Jenny responded to the Conservatives’ motion to tackle housing crisis

Opposition Motion—Home Ownership and Renting Affordability
Business of Supply
Government Orders
May 2nd, 2023 / 12:05 p.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to engage in this debate today about housing. In fact, I could talk about housing all day long.

The motion before us today is indeed an interesting one. In the Conservatives' approach, per usual, they focus only on issues where they could actually put out buzzwords to rev up the community about a situation. The solutions they provide often have tremendous gaps and, interestingly, they always miss when it comes to targeting the corporate sector. I wonder why the Conservatives always think the corporate sector will take care of things, that somehow things will magically be okay, including the situation with housing. If the market were going to take care of the housing crisis, or, in fact, if the market were not going to escalate the crisis, then we would not be in this situation today.

The reality is this: When we look at the housing crisis from coast to coast to coast, we do need government intervention. I am a strong proponent of that, saying that the federal government needs to show leadership. It does not matter who is in government. Whether it is the Liberals or the Conservatives, government needs to be there for people to ensure housing as a basic human right.

The reality is that the government has not been there. That is why we have the housing crisis we face today. The Liberals cancelled the national affordable housing program back in 1993. Our country lost more than half a million units of social and co-op housing that would otherwise have been built had the Liberals not cancelled the program.

Now, I have to say that the Conservatives also did not do their part. They were in government as well. They did not invest in housing as they needed to do. More to the point, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives invested in housing to meet the needs on the basis of housing being a basic human right. Not only that, but they allowed the market to go rampant in taking advantage of Canadians who need housing.

What happened after the federal Liberals cancelled the national affordable housing program? We started to see real estate investment trusts come into the market. They started to buy up housing stock in the community. Not only did they start to buy up the housing stock, but the government of the day also allowed them to walk away with a free pass to boot. They did not have to pay the corporate tax rate, even though, for all intents and purposes, they operate like a corporation. 

As a result, the seven largest real estate investment trusts did not have to pay taxes at the corporate rate to the general revenues, to the tune of $1.2 billion. This tax should have been collected, and then the government could have reinvested that money into housing by creating an acquisition fund for non-profits, which the Liberals say they support. They should have funded it so that we could hold the housing stock. However, the Liberals did not do that.

It was not just the Liberals; the Conservatives did not do that either. They allowed this to go on and on. Now, the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Budget Officer just issued a report indicating that Canada will lose another $300 million over the next four years if we do not change the tax policy. The NDP has said on the public record that we need to stop fuelling the housing crisis. Corporate landlords need to pay their fair share, and real estate investment trusts need to pay the corporate tax rate. The money that we collect should be reinvested back into housing.

However, we do not see any of that language in this motion today. The Conservatives are saying that local governments should pre-emptively upzone a parcel of land for the development of housing. Now let us be clear: When they do that, what is happening is that the Conservatives are saying to the local government to just write developers a blank cheque. Every time a parcel of land is upzoned, that land value increases exponentially.

I am not saying we should not upzone land for further housing development, but my question is this: Why did the Conservatives not put in language to say that there needs to be a return back to the community? When we give value in land to the developers, there has to be a return back to the community to ensure that the increased value in land that they receive from the upzoning is actually going to the community in the form of community contributions, more social housing, day care spaces and green spaces, as examples. The Conservatives consistently and persistently give a free pass to the private sector; according to the New Democrats, that is wrong.

We also want to see “affordability” defined. What has happened over the years is that both the Liberals and the Conservatives have eroded the term “affordability” to the point where it is meaningless. In fact, if we talk to people in the non-profit sector, they think that when the government says “affordable housing”, it is a four-letter word. It does not actually amount to being affordable by any stretch of the imagination.

Once upon a time, core-need housing was deemed to be affordable when it was geared to income. That has now disappeared. It no longer exists. It exists only in theory, and that should stop. This motion should have incorporated language on affordability and defined it better.

We want to tie federal infrastructure dollars for municipalities to the number of new homes built, impose clawbacks on municipalities that delay new home construction, and ensure that there is federal funding for major transit projects to cities that pre-emptively upzone lands around transit infrastructure for higher-density housing.

The NDP is calling for amendments to this motion. We are calling for the Conservatives to accept three amendments. Specifically, we want to ensure that at least one-third of the new homes built meet core affordability needs and that at least one-third of the new homes are set, at a minimum, at 20% below market housing rent. We need to ensure that upzoning provides tangible benefits to local communities, including additional affordable housing, additional green spaces and child care spaces. We also need to ensure that the underutilized federal properties made available for housing to create new social co-ops and community housing guarantee the affordability of those units and that the value of the upzoning goes back to the community and not into the hands of the developers. That is what we need to do.

I hope that the Conservatives will support these amendments and that the language of the amendments fits what is required in this House. 

I move that the motion be amended as follows: “(a) in paragraph (a) by adding after the words ‘new homes built’ the words ‘to ensure at least 1/3 of the new homes built meet core affordability needs of Canadians, that at least 1/3 is set at minimum 20% below market housing rent’; (b) by adding the following paragraph after paragraph (b): ‘ensuring that this “up-zoning” provides tangible benefits to local communities, including in the form of additional affordable housing, additional green spaces, and child care spaces, so that “up-zoning” does not just benefit developers’; and (c) in paragraph (c) by replacing the words ‘housing while guaranteeing’ with the words ‘social, co-operative, or community housing to guarantee.’” 

That is the motion that I would like to move in order to amend the Conservative motion; it can ensure that we are clear in what we are talking about, that “affordability” is clearly defined and that there is a return back to the community when we upzone land so that the benefit is not just a blank cheque for the developer; rather, it is a community benefit going back to the people.

The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont

It is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion, or in the case that he or she is not present, consent may be given or denied by the House leader, the deputy House leader, the whip or the deputy whip of the sponsor's party.

The hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby. 

Peter Julian New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver East shared with the Conservatives a copy of this motion a number of hours ago, and so I am sure there will be somebody provided from the Conservatives. They do have a number of House officers, all paid by taxpayers, and so I am sure one of them will step up in just a moment. They have been given plenty of notice. Hopefully they will have their tie on. They should not be taking their tie off, quite frankly, but that is up to them; it is a free country.

I am sure the Speaker will get a response given the notice the NDP provided several hours ago on this amendment.

The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont

I will read it again.

It is my duty to inform hon. members an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion, or in the case he or she is not be present, consent may be given or denied by the House leader, the deputy House leader, the whip or the deputy whip from the sponsor's party.

Since the sponsor is not present in the chamber, I will ask the deputy whip if he consents to the amendment being moved.

Chris Warkentin Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

Mr. Speaker, we do not consent.

The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont

There is no consent. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85, the amendment cannot be moved at this time.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Fleetwood—Port Kells.

Ken Hardie Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary gymnastics demonstration was very good.

As a fellow resident of Metro Vancouver, we have also seen a lot of pressure on industrial land. In fact, Vancouver is almost out of it. Does the member see the motion by the Conservative Party as further complicating or disrupting the balance we need between industrial land and residential land?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the motion talks about housing and not industrial land. There is another whole debate I would love to get into about industrial land, but for the purpose of this discussion, what we need to focus on is the housing crisis. 

I call on the Liberal government to do the right thing and show leadership by investing in social housing back to the level when the government was doing it in the seventies and the eighties. The other thing I say to the government is to stop the corporate sector from fuelling the housing crisis, stop the special treatment that real estate investment trusts get and make them pay their fair share. The government should make them pay the corporate tax rate and reinvest that money to non-profits into an acquisition fund.

Dan Albas Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am a fellow B.C. member, but I need to contest some of the rationalization the NDP has, the virulent hatred of real investment trusts. In places like Westbank First Nation, real estate investment trusts have offered some of the most dense purpose-built rentals that allow for workers to stay in our communities so we can have places for nurses and long-term care aides, and it is all very affordable.

It seems like the NDP is somehow saying that Westbank First Nation should not be able to put on this stock. DCCs, or development cost charges, rising taxes and CMHC raising the cost of insurance only make housing more expensive. Why does she want to stop real estate investment trusts in places like Westbank First Nation, or does she somehow believe she knows better than Westbank First Nation does?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I am saying, and the member knows this, is that real estate investment trusts should pay their fair share of taxes. They should not be given special tax treatment and not pay the corporate tax rate. They should be paying the corporate tax rate. Canadians are losing close to $2 billion in taxes that should have been collected and could have been invested into housing.

No wonder the Conservatives would oppose my amendment, because they always want to benefit the corporate sector and not make them pay their fair share. When I say to make them pay their fair share, in what terms? It is for that investment to go back into the community. By saying no to my amendment, the Conservatives are saying that they do not want to ensure, by giving land value with the upzoning, the return is returned to the community in the form of more social housing, green space, child care and other community benefits. That is wrong.

Sébastien Lemire Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is not much point to this debate if we do not address the real problem. I am not a great economist in life, but to me, it boils down to supply and demand. According to 2016 numbers, we should be building 100,000 more housing units and, in this area too, Canada is the worst in the G7.

We are going to need to invest in housing, especially social and affordable housing, including in rural areas. That should be the real priority. The vacancy rate in Rouyn‑Noranda is around 1%. The same goes for other towns in Abitibi—Témiscamingue. This inflates prices significantly. There is nothing in the recent budget for building housing in rural areas. There is funding for indigenous housing, and I applaud that, but there is no construction planned for rural areas.

How can we address the issue of building housing in a generous and clear manner as a government policy? I would like my colleague's thoughts on that.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with the member that we need the federal government's leadership in investing in housing.

That is why the NDP calls for the government to build at least 500,000 units of social housing, co-op housing or community housing, because the community deserves housing and housing is a basic human right.

As long as the approach by the Liberal government or the Conservatives is being taken, we will always have a housing crisis.

Real investment needs to be made and it needs to be done now.

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