House of Commons Hansard #265 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.


Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brandon—Souris.

I rise today to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Brantford—Brant. This is an important issue for me personally and for my riding of Sturgeon River—Parkland. My constituency has one of Canada's largest military installations at the Edmonton Garrison and the community surrounding the garrison are the homes of many who serve and have served Canada. In communities like Morinville, Bon Accord, and Gibbons, one is likely to run into a member of the Canadian Armed Forces at the local Tim Hortons and it is not surprising to see a military vehicle or tank driving down our streets. I am proud to represent a military community full of military families.

Many young men and women join the Canadian Forces because they want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to be part of an institution that has kept Canada and Canadians safe for generations. They want to be part of an institution that is founded on the principles of duty, honour, integrity, and discipline. These are values that all members of the Canadian Forces live by. They are values that they hold dear beyond their term of service to this country. These are values that we, as politicians, should remember when we make promises and when we are called upon to fulfill them.

Much can be said about the covenant we hold with veterans. It began in the Great War when tens of thousands of Canadians died in the trenches of Belgium and France. Confronted with the prospect of declining manpower in a war where the fate of many great and ancient nations was held in the balance, Canada faced a crisis and the government of Sir Robert Borden made a difficult choice to introduce conscription. It was a necessary move that threatened to split our country in two. Remarkably, Conservatives and many Liberals joined together in support of conscription and in 1917, a Unionist government was elected with a smashing majority. This election was a pivotal moment because it affirmed that the government would take any action necessary to fulfill a covenant made to our men and women in uniform: that in war and peace, the government would always have their backs.

I bring up this history because the idea of a covenant was not one enshrined in legislation or our Constitution, but instead in a deeply held value, a value I mentioned previously, that being honour. It was so unthinkable of our leaders that they would betray our veterans that they did not see the necessity to enshrine that covenant in our laws.

To a member of the Canadian Forces, honour is the highest value. I remember while training once, a master corporal told me that if I lawfully ordered him to take an enemy position, even though that order could lead to his certain death, he would carry out that order. That is what honour and duty mean. That responsibility weighs on me tremendously, because as legislators, we have the political authority to order our men and women in uniform to go to war, in some cases to their almost certain death. That is why I am disappointed with the Liberal government. I am disappointed with the Prime Minister, who does not seem to understand the gravity of his responsibility and obligation to our men and women in uniform.

At a recent town hall near my home in Edmonton, the Prime Minister was asked a question by one who offered his life to this nation in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister was asked why he had broken his promise to veterans. This was a veteran who we later learned had lost one leg to an improvised explosive device and had lost 80% of the use of his other leg. The Prime Minister's response was that veterans “are asking for more than we are able to give right now”. It was a shameful statement made by the Prime Minister, a statement that no previous prime minister would ever dare to make. His response exposes a deep disrespect for our veterans.

Is the Prime Minister implying that our veterans are being greedy, that they ask for too much because they are being unreasonable? I cannot imagine those venerable wartime leaders, such as Borden and King, passing through the packed hospital wards of those rendered disabled, maimed, and permanently scarred from war and telling them that they were asking for more than the government could give.

The fact is that successive Canadian governments have asked our soldiers and their families for all that they can give: their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They have been asked, and they have given in full measure with their blood, their sweat, their toil, and their tears. For our Prime Minister to say that veterans “are asking for more than we can give right now” is an insult. It is an abdication of the responsibility and obligation that he holds as Prime Minister.

In our past, the economic devastation and sheer loss of life after two of the most intense wars in human history left their mark on Canada. Yet, despite the obstacles and challenges of the hundreds of thousands of physically and mentally wounded, not to mention those who lost their lives, through it all the government upheld its sacred obligation to veterans. It was not a bond maintained by legislation, but a bond maintained by honour and respect.

Today, we live in a free and secure society paid for by the blood of those who came before us. There are wars to be sure, but nothing on the scale of those fought in days past. With this age of relative peace, prosperity, and freedom, we have an economic dividend afforded to us by those who gave their lives.

Billions not spent on arms have been beaten into ploughshares, and the standing armies of millions of men in ages past have given way to small, professional armies that require a fraction of the resources to maintain. The fact is we must uphold our obligation to Canada's veterans, because we owe them for all we have.

When the Liberal government runs tens of billions of dollars in deficits, it does so because it has the choice to do so. In the tempestuous past, our ancestors had no choice when they went into deficit, because their only choices were victory or death. The peace paid for by those who served allows us the prosperity and flexibility to spend on making a better world and a better Canada. We have billions to spend on the Prime Minister's and the Liberal Party's pet projects, yet the Liberals choose not to fulfill this sacred covenant to our veterans. Rather than spending millions in court to settle with terrorists, perhaps the Prime Minister should spend millions to settle with our veterans and show them the respect they deserve.

The Prime Minister made an election promise that no veteran would be forced to fight the government for the support and compensation that the veterans earned, and he has broken that promise. Consequently, the Prime Minister has dishonoured himself, his office, and this country. It is not about the money. It is about respect and integrity. When the Prime Minister stood in Belleville and wrapped himself in the flag and made a promise to those veterans, those veterans placed their trust and faith in him that he would keep those promises, and he broke that faith.

This is why I am supporting this motion. The Prime Minister has compromised the trust that must exist between those who defend this country and those who are elected to lead this country. The Royal Canadian Legion has since called the Prime Minister's response at that town hall “extremely insensitive”. The Prime Minister must do the right thing and apologize to veterans for the disrespect and lack of integrity that he showed them.

I am reminded of the poem which is read every Remembrance Day:

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It is not enough for the Prime Minister to stand every November 11 to recite this creed of our nation. It must be followed with action and integrity. I stand here today to hold the Prime Minister to account and demand that he uphold his sacred covenant with those who offer to give the ultimate sacrifice.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario


Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, I wish the member had been present in the last term of Parliament when the Conservative Party fired Julian Fantino for running away from veterans. They fired him. We got him out of the House.

When we talk about empathy, members of the party opposite fake empathy every single moment they get the opportunity. They may have discovered listening now, but they did not listen in their 10 years in government. That is as crystal clear as any issue that has ever been presented on the floor of this Parliament.

Yesterday when it was announced that 52 families in my riding lost work when the NDP raised that question, members of that party opposite laughed and clapped their hands. That is the way they honour Canadians who are struggling. It is the same way they responded to veterans during their 10 years in government.

That party has lost its way in terms of its moral compass. While the member opposite spoke about the sacred obligation, I would remind him that it was his party that denied that a sacred obligation ever existed. The Conservatives are the ones who went to court. They are the ones who literally dragged veterans into court. They are the ones who failed on a whole host of promises. We have delivered on the lifelong pension.

I have a question for the member opposite. When Canadians are in need, why do members of that party laugh and clap their hands and ridicule people? Why has that party still failed to understand that empathy has to be real for it to be respected?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not need to be lectured about empathy for the members of our Canadian Forces and those veterans, because I have served in the Canadian Forces. I know about these veterans. I know what they go through. I have worked with them, and I have heard their perspective.

I am listening, and this party is listening. I am not going to make excuses for the past, but I know that we can do better. I know that the current government can do better. That is why I am holding it to account, because I know the government can do better, and it needs to do better.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec


Peter Schiefke LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his service to our country. I am sure that my hon. colleague will be sharing this speech with his constituents on social media. I am sure that he is going to get a lot of support for his remarks. I wonder if he would also be willing to share in the note section, under the speech that he will share with his constituents, the fact that his former government, the party that he is currently representing, cut services to veterans for 10 years, and closed down nine offices that supported veterans over a 10-year period of time.

Will he share that information with them? Will he also share with his constituents that we are investing $10 billion of new money, that we put in place a pension for life option, that we are now repairing the damage that his former government did over the last 10 years? I challenge him. Will he share that information, and take responsibility for the situation that veterans across this country are currently in?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would be more than happy to take responsibility for the veterans across this country. That is why we will be winning in 2019, because we are going to get to the bottom of this. We are not the party that reopened the Equitas lawsuit. The current government reopened the Equitas lawsuit after the Prime Minister promised those same veterans that they would never again have to go to court to fight for the benefits they deserve, and that is a broken promise. We are going to hold the Liberal Party and the government accountable for that.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have to acknowledge my colleague's good faith, especially since he himself served in the forces. I hear his truth and how he talks about this with as much objectivity and as little partisanship as possible. I would therefore ask him to explain to me why the government is determined to continue its proceedings in this case. I do not want to rub salt in the wounds, but he must know because it was his colleagues who began the proceedings.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken with Canada's former veterans affairs minister, and he was doing everything that he could to work with our veterans to settle this lawsuit. I have confidence that we would have done that had we been in government. It was not this party that reopened this court case after promising veterans that they would never again.

Sometimes governments just do not want to accept the fact they made a mistake, and when they made a promise that they could not deliver on. That party and government needs to be humble, and accept that they made a promise that they knew they could not keep. It is time for them to take ownership of that broken promise.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland for his excellent presentation today, and for his commitment to our country. It is my pleasure to speak to today's motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Brantford—Brant.

Words have consequences. The Prime Minister quickly found that out when he was booed by the audience at the Edmonton town hall. He not only insulted the veteran who asked the question, but he disrespected all the veterans who are currently struggling to get the help they need from Veterans Affairs Canada.

In that quip, he admitted that he broke a key campaign promise to veterans. The reason why the Prime Minister's comments felt like a punch in the gut was because we see Liberals spending millions of taxpayers' money on ridiculous things, whether it be the moving expenses for political staff or $200,000 on an illegal Caribbean getaway, and there are others. That is why this stings.

While I acknowledge the Liberals have increased the overall dollars spent through VAC, the Prime Minister's comment to that veteran was that veterans are “asking for more than we are able to give.” That would make anyone's blood boil, especially as the Liberals have no problem spending taxpayers' money on frivolous things, as I have mentioned.

It is starting to feel like the movie, Groundhog Day, as once again the House is debating a motion about the Prime Minister's questionable conduct. While my Liberal friends from across the way have to defend their boss, our Conservative team is far more concerned about standing up for our bosses, the constituents in our ridings. We will not let the Liberals get away with their broken promises.

Each and every day, we will continue to shine a light on the transgressions of the government, and get it to honour the promises made to veterans. It is inconceivable how the Prime Minister has yet to make a meaningful apology to Canada's veterans. Sorry does seem to be the hardest word. I know every single MP in this Chamber wants to improve the services and programs that our veterans rely on.

I also know that, while some improvements have been made in the past 12 years, there is still much more left to do. When I was first elected in the fall of 2013 in a by-election, I made it quite clear that I was not elected to defend the status quo. I was not elected to make excuses, or shirk from my responsibilities as a member of Parliament to work to improve the quality of life of Westman veterans.

It was in that capacity that I worked with any member of this chamber who wanted to improve the new veterans charter and the levels of service delivery from VAC. To provide a few examples, in my constituency of Brandon—Souris, Service Canada started offering veterans affairs services at numerous rural offices, so veterans no longer had to drive to Brandon or CFB Shilo to drop off or pick up paperwork. We worked with the Legion and ANAF to make improvements to their buildings and improve accessibility.

I advocated for increasing benefits for part-time reserve force veterans, and also to enhance the lifetime support for injured veterans and their families. I was proud to work with an impressive team that was pouring their heart and soul into this issue, and it must be said that it was a collective effort. My good friend, the hon. member for Durham, and previous veterans affairs minister was able to spearhead many of the changes I just spoke about.

The member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman was a regular visitor to my constituency in his capacity as the parliamentary secretary, and is passionate about improving mental health care services. Even the Hon. Laurie Hawn came to my constituency, and did a public meeting with our veterans community to incorporate their ideas into reforming the new veterans charter. There is no one who championed veterans issues more than Laurie, and even in retirement from the House of Commons, he remains a tireless advocate.

I can only imagine what Laurie had to say when he found out about the Prime Minister's flippant remarks at the Edmonton town hall.

The other member I would like to thank from our Conservative team is my friend from Barrie—Innisfil. Through his private member's bill, he would have enshrined into law the promise between Canada and our veterans. It would have made it crystal clear that VAC and the programs and services it offers, must treat veterans and their families with dignity, respect, and fairness. While my colleagues across the way voted against the legislation, I still have hope that we can implement the spirit of his legislation in everything that VAC does.

However, it is telling that we need to pass such legislation. It is an indication there is much more work to do. That is why today's debate is so important. We must not only hold the Prime Minister accountable for his offensive comments, the House is now seized with how the Liberals are not living up to their campaign commitments to Canada's veterans.

If we go to an independent website that is determining which Liberal promises have actually been implemented, we would discover that only three of the 15 have been achieved. If this were an exam, that would be considered a failure, except in this case, we are not talking about a test, we are talking about people's lives. We are talking about our brave men and women who were willing to put their lives on the line in defence of our great country. While I personally like the new Liberal Minister of Veterans Affairs, I would ask him to sit down with the Prime Minister and get to work on implementing the rest of their promises.

The Liberals are over half way through their term and, quite frankly, they have not done enough on veterans affairs issues. Just today, outside this chamber, there are veterans rallying against the government's broken promise on pensions. While I know the minister believes he has checked that box in his mandate letter, there are veterans from across the country who would fundamentally disagree. There are veterans who are calling the government's actions a betrayal. It is hard to disagree with them. The government's promises do not live up to its actions.

I know this conversation is a tough one to have. Many Liberals MPs are probably scratching their heads at how their Prime Minister could let down so many, and as quickly as he has done. It would be my sincere hope that by the end of today's debate, we will have reached consensus and work will begin immediately on implementing the Liberals' promises. The time for excuses is over. We must collectively demand better from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Canadians who are watching us today should be mad that the government has failed to live up to its word. They should be mad the Prime Minister, for whatever reason, cannot bring himself to give a meaningful apology. They should be mad the government is still talking about doing something, rather than just rolling up its sleeves and making veterans a priority.

I call on my Liberal colleagues to join us by voting in favour of the motion. I ask them to put aside their party stripes for this vote and support our veterans. They were willing to fight for our rights and freedoms in some of the most uninhabitable terrain one could possibly imagine. The least MPs could do is stand up for the motion, instead of sitting on their hands worrying about the consequences from their party bosses.

I believe our military veterans deserve the utmost respect for their service to our country, and the sacrifices many have made in that endeavour. It is imperative that our elected officials lead by example in demonstrating this respect.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne Québec


Sherry Romanado LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Brandon—Souris for his really heartwarming remarks. I have not had a chance to work with him yet on the veterans file, so I want to thank him for his comments today.

He mentioned in his remarks that he was elected in the by-election in Brandon. We know that this veterans affairs office was closed under the previous government, then reopened in October 2016. Has he had a chance to visit the reopened veterans affairs office? Has he had a chance to talk to the folks and the veterans who are using that service, and does he feel that reopening that office was beneficial for the veterans that he serves?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed working with my colleague on electoral reform for a week while I was there as well. We have worked together on some issues.

The member's point is probably one that we have heard many times in the House. I lived through some of these kinds of things in the Manitoba NDP government when it would say that something had happened for 15 years when it never had.

The same services were available through our government before any of those changes were made, in Brandon particularly. I cannot speak for the other eight locations but in Brandon the same services were in the same building and provided by the same individual who had provided them before.

We are only 20 kilometres away from Shilo, which has a full service of support for veterans as well. There were all kinds of rumours about people having to go here and there so we opened up more of those rural offices so those veterans, some quite old, did not have to go to Brandon to get that service.

If my colleague were to check, she would find that the only thing that changed was the title on the door. It went from Veterans Affairs Canada to Services Canada. That is the case in all of the locations. If government members looked into that, they would see that in many cases those services were still being offered.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fought to have the closed offices reopened.

I would like my colleague to tell me if reopening the offices is enough. We will still have a problem if there is no change in how veterans are treated and if they still have to deal with red tape.

Along with the reopening of offices should there be a change in approach? If there is no change, there will still be a problem.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question gives me an opportunity to answer the rest of the question my colleague from Quebec asked me earlier. Yes, I have been in the new office and, yes, I respect the work being done by the new people who have moved in to help the gentleman who was doing some of that work before.

To that very point, it is not just about the services. It is about the type of services being offered and how they are being offered. I take my colleague's point very well about how the services should be more humanitarian, if I can put it that way, with respect to the individual efforts of those veterans.

I feel my office is acting like a veterans affairs office some days as well. We get not only a lot of immigrants coming through on some of the other issues with respect to the committee I am on, but we get a lot of veterans looking for help, and we are glad to help them. The staff person I have is a reservist herself.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Monday, February 26, at the expiry of the time provide for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you canvass the House, I suspect you will find unanimous consent to see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from November 24, 2017, consideration of the motion.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.


Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to be here in the House and, as the member for the riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, which takes in the two major cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, to have the opportunity to speak about what our government has done so far to help the middle class and those who want to join it.

Today, I have the opportunity to speak to Motion No. 147, moved by my colleague from Saskatoon West. I want to thank and congratulate her for her efforts, not just with respect to this motion, but also for the work she has done on this issue for many years .

The purpose of the motion before us is to appoint a special parliamentary committee to conduct consultations—which generally is a very good thing— and to develop an action plan. This committee would then report to the House, present the action plan, and obtain approval for it within one year. Thus, one year would pass by. I must say that the intent of this motion is very good. However, if I had to weigh in on it, I would say that it is two years too late. Our government has actually been working on this issue for two years and has put forward an affordable housing and homelessness strategy.

My colleague wants us to set up a new committee and hold another round of consultations, but we have done that work already. We have held many, many consultations and sought feedback from parliamentarians. An all-party standing committee examined the issue. We heard statements from many individuals and experts from across Canada. Consulting those organizations all over again when they have already spent a lot of time on this would not be very efficient.

Over the past two years, we have met with Canadians and stakeholders working to advance the national affordable housing strategy and the Canadian poverty reduction strategy or to transform our partners' anti-homelessness strategy. As I said, we could do more consultations, but if we ask the same people in the same communities the same questions, we will probably get the same answers.

We also need to think about how much time would be wasted. In the coming years, we can always improve our approach to accommodate new developments. In the meantime, those partners contributed, they gave their opinion, and now they want our government to act. We do not need more consultations. We need to take action. That is exactly what our government is doing. Our goal is to get the work under way by March 31, 2019, but if Motion No. 147 is adopted, we will have to hold more consultations, quite possibly putting that goal out of reach.

I urge the House to do the math. As I said, launching a new process, holding more consultations, striking a new committee, and consulting the same people to set up a program that we have already put in place and that will do a good job of meeting our clientele's needs would put the strategy we are hoping to announce soon way behind schedule.

In light of what I just said, our government will obviously not be able to support Motion No. 147.

Nevertheless, I would like to go into more detail on all of the work our government has done to put an end to homelessness.

First, I want to talk about how our government is supporting the national housing strategy by investing $40 billion over the next 10 years. This investment will start on April 1, 2018.

This strategy will help re-establish our government's role as a housing leader and will meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

In 2016, we consulted Canadians, key stakeholders, and the provinces and territories to hear their thoughts and opinions on homelessness. These consultations produced recommendations that helped strengthen Canada's fight against homelessness.

More specifically, stakeholders advocated for renewing and expanding the homelessness partnering strategy. They also asked for more flexibility in the housing first approach. In addition, they pushed to include the right to housing in the national housing strategy.

As part of the national housing strategy and budget 2017, we announced a $2.2-billion investment over 10 years to increase funding for the homelessness partnering strategy.

With these investments, communities are now better equipped to tackle homelessness and reach the goal of reducing chronic homelessness by 50% by 2027-28.

Our government also committed to consulting with stakeholders, the provinces, territories, and indigenous partners on how to best restructure the homelessness partnering strategy in order to more effectively reduce and prevent homelessness in Canada.

On top of that commitment, the government also created an advisory committee, chaired by our excellent Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister Responsible for Housing, and composed of experts, people who have been homeless themselves, and stakeholders in the field.

The committee held online consultations from July 17 to September 15, 2017. The committee also held a series of regional round tables across the country to gather additional information regarding service providers.

In short, the special parliamentary committee the motion calls for would only serve to duplicate a process that is already in place and appears to be very successful.

In closing, our government has done its homework on how to reduce and end homelessness in Canada, and will be ready to present its renewal plan in 2019.

I have not even had a chance to discuss our efforts to end poverty. I could go on for another 10 minutes, but I know that is impossible.

I would like to take a moment to congratulate the member for Saskatoon West on her work and her motion. More importantly, however, I want to congratulate her for the many years of hard work she has put in to advance this file.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague for bringing this motion forward and for bringing this important topic to the attention of the House.

It is the unfortunate truth that homelessness is a major problem in Canada. Approximately 30,000 Canadians experience homelessness each night, and more than 200,000 each year. The face of homelessness is also changing, and some of our most vulnerable are being affected. The number of homeless seniors is increasing, with almost a quarter of the shelter population over the age of 50. In 2016, almost 3,000 veterans were in shelters, and approximately 30% of the shelter population was indigenous. This is unacceptable. Families can be hit especially hard. The average length of time that a family stays in a shelter is double that of an individual, and more women, families, and youth are homeless today than were in the past.

Despite the challenges, it is important to remember that homelessness does not have to be a fact of life. With some hard work, we can make a difference. This motion is a very good place to start. A special committee could provide us with the answers we need in order to take on the challenge of ending homelessness. My Conservative colleagues and I support compassionate, informed policy. We are the party of housing first and the homelessness partnering strategy. Sadly, the Liberal government has failed again and again to take adequate action to address affordable housing and homelessness. It is time for it to take these issues seriously.

There are local community groups on the ground doing incredible work, and we need to study their initiatives so we may learn from them. That is one of the really positive aspects about this issue. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We can start from the programs that are already proven and expand from there.

My home province of Alberta has been a leader on this issue. Its housing first initiative is a great example of how to effectively tackle the homelessness crisis. This program is based on the idea that short-term emergency shelters are not a solution. It begins by providing individuals with permanent housing and then offers a wide variety of supports to help them get back on their feet. These supports could include anything from medical care to psychiatric help, case management, and social services. Once people have a roof over their heads, they can address the root causes of their homelessness and work toward creating an independent life for themselves.

The Government of Alberta estimates that it can cost more than $100,000 each year in medical bills, as well as justice and social services, to support an individual who is chronically homeless, but it costs only $35,000 a year to provide that same individual with housing and supports that will help him or her become independent. It is not only humane; it makes economic sense.

We have seen some great successes with the program. Medicine Hat's housing first program has succeeded in eliminating chronic homelessness. In practice, this means that while emergency shelters exist in the city, all individuals who end up in one are seen by a social worker within three days and have a permanent roof over their heads within 10 days. This is a major shift from the period before housing first, when some individuals would spend years in shelters.

Between the beginning of the program in 2009 and the end of 2016, Medicine Hat housed over 1,000 people. Perhaps the most exciting result is that 80% of those individuals have successfully exited the program and are now independent, while the city has actually seen a reduction in costs associated with health, crime, and child welfare.

This is just one of the many great local initiatives that a committee on homelessness could study and evaluate. My Conservative colleagues and I believe in the work that our local non-profits, social services, and businesses are already doing. The government should partner with these organizations, which already have the skills and the knowledge to tackle this issue.

Society has come to accept homelessness as an inevitable fact of life. Emergency shelters do valuable work, but they are ultimately a band-aid solution.

When we see that hundreds of thousands of Canadians are affected by this issue and that the number of women, youth, and families experiencing homelessness is increasing, it is clear we should take action. The Liberal government continues to lag on this critical issue, so Parliament will have to step in to address it.

I support the motion because a committee study could form an important basis for a national strategy to end homelessness. Let us work together toward a future when all Canadians can have a home.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I support Motion No. 147 without hesitation.

I want to thank my NDP colleague from Saskatoon West for giving us the opportunity today to talk about a troubling situation across Canada that I noticed when I was travelling as part of my right to housing tour.

It is incredible, but true. In Pelican Narrows, northern Saskatchewan, at 30 degrees below zero, I met people who literally had no shelter: a man who was rightly discouraged, frustrated, and very angry; a mother with her young child; and an older man with a walker. All that at 30 degrees below zero, in a remote region where there is not enough housing for everyone, and where some homes are condemned because they are not in good enough condition to be lived in.

I want to commend my colleague on this private member's motion and offer her my full support so that, as the new NDP housing critic, she may carry on the work that our predecessors and I began in order to advance the cause of under-housed and homeless people in Canada.

As I have been saying for a long time, it is high time that Canada took the necessary steps to end homelessness, which is unacceptable in a country as rich as ours. It is not right that a country that has the wealth that we do is not doing more to put an end to homelessness.

The motion of my colleague from Saskatoon West is very much in keeping with this position. The purpose of that motion is to appoint a special House of Commons committee to conduct hearings on the matter of homelessness in Canada and propose a plan to prevent and ultimately end homelessness. The committee would be expected to report to the House no later than 12 months after the adoption of this motion.

One of the things that stood out to me the most in my quest to determine the extent of the housing and homelessness crisis in Canada was that a number of groups are disproportionately affected by homelessness. They include indigenous people, women, seniors, youth, veterans, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Fortunately, communities have already begun to develop their own tailored approaches to fighting and ending homelessness locally. For example, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, and Fort McMurray participated in Alberta's 7 cities project to end homelessness and are making progress. Edmonton and Calgary are also part of the program and have implemented plans to end homelessness.

What all of these municipalities have in common is that they have chosen a novel approach. Rather than simply manage the problem, they are working toward the much more ambitious goal of eradicating it.

Other communities, such as Montreal, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon, have also come up with plans to prevent and end homelessness, because that should be the main objective: ending homelessness. The first step toward doing that is to adopt a plan with clear, measurable goals.

Even so, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ending homelessness in this country. Plans to achieve that goal in a given community will vary from one region to the next, as they already do. As I said, some communities have already implemented plans that work.

In order to achieve our ultimate goal, the federal government needs to clearly define its role and adopt its own national plan. It is simply a matter of being serious about our desire to eradicate this scourge and recognizing the vital role the federal government must play in supporting efforts at the local level.

Creating a national plan to prevent and end homelessness would be the first step. That is precisely the purpose of this motion.

The government released some details of its national housing strategy a few months ago. For example, it has set a target of reducing chronic homelessness by 50%. We think that we need to be much more ambitious and aim to completely eradicate homelessness as quickly as possible. To achieve that, I repeat, we need a plan. We have to assess the needs, give communities enough flexibility to determine the best methods, and support them by giving them the means to achieve their goals.

We can no longer focus on simply managing the situation, as though we accept that it exists and we assume that it always will. We need to tackle it, prevent it, and ultimately completely eradicate it. Even one homeless person is one too many. We are talking about human beings—men, women, and children.

For those who like numbers, we can also talk about the numbers. Beyond the humanitarian reasons, there are also economic reasons for eradicating homelessness, because there is a cost associated with it.

It costs the government and the Canadian economy more to accept homelessness as a problem without a solution than to collectively invest the money it would take to put an end to it. It is estimated that our current response to homelessness, which consists almost exclusively of providing emergency services, costs the Canadian economy and taxpayers approximately $7 billion a year in direct and indirect costs. That is a huge amount. Just imagine the stock of social housing that could be built with these billions of dollars.

The direct costs of homelessness include amounts spent on emergency services, such as shelters and direct services to homeless people, while indirect costs include the costs associated with increased use of health care services, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system.

It is estimated that the monthly costs for housing a homeless person are $10,900 for a hospital bed, $4,333 for provincial jail, and $1,932 for a shelter bed, but only $701 for a rent supplement and $199.92 for social housing.

Since people who live on the streets are much more likely to go to the hospital or to be involved with our criminal justice system, we collectively have a vested interest in solving this problem at the source.

As we in the NDP often say, budgets are about choices. Canadian researchers have conclusively shown that we could save a lot of money by making the right choices.

By the most conservative estimate, 235,000 people experience homelessness in a given year in Canada.

According to a 2014 joint study by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, the gradual withdrawal of the federal government's investment in social housing is one of the main causes of this situation.

For a long time now, I have been calling on the federal government to start by investing significantly in social housing, which has been shown to be the cheapest option for taxpayers to fight homelessness. I cited the supporting figures a few moments ago.

With my colleague's motion that we are debating today, we are reaching out to all parliamentarians so we can work together to implement a serious plan to end homelessness.

To do that, parliamentarians need to be put in touch with people who know this situation well because they live it every day or because they witness it through their work, such as communities, homeless outreach workers, non-profit organizations, academics, indigenous groups, and people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. These are people who can pool their knowledge and best practices and find and apply effective solutions that are tailored to local needs. It is important to have a plan that is flexible enough to respond to the very different situations we see across the country.

The situation in northern Saskatchewan that I described earlier is completely different from the situation of my former colleague Roger, who become homeless in the middle of Montreal.

The government must step up and show that Parliament is determined to take action to prevent and put an end to homelessness in Canada. Although I have some concerns and there are many questions that remain, I recognize that the Liberals have shown openness and goodwill by creating a national housing strategy.

With Motion No. 147, the government has an unprecedented opportunity to put its money where its mouth is by allowing other parliamentarians to collaborate on developing a national plan to end homelessness. Creating a special committee would send a clear message to Canadians that the national housing strategy is the first step in a major pan-Canadian initiative.

We are not the only ones saying so. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, or CHRA, one of the main national organizations that represents the interests of the social, affordable, and non-profit housing sector in Canada, supports the motion. CHRA believes that with a new national housing strategy forthcoming, it is imperative that the federal government and federal decision-makers maintain a focus on addressing the scourge of homelessness, and put in place a mechanism that can identify the tools, policies, and programs that will provide access to safe and affordable housing for all people living in Canada.

CHRA believes that a special committee on homelessness would provide such a mechanism. This motion from the member for Saskatoon West is essentially giving this government an empty net. It would be far too sad if the government were to miss this shot.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to clarify an answer I gave during question period today in response to a question that I misheard on the recent earthquake in Taiwan.

As our government said on February 9, we extend our deep condolences to all those affected by the earthquake in Taiwan.

To date, the federal government has received no request for assistance from the Taiwanese authorities.

However, we would of course strongly consider any request for assistance that we receive from Taiwan.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The House appreciates the clarification at the earliest opportunity from the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario


Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 147, a motion sponsored by the member for Saskatoon West that would appoint a special parliamentary committee to conduct hearings on homelessness, and develop a national plan to end homelessness within 12 months of the motion's adoption.

The member cares deeply about this issue, and we respect her for that. We welcome her passion and dedication to this issue. However, the government is unable to support Motion No. 147.

The fact is Motion No. 147 duplicates and would delay critical work this government is already doing on this vital issue.

Our government established an advisory committee on homelessness in June 2017. This 13 member committee includes housing and homeless experts, local and regional service providers, and most importantly, individuals with lived experience of homelessness. They reflect Canada's cultural, linguistic, and regional diversity. It is an extraordinary group of leaders.

It has been my honour to chair this advisory committee, and to join it as it has travelled from coast to coast to coast to hear Canadians share their insights and experiences. I have personally been in more than 24 communities, and spent days upon days with front line workers, people with lived experience, front line service providers, municipal governments, and provincial authorities studying this issue in concert with the entire workforce and social agencies embraced by this issue.

Through roundtables and forums, to town halls, online engagement, the message that Canadians have given to the advisory committee on homelessness has been absolutely clear. It is time to move from consultation and study, and get down to direct action.

Motion No. 147 would disregard this message in favour of spending yet another year studying the issue. This is time and more importantly money that could be better spent on directly addressing issues related to homelessness.

It would also ask organizations that are fighting homelessness to take their time to come to Ottawa, and to once again provide testimony. We would rather they provide services to people than provide testimony to another committee of Parliament. They have already provided feedback and input with their ideas, and they are eager now to work with us at implementing solutions.

Motion No. 147's special committee would also disregard one of the other crystal clear messages we heard in our listening exercises which is that housing is fundamentally a local issue, and requires local solutions funded federally, but designed and delivered on a community-by-community basis on a person-by-person basis.

The federal government's role is to collaborate, listen, finance, fund, and support, but it is not to rule from above, and drop solutions from Ottawa onto communities across this country, and impose programs rather than develop them with local partners.

Front line workers and people with lived experience in homelessness have told us time and time again that if we want lasting permanent change, it needs to come from communities. It cannot be dictated by federal programs.

I look forward to sharing the results of this engagement more thoroughly in a few weeks and days when we release the “What We Heard” report. The results of these listening exercises and study sessions, aligned with other studies on homelessness and poverty that have also been undertaken by this government, are part of our total redesign and launch of Canada's first ever national housing strategy.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities recently completed a study on poverty reduction, on seniors housing, and on seniors issues. All of these studies must include strategies to deal with housing shortages, homelessness, and people in core housing need.

As part of our engagement with this panel on poverty reduction strategies, which is about to be released and disclosed to all members of Parliament and Canadians, we also have people with lived experience on that committee as well. The minister's advisory committee has been focusing on giving us input as to how we can develop programs on housing and homelessness.

Something else is critically important. Preventing homelessness requires an all of government approach. It is not a single issue. It has to placed within the context of a housing strategy, and only focusing on homelessness does not get us there. It has to be part of a strategy that focuses on income supports. It has to be part of a strategy that also deals with social security programs.

HUMA integrates this approach. It is a standing committee of Parliament. It will be reported, as part of the national housing strategy, on a regular, go-forward basis. This is the place to get a comprehensive holistic approach to homelessness addressed properly. We have a standing committee.

The national housing strategy is perhaps the most important program this government has released in its two years in office. It was just released last November, after 18 months of study and consultation with groups, provinces, territories, indigenous leadership, people with lived experience, homeless activists, housing providers on the ground, both civic and governmental. Part of that engagement and online study, and collection of data and information has produced the most comprehensive approach to housing. It is the most properly funded program our country has ever seen.

In fact, supporting Motion No. 147 would have a negative impact. It would force us to redesign the homelessness program that is part of that strategy, and start all over again. We cannot do this. The current program expires within the 12-month study period in which the member's motion seeks to report back. In other words, the program will expire while the committee is studying what to do next. We need to act now.

If we launch a new consultation process, results will not come from it for another 12 months. That will delay implementation. It will have a terrible impact.

The NDP often says that we should consult more before we act, or that we should act now and stop consulting. The members cannot have it both ways. We have done the consultation. We are about to launch that study, that program, but we have already doubled the investment, ensuring local communities have the resources they need to fight this terrible problem.

I want to underline this fact, because it is another key reason we are opposing the motion.

On the national housing strategy, $40 billion over 10 years, in our first budget we doubled the dollars that the previous government put in place. That doubling of the dollars immediately put in new resources while we studied it. Now, in the 10-year program, we have new programs and new approaches that will fortify and expand the approach to prevent and provide permanent solutions to homelessness, instead of just dealing with the crisis on too many of our city streets.

The advice we are getting from the advisory committee on homelessness is critical. It has given us good advice on how to integrate the two programs. With these investments, we will be better equipped to tackle homelessness, and we can start reducing, if not eliminating it by 2027-28.

Also, in budget 2017, our government committed to engaging with stakeholders, provinces, territories, and indigenous governance organizations, as well as urban indigenous housing providers, to ensure our approach was also consistent with the principles of truth and reconciliation. Again, it is critical that at every step of the way people with lived experience must be at the table. “Nothing about us without us” is fundamental to the approach the government takes to fighting homelessness.

This work is only part of government's broader housing plan. As I said, there is a $10 billion plan to give all Canadians a safe, secure, affordable place to call home.

As we said when we announced the strategy last November, the NHS is geared toward people with housing needs, including indigenous peoples, women and children, families fleeing family violence, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, LGBT two-spirited community and queer community, and those dealing with mental health and addiction issues, who too often find themselves on city streets. Additionally, young people in care, the super highway to homelessness as is described by a landmark study by the Canadian Observatory On Homelessness. If we wait to act on that critical population, we will be putting young people in harm's way. I will not do that as a parliamentarian.

To meet the needs of these vulnerable populations, we are going to collaborate, foster innovation, support proper data collection. We are going to find a solution to the problem. The NHS includes and recognizes that all Canadians have a right to housing, and that a rights-based framework to housing requires us to address the homelessness situation that defines too many urban, rural, and northern communities in our country.

To back this up, we are redesigning the strategy. We will coordinate with national housing benefit, as well as programs and policies. The rights of people with disabilities are also being integrated into our approaches.

Perhaps most important, we will also enshrine the right to housing into law through legislation, to ensure that while this may be the first national housing strategy, it will not be the last. Again, it will be framed within a rights-based approach to housing, endorsed by the UN rapporteur on housing, and mayors and leaders across the country.

Our broader efforts to reduce poverty are part of this strategy. Those, too, will be based on extensive consultation with people with lived experience.

Once again, I want to thank the member for Saskatoon West for all her hard work. I know that she understands and cares about this issue. I know that she wants solutions delivered tomorrow, if not yesterday. I respect that.

These are goals this government shares, but these are goals this government is already acting on. We cannot support this motion, because it would slow down and push away from the table people with lived experience. Those are the folks we need to help. Those are the folks we are talking to. Those are the people we are going to deliver a national housing strategy for.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Motion No. 147. I would like to thank the hon. member for Saskatoon West for bringing forth this motion. I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal government cannot support her motion.

Sadly, not all Canadians have a place to call home. Many more have wholly inadequate housing to call home. Having a home is a critical part of being a human and a productive member of society. Having a home, a fixed address, is the stable foundation everyone needs.

Canada has failed, all governments at all levels, to fix Canada's homelessness problem. In fact, it has continued to get worse as we throw more money at this problem.

Housing advocates tell us that Canada has up to 8,000 chronically homeless individuals. These folks usually have associated mental, addiction, and social challenges that make them the most difficult to find housing solutions for. On any given night, it is estimated that roughly 35,000 Canadians face homelessness. These folks find themselves in and out of the shelter system.

It is estimated that about 235,000 Canadians face homelessness every year. This is a group of Canadians, making up a population comparable to the city of Regina, who have a problem finding homes. We are short housing options for an entire city's worth of people. We essentially need to build a major city just to fix our housing problems.

The time has come for us to honestly look at what we have done and what we are doing and determine what is working and what is not. It is time to be honest with ourselves about our past efforts if we are going to improve those going forward. This is why I support the call for a special committee to put together a national plan to deal with homelessness.

How can we not look at the housing issue when there are over 235,000 Canadians desperately in need? Every day we walk out there and see a temporary hockey rink that would have built about 21 average homes in Canada. Where are our priorities?

Back in 2007, I chaired an Alberta provincial MLA task force to look at affordable housing issues. We went across the province of Alberta to get input on the issues. We set out to find innovative and practical ways to make affordable housing more accessible and available. We focused on solutions for the homeless, affordable housing, including subsidized rentals and home ownership. By bringing together representatives from municipalities, business, community leaders, industry associations, political parties, and the non-profit sector, we were able to get a broad base of expertise and knowledge on housing matters. We were able to build a large list of recommendations and policy goals for governments at all levels. While many of the recommendations were embraced, others were not. However, we were successful in getting a long overdue conversation going and millions of dollars directed to addressing this problem.

My work with the homeless did not end with the task force. For a number of years afterward, I served on the board of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. This year will mark the 10th anniversary since the foundation led the creation of Calgary's 10-year plan to end homelessness. We will mark this anniversary, but we will not be celebrating. We still have a homeless problem in Calgary and across Canada. By all counts, it is getting worse, not better. Ten years after Calgary's 10-year plan to end homelessness, we still have too many homeless in Calgary. Those involved are working hard, but the problem is growing. Much of the cause is beyond their control, such as the economic downturn, housing prices in Calgary, the opioid epidemic, and more. At the same time, the solution is not to build more shelters. We need to find a way to have affordable housing as a reality.

One of the most cited psychologists of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow, published his now famous hierarchy of needs. Basically, it summarizes the stages of human growth and ranks human needs. The need for shelter or housing is listed as the first level of need, right beside food, air, and water. Without adequate shelter, we cannot develop as humans.

We will not move to the next stage of development until the first stage needs are satisfied. At the most basic of levels, we as a society provide emergency shelters. These are horrible places to exist, but they do offer a better alternative than the frozen streets, and allow folks to begin getting the help they need. After that, there are various other arrangements depending on where one lives, and what one's needs are. While they do offer a level of housing, shelters are supported living, and not long-term, independent living solutions.

Canada, the taxpayer, cannot afford to pay for housing for everyone forever. As a nation, we need to find a way to create affordable, sustainable, dependable, and independent housing solutions. We will only truly address the homelessness issue if we get people into their own homes and not rely on shelters.

Once someone controls his or her own housing situation, according to Maslow, only then will he or she be able to move to the next level, and then on to self-actualization.

The next level of Maslow's theory is the safety needs and includes things like personal security, financial security, health and well-being. Addressing all these needs obviously requires someone to have stable housing of one's own.

The most affordable type of independent housing is a bachelor suite or a single occupancy unit. I would recommend that any study strongly address the need for more bachelor units in Canada. If we want to have more people living in a place of their own, we have to work at increasing the supply of these more affordable housing options. For those with modest incomes, the climb up from a shelter to a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment is too big. They need something affordable in between. Since 1990, the number of bachelor units has dropped dramatically. There has been a 40% drop in the most affordable type of housing in Canada. I do not understand it.

In my riding of Calgary Confederation there are only 200 bachelor apartments. That represents one-third of 1% of homes in my riding. The average rental rate for a bachelor apartment in Calgary is 20% less than that of a one-bedroom unit. It is about $825 a month compared to $1,025 per month. For some people, $200 is the difference between housing affordability and living in a shelter. For others, it is the difference between having to choose between food and rent.

Another aspect that needs to be addressed is the shocking decrease in overall rental units here in Canada. Since 1990, the total number of rental units has dropped per capita by 15%, which has further driven up rental costs. In many larger communities, rental costs now regularly exceed average mortgage payments.

I will be voting in support of this motion. I will be supporting the need for the government and organizations to address our affordable housing problems in Canada.

I reiterate that I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal government will not support this motion.