Mr. Chairman, in this session of parliament we have not had much discussion on one of the major problems affecting most of the growing areas of Canada and especially affecting the people of the province of British Columbia. We have not had any amendments to the National Housing Act this year and we also have not had before us the estimates of the Minister of Public Works. I rather regret that he is not able to be here this afternoon but since most of what I have to say affects the responsibilities of the Minister of Finance perhaps even more than those of the Minister of Public Works, I am hoping that the former hon. gentleman who is in his seat will pay at least some measure of attention to what I and the group I represent consider one of the major problems in the country. If I am not mistaken in my calculation parliament in this session has met for some 70 days now. I have gone through the records and I find that on no less than 14 occasions hon. members in all sections of the house and even some on the government side have cast some doubt as to the wisdom of the present housing policy of this government and the effectiveness of the National Housing Act.
We began the year with some questions being directed to the minister concerned on orders of the day and for a considerable length of time we were faced with rather flat denials that Canada could expect a decline in housing this year. It took several weeks of questioning to wear down the resistance on the part of the government to the charge that was being rather widely made by various organizations from one end of Canada to the other to the effect that there was going to be a serious decline in the number of houses built this year. However, even though the government finally has admitted that there is going to be a decline in home building this year they have failed to admit as yet that the decline is a serious one and they have failed also to take any remedial action. We are now in interim supply which includes the estimates of the Minister of Public Works. We in this group regret that in his estimates there is not a larger sum of money allotted to the encouragement of the construction of more homes for our Canadian people.
Most of the remarks I have to make have to do with the subject of interest rates. Our position in the C.C.F. has always been that for most of the Canadian people the government should undertake measures that will make mortgage money for house construction available to prospective home owners at cost. We also realize that there are many
The attitude of the government is a most interesting one. I have already placed on record the reply of the Minister of Finance to the hon. member for St. Paul's on February 6 when he expressed his pleasure that the anti-inflation measures which the government had undertaken were having some effect, as evidenced by the shortage of money available for housing. I thought that was a remarkable disclosure of attitude on the part of the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Public Works has not yet expressed his attitude. I feel-and I mean this sincerely- that he knows the situation and believes that some action is necessary. However, when he is faced with the attitude of the Minister of Finance, the attitude of the Minister of Trade and Commerce and the attitude of the Prime Minister, he recognizes that he is sitting only in the second row of the cabinet benches and is afraid even to disclose his personal opinion to the house.
X have mentioned the attitude of the Prime Minister. It is a well known fact that several years ago the Prime Minister announced to the country that he was basically opposed to the subsidization of interest rates either for the construction of homes or for loans to municipalities. On February 7, replying to the hon. member for Comox-Alberni he explained his views to the house. The hon. member for Comox-Alberni asked him whether in view of the high earnings of capital in the industrial development of Canada at the present time the Prime Minister still claimed that such things as housing were able, or apt, to compete with industrial development for money on the money market. The Prime Minister's reply, as given on page 1055 of Hansard, was to the effect that those who needed money for the building of homes would simply have to compete with the needs of industrial development for the limited supply of money available on the Canadian market. So, the Prime Minister has not changed his attitude.
Of course, the attitude of the Minister of Trade and Commerce is the most reprehensible of all. His address to the Canadian Lumbermen's Association as reported, I believe, in the Gazette of the 13th of March, is simply incomprehensible to the people of my province. He told the Canadian Lumbermen's Association, in effect: "Boys, you have had many good years. From now on times are not going to be so good. Don't come to the government looking for help, because you are not going to get any help." I dare say the Minister of Trade and Commerce would never have the nerve to make such a speech to the farmers of the prairies, because
those farmers are too well organized politically. Yet he thinks he can do it where the lumbermen of British Columbia are concerned, and say, in effect, that the government of Canada is not very interested in their welfare.
The minister told the lumbermen's association that for several years we have been building more homes in Canada per annum than the rate of new family formation would appear to warrant. We have never contended that the housing needs of Canada will be met simply by matching new homes created with the number of new family units being formed. We ended the war with a shortage of between 500,000 and one million homes, and we have done very little since, except last year, to overcome that housing shortage. Now the Minister of Trade and Commerce seems to indicate that as long as we build enough homes to accommodate the new family units being formed, everything will be satisfactory.
I wish to spend some little time in discussing the remedies which this government might undertake. We in the C.C.F. group are always prepared to support the provision of subsidies for those who cannot afford the standard interest rate. However, if this government wished, it could well float a social development bond issue to provide the money needed on satisfactory terms. If the Minister of Finance were today to offer 4 per cent on a social development bond, I am sure he could get a billion dollars in one afternoon out of our nation. That money would be most useful in supplying low interest loans for home building and also in supplying low cost money to our municipal governments.
However, even if the government does not want to subsidize interest on money used for house building, even though it may not want to float a bond issue to obtain low cost money for this same purpose, it could at least do what it used to do, and make 25 per cent of the mortgage money available for all N.H.A. homes to whatever lending agency is supplying the funds. That system went a long way for a number of years in enabling mortgage companies in Canada to supply the necessary funds, but so far the government has not even seen fit to go back and employ this measure which, as I say, was so useful for a number of years shortly after the war.
I would like to say something with regard to housing those who cannot under any circumstances afford to own a home. I noticed by the reply obtained by my colleague the hon. member for Mackenzie on March 6 that since 1945 this government has spent only $14 million, in six provinces only, for the purpose of supplying low cost rental housing to
these people who cannot afford under any conditions to buy homes. I think that is regrettable, and so is the tendency on the part of this government to blame the other levels of government for lacking initiative in this respect.
I know that several government supporters have gone about the country blaming provincial and municipal governments for not taking the initiative. They have been saying that the National Housing Act is on the statute books, and asking why these other governments do not take the initiative and get a move on to supply subsidies for low rental housing production. I feel that the government fails to recognize that even under the best of terms these other levels of government are just not in a financial position to avail themselves, as I am sure they would wish, of the provisions of the National Housing Act.
I feel, in closing, that Canada-or some Canadians at least-are at present enjoying a prosperity unheard of in Canadian history. That prosperity is not shared, and I feel that in a year such as this when there is more investment money available in the Canadian economy than ever before, it is a crime that we should not have money available to meet our urgent social needs for homes, hospitals and schools.