Libby responds to the Speech from the Throne – housing left out in the cold again

Members of Parliament are allotted specific dates to respond to the Speech from the Throne. Libby had the opportunity to respond on March 18th.

House of Commons
March 18, 2010


Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, For the second time in a year, the Conservatives shut down the work of Parliament. We know they did it to avoid the very important issues of Afghanistan and what happened to detainees.

I was very proud to attend the anti-prorogation rally that took place in Vancouver on January 23. It was wonderful to see the young people who came out to the rally. Some people had not been to a political protest before, but they came because they absolutely did not buy the very flimsy and transparent reasons the Prime Minister gave for proroguing the House.

Yesterday we debated the NDP motion to place limits on prorogation and prevent the abuses we have seen take place under the Conservative government. The NDP motion basically stated that if the House was to be prorogued for more than seven days, there had to be a resolution and vote in Parliament on the reasons for prorogation. I am very pleased the motion passed.

The reason the House was prorogued for five weeks was the government was supposedly recalibrating its agenda and setting a new agenda, with promises to listen to Canadians. When we heard the Speech from the Throne and the budget, there was no other conclusion but to say that it did not come up with anything new.

The things people in my community of Vancouver East need and have called for, whether it is child care reform, an end to homelessness, the need for affordable housing, protection for seniors or an end to the HST, none of those are included in the Speech from the Throne or the budget.

Several major organizations in Vancouver, child care groups like First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, when asked in the prebudget consultations, made it very clear to “Give priority to federal tax and program spending that will increase Canada’s investment in early childhood development”. They pointed out that for every dollar invested in child care, we put something like $2.30 back into the economy. That is an important economic and social investment, which helps women in the labour force and families overall.

When we compare the economic investment and the positive results, consider that the OECD and UNICEF rank Canada dead last in the provision of early learning and child care. We should be ashamed of that.

What did the Speech from the Throne and the budget produce in that regard? In terms of the Speech from the Throne, child care was mentioned exactly twice. Housing was only mentioned once compared to the crime agenda, which was mentioned 12 times. We begin to get a bit of a comparison of where the emphasis is by the government.

The only change made in terms of anything to do with child care was a measly increase of $3.35 per week for the universal child care benefit. That will not create a single day care space, not in my riding, not anywhere else across the country. In fact, the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC called this measure one of the greatest failures, saying that the taxable $100 a month baby bonus “is NOT a child care program”.

This is a huge issue for working families. After housing in British Columbia, child care is the second highest cost facing B.C. families. That is astounding. I am going to speak about this in a couple of minutes. Housing is bad enough, but the second highest cost facing families is the cost of child care. In fact, $1,200 per month is the average cost of care for a child under three years.

In 2010 a metro Vancouver family with a four-year-old and a two-year-old in full-time child care will pay $23,700 annually in fees. That is astounding. For the average working family, that digs a big hole in its pockets and monthly income. Even for the child care spaces that are available, there are huge waiting lists.

Right across from my constituency office in Kingsway in Vancouver, the brand new Mount Pleasant Community Centre 3 Corners Child Care Centre was forced to shut down its waiting list. Why? It has over 400 names on the waiting list and it decided it did not want to give parents a false hope about getting their child into care when the list was already so long.
That is a pretty dismal record. It really disturbs me that this daily reality that the average family faces around child care and housing was not even addressed in the throne speech or the budget.

I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about the housing issue. In my community of east Vancouver and the downtown eastside and in Vancouver generally, a crisis is taking place. I participated in some of the events during the Olympic period in Vancouver. For example, the Red Tent Campaign, which was organized by the Pivot Legal Society, had 500 emergency red tents established. A tent village was set up in a vacant lot on East Hastings Street that was to be used for parking for VANOC vehicles because people were so desperate for housing.

We and other groups appealed to BC Housing to help find people shelter so they could move out of the tents into appropriate space. About 70 people did secure housing, but there is still a number of tents sitting in that vacant lot, on the mud, waiting for a proper housing solution to come forward. It is so outrageous, in a country as wealthy was Canada, that the Conservative government cannot give housing a priority.

I have a housing bill, Bill C-304, which calls for a national housing strategy and for the participation of all levels of government. It has huge support across the country, from municipalities, from first nations, from housing organizations, from faith groups. I hope when the bill comes back to the House for report stage and third reading, it will go through.

I could not believe there was nothing in the budget for housing. People in the downtown eastside, students, seniors, even families making modest incomes cannot afford affordable housing, whether it is in Vancouver or metro Vancouver generally. This was a huge failure in the Speech from the Throne.

It has been same with pensions. Our pension critic, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, has done a tremendous job in bringing forward the issue of pensions and the fact that people are getting ripped off in their private pension plans and that the public pension plan itself is not doing justice to people. Many seniors are living below the poverty line.

We know a modest investment of $700 million toward guaranteed income supplement payments would close the gap of poverty among seniors. It would be such a dignified and important thing to do. Did we see it? No. What did we see? Instead we saw the mad race to the bottom by the government giving away another $6 billion in corporate tax cuts that are scheduled for this year. It is the hypocrisy and contradictions. The people who actually need the help, who should be the priority in our country, are somehow left out on the margins in the cold. Yet these wealthy corporations are doing very well. We know the banks have doubled their profits, for example, but they still get these big corporate tax breaks. I just find it very shameful.

As the member for Elmwood—Transcona pointed out a few moments ago, how can the Conservatives live in good conscience with this kind of massive tax shift that is taking place?

Another point is the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is coming to an end March 31. This is so important in my community. Groups like Healing our Spirit BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Society and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society have used this money to help with the healing process. Every day I see the impact of residential schools on survivors and what it means to people in my community. Why is this program coming to an end? Why was it not included in the budget for a further commitment? It is so essential to the respect and dignity of aboriginal people.