Mr. Bob Ogle (Saskatoon East):
Mr. Speaker, I hope that I will be able to put into concrete terms many of the suggestions that were made in the last speech and use another style to present them.
We are in a very serious situation. I wish to begin my remarks on Bill C-22 by situating the debate on this legislation within the broader issue of providing decent housing and adequate living standards for all Canadians. Surely everyone here agrees that shelter is a fundamental human need, and therefore in a society as blessed with material resources as ours it should be a fundamental social right of all our citizens. It is incumbent upon governments at all levels to see that this human right of Canadians is respected and acted upon. That that has not been the case in the past is all too apparent to anyone who opens his or her eyes and ears. 1 hope that we can discuss these problems and their solution with open minds and hearts.
We do not need a recital of statistics to know that there are still many Canadians who do not enjoy the quality of housing to which those of us more fortunate are accustomed. We need only visit and talk to people in the north, on Indian reservations, in our inner cities and depressed regions to know that this is so. In Canada right now there are millions of people living in substandard housing, millions who are having great difficulty bearing the carrying of operating costs on their homes, and still millions of others who are having to give up their dream of owning their own home.
1 am not saying there has been no progress in housing production in recent decades. It is certainly true that Canada
Mortgage Tax Credit
comes off very well when compared to conditions in countries in the Third World, conditions with which I am personally familiar. I would like to speak for a moment to the type of housing in which most of the world now lives.
In the area of South America where I spent a number of years of my life, northeast Brazil, the standard house was the kind of house that most people now on this planet have as their house. It is literally made out of sticks and mud with a thatched, palm leaf roof, lacking what we call the basic necessities of what makes it possible to live a human life. It is a dwelling with a mud floor, without furniture, bedding, water or sanitation, and by its very nature is a trap for disease. It is a dwelling with rats, lizards and insects.
I wish to give a case in point to illustrate this reality. For many of the people in that area their house was literally a death trap. When the mud dries on the walls, there is a little insect called the barbeiro which crawls into the cracks in the mud walls. At night it comes out and bites those who are there. The next day these people do not know they have been bitten. However, the insect has deposited in their very bodies the seeds of death. It is a kind of fluke, a little bug that travels through the bloodstream and finally ends up in the heart. It eats out the interior of the heart and ten to 12 years after the person has been bitten, he withers away and dies.
I make this point now not because there is this type of bug in Canada but because one of my colleagues who now works in the inner section of Montreal told me that, on returning to Canada after working with me for six or seven years in northeast Brazil, he was surprised there was such a similarity between the housing for the poor in Montreal and the housing for the poor in northeast Brazil. Canadians must remember that these kinds of miseries exist in our midst.
It is true that in Canada we have succeeded in building a large housing industry, but we have done much less in seeing to it that the benefits from this increase in enterprise and production are available to everyone at a reasonable and affordable cost as a matter of social right. Moreover, while governments, federal and provincial, have sought to assist and stimulate this industry through various tax and fiscal measures, through programs and agencies bearing a plethora of acronyms such as HUDAC, AHOP, MURB, CHIP, GPM, NIP, RRAP-so many words have been put together to disguise some mode of acting that it is almost like having to learn a new language-these programs have done much less well at ensuring that these budgetary measures, programs and agencies were in fact meeting the real housing needs of people, in particular the needs of low income earners or those who are, through no fault of their own, unable to support themselves and are those with special needs. Here I would mention the handicapped, students, pensioners, new immigrants, native people, people in the far-flung communities of the north and in remote, outlying areas. Let us take to heart that these are Canadians, people who live among us, our brothers and sisters who live in a situation that should not be tolerated in our country.
November 27, 1979
Mortgage Tax Credit
So far in this debate our Liberal and Tory friends, those representatives of the centre right parties of this country, have been more interested in scoring political points than in addressing the real housing needs of our people. That sort of partisan pettiness is not what motivates those of us who speak on behalf of our constituents through the New Democratic Party. It is not what motivates those who, with us, make common cause for a socially just housing policy for Canadians.
Earlier in the debate the Minister of Finance (Mr. Crosbie) honoured us on this side of the House by referring to the opponents of his regressive and insensitive policies as an unholy coalition of baneful bureaucrats, raving radicals and "middle class trendies". In view of the minister's eloquent description of our social justice and equity-in a word, fairness-in Canadian public policy, I would like to quote, for the edification and enlightenment of members opposite, several sections from the pastoral message of the Canadian Catholic Bishops on the occasion of the Habitat 1976 conference in Vancouver. The bishops' pastoral message, entitled simply "Decent Housing for all", reads in part as follows:
Canada, despite its abundant wealth, has not yet managed to provide all of its population with a decent shelter. Here and there we have our own grey areas of substandard dwellings that call to mind conditions in developing countries. Particularly in large cities, behind a screen of skyscrapers, wide avenues sometimes conceal blighted areas teeming with newcomers, unemployed workers, low wage-earners or members of ethnic minorities. The development of suburbia has given rise to similar results. Alongside well appointed and serviced new residential areas are clusters of huts or shacks without essential services such as running water, adequate heating, transportation and sewers. In such marginal communities, the infant death rate is twice as high as the Canadian average. And that rate is higher still among Indians and the Inuit; strange contrasts between two worlds that face each other from afar and do not meet.
The bishops went on to say in the same pastoral letter:
To avoid swelling the ranks of the needy it will not be enough to build thousands and thousands of houses. We will first need to know where to build them, where to find the required capital, and what types of dwellings are necessary for human community. That is why Canada must urgently adopt policies calculated to protect its citizens, especially its low wage earners, against galloping inflation of house building costs.
Remember, this was written almost four years ago.
It must protect citizens against rising mortgage rates, real estate speculation, increased costs of building materials, higher rents, etc.
We all know these are the things we were warned about five years ago. They have become the reality of today because we let them get out of hand. I think I share with many members of this House and with the Canadian public at large an interest not only in the future of our country but in the future in general. We are only some 30 days or so away from the 1980s and in a few years we shall be face to face with the year which has been set before us as a kind of symbol of the future-1984. It is in this light that I should like to read one more section from the pastoral letter I have been quoting:
Of course, Canada in the year 2000 will be quite different from what it is now. What is really important is that it become the country Canadians want it to be. This all depends on our common dream and our collective ability to make that dream come true. Do we want a society whose over-all priorities will be determined solely on the basis of economic principles? Do we want a society which perpetuates social differences, discrimination between the affluent and the
destitute, between posh areas and slum-dwellings? Or would we rather have a society in which people are foremost? Our task, therefore, is to define clearly the links we wish between profit, consumption and the quality of life for us all: housing for people or housing for profits? Food for the hungry, or food as a market commodity? Thus, it is not that economic means are lacking: the problem is to find the will to restructure our society and reorder its priorities.
That is the end of the passage I have selected to read from that document because I believe it touches at the very base of the question.
We must have the will to do these things because it would seem we have the ability and the material. In addition to the document I have quoted I might have mentioned Peter Spurr's excellent study on land and urban development, the incisive review of Canadian social housing policy put out by the Canadian Council for Social Development, or the many recommendations of Canadian non-governmental organizations, a number of which were accepted but never acted upon by the Liberal government of the day, that decent housing be treated as a priority social utility and not as just another market commodity. Does the Minister of Finance really believe that all these distinguished individuals and organizations are just a bunch of extremists or misguided "middle-class trendies"? If he does, I would warn him that the language of petty insult is a very slim foundation on which to rest a government.
We in the New Democratic Party are not afraid of the verdict of the Canadian people on this issue. The Minister of Finance thinks he has a Christmas goody in his tax credits, but as long as this ill-starred government lasts we will credit the people of Canada with enough sense to see through his arrogance and bankrupt arguments.
Surely, the test of any government is how well it attempts to meet the needs of all the citizens it was elected to represent. And, surely, the measure of any single piece of legislation is how well it contributes to that noble goal of government. By that standard, Bill C-20 is a meagre and cynical effort indeed. The Minister of Finance has at least recognized the inequity of a tax deduction and changed it to a tax credit. As my hon. friend from Regina East (Mr. de Jong) has stated, we shall be moving amendments in committee to try to salvage something for the millions of ordinary Canadians who have been forgotten by this bill. We want a comprehensive social housing policy which will provide a mix of good, affordable accommodation capable of meeting the needs of all Canadians.
The minister has given us only a piecemeal sop to work with. His statement that our party does not want Canadians to own their own homes is patent nonsense and unworthy of a minister of the Crown. The fact is that his bill assists those who already have large mortgages, regardless of income, far more than it assists renters of modest means to enter today's prohibitive mortgage market. Coupled with the hon. gentleman's disastrous high interest rate policy, the net effect of this government's program will be a decrease in housing starts, not an increase as they pretend. All this for the sake of a foolhardy election promise, and all this without once addressing the real issues of affordability and equity.
November 27, 1979
I shall not repeat the excellent arguments of previous speakers from my party with regard to the many specific weaknesses of this bill, but I should like to call attention to several of the most glaring ironies that surround this ill-considered piece of legislation. Ever since taking power the government has been wringing its hands about the size of the federal deficit, which it blames on Liberal mismanagement. But after six months on the job what is the sum total of Tory brilliance as reflected in this paltry proposal before us? It is a tax welfare scheme which will do nothing for renters, the poor and the many older Canadians who have paid off their mortgages through years of hard work. It is a welfare scheme which will get us nowhere in terms of a fair social housing policy for people of all ages and means in every part of Canada, though it will commit the federal government to successively greater cash outlays amounting to billions of dollars in a few years.
The government is asking us to support a welfare band-aid which will not only be discriminatory, regressive and ineffectual but will be inflationary and a growing burden on the federal treasury to boot-the wrong kind of burden, I might add, because it is the kind of government spending which divides Canadians and which economists have shown to be a dismal failure from a cost-benefit standpoint. This sorry piece of legislation will not achieve its stated objectives but will be an albatross around the necks of governments to come, an albatross which will weigh heavily in future years, an albatross which we might classify as a Clark-Crosbie albatross, a "C-C" albatross, though not the kind of "CC" most Canadians would look for.
However, the government persists as though it is doing the voters a great favour. The government obviously thinks it is doing itself a great favour. In reality it is doing neither. Within the context of the government's total economic policy only marginal net benefits, if even that, will accrue to eligible voters who need assistance. On the other hand, all voters will have to pick up the tab for an increasingly wasteful and inefficient program. Furthermore, the government will have to find ways to get this money from those unfortunate voters who will not benefit at all from the program.
This bill is nothing more than a hidden tax expenditure which itself is a camouflage for what my colleague, the hon. member for Winnipeg-Birds Hill (Mr. Blaikie), has called the Tory "hidden agenda". We now see that the principle of universality in our social programs is being threatened. The Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Crombie) claims magnanimously that this would only be in order to have more money, better to meet the needs of low income Canadians. However, the Tories have next to nothing in concrete terms to offer low income voters except more of the same, more restraint and more hardship.
We are left with the concrete reality that the Minister of National Health and Welfare is not in the inner cabinet, but the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board (Mr. Stevens) are. Do they share their colleague's good
Mortgage Tax Credit
intentions, or are they, as is much more likely, already laying claim to the savings from cutbacks in social spending and in services to people? With this ill-conceived bill we can look forward to welfare redistribution all right, from progressive social policies to regressive fiscal ones, and this in the name of giving Canadians the forward looking change they voted for and deserve. It is time this strategy of the Tory party was exposed for what it is, a desperate attempt to win support by means of shoddy, half-baked measures without regard to their elemental unfairness or negative consequences.
We have been speaking about housing, and I appreciate that there is a great difference between a house and a home. Nevertheless, let us bear in mind that without adequate individual housing for families there cannot be homes. Our country and all countries are based on the principle that we live in homes and that we have a place in which there is not only shelter from the elements but also love, care and shelter from the problems of the world.
This bill, which will help a small number of Canadians, leaves out the majority who need to have homes. I would like to bring to mind once more the fact that in our country we have a "third world" in which many Canadians live and which could become a greater part of our country unless a far greater effort is made toward creating situations and building dwellings in which we can have homes.
As a last thought I would like to leave this House with the idea once more that the albatross of the ancient mariner was what followed his doomed ship and finally brought about its destruction. The albatross we have spoken about, the albatross of Bill C-20, could certainly do the same to our land.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: INCOME TAX ACT