July 22, 1946 (20th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Some hon. MEMBERS:

Mr. DONALD M. FLEMING (Eglinton): Mr. Speaker, it would be premature to attempt at this stage to comment on the features of the legislation proposed to be introduced b3r the minister in the light of the wording of the resolution before the house, but I think it is appropriate to make some passing observations on the lengthy statement which the minister has made.
I am sure that the house is glad that the minister has seen fit to make this statement. I point out that the last occasion on which the house was afforded anything approaching a comprehensive statement from the government on the housing situation in Canada was on March 20 last, when the Minister of Reconstruction and Supply (Mr. Howe) spoke in the debate on the address in reply to the speech from the throne. This is July 22. Four months and two days have passed since the last statement from the government that could be said to approach a comprehensive statement on the housing situation.
When we speak of housing conditions in Canada we are speaking of the problem which is beyond question the most critical internal problem that we face in Canada to-day. I want to say with all the emphasis at my command that it is the duty of this house to keep itself fully informed on housing conditions in Canada, to keep its finger on the pulse of that great problem. It is not good [DOT]enough to have statements from the government at four-months' intervals while the house is in session.
I have suggested before-I hope I am not tiring the house in referring to it again-that the housing situation in Canada is and will be for a long time to come so serious, so critical that there ought to be within the framework of the machinery of this house some continuing body which can apply its intelligence to the problem and receive information on a current basis. There is nothing revolutionary in that suggestion. I
[Mr. Howe.)
think it is a suggestion that the government ought to welcome. But the government does not act upon it. Would it not be of immense value to the house and to the country if there were a committee of this house which could obtain statements as it requires them, not at long intervals but from week to week or month to month, as occasion arises, and examine the officials of the various government corporations which are now charged with administrative responsibility in respect of housing, namely Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Wartime Housing Limited. Members of the house have never had under the present set-up an opportunity of examining those officials and obtaining firsthand information from them. I think that is a distinct lack in the present framework of the machinery of this house.
The measure which the minister proposes under this legislation to introduce is the first housing legislation submitted by the government at the present session. It is well that there should be some new housing legislation, if this is to be the only opportunity afforded the house of discussing in a specific way housing conditions in Canada, because it just does not give members an opportunity to come to grips with the housing situation and have a specific debate on this problem to touch on it in such general debates as the debate on the address in reply to the speech from the throne or the debate on the budget. This resolution and the bill which will be introduced following the adoption of the resolution afford the first opportunity given to the house this year for a specific, direcf debate on housing conditions in Canada.
I shall not attempt at this stage to deal with the features of the legislation proposed. There will be a better opportunity when the bill has been before us and has been scrutinized.
One had hoped that the review from the Minister of Reconstruction and Supply to-day might give encouragement to believe that the worst is over as regards housing conditions in Canada. The picture painted for us of those conditions by the minister is neither heartening nor encouraging. It is true that some features of the report which the minister has given the house are reasonably bright. Some parts of the report which he gave with reference to the production of certain building material the house will receive, I am sure, with welcome. But the over-all picture that is presented by the minister to-day as regards current housing conditions and the outlook for improvement over the next year and a half is not bright; on the contrary, it is discouraging.

Housing Act
What is the picture which the minister has presented to us? In the first place, he says there is at the moment a deficit of 150,000 housing units. That is measured in terms of the housing emergency, not in terms of the over-all need to improve housing conditions in Canada, or to eliminate substandard houses and slums, but is simply the immediate emergency need to-day-150,000 housing units. What is the outlook for the future?
The outlook is this, that by the 31st of March of next year, namely by the spring of 1947, not only will that condition not have improved but it will actually be worse; the deficit in respect of emergency needs of housing will by that date have increased to 180,000 housing units. The situation by the spring of next year will be, we are told, twenty per cent worse than it is to-day. Then, what of 1947 after the spring of that year? The government's objective is to be 80,000 housing units for the year which will commence April 1, 1947, and end March 31, 1948. It means this, that so far from catching up with that further deficit of 30,000 housing units and keeping abreast of the situation as it develops during the summer of 1947, we cannot expect, in the light of present government housing policies, any over-all improvement in the situation in comparison with it as we know it to-day, July 1946, until, probably, the end of 1947.
That, I say, is a very dark picture. The people of this country so far as housing conditions are concerned have borne a great many disappointments; they have suffered many hardships, and they had hoped for something better than this at the hands of the government. We see the government always ready to accept credit for any Canadian accomplishment, any construction of houses. The government must equally accept responsibility for failure.
The report we have heard to-day will deal a hard blow at the hopes of many thousands of Canadians living under conditions of hardship and squalor. If the picture is dark, if the best the government can do gives but a dark outlook for housing conditions, it is much better that the people of Canada should know it, that we should have a frank exposition from the government so that the people will not be permitted to go on conjuring up hopes which would only be dashed next winter.
But, having said that one commends frankness, one does not at all excuse the government for the darkness of the picture. While one approves frankness, one would like some evidence of that quality among members of the government who undertake to deal with housing conditions. The house has heard what the Minister of Reconstruction and Supply has
had to say about housing conditions, and his candid admission that they are going to be worse before they are better. I turn by way of contrast to a speech made by the Minister of Veterans Affairs (Mr. Mackenzie) in Brandon on January 24, 1946. It bears the title "Aftermath."

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