Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-44, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures.
I will begin by talking about the part “and other measures”.
Bill C-44 before us is an omnibus bill, as were the budget implementation bills that we became used to seeing for many years. If it passes, this bill will amend more than 30 existing laws even though a third of these amendments were not even included in the budget presented on March 22.
What is strange, or maybe not, ultimately, is that it seems to me that I did hear the Liberals criticizing the previous government many times for the excessive use of omnibus bills. In fact, they promised to abolish this practice, which they deemed to be undemocratic.
I would like to read from page 30 of the Liberal Party of Canada's election platform:
Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.
Those are the very same Standing Orders that the Liberal Party of Canada is trying to change in an undemocratic way, but that is another issue.
The platform is not the only place where the Liberals have called omnibus bills undemocratic. On June 9, 2015, the member for Kings—Hants, who is now President of the Treasury Board, said this in the House:
For years, the Conservatives have crossed the line in what is acceptable in a functioning democracy as a government in the of respect for Parliament. It is not only how they have now normalized the use of massive omnibus bills, they regularly shut down debate in the House....
Nevertheless, here we are debating the budget implementation bill under time allocation.
Here is another empty promise made in the House:
Liberals will end the abuse of omnibus bills which result in poorly reviewed laws.
Who said that? The Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, the member for Vancouver Quadra.
The member for Bourassa had to remind her of the following:
I must tell my colleague that we are against omnibus bills. A few years ago the current government claimed that it was against these bills, which at the time might have had 20 or 30 pages. Now we have a bill with more than 175 pages.
I just wanted to point out to my Montreal colleague what he said in the House because his government's budget implementation bill is essentially an omnibus bill, even though it is not quite 290 pages long. He should be pretty ashamed, but do I look surprised? No.
It is part of the DNA of the Liberal Party of Canada to say one thing and do the opposite, the best example, of course, being electoral reform, a promise they broke, plain and simple, despite the fact that they solemnly promised that the 2015 election would be the last election under the current voting system. Shortly after that, they tried to force changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons down our throats, changes that are likely to affect our members' privileges, saying that they had promised to do so. Talk about hypocrisy.
During the election, and again today, the Liberals and the Prime Minister talked ad nauseam about “the middle class and those working hard to join it”, and yet those working hard to join it are by no means the people who are given priority in this bill.
In fact, while they eliminated the public transit tax credit that middle-class Canadians actually used, the Liberals are also making it easier for their rich friends to purchase our public infrastructure, the kind of people who can afford to pay $1,500 to have access to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, by creating the Canada infrastructure bank.
I want to emphasize that this is not about the middle class and those working hard to join it.
This bill also severely limits the parliamentary budget officer's role, which is to conduct independent studies and produce reports that he believes are in the interest of Canadians. This changes the role of the PBO, who would now have to submit a work report for the approval of the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate, as well as the chair of the finance committee, who is an elected member of the governing party. He would be the only officer of Parliament whose work plan must be approved.
In addition, research requests to estimate the costs of measures that fall within Parliament's jurisdiction would now be reserved for committees, whereas at the present time all MPs and senators can make such requests.
Incidentally, it is the research of the parliamentary budget officer, made at a member’s request, that showed us that the Liberals’ tax breaks benefited only the wealthiest, and not the middle class and those working hard to join it.
It is clear that this bill seeks to limit the ability of parliamentarians to hold the government to account and demand that it take responsibility for its actions.
I have spoken enough about what this omnibus bill contains. Now I want to talk about what it does not contain.
The 2017-18 budget provided substantial long-term funding for social and affordable housing. Following the government’s announcement, we were expecting to move on to consultations in preparation for the establishment of a real national housing strategy, for which the NDP has been calling for many years. We also thought they had finally acknowledged the ongoing housing crisis in Canada. It would seem, however, that they are in no rush to allocate the necessary resources immediately, in this budget and associated implementation bill. In fact, the government has decided to hold off on releasing over 90% of the budget announced for housing until after the next election.
However, the needs exist right now. More and more Canadian families are finding it hard to find adequate and affordable housing. The 2011 national household survey showed that 40% of Canadian tenant families were spending more than 30% of their income on housing, 19% were paying over 50%, and 9.5% of families were spending over 80% of their income on housing. There are many reasons to believe that these figures are no better today.
At the present time, the waiting lists for low-income families in need of social housing have hit record highs in our country's cities. For example, in Edmonton, 5,800 households are waiting for housing. In Montreal there are said to be 24,000, and in Toronto, 90,000. Ageing social housing infrastructure is in need of major renovations, and with the lack of funding, many housing projects have simply closed down. Property prices in major Canadian cities are skyrocketing because of speculation, to the point that fears of a real estate bubble are growing. For too many Canadian families, access to property is virtually impossible.
I have not mentioned the housing conditions and shortages in indigenous communities. However, in response to immediate and urgent request, the government has announced several billion dollars over 11 years, but has injected only a meagre $20 million in new money this year under the 2017-18 budget, $8 million of which will go to research on housing. Considering the immediate needs, $12 million more is not going to house a lot of people.
Last week I went to the national convention of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the largest national association of housing stakeholders.
While people were generally happy with the investments announced in the last budget, many concerns came up regularly. Since we are already drafting omnibus budgets that include non-budgetary measures, I will cite a few of the measures that were suggested at the convention.
The association would like the housing strategy to formally recognize the right to appropriate and affordable housing, and would like the government to speed up the funding announced for housing in order to meet immediate needs, because the longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes; to take concrete steps to counter real estate speculation; to announce the construction of new social and community housing units; to establish a special strategy for the immediate and glaring housing needs in indigenous communities; and to include in its budget incentives for renovation and energy-efficient construction, which would be a smart investment.
I would add that the government should provide funds that are specifically dedicated to social and community housing, instead of including that funding more generally in the category of affordable housing.
Although I know that the government is going to remind me that I voted against certain measures it put forward in its budget, I will be obliged to vote against this bill, both for what it contains and above all for what it does not contain.