Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Jenny responds to the new Liberal minority government's Throne Speech

On December 9, 2019, I gave my reply to the Speech from the Throne. Vancouver East is one of Canada's most diverse and progressive communities in the country. I am so very proud of our record here in Van East. We fight hard for what we believe in, and we have so much to celebrate. Yet, unfortunately, like me, the people of Vancouver East were left wanting after this throne speech. From affordable housing, to lasting justice for Indigenous people; from pharmacare and dental care to the urgent need for safe supply; from electoral reform to averting climate crisis - there is so much more that needs to be done and done now for the people of Vancouver East and indeed the entire country. I put forward these suggestions in the spirit of co-operation and saying to the government it is a minority government and New Democrats are here to work with it. Let us work for the people and act now make the changes.

 

"Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the people of Vancouver East for returning me to this House with a strong mandate.

I would like to take a moment to congratulate all members of this House for being here today. I look forward to working with the new and returning members, because I do believe that a better Canada is possible.

It is a privilege and an honour for me to bring the voices of Vancouver East to Ottawa as their representative. Vancouver East is one of Canada's most diverse and progressive communities in the country. I am so very proud of our record here in Vancouver East. We fight hard for what we believe in. Whether it is with respect to a call for a national affordable housing program, climate action to tackle the climate emergency, justice for indigenous peoples, calling out the government for taking indigenous kids to court, demanding action on the calls for justice for the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, or electoral reform so that every vote would count, we speak with a united and strong voice in Vancouver East on these issues.I have no doubt that my colleague, the member for Courtenay—Alberni, would join with me on this call as well, and I will be splitting my time with him today.

Before I get too deep into the throne speech, I would like to give a shout-out to the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall. Just last month, it was formally designated as a national historic site. People who had been displaced and interned were at the ceremony that day. It was incredibly moving. This recognition is so important on so many levels. It is a piece of history that all Canadians should learn about.

On a similar note, I hope the government will also work with the community to get the city's application for Vancouver's Chinatown to be designated as a UNESCO historic site. That would be something that we would all be proud of. It would showcase this diverse and multicultural community and the Canadians who helped contribute in building this great nation of ours.

Today, we are in a minority government situation. The people of Canada have sent a clear message to the current government: business as usual is not good enough. We all listened intently to the throne speech that was delivered last week. Unfortunately, like me, the people of Vancouver East were left wanting after this throne speech. Over the last four years, we have heard lots of pretty words and big talk. Sadly, there were no actions to match those words.

For example, the throne speech talks about the need for reconciliation. In the last four years, we heard over and over again that the new nation-to-nation relationship is the most important relationship for the Liberal government, yet over and over again we saw the government fail to take action to match those words. If reconciliation is the most important thing for the current government, then why on earth is it continuing to take indigenous children to court? How does that make sense? How does it justify that kind of action? Why is it the people in Grassy Narrows, who are suffering from mercury poisoning, are not getting immediate action from the government so they can have clean drinking water? I do not mean a bottle of water; I mean a permanent solution.

Why are indigenous people continuing to live in poverty and in mouldy housing? Canada is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. In Vancouver alone, this year's homeless count identified more than 2,000 homeless people and more than 600 who are living on the streets, 40% of whom are indigenous. With indigenous women and girls getting murdered and going missing, reconciliation means that indigenous people must have access to safe housing. All Canadians across the board are being hit by the housing crisis. High rents and low vacancy rates mean that even working professionals have precarious housing. Never mind saving for ownership, many people are one paycheque away from being homeless themselves.

Almost one in four homeless in Vancouver are actually seniors. Imagine that: seniors today are finding themselves in the streets without a home, and the number is growing. To address the crisis today, we need robust funding for the whole spectrum of housing, from social housing to co-op housing to purpose-built rentals, and real paths to home ownership for Canadians.

We want no more delaying of funding flow and no more rhetorical advantages, double-counting or word games. It is not good enough that the Liberals choose to spend 19% less than the Harper government on affordable housing and that much of this decline was in programs that are targeted to low-income households. It is not good enough that we saw a $325-million, 14% reduction in funding for assistance for housing needs programs.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it is clear that the vast majority of the remaining national housing strategy funding will not flow until after 2024. That is another election cycle away. Funding in 2024 will not help anyone in my community struggling to find affordable housing today, tomorrow, next week, next year or the year after. They cannot wait years. They need action now.

We need emergency funding so that we can build modular housing for the people in Oppenheimer Park. These are people who have been living in tents for more than a year now, and the cold and wet weather is here. Imagine that.

The 58 West Hastings project has been waiting for federal funding for years now. We have funding commitment from the city and we have funding commitment from the province, but the federal government is missing in action. It is nowhere to be found. We need the federal government at the table, working with the city, the province and the non-profits to deliver housing.

UNYA, the Urban Native Youth Association, is a fantastic organization in my riding that has been working diligently to support urban indigenous at-risk youth. Its space is oversubscribed and it needs a new centre. Youth need safe housing as well. The city and the province are in support of its work, and again we need the federal government at the table.

In Vancouver East there are some 47 co-ops, with a total of over 1,600 units. All but five were constructed before the Liberals cancelled the national affordable housing program in 1993. The Liberals also promised in 2015 to renew operating agreements with Canada's co-op housing providers. Unfortunately, they only signed short-term agreements, and now we are back to where we started. Real action is needed. We need long-term agreements and stable funding with subsidies so that we can ensure that the existing units remain affordable.

In short, homelessness is systemic and structural, caused by a failure of government to meet the needs of the people it serves.

I hope we can work together in the minority government in order to better address the housing crisis across the country.

On the opioid crisis, we need the government to get on with it. We need to declare a national health emergency, and it would be so good if, at a minimum, the government got on with a pilot program on safe supply so that we can start the work to save lives. It would be so good for the government to support the front-line workers who are burning out there right now by providing resources to them so that they can continue with this critical work.

Let us not judge people for who they are. Let us get on with saving lives. Let us look at each other with humanity and say that we can do better.

On pharmacare, I challenge any member in this House to tell me that they did not come across someone at a doorstep who said that they needed affordable medication. The government can do this. It has been promising this for decades. The New Democrats have been pushing this hard. Our critic for health has been pushing this hard. I urge the government to utilize this minority government to make that happen: single-payer, universal pharmacare for all.

Today we also put forward a suggestion on dental care. Instead of giving a tax reduction for people earning over $140,000 on their annual income, let us reduce that to $90,000, and let us redirect those dollars so that we can bring forward a dental care program that will support some 4.3 million people in Canada. Would that not be something, if we could get to work on all of this?

We are putting forward these suggestions in the spirit of co-operation and saying to the government that it is a minority government and New Democrats are here to work with it. Let us work for the people and make the changes."