Speech // National Poverty Reduction Strategy in Canada
October 31st, 2016 - 11:51am
Madam Speaker, It is important for me to support Bill C-245, an act concerning the development of a national poverty reduction strategy in Canada.
I sincerely thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for taking up the torch that the NDP has been carrying for many years now. The fight against poverty is an issue that is very dear to me, as it is to her and the entire NDP caucus. In fact, I am a member of the all-party anti-poverty caucus.
This issue is not new. In 1989, NDP leader Ed Broadbent moved a motion to eliminate child poverty in Canada before 2000. That motion was unanimously adopted by the House. However, obviously, the Conservatives and the Liberals, who have shared office almost equally since that time, have not taken the necessary measures to eradicate this scourge. In my riding of Hochelaga, one merely has to take a walk down Ontario Street or Saint-Catherine Street to see that poverty is all too real.
This bill was first introduced by New Democrat Tony Martin. Later, my colleague from British Columbia, Jean Crowder, took over. Now the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has taken up the torch. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that the bill will be passed this time.
It is difficult to believe that Liberal members would oppose this bill to reduce poverty given that they made so many promises to that effect during the last election campaign. The Prime Minister even came to my riding to stage an announcement and promised that he would lift out of poverty the equivalent of an Olympic stadium filled with children. With this bill, the NDP is reaching out to him so he can put his words into action. It is high time, given that the House voted unanimously in favour of eliminating poverty in Canada twenty-seven years ago.
The purpose of this bill is to put in place an effective poverty reduction strategy that will take into account the needs of all communities by analyzing all factors and indicators of poverty. It has the support of many community groups and organizations that have long been calling for a comprehensive and concerted strategy to reduce poverty, even eliminate it entirely.
The purpose of this bill is to help eliminate poverty and foster social inclusion. It would establish and implement a poverty reduction strategy to ensure that, together with the provinces and territories, municipalities, service providers, and other stakeholders, the government takes real steps to reduce poverty in Canada.
It should be noted that six Canadian provinces have already passed similar legislation. It is therefore very important that they be involved in the process.
This bill would create the office of the poverty reduction commissioner, provided with a team and a budget, which would report annually to the House of Commons. It would also appoint a national council on poverty elimination and social inclusion, which would be charged with finding effective and viable solutions, to help Canada eliminate poverty.
In terms of concrete measures, the government would be forced to strengthen the social and economic safety net so as to leave no one behind. Let us remember that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives everyone the right to dignity and that it is the government’s responsibility to give effect to the charter.
Some of my colleagues in the other political parties seem nervous when we talk about strengthening the social fabric, whether because this would increase expenditures or out of pure ideological blindness. Also, to the advocates of austerity and the stone-age economists, I would say that many of the figures appearing in the budget expenditures column should be regarded as investments, and that poverty is detrimental to the economic and social development of our society.
For example, more and more studies are showing that providing funding for housing and combatting homelessness is much more than simple spending but, on the contrary, constitutes investment, both economic and social.
For instance, the “Impact Study on the Activities of the Société d’habitation du Québec” estimates that every dollar invested in its programs and its projects to replace, upgrade, and modernize public low-cost housing has injected $2.30 into the Quebec economy, mostly in the residential construction sector. Obviously, this does not take into account the social repercussions, which generate further savings.
It is also now generally accepted that it costs the Canadian economy more to ignore the problems of housing and homelessness that it would cost to solve them. The most conservative estimates show that homelessness costs the Canadian economy close to $4.5 billion every year. Other studies estimate this cost to be as high as $7 billion. For the government, eradicating homelessness and poverty would be a well-considered investment. The victims of homelessness and poverty are more vulnerable to physical and mental health problems and therefore more likely, that is, more than the average, to find themselves in hospitals and prisons, thereby generating substantial costs for the state. Therefore this is what really should be making some of my colleagues nervous, rather than the simple fact of investing to eliminate poverty and homelessness.
I have not finished yet. By way of comparison, every month it costs $10,900 to house a person in a hospital room, $4,333 in a provincial prison, and $1,932 in a shelter. Those costs are exorbitant when compared to the $701 it costs on average to grant a rent supplement and the $199.92 it costs for social housing. When are we going to start investing in the Canadian economy by embarking on a new wave of social housing construction? This bill would also target access to affordable housing that is safe and satisfactory for all.
Naturally, as the NDP’s housing critic, this aspect of the bill is particularly appealing to me, since it echoes my bill C-265, tabled on April 3, 2016. The act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians is designed to introduce a real pan-Canadian housing strategy, in partnership with elected officials in the other levels of government and with housing stakeholders, and in compliance with the international obligations of Canada, which recognized the right of every person to housing when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976.
I would like to offer a picture of the current housing situation in Canada. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the CMHC, considers housing unaffordable when a household devotes more than 30% of its income to it. When we look at certain statistics from the 2011 National Household Survey, we see that 3.3 million households spend over 30% of their total income on housing.
Looking more specifically at the 4.1 million tenant households, we note that over 40% of these allocate more than 30% of their income to rent. Indeed, 19% of them spend over 50% of their income on rent, and 10% of them over 80%. Therefore, it appears that a much higher percentage of Canadian tenant households have been exceeding the affordability threshold established by the CMHC.
Consequently, the households in urgent need of housing are too often faced with choosing between the essential needs they have to meet. In a rich country like ours, we think it is totally unacceptable that people should have to choose, for example, between paying for groceries and paying for rent.
Obviously, Canada’s housing situation has even greater repercussions on the most vulnerable and venerable in our society. Single-parent families headed by a woman, seniors living alone, indigenous households on or off reserve, recent immigrants and persons living with disabilities are among the populations most likely to be victims of this affordability crisis.
Incidentally, this bill would also take account of the needs of all communities, and would introduce social condition to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. More specifically with regard to first nations members living on reserve, the National Household Survey shows that nearly 40% of their dwelling units, which are the responsibility of the federal government, are in need of major repairs, while nearly 35% of them are not suited to the size of the family. In certain Inuit communities, the percentage of dwelling units not suitable to family size is in excess of 50%.
It is high time that Canada adopted a strategy to combat poverty as well as the means necessary to eliminate it.