March 16, 1948

TRANSITIONAL MEASURES ACT, 1947 CONTINUATION OP CERTAIN ORDERS AND REGULATIONS


The house resumed from Monday, March 15, consideration in committee of Bill No. 136, to amend the Continuation of Transitional Measures Act, 1947-Mr. Iisley-Mr. Macdonald (Brantford City) in the chair. On section 1-Duration of act.


LIB

William Ross Macdonald (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Liberal

The CHAIRMAN:

The committee was considering P.C. 9029, wartime leasehold regulations as amended.

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LIB

Robert Wellington Mayhew (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance)

Liberal

Mr. R. W. MAYHEW (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance):

Just before the house adjourned at eleven o'clock last evening the minister was asked a number of questions by hon. members on the other side of the house and on this side in connection with rentals generally and particularly about the hardships created for returned soldiers because they were not able to get into their houses. I should like to make a brief statement in that connection.

Rent control is one of the most important controls that we have had, because that one item probably affects the cost of living more

than any other single consideration. But it is also one of the most difficult controls to manage, for the reason that there is no general pattern that one can follow. You have to take into consideration the type of house, the character of the people involved, both landlord and tenant, and the city. There is really no definite way in which we can regulate it so as to suit everyone. Therefore there have been and there always will be hardship cases, or cases that must be dealt with outside the regulations.

At first we set up in each district a magistrate with one or two other commissioners to help to regulate rents and to afford a place where the landlord or the tenant might appeal for justice. That was not a perfect plan, but it worked, and it did help to smooth out the regulations considerably. More recently, just last fall, a different type of organization was established, one which I believe did more good than many people give credit for. I refer to the commissioners, of whom a number were set up all over Canada, and they were to deal with the hardship cases only.

You must adopt, not a legal but rather a humane approach to the settlement of differences between landlord and tenant. I found in my own home town when I returned, a number of cases in which landlord and tenant were ready to fight, but after going into the homes and talking things over with them I was successful in a number of cases in getting the differences settled.

The government last fall set up just such a commission. They set up rent-control men and gave them a chance to go and see both landlord and tenant, as well as the type of place in which people were living, and in that way these men knew better how to handle the situation.

Someone said last night that it was not very successful. I assure you that it has not been one hundred per cent successful, but if it cured twenty or twenty-five per cent of the cases, it was in my opinion a success, and it did relieve at least twenty-five per cent of those who made appeal. Their cases have been settled to the satisfaction of both landlord and tenant.

As regards returned soldiers or any others who bought houses and were not able to get into them, such persons invariably bought with the knowledge that the regulation existed before they entered into the deal, and consequently there is little we can do about it. I have spoken to many of them and they argued in this way: Well, probably the rent control was on, but they thought that they could reason with the tenant and so get into their own homes. They were willing to take

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a chance, and they had this at stake as well, that they were buying the house before the high bulge came in prices, so that they could get the house at a little lower price than if they would have waited for a year or so. That was their reasoning.

There are many returned soldiers who have not been able to get into their own homes and no one regrets that fact more than the members of this house, but there does not seem to be anything that we can do about it.

Last night a number of individual cases were presented to the committee. As part of my duty as parliamentary assistant to the minister I have been listening to these special cases day after day. Hardly a day passes that I have not three or four to deal with, and I should be only too happy if any hon. member would bring such cases to my attention so that we may see what we can do by referring the matter to the rent control people to see if we can get the commission to smooth out the trouble as far as possible.

It is necessary to keep on the control for a time at least, and it is also necessary, for us to do everything we can to alleviate conditions where hardship cases exist.

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PC

Harold Aberdeen Watson Timmins

Progressive Conservative

Mr. TIMMINS:

Last night I asked a question about the relief being given to returned soldiers. We have heard the parliamentary assistant's explanation, but it does not go far enough. It is not sufficient to say that the returned soldier bought his place knowing that he might not be able to get into it. The fact is that the fellow was overseas and he came back to Canada expecting that at least he would get a place to live in, and he must do something to help himself. If he cannot rent a place he must buy one. I do not think it is a sufficient answer to say that because he bought the place knowing that he could not move into it immediately he is not entitled to relief.

I believe that deep down, every one of us, without allowing politics to play any part at all in the matter, is of the view that the returned man is entitled to relief now. It is quite some time since the end of the war. Why should not the government fix a deadline at December 31, 1947, or some date prior to that, at any rate some deadline, so that if the returned man had already bought the house and was owner of it at that date he should have relief?

As the parliamentary assistant says, many of them are not able to get into their own houses. If the department knows what the problem is, and there cannot possibly be more than two or three thousand of these cases throughout the country, it is not a sufficient 5849-144i

answer to say that we cannot do anything about it. I feel that we should have some assurance from the minister now-we shall be satisfied with an assurance from him, because we know that if the minister gives us an assurance he will deal with the matter-that some steps will be taken to widen the act on behalf of returned men so that some amendment will go forward to the commissioners which will give them an opportunity to deal with the situation on the basis of equity for the returned men.

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LIB

Robert Wellington Mayhew (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance)

Liberal

Mr. MAYHEW:

Notwithstanding anything contained in any other order of the board, the landlord of any housing accommodation owned by him prior to January 1, 1947, may make an application to a commissioner for an order permitting the landlord to recover possession in accordance with the law of the province in which such accommodation is situated. I am informed that 8,400 applications have been made under this order, and of that number 2,411 have been granted.

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?

Joseph Enoil Michaud

Mr. MIOHAUD:

Of the number who got relief, 2,411 of the 8,400 applications, how many are from New Brunswick and how many from the county of Restigouche? As far as I know there have been a dozen or so applications in my county and no landlord has had any relief.

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PC

Lawrence Wilton Skey

Progressive Conservative

Mr. SKEY:

It is the same in Toronto..

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PC

Gordon Knapman Fraser

Progressive Conservative

Mr. FRASER:

It is the same all over-

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LIB

Benoît Michaud

Liberal

Mr. MICHAUD:

Last night I referred to this question of hardship. The first client for whom I appeared was a tenant, a man with a grown-up family who had been occupying the house for years. The landlord happened to be a veteran who had a wife and' family, and he was living in a little shack, twelve by twelve or something like that, which had no foundation, running water or toilet. If that is not a case of hardship, I do not know what is. It is about the most extreme case of hard>-ship that could be brought to the attention of the commissioner. But when we came before the commissioner, although he was a tenant- he remarked during the hearing that he was a tenant and a tenant man-I think he was fair just the same. But when he looked at the other side of the picture and a certain paragraph in that order in council was pointed out, it was found that the landlord, in order to succeed, must practically get a place for the tenant. He must establish that there will be no hardship on the tenant, or practically none. I see some of the officials here making signs indicating the negative, but that is the interpretation the commissioner placed1 on it, and it appeared to be borne out by the text

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of the order in council. The result was that in my community hardly any landlord received any relief.

In the little villages and hamlets I do not believe there is any necessity for continuing this rental regulation with regard to housing accommodation. It is different in the towns. In the smaller places-and I could cite instances of what has happened-in most cases that have been brought to my attention this regulation serves as a protection to an unreasonable tenant. I know of cases in which houses have been purchased by bona fide landlords with a view to occupation. A middle-aged woman bought a house a couple of years ago with a view to occupying it herself, with her crippled husband. She wrote to me about it nearly a year ago. I told her she had better see a lawyer, and she did1. The lawyer advised her to make application to evict the tenant because he was obnoxious. As a matter of fact the tenant had bumped into the corner of the house with his car and had caused damage of a dollar or so. This lawyer advised her that she would have a good case, and they went to court. Before they went to court they called in another lawyer.

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CCF

John Oliver Probe

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. PROBE:

The legal firm will soon have the house.

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LIB

Benoît Michaud

Liberal

Mr. MICHAUD:

The result of it was that 'her case was dismissed, and properly so. It *cost her plenty of money. Incidentally this *woman had earned the money by cooking in lumber camps. When this recent regulation was passed she obtained an application form from some justice of the peace, sent it in and a day was set for the hearing. In the meantime she came to me again and asked me to represent her at the hearing, which I agreed to do. I told her to come at two o'clock, and the lady was late. Her watch had stopped. She reached my office about two minutes late. We ran to the place of hearing, which was across the street, and we found that the commissioner had closed the court. The tenant was there with his solicitor at two o'clock, and the case was dismissed.

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CCF

Robert Ross (Roy) Knight

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. KNIGHT:

He is a bachelor, I guess.

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LIB

Benoît Michaud

Liberal

Mr. MICHAUD:

Well, the poor lady burst into tears. The commissioner would not open the court.

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LIB

Robert Wellington Mayhew (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance)

Liberal

Mr. MAYHEW:

Don't make us cry here.

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LIB

Benoît Michaud

Liberal

Mr. MICHAUD:

You don't need to if you don't feel like it, although it is a sad case. On various occasions before, I had been successful in obtaining possession under the section with regard to subdivision. This house

happened to be a good-sized one; and the owner had contemplated using one flat herself and allowing her son to use the other. So I said, "Perhaps this is the shortest cut.. We might make application for subdivision." In the past I had been successful. When we had an office in Moncton the gentleman in charge there was sympathetic and granted applications almost as a matter of course when there was sufficient floor space to warrant it. Well, it took quite a while, but eventually two gentlemen came from Saint John and I gave them all the information I had on it. It was necessaiy for them to go and see the place, which is out in the country. They did so, and they wrote back to me saying that they did not think this woman had the means to make the alterations. She could not put toilets in both places because there is no water system in that little country place; consequently her application would be dismissed. That is the situation. Incidentally, one of those gentlemen told me that they had had rather more stringent instructions as to this matter of subdivision. There had been abuses in the past.

That is not the first time these officers who act in a judicial capacity have told us frankly that they have had instructions. A county court, judge in my riding, who is fair in every respect, on some occasions humbly expressed the view, "Well, I should like to grant your application but I have received a report from the Saint John office that the government wants this and that, and I do not feel justified in granting it". The objection I am taking is to interference on the part of someone advising these men who sit in a judicial capacity as to what they should or should not do.

As I stated before, I feel that in my community this new order in council has not served any great purpose. Why should it be that a person who bought a house in good faith over a year ago, for personal occupation, cannot get possession? Why can he not get possession as he could before July 25, 1945? The fact that he cannot does not provide more living accommodation for the people as a whole. He wants his house, but if he gets it he will vacate some other place. I know the Minister of Trade and Commerce when the matter came up last year referred to extreme cases in which a move like this would put a family out, or perhaps two families. But there are few such cases in the smaller communities. As I said before, I agree that the rental control should be continued for large cities and towns; and there are some people in my own home town who have expressed in no uncertain terms their appreciation of what has been done in this matter. But I say again that in little country

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places this regulation serves only to protect unreasonable tenants. I pointed out one case, and I could point out many others where I feel that the rental regulation has worked injustice on certain classes of people. I hope something will be done in the near future to remedy the situation.

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LIB

Robert Wellington Mayhew (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance)

Liberal

Mr. MAYHEW:

The hon. gentleman said he wanted to know how many cases there were in New Brunswick. Under this order about which I just spoke, 143 applications were made and 35 have been granted. The hon. member said that rent control should be off in the small places. Our experience is that there is just as great a shortage of houses in the small cities and towns as there is in the large ones. We know there is hardship, but we have to look at the over-all picture. I can assure the committee that our control officers are daily searching to find some way of relieving cases where there is hardship.

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PC

Thomas Langton Church

Progressive Conservative

Mr. CHURCH:

I have not said anything about this control business; but I can tell you this, that controls will never get houses built. I live in a city where the city owns the street railway system, and I doubt very much if any other agency since 1921 has done as much for housing as has the city of Toronto, and particularly with its street car and bus services extending to the outlying districts of the city, urban, suburban and rural.

Following the last war the cheap light and power and transportation development in Toronto led to the building of houses. It is intended by this measure to extend these controls to sixty days after parliament is called, or to the end of March, 1949. That is a political procedure, to tide the government over the next election, no doubt.

I have seen these controls in operation in our city, and I can tell the committee they will not function, so far as the building of houses is concerned. Today those materials which are available are being used for the building of banks, skyscrapers, theatres, and other non-essential buildings. And let me say that the rent courts are the biggest farce I have ever seen. I have had some contact with some of them, and I can tell the committee that when some tenants get into a house they sublet rooms and tear the place to pieces and do three or four times more, damage than they pay the owner in rents. Then some of these tenants are profiteering by charging 810, $12 or $14 a week for rooms. The landlord gets a little or nothing out of it. I was head of a city at one time, and I believe I know as much about housing as do a great many others in the committee.

I did not mean to reflect on the hon. member for Parkdale; he is a valuable member, and knows well the conditions in his constituency. He knows, too, how these rent controls have affected all sections of the city of Toronto.

Will this system of controls build houses? I say it will not build a single house. The assessment rolls of Toronto show that before the war more than sixty-six per cent of the people there owned their own homes. Many of those houses had been purchased at high interest rates. Some of the purchasers were soldiers who went to the war, and when they came back they found they could not get into (heir own houses; they were occupied by tenants who were profiteering at the expense of the soldiers. These were soldiers who gave up their jobs and who went to fight tho battles of those who stayed at home. I can assure the committee that if this control system now to be extended for a year would bring about the building of more houses it would be an entirely different matter.

Mind you, I sympathize with the government, with a problem like this on its hands; but I called attention to that problem away back last spring. There was a conference held at Geneva in 1947, beginning on February 7, but we did not hear one word about this austerity program until November 17. If the government would give some encouragement to small builders with materials and labour who would build houses, and if it would give some encouragement or some incentive to commercial landlords who would build commercial buildings or stores and small apartments in the commercial districts, it would be doing something worth while. But nothing of that kind has been done.

Coming down to November 17, we find the government realizing that winter was coming on. When I saw that the government had done nothing between February 7 and November 17, and when I realized that winter was coming on, I asked the government as early as last June about this housing problem. I knew what was going to happen. We were going to be back just where we were after the last war-only this time it would be more serious. The lack of housing today is three times greater than it was at that time.

What did the government do ? It announced a new Geneva policy on November 17, and all that kind of thing. It hamstrung small and large business. Will houses be built under this program? I say they will not.

We hear a good deal about the rent courts, and we have seen what they have done right here in Ottawa. Only a short time ago we read about a family who were arraigned in court because they had1 not looked after their chil-

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dren. How could anyone look after children in the circumstances under which some people re housed? I am not here to justify the actions of those people, but I can say that there are hundreds of people like them in every city of Canada. People are living in hovels and in shacks of all kinds. And these conditions exist while we sit here in the House of Commons even near this district.

This is one of the greatest problems we will ever face in our lives. How can the people stand it. I do not place the blame on any particular government, but it must be realized1 that the housing situation in this country is deplorable. The birds of the air have somewhere to go, but the poor people can go nowhere. They have no houses-nothing. Public health is at stake.

I am not here to criticize any government -far from it, because this housing situation has existed for a long time. But I will say that the rent courts which have been established are the biggest farce I ever saw in my life. I have had something to do with them, and I have seen some of them in operation. There is no justice in some of them. The sooner we stop calling in county court judges for this kind of work, the better. I am opposed to the policy of using the members of the judiciary for whom I have the greatest respect, and who command the respect of every citizen, for this rent court work. This rental situation is apt to hold them up to contempt and ridicule.

Rentals administrators and county judges are brought here to Ottawa from other places. What are they doing? Do hon. members think they are doing a good job? I fail to see it. Many cases have been heard before them, but I can tell the committee this, that in the experience I have had with this matter I have seen profiteering by tenants, and the landlord lias had no chance at all. He is the forgotten man, and in that respect is in the same position as the returned soldier. I know some of those tenants are operating in violation of civic building by-laws. They proceed to build as in industry, and even in the residential district some of them carry on factory operations.

Is it any wonder no one wants to put money into housing? Is it any wonder so many mortgages are being foreclosed, with real estate in a condition of that kind? ITe cannot expect people or corporations to put money into building small houses, or to relieve the housing situation, both urban and suburban. We cannot expect them to enter into building in a commercial way and build small houses so as to aid new housing and stop profiteering.

I have never seen the like of it. And when we visit some of these places wre see soldiers who suffered in the war living in badly ventilated- apartments, small rooms or shacks, some of which are fire traps.

We will never have building unless we eliminate some of the housing controls. If the steel and1 lumber and concrete and other building materials which have been used in the building of banks, theatres, warehouses and all that kind1 of thing, had been used for housing purposes, we would have got somewhere.

This is a serious state of affairs, even right here in the city of Ottawa. Some members of parliament are familiar with the situation, one that is common to almost every city of Canada. The government's policy should have been announced last spring. Mr. Truman, across the line, announced that they were going away from controls, but he started it again in September. However, we made no announcement until November 17. This decontrol business was mixed up with Geneva agreements and Hyde Park and other things like that. I can tell you this, that I do not know anyone who wants to go into the building of houses at the present time.

On the island of Montreal proceedings were taken under the Railways Act to relieve the housing situation. A suburban service was inaugurated thirty years ago, and we can see what it has done for Montreal, both in winter and in summer. In Toronto we have not had the same opportunity, although we are entitled to it. I say we should have a steam suburban service which would permit commutation tickets from Toronto to Oakville and Brampton and other outlying points. I know the hon. member for Peel will agree with that. The housing situation was relieved by the action of the T.T.C. in serving the suburbs. Housing with civic services is largely a civic problem. The railw-ay commission was required' by law to investigate these matters of a suburban service without any application being made. If we had1 more help from the railway commission and better service was provided the housing situation would be remedied in York, Peel and Ontario counties as it was remedied after the last war.

I do not want to criticize the government all the time because I know the difficulty the war and reconversion caused in getting materials and labour and all that kind of thing, but the time has come when there should be some revision of these rental boards. Thejr are very largely a farce and as far as I can see there is very little justice. To bring

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the judiciary into this situation is a retrograde step from the point of view of law and order.

What are we going to do about it? Spring is coming on and something will have to be done. The government wants to turn housing back to the provinces and the municipalities. The first duty of the federal government is to look after the health, wealth, prosperity and happiness of its citizens. Housing should be a federal problem, not a municipal or provincial problem. That is how it is handled in Britain and in the United States where money is advanced to the states and municipalities.

I think it is a large order to extend this to March 31, 1949, or sixty days after the house meets. I fail to see how it is going to help the housing situation. The government of the day should provide assistance to municipalities during the next six months in order to tide things over the following winter. I saw the situation from February 7 until November 17 when nothing was done. Last June I saw this hard winter coming and I suggested that some assistance should be given for milk, bread and coal. That would have been a good thing because we did not know they were going to make a leap in the dark like they did on November 17.

I doubt whether we can do much by legislation. Certainly the government's suggestion to extend these controls to March 31, 1949, is not going to function very well. It is going to lead to more confusion, and lack of building and of private building. Builders will not want to build this spring and it will do considerable harm and prevent the building of small houses by small builders for next winter.

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CCF

Robert Ross (Roy) Knight

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. KNIGHT:

Mr. Chairman, this is one of those questions about which much can be said by both sides. It is unfortunate indeed that the interests of the landlord and tenant are diametrically opposed. If the government will not do what we propose, that is, provide more low rental housing units as quickly as possible, then I suppose they can only do the best they can for the greater number of people. I imagine that in this particular instance the greater number of people are the tenants. While my hon. friends to my right have said a great deal about veterans who are landlords, we might point out that a great many tenants are also veterans.

It is a coincidence that just before I came into the chamber I picked up a letter from a veteran, and as some hon. members have been putting personal matters on the record perhaps I might put this one on. This veteran is the owner of a modern house in a

good residential district. He purchased the house with the aid of his war service gratuities and re-establishment grant. Under the present legislation he cannot occupy the premises and is forced to live in a house which is far from modern.

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LIB

Robert Wellington Mayhew (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance)

Liberal

Mr. MAYHEW:

When did he purchase it?

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March 16, 1948