Libby calls on Conservative government to better support housing and health care

House of Commons
June 7, 2011

Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, for being appointed to the chair.

I am happy to rise in the House today and follow the member for Churchill, hearing what she had to say about the budget. Although we represent very different parts of Canada, she from the north and I from an urban centre in the south on the west coast, it is really quite incredible to know that what she heard on the doorsteps during the election was very similar to what I had heard from my constituents in Vancouver East.

I would like to thank the good folks of East Vancouver for re-electing me the sixth time. It is a pretty amazing community of very diverse neighbourhoods. It is a place where immigrants come, where people make their way in Canada. It is a place that has a lot of labour history and social activism. However, it is also a place that is really struggling. People are struggling with the incredibly high housing costs in Vancouver. It is a good place to live, but people are really hurting and are having a hard time.

I feel so incredibly proud to be part of this amazing caucus of New Democrats. So many young people have been elected, it feels like a breath of fresh air has come in. I hope that they turn politics upside down in this place, as we get new perspectives and experience from these young people.

In the election campaign we heard so many people say that young people had to get involved. They asked why young people did not vote, why they were not engaged. Here we see it with some incredible candidates. In my riding of East Vancouver, the engagement of the youth vote was really something that we have never seen so strongly before. We had vote mobs. People were raising the visibility and the awareness of the campaign and the issues. The use of social media, whether it was Facebook or Twitter, was quite wonderful to see. It provided a new way of interacting with voters and constituents. I feel very proud to be part of a caucus that has an historic number of women and also so many young people who are going to give us strength and a sense of hope about what politics will be in the future.

Regarding the budget that we heard yesterday, there are two things that I want to focus on because they are important to folks in my community. One is health care and the other is housing.

I received an email from a young family just a couple of days ago. They have lived in Vancouver for about 14 years. They have a combined income of $80,000. They are working hard. They talk about saving to buy a house and say it is like running toward a finish line that is moving away from them faster than they can run. They point out that they are currently paying $1,450 a month for a small one bedroom apartment in a house of three suites in East Vancouver. East Vancouver used to be relatively affordable but now Vancouver overall is a very expensive city in which to live.

Therefore, one of the things I was looking for in the budget was whether or not there would be any commitment by the government to an affordable housing program. I was incredibly disappointed to see there was not even a mention of housing in the budget. It is not just in my community but right across this country, whether it is in the north where people are living in appalling third world conditions, or whether it is in urban centres or among the homeless.

Metro Vancouver just had a recent homeless count and we know that nearly 2,000 people are living in shelters. Part of the count included people who were staying overnight in jail or detox or an addiction facility. We know that the number of people living in shelters is still going up. It is a crisis across the country.

The fact that the Conservative government has turned a complete blind eye to the housing crisis that has developed in this country is quite astounding to me. Maybe the Conservatives believe it is something that government should not worry about.

However, the reality is that in metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland there is now a rental housing supply coalition. It may surprise some members opposite to know that part of that coalition includes the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, the Canadian Homebuilders’ Association of B.C., the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association and the Tenants Resource and Advisory Centre. These coalition partners usually do not work together but they are now because the crisis in our city is so severe. The City of Vancouver is doing as much as it can, but the federal government has been absolutely absent.

I heard the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development say in Question Period that the government has put all this money into the economic action plan, et cetera. The fact is that was a one-time infusion. What we need in this country is a long-term national housing strategy. I have fought tooth and nail for that for many years and I know that all of us in the NDP are going to continue to do that. We cannot just continue with a society where some people get more and more wealthy and other people, even middle-class people now, are suffering. Coming back to this young couple that makes $80,000 a year. Once that was a good enough amount of money to buy a house, a modest house, but no longer. So we not only have people at the very bottom who are more and more vulnerable, but we also have students, seniors, and young families who are finding the housing affordability crisis something that is now eating into their food money, their education money, and it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet.

That is something that I know we, as New Democrats, are going to fight tooth and nail for.

The second thing I want to mention is health care because this is obviously a huge issue that is looming before us.

I heard the Minister of Health today, because we raised it in Question Period, talk about the Health Accord that is coming up for renegotiation in 2014. She basically said not to worry, that it is three years away. I want to tell her and the Conservative government that we are really worried about what is going to happen with the Health Accord. The Accord that we had in 2004 that came about with Paul Martin’s government, basically had no strings attached, but it did make some commitments for a national pharmaceutical program, for long-term care, for home care. It made some commitments that there would be progress on these things, like a renewed phase two of medicare.

This week the Health Council of Canada, which is the monitoring group for the accord, basically said that the national pharmaceutical program has been stalled. Why? Because the federal government has been absent.

This is an issue that crosses every political stripe. It crosses every part of society in terms of people’s concern about what is going to happen to our public health care system. It is often portrayed and there are myths put forward that somehow medicare, or our public health care system, is not sustainable. This is actually not true. It is something that the Conservatives would like to make us believe because there has been a great lobby from powerful pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists to privatize our system. However, medicare is actually very sustainable. It is actually the private health costs like the costs of drugs, that are driving up the costs of health care. We see a situation where 25% of Canadians do not have any drug coverage. It is astounding that people are digging deeper and deeper into their pockets to pay for basic prescription costs.

I want to put the other side of the House on notice; that on the issue of health care, MPs will see an enormous amount of vigour and vigilance from the NDP to hold the government to account and to ensure that the renegotiated Health Accord covers these basic quality of life issues around medicare; so that we uphold the five principles of the Canada Health Act.