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


Harry Rutherford Jackman

Progressive Conservative

Mr. H. R. JACKMAN (Rosedale):

Mr. Speaker, I feel obliged to say a few words about these amendments to the various housing measures, because, like my colleague, the hon. member for St. Paul's (Mr. Ross), whose riding adjoins mine, my riding is in the centre of the city, and we are divided by Yonge street. My constituency is on the east side and goes over as far as the Don river, and the area contains one of the most congested districts in the city. The hardship which exists to-day, the human suffering which results from this housing shortage, is quite sufficient to make the most callous-minded individual fight to the very last for anything that can be done to alleviate this crying need for houses. Not only does it affect the ordinary individuals, but it affects a great many veterans who were away from this country for five or six years, during which interval what vacancies there were were taken up by other people, munitions workers and others, who came to this city, and when the returned men came home they found there was no place for them to lay their heads, much less provide a decent home for their wives and children.
As far as they go, the amendments which the right hon. minister has suggested are probably veiy good. We have not yet had very much time to analyse them, but I assume, knowing his ability along certain lines, that they are undoubtedly an aid to the solution of this great problem. The question is, do they go far enough, and will they do even half a job? As he said, last year some
47,000 dwellings were built in Canada or reconverted. But that is a very small number considering the total need for housing, when there is a deficit throughout the country of about 700,000 units. Even if we cut that in two and call it 350,000, we still have an appalling shortage of dwelling units. As the minister said, the contribution last year was not inconsiderable. But these are not high words from any minister of the crown in describing the efforts of his department, and I feel very sorry to hear him say that in the fall of this year conditions will worsen, because people who can do with makeshift
accommodation during the summer months, living in summer cottages and non-weather-proofed dwellings, cannot continue to live in such places during the cold winter months.
I should like to read a few cases reported in the Globe and Mail as at July 3, so as to give the house some indication of how the housing shortage is affecting people in cities like Toronto. An interviewer called on the welfare department, central bureau, in Toronto where the necessitous cases are listed, and at the present time there are some 6,000 cases listed there. There is no decent place for these applicants. This is the type of case that exists:
Shortly after the office opened yesterday, a young man came in with liis wife and three children. He had been almost five years overseas, and since his return they had been living in rented rooms. But the landlord had been objectionable and eventually had forced them out. They lived briefly in a tourist cabin, but could not affdrd to pay $6 a night. The husband appealed for help and a room was found for them in a Mutual street house.
That is in the Moss park area of the city where conditions cannot be described as at all good. There is overcrowding and the condition of the houses is little short of shocking in many cases, because most of them are extremely old and in want of repair.
They will remain there until more permanent accommodation can be arranged.
When that will be, no one knows. Certainly at the present rate of progress it will be a very long time, and certainly a time which can well be measured in years for the typical case. Let us take another:
A woman brought in her two young girls. They were without a place to stay and had spent the night in an automobile. They were given accommodation.
A man with lengthy overseas service asked that some help be given him in finding rooms for his family. He, his wife and two children were in two rooms. One child was required to sleep in the hall. A moment later, he was followed to the inquiry desk by a family of four. They had been living in one room. Another man reported that the landlord was trying to force him out illegally by threats and abuses. He wanted protection and help in finding a new home.
The day was not an exceptionally heavy one, explained Frank Dearlove, the department's housing director. There were almost fifty inquiries from people in desperate circumstances.
These are typical of conditions in the centre of Toronto and, I dare say, typical of conditions in many of our large urban centres. If the minister were attacking this problem in a way in which we could see some relief, if not in the immediate future, at any rate within the period of a few years. I should not feel called upon to take up the time of the house. But the suggestions which he has made, while worthy
Housing Act

as. far as they go, do not seem to me to reach the heart of the problem in any manner whatsoever.
I am interested, as I am sure the great majority of members are, in making sure that the economic system under which we operate, which we know can be extremely productive, as was proved during the war years, when we made such a notable contribution in materials and supply, shall function properly; and if there is an acute housing shortage at the present time, as there seems to be, that system cannot be said to be operating with that degree of satisfaction which the people have a right to expect. Indeed, I wonder that the people have stood for such hardships as they have had to bear through no fault of their own. They were willing and capable workers; and during the depression years, when the present government was in power, they put up with privations which I am quite sure, had I been in public life at that time, I should not have been willing to see them put up with. I should have done everything in my power, no matter what the financial cost might be, to make sure that they were given sufficient housing and food.
May I suggest to the minister that during the long period of the thirties, as he himself intimated this afternoon, there was little building going on. The building industry was starved during the depression. During the war years it was of necessity starved because we could not afford men for the building industry and for war production and we had men overseas at the same time. The result is that the building industry to-day is in decidedly low gear, and very little has been done to change gears, under any recommendations or laws which the minister has put on the statute book. Something more drastic needs to be done at the present time.
The building trades were likewise in an unsatisfactory condition. Work was exceedingly scarce. In my own riding, even in 1940, there were no less than 10,000 forced to accept relief; and on inquiry, going about the riding, one found that many of the men connected with these families were in the building industry. But there was no work for bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, decorators, and so on. There was stagnation in the building industry, and nothing has been done since that time to arouse the industry out of that stagnation. I recall a case recently of an uncle advising his young nephew, who was about to embark on his life's career. The uncle had been a carpenter and he warned the nephew against going into the building trade. He said, "Don't become a carpenter; the work is too unsteady. See what happened

to me during the depression. There is no assurance that work will be provided for a period of years." The result is that no young man will go into the industry in view of the hardships which those who were in the industry had to endure during the depression years.
Something should be done to make certain that the building industry, which is, of course, in this country a seasonal one, is put on a firmer basis than it has ever known; otherwise we are not likely to recruit enough young men to fill up the vacancies in the trade. And we must fill up those vacancies if we are to get on with the job.
Another problem to which I widh the minister would give some consideration, because it certainly calls for a solution as far as the long-range approach is concerned, is this: Even in the more prosperous days
when workmen were steadily employed they did not find that they could afford to buy houses for themselves. One of the best reasons I have heard given for that is that, owing to the fact that the building trade is a seasonal one and the number of working days relatively short out of the total year, the rate of wages is of necessity high in order that the building tradesmen may get enough to live on during the entire year. If the rate of pay is high, then the ordinary workman who gets perhaps half or three-quarters as much per hour cannot afford to buy the product of the better rate paid building tradesmen. Some study should be given to this problem so that the ordinary workman may exchange his work for that of the building tradesman.
During the war other industries took from the building trades and the building supply industries all the available workmen they could get in order to build aeroplanes and to turn out the other necessary munitions of war. When the wage freezing order came into effect most of the workmen who were engaged in the building trades, such as brickmakers and others engaged in the building supply industry, had their wages frozen at low levels, whereas those who went into the war industries received new levels of wages, because higher wages were necessary to attract people from one industry to another. There have been some slight modifications of the low wages paid to some of these people in the building industries, but not enough really to attract a sufficient number of men into the building trades and the building supply industries to get these industries going at a rate which is necessary if we are to solve this problem.

Housing Act
May I point out that there are other industries in Canada, valuable industries, some of which are engaged in the export end of our economy, and which bring in valuable United States dollars. I refer in particular to the newsprint industry which has greatly expanded its production during recent years. In a clipping from a newspaper I find the following:
With Canadian newsprint mills operating at 92-8 per cent of capacity in March, compared with 92'8 in the previous months and 70-2 per cent in March, 1945, newsprint production expanded to a new high level, according to figures released by the Newsprint Association of Canada.
Further on, it has this to say:
This brought production in the first three months of 1946 to 970,923 tons compared with 768,203 in the first quarter of 1945, an increase of 26-4 per cent.
That is splendid increase, a splendid contribution to the Canadian economy and to the bringing in of needed United States exchange, but I do not think the newsprint industry should be given a priority of that kind. The industry was not badly treated during the war. The newspapers had adequate supplies of newsprint, particularly when one compares them with other countries, not the United States, but overseas countries and I do not think any of us suffered because of the size of our newspapers. The point I am making is that the same men who cut down the trees which are ground into pulp to become newsprint could also be used to cut down trees to make more lumber to help in the building of our houses. I believe that the government is derelict in its duty in allowing an industry of this kind, valuable as it is, to expand to a considerable extent when a great deal of the manpower required to turn out the raw product could be used to turn out more lumber, which is badly needed. I should be glad if the minister would point out any flaw in this argument, because it seems relatively simple to me. In most of the areas, not all, where wood pulp is found there are also trees which are also suitable for lumber, and the same lumberjacks could do the same job in cutting down the larger trees as they could in cutting down small trees for newsprint.
From my observations I believe that the effect of the income tax is a bad one so far as getting houses built is concerned. We find that building tradesmen will not work more more than a five-day week; certainly they will not work on Saturday mornings or afternoons because they get into overtime and into a higher income tax bracket. I believe that is one of the reasons why we have not as many man hours in the building industry as we
should have. It would not be asking too much if I asked for the sympathy of the minister in this regard. I hope that he will endeavour to bring some influence on his colleague, the Minister of Finance (Mr. Usley) and point out to hipi that we are not getting the maximum output from our present supply of building tradesmen that we might get, and goodness knows the supply of building tradesmen is scanty enough. The exemptions for income tax purposes of $750 for single men, and $1,500 for married men under the new provisions are not adequate to have a carpenter, a plumber or a bricklayer do his utmost to get houses built because the incentive is taken away from him.
The effect of the corporation tax is also not conducive to the greatest efforts in regard to building. Then salary controls enter into the picture. We have an industry which I have endeavoured to show has been in low gear for at least a decade, and the men connected with it who are employed by building companies were on a low salary scale because the industry could not afford them an adequate return or one which would ordinarily be considered fair. From my observations there is no doubt that if some of these men were allowed to get more, greater production would result, and what is more important, more men of executive capacity, foremen and up, would be induced to come into the building industry.
The minister has pointed out that double depreciation is available to certain of the building supply companies. That is a help. I believe he is not only on the right track but that he should do more along these lines for the next five years until we get over the hump in the building shortage.
I understand that under the Wyatt plan in the United States the building supply companies which exceed their production of the previous year are given a bonus on that additional production in order to stimulate them to work overtime and to think out plans at night to get production going in the best possible way.
I should like to ask the minister what happened to the appropriation which was mentioned by one of his departments two years ago under which a certain sum was set aside for the buying en masse of household utilities such as bathtubs. A supplier would be given an order for five thousand, and he could go ahead with the job, rather than be given an order for a few dozen of this type or that type of bathtub and not be able to get a real line of production going. There was an appropriation along these lines, but I have not heard anything about it for a long time. If more government assistance of that type is required
Housing Act

it should be forthcoming, because it is the duty of the government to make the present system operate so that our people will not suffer from the acute housing shortage.
Another matter to which I should like to direct the minister's attention is the price ceiling on builders' supplies. Builders of Toronto tell me that they can get some supplies but not others. There is an acute shortage of some vital part because the manufacturer finds he can get some return on his investment if he makes X parts but cannot get any return on his Y parts, so that he concentrates on the X parts. Consequently these shortages and bottlenecks occur in the building supplies industry. The present price ceiling system has also given rise to black markets in the lumber trade. There are certainly black markets, and there are evasions which may not quite infringe the law but which come very close to doing so. These all make for needless work and difficulties in obtaining the necessary materials to go ahead.
I wish to bring to the attention of the minister another matter which certainly many hon. members might not consider to be politically expedient for anyone to mention, but it is this. In order to build houses, someone must put up the capital required. The man who does this naturally expects at least some return on his money; yet we find that under the rental freezing order of October, 1941, all rentals were fixed at the level then prevailing. If the dwelling unit had not been rented at that time a new rental was fixed which in most cases was substantially higher for the floor space involved. Let me give an example so that the house will understand precisely what I am aiming at. In some of the higher class residential districts of the city will be found apartments consisting of three rooms with kitchen or kitchenette and bath, available for S45 and $55 a month, which is a very low rate considering the residential area in which they are located. Then, in the poorer distficts will be found dwelling units which were not rented prior to the freezing order-if I may describe what I came across as a dwelling unit. A veteran and his wife paid $30 a month for one room and the joint use of a kitchen. Compare that with the well-to-do person in the high-class apartment, and there is no fair relationship whatever. I am suggesting to the minister that inasmuch as landlords' costs have also gone up, some slight alleviation should be allowed, even though it be only five or ten per cent on the basic rentals under the freezing order. Otherwise those who have their capital invested in commitments of this kind find they are not getting any return. The increased

cost of supplies, janitor service and so on is eating heavily into their rentals; and landlords, or those who might become landlords, are not encouraged to put their money into buildings.
I would also point out to the minister that while some of the suggestions I have made might result in higher costs, since they include higher wages to attract men into the building industry, and since in order to speed up the production of building supplies these tradesmen may have to get more, that is not necessarily the whole picture. We do not want the veteran particularly, or for that matter anyone, to acquire a house at the present time at an inflated level. Therefore I suggest that in addition to the financial measures the minister mentioned this afternoon the government might well give consideration to a further cut in the interest rate on the loans which go to finance these dwelling units. If the rate were cut to perhaps three per cent the minister would find that over a long period of years during which the cost of the house is amortized, with the lower interest cost which bulks as a large part of the total, the monthly cost to the purchaser would be substantially reduced.
I want the minister and the government to look upon the housing crisis at the present time just as they looked upon the war emergency. If it were a question of making tanks or aeroplanes or bombs to beat Hitler, with the ability the right hon. minister showed during the war-and, may I say, with an unlimited pocketbook-we must forget some of these financial considerations to some extent until we get over this crisis-if he would look upon this housing crisis as an emergency I have no doubt he would find the men and materials in fairly short order to solve the problem which faces our people at the present time. If he will go and meet the people who are up against it he will realize that this problem constitutes a crisis of the first order. Therefore I suggest, sir, that the proposals made by the minister this afternoon are not adequate; they are not of a sufficiently longterm nature really to solve this crisis. I suggest further that the government is not giving the forceful, immediate leadership required if we are to have any solution of this problem in the next one or two or three years. To wait five or ten years is to wait too long.
Motion agreed to and the house went into committee, Mr. Macdonald (Brantford City) in the chair.

Full View