Libby speaking out against the Conservative’s budget

Arpil 15, 2010

Bill C-9, the budget implementation bill

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-9, the budget implementation bill. I want to begin my remarks by commenting on the enormity of this bill. It is 872 pages long and has 24 different parts.

When one goes through the bill, whether one goes through the summary or starts looking at the bill in its totality, one can see immediately that the Conservative government has decided to use this bill as a cover for all kinds of very negative and bad public policy initiatives. We are certainly aware of that and this is one of the reasons it is very important that debate take place on Bill C-9.

I would add to the comments made by my colleagues that it is very ironic that Conservative members are choosing not to debate this bill, because it is simply enormous when one considers what is covered in it. We did hear the budget speech and we had the budget itself, but this budget implementation bill goes far beyond what was contained in the budget. It is using itself as a cover for all kinds of draconian measures. I will mention a couple.

Environmental assessment is a very important issue in terms of ensuring that the public interest is represented in dealing with environmental issues. Why is it in a budget implementation bill that the minister will now have all kinds of discretion to dictate the scope of environmental assessments of any of the projects to be reviewed? Why would it be that federally funded infrastructure projects can now be exempted from environmental assessment?

These are very serious questions which in and of themselves should be debated separately through legislation in a debate in the House, yet they have been slipped into Bill C-9, the budget implementation act. We are very concerned about that. We are very disturbed that the government is yet again using these kinds of means to try and slip important matters through the House.

The Conservatives did it a few years ago with Bill C-50, when they brought in all kinds of very substantive changes to the Citizenship and Immigration Act. They used a budget bill to do that. We see the same in this bill with Canada Post. We know that the Conservatives have tried to move a bill through the House which in effect would privatize aspects of Canada Post and affect the jobs and services that are provided by that crown corporation and federal agency.

We have held up that bill. We prevented it from coming forward. What is the response? Yet again, the Conservatives are trying to slip it through in the budget implementation bill. I am actually surprised that they did not try to include the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and sneak that one through, too, because we have been holding that one up.

I want to reserve the rest of my comments for issues pertaining to what I think are very serious in my community and how this budget implementation bill does not deal with them.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East. It is a wonderful riding, full of activists and great neighbourhoods, and yet right now in the city of Vancouver there is a crisis taking place. The seven Vancouver homeless emergency action team shelters are slated to close by April 30.

Those shelters have been providing a safe, warm, appropriate place for people to go where there is a laundry facility, food, good management and care for about 600 people a night. There was a lot of suspicion that these shelters were put up just for the Olympics. Hundreds of thousands of people were in our city for the Olympics. We were all aware that we had a serious homelessness and housing affordability crisis in our city. These shelters were opened and they have provided support to people. That has been very important. Now they are going to close.

In fact, there has been a very public conflict going on between the province of B.C. and the city of Vancouver as to what will happen with these shelters. What is remarkable to me is that the federal government has not said one word. There is nothing about the federal homelessness partnering strategy and that maybe it could provide some assistance with these shelters now slated to be closed and the fact that there will be hundreds of people out on the street. It is just so staggering to understand what is taking place.

We are dealing with issues in my community that are deeply systemic. This housing crisis has gone on for two decades. It started with the former Liberal government that eliminated all of the housing programs. My Bill C-304 would try to get the federal government back into housing by working with the provinces, municipalities, first nations and civil society.

This crisis is incredible to me. People are out on the street in our city right now and more people will be out on the street because these shelters are going to close down.

The annual homeless count that was done on March 23 showed that the number of homeless people in Vancouver had increased 12% from 2008 from 1,576 people to 1,762 people. Those are numbers but we also need to think about this in terms of individual people. We need to think about the impact on people’s lives when they do not know where they will go each night, do not have access to proper food, do not have a decent income, do not have proper shelter assistance to keep out of the cold and wet weather and do not have access to laundry facilities. These figures are staggering.

The only good news, if there is any good news, is that 1,300 of those 1,700 homeless people were in shelters. In fact, the number of people in shelters has increased, which is good, but, as I said before, these shelters will be closing.

I have to question the government with this budget implementation bill that is nearly 900 pages long as to why there is nothing in the budget that will help the City of Vancouver deal with this crisis as it tries to cope with the costs. It costs the city about $7 million to keep these shelters open when the federal government could be doing that.

The City of Vancouver, like other municipalities, relies on the property tax base. It does the best it can in stretching every single dollar. It has gone more than its distance and more than its responsibility in ensuring that these shelters are operating. It did get some assistance from the provincial government but most of that is now coming to an end.

This raises a very stark contrast. On the one hand, we see a budget that continues with outrageous tax breaks to corporations in the billions of dollars, robbing the public purse of desperately needed revenue, and on the other hand, we see communities, like the Downtown Eastside and other communities across the country, where people are destitute on the street and do not know where they will go each night.

A budget is about disclosing the real priorities and the real objectives of a government. We have had so much emphasis and focus on crime bills and little boutique bills. We have had so much overemphasis on law enforcement and tough on crime measures that will solve every problem we have, but we have deeply systemic and complex social issues in the urban environment, whether it is a lack of funds for public transit,lack of funds for housing or lack of funds for child care. People are literally struggling each month to get by.

The plight of homeless people is quite shocking but it affects a broader segment of society too. I know lots of working folks where both parents are working and making minimum wage or maybe a bit more and they are struggling to keep up with exorbitant child care costs, even if they can get into child care.

In addressing Bill C-9, the budget implementation act, I want to put it right out there that this is an outrage and a shame in terms of what the government has not done to address some of these ongoing and deeply systemic issues in our country. The gap is growing between wealth and poverty. More Canadians are falling into an environment where they cannot make ends meet.

We saw a wonder film the other night Poor no More that was premiered here on Parliament Hill hosted by Mary Walsh that showed so well in a very articulate way what is taking place for the working poor. These are people who are working, many of whom are getting a minimum wage. It showed how people are struggling and are actually living below the poverty line.

This is a bad budget implementation bill because it does not deal with what needs to be dealt with in my community and other communities. I hope that we can convince other members of the House not to support it.