Hon. Romeo LeBlanc (Minister of Public Works):
Mr. Speaker, I will first thank the House for its courtesy. I was distracted and thought we were on second reading. I would like to make a few short comments.
National Housing Act
In response to the Member for Ontario (Mr. Fennell), under no circumstances have I indicated that this was a total solution to some of the longstanding housing problems, although I did put some statistics on the record in an answer to the Hon. Member for Hamilton Mountain (Mr. Deans) yesterday which indicated that the picture may not be as dark as it seems. In fact there was an increase of 7 per cent in housing starts between April and May of the current year.
With regard to the question raised by the Opposition House Leader referring to an amendment requested by the Hon. Member for Vancouver Centre (Miss Carney), it was ruled out of order. But we were sympathetic to the substance of what was proposed. In fact, in the case of the mortgage protection plan, floating homes or that type of houseboat will be covered under the mortgage protection plan. The difficulty arose, and arises, when the mortgage insurance applying to floating homes is discussed, for the same reason that mobile homes at one time were not covered by mortgage insurance. Discussions with the industry and a willingness to try and find solutions brought forth some amendments which have worked.
The Hon. Member for Vancouver Centre forced us to focus on the issue more quickly than we might have liked. Although we were quite sympathetic to the substance, I am sure that it will come up again and we will continue to work and where possible, by regulation, try to find some acceptable solutions.
Some Hon. Members have referred to the mortgage protection plans as an innovation. Some have expressed doubts as to whether it will see heavy take-up in applications. Some have pointed out some of the limitations that it does contain. I do not think I should spend too much time quibbling with some of these opinions. It is innovation. In our examinations in other countries we have not found cases where this type of program is used, although in some countries we have found an insurance formula for people who were threatened with the loss of their homes because of the loss of a job or similar problems.
The legislation is voluntary and obliges no one to make a decision in this matter. My hope is very firm that over time we may find that there are some amendments which would bring considerable improvement. The mortgage protection program is a service to Canadian home owners who may be worried about possible increases in mortgage interest rates. It is addressed to people who are afraid that, when the time comes to renew their mortgage, interest rates may have risen so high that they will not be able to make the monthly payments. To these people it offers, for a fee, some help and protection to assure that any increases will be kept within their ability to pay.
I hope that it is clear, and I believe Hon. Members on both sides have said that it is not a subsidy program and is not designed to protect home owners against any increases, however small, in mortgage interest rates. It is not designed to shelter home owners from every shift in interest rates. Most Canadians who decide to invest in a home anticipate changes and are prepared to cope with them. During the interest rate crisis of a couple of years ago we saw that many Canadians were prepared to make rather considerable adjustments. The
June 22, 1984
National Housing Act
MRPP is intended to help with abnormal circumstances, with eventualities which we do not expect and which people may not be in a position to deal with.
There are other reasons as well, Mr. Speaker, why the plan includes risk sharing provisions such as the 2 per cent deductibility feature. It is important that the mortgage market, like other free markets, should remain competitive. As long as the home owner is going to have to share the cost of higher interest rates, he will shop for the best deal he can get when his mortgage comes up for renewal.
In that connection I would like to emphasize again that the mortgage plan is voluntary. If in their judgment it is not a wise investment, then obviously Canadians will make the judgment that they feel is right.
Although we dealt with the Bill rather quickly, I believe that the committee discussion was informative and useful. I think it went a long way to answering some of the hesitations that Hon. Members had.
I would like to thank Hon. Members for their support and their interest in that part of the Bill which deals with the rural and native housing programs which extend, for the first time, benefits to all parts of Canada. Perhaps I should indicate quickly what the changes are.
As Hon. Members will recall, the legislation as it is now requires that assistance to allow people in designated areas to acquire their own houses can be provided only if the cost is shared between the federal Government and the provinces. Some provinces dropped out of the program and one province never participated. Other provinces, while participating, made their assistance conditional on such terms and conditions that we felt they were inconsistent with the very objectives of the program.
Some Hon. Members have expressed regret that we have not achieved unanimity among all governments as to the objectives and methods of operation. I agree, it is regrettable. This divergence of opinion, however, cannot be allowed to deprive people of urgent need of shelter. That is why we are proposing that the funding and administration of the program can be assumed unilaterally by the federal Government. But those who wish to continue to participate will be welcome. In fact, as the Hon. Member for Bow River (Mr. Taylor) indicated, it will be an additional contribution to that sector of the population which is very often most in need.
I appreciated the contributions made by all Hon. Members who expressed a sincere interest in the operation of this program and in the welfare of rural and native people who live in remote areas of the country. I believe that by enacting this Bill into law we will have given new life and strength to this vital and rather successful program. I am grateful that we have been able to move as we have with this legislation. Again, it is not a cure-all for all housing problems, but I think it goes some way and makes available to those who choose to avail themselves of it a form of insurance and a form of protection.
However, I suspect that over a period of time we will be back with some improving amendments.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: MEASURE TO AMEND