VIDEO: In the Housing Act debate, Jenny delivers a speech addressing the root cause of the housing crisis

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House of Commons Hansard #230 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session
Affordable Housing and Groceries Act
Government Orders
October 5th, 2023 / 1:40 p.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to enter into this debate.

With respect to housing in Canada, as we all know, we are faced with an intense chronic housing crisis. In fact, I would argue that the Conservatives, when they were in government, were the ones who cancelled the co-op program, which is a proven model in Canada that provides safe, secure, affordable housing to community members. More than that, co-op housing provides a community within a community through that model. What did the Conservatives do in 1992? They cancelled the national co-op housing program.

Now, based on the discussion and the leader of the Conservatives, one would think they are going to be the saviour in addressing the housing crisis, but let us be clear: They Conservatives were the people who helped cause the housing crisis we are faced with today in this country. Of course, after the Conservatives cut funding for housing programs and eliminated the co-op program altogether, we had the Liberals come into office. What did they do? They cancelled the national affordable housing program in 1993, further escalating the housing crisis. The truth is that successive Liberal and Conservative governments failed Canadians. They failed to ensure that there was social housing built, and they failed to ensure that there was co-op housing built, to the point of where we are today.

I still remember, when I was in the community in 1993 working as a community legal advocate, the shock that went through my system and through our whole community when we heard that the government had cancelled the program. Part of my job was to try to assist people, including seniors, people with disabilities, indigenous people and women. There were women fleeing violence and women who needed housing because they were in a domestic violence situation. They needed housing for themselves and their children, and they were losing their children because they could not secure safe, affordable housing. It was not because they were bad parents, but because successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments walked away from them and did not provide the housing that was critically needed then.

Fast-forward to today, and where are we at? We have a situation where, just today, a report came out that in my community in Vancouver East and in the greater Vancouver area, it was found in the most recent study that the homelessness count had increased by 30% from the last count. The truth is that, in many ways, I do not need a report to tell me so, although having that data is really important, because I see it in the community with the encampments that have surfaced. It is everywhere. It has proliferated everywhere. In my riding of Vancouver East, we have a permanent encampment. What is wrong with this picture? We have to ask this question.

Why is it that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have allowed this to happen? It is unjustifiable. Housing is for people to live in; it is not a commodity for investors to use to turn a bigger and bigger profit. That is what has happened over the years since the Liberals and Conservatives walked away from co-op and social housing. They allow the market to flourish and then to benefit from it at the expense of people who need homes. Not only are people unhoused; renters are also getting renovicted. Seniors on fixed income, long-time tenants in a building, are being displaced and renovicted, and they will no longer have access to a home. They cannot afford a home. They will no longer be able to live in the place where they have lived for many years. This was allowed under both Liberals and Conservatives and was escalated, I would say, by their bad housing policy and by their walking away from the people in our communities that are in need.

We will hear the Liberals say that in 2017, they entered back into the housing environment with the national housing strategy. If anybody has taken the time to read it, and I urge all Liberal members to pick it up, the report from the Auditor General indicated they do not even know who is benefiting from the government's programs. In fact, they do not even know whether those who are in need, those who are most vulnerable, are accessing the supports they need. “Incompetence” would be one way of describing it, but it is not justifiable with where things are at today.

Now, the Conservatives have a leader who goes around acting as though he were the saviour. Let us be clear: When he was part of the Harper administration as a cabinet minister, under that administration, Canadians lost 800,000 units of affordable housing. That is close to a million units. A million families or individuals could have had access to housing that they do not have now. What is their solution today? It is more market-driven solutions. Let us be clear: It is the market-driven solutions that the government had relied on that got us here today. Nowhere do the Conservatives in their plans talk about building social housing or co-op housing.

The Liberal program does not talk about affordability. How strange is it? What planet do we live on that we operate in this way? It is no wonder we have a housing crisis. The bill that the government has tabled on the GST piece is to facilitate more housing being built. I want to be clear that we need more housing, but we also need to make sure that the housing that is built is accessible to people, meaning that it is truly affordable for people. It is strange to me that the government decided in some weird, altered universe, in this bill, that it would exclude co-ops from accessing the GST exemption. Why on earth would one do that? It makes no sense whatsoever.

The co-op program, as indicated, is a proven model in the delivery of housing in our communities. Co-ops create communities within communities. One can see it when walking into a co-op housing project. One can see the love within the community and the supports that are there for each other. People take care of each other and they build community with each other. To not support co-ops makes no sense. The NDP will absolutely be moving amendments to address that issue.

The other piece the NDP will doing is calling on the government to amend the bill to allow for existing non-profit housing projects to access this exemption. This would allow for some projects to become viable and, in other instances, for projects to create better affordability for the communities in need. That is what we need to do, to work towards, in that direction. We also need to actually set up some level of eligibility criteria in terms of affordability, to make sure the private developers are not just going to get a benefit but that there is also a further return to the community, and that is on the affordability criteria.

We have to think about housing in a holistic way. The NDP is putting forward these ideas. Above all else, we need the government to build social housing and co-op housing like we used to. Housing is for people to live in and not just to make a profit from.

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments, but I want to ask her a question.

I represent, through my portfolio, the territories. One thing I will be speaking about in the House is the lack of housing in Nunavut specifically. Per-unit costs have risen to $1.1 million because of inflation and carbon taxes. That is why no units were built this year, because it is simply too expensive, as the local government has said.

If it is so bad with the current Liberal government, why does the NDP keep supporting it in the House?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, where the NDP is at is this: Unlike the Conservatives, New Democrats are here to fight for the people and to get more for the people. We are not just here to talk about how great we are and then deliver nothing, having been part of a previous administration that cut housing programs for the people in need. We are creating affordability through different means, and that is why we fought tooth and nail to get the dental care plan.

Yes, the leader of the Conservatives has had access to dental care services all his life through the public service, but most Canadians do not. We will fight tooth and nail on affordability on all fronts.

Gord Johns Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, I have heard Conservatives talk about selling 6,000 buildings and 15% of public lands. We only need to look at Ontario, where the Doug Ford Conservatives did a deal for the greenbelt; they sold public lands and put $8.3 billion into the pockets of developers. In my home province of British Columbia, the B.C. Liberals sold private lands to benefit their friends, who were donors to the B.C. Liberal Party.

What policies and framework would the member like to see put in place to protect Canadians from Conservatives, their friends and their donors?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, for the federal government to make available federal lands for the development of housing, first and foremost, we need to ensure there is a public return to the community. The Conservatives do not want to put any requirements in place, because they only want to line the pockets of their pals, the investors and developers. For the NDP, there has to be a return to the community.

In the spirit of reconciliation, we have to make land available by returning land back to indigenous people, first and foremost. Second, for buildings that are made available for development, to turn it into social housing, it has to be social or co-op housing. The rents have to be reduced to below market, so that people can access it and it is truly affordable for the community.

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I am originally from Nova Scotia, and I look at a history lesson that I think we can all learn from. The private sector does not build housing when we really need it and does not build it in a hurry. The first public housing ever built in Canada was in the wake of the Halifax explosion in 1917, when thousands lost their homes, and governments, including as far away as the U.K., created a fund. The government moved in and built, to this day, some of the nicest and most sought-after housing in Halifax, in the Hydrostone district. It was the first public housing effort ever in Canada.

Within months of the Halifax explosion, the governments had created apartments, temporary but serviceable, for 832 people. They had a roof over their heads. It was done quickly and affordably. We are lacking the sense of emergency, particularly for those who are acutely homeless, living rough or living in tents.

Does my hon. colleague from Vancouver East think we should adopt a strategically different approach to the emergency for people who are homeless?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, there is no question that the urgency is real. This housing crisis is a chronic crisis. It has been more than 30 years since the government walked away from building social and co-op housing.

To speak to the member's point, it can be done. We just need the political will to do so and for government to say that it will build social and co-op housing, with the models it used to use. When veterans returned from the war, we built victory homes; Canada, at that time, said it would not allow—

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