IN THE HOUSE ~ Speech-Debate ~ Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians

40th Parliament, 3rd Session
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver East has done a phenomenal job of bringing this forward. Hopefully the bill will receive the support of all four corners of the House.

However, I want to get back to the issue around the CCPA report and the modest amount of B.C. social housing that has been constructed more recently. Now of course as the member knows from Vancouver East virtually all of the funding for social housing in British Columbia over the last few years came from the famous NDP budget of 2005 federally where the tax cuts were rolled back and rolled into housing funding that eventually went through to the B.C. Liberal government and created housing units including in my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster.

I want to ask the member for Vancouver East to what extent she thinks the NDP budget of 2005 helped to address at least in a small part, this massive deficit of good quality accessible housing in the country?

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the amendment for the simple reason that Bill C-304 itself is so fundamentally important. The amendment must be treated at committee and then the bill can be brought back and receive a majority of support from members of Parliament.

Why is that important? We are dealing with a fundamental national crisis, as members well know. Tonight, there will be upwards of 150,000 Canadians who will be sleeping in parks, on main streets and in homeless shelters. Up to four million more, as the member for Vancouver East said so eloquently just a few moments ago, are families that are on the margin. These are families that are living from paycheque to paycheque as to whether or not they can actually keep their home. They have to make those tough choices every day between paying the rent and feeding the kids. This is a fundamental reality in Canada today. This is a land of so much wealth and richness, and yet we have millions of families that are on the cusp of becoming homeless and tens of thousands of Canadians who are living in the streets of our cities. This is a national shame.

If this Parliament cannot deal with the crisis that exists in housing in this country, then to say the least, we have to wonder about the priorities of this House. This has to be the number one priority. This is why we are supporting the amendment. This is why, of course, we are supporting the bill brought forward by the member for Vancouver East.

When I was growing up in the 1970s in Burnaby—New Westminster, my English grandmother, who was an orphan and as a teenager travelled halfway across the world to come to Canada because she wanted to start a new life, used to tell me about the Great Depression. She used to say that in this city, in this community, there were dozens of people living on the streets. She used to say, back in the 1970s, how wonderful it was that in Canada no one had to sleep outside anymore.

And yet we know what happened in the 1990s when a former government, a Liberal government, decided to balance the budget. It did so not on the backs of the wealthy, the pampered and the privileged, who had the resources to absorb perhaps a bit of sacrifice for this country, but on the backs of the middle class and on the backs of the poorest of Canadians. That is the fundamental reality that we live with today, that those decisions made in the 1990s have led to this housing crisis, this affordability of housing crisis that exists in our country today.

Families are obliged to pay more than half of their income just to try to keep a roof over their heads, families like those who live in my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, in the area around Richmond Park. When I knock on their door and ask them what their priorities are, they say they wish that they could have affordable housing, that they could feel comfortable that, in a month or two or three, they will still be able to pay the rent with their decreasing income and the struggles they have. Whether people are laid off because of disability or whether they have lost their jobs, they are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. They are all frightened about what tomorrow may bring, that they may be sleeping in the parks and on main streets like so many other Canadians.

When we go to the east coast, to areas like Tracadie-Sheila in northern New Brunswick, we see families that are struggling to try to keep a roof over their heads. I am pleased to see that among the many endorsers of this bill we have the mayor and the municipal council of Tracadie-Sheila. When we go to the far north to Pond Inlet, as I did two years ago, we see a one-bedroom home inhabited by 15 or 20 members of a family, in the sub-zero temperatures and the darkness, because there is not adequate housing available.

Anyone who is out travelling the length and breadth of this country must be aware of the severity of the crisis and the impact it has on ordinary Canadian families and ordinary Canadians' lives. It is very difficult for people to concentrate on schooling or improving themselves or retraining when they are just struggling to keep a dry roof over their heads.

Those who have fallen out of that, who have fallen into the streets, who have to live in the homeless shelters, who have to live through that daily struggle just to get enough food together, they will not be able to think about retraining or their contribution to this country. They are just trying to survive. That is the fundamental reality that exists today for tens of thousands of Canadians, and there are millions of Canadian families who are just on the edge.

Today we have the member for Vancouver East bringing forward a housing plan that actually starts to address that issue, a very important first step that forces the federal government to sit down with stakeholders and community groups and move forward and put back into place what we never should have lost in the first place: the right to housing that should exist in this country.

The bill has been endorsed by a wide spectrum of society. It has been endorsed by the medical profession: the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association; by the labour movement; by the business associations as well: the Burnaby Board of Trade and the Victoria Chamber of Commerce; by cities across the length and breadth of this country; by churches and faith groups; by the labour movement; by women's groups; by aboriginal organizations.

I have not seen, in the six and a half years I have been in the House, a more complete list of endorsers who are all saying with one voice to every single one of us, all 308 members of Parliament, that we must adopt the bill. They are doing that because they are aware of the depth of the crisis, of the national shame that is homelessness in Canada today. In a rich and wealthy land, so many have to go without that fundamental right to housing.

I heard earlier a member of the Conservative Party saying that this will cost Canadians to have housing. What an absurd concept, particularly from a government that has been so wasteful with the public purse, building prisons for unreported crime, building fake lakes for 72-hour meetings, putting in tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts to banks so they can take their money down to the Bahamas or Panama, and perhaps most egregiously now with the fighter jet contract that has doubled in price, not taking a look at that, not trying to even go to any sort of tendering process. Billions and billions and billions of dollars are wasted, yet the government, or at least that Conservative member who stood up, is somehow resenting the fact that to put a national program back into place may cost some money.

The reality is that, for each and every homeless Canadian, the costs to our economy and the costs to those communities are enormous. The report that was cited earlier said it totals $55,000 in emergency medical costs and social costs to keep somebody on the street. It is absurd that Canadian taxpayers have to pay to make sure we do not have a national housing program.

The Conservatives might say they have established this gated community principle of building prisons. The average cost of keeping prisoners in prison is about $200,000 a year. To say that those are more important expenditures than making sure all Canadians have access to housing, all Canadians have a roof over their heads, all Canadians can then turn their tasks to contributing to this country, to help build this country, to help contribute to their community is absurd. To say that somehow it is more important to keep people on the street at $55,000 annually than to build housing units that cost a fraction of that amount is an absurdity that I think most Canadians can see through in a moment.

The truth is that we have the resources. The truth is that what we need is a commitment. The member for Vancouver East has brought forward a bill that finally deals with our national shame after 20 years. She brings it forward with the support of the business community, of the aboriginal community, of labour activists, of people across the length and breadth of Canada. All those organizations, the dozens of them that have endorsed this bill, are crying out with one voice tonight, and they are crying out to implore parliamentarians to vote yes on the bill, to vote yes on Bill C-304 and to start the process of ending homelessness in this land.

We can do this in the next few days. I implore all members of Parliament to hear these voices and vote yes on the bill.

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I just wanted to know what time warp the member was in, speaking about the oil sands and free trade. This is about housing.