Parliament Video: MP Jenny Kwan responds to the Liberal government's 2021 Budget

On April 21, 2021, Jenny made a speech in response to Budget 2021.

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

I am very pleased to speak to budget 2021, a long-awaited budget, but I want to first congratulate the child care advocates for their years of dedication. I remember attending rally after rally, and participating in campaign after campaign organized by the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, the YWCA and many others. I congratulate Sharon Gregson, the champion of the $10-a-day child care here in Vancouver East and across British Columbia, for her tireless work.

New Democrats have campaigned on this election after election and, frankly, generations of children have gone without this kind of support. I am glad to see that the Liberals, after promising it for 27 years, are now finally committing to it in budget 2021. The NDP stands ready to realize the dream of universal child care for Canadians, and we will do anything to help motivate and move it forward. I would like to know from the government what its plans are to really realize this universal child care support for Canadians. With respect to action that needs to be taken, what sort of legislation is required? Let us get it done. Let us get this done once and for all so that we are not back debating this again, and so that we are not waiting another 27 years with empty promises from the Liberals on this very important issue.

I would be remiss if I did not touch on the issue of pharmacare. For more than two decades, the Liberals have repeatedly promised pharmacare to Canadians and have yet to act. In 1997, it was a campaign promise; in 2019, it was a pledge to implement the Hoskins report; in 2020, it was in the throne speech and; most recently, as we all know, it was in the Liberals' own convention from their own members demanding that pharmacare be prioritized. Yet, here we are, and it is not in the budget. When offered the opportunity to vote on this, the Liberals voted it down. They voted down the NDP's Canada pharmacare act. I can tell members that the government has to really commit to this. Budget 2021 did not deliver universal pharmacare, and that is a shame. The budget also does not include funding or measures to implement other important measures.

On universal pharmacare, government members often talk about it as a jurisdictional issue and, frankly, the jurisdictional argument is lame. Just like universal child care, we can manage those issues. Just like universal child care, the NDP will not stop fighting for a comprehensive, universal, public, single-payer pharmacare system for all Canadians until it gets done.

Turning to the issue of housing, I am pleased to see that there is an increase for rapid housing. We have said from the beginning that the initial amount that was announced from the government was not sufficient. However, we do note that it still falls short on what was called for by the FCM, which shared its view that the funding that was announced “doesn't yet meet our shared goal of ending chronic homelessness”.

We will continue to push for a significant expansion of the RHI, a $7-billion investment for no fewer than 24,000 units over the next two to three years. Likewise, we support the increase in the reaching home initiative and the funding dedicated to provide shelter for women and girls fleeing violence. However, the federal government must also step up to partner with all levels of government and non-profit housing providers to ensure that operating costs as well as supportive wraparound services are provided to those who need them.

I would note that I am glad that the the budget announced that section 95 of the co-op and non-profit subsidies have been put in place. However, when I asked the minister and CMHC in November about the need to renew supports for section 95 co-operatives and non-profits that were arbitrarily excluded from receiving support under phase 2 of the federal community housing initiative, the response was that the funding was already given and that existing programs were enough.

I am happy to see the Liberals admit that they were wrong and reverse course to acknowledge the issue following the NDP's and CHF's call for action for this critical funding to be maintained and the subsidies to be maintained to the existing stock of section 95 co-ops and non-profits that the Liberals had left out of the national housing strategy.

One devastating disappointment in the budget is the absence of a for-indigenous, by-indigenous urban, rural and northern housing strategy. Robert Byers, chair of the CHRA Indigenous Caucus, said, “For years, government officials have told us that an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy was a priority. The absence of such a strategy in today’s Budget will mean that urban and rural Indigenous peoples will continue to face inequality and lack of access to safe and affordable housing, and that is a disgrace.”

Indigenous peoples are 11 times more likely to use a homeless shelter and there remains no for-indigenous, by-indigenous strategy to close the housing gap between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous people, despite the minister's mandate letter. It is a national disgrace that budget 2021 still fails to deliver on this commitment. I join with the indigenous leadership and all housing advocates to call on the federal government to address this missed opportunity by immediately committing, in the days ahead, to announce a for-indigenous, by-indigenous urban, rural and northern indigenous housing strategy.

Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and who, by the way, is the co-chair of the government's National Housing Council, about the budget, stated, “An estimated 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness every year and 1.7 million households are in core housing need. The National Housing Strategy aims to create between 150,000 to 160,000 units of new affordable housing over 10 years – much which will be unaffordable to those experiencing homelessness or core housing need.”

It is clear to anyone who is honest about the grim reality of the housing crisis that the Liberals' national housing strategy will not achieve what the Liberals claim they are committed to. This week, over 40 housing organizations and advocates from across Canada jointly signed a letter to the housing minister listing 11 concrete actions that the government must take to address the housing affordability crisis. The NDP fully supports these calls, which all along predated the government's budget considerations, such as the need to limit the ability of the REITs and large cap funds in the fuelling of the rising costs of housing and rent. This includes the creation of a housing acquisition fund that provides non-profits quick access to capital for acquiring properties that are at risk of going to these funds.

Former UN special rapporteur on housing Leilani Farha wrote to the federal government in the early months of the pandemic highlighting the importance of supporting the non-profit sector with such a fund and subsequently called for in “Recovery for All” and by FCM as a separate piece from the rapid housing initiative.

Lastly, it is good to see the government finally taking steps in limiting foreign investment. However, a 1% tax on vacant homes owned by people who are both non-residents and non-citizens is largely symbolic when we see that the average cost of housing has increased by 31% in 2020 alone, a rate that is simply unsustainable. In B.C., vacancy and foreign ownership stacked up independently to 2.5% combined with a 20% foreign buyers tax in Metro Vancouver. This demonstrates that the federal government should be able to at least match B.C.'s initiative for affected housing markets to curb foreign market speculators, but is choosing not to, which is in line with the baby steps, by the way, that the government claims to be taking.

The NDP will continue to push the government in strengthening these measures, as well as for more stringent housing ownership reporting requirements to ensure more transparency on ownership and to make it more difficult for money launderers and the evasion of capital gains taxes on secondary residences. Oftentimes people ask how we will pay for the measures that the NDP—

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HANSARD: Foreign Interference and Alleged Reputational Harm to Members of Parliament

Outside this chamber, just yesterday, there were individuals shouting, questioning and jeering about who the traitors may be. Members of Parliament had to walk past these individuals on the members' way to the House to do their work. I believe we must find a way to disclose which MPs are knowingly, intentionally, wittingly or semi-wittingly engaging with foreign states or their proxies to undermine Canada's democratic processes and institutions. I believe this can be done in a way that does not compromise national security.

If there are no consequences for MPs who knowingly help foreign governments act against Canadian interests, we will continue to be an easy target. This will further erode the trust and faith Canadians have in our democratic processes. If allowed to continue, it will further impugn the integrity of the House. Revealing any member of Parliament, former or present, who is a willing participant in foreign interference activities would have the effect of deterring this kind of behaviour. Moreover, it would send a clear message to those foreign states that this cannot continue and that they will not be able to continue to use parliamentarians in this way. This will further reassure the public of the integrity of the House.

I strongly believe that the House should refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee. A possible way to deal with the issue would be for committee members to undergo the necessary security screening to examine the unredacted report and look into the allegations about parliamentarians who were “‘witting or semi-witting’ participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in our politics.” We could allow the named parliamentarians to be informed and to come before the committee as witnesses; we could then explore options on how to disclose the named parliamentarians without compromising national security or police investigations of the matter.

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