo.
As I said, I cannot support the bill. I believe that the issue of affordable housing is best solved through private enterprise and incentives from government. I am grateful that MennoHomes is so successful in Kitchener. What we need to do is to find ways to replicate the work that MennoHomes is doing across Canada.
The real barriers to home ownership and affordable rental units are unnecessary government red tape, high taxes, and lack of incentives for the private sector to produce good quality and smaller housing units.
The implications of the bill would not necessarily resolve the fundamental issue of the housing crisis, which is fuelled by restrictive supply and government regulations. There needs to be assurance that people are able to move out of subsidized housing or subsidized rental units into market rate housing, and that they have the appropriate incentive to do so. Job creation needs to be at the forefront of any endeavour, so people have the means and the incentive to improve their social standing, including access to good quality housing.