Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C‑56.
As the member for Shefford, I have had a lot of people talk to me about the issue of social housing and homelessness. The town of Granby has been hit hard by this crisis and, as the critic for seniors, during my tour of the four corners of Quebec, I was also made aware of the housing challenges that seniors face.
We cannot remain indifferent and believe that a wave of a magic wand will fix all this. We have a duty to be conscientious. The issue of housing is constantly in the news right now, so we cannot be against the idea of studying this bill in committee.
In my speech today, I will summarize the bill. I will then talk about the importance of respecting what each level of government can do. Finally, I will present the Bloc Québécois's proposals.
First, let me first remind the House that Bill C-56 essentially contains four measures. The first is a GST rebate for the construction of new rental apartment buildings. As everyone knows, this will not really bring prices down, no matter what the Minister of Finance says. During recent briefings, we asked for the studies on which the Deputy Prime Minister based her claim that prices would go down. No one was able to confirm that assertion. She did not have an answer and wanted to check the information and get back to us later. I think it is unlikely that she will ever get back to us.
Clearly, this does not replace the Marshall plan for low-cost housing that the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, our critic for social programs, is calling for. My colleague was kind enough to accept my invitation to come and speak with the community organizations involved in these issues in my region, in collaboration with the Groupe Actions Solutions Pauvreté and its two subcommittees on social housing and homelessness. Their expertise is so valuable and deserves to be recognized more.
However, to return to the GST rebate on new rental apartment buildings, some developers may be swayed by profit-related concerns to build rental apartment buildings rather than condos, and this could ease the pressures driving the cost of market-based housing higher.
According to the Société d'habitation du Québec, although roughly 40% of Quebec households are renters, only 14% of new construction between now and 2030 is expected to be rental housing. This means that the current shortage will worsen in the years to come. If Bill C‑56 can raise that percentage, at least it will help reduce the shortage.
Part 1 of the bill, which amends the Excise Tax Act, proposes giving builders of rental properties a GST rebate equal to 5% of the selling price. The rebate would apply at the time of sale, or deemed sale if the builder becomes the owner. However, the rebate will only apply where the purchaser has already been fully exempted, such as a government agency or municipality, or partially exempted, such as a non‑profit organization or housing co‑operative. Thus, Bill C‑56 will have no impact on the cost of social or community housing projects. It only covers private housing. Even so, this is the kind of change that will need to be considered in committee and studied.
Another aspect of the bill is that it proposes three amendments to the Competition Act. One proposal is to give the Competition Bureau of Canada real power to conduct an inquiry when it studies a sector. We regularly proposed this type of measure prior to 2011 in bills on gas prices. The proposal makes it harder for companies to merge. We were already asking for this. Another proposal is to broaden the concept of anti-competitive practices. It is worth looking at.
Right now, when a company wants to buy out a competitor, the Competition Act provides that the bureau will allow it only if the company can show that the buyout will lead to gains in efficiency, even if the merger lessens competition. This provision promoting concentration is unique in the industrialized world and is repealed in Bill C‑56.
The Bloc Québécois, including the member for Terrebonne, called for this measure. The Bloc will stick to its way of doing politics: It will be a party that makes suggestions. It will continue to make suggestions throughout this session, while also avoiding spreading disinformation.
For a long time, the Bloc Québécois has been saying that the provinces and municipalities are best placed to know the housing needs in their jurisdictions. The federal government should not interfere. Let us not forget that housing is the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Need I remind our colleagues that sections 92(13) and 92(16) of the Constitution state that property and civil rights and matters of a local nature are provincial legislative jurisdictions? This means the federal government has no standing to interfere.
The numbers speak for themselves. Bill C‑56 is just one drop in an ocean of needs. With the rise in demand, Quebec will need 1.1 million extra housing units within the next six years. Homelessness is rising in every region of Quebec. The homeless population has jumped by 44% over the last five years to reach an estimated 10,000.
The housing shortage and the resulting high cost of available apartments are playing a direct part in this crisis. The Bloc Québécois already has a wide array of suggestions and comments concerning possible solutions to the housing crisis currently raging across Quebec and Canada.
We initially took a favourable view of the Canada-Quebec housing agreement signed in 2020. The agreement is worth $3.7 billion, half of it provided by the federal government. However, we were dismayed that the negotiations leading up to the agreement took three years. Funds intended for Quebec were frozen until the two levels of government could find common ground. The Bloc Québécois is concerned about the federal government's constant need to dictate how Quebec should spend its money.
Once again, Quebec wants its share transferred to it without conditions. Had this been done back in 2017, Quebec could have started building and renovating numerous housing projects, including social housing, three years sooner, which would certainly have alleviated today's rampant housing crisis. Unconditional transfers would significantly streamline funding processes, whereas the various agreements add to the red tape involved—