House of Commons
June 12, 2012
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Madam Speaker, it is very interesting to listen to the debate tonight in the House of Commons on Bill C-38 and to hear our Conservative colleagues tell us that Canada is the best of the best as they reel off their speaking points.
I want to begin my remarks tonight on Bill C-38 by pointing out what needs to be said, which is that the real threat of the budget bill is how it would contribute to income inequality in this country.
There is no question that over the last two decades we have seen a widening gap between wealth and poverty in this country. It is mainly because of public policies that we have seen a drain on things like affordable housing, eligibility for employment insurance, high day care costs and the cost of education. When we look at the record of the Conservative government, it is a terrible record of the growing inequality in this country.
What I find offensive about the bill is that it is completely out of balance. On the one hand, it does nothing to redress things like corporate tax cuts. The government has now given I think it is more than $60 billion to corporations that were profitable and actually did not need a break. On the other hand, the government has been cutting away at the bare essentials that Canadians need.
In a riding like mine, Vancouver East, we have a very low-income community. People struggle day by day to make ends meet. When we look at the bill, we should ask one simple question: What is in the bill that they could hope for that would improve their quality of life?
When we go through this massive budget bill, into which the government has thrown everything but the kitchen sink, and examine it clause by clause, issue by issue, it is very bad news for low-income and middle-income Canadians. On employment insurance, people cannot even get their phone calls returned, and those who are eligible cannot get on EI simply because the services are not being provided.
I do not fault the front-line workers at Service Canada for that. They are struggling to keep up with the call demand. I fault the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the federal government who have deliberately arranged the services so that they are now so difficult to access it makes it almost impossible to have a query answered or to get onto employment insurance. This is something we hear about in my community office every day as people phone in.
One only has to look at pensions. I recently held a pension forum in my riding of Vancouver East. People are very worried. It is not just the older folks who might be approaching the age for OAS who are worried, but also the younger generation of Canadians who understand that the government will be cutting out their income security in the future. These people do not rely on RRSPs. They do not rely on the pooled registered pension plan that we have debated in this House. These people have paid into the Canada pension plan and need old age security. These are the people who will be hurt.
One of things that I find to be the most offensive in this budget is that it does absolutely nothing to address one of the fundamental crises we face in this country, which is the lack of affordable housing.
In metro Vancouver, which is the whole of the Lower Mainland, there is an organization called the Rental Housing Supply Coalition. The coalition includes renters, co-ops, social housing, rental apartment owners and managers, building owners and managers, as well as metro Vancouver officials. It is a very unusual coalition of people who do not often work together, but they have come together because they are so concerned about what is going on in metro Vancouver. There are approximately 31,000 households, which represent probably close to 100,000 people, spending so much on rent that they are just one cheque away from homelessness.
Unfortunately, we know about homelessness in our city, but this crisis is affecting working people now. It is affecting people who will never be able to afford a home. They are struggling to find an affordable place to live and are spending 40% to 60% of their income on rent.
Recently, the City of Vancouver issued a report which shows that homelessness has doubled in the last year. This is a city council that has put enormous energy, effort and investment into dealing with homelessness in our city. What has it received from the federal government? Zip, zero.
I feel angry that this budget which has been touted by the Conservative government is widening the gap and leaving so many people behind.
I will give another example in housing. There are over 600,000 households in Canada that are assisted under federal housing programs. There is a long record of social housing and co-op housing in this country. However, we are facing another crisis in that many of the long-term operating agreements are going to expire. We know that the number of assisted households has dropped by about 22,000 since 2007 and it is predicted that another 63,000 households will be affected by 2015. I have to point out that this is existing, stable, affordable social housing that we are at risk of losing because the Conservative government has been completely blind to organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the big-city mayors and housing organizations which have drawn to the Conservatives' attention that unless we—
I hear them laughing, Madam Speaker. I guess that homelessness and housing is a laughing matter for the Conservative members. How outrageous and how insulting that is to the 1.5 million Canadians who are struggling to meet their housing costs. I find it reprehensible that the Conservatives cannot even listen respectfully to a debate that is based on bringing forward the real experience of people who are having difficulties in their local communities.
Whether it is housing, pensions, EI, or even something like the Coast Guard in Vancouver, this budget is disappointing. Recently, I was very happy that two of our members, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam and the member for St. John's East, came to Vancouver and held a very successful forum regarding the cutting of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. There is an uproar in our city about why this cut has to take place. There are attacks on environmental organizations. In British Columbia, environmental assessments and proper reviews are really important. People take them very seriously. One only has to look at the hearings that are taking place for the northern gateway pipeline to know that people are very concerned about how our environment would be placed at risk. What would this bill do? In one fell swoop it would completely gut our environmental assessment process, after years of developing it into a legitimate process.
No matter which way we look at this bill, when the Conservatives put out the line that somehow Canadians are going to benefit, really what are they thinking about? Are they so blind to what is actually taking place? They do not have to take our word for it. They can talk to any organization, whether it is the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, or environmental groups. Any organization will point out how this bill would have such a deep impact on people in this country.
I have not even spoken about the process we have gone through, but I will end by saying that besides the substance of the bill, the process has been completely appalling. Imagine a bill that is over 400 pages long. Imagine a bill that would change over 70 pieces of legislation. Imagine a bill that was rushed through one committee and a subcommittee. Even the Senate has five committees studying this bill right now, before the bill has even been sent to the Senate, assuming it is going to pass here after the Conservatives ram it through. Even the Senate has taken more time to consider Bill C-38.
In this place, the Conservative government only has one agenda. The Conservatives do not care about what anybody has to say. They are hell-bent on getting this bill through. It is a crying shame that we are at this point.
More and more Canadians are waking up to this. The Conservatives may laugh today. They may say they do not really care what people think, but I think they have a surprise coming. I think that people who maybe even voted for local Conservative members of Parliament, people who are living on pensions and people who are struggling are very upset about this bill and how it would impact them.
Tonight we are debating this bill. We are going to go to the very end and use all the energy we can to show that the amendments we have brought forward on this bill are a reflection of the opposition that Canadians have to it. We are going to do that as much as we can.