Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): – The NDP voted against the Conservative budget. We think it was a very poor budget. It was a missed opportunity particularly now that we know there was a $13 billion surplus that could have provided a major reinvestment into some critical programs in Canada that would help Canadians in their daily lives.
I represent Vancouver East. I represent a very low income community. A few days ago squatters moved into a low income housing building in the downtown east side. Hundreds of people have been evicted from what we call single room occupancies in that community. Why is that happening? It is because we have not had a federal housing strategy.
Even though the NDP fought so hard and actually did get money into the last federal budget, Bill C-48, that money has actually not been transferred through to the people who really need it. The same is true for post-secondary education.
When we look at this Conservative budget, we have to ask a very important question, who gains and who loses? Who wins with this budget? We know that the Conservative government has a multi-year plan for corporate tax cuts. Clearly, there are some winners there, but there is no multi-year commitment for child care, education, training, the environment or housing.
I see people in my community who are really hurting and have a tough time getting by day by day. They are literally destitute on the streets. They get whammed by Gordon Campbell on the one hand because it is now almost impossible to qualify for basic income assistance. They get hit over the head with that, or if they are able to get on income assistance, a single person lives on $500 a month, and I defy anybody to try and make it on that.
They get hit on that side, but then they get hit on the federal side as well because we have seen an abandonment of a federal responsibility for the provision of housing. I have to say to be clear on the record, it began with the Liberals back in 1993 when the member for LaSalle-Émard was finance minister. He trashed Canada’s wonderful social housing programs, trashed the co-op housing programs, and there was no more federal funding. Then we began this horrible downward spiral of more and more people being caught in the travesty of losing their homes, not being able to rent affordable homes or apartments because none were available and the housing squeeze was on.
That has now taken place for more than a decade and we are seeing the consequences of that deliberate public policy brought on by 13 years of Liberal government and now continued on by a Conservative government. We see the impact on our streets. I see that every day in my community and it breaks my heart when I see people who are valiantly struggling to keep going. Yet, here in Ottawa, these mammoth decisions are being made that basically cut millions of people out of the picture and say they do not count, they are not important.
This summer we had a serious situation. We were very concerned that the SCPI (Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative) program, the funds that it earmarked for emergency housing were about to be lost. Our very wonderful housing critic went to work. She drew this to the attention of the public and we actually had the federal minister for HRSD (Human Resources and Social Development), who is responsible for housing, to make comments in the media that those funds were secure.
We found last week on the Treasury Board website that there are incredibly significant cuts to the SCPI program, something like 98% of the funds look as though they are gone in the next fiscal year despite what the President of Treasury Board said in the House, that SCPI would continue.
I get phone calls and emails continually from people who rely on those funds in the absence of a national housing program. They rely on those emergency funds to provide very basic frontline services, emergency provisions and shelter services. Winter is coming upon us. The out of the cold program will yet again be in jeopardy because of the lack of certainty and security about that program. We are very worried about that. This is real stuff that hits people.
I know that other members of the House have raised other questions. Part of the cuts that we just saw recently was to the very popular summer student career program. In my community, not only is it a very good vehicle for ensuring that students can have good jobs during the summer to gain experience, to help them make a little bit of money for tuition, but it is also a very valuable program for local organizations.
In my riding groups like Safe Kids, the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, and the Strathcona Community Centre rely on the summer student career program to provide very important children’s programs. These are often children who are at risk. Their parents are at work. They are young children. Child care is not accessible or after school care is very expensive, again because the government has not bothered to put in a national child care program.
Programs like Safe Kids, that are supported through the summer student career program, are now again in jeopardy because we understand from the Treasury Board cuts that they are being re-engineered. In fact, the minister said in the House that the money was going to corporations that will hire people anyway and so the government will retarget it.
In a place like east Vancouver where we depend upon these jobs to help young people and kids who are at risk, we need to know that the money is going to be there. Even the money we had was totally inadequate and I was always going to the government to ask if there were additional funds and saying that we wanted to see them in our community. It is money that is being very well spent. It goes directly to support students and it helps the local community.
It really causes me a lot of dismay to see these kinds of cuts take place. It is the same with the Status of Women. We see that the mandate of the Status of Women department has changed. It no longer uses the word equality. Lobbying and being an advocate is no longer allowed. Come on, what will be left? There will be nothing left to women’s equality.
It seems to me that if the government, as it claims, was interested in efficiencies, as it says, that is fine. It should find those efficiencies, but then re-invest the funds into the programs that need them. That would be sound fiscal management and sound public policy. What it chose to do instead was announce the cuts under the cover of efficiency and basically hurt the most vulnerable people in our society.
For those reasons and for many more, we are not supporting the budget. We believe in fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. We believe in paying down the debt but also re-investing in basic essentials that produce a quality of life for Canadians that I think people value, expect and see as very important in the country.
Unfortunately, the government has taken us down a different path, one that benefits wealthy individuals and corporations, and leaves behind the most vulnerable in our society. We do not support the budget for that reason.
Mr. Speaker, very briefly, this idea that tough decisions were made by the Liberals back in the early nineties and that we all had to tighten our belts is a fabrication. The record shows that Canadians who paid for those decisions were the poorest of Canadians, the most vulnerable. They were hit the hardest.
Let us not forget that it was the previous Liberal government that gave $100 billion in corporate tax cuts when it was in power. Let us get the message straight.
In terms of the question about how we face resource workers or people in the lumber industry, we do not face them, we stand with them in solidarity. The NDP represent those workers and their interests by pointing out how terrible the softwood lumber agreement is. We demand of the previous government and of this government that we support those communities that have been hit by that agreement. We have done that consistently in this House because we stand with those workers and we will continue to do that.