Hon. James Hugh Faulkner (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development):
Mr. Speaker, my intervention will be relatively brief. I want to speak about two aspects of the bill, the one that relates to the more effective delivery of housing to Indian reserves, and the other that deals with the conservation of heritage buildings. They seem at first blush to be rather disparate elements, but one stems from my responsibility as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the other from my mandate in the parks program for heritage preservation. There are aspects of the bill which will be helpful in dealing with both areas and I should like to draw the
March 5, 1979
attention of the House to those amendments which I think will help address the problem that has been under discussion.
If we look at the problems confronting the department in coming to grips with the very serious housing conditions on Indian reservations, I think we all share the view that a great deal has to be done. The hon. member who just preceded me, in a fashion which I think is rather characteristic of him, pointed out the problems, discussed some of the difficulties and dwelt on some of the shortcomings, but failed to mention some of the improvements we have made in respect of housing on the reserves in the last ten years. I do not think anyone who is anxious to be fair would deny there has been substantial progress. What has to be admitted is that there are still outstanding difficulties facing the department in trying to address the problem of Indian housing.
I think it is important to recognize that in the past ten years we have built approximately 10,800 houses on Indian reserves. In 1973-74, our rate of new house construction was approximately 2,000 per year, but as a result of a decision taken in cabinet in August, 1977, the rate was increased to about 2,400 new houses per year. At the same time, some existing 3,000 houses on Indian reserves are currently being renovated each year.
That is an improvement over what was being done. Although hon. members opposite tend to dissociate themselves from the past, they cannot avoid the reality that they were the government of this country between 1957 and 1963. They were not great years, Mr. Speaker, but the point is that they also had a chance to address the question of Indian housing. They also had a chance at that point to address the question of health services on reserves. I would ask any of them, particularly the hon. member for Prince George-Peace River (Mr. Oberle), to compare the rate of new housing in those years, the rate of new infrastructure in terms of water supply and health delivery services in those years, with what has been done in recent years. I agree with the hon. member that the task is still in front of us and, if anything, is becoming more difficult to cope with.
The housing needs analysis which was effective in December, 1977, indicated there is still a need over the next five years for approximately 22,500 new homes and the rehabilitation of some 30,000 existing homes on Indian reserves across Canada. There is no question that new construction and renovation is badly needed to reduce overcrowding, to replace substandard housing, and to provide for newly formed families. There is equally no question in my mind that the failure of governments, and-let us be realistic-the failure of this parliament, to find sufficient sums to meet this problem has contributed to the conditions which the hon. member I think rightly described. Maybe the tragedy he referred to of those Indian children will quicken the consciences of members in this House on all sides to recognize that there is more to be done in these areas affecting the Indian people.
I am dealing specifically with the status Indians. The hon. member went on to discuss the Metis and non-status Indians, and that is a question we can probably discuss in committee. The fact is there have been some achievements; there is no question about that. In recent years particularly there have been some solid achievements. The task is still there and it is an immense one. In my rough estimate, if we would try to catch up to that backlog, say over a period of five years, we are looking at an expenditure of something like $400 million. This is just to try to deal with the housing problem alone on the reserves. The present rate of expenditure is something like $195 million. There is a question of financing that is directly involved, but there is also a question of will and I think to the extent this chamber is engaged in a debate about this, there seems to be concern on both sides of the House that we address this question more forcibly. Hopefully when we get to committee we will be able to generate a little head of steam which in turn will lead to some money, increased appropriations, to deal with this very important problem.
Let me point out that Bill C-29 which is before us does help deal with the problem. I just want to go over the reason why. One of the main financing questions has been to supplement my department's $12,000 capital housing subsidy with programs from other federal departments. I want to tell the House today that after some discussions I think it is fair to say that we are in the final stages of developing a formula for using LEAP funds from CEIC, in a manner that coincides with the summer construction season. This has been a source of difficulty with the Indian people over the past two or three years. I think we are fairly close to an agreement that would allow these Canada Works funds to come in at the beginning of the season to maximize the construction period during the summer months.
Another important mechanism for financing Indian housing and for narrowing the gap between a decent house and what my department's housing subsidy can provide is through the provisions of the National Housing Act and its delivery agent, Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation. There have been and still are difficulties in applying the NHA to the particular circumstances of Indian reserves. However, improvements are being made, in particular some of the amendments proposed in Bill C-29.
The most important feature of the proposed amendments to the Indian people is the non-profit housing program, which is designed to increase the supply of low rent housing. This program enables non-profit groups and co-op groups, in this case Indian chiefs and councils, to develop the most appropriate form of housing at minimum cost to low and moderate income families and individuals. It is obviously potentially quite useful in the reserve situation since the majority of Indian people are in low and moderate income groups.
Many bands have been reluctant to use CMHC loans because of the requirement to incorporate. They felt that such incorporation would affect their Indian status and put reserve land in jeopardy. Amendments to section 15(1) remove the
March 5, 1979
major block to the utilization of CMHC programs in response to the particular concern of the Indian people which I have mentioned. As a result of amendments to section 15(1), Indians will be able to obtain all the benefits of non-profit housing without the necessity of having to legally incorporate as nonprofit organizations.
How the non-profit housing program works is that it provides a mechanism for obtaining capital funds for bands to build houses and rent them to occupants wishing to supplement my department's $12,000 housing subsidy. The capital funds in this case come from CMHC, but not, until passage of this bill, from approved lenders, which is the important addition. These lenders normally require some form of mortgage for their funds. Following the passage of Bill C-29 the approved lenders will be able to make loans to Indians for housing on reserves without having to take mortgages on reserve property. My guarantee, as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, of repayment of the loan in case of default will be the security needed for such loans.
With respect to the non-profit housing program, there is already provision in the National Housing Act for interest reduction. Through an operating agreement with the chief and band council the interest rate on these loans can be as low as 1 per cent or 2 per cent. Thus, the payment schedule for the occupant to the band is only a modest amount. This bill should ease the problems that bands have in financing housing in this particular way.
Besides the non-profit housing improvements, the amendments also affect the application of RRAP, the residential rehabilitation assistance program. This program is designed to upgrade the existing housing stock in low income areas through a combination of low interest and forgivable loans.
Under a revised section 34.1 the amendments expand the scope of RRAP to cover all Indian reserves. Henceforth all Indian bands will qualify for assistance, irrespective of the location of the Indian reserves. Formerly, it was a requirement for participation in RRAP that Indian reserves be located in areas which provinces designated as high unemployment. As is frequently the case, Indian reserves with high rates of unemployment could be located in areas of otherwise high employment. With the passage of Bill C-29 this will no longer make such affected reserves ineligible for RRAP.
Indian leaders in Canada have been consistent in their representations as to how we must address the housing problem on reserves. They are saying that the authority and responsibility for delivering a housing program must be at the level of the Indian band council. Members here today will recall earlier remarks I have made in this House endorsing the concepts of Indian control and Indian self-determination. Our housing program direction is aimed very much along the line of this philosophy, although progress is often agonizingly slow.
The amendments concerning non-profit housing are designed to further the objective of placing housing responsibility at the band level. At the same time the department is setting up regional Indian housing councils to help monitor and supervise the implementation of the housing program.
Indian people also say to me that my department should be responsible for co-ordinating financing and programming sources for Indian bands or groups of bands. My participation in this debate and the provisions to tailor the NHA to reserve circumstances are a reflection of my commitment to respond to this co-ordinating responsibility.
Indian people are arguing that there should be a strong association between land tenure and the trust responsibility of the minister of Indian affairs. I believe in this context that Indian bands need to be able to develop mtchanisms for granting tenure without jeopardizing the status of reserve lands. As I stated earlier, this bill will provide greater flexibility in this respect.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, we all have an obligation to continue to work with the Indian people to try to solve the problem of Indian housing, and to work with the Indian people in a meaningful way, because in the final analysis they may be and probably are the best judges of how housing problems on the reserves should be handled. I happen to believe that the bill before us in that respect is a contribution to the objectives I and the Indian people have, and of course I welcome them.
I would like for a moment, if I may, to look at the bill in terms of my mandate as the minister responsible for Parks Canada, particularly the national program of historic conservation and commemoration. You may not know this, Mr. Speaker, but there are some one million buildings in Canada which were constructed prior to 1920. These buildings are a highly valuable resource in terms of capital investment, the labour and culture they represent, yet many of these are in a poor state of repair and are often threatened with demolition.
The loss of historic properties and the destruction of neighbourhoods and streetscapes is a continuing drain on our national built heritage. CMHC is being most helpful in encouraging recycling, renovation and heritage preservation in Canada. There is an emerging policy thrust in heritage, and my colleague referred to existing practices in a speech to HUDAC last week.
This bill should complement these CMHC practices in the following ways. First, provision is made in the bill for obtaining funds for non-residential heritage property conversions. This means that in addition to financing the renovation of existing rental properties, the financing will be extended to cover, for example, the conversion of old warehouses to apartments where heritage improvements are being undertaken.
Second, through the RRAP program the bill will help heritage renovators by increasing the attractiveness of heritage projects to private lenders. The bill provides for insurance of privately financed residential rehabilitation under RRAP. This provision replaces a direct loan program by CMHC. The advantage of it is that in future, when refinancing of mortgages is permitted by CMHC, heritage renovators will be able to refinance multiple mortgages to obtain a single mortgage at first mortgage rates.
March 5, 1979
Third, the bill facilitates non-profit housing co-operatives by relaxing the membership requirements from the stipulation of 80 per cent to 50 per cent of members or shareholders also being residents. In conjunction with the introduction of this bill, CMEIC has been encouraging non-profit co-operatives to enter into the field of heritage restoration through the RRAP program. Thus financing will be made somewhat easier for persons wishing to recycle older buildings. Bill C-29 helps to meet the widespread concerns Canadians have for preserving our built heritage.
Other initiatives have been taken recently. The week before last, for instance, I set up a study group of senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Public Works, Secretary of State, CMHC, my own department and Heritage Canada to consider proposals and present within a month recommendations for government action to help save our built heritage. They will be focusing on tax policy, and in particular on possible ways to neutralize the tax incentives to demolish buildings. Tax laws affecting demolition are strongly believed to have unfortunate consequences for heritage conservation. This theme became very clear in the meeting the cabinet recently held in Toronto where we received a submission from Heritage Canada. That was the brunt of their presentation to cabinet.
This government feels that it is important to encourage the recycling of the built structures in this country. It is a matter of avoiding the irreparable mistake of wasting this important resource. It is clearly a waste of material, workmanship and energy to destroy buildings. The buildings we live in and work in are a vital and tangible part of our heritage.
Heritage preservation makes economic sense as well. It usually means renovation, and renovation is particularly labour intensive. Studies have tended to show more jobs created through investment in renovation than an equivalent amount in new construction.
At the beginning of this month I met with groups of professionals and businessmen and with representatives from municipal and provincial governments to discuss actions that the government and the private sector can take. There was strong support for the initiatives the government is now discussing. As a result, there is a concerted effort between the government and concerned elements of the private sector to consider ways to stimulate and provide incentives for investment in heritage structures. This group also stressed the importance of the role of CMHC. The bill under consideration at the present time is another measure to increase the participation of the private sector. The private sector is concerned about the adaptive re-use of buildings and is ready to act. This government is responding. This bill is an important part of that response and a demonstration that the government is determined to take action.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: NATIONAL HOUSING ACT