Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-356, and I have a lot to say about this bill. In my speech, I will try to address first the Conservative position and then that of the Bloc Québécois. If I have time, I will speak briefly on homelessness.
Bill C-356 reiterates the Conservative leader’s rhetoric on the housing crisis. In his view, the municipalities are responsible for the housing crisis by tying up real estate development in useless red tape. Let us recall that the Conservatives were among the first to play politics on this issue by directly attacking municipal democracy when they stated, during their opposition day on May 2, 2023, that they wanted to penalize municipalities that do not build enough housing.
The Bloc Québécois has long held that those best positioned to know the housing needs in their respective jurisdictions are the provinces, Quebec and the municipalities. The federal government has no business interfering. Moreover, let us keep in mind that housing is the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Should our colleagues need a reminder, I invite them to refer to subsections 92(13) and 92(16) of the Constitution, which give the provinces exclusive jurisdiction over property and civil rights as well as matters of a local nature. The federal government therefore has no right to interfere.
Let us keep in mind the importance of municipal policy, the importance of this level of government and its closeness to the people. Municipalities know their areas and the actual needs of their citizens best. They are the ones that provide direct services and organize their living environment and their neighbourhoods.
When the Conservatives say that municipalities and cities are the ones that delay the process, that is nonsense. They call the phenomenon “not in my backyard”. We believe that the Conservatives prefer to dodge public consultations that help obtain social licence by communicating effectively with the neighbours of a given project. Instead, they prefer to give a free pass to real estate developers. To their mind, the public consultations that cities and citizens are calling for are a terrible scourge that harms everyone and blocks the construction of new homes. Nonetheless, the Conservatives should understand why public consultations exist; they exist particularly because we do not build just anything, anywhere, willy-nilly.
When it was elected in 2011, the Conservative government did not see fit to increase the budget to assist households still deemed to be inadequately housed, letting it stagnate at its 2011 level, or $250 million a year. When it introduced its 2015 budget, that government chose not to extend the funding for social housing stock. Bill C-356 blames the entire housing shortage on municipalities, but this crisis would not be nearly as serious as it is now, if, under the Conservatives, the federal government had not withdrawn funding for the construction of social housing.
The bill aims to control municipalities. It is an irresponsible bill that denies any federal responsibility in the matter and confirms that the Conservative Party will do nothing to address the crisis if it comes into power.
It is also a bill that offers no solutions. There are lots of condos on the market at $3,000 a month. What is lacking is housing that people can afford. That is where the government should focus its efforts. This notion, however, is completely absent from the Conservative leader’s vision. Bill C-356 gives developers the keys to the city so they can build more $3,000-a-month condos.
In short, the bill’s solution to the housing crisis is to let the big real estate developers do anything, anywhere, in any way they see fit. The populist solution offered by the bill ignores the fact that people do not only live in housing, but also in neighbourhoods and cities. That means we need infrastructure for water and sewers, for roads, and for public and private services, such as schools and grocery stores. Cities have a duty to impose conditions and to ensure that their citizens are well served.
Bill C-356 is also disrespectful and divisive. Since 1973, under the Robert Bourassa government, the Quebec Act respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif has prevented Ottawa from dealing directly with Quebec municipalities. The Canada-Quebec Infrastructure Framework Agreement reflects this reality, stipulating that Ottawa has no right to intervene in establishing priorities.
What Bill C-356 proposes is to tear up this agreement. Considering that the agreement took 27 months to negotiate, Bill-356 promises two years of bickering, during which all projects will be paralyzed. In the middle of the housing crisis, this is downright disastrous.
If housing starts in a city do not increase as required by Ottawa, Bill C‑356 proposes cutting gas tax and public transit transfers by 1% for each percentage point shortfall under the target it unilaterally set. For example, housing starts in Quebec dropped 60% this year instead of increasing 15%. If Bill C‑356 were in place, this would mean a reduction in transfer payments of about 75%.
Bill C‑356 goes even further, proposing that financing for urban transit be withheld if cities do not meet the 15% target it unilaterally set. This policy would result in a greater use of automobiles, since transit would only be built after the fact, not in conjunction with new housing developments.
Furthermore, the Bloc Québécois already has a wide range of proposals for solutions to deal with the housing crisis across Quebec and Canada. First, we welcomed the Canada-Quebec housing agreement signed in 2020. This agreement is valued at $3.7 billion, half of which comes from the federal government. However, we lamented the fact that negotiations for this agreement spanned three years. Funds that should have gone to Quebec were frozen until the two levels of government found common ground. The Bloc deplores the federal government's constant need to dictate how Quebec spends its money. Quebec wants its piece of the pie, no strings attached. If it had gotten it in 2017, Quebec could have started the construction and renovation of several housing projects, including social housing, three years sooner. This definitely would have eased the current housing crisis.
Unconditional transfers would greatly simplify the funding process. The multitude of different agreements creates more red tape and delays the actual payment of the sums in question. The Bloc also reiterated how important it is that federal funding address first and foremost the needs for social and deeply affordable housing, which are the most critical. Here is what we proposed during the last election:
The Bloc Québécois proposes that Ottawa gradually reinvest in social, community and deeply affordable housing until it reaches 1% of its total annual revenue and implement a consistent and predictable funding stream instead of ad hoc agreements.
The Bloc Québécois proposes that federal surplus properties be repurposed for social, community and deeply affordable housing as a priority in an effort to address the housing crisis.
The Bloc Québécois will propose a tax on real estate speculation to counter artificial overheating of the housing market.
The Bloc Québécois will propose a reform of the home buyers' plan to account for the many different realities and family situations of Quebec households.
The Bloc Québécois proposes that the federal government undertake a financial restructuring of programs under the national housing strategy to create an acquisition fund. This fund would enable co-ops and non-profits to purchase housing buildings that are already on the market, ensure they remain affordable and turn them into social, community and deeply affordable housing.
The Bloc Québécois will ensure that Quebec receives its fair share of funding, without conditions, from federal programs to combat homelessness, while also calling for the funding released in the past year during the pandemic to be made permanent.
In fact, I floated these ideas during the last election campaign in a regional debate in the Eastern Townships. The groups really liked the Bloc's recommendations. However, they lamented the fact that both the Conservatives and the Liberals did not attend the debate. Their absence did not go unnoticed. When parties say they want to make housing a priority but do not show up for the debates, what message does that send?
I am going to take a few moments to quickly talk about homelessness, a phenomenon that is on the rise throughout Quebec and Canada. We are now seeing that homelessness is becoming regionalized. In 2018, 80% of homeless people were in Montreal, compared to 60% in 2022. I am seeing the effects of this in Granby, which is in Shefford, the riding I represent. It is having an impact. The increase in homelessness is caused by issues stemming from the financialization of housing and real estate speculation. All of that reduces the availability of affordable housing.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against Bill C-356.
I would like to add one last thing. Families and seniors affected by the housing crisis need realistic solutions for social, community and deeply affordable housing that meets their needs. Granby and the broader Shefford community are already concerned about social housing and certainly do not need to be hit with another example of Conservative misinformation. Our communities are capable enough to handle this themselves.