Mr. A. M. NICHOLSON (Mackenzie):
Mr. Speaker, the new members who have taken part in this debate find themselves speaking in an atmosphere very different from that which prevailed at the commencement of the last parliament. Hon. members will recall that during the first few weeks we were in session in 1940 the low countries were overrun and the collapse of France became imminent. Now everyone is rejoicing that the nazi forces have been completely defeated and the democracies have triumphed. But those of us who are here will have during the life of this parliament responsibilities almost as great as we had during the past five years.
Regardless of where we sit in this chamber there can be no difference of opinion as to the effectiveness of the contribution Canada has made toward the allied victory. The men
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and women in our armed services have matched the heroism of the fighting forces of any of the united nations.
Our people at home, in the factories, on the farms, in the -mines and in other civilian occupations have surpassed all previous records established in Canada. I am sure that members of the government would not for one moment try to claim credit for Canada's magnificent performance. The people of the whole country were responsible for the achievements.
During the war years many orthodox ideas were exploded. It has been proven conclusively that a nation's war effort 'is in no way related to the amount of gold in the Bank of Canada or in the hills of Kentucky. The important considerations always were these: Have we the materials? Have we the man-power required?
The government was forced to adopt planning. Free enterprise was not interested in making guns, tanks or planes sufficient to meet the law of supply and demand. However, they were willing to make them on a cost-plus basis, which assured them that they could not lose. However, there is no use in quarrelling about what has been done; we must look to the future. But I think, having established during the war years that whatever is physically possible must be made financially possible, we should accept that as a suitable policy in war time.
The present Minister of Finance (Mr. Ilsley) and his predecessor made it clear on different occasions that in no way would Canada's contribution to victory be limited by financial considerations. In other words, to establish an air training school the only questions asked were: Is there a suitable site? Have we the water available? Have we lumber and other building materials? Have we carpenters? Is there a need? If the answers were in the affirmative the job was executed, and the workers in the building trades and the lumber yards cooperated to the fullest extent in seeing that the work was done.
Since I have come to parliament the problem of housing has received a good deal of my attention. Every year I have tried, to urge the administration to face in a realistic way the providing of adequate housing for the people of the country. I argued that- if the government intended to spend S10 million to build a new war plant at Windsor, Toronto, or Hamilton, some consideration should be given to the matter of providing congenial living quarters where people were going to live, for those working in the plant.
There was a critical housing problem on our doorstep when war broke out. During those ten years of depression, when we should have
been building new houses', our carpenters were walking the streets in idleness; our factories were failing to produce building materials because we had no money in Canada in those days. Therefore, when war broke out we had a most acute housing shortage from coast to coast. Eventually the government recognized that there was a problem and Wartime Housing was set up. However, I feel that we failed during the war years to give sufficient consideration to the problem.
I am greatly encouraged to find that at this session hon. members in all sections of the house are emphasizing the immediate job that must be undertaken in facing up to to-day's problems. I have been interested in the remarks wThich have come from our Progressive Conservative friends to our right. These have been observations of protest. However, I suggest they should not protest too loudly, for fear we might be obliged to inquire into just what they did when they were in office, and also inquire as to what plans they would have introduced, had they been elected to the government benches.
Let me remind the house that between the years 1930 and 1935 we had a Conservative government in office. I suggest that the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bracken) should be congratulated upon being able to change the name of the party. Certainly it reflects credit upon his personality, and his long term in public life. But the majority of those associated with him have come from the Conservative side of the family. One might ask what was accomplished during the years Viscount Bennett was Prime Minister of Canada.
I have in my hand the report of building activities in the principal countries of the world between the years 1929 and 1937, taking 1929 as a base period, with the figure 100. In this table we find that Canada has the worst record of any among the principal countries. The following table will show building activities in Canada during those years:
Year 100 as base
But while we were unable to grapple in an imaginative way with the housing problem, countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and others which had progressive governments
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were forced by public opinion to take advantage of the depression, and to see that, instead of'keeping people on doles and relief, something useful should be produced. Let me point out, in passing, that some of these governments were not labour governments; in fact, some were Conservative.
Of course, the production of houses is one of the most economic undertakings in which any country can participate. For instance, in the year that our building index was down to 9.7, in the United1 Kingdom they had' an index of 114.5.
For many years the leader of the opposition was premier of Manitoba. I would remind him that all the time he was in office disgraceful housing conditions existed in the metropolitan area of Winnipeg. I do not think housing conditions are any worse in Winnipeg than in most other cities, but in that city they have had a public health department that was not afraid to face up to the fact.
I hold in my hand a report of the public health committee for 1942. This is what Mr. Alexander Officer, who was so well known for years throughout Canada and who was chief inspector of the division of sanitation and housing in Winnipeg, had to say about conditions which prevailed in Winnipeg:
Surely our present housing shortage cannot continue much longer. The risk to health of our substandard housing, not to mention that of the fire hazard in our non-descript tenements, may be brought home to us with painful remorse. Already, we have much evidence in the toll of moral and mental standards, also the cost of crime in our blighted districts. Children are denied the elementary innocent amusements of youth, and are indeed, often exposed to health and moral hazards.
And further down:
The doubling up of families is one of the chief characteristics of slum areas and this condition is spreading like a cancer into some of our most exclusive residential districts. It is only a matter of time, therefore, when these districts will degenerate into blighted areas. . . .
Sliims have for centuries been the curse of large communities, serving as breeding places for all manner of crime and the spread of disease.
And at page 7 of the report:
It is surely not too much to say that when our men on active service return to civil life they have a right to expect that decent living quarters for their future family life is available, or at least in process of construction.
These are the conditions which, prevailed in Winnipeg when the horn, member was premier of Manitoba. If he was interested in providing housing for people in low income brackets, then something should have been done: by the provincial government for the city of Winnipeg at that time.
When the Conservative party was in office at Ottawa a special committee on housing was established. But it was not until 1935, not until it was clear that they were on their way out, that the committee was set up. Witnesses were called to review the situation. They reviewed conditions in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver; they considered the cost of maintaining slums in terms of crime, fire hazards and disease. These matters are all set out in the report, but nothing very much was done.
Something was done. I was living in northern Saskatchewan at the time and we had some assistance from the federal and provincial governments in carrying out a housing programme. I mentioned in the house at one time something of the housing achievements of the Progressive Conservatives during those hungry thirties, and in looking through my old files I found a return that had been brought down in connection with housing assistance to three veterans in my constituency. One of these is a veteran of two wars. One sent two sons to the present war, one of whom will never return. The third served during the last war.
These three men who fought for freedom from 1914 to 1918 had committed no crime. They were carpenters who just could not get a job in Regina at any price, so they journeyed to the Hudson Bay Junction district, where I - lived, under a scheme financed partly by the city, partly by the province and partly by the federal authorities. According to the particulars furnished by the dominion authorities the following expenses were shared by the federal and provincial governments, both of which were Conservative at the time.
I shall not give the names of these veterans, but I have them here. Under the housing programme the governments of the day provided a payment of $6.70 for six windows. The next item is $3.80 for stovepipes, tar paper and hinges. The next item is $35.75 for lumber. The ceiling that was permitted in those days was $50 per unit, and you can see what a careful manager this settler was because his total expenses came to $49.75.
Of course, it should be remembered that all logs were free for the cutting. They were on a plot of land of 160 acres and so thick that you could not possibly drive through them, with your oxen. You did not have, to pay for the logs, but expert carpenters were obliged to go north; they were not forced to go north, but they came to the conclusion that nothing could be worse than living on relief in Regina. They thought that if they had 160 acres of free land, all the fuel they needed, some berries and maybe some wild game in the winter
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time, if they would not be in heaven they would be better off. than they would be on relief in Regina.
Here is the next case-and I want to say that I know these families very well-which concerns a-father, mother and eight children. They were limited to $10 a month for food and were permitted to cut down on their lumber and put more into food. So this family spent only $31.60 for lumber. On account of having so many children they had to get along with fewer windows, and they had only $4.50 for windows. The total expenditure for the house was $36.10.
In the next case $5.45 was spent for windows and it is not stated how many. Then there was $5.85 for building material, $31.75 for lumber and $5.20 for tar paper.
As I mentioned, those were the houses that were built for heroes. These were settlers who came north in the thirties to try to get off relief. They were given $50 at a time when the governments of the day in Great Britain, the United States and Sweden were saying, "We cannot ask our people to live in $50 houses when we have plenty of lumber, plenty of building material and plenty of carpenters; our relief programme should be more ambitious".
I give this same reason for failing to support the Progressive Conservative amendment which, if carried, would amount to a vote of want of confidence in the present government. Who knows but what we might have them to take their place. Therefore I cannot support an amendment which says that the government has failed to take adequate and timely action to meet the ever-mounting housing crisis. I do not think they did that. I am going to support the C.C.F. amendment, but if that does not carry I shall not be able to support the Conservative amendment in view of their record while in office.
Coming back to the immediate problem, I must admit that the present administration has recognized that there is a problem. As I said, Wartime Housing was set up several years ago. While I was critical of the building of potential slums when permanent houses could have been built for about the same cost under some sort of plan, as I said, that is all gone and all the talking I could do would not change the situation. But I repeat that I think it was unfortunate that the federal administration should spend such large sums in building what have been called temporary houses and giving a guarantee that tihey would be torn down. Surely they must have known from past experience that these
houses will never be torn down so long as there are less desirable houses being occupied in Hull, Halifax or Vancouver. I am afraid that at the rate of travelling this situation will last for a long time.
In 1943 a special subcommittee on housing and community planning was set up by the advisory committee on reconstruction. The terms of reference were:
To review existing legislation and administrative organization relating to housing and community planning, both urban and rural, throughout 'Canada, and to report regarding such changes in legislation or modification of organization and procedure as may be necessary . . .
And so on. If hon. members have not read this report I urge them to do so, because I think it one of the best pieces of work done by the groups working on reconstruction. It is certainly the best study by far that has been done to date on the housing problem in Canada The recommendations are set forth ih an easily read fashion at the commencement of the book. They review conditions in different parts of Canada; they deal with urban housing, rural housing and legislation in other countries. Nothing less than the carrying out of the recommendations of this subcommittee will be good enough in this day and age.
In 1944 the National Housing Act was brought down, supposedly to implement the recommendations in this report. This act has been in force for over a year and we must judge the government's performance by the results to date. I think it should have been recognized that housing activities would provide one of the most popular and most useful post-war activities. Sir William Beveridge in his recent book on full employment says:
Adequate and healthy housing presents the largest single objective for desirable outlay after the war and affords the largest scope for raising the standard of life, health and happiness. Housing involves the setting up of a long-term programme of building to approved designs with the maximum of economy. The scale of the programme must be determined not arbitrarily but with reference to the total labour available; some forms of building and construction can be used as the balancing factor in the national man-power budget. The prospective importance of housing makes it vital to secure, by new methods if necessary, the maximum efficiency of the building industry. It is even more important to secure that national planning of town and country is made a reality, before permanent housing begins.
The legislation that has been passed has assumed that private enterprise would be able to solve the problem. The National Housing Act which had been in force previously was altered in several important details, but the fact is that the present National Housing Act
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is just not of any use to people in the lower income brackets. What chance has the average worker in a war plant, a non-commissioned officer or a member of the armed forces who has been away from this country for four or five years to make the down payment and monthly instalments that gre required?
Our National Housing .Act is proceeding without sufficient consideration bejng given to town planning. Here, there, and everywhere houses have been built on lots without proper consideration of modern building requirements, and without consideration of the need which is everywhere recognized for town planning. Proper surveys have not been made to determine whether houses built under the National Housing Act are meeting the needs of the people who most deserve houses. According to the statistics that have been compiled eighty-five per cent of the houses built under the National Housing Act are designed for five persons or fewer. Is it the policy of this government to sponsor a housing programme designed to keep our birth rate low? The scheme operates without any large-scale administration to take advantage of reduced building costs. The programme also operates without adequate supervision of standards, without recognition of the interests of union labour, and without trying to find out whether the mortgagees would be able to negotiate the mortgages independently. There is no argument about it that those who have been able to take advantage of the national housing loans have been able to get their houses built at a much lower cost than they could have done before we had a national housing act. But providing cheap money or making lower rates of money available to those in the upper income brackets will not solve the problem in this country. That part of the programme dealing with low rental housing has been a complete flop to date. I noticed in the press yesterday a dispatch from Toronto saying that formation of limited dividend companies to finance the construction of low-rental housing projects throughout Canada w-ould be proceeded -with immediately by the Canadian life insurance companies as soon as a charter for the holding company, to be known as the Housing Enterprises of Canada, is obtained from the Secretary of State. I protest, Mr. Speaker, against a democratically elected government handing over to private corporations the responsibility of sponsoring the building of low-cost housing for the people of Canada. There is no country in the world where a scheme of that sort has worked out under private enterprise. The only countries that
have dealt effectively with slum clearance and low-rental housing have recognized that it is a national responsibility, that the federal government is the only authority that can adequately finance the problem.
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OP DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY