The hon. member for Shefford has five minutes for his right of reply.
Before we resume debate, I will let the hon. member for Nickel Belt know that I will need to interrupt him at 2:25 p.m. in order to leave time for the right of reply of the hon. member for Shefford.
The hon. member for Nickel Belt.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Motion No. 331 introduced by the member for Shefford. I want to congratulate him on the good work he has done on this motion and his deep understanding of the challenges facing many Canadians.
I am not going to read the motion, but there are two things I want to discuss. One is that the motion is about respecting and protecting the right to housing under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the good work that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has done on rental housing. I am going to refer specifically to its report because it sets the background for why this motion is so important.
Members opposite continue to talk about how New Democrats voted against every measure. Of course, they fail to tell Canadians listening that was in the context of a budget bill, certain measures of which we simply could not support. They are being disingenuous by cherry-picking one aspect of a budget.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities produced a report called “The Housing Market and Canada's Economic Recovery”. That report indicated:
For many Canadians, the cost of buying a home has become prohibitive. Average costs for single detached homes doubled between 2001 and 2010, while household incomes have not kept up...
We have entered a period during which a growing number of Canadians will need access to rental accommodation.... New demographics include young people entering the rental market; new immigrants, who are sorely needed to fill labour gaps; a more mobile labour force; and Canada’s aging population, which is projected to downsize and save for retirement.
It goes on to indicate:
...on average tenants make up almost one-third of all households: 4 million dwellings with over 10 million people.
The rental sector plays a critically important role in Canada’s housing system. Reflecting transitions in life, many tenants are young, creating new tenant households when they leave the family home. Others are older, seeking apartment living when they no longer need or want to maintain larger family homes. Similarly, immigrant households, a critical component of labour market supply, initially rent before they transition to ownership.
These are important factors. Madam Speaker, you come from Victoria and I am from the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. Both of us have significantly larger than provincial averages of seniors. That is the one piece that I want to speak to at this moment. I have been conducting seniors' forums throughout my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. I have been to Mill Bay, Duncan, Gabriola, Ladysmith, Chemainus, Nanaimo and Lake Cowichan. A common thread throughout all of those forums was the fact that many seniors are no longer able to live in affordable housing.
Some seniors own homes. What I heard from them is that they are asset rich and cash poor. Their incomes no longer keep pace to allow them to pay for the maintenance and municipal taxes on their homes. They are caught in a bind because in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan there has not been significant rental housing built for many years. Seniors are able to look after themselves and are still physically fit, but they need to get out of their homes because they either cannot afford them or cannot continue the upkeep. They are now faced with having to leave the riding because they cannot find any affordable housing.
I know there are many seniors in Victoria who are in exactly the same spot. Victoria is far more expensive to live in than Nanaimo—Cowichan, whether it is the cost of renting or home ownership. The member for Shefford is saying that we need to look at an affordable rental stock that accommodates seniors, immigrants and new young families. It is interesting that in Canada we do not have a national affordable housing strategy which would include things like affordable rental housing stock.
Members opposite have talked about the fact that they have invested all of this money in housing, but what they have not said, and this is again from the report of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:
Expiring federal operating agreements—which will see a growing reduction in federal annual housing expenditure, reaching $500 million by 2020—further threaten the viability of one-third of Canada’s social-housing stock. Most low-income tenants live within the private-housing sector, and there is a need to preserve and enhance the affordability of this part of the housing system.
Accordingly, the federal government will not be spending $500 million a year on affordable housing stock by 2020. Yet it still claims that it is investing in such housing to make everything okay for all of those folks who cannot afford a decent place to live.
We would not even put our dogs in some of the rental housing stock available for seniors. There are cockroaches. The water does not run regularly. There is noise and they are dirty. There are drug problems in that housing and we would not allow anyone to live in that housing stock.
I believe that we have an obligation in Canada to acknowledge the UN convention and the point that housing needs to be protected, that it needs to be a right. We need to ensure that Canadians have access to affordable safe housing. We need to ensure that young families when they are starting out, and seniors when they are ready to retire, can find a place to live.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to Motion No. 331, proposed by the hon. member for Shefford. Our government supports this motion because the actions of our government have addressed and continue to address the content of the motion.
As a government, we have made unprecedented investments in helping Canadians find the housing they need. We have invested significantly in programs that offer a way out for those who want to break free from the cycle of homelessness and poverty. We have established and empowered local communities, both rural and urban, to set the priorities for combatting homelessness in their communities.
Let me give the House a concrete example of what our government is doing to assist people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Just a few months ago, in December 2011, we celebrated the opening of the Aboriginal Mother Centre in Vancouver. This facility will help aboriginal women and children who are in need to access housing and support services. Over $370,000 in funding was used for the project by the Lu’ma Native Housing Society. The funds helped renovate and refurbish a building to provide transitional housing, meal services and a daycare centre. This funding was provided through the federal homelessness partnering strategy.
As my hon. colleagues may know, the homelessness partnering strategy, HPS, was launched in April 2007. It is a unique program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness by providing direct support and funding to communities across Canada. At the community level, our government has partnered with leaders in the social services sector to set local priorities for combatting homelessness. These local priorities are then used to set the criteria for funding in that community through this program. This approach has been a cornerstone of the federal government's response to homelessness, and a key ingredient of its success.
The causes of poverty and homelessness are complex and differ from one community to another. We believe that communities play a critical role in addressing the problem, as they are the best place to identify and address their own local needs. This approach ensures that federal funding will go to where it is most effective. For these reasons, the homelessness partnering strategy encourages people and organizations with an interest in homelessness to work together to determine their local priorities. This is why the homelessness partnering strategy has strong support from communities, who appreciate the flexibility it offers as well as its recognition that they are key partners in the fight against homelessness.
Since the HPS was launched, a total of 2,900 projects have been approved, with funding totalling over $637 million. To date, HPS investments have enabled communities across Canada to create more than 5,000 new beds in emergency, transitional and supportive housing facilities. In addition, since the HPS was started, more than 35,000 individuals have been placed in more stable housing.
Of course, people who are homeless or at risk need more than just a place to live. They often require a variety of services to help them overcome certain challenges and to start a new life. This is another feature of HPS. For example, as part of the support services it funds, a total of 9,500 people have started a part-time or full-time education or training program.
Let me remind the hon. members that in September of 2008, our government committed to investing more than $1.9 billion over five years in housing and homelessness. As part of this commitment, we have renewed the HPS at the current funding level of $134.8 million per year until March 2014. This funding will ensure that we can continue to assist people who are homeless or at risk, including low income Canadians, seniors, people with disabilities, recent immigrants and aboriginal people in need of support. We are working with provinces, municipalities and charitable organizations to develop ways to improve the effectiveness of federal investments in the area of housing and homelessness.
Over the years, our government has also made significant investments in affordable and supportive housing. Canada's economic action plan built on these investments with an additional one-time allocation of more than $2 billion over two years in new and existing social housing, and by making available loans of up to $2 billion over two years for housing related infrastructure projects.
These investments helped complete over 14,000 housing projects. There were over 1,300 projects to renovate existing social housing and over 400 projects were funded to help people with disabilities. In the north, over 200 social housing projects, including many multiple units, were funded.
Sadly, every investment our government has made to help the most vulnerable Canadians was opposed by the official opposition, and often with the support of the third party.
I would like to conclude by paying tribute to our community partners. All across the country there are dedicated people, both professionals and volunteers, who are working with us to get their fellow citizens off the street and into a stable home. By providing essential services, they are enabling vulnerable individuals to achieve self-sufficiency and full participation in society. The fact is, we are making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable Canadians.
We are pleased to support this motion today. Our government has given unprecedented support for housing and homelessness over the past years, and will continue to do so.
Order, please. I would ask members to take their conversations to their respective lobbies while the member is speaking.
The hon. member for Shefford.
I do not think that the hon. member for Shefford heard the question. There may be a problem with the translation.
I will give the floor to the member for Kingston and the Islands. He can repeat his question so the member for Shefford can answer.
Order, please. There is a lot of noise in the House. Hon. members are arriving for the upcoming vote. I ask them to take their seats.
The hon. member for Shefford.
Order. Unfortunately, the time has expired. Members never have enough time for questions.
Resuming debate. The member for Shefford has the floor, but I will have to interrupt him at 6:30.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector).
I commend my colleague, the member for Shefford, for bringing forward such an important amendment to the Competition Act. I am happy to say that the New Democratic Party will be supporting this vital legislative initiative.
In essence, this bill seeks to change the current law, which says the Commissioner of Competition can only launch an investigation when there is a concern about one or more market participants. While the bill appears to have originally been tabled to deal with the retail gasoline sector, the broad amendment makes the proposed legislation applicable for all industry sectors, including communications industries.
This is particularly important at this time, as the banking disputes over competition have been increasing over the past few months, whether it is in relation to the oil and gas sector where consumers are being gouged at the pumps by abusive practices which hurt the wallets of ordinary working and middle-class Canadians, or some other issue.
I heard my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North talk about the gas prices in his riding. I believe he said it cost $1.20 a litre. In Sudbury right now it is close to $1.30. My colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing said the price in Wawa and Elliot Lake is $1.30 in some cases.
The dispute over usage-based billing demonstrates that we need this tool to widen the scope to encapsulate not just the oil and gas sector, which we are talking about, but other major sectors of our economy as well.
In the oil and gas sector there is clearly a lack of refining capacity in Canada. Coupled with vertical integration, this basically leads to a formula that is a recipe for disaster for Canadians and their pocketbooks.
It is interesting that when the government lowered the GST with regard to oil and gas, the companies did not pass the reduction on to consumers. Prices and profits have risen significantly and not even one single organization or company has taken advantage of the opportunity to pass the 2¢ reduction on to consumers. The companies took it and put it in their own pockets. That is shameful. More important, that 2% has a large impact on working and middle-class families who are being financially squeezed during tough economic times.
Therefore, it is only fair that we examine the bill and look at the oil and gas sector as one of the variables in how it can be addressed because the bill is specifically geared to the industry sector, which is a responsible way to approach it. It allows targeting to certain areas where there is a lot of interest.
In terms of the telecommunications sector, we have the entrance of new players into the Canadian market with regard to telecom and that means more communication devices, cellphones, BlackBerrys, iPhones, and wireless service providers that are being expanded in Canada. There are those who feel there is no competition in that sector and relatively similar pricing that makes it very difficult for consumers to get a better benefit. These companies have also been receiving record profits and are quite lucrative. Almost all of the groups and organizations of the big telecommunication companies have done extremely well.
Both the current CRTC chair, and Sheridan Scott, the former commissioner, have advocated for the authority to conduct market studies during their tenures as the head of the bureau. This amendment to the Competition Act is therefore obviously something which the regulators of our telecom sector deem necessary for bringing Canada's telecommunications regime into the 21st century. We have seen there are flaws in this regime and this bill is an important step in redressing these shortcomings.
Another issue raised often with regard to this issue is credit cards, something I have been talking about quite often. New Democrats have been calling for a number of credit card reforms. I have been pushing this issue to the forefront. The Minister of Finance is in favour of a voluntary agreement. It is clear that we have deficient credit card competition in Canada. There are some groups and organizations that are more progressive, but at the same time it is seen basically as a system that is stuck where the vast majority of credit cards have interest rates that are quite similar.
This voluntary code is not sufficient. We need something with the necessary teeth to oversee the credit card industry. I feel this amendment would provide an extra layer of protection for ordinary Canadian consumers, as well as small and independent businesses which are routinely encountering major issues with the predatory practices which are being employed by credit card providers. This is an area where we need to see more healthy competition, but we have not.
The banks are also making record profits, and we have seen the same things there. My office receives complaints with regard to how close bank fees are among different organizations. There does not actually have to be collusion where there are brown envelopes changing hands and information being wired back and forth to predetermine the actual cost of items and passing it on to consumers. There just has to be a general acknowledgement that they will stay in a certain field of play and compete in that field of play. That is not real competition.
Small and independent retailers are facing a similar dilemma in regard to the anti-competitive practices. The big issue for retailers is the influx of premium cards, for instance, and those that offer generous air miles. Consumers are lured to those cards because they offer a chance to collect points faster and reap the rewards such as free flights, electronics and jewellery. The use of these premium cards has risen dramatically since they first hit the market in 2008. That high end plastic, such as the Visa Infinite or the World Elite MasterCard, cost more for retailers to process than other standard gold or platinum cards.
Consumers do not know that their demand for those freebies from the credit card companies is actually squeezing profits from these small businesses, because it is the merchants who really foot this bill. Ordinarily the cost per transaction ranges from 1% to 3% of every sale, whether the customer pays cash or pulls out a card. Premium cards require much more than that, considering the razor-thin margins the competitive market demands, and $5 billion is a lot.
Family debt is on the rise. The debt carried by the average Canadian household has hit $100,000, up about 78% from two decades ago. The debt to income ratio stands at a record 150%, meaning for every $1,000 after tax income, Canadian families owe an average of $1,500.
In summary, Canadian families cannot wait much longer. They are being gouged because of anti-competitive practices in every facet of their lives, be it gas, cellphones, the Internet and their credit card bills.
Bill C-452 is a very, very important first step in curtailing these abusive practices, and I call on all members of the House to support my colleague's bill.
Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Québécois industry critic, I had an opportunity to follow progress on Bill C-14 in the spring and to hear testimony at the committee meetings.
Bill C-14 amends the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.
Although the bill has not generated a lot of controversy, nonetheless, overall, it could have gone a lot farther.
In fact, that is why my colleague from Shefford introduced Bill C-452. That bill is particularly important given that Bill C-14 still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative.
My colleague therefore introduced Bill C-452 to give the Competition Bureau more teeth, so it can initiate inquiries on its own initiative.
It still has to wait for a complaint before undertaking an inquiry. This is a classic response from the Competition Bureau: a complaint has to be filed in order for an inquiry to be started. As a result, Bill C-14 still does not address one of the major issues, the appearance of collusion in the oil industry.
Although the Bloc Québécois expressed support for the bill, as I said in my last speech in the spring, that does not mean that it is sufficient. Moreover, the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill did not result in many amendments. The amendments that were made related more to secondary issues. Personally, I think that even though the bill does not have as many teeth as we would have liked, it is hard to be against motherhood, particularly when we are trying to provide better protection for the public.
Even though we think it is in fact high time to make changes to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, Bill C-452 could give the Competition Bureau tools for battling companies that might want to profit from their dominant position in the market to rip off consumers.
The good thing about Bill C-14 is that from now on, the onus will be on the trader to prove they are not guilty. As well, there may be additional penalties if the trader continues to operate in violation of the law.
But what is more important, to my mind, is that the law will allow the names of offending businesses to be posted and announced publicly. In an area like gasoline sales, if a trader is convicted, we can bet that the retailer will want to remedy the situation quickly. Information moves fast in social media and neighbourhoods, and there are also service stations in various locations, on almost every corner, and so it will be easy for consumers to switch from one business to another when they see that the retail price of gas is higher in one location.
In addition, the amendment to the Weights and Measures Act will allow for much higher fines for offenders. Under the new provisions of the act, inspectors appointed by the government will be authorized to enter premises that they have reasonable grounds to examine and to seize or detain anything in the place, to use any computer or communication system in the place and to prepare a document based on the data. They may also prohibit access to the place and require that faulty equipment be shut down.
Bill C-14 is not intended to instill fear in traders, but rather to make improvements to legislation that no longer meets modern standards. It is quite appropriate in 2010 for inspectors to ensure that consumers are not being shortchanged.
In my last speech in this House on Bill C-14, I remarked that in committee certain questions would be asked regarding things that we would like to see included in this bill.
It is a tremendous opportunity for us as parliamentarians to give the bill some teeth and allow the Competition Bureau to launch inquiries of its own accord.
For a number of years, we have also been calling for a petroleum monitoring agency, which would closely monitor gas prices and tackle any attempts at collusion or unjustified price hikes. The Bloc Québécois is not coming up with anything new here. For years now, we have cited the recommendations in the November 2003 report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
The federal government has never done anything to assist consumers in this area, and it has to some extent let the opportunity to institute a petroleum monitoring system slip by. In spite of this, I reiterate that this is a step in the right direction.
Setting aside Bill C-452, the Bloc is convinced more than ever that the industry must contribute its fair share. With the skyrocketing rise in energy prices and oil companies’ profits, we are witnessing a real across-the-board economic bloodletting for the benefit of the oil companies. The overly generous tax benefits for oil companies must end.
We need to be prepared because by 2012, 11 car manufacturers intend to put about 30 fully electric or rechargeable hybrid models on the market. These cars will be more reliable and fuel-efficient and cost much less to operate than gasoline-powered cars.
I do not want to stray from the objectives of Bill C-14, but for the Bloc Québécois, any discussion on oil consumption absolutely must include a genuine plan and restructuring of the sector that focuses on achieving the following three things.
So once again, here are the three steps that must be taken in order to have legislation that truly has more teeth: first, the oil industry needs disciplining, and this can be achieved by way of a tougher Competition Act. Second, the oil industry must contribute by being made to pay its fair share in taxes. Lastly, we need to reduce our reliance on oil by, for instance, providing incentives to consumers to encourage them to buy electric cars.
We must be prepared, because electric cars will be available soon enough. So we should offer assistance for municipalities to install charging stations. We should also do further research on the batteries of these future vehicles so that they keep their charge longer.
We must implement better measures to prevent fraud, as proposed in Bill C-14. Having measures like these and a comprehensive action plan will enable us to come out on top.
In conclusion, I will briefly present the position of the Bloc Québécois.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-14 in principle. However, this bill does not directly address the problems of collusion, such as the problems that recently came to light in Quebec, nor does it provide ways to effectively predict sudden increases in gas prices.
Therefore, the Bloc Québécois believes that we still need to look at ways to effectively address rising gas prices through Bill C-452, which we introduced.
In addition, the Competition Act still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative. A complaint must be filed, because if there is no complaint, the Competition Bureau does not take action, does not do anything.
The Bloc Québécois is also calling for the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency to closely monitor gas prices and to deal with attempts to collude and with unjustified price hikes.
That is the Bloc's position. I want to repeat that in principle, we support Bill C-14, which we are debating today.
The electoral district of Shefford (Quebec) has a population of 100,000 with 81,651 registered voters and 198 polling divisions.
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