Alistair's speech on Housing as a Human Right

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

As always, it is a great honour to stand in this House on behalf of the wonderful people of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and talk about an issue that is very near and dear to my heart, but that is also consistently one of the top issues that is raised by people where I live.

I got into politics because of the work I used to do as a former caseworker for former member of Parliament Jean Crowder. I worked in her office for seven years and really got to see how the policies and legislation that were enacted in this place affected the people on the ground. There were far too many occasions when I was sitting across the table with tearful constituents who were at the end of their rope because they were having to make a decision about whether they could pay the rent or put good quality food on the table. In a country as wealthy as ours, that is a shameful thing that it is still going on today. These are problems I was dealing with in the last decade. They are still going on and it is 2018.

We have this motion today because we have this sense of urgency. This was an urgent issue 10 years ago and it was an urgent issue in 2015 when the Liberals won the election. However, there has been a delay, and we have not seen the action live up to that urgency. As members of Parliament, we all have those stories. We all have to sit in our constituency offices and try to explain why we are not doing enough to meet it. Therefore, let us look at the motion before us, because it has two very important constituent parts.

One part is going to call upon the House to recognize the right to housing as a human right. Right away I want to acknowledge the hard work of my friend and colleague the member for North Island—Powell River and her attempt earlier in this Parliament to put that into law through Bill C-325, which was unfortunately voted down by the Liberals. That bill would have basically enshrined the right to housing in the Canadian Bill of Rights. I know the Liberals at the time criticized it. They said that using a legal avenue, a rights-based approach, would not be effective. I think members were saying that we need to have a plan. The point they were missing is that when people have a legal avenue, that is how they hold their government to account. When they have a legal avenue they can go to the courts, they can make sure that not only the legislature but the executive branch is actually living up to that legal obligation. I know it is not the only answer. However, it certainly is a very important constituent part of the issue that we are trying to deal with today.

The second part, which is probably the critical part of the motion, is that we want the current government to bring its funding commitment forward and spend it before the 2019 election.

The Liberals are absolute masters of the long promise. They will announce something that is usually made up of previously announced funding, it is grossly inflated to include both territorial and provincial funding announcements, and when we look at the fine print we see that it is spread out over a whole bunch of years and the funding is not going to come into effect in a big way until after the next election. Yes, the national housing strategy was rolled out with great fanfare. However, when we look at the budgetary numbers, it is all back-ended to fiscal year 2019-20 and beyond, so we have to wait until the next Parliament. Although there is federal money being spent now, it is nowhere near enough to acknowledge the crisis that exists on the ground. Therefore, what we are calling on the government to do is to move the spending up, treat this like the crisis it is and get those units built.

I want to talk about some of the amazing local initiatives that are going on. In the absence of this critically needed federal funding or the fact we have to wait for it, I look at associations like the M’akola Housing Society and the Cowichan Housing Association, that are really trying to lead with local efforts to get the ball rolling. In fact, where I live in the Cowichan region, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, we are going into municipal elections this fall and we will have an important referendum question on whether we are going to allocate some funding to the Cowichan Housing Association so that it can start taking firm action.

I am really heartened by the incredible work being done by constituents in my riding. They have seized the issue. They have done homeless counts. There is also that part of the housing crisis that is frequently not talked about which is housing insecurity, people who are one paycheque away from being evicted, have threats from their landlords or are couch surfing. It is a big issue.

I do not want to prejudge what the referendum question is going to be, but I hope that the voters in Cowichan Valley look at this question, treat it with the seriousness that it deserves and try to recognize the local efforts being made on this issue.

The Liberals in questions and comments are going to come up with all kinds of facts and figures and say they really are doing something, but the really bad thing is that the government is prepared to spend $4.5 billion of taxpayers' money on an old pipeline to deliver diluted bitumen to our coast, something that flies in the face of our climate change commitment. Furthermore, the Liberals want to expand the export of diluted bitumen. It just makes an absolute mockery of our climate change commitments.

The Liberals can find that kind of money pretty quickly and easily, but I am left trying to explain to my six-year-old kids, whose future we are trying to work on in this place, what the current government is doing and try to put that in the context of the housing crisis we are having.

It is always very helpful in this place when we are talking about particular issues to bring in personal stories because that is ultimately why we are here. I want to talk about a couple of constituents who wrote to me and gave me permission to use their names and talk about some of the things they are going through.

I would like to talk about Wilfred Stevens. He is a single father who can barely make ends meet because he is trying to prove that he is the primary caregiver to his children. He has been struggling to get the child tax benefit and all of this financial difficulty is not allowing him to have that kind of security in making his rental payments.

There is a woman named June Thomas in my riding who has been waiting for quite a long time to get her GIS application processed. She is currently couch surfing, at her age, in different family members' homes to try and make ends meet. It is absolutely unacceptable that our seniors, the people who in previous generations and previous decades built this country to what it is today, are still having to live in such abject poverty and trying to find a place to live, one of the most basic human needs.

Peter Emeny-Smith is having problems with the CRA and so on. These are all issues that relate to people's ability to find housing and when they do not have that kind of security it affects their entire life, their outlook on life, the way they are able to function in society, their ability to hold down a job. That kind of stress wears people down and it can lead to further costs down the road in their mental health and their physical health, so there are real tangible economic costs to not solving the housing crisis. Maybe my Conservative friends will argue that it is too costly a venture. I would argue that it is too costly not to do things.

Given that my time is running out, I will end by saying that I recognize how critical this issue is. I am going to be hosting two town halls on housing during the October constituency week to try to juxtapose what the traditional federal role used to be in housing with what it is now, and what more we could be doing from the senior level of government.

I hope all hon. members will look at the spirit and intent behind this motion, recognize its urgency and support us in addressing this very critical issue.

Adam Vaughan (Spadina—Fort York)

Madam Speaker, the member opposite's commitment and comprehension of the seriousness of the issue, the value of investing in housing and the transformational impact on people's lives is exactly why we have invested in the national housing strategy.

I would like to follow up on the two cases he referenced, because those are also within the ministry in which I work and would be more than happy to help those individuals obtain the benefits they are entitled to.

In terms of what he can say to a six-year-old, in our first two years in office, we spent three times more on housing than we spent on the acquisition of the Trans Mountain pipeline. In fact, there is close to $12.6 billion in new spending. That is not part of the $40 billion for the national housing strategy, but that is the down payment we made to get into the national housing strategy. I would also like to say that over the next 10 years, we will be spending close to 10 times more than we spent on TMX. The member can rest assured that our investment in housing is by magnitudes of tens of billions of dollars more, much more than anything we have spent on that one particular project.

My question for the member opposite is this. In the Nanaimo area, the following projects have been invested in, built and created in the last two years. There is one at 312 Hirst Avenue, another one at 940 Hectate Street, another at the non-profit on-reserve site of the Tseshaht First Nation, one at the North Cowichan first nation with the Penelakut tribe, one in Tofino, an additional investment in the reserve at Tseshaht. It goes on. There is another one at Malahat, an additional investment of $960,000 at Oyster Bay, an additional investment in Nanaimo—Alberni at Marktosis. There is about $18 million in investment into the area that he represents. Which one of those projects is his favourite and how does he explain the joy of seeing it to his children?

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Madam Speaker, I think I need to provide my friend and colleague with a map of Vancouver Island showing the electoral areas, because then he would realize that Nanaimo is, in fact, not in my riding. That is a bit of an oops.

I love the Library of Parliament because when one submits a question, one gets a clear and concise answer. I am holding in my hand right now a response from the Library of Parliament that says there are zero dollars announced or committed in the riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.

Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia—Lambton)

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for revealing what most of us on this side of the House are aware of: that zero dollars have been spent.

The propensity of the government to predict spending in the future is, in my mind, wishful thinking, because it does not even know if it is going to be here in 10 years. I wonder if the member feels the same way.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Madam Speaker, I did not hear the full question. I think it was about wishful thinking by the Liberals. Yes, I referenced in my speech that they are masters of the long promise and a lot of what they announce is kind of predicated on re-electing a Liberal government. They like to package these things up, bring them to the electorates and make it seem like they are actually doing work, but when we get down to the fine print, we can expose the inaction for what it really and truly is. We see that on their environmental commitments and housing.

I really hope the Liberals understand the intent behind this motion, which is that we are seeking to have the funding allocated in later years spent now, because here and now is the crisis, and here and now is when the money needs to be spent.

Robert Kitchen (Souris—Moose Mountain)

Madam Speaker, the member talked very briefly about seniors. I realize we all have issues in our own ridings. Likewise in my riding, with the demise of the oil industry, there are a lot of seniors who own homes that they cannot get rid of, and that is their retirement. Short of them investing their money on cruise ships to travel around the world, they are not going to have homes to live in because the market has died.

Does the member not believe that this motion would be better if it had something about the economy in it to create the jobs that the Liberal government is not investing in?

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Madam Speaker, the intent behind the motion is pretty broad. It is trying to get the government to specifically act on something right here and now.

The member's comments about seniors, however, are very welcome. Many seniors are on fixed incomes. They are very much the most vulnerable members of our society. They are less able to adjust to economic shocks, which is why we have to pay particular attention to them when we are designing policy in this area.