Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to wish the member for Durham and his wife, Rebecca, a quick recovery from COVID-19.
I would also like to wish Mr. Blanchet and his family a speedy recovery.
I want to make a couple of points about the throne speech. The Liberal government's throne speech repeated false, previously debunked claims that its programs have helped one million people to be housed. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing) is on record in the Toronto Star stating, “I mean, obviously we've double counted to rhetorical advantage”. This is irresponsible and the worst possible way to start a conversation addressing housing in Canada.
Second, the newly announced and light-on-detail rapid housing initiative throws $1 billion taxpayer dollars at a band-aid solution to provide 3,000 units between now and March. That breaks down to $333,000 per unit. With an already poor track record of getting infrastructure money out the door, how will this program be different? What will the quality of these units be?
Third, on the first-time homebuyers plan, the Liberals' only solution to address affordable home ownership is to take a share of a Canadian's mortgage. As a Conservative, I fundamentally disagree with this co-ownership model. The government should incentivize the use of RRSPs and other methods to help Canadians leverage their own funds to purchase a home, such as perhaps an increased basic personal tax exemption for young people seeking to enter the market.
Many communities across Canada are also part of the missing middle. They do not qualify for rural funding streams or urban focused initiatives and have once again been overlooked. Like many regions in Canada, my riding of Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon and the District of Mission fall into this category. My office is adjacent to Haven in the Hollow, a temporary shelter that serves a permanent clientele base suffering from severe addiction and mental health issues.
The Liberal government announced a plan to reduce chronic homelessness by 50% in 2017, which they have since doubled down on in promising a complete elimination, but there has been no actual progress. The Haven is expanding because Mission's homeless population has doubled, compounded largely by the ongoing fentanyl crisis facing British Columbia. While the expansion of Haven in the Hollow is necessary, the increased homeless population is challenging for the neighbouring small businesses that are attempting to get back on their feet and move on past COVID-19. In British Columbia, we have had four times the number of deaths from fentanyl overdoses than from COVID-19.
How does this all relate back to housing, and what can and should the federal government be doing about it? As a British Columbian and as a Canadian I believe in our duty to care for our vulnerable citizens. It is a duty that governments of all stripes have missed the mark on. However, simply caring for and addressing the symptoms of homelessness is unsustainable. Real action must be taken to address the underlying causes.
For instance, we know that money laundering from the illegal drug trade has artificially inflated housing costs. The primary method criminals use is even named “the Vancouver model”, for goodness' sake. Young people across British Columbia, even those making a good living with six figure salaries, can no longer afford homes in the communities they were raised in. They have lost hope of reaching home ownership. COVID-19 has only compounded these difficulties. Jobs have been lost. Hours have been cut, and parents have been forced to make impossible health decisions.
Our homes have always been much more than just a place to relax and COVID-19 has increased the multipurpose use of these spaces. Our homes are now places where we work, study, teach our children and try to manage our busy lives.
When our living spaces do not lend themselves to these activities, we despair and feel trapped.
As the government in waiting, the Conservatives will give priority to home ownership and ensure that Canadians have more choice and can hope to achieve their goals.
Why has the Liberal government not put in place the legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures necessary to stop the money laundering through the real estate market that Vancouver has become famous for? Canadians deserve to be on a level playing field, not competing for housing with the global elite who are looking to park their millions and use our tax advantage in a safe country. While I admit trying to solve the money laundering issue will not stop all of our housing challenges, it is an important start for many British Columbians who have lost hope.
In January 2019, the Canadian Revenue Agency provided an all-party briefing where it acknowledged that, while their risk-based auditing methods had been augmented, little had changed on the front end to prevent money laundering and tax avoidance, save for the requirement to sign an attestation declaring one's primary residence and citizenship. Criminals do not follow the law, and the CRA must revise its approach to relying on the honour system. As parliamentarians, we have the responsibility to ensure government policies and programs work for our primary clients, the taxpayers and citizens of Canada.
The federal government must reexamine its role, particularly with regard to shared jurisdictions, such as housing.
There needs to be a shift as well from an Ottawa-knows-best approach to a service delivery model. I have a real-world example.
Last week I spoke to the chair of the Mission Sustainable Housing Committee about the Liberals' recently touted $300 million housing supply challenge, which is incidently not yet open. She does not want another application process to maybe receive some funding to further study housing gaps; she needs money now to build housing for our community, actual brick and mortar housing. The committee knows what its needs are. The province has already partnered with municipalities like Mission to complete this work because this is provincial jurisdiction.
Most small towns and indigenous governments simply do not have the administrative resources necessary to apply and have a chance to get federal support. They are already stretched to the limit. The federal government is taking a condescending approach when it should be communicating proactively with small towns and helping them to meet their needs.
I have spoken to so many mayors who have never seen a dime of federal money for housing. If the federal government cannot do it, then it should simply get out of the way and provide funding to the provinces and territories already doing this work, and without attaching all of the strings.
As a case in point, an assisted living provider in my riding shared how they received support from B.C. Housing and was encouraged to apply to CMHC as well. When they did, the approved B.C. Housing project was rejected by CMHC because the criteria were different. Why are we not streamlining our approaches between two levels of government on such a fundamental issue?
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that different levels of government, as well as members of different political parties, are able to work together for the betterment of Canadians. Admittedly, there is no simple solution to all of Canada's housing challenges, which COVID-19 has impacted and even exasperated. Let us collaborate. Let us address the systemic challenges to housing faced in Canada. Let us empower Canadians to improve their personal circumstances.
The Liberals said nothing to address the imminent financial challenges faced by those who have deferred their mortgages during COVID-19. I encourage the government to develop a plan as soon as possible to address this very real problem, which is top of mind for so many.
Second, the Liberals should also address the shortage of affordable rental housing in Canada to encourage job growth while increasing rental stock, as part of an economic recovery plan. I have heard from many in the business and development communities that government needs to incentivize purpose-built rentals. Why not consider eliminating GST on purpose-built rentals? Why not augment the existing CMHC financing programs, which seem to work pretty well?
Third, the Liberals could actually deliver the previously promised home energy retrofit program, a proven method of spurring economic growth and job creation in Canada.
In conclusion, my objective is to make sure the government is working for the people. Our systems are anachronistic and out of date, and Canadians deserve better services from us and our public service. While I await details on the throne speech and its commitments to improve outdated IT systems, I hope that a new approach to services embedded within these upgrades is both flexible and reflects the challenges people face in all regions of Canada.
Finally, I would like to recognize my colleague from Vancouver East for her important work. B.C. has been shortchanged by the federal government. From 2018 until February 2020, as it was reported, only 0.5% of $1.46 billion was allocated through the national housing co-investment fund, a fund that accounts for one-third of the entirety of the national housing strategy. Only two projects, provincially, were approved, and only 23 across Canada.
The B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association said that the program is “arduous and painstakingly slow” and takes “an inordinate amount of time”. The B.C. government called the process “frustrating”. On an application, there is over 200 questions, and it can take over a year to even hear back.
We have to do better for our municipalities. We need to do better for Canadians.