Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party, I lend our support to the creation of this new department. As has been said already in the introductory comments, this is a reconstitution of a department that existed before.
I want to speak very directly to one component of this department and underline why I want to give particular emphasis to its saliency, and that is to say that it will narrow the focus and make someone quite accountable for housing.
Today is National Housing Day and I want to say something about that in the context of this new ministerial responsibility we will get for housing. I want to do it particularly by focusing on the situation in housing in the nation's capital.
I had occasion not long ago to go to the capitals of many Scandinavian countries, to Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. I did not do a systematic tour, but I can say that I did not see the signs of homelessness on the downtown streets of those cities that I do on the streets five minutes away from the House of Commons.
One of the reasons for that is that all of those countries, like the majority of industrial countries, have a national housing program. We are the only one in the G-7 without continuing, coherent, stable funding allocated for affordable housing and that is a national disgrace.
This began in 1993 when Brian Mulroney abolished the federal housing program. The error was compounded and worsened when the province of Ontario elected a neo-Conservative government in Mr. Harris who immediately scrapped provincial programs that disastrously affected Ottawa, the nation's capital.
It should not surprise us that in the 1990s in the nation's capital, and I am not only talking about my riding but I am talking about the whole city, we actually had a decline of some 4,000 rental units in the city precisely at the time when the population was mushrooming. This was an inevitable consequence of two governments, one at the federal level and one at the provincial level, abandoning their responsibility for housing.
I want to say to my federal Liberal colleagues that it was a Liberal government in 1976 when I was here that took on the obligations of an international treaty, the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which has within it the obligation of the federal government to move to ensure that as a matter of right, not option, Canadians are entitled to housing. We have had that obligation since 1976 but it certainly has not been lived up to.
Finally, three years ago, eight years after the Liberals were elected in 1993, a new housing program was brought in with $25,000 per unit put on the table, but for that to go out into the community the provinces had to match the funding. Only three provinces took it up. Needless to say, the Conservative government in Ontario did not. Therefore not a single new housing unit in the affordable category has been built in the nation's capital since that period.
I want to say what is needed and what this new department with the new minister responsible ought to be doing. Here in the nation's capital 13,000 households, most of them with children, are waiting for social housing. The waiting period is six to eight years.
On a typical night here in the nation's capital 1,000 people go to bed in a homeless shelter. There are 250,000 Canadians nationally who are homeless. This, I repeat, for a rich industrial democracy is a national disgrace.
What do we say should be put in its place? The government actually boasts about having $61 billion in surpluses and that it has run surpluses for seven years in a row. We actually have a Minister of Finance who boasts that we have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7. Is that not incredible? We have 250,000 homeless families, over a million poor kids and 1,000 homeless people who sleep in shelters here in the nation's capital every night and the Minister of Finance has $61 billion in surpluses but has not spent a bloody cent on the housing that we desperately need in the country and in the nation's capital.
I hope the new minister recognizes that our international obligation in housing is a social right, which should lead to other initiatives. For example, we need a 10 year housing program that would include the building of 20,000 new, affordable units, particularly in the co-op and non-profit sector so low income Canadians could then have access to housing.
We should have lots of renewal of existing housing stock that is in virtual slum conditions. Those houses should be rebuilt and re-established. We could have a program for some 100,000 units there.
As a result of the low income position of many Canadians, we should provide rent supplements for all Canadians. My own party has calculated that there are at least 40,000 low income tenants.
I want to comment about my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois. As a Canadian I understand nationalist sentiment very well. I understand that nationalist sentiment and social democratic philosophy can go hand in hand. Although I respect the arguments put forward by my colleague across the way, it deeply disturbs me, as a social democrat, to note that whenever there is a conflict between a nationalist impulse and a social democratic obligation for everyone from coast to coast, it is always, for the Bloc Québécois, the nationalist impulse that wins out. I appeal to those members to once in a while say that surely our social democracy from time to time should transcend old constitutional restrictions that were first put in place on this continent in the 19th century.
There are Quebeckers and Canadians in the other provinces who are poor. They all have to work together from time to time to benefit everyone.
We have money. We have an accumulated surplus of $61 billion. This has gone on for seven years. We have another surplus now. We now have an obligation to get on with the job of creating affordable housing units that thousands of Canadians, many of them here in the national capital, badly need.