HANSARD: House debate on dental care and housing benefit for low-income renters
House of Common
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to join in this debate this morning on Bill C-31.
As members know, Bill C-31 has two provisions to it. One is ensuring that children under 12, with limited family incomes, would be able to get support for their oral health. We have heard from Conservative members who are opposed to this. I have heard them say over and again that dental care is not a priority. I have heard them say very specifically that children who cannot access dental care do not need it. I can hardly believe what I have heard, yet I am hearing it over and again. In fact, the member for Cumberland—Colchester said at committee, “I think very clearly we've obviously established there's no dental crisis here.”
I have to say that I do not know which rock the Conservatives have been hiding under because the reality is this. There are over 500,000 children who cannot access dental care because their families do not have the financial means to do so and do not have coverage. There are children who miss school, who suffer and are in pain because they do not have access to dental care. There are people who end up in emergency wards in need of dental care support.
Just because the Conservatives, including their leader, have had dental care support covered by the taxpayers for decades does not mean that there are people who do not need it. Let me tell members that those who do not get it need it. I have met families in my community who need this service and are very thankful that finally this dream the NDP had with Tommy Douglas 60 years ago, who brought all of us national universal health care. In his vision, he had always wanted to see dental care included along with pharmacare. That was always the dream and 60 years later, yes, in a minority government, the NDP has forced the Liberals to deliver exactly that, and I am very proud of this work.
I want to also say that the other provision related to this bill is with respect to housing. It is not everything I want, but it is something. The NDP was able to force the government to provide a one-time payment for low-income families. It is a one-time $500 housing benefit that will benefit approximately 1.8 million people across the country.
I also moved four amendments at committee. Three of them passed, which is why we are back here debating the amendments today. I am glad the government supported these amendments and that the minister has actually, on the two that require royal recommendation, undertaken to do that.
What are these amendments? One is with respect to the application process. Bill C-31 originally only provided a 90-day window for people to apply. I was very worried about the 90-day window because there are people who have technology issues, do not have access to technology, or may not even be technology literate. Many of the seniors in my riding also have a language barrier. Therefore, my fear was that 90 days was not going to be enough time for people to access this program, because they have to apply for it. It is not automatic. Therefore, I moved an amendment to change the 90-day requirement to 120 days to give that bit of extra time for people to make that application. I am glad that it was supported and the motion passed, not because of the Conservatives I do not think, but because of the Bloc and the Liberals. I am thankful for that.
The other amendment I moved at committee was about the provisions of eligible rent that a person could claim if they were in a room and board situation. The original bill says they can only claim 75% of that rent. I was able to move an amendment to change it to 90%, to increase it slightly. Why? If people are claiming room and board with other services like utilities, the utilities may not be 25% of their total rent, yet 25% will be deducted in their claim. My view was that we needed to close that gap, so I moved an amendment to change it from 75% to 90%.
I am very glad that the government and the Bloc supported it, wanting to support people who need this one-time housing benefit to help them out. I am very thankful for the passage of that amendment.
Lastly, the amendment that also passed with the support of the Bloc and the Liberals was to ensure that families who are in a co-habitation situation are able to claim the benefit according to the actual rent they pay in terms of the respecting partners, not 50%. The original bill says they can only claim 50% of their total rent. To me it should be according to the amount they pay, not some arbitrary number like the 50% that the government had put forward. I am glad that an amendment to say it should reflect the actual rent was adopted, with the support of the Bloc and the Liberals.
These are the enhancements that we were able to bring forward as New Democrats to this bill. That is what we are debating today.
There are those people, the Conservatives, who say that no, they do not support it. I kept hearing them say we cannot afford it. It is their underlying message. Notwithstanding the fact that the oil and gas sector made $147 billion last year, they will not have any discussion about imposing a profiteering tax and making sure that they pay their fair share so that those who are most vulnerable in the greatest need in our community would actually have a little bit of support during this time.
Who are the people who will benefit? We are talking about people whose income is less than $35,000 a couple and less than $20,000 for a single person who is paying more than 30% of their total income toward rent. It is a pittance. Think about it, $500 to support them, and yet the Conservatives say no, that we cannot afford it. My goodness, how could we? The roof is falling in. We cannot even fix our steps. What are these steps? These steps that we need to address are for the very people who have the greatest need.
To all the members of the House who oppose this, let me just put on the record how many people would benefit from this by their respective province: Newfoundland, 16,800 people will benefit from this; P.E.I., 4,000; Nova Scotia, 45,400; New Brunswick, 28,500; Quebec, 568,800; Ontario, 718,400; Manitoba, 63,700; Saskatchewan, 49,500; Alberta, 130,900; British Columbia, 159,600; all together, 1.785 million people. That is the number of people who would receive this housing benefit.
We are talking about a $500 housing benefit at a time when inflation, the cost of living and the cost of food is skyrocketing. That is what we are talking about. Can we really find it within ourselves to say that we cannot afford it? Can we really say that those people do not deserve some help at this critical time?
I know that the Conservatives might be frustrated with my comments. They should be, because they are being called out. They are being called out on their approach to this. I get it that government being in government is about determining priorities. New Democrats are here to help people. That is what this bill is all about.