Jenny in the House: Budget 2017: On Housing

On April 3, 2017, Jenny rose to speak on a national housing strategy:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member forSalaberry—Suroît.

Fundamentally, budgets are about priorities and what our priorities are speak a lot about who we are, what we stand for, and what we value. The Liberal government was elected on an ambitious platform that promised “real change”. It has been almost a year and a half, and what have we seen? It is post-election and the rhetoric is still in full flight.

However, when it comes to matching the action to the rhetoric, unfortunately, for many hard-working Canadians, especially those struggling to make ends meet, budget 2017 falls short, way short.

After studying the budget documents, I will venture to say that what budget 2017 really offers to Canadians is a healthy dose of cynicism. Why? While the government is making grand statements about promising X millions for the next five years for this and Y million for the next 10 years for that, when we look at the details of the budget, we often will see these announcements have no funding attached to them in this fiscal year 2017-18.

In many instances, the money does not even flow until the pre-election period for 2019. Most glaringly, budget 2017 offers many zeroes for this budget's fiscal year under program spending that would help low-income and middle-class Canadians, while leaving expensive and regressive tax breaks for wealthy CEOs and giveaways to large corporations untouched.

Here is a short list of zeroes in budget 2017 for this fiscal year: working together to tackle homelessness, zero; improving air quality for Canadians, zero; targeting housing support for indigenous peoples not living on reserve, zero; supporting families through early learning and child care, zero; improving indigenous communities, zero; accelerating the replacement of coal generated electricity, zero; veterans emergency funds, zero; veterans and family well-being fund, zero. Instead of going after tax loopholes taking advantage of only by the few wealthiest Canadians, the government chose to eliminate the public transit tax credit.

One of my constituents, Kalev, wrote to me saying:

I am a constituent in your riding, renting a house with my partner...and three friends, all of whom work and/or go to school full time. I also work full time as a lawyer.

We gave birth to our son in late September, and it has been a wonderful, if challenging, experience. We have been fortunate to have the support of my [partner's] mother, who is able to assist two days a week, to give [my partner] a break and a chance to catch up on the precious little sleep available to new parents.

However, come summer, [my partner's] mother will be leaving the country to spend time with her own ailing father and [my partner] will need to get back to her graduate studies. To do this, we anticipate needing at least part time child care assistance, and let me tell you, the availability of these services is scant to non-existent.

Further to the lack of availability, the cost of even part time care...is likely to reach $1000 a month...I am astounded, given that most of our lawmakers are parents themselves, that such a thin and inefficient system is in place to provide families with young children the support they need to get back to work, contributing to the tax-base and to their own well-being.

The Prime Minister was out self-promoting what a great job he was doing in child care. Let us be clear. Even though the situation is urgent for families like Kalev, budget 2017 provides exactly zero dollars in new funding for child care spaces. What is more, future funding for child care over the next decade is nowhere near adequate to fill the need for child care spaces, never mind that child care costs have risen by more than 8% in the last two years and could reach as high as $1,600 a month per child in some cities. Real change he says? Not.

Let us turn to another area.

Canada is one of the only developed nations with a universal health care system that has no pharmacare plan. Despite promises of real change, the Liberal government has stuck to Harper's health budget plans and the meagre investment of over five years to lower drug costs is completely inadequate. Recent studies have shown that over 8% of Canadian seniors are not filling prescriptions because of the cost. It is important to know that this is not a phenomenon only experienced by older Canadians. I have met some of those individuals. Some are cutting their pills in half so they can “stretch” their medication. Others are taking their pills on alternate days.

I have met people with diabetes who are not using the strips to regularly check their blood sugar. Why? Because the strips are not covered by pharmacare and they cannot afford to buy them.

The lack of universal drug coverage puts the costs of many prescription drugs out of reach for too many Canadians.

Marianne wrote to me about someone with Parkinson's disease who is spending $6,000 a year on drugs. Marianne tells me, “He's now 70 years old, and still working full time because he feels the cost of the drugs prevents him from being able to retire. At the same time, the stress from work is contributing to the progress of his disease. It is heartbreaking to watch this, and it's difficult to believe this is happening in Canada.”

This is the reality on the ground for people who cannot afford their medication, but it does not have to be this way. If we ended tax giveaways to the ultra-rich, we could invest in a national pharmacare program. A national pharmacare program is better for patients and it keeps people out of the emergency room and long-term care beds. By the way, the cost of one night in a hospital in B.C. is approximately $1,500. It is estimated that a national pharmacare program costs $6 billion annually. Can we afford it? We can. If we choose to reduce the corporate welfare to big corporations with the corporate income tax, we could more than pay for a national pharmacare program.

I will now turn to another key issue.

Despite grand pronouncements of a new nation-to-nation relationship, the Liberal government has utterly failed to deliver for Canada's indigenous peoples in budget 2017. Most pressing are the needs of indigenous youth. Despite the fact that the House unanimously voted for the NDP motion on child welfare that called for an immediate injection of $155 million to ensure the government complied with a ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, just like the Harper administration the Liberal government continues to discriminate against indigenous children. Budget 2017 does not provide a dime to address this unacceptable injustice.

Dr. Cindy Blackstock made it very clear when she said:

There’s nothing new in the budget for First Nations children and their families, in child welfare, or their implementation of the Jordan’s Principle...even though they’ve been found out of compliance with legal orders to stop that inequality.

It’s a moral issue: is Canada so broke that the finance minister and the Prime Minister have made a deliberate choice to discriminate against little kids?

Vancouver East has the third largest urban aboriginal population in Canada, and we care deeply about the plight of indigenous, Métis, and Inuit peoples on and off reserves.

This comment from Christine in my riding is not atypical:

My heart breaks when I think of Aboriginal people who are so desperate that they feel their only option is to end their own life - as a representative of East Van, I hope you will speak up and urge the government to send the assistance that is needed now, and continue the long-overdue work at stabilizing long-neglected Aboriginal communities.

On behalf of my constituents, I ask the Liberal government why big corporations are allowed to stash almost $40 billion in offshore tax havens so they do not have to pay their fair share of taxes, which results in a loss of $7 billion in taxes each year and we cannot find $155 million so indigenous children have the same access to education as non-indigenous children? What kind of people are we and what kind of world do we live in?

I would be remiss if I, as the representative of Vancouver East, did not touch on the missed opportunity to start a national housing strategy.

While the parliamentary secretary for housing promised $20 billion for housing over 10 years during the election campaign, let me point out that the government actually only plans to spend $8.3 billion over that same period, less than half of what it promised. To make matters worse, 90% of that funding will not actually be spent until after the next election.

Thousands of Canadians across the country are struggling to find affordable housing, and this is a real problem in my riding, yet the Liberal government continues to kick the can down the road, making grand promises that are actually contingent on it winning another election.

Casey from my riding wrote, “If you don't want to build enough good, safe, community oriented, integrated subsidized housing, then why do you keep the CPP and welfare rates so low that we can't afford to live?” That is a good question."

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2017/4/3/jenny-kwan-1/

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