Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by expressing my thanks, first and foremost, to my wife and my partner, Nicole. This was her first campaign as the spouse of a parliamentarian. Many may not know, but I was married in the middle of the last term. She had nothing but joy to express for the fun of canvassing and meeting people, listening to their needs and also watching us talk about how to build strong communities, cities and a better Canada. The election was made that much more enjoyable having a partner like her along to provide that support. To see an election through new eyes is always a real pleasure for any politician who has been through countless elections.
I also want to thank the residents, voters and the folks who make up Spadina—Fort York, which is a riding that dances along the waterfront in the inner harbour of Lake Ontario in Toronto. It is one of the most diverse ridings, as many in Toronto are. It also has pockets of extreme creativity and vibrancy with respect to its economic clout. However, it also has pockets of some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. That combination of affluence and poverty cheek by jowl creates good, strong social networks of mutual support between the two. It also explains the challenges we have as a city, as a country, to ensure that we build an economy where prosperity is shared more generously, fairly and productively. I certainly heard from my residents that this was one of the mandates they sent me back to Ottawa to advocate on their behalf.
Of course, climate change was another issue, being a waterfront community. With the flooding we experienced last spring, 600 residents on Toronto islands were at risk of losing their homes. We lost extraordinary and very delicate ecological infrastructure. We have to turn our eyes to ensure that climate change is not only fought with good, strong policies that limit greenhouse gas emissions, but also to protect those communities that are in harms way right now as water levels change and become more chaotic. We also need to ensure the natural habitat is restored.
Those are the priorities that residents sent me back here to talk about, among others. Therefore, I look to the throne speech as a way of starting to fulfill those responsibilities and assuring the residents who sent me here, and my colleagues who I will be sharing time with in the House, that my focus on those issues will be unrelenting.
One of the things I commented on earlier during members' statements was the issue of housing and homelessness across the country. It is why I left city council and ran federally back in 2014. It is why I am so proud to be reappointed as the parliamentary secretary, with a specific focus and responsibility for housing. As I have often said, and members who were here before may recall, while housing is often defined as the crisis that needs to be solved, to me housing remains the best tool we have to address the issues raised by members from all parties, as they have explained the mandates they have received from their residents.
When it comes to things like unemployment in places like Alberta, when we build social housing, we create jobs. We know that the construction trades are a large part of the downturn in the energy economy, with the lack of work for highly-skilled labour in that province. Building a gas plant requires many of the same skill sets as building a house. We can start to solve some of the poverty issues in Alberta by putting to work the unemployed construction workers who had been working on oil projects. As we wait for world oil prices to return, as we wait for new markets to be established and as we wait for the investments we have made to strengthen the oil and gas sector, one of the things we can do in the interim is build the infrastructure that people on the lower end of the economic scale so desperately need.
It is why I was so disheartened to see the Alberta government cut funding for homelessness and front line services in Calgary and Edmonton. It is why I have been talking so closely with the mayors in those cities to ensure our housing programs reach the provinces. Even if a provincial government is walking away from those programs, it is good to know the national program will be there to provide assistance and, hopefully, good, strong jobs, as well as the social support that housing provides.
Therefore, housing is an economic tool, an economic driver and is a critically important part of what the mandate talked about. It is a critically important part of what the national housing strategy hopes to achieve. However, when it is seen as economic development and not just a social service, it seems much more dynamic than I think some members give credit for. I hope members opposite can support a stronger, growing and more vibrant housing policy. I know our government is committed to doing that. Also, reference to that in the throne speech is perhaps more appropriately identified as housing as a tool to get toward reconciliation.
When I did work on the homelessness file in the previous Parliament, an indigenous housing provider from Regina, Saskatchewan, said that we cannot have reconciliation without housing policy, cannot have reconciliation without a place to to call home.
In many indigenous nations across the country, the notion of having a home is not the issue; it is shelter that is the challenge. They are home when they are on their ground, when they are on their territory, and when we can provide a house with the territory, we have achieved full reconciliation, because both the land and the shelter and the capacity to provide housing have been returned to programs that are self-directed, self-managed and self-realized by indigenous communities.
I took those words to heart, and I have been a strong advocate for indigenous housing providers and have worked very closely with them right across the country from coast to coast to coast, particularly in the Northwest Territories. I am thrilled to see the mandate letters that were produced today and the reference in the Speech from the Throne to the need for an urban indigenous housing program in this country that is designed, delivered, managed and run by indigenous housing providers right across the country. That is in addition to the commitments we have made through the indigenous infrastructure programs to make sure that the three programs for housing through the NIOs, the ITK and the Métis foundation continue to grow to provide a place to call home that is safe, secure and affordable. These programs are also addressing some of the challenges about murdered and missing indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people, as well as providing economic liberation and dealing with some of the poverty that colonialism imposed upon indigenous people across the country for far too long.
Housing becomes one of the strong tools we can use as the federal government to realize our commitment and our promise to fully realize the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the key recommendations inside the missing and murdered and missing indigenous women and girls and two-spirited report. We can use housing as a tool to solve those problems.
The other thing we can use housing to do is address climate change. Studies have identified that urban centres are the greatest source of our greenhouse gas emissions, providing 62% or 69%, depending on the studies one looks at, and it is largely from built form. That means our houses need to be more energy-efficient. When we create more energy-efficient housing, not only do we create more affordable housing, but we create housing that actually contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gases and makes the planet safer for all of us to live in.
Again, housing creates economic capacity and creates jobs, but shelter also provides social stability, and it provides environmental payoffs if we do it correctly. We had a very strong commitment in our campaign, and the throne speech as well refers to environmental policies and to providing Canadians with interest-free loans to retrofit their homes so they can make their contribution to climate change real and also do it affordably. They can actually save money by making a contribution to help us fight climate change. It is a win-win-win proposition, and it is one that I look forward to realizing in this Parliament. I look forward to members on the benches opposite who have similar programs making their contributions to make this program as strong as possible.
We have heard about pharmacare. We have heard that Canadians need access to health care on a universal and more national basis. We know that we have to work with provinces and territories, indigenous governments and municipalities to get pharmacare right, to make sure it dovetails with existing programs and that it grows and extends to different medical devices. Those issues are also critically important, but every single study on the issue of health care tells us that housing is a key determinant to better health care outcomes.
In fact, a very interesting study that was done by an AIDS foundation in the United States showed that viral suppression is only possible if housing is included with the drug program. In other words, drugs alone will not create the health we seek for our neighbours and fellow Canadians. We need places to treat people. We need stable places for many of the drug programs to work effectively, including pharmaceuticals, and Housing is a critical part of that as well.
Our commitment to increasing funding for mental health services and addiction services will not be effective and will not achieve positive results in people's lives if supportive housing is not built to create places to treat and care for people and allow them to thrive, heal and move forward. Those investments that are often talked about as health care investments will be realized through supportive housing investments. When we can get that piece of the health care budget right and use it in concert with our housing policies, we will also see much stronger, aggressive and more successful campaigns to end homelessness in this country.
Again, housing is not the crisis: Housing is the solution to so many of the problems that we face.
One issue that will also be seen as part of the program to solve a challenge that is beyond heartbreaking in our communities is the issue of gun violence.
Gun violence is an issue in my community, the communities that I represent and the neighbourhoods my family walks through on the way to school and the way home from work. I have been to more funerals for children in my riding than for family members in my lifetime. Stop and think about that. I have stood with more families in extreme trauma, as they buried young people in my riding, than I have with members of my own family. That is an unacceptable situation in this country.
There are all sorts of reasons why a long gun is an important tool, and why hunting and the protection of families in rural parts of the country are important. In urban centres, the more bullets that fly, the more people that die. We have to find a way to curtail that.
Of course it requires strong border controls, investments in security at the borders and breaking down the way guns are smuggled into this country by both legal and illegal gun owners. We have to make sure that we step up criminal charges against dangerous people who have reached for a gun too often and let them go off in our cities, and we have to make sure that they do not do harm to more people in our communities. We need to get handguns off the streets in urban centres. It is just fundamental to the health and welfare of our communities.
It is not just the atrocious number of people who are shot or killed. The families that live in neighbourhoods where gun play is all too prevalent live in an intense and sustained circumstance, an environment of stress and disorder. For young children who have to sleep at night in the basement of their housing units because the ground floor is not seen to be safe, or for families that have guns going off, making kids who are five or six years old jump, leads to all sorts of other challenges in our communities. It becomes a mental health issue, quite frankly. It is a form of PTSD for so many young people, particularly racialized youth in our cities. That has to stop.
Families that have buried their children, that have had to stay by their bedside in emergency wards at hospitals, that have scared kids day in and day out, have asked us to act on gun control. They have asked us to deal with handguns. We have to do it because they have lost confidence in the government to listen. They have lost confidence in society to listen. They have lost confidence in Canada to listen to the trauma they are being asked to endure.
They have asked us to act on this, even though they know it is only one part of the solution. They need to see that communities around this country support them as they seek to build healthy and wonderful children, and they cannot do it fearing guns in our cities. That is why it is so critically important to act on this.
Examining what causes a young person to reach for a gun as a solution also needs to be part of the program if we are going to eliminate this behaviour. We cannot police homicides out of existence. Passing laws has never worked. We have had homicides since time immemorial, long before laws existed, and no country on this planet has eliminated death by handgun simply by outlawing it. Laws are not a deterrent. If people are so scared or so intent on exercising power with a gun, it does not matter how many laws we have. The problem is that the person has already reached for a gun.
We have to get to where young people are making better choices and have the opportunity to make better choices. Again, this is where housing comes into play. When young people are housed properly, cared for properly, nurtured properly, when they are invested in and when they are seen as true citizens worthy of our care and our compassion, our investments and our support, they make better choices.
In every community where better choices are put in front of young people who are at risk, young people will make those better choices. It is a rational, humane thing to do. When those choices are not there for young people, unfortunately far too many of them reach for a gun, whether it is smuggled across the border, stolen from a home down the road, broken out of a gun shop, stolen from a range or simply rented from a legal gun owner.
A person in my riding had 11 legal guns. That individual never did anything with them except rent them out to hoodlums. Two people died as a result of that. When the police went to get the 11 legal guns, they could not find them. He was a legal gun owner until he was not. The reality of this is that he was renting the guns out to pay to go through university. It is a true story, and it killed two people.
That person was smart enough to make better choices, but he did not have those choices in front of him and as a result, made the mistakes that cost people their lives. It also meant that there were 11 handguns floating around the neighbourhood for years and everybody knew, but nobody said anything because they were afraid.
We have to change the social circumstances and constructs in order to make these outcomes stronger. One of the best ways to do that is to make housing more affordable and support families in terms of good, strong social infrastructure, good programs that support their educational opportunities. We need to make sure that the programs that provide jobs start to hire people in communities where high unemployment rates have been tolerated, despite some of the success we have had over the last two to four years.
Again, housing becomes part of the solution to gun violence. If those on the other side are really serious about making sure that the rules and regulations do not hurt law-abiding owners who need to hunt for food, protect their farms, or what have you, then they will stand up and support our government's initiatives to put into play those social investments in our cities and those investments in housing, to make sure educational opportunities are sustained and to make sure that we give young people the tools they need to survive; not guns but education, jobs, hopes and opportunities.
The final issue is culture and heritage and the need for strong investments in the arts and digital media sectors. One of the fastest growing parts of my riding is the digital media sector. In fact, it has outpaced, in terms of job growth, Silicon Valley for the last two years. One of the reasons it has done that is because our immigration policies get people with talent into our country quickly, who cannot get into the United States. Tech firms from the United States are moving to Toronto so they can get access to the global pool of talent. More importantly, they are understanding that Canada's pool of talent is extraordinarily high, rich and diverse. When those tech firms come to Toronto, they realize that what they were looking for was in Toronto all along.
Supporting open policies around immigration, progressive policies driven by economic need, and also making sure that we are good, strong humanitarians on the global stage has created the context for a good, strong economy in our communities. We need to make sure that we keep those doors open, so that we keep people coming to this country with talents and contributions that they want to make. We also have to make sure that new arrivals are allowed to make those contributions.
One of the worrying statistics in Toronto is that immigrants and refugees are doing less well after five years in Canada now than they have at any other time in the country's history. What are the supports that are missing, which are preventing that successful integration?
Once again, it is housing. When housing costs are so high that they cannot afford the courses to requalify their credentials, when housing costs are so high or the houses are so far away from jobs that transportation costs become a barrier to participation in the workforce, when housing costs are so high that people spend all their time looking for affordable places to rent instead of better jobs, they fall further and further behind. Their health and mental health start to suffer and their capacity to make the contributions they are ready to make to this country is hurt.
Making sure that we pay attention to those issues is one of the ways we can support the arts and culture sector, which, as I said, is the fourth-largest employer in Toronto and the largest employer in my riding. Moving our funding and support to the cultural sector is one way to develop the economy in our country. Artists need places to create and quite often an artist will live, work and produce in the same space. We need to make sure our housing programs support that and the arts industries that gather around that.
I will conclude by re-emphasizing the point I want to make most clearly about the throne speech and the mandate letters supported today. We will not succeed as a country without an urban indigenous housing strategy. We will not reconcile the past without a strong urban indigenous housing strategy. That strategy must be indigenous led, designed and delivered. Our government, this Parliament, our country has to find ways to support that to get it off the ground and into a position where it is self-driving, self-determining and self-realizing. I give my absolute commitment to residents, to colleagues in the House on this side and to Parliament that I will not rest until that policy is put in place.
The throne speech has set the stage for that; the mandate letters have given us the authority to get it done. What we need now is Parliament to stand together and realize this, so that we have four forms of housing for indigenous communities, with the NIOs, and with the indigenous urban housing piece finally and totally delivered during this Parliament. If we do that, we will not be talking about how much we cut homelessness; we will be celebrating how we have ended homelessness. That end to homelessness is within reach if we focus on it. The reason to do it is for all of the reasons I have listed, but the way to do it is to start by solving the indigenous urban housing crisis we have in this country and addressing that issue with our partners from those communities, leading us to a solutions-based mandate in this Parliament.
That is why I am going to be supporting the throne speech, it is why I am proud to be the parliamentary secretary in charge of housing and it is why I am absolutely thrilled to get to work in this Parliament.