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


Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

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

Mr. STANLEY KNOWLES (Winnipeg North Centre):

Mr. Speaker, obviously this is a measure which can best be discussed in detail when the bill has-been presented to us and we have had a chance to examine it before second reading, but it does seem to me that there are a few things that should be said at this time following the lengthy statement made by the minister this afternoon. In all fairness, it must be admitted that he did a good job of lining up the situation as it now stands, with respect to both the need that exists and the machinery that has been put into motion and amended from time to time by the present government to meet that need.
On the other hand, it did seem to me that the minister's statement was even a more hopeless one with respect to the future than even he admitted it to be. Certainly it was lacking in any vision and any sense of realization that this housing problem in Canada could, be turned into a glorious opportunity to do something on a grand scale, something that would be really worth while for the people of Canada.
As I listened to the minister speaking this afternoon I made a good many notes, and as I looked over those notes afterward it struck me that the minister had made a good many admissions with respect to matters that are important and germane to this whole question. First of all, the minister recognized that there is in Canada an acute housing problem which at the present time, to use his own words, is worsening.
He recognized also that up to the present time, despite all the achievements for which he wished to claim credit, the problem has not been met. He was honest enough, as he went alqng with his speech, to refer to a number of points on which the machinery put into motion had not come up to the government's expectations or hopes. However, it was something to have had from the minister a frank recognition of a problem which requires the full-time attention of a minister who has achieved the reputation for energy which the Minister of Reconstruction and Supply (Mr. Howe) has earned.
During the early part of his remarks the minister spent a good deal of time on the problem of housing materials and he indicated that he recognized the importance of materials in any programme for the building of houses. He indicated at least some of the steps the government had taken to try to improve the situation with respect to materials. In that part of his speech he dealt with the proposal to extend the time allowed for double

depreciation and said that the government had taken action in other ways which would be indicated to us in greater detail at a later stage in the debate.
I strongly support the minister in his bringing to our attention and to the attention of the country the importance of the provision of housing materials in any programme of housing construction. It reminded me of ah experience of mine, listening to a debate at Westminster on this housing problem. The government over there has taken really advanced steps to provide housing materials, recognizing that they are basic to the whole business of the building of houses themselves.
I was interested too in the minister's recognition of the important part that an adequate housing programme can play in providing employment. He gave interesting figures in relation to the number of men employed in certain sections of war industry and how it would require that number to carry on an adequate housing programme. As a matter of fact, it reminded me of things that some of us have had to say from time to time, namely, that this whole business of housing provides a glorious opportunity to the government of the day, to any government in power, to do two things: one, to meet the needs of our people
for homes to live in and, two, to provide useful employment on a large scale.
I was interested in hearing the minister state his recognition of the need for training workers in the construction industry so that we might be properly prepared in the field of labqur as well as in materials.
Another recognition that the minister gave us had to do with the necessity, to some extent at least, for the control of prices of houses. I believe that he made that point when he was referring in part to what appears in section 4 of the resolution before us. He made a statement to the effect that when one provides assistance for speculative building there must be control over prices so that the people of the country would not be exploited. It is good to have that need before us too.
The minister also, although very briefly, admitted to us-and this was one of the points where he admitted that the government's machinery had not done everything that it had hoped it would-that the needs of our rural population for housing somehow had not as yet received full consideration or attention. That was one subject on which the minister did not ask for unanimous consent to place any tables on Hansard, and we all have a pretty good idea why. Such tables, if presented, would show that there had been very little activity in-that field, in fact almost none at all. The

Housing Act
recognition of that leads to some of the proposed amendments in the resolution before us.
The minister also indicated that another bit of machinery instituted by this government had not fulfilled its purpose, namely, Housing Enterprises Limited, which represents the joint effort of the life insurance companies of Canada in the housing field. The minister's statement was to the effect that although a certain number of projects were under way and a certain number of units were being built-and he gave the figures-the rentals which Housing Enterprises Limited felt it necessary to charge were higher than one could regard as satisfying the demands of a low rental housing project. On that score the minister was frank enough to admit anxiety over a phase of the problem that concerns a good many of us.
The minister also referred to slum clearance, using a plausible argument, to the effect that nothing could be done about that now because of the need of retaining in use every housing unit that can be lived in at all. When some of us think of the conditions of some areas in Canada which are referred to as slums, we realize what a shameful admission that was for the minister to have to make, namely, that these dwelling units must continue to be used. It was an admission that there is a tremendous problem which thus far has not been touched at all by this government through its housing legislation.
Related to that, the minister had a reference in the closing part of his speech to the need for raising housing standards generally. He admitted that even after we overtake the actual deficit in the number of dwelling units which now plagues this country there is a real problem in terms of our desire for adequate Canadian standards of living, the need for raising the standards of the homes in which our Canadian people live.
So that we had set out before us in the speech of the minister, along with the analysis that he gave us of the present situation, a real target to aim at, not just a target in terms of so many units within the next one or two or four or five years, but a total target in the field of housing. As I was listening to his speech, I realized that here was a picture of a government being driven by force of circumstances to do something about housing. Here was a government, whether of its own volition or against its will, that was getting deeper and deeper into the housing business. For a moment I found myself thinking in terms that I sometimes speak in, that perhaps I could, in the course of this debate, refer in complimentary terms to the government for having moved along in this direction, even though only when forced to go there by
the pressure of economic circumstances. But just when I was thinking in those semi-kindly terms of the minister I heard him say that all the things that he had spoken of indicated that the government had got deeply into the housing business, but that it was the government's desire to get out of it, that they wished to have less to do with it in the future than at the present time. That is the thing that annoys me most of all about the failure of the government really to get into this business with both feet and tackle this housing problem on the basis of a public housing authority giving proper assistance to the provinces and the municipalities.
I can sometimes forgive people and I might even forgive a government for not living up to things they never heard of, to ideals that never entered their minds; but here is a government that has come right up against the stark necessity of getting into the housing business, and that necessity has found the government willing to go into it to a certain extent in the machinery they have set up from time to time. They have moved along carefully, cautiously. As the last speaker said, this amendment and previous amendments that we have had from time to time in the government's housing policy are admissions of the failure of the government's initial proposals in the field of housing. Unlike my hon. friends to my right, who never would put the government into business if they could possibly avoid it, this government has got into the housing business because of the pressure of the needs of the people of Canada, and I suggest that, whatever its political philosophy may be, it had before it and still has before it, in this housing crisis and the dire need of our Canadian people for homes, a glorious opportunity really to go somewhere in raising the standards of our Canadian people.
The minister mentioned subsidies, but said: Oh, that must not be done. We get these proposals of assistance to the life insurance companies, these proposals for double depreciation, and all kinds of suggestions for government assistance in an indirect way; yet such a direct way as subsidies to make possible low-rental housing, such a direct way as allout assistance to cooperative organizations or assistance to the provinces, the municipalities, or to public housing authorities- these things the government comes up against, sees them as possibilities, but instead of recognizing them as ideals to be pursued, shies away from them as though there were something poisonous about them.
I was interested in reading in one of the Ottawa papers to-day an editorial referring to our sister dominion of New Zealand and
Homing Act

the ten-year plan which is now being presented in that country for a number of projects, including a house-building programme to be financed by the use of credit made available through the government-owned Bank of New Zealand. What interested me in that report was not just the means, the use of national credit which is to be employed, which I endorse whole-heartedly, but the whole appeal of a ten-year positive programme which looks toward many of the needs of the people. Our government, as I say, comes up against the ways and means of doing these things and then shies away from them. I hope that what the minister expressed as the desire of the government will not be realized, that they will not in the course of a year or so withdraw from such an extent as they have gone into the field of housing, but rather that as, during the past three or four years, they have been pushed by one economic circumstance and another into this field, they will go still farther, until we really have a public housing authority that is concerned, not about assistance to private lending institutions, to life insurance companies, and to private firms along the line of double depreciation, but rather with meeting the needs of the Canadian people in the actual business of providing homes.

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