House of Commons Hansard #205 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was requests.


Public Sector Integrity Commissioner

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, to lay upon the table the case report of the Public Service Integrity Commissioner in the matter of an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.

This report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

It being 11:05 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

moved that Bill C-325, An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am incredibly proud to stand in the House to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-325, the right to housing.

I believe having a home is a human right, and in a country as wealthy as Canada no one should be without a safe place to live.

It did not take me long to grasp the magnitude of the housing crisis in my riding of North Island—Powell River. Housing cases continue to come into our office, and the number is growing. I have heard horrifying stories, such as a single woman living in a van because she has been diagnosed with a significant health issue, which meant she had to choose between either medication and a special diet or her home; a couple with a teenage boy with special needs living in a tent in their parents' backyard; and a retired man of 70 couch surfing between several friends. As well, there was the case of a local business owner who hired a new employee but had to wait eight months for the individual to start because no housing could be found and people calling the police and breaking the law until they are arrested because they are old and have nowhere else to sleep except jail. I have heard of bidding wars on rentals, with people using over 65% of their income to pay the rent. I have heard of seniors waiting in acute care ready to go to a home, but there are no homes available.

There is no doubt that the stories of North Island—Powell River are the same as too many others across Canada. Housing is a priority that must be advocated for loudly and boldly.

I want to thank our NDP housing critic and MP for Hochelaga for working so hard. She has travelled across the country and she understands the realities of people struggling every day for affordable, decent housing, whether in a large urban centre, rural areas, or indigenous communities. She is there fighting. I am proud to be by her side and bring this important piece of legislation forward.

I am not the first member in the House to bring forward legislation on the right to housing. There is a reason that the reiteration of the bill has survived all of these Parliaments through the many members who believe that this is a right. I gather it rings true because it embraces a fundamental ingredient of our survival in finding shelter and our right to dignity.

It is my hope that together we can pass this bill. It would be timely and key for the coming years while we start to reinvest in housing.

As a country, Canada is at a crossroads. We have lived through almost 30 years of inaction and budget cuts. In the last budgetary cycle, the Liberals promised an abundance of cash. Months later we still do not truly know how this money will be spent.

I want to be very clear in the House. Whether it is in downtown Toronto, small cities, rural and remote communities, or indigenous villages, there is no more time to be had. We are in a national housing crisis, people are desperate, and time has run out.

Bill C-325 aims to be the cornerstone for that long-term plan. This bill would ensure the foundation of a national housing strategy that can be built solidly and will stand the test of time. We can no longer just say housing is a right; it is time for it to be legislation. My bill would do this. It would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to introduce housing as a human right.

In 1976, Canada enshrined the fundamental right to housing when the government of the day ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, this right has never been formally incorporated into Canadian law. This bill would make that happen.

While I was working on the bill, a few of my constituents were concerned with this approach, thinking I wanted to give free houses to people. Although this would support many people in moving towards their personal goals, this is not what the bill would do.

Adding housing to the bill of rights means redefining the lens that housing is viewed through. It is about a fundamental approach to reviewing regional differences, working with all levels of government and the market to address the reasons we are facing such a housing crisis, and then building a national housing strategy grounded in the right to housing that will address it head-on. It is about creating a long-term solution. It is my hope that as a country we never get to this place again.

We must think differently about how we approach housing. What we need is a new lens, and Bill C-325 offers that. Building a building here and there is not going to address the severity and systemic causes to our housing crisis.

The housing crisis is again and again portrayed as a big-city issue. This is simply not the reality. A recent report from one of my communities with a population of 35,000 shows we have 47 unsheltered homeless—people literally sleeping outdoors—and 32 people reported as being sheltered homeless, meaning they are sleeping in a shelter. This does not even address the concerns of overcrowded homes and people who are couch surfing.

This has led to the local municipality working hard to have accessible bathrooms. This is a serious result of having people without a home in our community.

I referred to dignity earlier in my speech. Human rights are that: moral principles. When our fellow citizens do not have a safe place to sleep or a place to go to the bathroom, these are incredibly dehumanizing experiences. A home is more than a physical space. Housing is intrinsic to the sense of security for families and stability needed to prevent marginalization. All of us look to home as an anchor in our community life, a retreat, and a refuge. What happens to people when they do not have this is debilitating. The ramifications have been studied repeatedly, and the stress on our communities and our society can attest to this.

In Canada, it is estimated that more than 235,000 people are without a home during the year. According to a joint study by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in 2014, the gradual withdrawal of federal investment in social housing is one of the primary causes of this problem.

Our society and our governments are letting people down, devoid of a comprehensive safety net. Cracks are appearing at an alarming rate. Affordability is central, but cracks are appearing because of the results of not having a stable home: mental health problems, addiction issues, illness due to stress, family breakdowns, and so much more.

I believe all of us in the House have sat with constituents and heard heartbreaking stories. We are on the front lines of hearing where the human reality of legislation lives. I recently sat with a couple who shared their story of homelessness. It is a story that I hear all too often. One partner falls ill, so they can no longer work, and the family loses their home because they cannot afford their mortgage.

To add more weight to their reality, this couple has a son with a significant disability, one that leads a child to express himself through loud yelling when frustration grows. Finding a home that is not in an apartment building where the noise upsets the neighbours is their priority.

This is just one story, and it exemplifies the need for a different approach, a more holistic model to viewing housing. Let us imagine a housing plan that respects human rights.

In the government consultations, the right to housing was a recurring theme in many comments shared at the expert round table. Stakeholders clearly spelled out the need for the legally recognized right to housing. They insisted that a national housing strategy should examine whether our laws, policies, and practices are sufficient to prevent homelessness, forced evictions, and discrimination in accessing adequate housing. They agreed on a rights-based approach to housing and that the right to housing must be recognized and realized through laws and policies.

It is inspiring to see Canadians like Leilani Farha, a UN special rapporteur on adequate housing and executive director of Canada Without Poverty, take a leadership role internationally. She said:

Crafting a human rights-based policy would include eliminating discrimination in housing programs, setting measurable goals and timelines to reduce poverty and giving people the means to hold governments to account if their rights are violated.

This accountability is so badly needed. Many first nations communities are living in appalling conditions, and homelessness continues to rise across the country. For first nations people living on reserve, the national household survey shows that almost 40% of these homes need major repairs and close to 35% are not suitable for the family's size. In some Inuit communities, the proportion of housing not suited to family size exceeds 50%.

I did several round tables on housing in my riding. What I heard was clear. Municipalities are doing everything they can with their very limited resources. Community-based organizations are working together to do what they can to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. People are desperate and ready to live anywhere to have a stable home. I also saw how exhausted they were, doing what they could and needing help.

They need help now, today, if not sooner. Hope is in short supply. The broad range of people experiencing the housing crisis is only growing.

It is alarming to talk to couples who are both working in good jobs, who cannot find a home they can afford to rent, let alone buy. There is a deep sense of betrayal because they have done everything right. They have worked hard to get where they are, and now they are hopeless. I have spoken with parents who have lost their children to care because they were evicted due to renovations and could not find appropriate housing. They can get their children back once they have a home to go to, but they simply cannot find one.

Seniors are renting out extra rooms in their homes. One senior I spoke to is even renting out her living room, because there is no other way she can afford to live.

These are just a few of the many stories that are happening in all of our ridings.

I want to say a special thanks to the Right to Housing Coalition for its hard work and continued work in advocating for these rights. Housing is and will always be a top priority for New Democrats. We want the federal government to recognize the historically vital role of government in housing. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this fundamental right by meeting the security, affordability, health, and safety needs of all Canadians. The government has a duty to ensure that all its citizens have access to suitable housing so they can participate fully in society, as is their right.

We seek action when the federal government returns to the table on housing policy, and a commitment to housing as a basic human right. We want the framework of any solution to be based in the legislative right to housing.

It is my hope that today the members will speak in support of Bill C-325. It is time to give hope to those who desperately need and deserve it.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario


Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, it is always a good day to be in the House to talk about housing, and in particular to talk about what this government has done on historic levels in terms of its investment, not just in the last year's budget but in previous years as well.

As the House knows, we not only doubled the money upon taking office in 2015 and 2016, but in last year's budget we also put on the table a 10-year program, the longest proposal ever put on record in the House of Commons, with the most money ever invested: $11.2 billion over the next 10 years, $10.9 billion dollars in below-market loans and below-interest mortgage rates, and almost $5 billion in aboriginal housing.

The member opposite talked about the right to housing and the legal process that will find people talking to lawyers instead of landlords. If housing is as critical an issue as she suggests, and if a fundamental need for a national housing strategy is so important to this country and for those seeking better housing, safe housing, and affordable housing, my question to the member opposite is simple: Why did the NDP vote against that budget?

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, all I can say to the member opposite is how sad I am to hear that it sounds like the Liberals will not be supporting the essential human right to housing. He can talk about the campaign promises and the money that is going to be out there some day. However, right now people are homeless and looking for homes. They are struggling in profound ways that we cannot imagine. The right to housing is a human right, and it is shameful that the government does not support that.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for bringing awareness to this important issue. As a person who was on the board of a homeless shelter in my riding and who is aware of the needs that Canadians have, I am concerned that if a good law is without the money to back it, it is not going to be effective. The need is immediate. In my riding, we are $40 million short to even maintain the existence of the affordable housing we have, which is woefully inadequate, as well as the shelters. I wonder if she could explain the circumstances in her riding, so that we might get an idea of the amount of money the government would need to put in to fix this.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that there are no shelters in the community of Powell River in my riding. When shelter is desperately needed, people are put on a ferry and sent an hour and a half away in the hope that there will be space available in that community's shelter. The community of Port Hardy that I represent has 4,000 people who are experiencing a significant housing crisis and cannot find homes. Recently, an apartment building burned down and those residents are desperately looking for affordable housing.

A right to housing should work hand in hand with a national housing framework strategy. We heard clearly from all of the government consultations that the right to housing requires a fundamental framework if we want to move forward with long-term solutions to create a difference in the future. This is the only way forward. I am very disappointed to hear that we will not be moving in that direction.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am so glad that my colleague introduced this bill.

Not long ago, she submitted a question to the government in writing about why Canada has never officially incorporated international conventions on housing rights into domestic law. The answer was that the government is fulfilling its obligation to ensure the right to proper housing as set out in international law.

Does my colleague agree with that answer?

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the hon. member. When we listen to people who have been working in housing, and when we make national commitments, I hope the government will not be afraid to take the next step and bring forward that legislation. It is easy to say something, but much harder to bring it into legislation and create a framework that would look at the issue and provide long-term solutions. I ask the government to be less afraid, to take that step, and to make sure that no one in this country ever is without a home again, because we have a right to housing in our Canadian Bill of Rights.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario


Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, the ability to talk about housing is the reason I sought election to federal office. The ability to form a policy that would once and for all put behind us the days when there was no national housing strategy is the reason that I sought elected office.

I could not be prouder of the last budget that was presented in this House by our government because it delivers that. It not only delivers the resources and the time frame to deal with this issue comprehensively, but the government has been working tirelessly over the last several months to make sure it consults with provinces, municipalities, people with lived experience, front-line shelter workers, everybody, to make sure that this is put in place.

The trouble with this notion, the slogan in this campaign around the right to housing, is that it frames it in a legal context. It ends up with the slogan being realized but not with housing necessarily being built. The worst part is that the right to housing does not necessarily guarantee those needing it the right sort of housing.

There are empty houses in this country that we could move people to, based on the argument presented by the opposition. The trouble is that the commute would make it useless. People would end up living in deserted villages on the east coast trying to get to work on the west coast. People could be living in the south when they have school to go to in the north.

The issue is to build a national housing strategy that is comprehensive and that works right across the full spectrum of housing needs. That is the central goal of this government as it pursues 10-year agreements with the provinces and territories, and long-term agreements with aboriginal partners, both on and off reserve, in urban settings and in rural communities.

We need to build a housing policy that works as well for the people living on the street in the south as it does for people living in crowded environments in the north. There is a rural program. There is an urban programs. There are northern programs. There are indigenous programs led by indigenous leaders in the housing sector. This is the goal of the government.

This notion that the problem can be solved by making a legal argument to the courts is going to leave people in the courthouse, not in their own housing. The act of housing is not simply building housing, it is moving people, with care, into the appropriate spot so they are safe and secure in their tenure.

If we read the UN report on housing, it is not simply about embracing a set of rights, it is about creating those policies which deliver those securities and those opportunities to people as a fundamental tenet of being a citizen of the country.

I would argue further, on the legal front, that if we want to look to the charter and to the rule of law around housing, if we stop looking at it as a commodity that must be provided, and instead as a service that people must be partnered with and delivered on, we end up looking at the charter from the perspective of dignity, of the right to health, of the right to security and safety. The best way to achieve those goals is with the national housing strategy, and that is why our government has embraced it as such.

Our government is in the process of finalizing those negotiations with provinces and territories to deliver on the $11.2 billion set out for new housing in the federal budget. The government has additionally announced $10.9 billion in below-market mortgage guarantees and loans, which is a foundation of the co-op program as it existed in the early eighties, a program that was started by the Liberal government. As well, more than $5 billion has been set for indigenous services and housing, where many communities need both the infrastructure and the housing simultaneously to make it safe and secure for people who live there.

The government is not done with that. There are additional measures being taken which were introduced in our very first budget. The effective housing budget in this country was doubled from $2.1 billion to about $4.8 billion. Also, in the last budget there was a guarantee that the operating agreements that were due to expire under the previous government would no longer be allowed to expire. They will be renewed and replaced with new ones that give permanence and security to people living in public housing to this very day.

My question for the party opposite, as it pursues this slogan and pursues this right that is not going to deliver housing to people in real time with real needs in a real way, as it pursues this as the focus of its housing policy, as it talks about the challenges facing people, is why is it constantly getting in the way of programs that are delivering real housing to real people? Last year, the budget was filibustered by the party opposite. Those are real dollars that, if executed, could have delivered shelter to people. Instead, the party opposite chose to politic instead of produce housing.

The other problem I have with the way this bill is being presented is that the party opposite thinks that by talking to a lawyer, one is going to get a house all of a sudden. The reality is that with building out the comprehensive housing program, which deals with everything from the most vulnerable on the streets to those who need supportive housing, social housing, affordable housing, low-income homeowners who need opportunities, to those who need to make sure their investment and mortgage is carefully cared for, all of those programs are currently under way and in negotiation and consultation with all of our partners across the country in delivering it.

Why the party opposite is so focused on talking about rights instead responsibilities is beyond me. Our government has taken responsibility. Our government is taking action. Our government is delivering housing. Our government is putting this country in a position where no longer will we be able to say that the federal government is absent on this file but rather has taken a leadership position on this file.

If people talk to indigenous leaders, talk to municipal leaders, talk to provincial governments, but more importantly, talk to the people who provide housing, who are on the front lines of the housing crisis across this country and have lived experience, they know which government is acting. They know which government is respecting their rights. They know which government has now seen housing as a tool of health care to deliver the full rights of citizenship to every citizen, because this government has not only acted but has continued to act. It will not rest until the national housing strategy is established, the full funding is there, and we are set on a 10-year course to once again be proudly building and supplying housing for all who need it, in appropriate ways, in appropriate settings, with appropriate supports. That is what this government is doing.

I am still surprised that the party opposite is opposing this. I am still shocked that it cannot and will not support these investments and this process. Instead, it sits on the sidelines critiquing it and pushing people toward the courts instead of toward real solutions in real time for real people.

That is what our government has done. We are proud to get that done. We are proud to work with those people, all of them, across the entire sector, to deliver on a national housing strategy. I look forward to their questions.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for Spadina—Fort York for that passionate campaign speech. I would also like to thank the member for North Island—Powell River for the actual passion she has on this. That being said, I personally cannot support this bill, which would put the right to housing under the framework of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, I am concerned that this bill would not actually combat the real barriers, and those are actually the barriers the member for Spadina—Fort York focused on. The bill fails to deliver the necessary measures needed to help Canadians who are hurting the most.

I would like to first talk about the style of the bill and how it does not properly take the current state of the Canadian Bill of Rights into account. To be honest, that is one of the key issues we looked at as a caucus when we were discussing this. What is the Bill of Rights? What was put forward by the Right Hon. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker at the time he wrote this in 1960? What would be the significance of this amendment? While I appreciate the difficultly the sponsor of this bill must have faced in forging new ground by seeking its amendment, I have a few issues with the language of Bill C-325.

Primarily, the framework set out in the Canadian Bill of Rights is a prohibitive one. The Bill of Rights put forward by Diefenbaker in 1960 is not about including things like housing. The former prime minister understood that the framework and the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to expand individual freedom and to protect people from the long reach of the government. This would become a very short reach of the government if we were to start enshrining it in the Bill of Rights.

The point of the Bill of Rights was to ensure that Canada would continually be a society of free men and free institutions. All the rights currently present in the bill are to protect the rights of the individual by ensuring that the government cannot interfere with the practise of those rights. They include freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association, among others. That is why it is a key point that Bill C-325 does not actually fit into the Bill of Rights adopted in 1960.

The reason is that the right to housing, as outlined in Bill C-325, does not work within this framework and would try to create a potentially massive program and government intervention as a right. This activist role of the government is opposite to the framework of the Bill of Rights and would do damage to the rich history of the legislation, which has truly stood the test of time. We have had this legislation for more than 50 years, and it continues to be vibrant and to have a part in today's debate.

I disagree with Bill C-325 on more than just stylistic grounds. The content of this bill naively assumes that Canadians' housing needs can be resolved with a single stroke. That is something we have heard from the member as well as from the government. It seems to put forward the idea that housing is a right and that if the federal government steps in, the housing concerns of Canadians would magically disappear. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complex than that.

First, the bill completely ignores that jurisdiction for housing is shared with the provinces and territories. Almost all federal funding that goes toward housing and homelessness initiatives is funnelled through the provinces and delivered through the municipalities and individual housing co-operatives, which provide housing to those in need. As it stands, the plan put forward by our NDP colleague would simply give an unreasonable mandate to the federal government in an area that is a jurisdiction shared with our fellow governments. It is also worth noting that as a simple act of Parliament, the Bill of Rights is only able to create rights that fall within federal jurisdiction. We are talking about shared jurisdiction with the provinces, territories, and municipalities. This Bill of Rights put forward by Prime Minister Diefenbaker is specific to federal legislation, and it rules over all levels of government.

The question then becomes this. What is the point of this bill? Is it a simple token sentiment? Is it an attempt to seize power unilaterally from the provinces? I believe, after listening to the member who put this forward, that it is about passion. I do not want to say that the work she is doing is not admired, but at the same time, we have to ask what the role of the federal government is and how we can go forward with this. We need to look at the logistics.

All the issues I have raised so far need to be taken into account. However, the issue at the core of this bill is that it would not make housing more affordable for average, hard-working Canadians. This is a key issue. Allow me to be clear on this. As a Conservative member representing the Conservative Party today, I can say that we firmly agree that Canadians deserve a reasonable opportunity to own their own homes and to have access to safe and affordable housing. Unfortunately, we currently have a government that seems bent on making home ownership increasingly difficult for aspiring Canadians. Housing is one area where the truly damaging policies of the current government can clearly be seen.

By raising taxes, the Liberals have cut the ability of Canadians to save up for a down payment or a mortgage. By hiking CPP payroll taxes on hard-working middle-class earners, the people the Liberals pretend to help are being forced to give to the government their hard-earned money. We see this more and more as we continue to talk about some of the proposed tax legislation being put forward.

It is no surprise that the Liberals feel that they know how to spend Canadians' money better than Canadians, but the damaging effects of the government's entitlement mindset are clear when we see how regular people are crippled in their ability to make large financial decisions, such as moving toward permanent home ownership. The debt the government is racking up is only looking to get worse, and Joe and Jane taxpayer are feeling the pain.

When budget 2017 was unveiled, it was apparent that the Liberals had no plan to make life more affordable for regular Canadians. Although the Liberals often boast about their purported investments in housing, it has largely turned out to be a game of smoke and mirrors. One of the foremost examples of the government's failure to deliver is the recent Parliamentary Budget Officer's report that clearly demonstrated that despite big talk and flowery language, the government's money has not made much of an impact on Canadian families. Communities are not getting the funding the government promised. The PBO's report even says that it does not expect that the federal government will spend all the money on housing and infrastructure investment that has been promised.

More directly related to housing, the government has further burdened young Canadians who are working hard and aspiring to home ownership by tightening the rules for obtaining a mortgage. What is more troubling about this move by the government is that it was done without engaging any stakeholders, including young Canadians. It will push home ownership more out of reach for Canadians and will not help affordability at all.

To summarize, the government has tightened rules, requiring Canadians to pay more for a mortgage while simultaneously pickpocketing Canadian families through tax hikes, debt, deficits, and credit eliminations, not to mention slamming a carbon tax on living necessities for every middle-class family in this country. The government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It seems to be striving to set Canadians up to fail in the housing market.

In light of this, I can understand my colleague's desire to step in and more clearly define the government's role in housing through Bill C-325. However, adding it to the Bill of Rights, where it does not belong and will not be effective, is not the way to fix such a broad issue. Instead, the federal government needs to be taking practical approaches that will empower Canadians to own their own homes.

The Conservatives have a strong track record of making progress in this area. By 2014, the Conservative Party had brought the low-income cut-off poverty rate to a historic low of 8.8%, making huge strides in reducing poverty through fair-minded policies. Conservatives also expanded saving mechanisms such as the tax-free savings account, reduced taxes, and invested in responsible policies to bring home ownership within the realm of possibility for every Canadian.

The Conservatives invested over $19 billion through CMHC to improve the state of housing in Canada and began initiatives, such as the investment in affordable housing and the housing first initiatives, to empower Canadians and fight homelessness at a fundamental level. Last week, when I was taking part in a housing symposium in Ottawa—Vanier, one of the things I heard about time and time again was specifically housing first and what an excellent approach it is. Does it need additional things put into it? Absolutely, but it was a great first step in what the former Conservative government did in 2008. We need to continue to build on that.

The symbolism of the member's bill is understandable but somewhat misguided. If the federal government is serious about making home ownership for regular Canadians a reality, it needs to seriously re-evaluate its policies. Canadians deserve more action, rather than more talking, to make home ownership a reality.

I know that a government member is likely to stand up in this House and brag about how much the Liberals are throwing at housing in budget 2017, but high taxes, reduced saving capabilities, strict rules on the market, and expensive household items will not help Canadians and will continue to lock them out of this market. Broad-based relief when people are trying to own a home or are seeking affordable rental housing is essential.

In conclusion, I would like to compliment the sponsor of this bill for her attempt to make amendments to a well-crafted bill that has never seen such additions. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today. As we move ahead, I look forward to the debate.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour for me, as the New Democratic Party's housing critic, to support my colleague from North Island—Powell River's Bill C-325, which we are debating today.

Too rarely do we have the opportunity to debate a housing bill in depth. I thank my colleague for choosing to debate this bill today and for giving us a chance to advocate for housing rights here in the House.

When I was made my party's housing critic, I launched a campaign called A Roof, A Right, which I have promoted all across Canada because I strongly believe that housing is a basic right and should be treated as such.

To put things in context, Canadian law differs from that of some other countries in that, for an international treaty to be law and enforceable in Canada, it must be incorporated into our legislation. Simply ratifying an international treaty does not mean that the content of that treaty becomes part of Canadian law. True, by ratifying a treaty, Canada makes an international commitment, but that is all. The rights that Canada commits to recognizing by ratifying a treaty cannot be enforced in Canadian courts unless those rights appear in Canadian law.

This bill seeks to address this unacceptable situation by adding the right to housing to Canadian legislation. In 1976, Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or ICESCR, which obliges nations to take appropriate steps to ensure “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” In doing so, signatory states made a commitment not only to formally recognize the right to housing, but also to remove barriers to achieving that.

Here we are more than 40 years later, and unfortunately there is no federal legislation that formally recognizes the right to housing in Canada. On top of that, the housing situation in various regions of the country clearly shows that the federal government has not taken any meaningful action to remove barriers to housing and to the full exercise and realization of that right. This is precisely the reason why Canada has been chastised repeatedly by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for failing to take appropriate action on housing.

In its observations adopted on March 4, 2016, not so long ago, the committee stated the following regarding the housing situation in Canada:

The Committee is concerned about the persistence of a housing crisis in the State party. It is particularly concerned at: (a) the absence of a national housing strategy; (b) the insufficient funding for housing; (c) the inadequate housing subsidy within the social assistance benefit; (d) the shortage of social housing units; and (e) increased evictions related to rental arrears.

The committee also recommended that Canada develop and effectively implement a human-rights based national strategy on housing. It made a list of recommendations in light of its observations on the right to adequate housing and on forced evictions.

Last week, my colleague from North Island—Powell River received a response to written question Q-1086 in which she asked the government, “Why has Canada never formally incorporated the international covenants on the right to housing”?

The government's response was absolutely unbelievable:

Canada currently answers to its obligation to ensure the right to adequate housing, as it is framed in international law. The United Nations ICESCR recognizes the right to adequate housing as a component of an adequate standard of living. Canada currently implements the right through a wide range of federal, provincial, territorial and municipal laws, policies, programs, and administrative measures.

In light of the observations by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that I just mentioned, I do not understand how the government can claim to be meeting its international obligations. If the government wants to claim that it is being compliant, then it has a responsibility to incorporate the right to housing into the Canadian Human Rights Act, and especially to implement the necessary measures to ensure that the fundamental right to housing is fully realized.

The current housing situation in Canada clearly shows that since the ICESCR was ratified, successive governments never took the steps required to eliminate the obstacles preventing the full implementation of that basic right.

We have been hearing for years about a housing crisis in Canada. Rising rents, a shortage of rental housing units, the lack of federal government funding for social housing, too many families spending over 30% of their income on housing, and increasing homelessness are only a few examples of the causes and consequences of that crisis.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, housing is considered affordable if it represents 30% or less of a household's revenue. Households that spend more on housing are considered to be in “core housing need”.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, one out of four households spend more than 30% of their total revenue on housing costs. Also, one out of three Canadian households are renters, and of this number, 40%—almost half—spend over 30% of their income on rent.

The proportion of income spent on housing is over 50% for one out of five Canadians, and over 80% for one out of ten Canadians.

This means that households in “core housing need” are too often forced to choose which basic needs they will meet.

In a wealthy country like ours, no one should have to choose between buying groceries and paying rent. We must admit that we are unfortunately not respecting a person's right to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, as set out in the ICESCR.

The government must release the details of its national housing strategy this fall. If it wants to show that it is serious and ensure that this strategy will be successful in the long term, the government's measures must give everyone the opportunity to fully exercise and enjoy their right to housing.

Bill C-325 is a first step towards ensuring that Canada fulfills its international commitments by enshrining the right to housing in Canadian legislation. The bill would amend section 1 of the Canadian Bill of Rights by adding paragraph (b.1) the right of the individual to proper housing, at a reasonable cost and free of unreasonable barriers.

Because the Canadian Bill of Rights takes precedence over all other federal laws, it would offer a means of recourse to any person who feels their right to proper housing has been infringed by the federal government.

Consider the example of an indigenous family of 10 living in a two-bedroom home, which is the reality on too many reserves. I think we can assume that their right to proper housing is being infringed, so they could use this recourse to assert their rights, particularly since the federal government already has a fiduciary duty to indigenous peoples.

Given that the Supreme Court also decided last year in Daniels that indigenous peoples living off-reserve are also “Indians” under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, it is also the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that their right to housing is respected.

That is why, a few days ago, I joined the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association in calling for a targeted strategy to tackle the indigenous housing crisis.

Right now, 10% of Canadian renters are spending more than 80% of their income on rent. It is easy to imagine that any of these renters could invoke their right to housing at a reasonable cost and require the government to take the necessary steps to fulfill that right.

There is also the matter of the homelessness rate. In this country, it is estimated that more than 235,000 people experience homelessness in a given year. Any of them could potentially seek recourse under this bill to make the federal government do whatever it takes to ensure that every person in Canada has a roof over their head. The Liberal government has told Canadians all about its good intentions on the housing issue. Now it is time it turned words into action.

If the government wants to show that it is serious about keeping all of those promises, why does it not start by recognizing the right of every person to housing? On that note, I would urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to vote in favour of this bill and finally acknowledge once and for all that a roof is a right.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Bryan May Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you will indulge me for a moment, I would like to take this opportunity to wish my wife Kristin a happy 13th anniversary. We are all surrounded by people who support us, and she is definitely my rock. Without her, frankly, I would not be here today.

I would also like to thank the hon. member for North Island—Powell River for raising this important issue. Her career prior to entering the House was dedicated to helping some of society's most vulnerable people. Bill C-325 shows that she has carried this commitment forward in the House.

As chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of People with Disabilities, this is a critical issue, one which my committee has discussed and studied at length over the past years and is something we are currently studying as it relates specifically to seniors.

Housing is such an important issue. Our government believes that Canadians deserve to have safe, affordable, and accessible housing. This belief has guided our international commitments. It has been the underlying principle behind many of our government's actions; and it is the force behind the national housing strategy, which will be released later this fall.

Housing is so important, and it is important we do it right. While I support the principles and goals behind Bill C-325, I will unfortunately not be supporting the legislation when it comes to a vote.

My main concern for the legislation is how it casts housing as a right by enshrining that right into the Canadian Bill of Rights. This has the potential to shift focus and resources away from the work already being done on housing toward legal challenges. I do not believe this is the most effective way to deliver housing for Canadians or to solve the housing or affordability issues.

Our government has already been taking action and working to include a diversity of viewpoints in creating a national housing strategy. An effective strategy will require buy-in at all levels, which is why we have been consulting housing experts, municipal and community groups, and other housing stakeholders, as well as nation-to-nation conversations with our indigenous partners. We are confident that, with their support, we will be able to achieve a housing strategy that addresses the needs of all Canadians.

This widespread consultation will demonstrate that this strategy represents cross-Canada viewpoints and that it is not a made in Ottawa solution. Our government wants to create a national housing strategy that reflects the different needs of people in Tofino and in Toronto, in Vancouver and in Valcartier, in Calgary and in Cambridge.

The strategy must recognize urban and suburban living and it must appreciate rural and northern living. It must consider those living on reserves and Canadians in all four corners of Canada.

The national housing strategy will, similar to Bill C-325, work to benefit those who do not have adequate, accessible or affordable housing in Canada, but move the needle further, in ways that do not put our government at legal risk.

Before my time as an MP, I worked in the non-profit sector with organizations like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. Many of the issues I dealt with every day were either connected to or rooted in housing issues. Adequate housing is a solution to so many ancillary problems.

I am concerned the bill takes too narrow an approach to the idea of housing. As a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Canada has long been guided by the notion that adequate housing is more than simply four walls and a roof. Adequate housing has access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Adequate housing is not cut off from early learning and child care, health care, schools, or social infrastructure.

All governments, and all levels of government, must engage with and recognize that housing must be considered holistically. That holistic approach has consistently guided our government's actions. This is why budget 2017 did not just allocate funding for urgent on-reserve housing needs, but also invested in clean drinking water, repairs, and renovations of on-reserve child care centres and community health centres. This holistic approach also guides community-based initiatives like the homelessness partnering strategy, in which we work with partners at the local level to reduce the strain on shelters and on health and justice services while continuing to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This understanding has continued in our most recent budget, which included substantial investments in housing, alongside investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, and world-class public transportation systems. Through these actions, we will meet not just the letter of our international commitments but also the spirit.

A well-rounded and informed view of housing will also guide our upcoming national housing strategy. Thanks to the extensive consultations I mentioned earlier, we heard from stakeholders and partners about the pressing need to build, renew, and repair Canada's stock of affordable housing. We will act to meet these needs through initiatives like a national housing fund that will prioritize support for vulnerable citizens; a co-investment fund that will provide opportunities for our partners in the provinces, territories, and the social and private sectors to pool resources and undertake large-scale community renewal projects; together with initiatives to improve housing conditions in the north and for indigenous people on and off reserve; an expanded and reformed homelessness partnering strategy using surplus federal lands and that makes buildings available to housing providers at low or no cost; and strengthened capacity to gather, analyze, and act on housing data.

Like the hon. member for North Island-Powell River, I want the House and the government to commit to doing the right thing for all Canadians when it comes to housing. I want to see a housing policy that listens and responds to the concerns of our partners and stakeholders across Canada. I believe that our upcoming national housing strategy will allow us to do these things and so much more.

I am sure I speak for everyone in the House when I say that the hon. member's passion and willingness to work toward housing solutions is welcome and I hope that even if we cannot support this private member's bill, she will work with us as we move forward in implementing a national housing strategy that meets the needs of all Canadians.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be here today to speak in strong support of the private member's bill brought by my colleague from North Island—Powell River, which would make the right to housing part of Canadian law through the Canadian Bill of Rights. Her passion for this topic came through loud and clear during her remarks. It is so easy to get lost in the statistics of the housing crisis that Canadians face, but she has put faces behind those statistics so that we all understand just what a crisis we are dealing with in this country.

It is our belief that all Canadians have a right to housing as a place of refuge and a sense of security for themselves and their families. Therefore, we ask that the Canadian Bill of Rights be amended to include the internationally recognized right to housing, which should be at the heart of any national housing strategy the government is anticipating. We have heard about this strategy and on this side fervently hope that it is not simply a case of platitudes piled upon platitudes but real action in the short term. I say this because in the 2017 budget, the Liberals promised over $11 billion over 11 years, with 90% of that funding allocated after the next election, should they be re-elected.

I live in a community with a housing crises that is an emergency. Therefore, words do not do enough. The money is nowhere to be found in my community, and we have to get serious about this issue. As my time is limited, I will start with the specifics in Victoria, British Columbia.

Every day we have people come into our constituency office who are concerned about this crisis. It has meant that our city is now ranked among the most expensive places to buy housing in Canada. For those who live in Victoria, the high cost of purchasing a home remains a barrier to so many people. The reality facing those looking for an affordable place to rent is also a daunting problem.

In addition to the homelessness crises in our community, many of our working poor are barely able to make ends meet. That was confirmed by a recent research study by the United Way. Renter households face far greater housing affordability challenges and hardships. They have lower incomes and pay a larger proportion of their income for housing than owners do. Victoria has one of the lowest vacancy rates of rental properties across this country. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation listed the vacancy rate for rentals in Victoria at a shocking 0.6% last fall.

How people can afford housing and rent is a serious mystery to many of us. It is simply an affordability challenge. Paired with the extremely low vacancy rate I spoke of, securing suitable accommodations is virtually impossible for many people in our community. The rents are so high that people who are working for minimum wage are often simply unable to afford a place to live should they be able to find one.

To better understand the situation, we should consider the CMHC's discussion of what it terms “core housing need”. If a family spends more than 30% of its income on housing, it is said to have a core housing need. Therefore, as the cost of rent remains high, far too many Victorians experience a core housing need. Of Victoria's renters, almost half spent more than 30% of their income on shelter in 2011, and a quarter spent more than 50% of their income on housing.

Our constituency office has been deluged with people struggling with this reality. My office is currently working with Beth, for example, one of many seniors who can no longer afford her rent after she separated from her partner. We work with young families who have no money left at the end of each month for contingencies given how much they pay for housing. They could find themselves in dire financial straits if they had to cover an unforseen emergency, take their child to a dental appointment, suddenly require vehicle maintenance, or even purchase new shoes for their child. Those examples could put people in a state of housing crisis. We feel the stress of our constituents daily.

This also has a disproportionate impact on our indigenous population. According to our local newspaper earlier this year, the Times Colonist, indigenous people in Victoria made up 21% of shelter users experiencing chronic homelessness despite making up just 4.1% of the population.

Across Canada, almost one in two senior-led households faces rent affordability challenges, and affordable housing options for seniors are very limited. Senior women who live alone are much more likely to live in poverty than senior men. We find that to be very much a fact of life in our community as well.

The housing crisis is having an enormous impact on our business sector as well, because people cannot afford to live where the jobs are. We hear that every day from our chamber of commerce and other local business groups that are struggling to attract and retain talented people, because prospective employees simply cannot find affordable, suitable places to live in Victoria. Without adequate staff, business owners are afraid of losing their livelihoods.

This past spring, CTV did a story about students in Victoria who, faced with the exorbitant cost of accommodations, had to drop out of university. Some live in their vehicles to try to stay at university.

The housing crisis affects people from young to old; indigenous and non-indigenous; people who rent; people who are living on fixed wages, often minimum wage; and even young families who are trying to get a foothold to purchase in the housing market. It has simply become unaffordable. This is shocking in a country like Canada.

I have not spoken adequately in the time available about those living in homelessness, but we have estimated that there are 1,500 homeless people in the greater Victoria area today, according to the City of Victoria's recent statistics. These circumstances are simply unacceptable in a country as wealthy as ours.

As Canadians hear about the housing hardship in my riding and elsewhere in Canada, does it sound like the federal government is ensuring their right to adequate housing? I do not think so. The seniors I spoke of, the young families, local business owners, indigenous people, students, and the homeless are in crisis now. They cannot wait for the Liberals to finally do something serious and immediate about this crisis. They must have the government live up to its obligations. This bill would allow that to occur.

Canadian Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from September 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House, and I am particularly pleased to be able to speak to this bill. This is not the first time that I have risen in the House, and I have had even more opportunities to do so since being appointed to the shadow cabinet as Treasury Board critic. However, this is the first time that I have had a chance to talk about a subject that comes straight from the Treasury Board. The hon. President of the Treasury Board introduced this bill just before the House rose for the summer in June, which means we had time to look it over and make observations about it. I am very honoured and proud to take on this essential role of providing positive, constructive, and, above all, vigilant opposition.

As such, I am very pleased to rise and speak to this extremely important bill that amends the Access to Information Act. That act was first introduced some time ago, so we have been living under its provisions since 1983. Fundamentally, our party is in no way opposed to carefully scrutinizing any act, statute, or procedure in order to enhance or improve it. A number of changes have been made over the past 35 years, since the bill was first debated and passed here in the House, particularly when it comes to information technology. Everyone agrees that access to information has changed over time. Simply put, we are not opposed to scrutinizing this act from 1983.

Still, we need to be logical and consistent, since this is about drawing a very fine line between access to information, which is necessary in a democracy, and for which I would be the first to fight as a former journalist, and the ability of the executive branch to do its job, for which it requires certain information. Some of the exchanges and debates that take place within cabinet are crucial and healthy for a democracy, but they need to remain behind the closed doors of cabinet. The same is true in parliamentary life, considering that every Wednesday morning, each parliamentary group has caucus meetings, where we can discuss the issues that matter in a positive, constructive way that lays a foundation for the future, while also sometimes having different points of view. That is democracy at work.

The government says that it tabled this bill to fulfill a political commitment. Really? Let us look back at the promise made by the Liberal Party two years ago during the campaign, which was, “Real Change. A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class.” That was the Liberal Party's program. On page 24, regarding access to information, it states, “We will make government information more accessible.” No one can disagree with that. It is like apple pie. No one is against better access to information.

The Liberals' specific objectives are, “We will ensure that access to information applies to the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.” That is where the problem lies, because the first of these objectives has not been met and access to information still does not apply to the PMO. That is a broken promise by the Liberals.

I will come back to that a bit later on. We will show that the commitment made during the campaign, the very reason why Canadians elected this government, was once again, unfortunately, not upheld by the Liberals. We believe that it fuels public cynicism towards politicians. When a government does not keep its promises, which we strongly condemn, every single politician pays the price.

Let us take a closer look at what Bill C-58 entails exactly.

The real novelty of the bill is that the government is imposing a system of proactive publication, which is not so bad.

Let us look at what the government has tabled in the bill. Access to information lies in ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office to properly publish the following information: mandate letters, and we have the mandate letters and everybody has seen them, so there is nothing new there; documentation on the training for new ministers; title and reference numbers of briefing notes; development notes for question period; backgrounders for occurrences before parliamentary committees; travel and hospitality expenditures; and contracts of more than $10,000.

This is the main problem. We are talking about proactive tabling of documents. That is great. Nobody can disagree with that, but on the other hand, and we will see it later, this is the end of the mandate for the Prime Minister and ministers.

Government organizations will also have to proactively publish the following information: travel expenses and shared travel expenses; reports tabled in Parliament; briefing packages for deputy heads; information about briefing notes; briefing materials for parliamentary committee appearances; contracts over $10,000; contributions over $25,000; and reclassification of positions.

The big change with this new bill is that the government is now deciding to publish this information proactively, which is not a bad thing, but the problem is that it ends there. That is why we have serious reservations about this bill, which does not really honour the Liberal Party's campaign promise. This bill is actually at odds with that promise.

Broken promises lead to disappointment. When people have expectations, they want those expectations met. People, especially those in the information sector, felt that this was one of the Liberal Party's key promises, so they expected the Liberal Party, once in government, to keep it. Unfortunately, people's faith was wasted on the Liberal Party because it did not keep that promise. That is from them, not me.

Let me read some quotes from important stakeholders about this important issue.

Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy group, says that by ruling out the possibility to obtain information from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office, the government is breaking its campaign promise to establish a government “open by default”. Moreover, she says, that the possibility to refuse access to information requests on an undefined basis jeopardizes the transparency and the openness of the government.

That is the problem. The Liberal Party promised to be more open, but proactively publishing information and then leaving it at that poses a problem.

I do not want to undermine this approach, but the reality is that the documents that are released and that will be proactively released, are general access documents, or documents that almost anyone can access, such as the ministers' mandate letters that were made public by the Prime Minister on the day the ministers were sworn in, which was a good thing. A minister's mandate letter is indeed published on the day he or she is sworn in, if memory serves me correctly. It was a good idea. That has been the practice for the past two years, and it is working out well enough. However, when it comes to preparing ministers for question period, we are talking about factual information, facts, figures, and basic information. When we ask for a technical briefing, or a refresher course on the ins and outs of a bill, then we are generally given more specific information. We have an excellent working relationship with the ministers' offices and departmental officials who are there to serve all Canadians.

Then, once we all have the same background information, we can prepare our arguments for or against the topic in question. This is what is great about democracy. There will always be people for something and people against it. It would be odd if everyone were in favour of the same thing.

As Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Evidence for Democracy, said, this bill falls short, and that is disappointing.

It is the same thing for another important stakeholder.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch group, says:

The bill take a step backwards in allowing government officials to deny requests for information if they think the request is frivolous or made in bad faith. Public officials should not be given this power, as they will likely use it as a new loophole to deny the public information it has a right to know.

Mr. Conacher is on the same page. It is all well and good to be proactive, but there is no recourse if access to a document is denied because it is an executive-branch document and cannot be disclosed. That is the problem.

The government can go on and on about how open it is, but the government's actions and this bill do not reflect that reality.

Some people in Quebec have been very disappointed in the Liberal government. These people may have been seduced by the Liberal Party's big promises during the last election campaign, but now reality has caught up with them. Stéphane Giroux, the president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, said, “We were most interested in getting documents from ministers' offices. False alarm. It was too good to be true.” This is yet another disappointment.

This bill is a complete letdown. I have one more very interesting stakeholder to mention. He is so important that I saved him for last, because he is someone who really knows what he is talking about. His name is Robert Marleau, and he served as information commissioner from 2007 to 2009. He said, and I quote:

For the ministries, there is no one to review what they choose not to disclose, and I think that goes against the principle of the statute. They have taken the commissioner out of the loop. If you ask for these briefing notes, and you have got them and they were redacted, you had someone to appeal to. So there is no appeal. You cannot even go to a court. It is one step forward, two steps back.

This was not some big bad Conservative or New Democrat speaking, or even anyone from the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois. This was Robert Marleau, a man who spent years enforcing the Access to Information Act as information commissioner from 2007 to 2009, pointing out very clearly the problems stemming from this act.

The government claims to want to be open and proactive, which in theory is not a bad thing. However, in reality, it is no longer possible for people to appeal if the information they requested is not provided. Robert Marleau pointed out that problem.

Other observers have been extremely critical. I am not talking about people with a direct interest in the issue, or about pressure groups, or anything like that. Rather, I am talking about observers like Shawn McCarthy of The Globe and Mail, who said the following in an article published on September 18:

The Liberals also vowed to amend the ATI law to make government “open by default.” But C-58 would give government departments the right to ignore information requests that they deem to be “frivolous or vexatious.” That exemption is being imposed without warning or justification, and is a power that should not be held by a government department that could benefit by wide interpretation in its own interest. It should be removed from the bill.

Once again, that was said by a well-intentioned individual who wants to see things change. He believes that things have to change. He thought that the Liberal government would be the one to bring about those changes, but that is just another disappointment for those who are unhappy to add to the list.

Another such person is Stephen Maher, who wrote the following in an article published in in iPolitics:

The proactive disclosure of some ministerial documents may be a step backward, because the decisions about what to release and what to redact will not be reviewable by the information commissioner.

That is similar to the point that was raised by the former commissioner, who said that, from now on, there would be no appeal process and that this was a step backward. I would like to once again quote Mr. Maher. He said:

This bill takes baby steps toward greater openness, but it does not offer what [the Prime Minister] promised—that government documents would be open by default.

In the business community, Fasken Martineau issued a notice, not to say a warning, to its clients concerning Bill C-58, which reads:

What if an application is made that raises grounds of contestation which do not respond to the third party's real concerns or interests? Despite this drafting, we expect that the Court will nonetheless allow the third party to file its own application to raise its concerns and interests—although it would be ideal if Parliament avoids useless battles in Court on the standing of third parties and clarified the provision immediately.

In other words, Fasken Martineau is saying that, as it stands, this bill will result in court challenges.

God knows, we certainly do not need yet another process clogging up our justice system, considering that this government is dragging its heels on appointing the judges that Canadians want and expect.

In Quebec, the justice minister has been waiting for months for this government to appoint 14 federal court judges. Of that number, barely half has been appointed so far. Until the appointment process is complete, dozens, hundreds, even thousands of Canadians awaiting a fair trial will not get one because the government is dragging its heels on this.

We certainly do not need to further clog up our courts by passing this bill. It may have been drafted with good intentions, and we are not against scrutinizing legislation that has been in effect since 1983, but we need to do things properly, which is not the case. Politically speaking, the Liberals should at least keep their election promise.

Is it any wonder that this bill only adds to the government's track record, which is a long list of broken promises? On top of that, just two years ago, this government said that it would not raise anyone's taxes, and yet what does it intend to do with its tax reform for small and medium-sized businesses? It intends to create even more obstacles and impose additional taxes on business, like the 73% tax, which is nearly 50% higher than the tax rate for large corporations.

Meanwhile, this government was elected barely two years ago on a promise that it would run small deficits of $10 billion. Where is the deficit now? It is about 80% higher than what the government promised. The Liberal Party also promised to return to a balanced budget by 2019, which happens to be the next election year. Now this government is abandoning its commitment, since it does not even know when Canada will return to a balanced budget. At no time in living memory has there ever been a government, a finance minister, and a prime minister who could not tell us when the budget would be balanced, except perhaps in times of crisis.

As many members will sadly recall, deficits became necessary in times of war, but it was the current Prime Minister's father who invented deficits in times of prosperity. That said, at least he had some idea as to when he would balance the budget. This government, however, has no idea when it will achieve that, which is a first in Canadian history. It has been one broken promise after another, and the same is true of Bill C-58.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that our government has made a commitment to openness and transparency and better access to information. That is exactly what this bill is all about. In fact, in the member's speech, he talked about more openness and transparency for the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices. I want to assure the member that this bill would apply to the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, and administrative institutions that support the work of Parliament.

There are things in this bill, including the elimination of the access to information fee, so now there would only be a $5 fee presented in the bill. As well, there is empowering the commissioner to order the government to release information, and a mandatory five-year review. Each of those three things was actually included in a private member's bill by the now Prime Minister, prior to him serving as Prime Minister, in Bill C-613. Also, the bill would support ensuring that the access to information is done, and would put in supports, so that we would get timely responses.

Would the member opposite support those things in the bill that would help Canadians gain the access to information that they want?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have had the privilege to work with my colleague on the finance committee.

I recognize that the Liberal Party was involved in the campaign, saying that it would abolish the $5 payment to access information. Fine, the Liberals have done that and I recognize that. On the other hand, if people want to get information and the Prime Minister or the minister refuses, there is no call for that. That is not just me stating that; it is Mr. Marleau, who was the Information Commissioner in 2007 and 2008, who recognized that this bill had some openness. On the other hand, they open the door but they lock it just after opening it.

This is why we disagree with that. This is a demonstration of good ambition, goodwill, and a good idea, but when it is time to use it correctly and use it day to day, if the Prime Minister or the minister refuses to give information on some issue, there is no call after that. They cannot get back to l'appel, like we say in French. This is why this is a step in front or two steps forward. I do not know how to say that in English.

It is one step forward, two steps back.

I am not very good in dance, and certainly not good at the dance in English.

We have to fix it, and if the government is well intentioned, it should address this issue with seriousness.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it would have been encouraging if the member's party had moved on the kinds of amendments that he is now calling for. Canadians have waited for more than three decades to finally have a strong Access to Information Act so we would have a better reputation internationally.

The member is bright and I always appreciate his comments, so I think he might agree with me. We all recall another promise, and that was that this would be the last election of first past the post. The government then decided it would not deliver on that promise, and what did it do. It simply switched ministers and changed the mandate letter.

The Liberals have failed to deliver on the vast majority of recommendations by the commissioner or the committee, or most legal experts. Does the member think that the next action we will see is that that they can now just amend the mandate letters to the ministers and remove the higher bar for openness and transparency in government?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to be clear. It is quite normal to review a bill that was tabled 35 years ago. That is fine. However, there is a thin line to define exactly where there is openness and also the reality of the power. The government must run the country, and it is very delicate to know exactly where to draw the line between what it wants to be published and having strong and important debate among the executive branch.

Second, the member talked about electoral reform. A year ago, I was in the member's riding in Edmonton. We had consultations there, and I was part of the committee. It was another broken promise. I said earlier that the list of broken promises is so long that I forgot to talk about that. I could talk about broken promises until tomorrow afternoon, and I would not be finished. Yes, that was another broken promise.

At the end of the day, with every political party when it breaks a promise—I have never broken any promises, but I know some other parties that have tried—there is a political price to pay. I hope and know that two years from now, Canadians will make the Liberal Party pay a huge price for this and all the other broken promises.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my colleague's comments on the tax changes coming forward. We know that this rushed, overreaching action on the part of the government is going to hurt our economy, hurt middle-class Canadians, farmers, small businessmen, and accountants. These are the people who have been communicating with the government and with us on this issue. The response from the government has been to try to say that we have been misinforming them and that we are causing this issue to be overblown.

In the same case, we know that Canadians are concerned. We have comments that you quoted from democracy groups, professional journalists, and even a previous information commissioner. Are these also people the government is going to dismiss as being somehow responsible to us in our arguments as to why Bill C-58 is not a good bill?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before we go to the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, I want to remind hon. members to speak through the Chair and not directly to each other. It makes life a lot easier for all of us in the long run.

The hon. member.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take my colleague's question. I think that all 338 members of the House have a lot of contact with people. When we talk to people in our ridings, and small business owners, they are very concerned with the appetite of the government that likes to get more and more taxes to pay for its bad judgment when it is time to spend money. When the Liberals run deficit after deficit, it has to be paid for. Now the government is trying to pick up a quarter of a billion dollars from the pockets of small business owners. This is all wrong.

I was in Alma last week, and business owners told me that the government's attitude was jeopardizing their business, their expansion plans and their opportunities to create even more jobs and wealth in their communities. The government wants to increase their tax burden, which could also adversely affect every worker's potential raise.

We do not have to see this as just a business class opportunity. Every business owner has employees. When one wants to give good wages to their employees, one does not have to pay more taxes. What the Liberal government is doing is imposing new taxes, and it will hurt small business owners. More than that, it will hurt all Canadians who work in those businesses.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.


Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent on his appointment as official opposition critic for the Treasury Board.

I will begin by quoting from the 2006 Conservative platform: a Conservative government will “implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act”. That is what was said in 2006.

In 2013, the Information Commissioner said, “...there are unmistakable signs of significant deterioration in the federal access system.” What did the Conservative government do? Nothing. Zero.

Our Liberal government took a different approach and decided to act. We are proud to be the first government to bring significant changes to the Access to Information Act since it first came into force over 30 years ago.

The member opposite admitted that it is a step forward. Why does he refuse to work with us on this initiative, which is, as he said himself, very important?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Vancouver Quadra for the quality of her French, and I would like to point out that my riding was named after a former prime minister, but hers was once represented by a former prime minister, the Right Hon. John Turner.

I unfortunately do not know the riding of the former president of the Treasury Board, who is sitting right in front of me, because federal riding names are so long. He explained that when our party was in government, we started the process to proactively make documents public. Did we get as far as some would have liked? We took some steps forward. Could more steps forward have been taken? Some may think so. We think that a party must wisely manage a government and a country, and we are very proud to have governed Canada for nine years and for three consecutive terms.

We had five commitments back in 2006, and we fulfilled them all.