Oral Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance by Marcel Lauzière
October 30, 2001
The Canadian Council on Social Development was prepared last year to appear before this committee to present solid arguments as to why this government should take action to address some of the fundamental needs of Canadians. Although committee hearings were not held, the CCSD prepared a brief outlining our suggested priorities for action.
Coming out of an economic boom with a healthy surplus, we felt the time was ripe for this government to re-invest in Canadians – in their children’s well-being, their food and shelter, their health care, their skills, their community supports.
In boom times, why would such supports be needed? Well, the evidence has been mounting - even as incomes were rapidly rising in the late 1990s, poverty, rather than falling, was becoming more entrenched.
The same holds true today. Economic recovery alone has not been enough to arrest the widening of the gap between poor families with children and the rest of society; it has not reduced the need for better health services for an aging population or programs for youth at risk; it has not built affordable housing and it hasn’t made the lives of those struggling to make ends meet, any more bearable.
Last year, the Council asked the federal government:
- to enhance the National Children’s Agenda and work to eliminate child poverty in Canada;
- to support the full integration of persons with disabilities into the labour force;
- to help the working poor by increasing the basic tax exemption and child benefits;
- to invest in a national affordable housing strategy.
Instead, the government chose to put its priorities on substantial tax breaks to middle and high-income Canadians, rather than on social spending. Although we acknowledge and congratulate this government on the progress made with the Early Childhood Development Initiative, much more needs to be done in terms of social investment.
Mr. Chairman, before continuing with this presentation, I would like to emphasize that: those who choose to portray economic development and social development as mutually exclusive goals do so in the face of a wealth of research pointing to the opposite conclusion.
Social and economic progress go hand-in-hand. People in fairer and more inclusive societies have the chance to be more productive citizens. But in order for this social progress to occur, governments must help create an equal playing field.
This year we know that the economic landscape has changed. We realize that, moreover, life after September 11 is all about funding security measures, intelligence services, border crossings, airlines.
But we call upon this committee to look at economic and social security in the broader context. (With the hot economy chilling and consumer confidence waning, this committee should keep in mind the Prime Minister’s recent promise — that the government will use its improved fiscal position to re-invest in the Canadian people, especially those who could not cash in on the boom years.)
We know that the events of September 11 and economic trends will of course have a profound impact on these deliberations. However, it is important that the government not allow these events to distract us from the benefits to be derived from investment in major social programs that will have a profound impact on the lives of Canada’s most vulnerable. This too is about security. Much may have changed on September 11, but one thing that has not changed is the plight of the poor in Canada.
And that is why we come to you today with a proposal, one that would not only assist the nearly 20 percent of our citizens whose income is so low that very often they cannot cover their family’s most basic needs, but a request that would also stimulate the economy and create jobs -- lots of jobs.
The Council calls upon this government to make an investment of one billion dollars in a capital investment fund for affordable housing. The current government has already started to move in the right direction with an announcement in August of funding for housing. We applaud this but we feel that this is the time to go even further and that this fund should be created through the surplus that will have been accumulated in this year. Of course should this years’ surplus be much lower than anticipated by many analysts, then we would expect our dollar proposal to be modified accordingly. However, in the end, what we are looking for is a strong investment now that will help the economy by boosting housing and helping the poor.
The housing situation in Canada has reached crisis proportions. With rising rents and falling incomes, overcrowded, unsafe housing has become a way of life for far too many Canadian families. Even among families with working parents, many simply cannot cover the rent cheque, the food bills, child care and clothing.
Mr. Chairman, temporary community shelters are no longer temporary – they are becoming permanent homes for families who see no way out. They are evolving like food banks did – becoming a community staple rather than a stop-gap measure.
At one time, Canada was hailed as a world leader in social housing. We believe it is time to reclaim a modest part of this heritage.
Our presentation today isn’t simply a desperate cry for our society’s most marginalized citizens. We mean it as a timely reminder to this government, which on the one hand has brought in improvements such as investments in early childhood development and child benefits for working poor families -- but on the other hand seems too little concerned about the erosion of what has been achieved.
A child growing up in an overcrowded, dilapidated motel room or apartment is at risk of ill-health, poor learning, abuse, and so many of the social ills that we are trying to address through other forms of social investment.
A country’s values are reflected in the way it takes care of its citizens. In the way it strengthens its civil society. In these times of trouble, during this war on terrorism that we have engaged in, we will more than ever need to strengthen our civil support structure. This includes proper housing and this too is about security.
What we need in December is a Budget which does something to maintain and create jobs, and which acts to improve the lives of the marginalized. Moreoever, in the current economic situation, the government needs to think about stimulating the Canadian economy. How do we achieve all this? We believe the time has come for investment in affordable housing. The allocation we request here, could make a huge difference both for the poor in Canada and for the Canadian economy.
This is worth doing, Mr. Chairman. After all, we must all ask ourselves – what kind of a country are we trying so hard to secure?