Madam Speaker, everyone knows that times are really tough for Canadians. Housing and grocery prices are higher than ever and continue to rise. There is a real need for the government to intervene and adopt public policies to try to create circumstances in which those prices are more affordable for Canadians.
Bill C-56 sets out what the government is proposing to accomplish that. There are some good ideas about the Competition Bureau. However, I would say that more could be done. The bill introduced by the leader of the NDP goes even further with regard to the Competition Bureau. For example, it seeks to impose harsher penalties on companies that fix prices and to make the companies in the industry that are planning a merger responsible for showing that they are not doing something that would be harmful to Canadians. Right now, it is up to the Competition Bureau to prove that a company merger would be harmful to Canadians.
We think that the burden of proof should fall on the companies, that they should have to prove that their activities are in the interest of Canadians. The status quo that we have had for so long has not served Canadians well. There are some good ideas in the bill, but we must do more.
When it comes to housing, we in the NDP think that it is very important to not rely solely on market-based solutions, should we have to use them. If we truly want to resolve the housing crisis that has been growing for decades in Canada—under Liberal and Conservative governments alike—then we need solutions that come from outside the market as well as within the market. We have made several proposals, including an acquisition fund for non-profit organizations to give them the opportunity to buy affordable social housing when the organizations that run them decide to sell them.
All too often, large corporations are the ones buying these buildings. They renovate them, only so they can kick out the existing tenants and take on new ones who can afford to pay higher rents. If we are going to implement market-based solutions, we think it is important that the government adopt policies that will help address the critical shortage of social and affordable housing. We do not see anything like that in Bill C-56. We know that there are opportunities to work with the government and the other parties to ensure that Canada takes a strategic approach that includes non-market solutions, but we are not there yet.
I am really happy today to speak to Bill C-56. I think it is an interesting bill. We know that it is a really hard time for Canadians and that it has been for some time now. The costs of housing and food are higher than they have ever been, and they continue to go up.
There is no doubt in our minds, as New Democrats, that some kind of public policy intervention is required in order to try to get a handle on this situation.
In both cases, we have reached this moment of crisis because, for 30 years now, we have had Liberal and Conservative governments that have largely said to leave all this to the market. The market has not produced solutions around affordability.
It is not that the market does not have a really important role to play in the building of housing, for example, or in the delivery of groceries. However, we know, from what we have seen over the past number of years, and in the case of housing, for decades now, that if we just leave it to the market, then we are going to continue to end up in a worse and worse situation. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of housing needs in Canada that will never be met by the market, because it is not profitable enough for the market to meet them.
That is why we need a strategy that pushes private actors into making available, as part of their holdings, affordable suites. It is why we need governments to take responsibility again, as governments did from the 1940s all the way up to the 1990s, when the federal Liberals of the day cancelled the national housing strategy that was in place.
Unless we get governments back to the table and taking responsibility for the creation of social housing, we are not going to see an adequate resolution to the housing crisis. We are going to see it continue.
I have more to say about that. I will carry on with the housing piece, because I think the evidence has been that we have a pretty unified approach between the Liberals and Conservatives. What we have seen this fall already, and, in fact, if we looked back over the last 30 years, is that it is largely a market-based approach to the housing sector.
That is one of the things that changed significantly in Canada in the 1990s, whereas before, we had governments that said that there is a responsibility and an obligation to be investing in social housing and to be maintaining and expanding social housing stock. Really, in the 90s, a decision was made to say that, actually, we are going to leave housing entirely to the market. This has been consistently followed by every government we have had after Chrétien.
This is not done in the other G7 countries. In fact, of our G7 comparators, Canada has one of the lowest percentages of social housing in its housing stock. Canada has really dropped the ball because of this “market-think” that has dominated both Liberal and Conservative governments.
I rush again to say that it is not that the market does not have a role. It is not that there is not going to be market-based housing. It is that a whole other pillar, which was social housing and affordable housing, evaporated; we are living with the consequences of that now. Affordable housing, in some cases, can be provided through market mechanisms if one has the right rules in place, set by public policy.
The problem with Bill C-56 is that the government has not proposed the next stage for meaningfully building social and affordable units, whether in the bill or alongside it. This means that it is an incomplete strategy.
There is a risk of just adding to the public policy that prefers market solutions and puts money back in the pockets of developers without being upfront with Canadians about what the plan is or presenting a plan for a really aggressive social housing building strategy.
That can be the government building social housing. It can be meaningfully engaging the non-profit and co-operative sectors to build social housing. The real point is that we do not see it here.
There is an affinity with the Conservative leader's presentation of a housing plan last week as well. He also talks about taking the GST off purpose-built rental. He does talk a little bit about some affordability conditions in his bill, but they are not defined. When he talks about how it has to be rented below market, we really need a definition of what he means by that. If one charges just 1% below the market rate, we are not really helping Canadians.
I think it is noteworthy that, when the Conservative leader talks about using federal land in order to build more housing, there is no talk about affordability conditions in that part of his bill. That is actually where developers stand to make the biggest gains and make the most money. Therefore, it is really important to have some kind of affordability or social housing framework in respect of the forfeiture of federal lands for housing.
If those conditions are in place, it can be a very good thing to use federal land to develop for housing, but not in the absence of those criteria. In Ontario, we recently saw a Conservative government that decided to allow for the sale of protected lands in order to build more housing; however, it did not establish good rules about that, and it subsequently had to backtrack completely.
Canadians are watching this file very closely. They are not interested in seeing politicians abuse the housing crisis to make money for their developer friends. This is why the conversation that we have around affordable and social housing conditions here in Parliament as we discuss Bill C-56 is so important.
For instance, I think of the NDP's call for a non-profit acquisition fund to try to stop one of the important contributors to the housing crisis. This is that, where there have been apartment blocks with affordable and social units in them, non-profit housing providers or co-ops that have been running them for decades decide they cannot do it anymore, and they put them up on the market. When and if this happens, we have seen a lot of real estate investment trusts or big corporate landlords swoop in and buy those buildings. They have fast access to capital, and they have a lot of money in reserve that they can use to buy these places. They renovate, ask for exceptional rent increases, kick out all the people who were there before and get new tenants who can pay higher rents.
What that means, and some have calculated this, is that for every unit of social affordable housing we are building in Canada right now, we are losing 15. That is not sustainable. It means we are not on track. That is why it is not enough to just propose new market mechanisms to get developers to build new housing, rental or otherwise.
We really need to have a concerted and strategic effort to make sure that we are building a lot more affordable social units and that we are not losing the ones we already have, particularly in communities where there are experienced and competent non-profit or co-operative agencies to take those places over and continue to offer them as units with either affordable or social housing rents, which are calculated as a percentage of one's income, so those who have a lower income pay a lower rent. That is really important.
I have to add that one of the reasons why there have been so many of those buildings come on the market in the last 10 years or so and why real estate investment trusts and big corporate landlords have been able to scoop up so many existing affordable housing units, is the Harper Conservatives. The federal government, in the heyday of its involvement in housing, used to offer operating grants that would help subsidize the rents for these buildings that were tied to the mortgages. In some cases, the mortgages were 40- or 50-year mortgages, and when they came up for renewal, the federal government had to renew that operating funding.
The Harper government, while the leader of the Conservatives was at the table, made a decision not to renew those operating agreements. That is why so many buildings across Canada ended up for sale. The current operators could not continue to offer what they had been offering before, which was affordable rents, or properly, social housing, because the federal money that made that possible went away as a result of the decisions of the Harper Conservatives.
The Liberals ran in 2015 on renewing those operating agreements, and then they did not. There was some talk about coming up with an alternative arrangement, but the evidence is that it was not successful, so the operating grants were not renewed and there was not really a successful initiative that replaced that money to make sure that those units could continue to be offered on an affordable or social basis. Therefore, in the Harper years, we lost 600,000 units of social housing. The leader of the Conservatives, who gets up and talks a lot about housing, how much housing we have lost and how expensive it has become, sat at the table while his government refused to renew funding agreements that, in some cases, had been in place for 40 or 50 years to make sure those units could continue to be affordable.
Also, we saw big profit-seeking interests come in and buy up those buildings, kick out the tenants, fix them up a bit and then charge exorbitant rents. We cannot allow that to continue, and we really need to see, alongside or in this legislation, depending on the mechanism that parties can come to some agreement about, either conditions on this GST rebate or something like a non-profit acquisition fund.
Certainly, the housing co-investment fund was the only real housing initiative under the new national housing strategy the Liberals announced and have been working on in various ways over the last seven to eight years. Although I think most people feel it has not been very effective, it was what got some social housing built. That fund has been depleted, and we need to see it replenished so the organizations that do have plans in their community on how to provide affordable and social rents, with some help from government funders, can get down to doing that work instead of being held up.
When it comes to grocery prices, we in the NDP do not think the Liberals' approach of calling in CEOs for a meeting and wagging their finger has a likelihood of success. If a wagging of the finger was all that corporate executives needed to lower their prices, goodness knows the Liberals should have done it a long time ago. They should not have waited those 20 months while grocery inflation was outpacing the regular rate of inflation, at a time when grocery store profits were neither standing still nor diminishing. What we saw over that time was that they were making far more money than they did prepandemic.
The Conservatives would have us believe that the carbon tax is the only thing driving up grocery prices, but if that were the case, then their profits would not be growing. If all they were doing was passing on the increased costs that grocery stores have experienced as a result of the carbon tax, their profits would not be growing. However, they are growing, which means those companies are increasing their prices by more than the increase in input costs. Any government or any party that wants to form a government with some sense of seriousness about addressing the challenges that Canadians have been facing at the grocery store has to recognize the role of corporate greed in the equation, or they will be unable to do this.
For a long time, going back to during the pandemic when we saw big grocery retailers and other big box retailers making way more money than they had in the years just prior to the pandemic, the New Democrats have recommended a windfall profit tax along the lines of what governments in some other countries, including some places where they have conservative governments, have done. We think that one of the best ways to ensure that corporate greed is not unduly affecting grocery prices is to have something in place that says to grocery retailers that, if they are price gouging, they are not going to get to keep it. That is the best way to make sure that they are not gouging Canadians at the store. We think that is called for because not only have grocery store profits gone up but also even the margins for groceries have gone up.
We would say to those who say that traditionally the grocery sector is a small-margin industry compared to other industries and that again it is the same thing as we see in housing, where Conservatives and Liberals want to treat housing as if it were any other good. This is where they say, “Oh, do they need a house?” Although I should not say “need” because that does not capture the market approach. It is, “Oh, do they want a house? Do they want a Nintendo game? Do they want a new pair of shoes? Do they want to eat at a fancy restaurant?” All these things are just things that people want, ultimately, from a market point of view.
New Democrats are here to say that, when it comes to food and housing, these are not just commodities like anything else. These are things that people have a right to because they are essential to live a dignified and healthy existence, and we have an obligation as a country to make sure that people are housed and fed at reasonable prices they can afford. More and more, we see those prices getting away on us. This is why, alongside effective market mechanisms, such as taking the GST off purpose-built rentals, if the goal is just to build more rental apartments, we also need mechanisms with non-market solutions to make sure not only that are we getting more units that Canadians will not be able to afford anyway, but also that we are getting more units that those who can afford them can access, while also ensuring that we are building units that those who cannot afford the options on the market are also able to access because everyone should be able to access a home here in Canada.