FINA Committee Meeting
Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
For an advanced search, use Publication Search tool.
If you have any questions or comments regarding the accessibility of this publication, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE
COMITÉ PERMANENT DES FINANCES
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Friday, November 19, 1999
The Chair (Mr. Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan—King—Aurora, Lib.)): I'd like to call the meeting to order. Good morning, everyone.
As you know, the Standing Committee on Finance is holding public consultation meetings across the country, from coast to coast to coast, seeking input from Canadians. Today we have the pleasure to have with us a number of organizations, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian School Boards Association, the Canadian Teachers' Federation, the Canadian Living Foundation, and the National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, and the Getting Landed Project.
As many of you have already appeared before the committee, you know you have approximately five to seven minutes to make your presentations. Thereafter, we will engage in a question and answer session.
I understand Mr. Harvey Weiner of the Canadian Teachers' Federation would like to go first. Go ahead, Mr. Weiner.
Mr. Harvey Weiner (Assistant Secretary-General, Canadian Teachers' Federation): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Our federation is the national voice of teachers in promoting high quality in education, the status of teachers and equality of opportunity through public education.
We welcome the invitation to provide input to the first budget of the new millennium. In our view, Budget 2000 offers an opportunity for Canada to embark on a bold, creative and dynamic approach to creating a society in which all Canadians have equal access and opportunity to achieve their maximum potential, both as individuals and as contributing members of society.
I am pleased to present, on behalf of the Canadian Teachers' Federation, a brief that is rather historic, in our estimation. For the first time, the federation has decided to focus on one single issue. That single issue is the quality of the lives of children and youth in Canada. We have set aside all other issues, all other considerations, for purposes of budget 2000.
We were delighted with the overall tone and tenor, with regard to children and youth issues in the Speech from the Throne. We believe it is a good start, in terms of the priority that always should have been given to children and youth in this country, and indications are now in existence that such priority will in fact become reality.
We believe, however, that the upcoming budget will be the litmus test of the seriousness of the government at the federal level, as well as governments provincially, in the ways in which they will be addressing these particular issues.
We at the federation would like to key on the message that Canada's children are everyone's responsibility. We have to move to a culture in which we don't talk about my children or your children, but our children, whether or not we are the birth parents of those children. We believe there is a strong civic, social and economic case to be made for investing in children and youth in an integrated, comprehensive, and sustainable manner.
We would like to focus today on what we would call the economic case. There has been much pressure from various quarters, with the National Post in the lead, for a tax cut agenda. We would like to put forward arguments today that we believe can demonstrate that a sustainable, comprehensive investment in children and youth will provide a better return to Canadians, over the long term, than any combination of tax cuts, whether you measure the savings in civic, social or economic terms.
There are a number of reasons to support the children's agenda. It is a fact that Canada spends billions of dollars annually to manage social problems, rather than address their root causes through intervention and investment in preventative measures. It is a fact that a number of head start programs, such as the Perry Preschool program, the Moncton headstart program, and others have provided an average return to taxpayers of seven dollars in savings for every dollar that has been invested.
It is a fact that there is currently a vacuum in federal and provincial policies that apply to school-age children. The few specialized and innovative development programs that currently exist most often stop at age five. There is very little policy support available until these children reach their adolescent years and confront issues such as school failure, delinquency, or teen pregnancy.
It is a fact, and the data is there, that countries that make the right choices in discretionary expenditures have experienced dramatic decreases in non-discretionary expenditures—for example, crime, health care, teen pregnancies, etc.
It is a fact that healthy, physically and emotionally well-adjusted children and youth are more likely to become successful at learning, and socially engaged and responsible citizens, who will contribute to the civic, social and economic well-being of Canada. I would suggest to members of this committee and all Canadians that this is the best guarantee we can give ourselves for the future accessibility of quality public services, health, education and social programs, and pension plans for all Canadians.
These children are the taxpayers of the future. Their incomes will generate the revenues we will need in order to support these programs in the future. The more of them that carry less baggage into adult life, the better off all of us will be.
One of the documents I will refer to, and hope to be questioned on, is a comprehensive study that has been done by a couple of Canadian economists, Gordon Cleveland and Michael Krashinsky, entitled The Benefits and Costs of Good Child Care. They make a strong case that for an investment of $5.3 billion over a relatively short period of time, the Canadian government would save in excess of $10 billion in non-discretionary expenditures it is now obliged to make in order to rehabilitate and provide programs for those whose lives have been broken or fractured as a result of the absence of the kinds of supports, programs, and services that should be accessible to all Canadians.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Weiner.
We'll now hear from the Canadian School Boards Association: the president, Kathy LeGrow; and the executive director, Marie Pierce. Welcome.
Ms. Kathy LeGrow (President, Canadian School Boards Association): Good morning, Mr. Chair. Thank you for providing us the opportunity to speak to you, as you consider recommendations for budget 2000.
I'm speaking on behalf of the Canadian School Boards Association, the national voice of provincial associations of school boards and school trustees. The CSBA, as we lovingly know ourselves, is a member of Campaign 2000 and the Children's Alliance, and supports the implementation of the national children's agenda.
Our main focus as an organization is on the students we serve. Our responsibility as school trustees is to ensure they have the tools they need to become active citizens, able to compete in a global economy. That is why I am here today.
I will be addressing the need for additional investments in the social infrastructure via the national children's agenda, the employment insurance surplus, and the child tax benefit. I will also touch on the growing importance of the new economy, the need for universal access to the Internet and related technologies, and an investment in technical and vocational education programs across the country.
The federal government has a unique opportunity to move forward into the new century with the national children's agenda and forge strong partnerships with all levels of government and communities. By focusing budget 2000 on the well-being of children, the government will demonstrate a strong commitment to the national children's agenda and Canada's children.
The link between child poverty and its adverse effect upon children's readiness to learn and ultimate success in school is well established. Under the new social union framework, nine provinces and the federal government have signed the national children's agenda, pledging to work in collaboration to support the well-being of children. Taking the shared vision of the federal-provincial-territorial Council of Ministers on Social Policy Renewal to the next level, which is action, is an essential step in strengthening Canada's social infrastructure.
We recommend that budget 2000 include the following: the establishment of a federal-provincial agency, with the sole mandate of ensuring that the goals of the national children's agenda are achieved; an immediate increased investment in the national child benefit; coordination of increased funds for the development of integrated service delivery models, to meet the needs of children at risk; and funding of a quality national child care strategy that will ensure that all children requiring care outside the home have access to affordable licensed care by qualified individuals in a safe, stimulating, and nurturing environment.
The reasons for immediate action are compelling. The number of children living in poverty has increased by 463,000 since 1989, when the House of Commons passed a resolution pledging to eliminate child poverty by 2000. While the rate of child poverty is slowly diminishing, one in five children still lives in poverty.
School boards have demonstrated a willingness to undertake a leadership role in addressing the issue of child poverty. I would just bring your attention to a poverty intervention profile we've developed for school boards to initiate, to determine what activities and partnerships are being developed at the school board level to meet the needs of these children, as well as a document we produced called “Students in Poverty: Toward Awareness, Action and Wider Knowledge”.
The need for action by various governments, both federal and provincial, is acute. Without concrete action and leadership at the national level, a much-needed multijurisdictional approach to addressing child poverty will falter. We urge the federal government to take action now.
There have been many suggestions about what to do with the employment insurance surplus. The CSBA membership feel that any surplus money should be returned to those who've contributed it. Money returned to school boards would be available for student services or other necessary programs.
The CSBA supports continued investment in providing Canadian students with access to the Internet and other computer technologies. The rapid pace of technological change makes it difficult to provide all students with current equipment and software. The financial cost of maintaining up-to-date computer software is a challenge for school boards across the country. In order to keep pace with others in the global economy, Canadians must graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete. It is also important that universal access to the technologies for all Canadians be assured.
The federal government has shown strong leadership, with Industry Canada's SchoolNet and computers for schools. The CSBA supports further investment in the initiatives, and values the cooperative relationship it has built with SchoolNet. Projects such as the CSBA's SchoolNet consultation on integrating information technology into learning provide an excellent avenue for discussion and feedback on what is being done to bring learning technologies into the classroom.
CSBA recommends that the federal government work with the provinces, school boards, and business community to establish programs and funding for assisting the nearly two-thirds of Canadian high school students who do not go on to university or college.
We also recommend that budget 2000 include the following investments in the new technology-based economy: firstly, the establishment of a federal program involving the provinces, school boards, and businesses that provides educational and work-related opportunities to facilitate the school-to-work transition for the two-thirds of Canadian high school students who do not go on to post-secondary education; secondly, funding for a Canada-wide program on technological and vocational education to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the new global economy; and finally, increased availability of technology and access to the Internet for all Canadians, particularly in classrooms across the country.
Thank you very much for taking the time to hear our views. I hope you have found the pre-budget consultation process to be informative. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Thank you, sir.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. LeGrow.
We will now hear from the Canadian Living Foundation, the director of government relations, Ms. Pamela Heneault. Welcome.
Ms. Pamela Heneault (Director of Government Relations, Canadian Living Foundation): Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
In 1997 and again in 1998 the executive director of the Canadian Living Foundation was invited to make a presentation to this committee as part of its pre-budget consultation.
Over the past three years the fiscal climate, prevailing social values, and public opinion regarding the direction and shape of many public policy priorities have changed in both direction and process. Just as the factors that influence our public policy debates are altered, so too are our spending priorities. One priority, however, remains fixed on the Canadian agenda: the uncompromised value we place in our children.
I would note to the committee that, as you perhaps know, today is the day UNICEF as well as the Chief Electoral Officer are conducting votes across Canada with our youth on charting the rights of the child so that Canadian children have an opportunity to vote on their priority rights as defined in the UN convention. Tomorrow is National Day of the Child, and I would invite you to consider how you will spend that day celebrating the value we place in our children.
The Canadian Living Foundation is the only national non-profit organization supporting community action on child nutrition and food insecurity. Since 1992 the foundation, through its program Breakfast for Learning program, has assisted 2,500 Canadian communities in providing over 45 million meals to our children.
In the 1997 throne speech, Governor General Roméo LeBlanc announced a national children's agenda that would integrate federal, provincial, and territorial policies and programs targeted to the welfare of our children. Evolution of the national children's agenda engaged all levels of government, citizens, and child advocates.
In late 1999 a vision document was released that reflected the collective views of Canadians with regard to the future we as Canadians will promise to our children. This vision must now be translated into action. Current budget consultations for the year 2000-2001 are a forum for this government to affirm concrete spending commitments that ensure our vision for Canada's children is realized.
The federal government has stated its commitment to children on a number of occasions. In 1996 Canada co-chaired the World Summit for Children and affirmed that children should have first call on national resources in good times and in bad. I remind this committee that in 1998 the national Liberal caucus voted in a policy resolution to urge the Government of Canada to take action to establish a national child nutrition program.
Important steps have been taken primarily through tax expenditures, the child tax benefit, to demonstrate the federal commitment to children living in low-income families, yet poverty remains a pernicious and persistent challenge to our national identity. According to the Canadian Public Health Association, one in three Canadians will experience poverty in their lives.
Perhaps more troubling for all Canadians is the persistence of poverty among our children. According to the report card issued by Campaign 2000, child poverty increased by 55% between 1989 and 1997. One in five children in Canada lives in conditions of poverty. These statistics belie the good intentions of both Canadians and policy-makers.
Poverty presents other challenges. Foremost among them is the challenge of addressing the health inequities associated with poverty. Consider the following. The death rate for children living in poverty is 50% higher than for those who are not living in poverty, according to the Child Welfare League. Twice as many children living in poverty fall behind in school by grade five. One in four children beginning school will have emotional, behavioural, social, or learning problems by age 11, according to Voices for Children. Poor children are twice as likely to suffer long-term disability or other chronic health problems, according to the Canadian Public Health Association. Children living in conditions of poverty experience drop-out rates that are twice the national average. The cost is estimated to be $23 billion in lost income. Health outcomes in society improve as income disparities diminish, according to the Vanier Institute. In 1998 over 250,000 children used food banks in Canada, according to the food banks association.
Compelling as these statistics are, the fact is that Canada cannot afford poverty. The cost of services to children who need higher levels of state services is staggering. In many cases the cost of those services is directly attributable to unfulfilled educational potential. According to the Canadian Teachers' Federation, “Educators cannot ignore hungry children...nutritional deficits result in developmental delays, which by grade seven may be irreversible.”
Our understanding is that Canadians want a collective response. But remarkable as it may seem, policy-makers have asserted that the lack of data on the policies and programs that contribute to healthy child outcomes has been a significant impediment to comprehensive action. It is only recently we are able to declare that the number of publications devoted to children's issues exceeds the number of cookbooks published. The policy paralysis that has to date characterized federal action to ensure the welfare of our children must be replaced by a commitment to act.
Canadians do want a collective response in meeting the needs of our children. While primary responsibility for our children rests with parents, families, and communities, governments have their role to play. Over the past 18 months public opinion polls consistently demonstrate this. In short Canadians want government to make children a spending priority in the coming and future budgets.
What spending priorities will reflect children as a priority for Canadians? For starters, government must walk the talk. John Godfrey, the member of Parliament for Don Valley West, has made a valuable contribution to advancing the interests of children. His role as chair of the subcommittee on children and youth at risk and his efforts over the years, together with Senator Landon Pearson, to maintain a spotlight on the needs of Canadian children have been invaluable. During times of fiscal restraint and despite government's affirmation of the first claim children have on our resources, poverty statistics have increased and the consequent impact on children has been amplified.
The Canadian Living Foundation again urges the federal government to look beyond the tax system to develop a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of our children. The debate of income support versus services in terms of what provision we make for our children is ongoing. In discussions with officials and representatives of the federal government, the Canadian Living Foundation was constantly asked the either/or question as it relates to poverty: Should government provide income support or services targeted to vulnerable populations? As advocates for all children, the Canadian Living Foundation, through the program Breakfast for Learning, supports community action on child nutrition, and to that end we seek to assist communities in dealing with the problem of food insecurity. Our mission is to ensure that no child in Canada attends school while hungry. That can be done through either income or services. But it's not either/or; it is both.
The debate is not centred on one choice of policy instrument or another. Rather, the discussion must turn to the necessity for a comprehensive approach that (a) minimizes risks to negative outcomes for our children; (b) promotes protective factors that ensure healthy outcomes, including genetics, lifestyle, physical environment, economic conditions, education, and social conditions; and (c) supports programs that enhance a child's well-being.
Why are we advocating a pan-Canadian child nutrition program? Equality of opportunity is defined by income. According to Alvin deGruyer, in comments captured in a brief for the Vanier Institute, “Death is democratic, deferral is a privilege correlated with economic rank”.
The unsubtle reality is that poverty is a risk factor for all negative health outcomes. Children need as much protection from risk factors as the state can provide. Where the state has vacated vast areas of social policy we have witnessed the communitization of responsibility for these problems; that is to say, communities have filled the void left by various levels of government during periods of fiscal realignment. The Canadian Living Foundation began working with communities in 1992. However, the burden and magnitude for persistent social problems like poverty and unemployment strains and exceeds community capacities.
The Canadian Living Foundation, through breakfast for learning, advocates partnership in the creation of pan-Canadian community-based child nutrition programs. Public policy can be complemented with the existing on-the-ground support through voluntary sector organizations like the Canadian Living Foundation, whose advocacy in child nutrition supplies a critical program addressing food and security issues of our children.
The research is conclusive, exhaustive: children who are hungry cannot learn. Hunger and malnutrition adversely affect cognitive functioning, mood concentration, and learning ability. We must act to ensure that equality of opportunity, which is defined by income, is equalized through as many supports as possible. As the Senate report on child poverty argues, we must reduce the inequities in health status.
We are asking for a call to action, moving to an equitable society. In 1999, in testimony before the subcommittee on children and youth at risk, the esteemed Tom Kent called for a national investment in our most important resource: children. Mr. Kent further argued that the investment should ideally engage federal, provincial, and territorial governments, but that the federal government should be prepared to act in the national interest if certain provinces choose to opt out.
How the federal government exercises effective leadership in the spirit of cooperative federalism as defined by the social union framework agreement is beyond the scope and ability of the Canadian Living Foundation. We do, however, forcefully argue that national interests and policies should not be suspended and the lives of our children compromised over the rituals of jurisdictional jousting. Children are first.
Strategic investments by definition are those that provide long-term benefits. The current round of budget consultations will pit child advocates against other sectors of the economy in competition for program spending, tax expenditures, tax cuts, and the like. While the move to a global economy places Canadians in competition with jurisdictions whose government expenditures, factors of production, environmental regimes, or tax policy will appear for at least a brief period of time more attractive to investors, we must consider the future.
Canadians recognize the difference between the long-term and short-term benefits, and they know there will always be jurisdictions and emerging economies whose investment climate is more favourable. Our decision and that of the federal government for the coming and future budgets must be a strategic investment in our most important resource: children.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Heneault.
We'll now hear from the National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, Mr. Frank Palmater, vice-president, Congress of Aboriginal People, and Debbie Saidman. Welcome.
Ms. Debbie Saidman (National Board Member, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness): Thank you.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to present to your committee. My name is Debbie Saidman. I am a member of the national board of directors of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. With me is Frank Palmater, vice-president of the Congress of Aboriginal People. I would like to thank the committee on behalf of the partners of the National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness for inviting us to share our thoughts on the housing and homelessness crisis and the forthcoming federal budget.
The National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness is an emerging partnership of national and regional organizations. We formed in September 1999 with the goal of creating a strong national voice on housing and homelessness issues. In our submission today our coalition is making its first public statement.
New partners are continuing to join our group. Our active participants include, from the aboriginal community, the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Métis National Council, the National Aboriginal Housing Association, and the Native Women's Association of Canada.
From the housing sector we have the B.C. Tenants' Rights Action Coalition, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, the National Housing and Homelessness Network, the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, the Fédération régionale des coopératives d'habitation de Québec, the Raising the Roof Foundation, and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.
Finally, from the labour movement, municipal governments, and social policy groups, we have the Canadian Council on Social Development, the Canadian Labour Congress, Family Service Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, and the National Canadian Pensioners Concerned Inc.
Mr. Frank Palmater (Vice-President, Congress of Aboriginal People; National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness): Good morning, Mr. Chairman, committee members. My name is Frank Palmater. I'm the vice-president of the Congress of Aboriginal People.
The Congress of Aboriginal People is a national aboriginal organization speaking on behalf of approximately 850,000 aboriginal people who live away from a reserve, those who live away from a first nations community—Indians, Inuit, Métis, status, non-status, scrip, non-scrip, treaty, non-treaty. It is a number of aboriginal people who far outweigh any other population of aboriginal people in Canada. Our organization, the congress, speaks on their behalf, and we have 13 provincial territorial affiliates, many of which are responsible for development of aboriginal housing policy and creation of housing delivery infrastructures within provincial governments.
The congress has enjoyed a long history of association with the off-reserve and urban native housing programs. Over the years CAP leadership has worked with federal housing officials to identify aboriginal housing requirements and allocation targets.
The congress is pleased to be part of the National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, and to endorse the coalition's call for a significant reinvestment in assisted housing by the federal government. Before discussing this in more detail I want to speak briefly about the housing concerns of aboriginal people in particular.
There have been numerous reports and studies on the current housing and homelessness crisis in Canada. We will speak about this issue later on. However, I want to single out the City of Toronto's report, “Taking Responsibility for Homelessness: An Action Plan for Toronto”. It noted that aboriginal people made up a disproportionate part of Toronto's homeless population, representing about 15% of the total homelessness, or about 4,000 people in 1996. Another 8,000 were at risk of becoming homeless.
The urban aboriginal population is the fastest growing segment of Canada's population. In the decade between 1981 and 1991 it grew by 62%, while the rest of the urban population in this country grew by only 11%. As well, between 40% and 76% of the aboriginal households in large urban areas fall below the poverty line. Despite this, there are fewer than 10,000 federally assisted urban aboriginal rental units nationally, representing affordable housing for less than 0.18% of the estimated need.
Secondly, the Toronto report laid the major responsibility for this crisis on government inaction. In 1993 the federal government withdrew from funding new urban aboriginal housing and turned it over to the provinces. The Toronto report recommended that the federal government should carry responsibility for funding housing and supporting the aboriginal homeless population.
Thirdly, the Toronto report noted that because aboriginal people are more comfortable using services specifically designed for aboriginal people, new programs to combat homelessness should be funnelled through aboriginal organizations. Aboriginal-led agencies are places where people can feel good about being aboriginal and find support and acceptance. Aboriginal-led service can embrace the values of their own culture and as a result be more effective.
The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also commented upon the benefits of aboriginal-owned and aborignal-operated housing. Tenants felt that access to affordable accommodation and basic amenities provided them a sense of permanence, providing roots in the city while maintaining ties with reserve and rural communities.
In calling upon the federal government to make a renewed commitment to assisted housing, we are also calling upon the government to ensure aboriginal delivery and control.
Housing conditions on first nation reserves are also deplorable and have been described as Third World conditions. Although the federal government has continued to fund new housing in first nation communities, it has drastically cut funding over the past few years. In addition to increasing the availability of new housing, the government must make a significant contribution to maintenance and capital repairs to bring the current housing stock up to an acceptable standard.
I want to pause at this point and make a comment about the existing federally funded urban native housing stock. In 1996 the federal government announced its intention to transfer responsibility for this portfolio to provincial and territorial governments. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has called upon the federal government, without success, to halt the transfer and to consider transfer to the aboriginal community.
To date, the government has signed agreements with nine provincial and territorial jurisdictions. We not only believe this is unconstitutional; we believe the financial arrangements under which the transfer occurs puts the limited but crucial existing portfolio at risk.
The congress will continue to call upon the federal and provincial governments to ensure that the existing assisted housing portfolio remains with the aboriginal community. We firmly believe protecting the existing portfolio is an important component in the larger strategy to address the aboriginal housing and homelessness issue.
Ms. Debbie Saidman: We are here today to deliver a simple message: this country and the federal government have run out of time when it comes to responding to housing and homelessness.
The scale of the crisis is clear. Across Canada, 834,000 tenant households are paying 50% or more of their pre-tax household income on their housing. That's a total of more than 2.25 million women, men, and children who are one rent cheque away from being homeless. Any slight interruption in their income—illness, layoff, or even a delay in receiving an assistance cheque—will push more and more of this group onto the streets.
The new reality of homelessness in Canada is huge. Sadly, a growing number of families with children are homeless, and it's not just in Toronto. Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Kitchener, Montreal, Ottawa, Regina, the Peel region in Ontario, Vancouver, and Winnipeg are all reporting significant increases in the number of homeless. Every night across this country, people are being told there is no room in the shelters.
Attached to this submission is a snapshot of housing and homelessness in 13 Canadian cities. Plenty of research material is available. Where's Home? is the most comprehensive overview of the growing housing crisis in Ontario. New data was recently added, to bring to 21 the number of communities in Ontario facing this problem. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has issued a series of municipal profiles for selected cities. Many communities, large and small, have done their own studies on housing and homelessness.
For the decade ending in the year 2010, Canada will need an additional 450,000 affordable rental units to meet the growing need for housing for Canadians. Even the most optimistic projections suggest the private sector will only be able to meet a fraction of that demand. And the small amount of private rental housing that is built will be on the high end of the rent scale.
Now is the time to take action. The root causes are clear. The fully employed workers crowding into the homeless shelters in places such as Calgary and the Peel region in Ontario are not there for a cheap room. They are in the shelters because there is not enough affordable rental housing, even for people with jobs.
Families with children are crowding into the homeless shelters here in Ottawa, in Toronto, and in many other communities. In most cases they were forced out of their homes because they could no longer afford to pay the rent.
The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation recently released the results of the most thorough analysis of tenant evictions that is currently available in Canada. They tracked in detail the approximately 500 applications from landlords to evict tenant households that are filed every week in Toronto. Fully 77% of those applications were filed because the tenant household was behind in the rent.
Where's Home? found that rents in almost every community in Ontario—19 out of the 21 centres that were studied—have been rising faster than the rate of inflation, even as tenant incomes have stagnated or even declined. In all 21 centres in the study, the squeeze between rising rents and declining income means an increasing number of tenant households are facing severe affordability problems.
An increasing number of tenant households are being squeezed right out of their housing and onto the streets. Homeless shelters in Barrie, Ontario, have reported a 1,235% increase in overnight stays for the five-year period ending in 1998. The homeless shelters in Calgary are completely full. In Toronto the shelters are filled to capacity and beyond. People are banging at the locked doors of the shelters to gain admission, but their calls for shelter are not being answered.
The lack of affordable housing is one of the root causes of the national housing crisis. The lack of adequate supply of rental housing is another.
In many parts of the country, the rental vacancy rate is below or close to zero. The private sector is not building affordable housing. The private sector simply cannot recover enough money in rents from tenants to cover the cost of developing and maintaining rental housing.
For the five decades after the end of the Second World War, the federal government was a real partner in helping to create the supply of affordable housing. For the first two and one-half decades, the senior levels of government in Canada funded, built, and managed a large network of government-owned public housing. Starting in 1970, the federal government and eventually several provinces began to fund community-based, non-profit, and cooperative housing projects to meet the affordable needs of Canadians.
The decades of federal support for affordable housing produced tangible results. As of 1998, Canada had 630,000 social housing units, not including rent-subsidized units owned by the private sector. These include 205,000 government-owned public housing units; 285,000 community-based, non-profit housing units; 90,000 resident-owned and resident-managed housing cooperative units; and 50,000 rural, urban native, and on-reserve native non-profit housing units.
However, the federal government began a gradual retreat from its support for housing programs, starting in 1984. By 1993 Ottawa had stopped all funding for new affordable housing. In 1996 Ottawa started negotiations to transfer its remaining social housing portfolio to the provinces and territories. Once the transfer is complete, Canada will be the only major developed country in the world without a national housing program.
On the supply side, the private sector has been unwilling and unable to build. For years the need was taken up by social housing development, but that was cancelled in 1993. It is no wonder that we are facing a truly nationwide, full-blown housing crisis just six years later, in 1999.
The solutions are clear. Canada does not lack for solutions to the housing crisis and homelessness disaster. We have a history of success in funding the development of hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing. In many communities across the country there are successful models of projects geared to the particular housing needs of their community. There have been large numbers of useful studies on all aspects of housing issues, many of them commissioned and collected by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. There have also been a large number of blueprints for action.
The federal government, in the most recent Speech from the Throne, acknowledged the seriousness of the homelessness problem by stating:
The Government will continue working with its partners in all sectors
to address the root causes of homelessness and help communities
respond to their members' needs for shelter and other support.
We welcome the commitment to partnership, but in a true partnership each partner brings something tangible to the relationship. What is lacking at this point is the commitment from the federal government to a massive reinvestment in housing and related initiatives that is required to meet the equally massive housing needs of Canadians.
Our coalition, along with a growing number of national, provincial, and local organizations, endorsed the 1% solution. Spending on housing by all levels of government—federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal—equals about 1% of their combined budgets. The 1% solution calls for an additional 1% to be spent on housing.
For the federal government, the 1% solution equals about $2 billion annually. That $2 billion will not only restore the massive cuts to housing programs that were made from 1984 to 1993, but it will ensure that tens of thousands of Canadians will secure good-quality, affordable homes.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has developed a national housing policy options paper, which calls for 70,000 housing units to be supported annually. We support the FCM in their plan for a new national housing strategy, which calls for 20,000 new assisted units, 10,000 new assisted renovation units, and 40,000 new rental subsidy units annually over 10 years.
There are plently of policy mechanisms that can turn the 1% solution and the national housing policy options paper into reality.
The Chair: We ask people to keep within their five minutes, but I will follow some advice I have received from Mr. Weiner and I will extend the question and answer session to accommodate everybody. Go ahead.
Ms. Debbie Saidman: Okay. Can I just finish? I'm on my last page.
The Chair: Okay.
Mr. Debbie Saidman: There are plenty of policy mechanisms that can turn the 1% solution and the national housing policy options paper into reality. Some are tried and tested, and others are new proposals. For instance, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association has a plan for a housing foundation that would help to create desperately needed new units. No one policy option is a complete solution to the national problem.
The first step is for the federal government, a key partner in any housing solution, to come to the table with a clear and substantial funding commitment. Create the funding envelope. Adopt the 1% as an overall target. Your other partners—the provinces and territories, municipalities, community groups, and the private sector—can also bring to the table the resources and expertise necessary to ease Canada's national housing crisis and homelessness disaster.
Thank you. We would be pleased to answer any questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Now we'll move to the Getting Landed Project: Franciso Rico-Martinez, president, Canadian Council for Refugees; Ahmed Hashi, coordinator; and Michael Kerr, community services. Welcome.
Mr. Ahmed Hashi (Coordinator, Getting Landed Project): Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to appear before you. We are appearing today on behalf of the Getting Landed Project, a project that has been initiated by three refugee solidarity coalitions: the Coalition for a Just Immigration and Refugee Policy, the Ontario Sanctuary Coalition, and the Coalition Against the Head Tax. These coalitions have a membership of more than 60 diverse organizations, including non-governmental organizations, faith groups, social justice groups, and refugee community organizations.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, refugees and immigrants who come to Canada face formidable challenges in their quest for resettlement and integration, the most important challenge of which is obtaining landed immigrant status. Getting landed, getting permanent residency status, is the key to many benefits and privileges: the ability to be reunited with spouses, young children, family members; better employment prospects; access to student loans and bank loans; the right to travel outside Canada and come back; and the right to be a Canadian citizen.
However, obtaining landed immigrant status is not that easy for refugees and immigrants. We have identified three issues that are the major obstacles to landing. The first one is the right of landing fee—wrong. The second one is delayed and lengthy security reviews. And the third is the identity document requirement.
Today, Mr. Chairman, we will address only the first issue, namely the right of landing fee, since we believe it requires a specific action by the House of Commons, the Standing Committee on Finance, and the budget-making process of the federal government.
Mr. Chairman, ROLF—right of landing fee—was introduced in 1995 by the federal government. ROLF requires every adult refugee and immigrant to pay a $975 fee. At the time of its introduction the federal government was engaged in deficit-cutting and generating revenue in order to balance the budget. Today, even the Kosovar refugees we airlifted to Canada have to pay $975 to stay in Canada. In addition to the $975 fee, refugees have to pay a non-refundable landing processing fee of $500 per adult and $100 per child. A family of four members applying for permanent resident status will have to cough up $3,150 so the landing application could be processed. Mr. Chairman, this is a huge burden on refugees.
Let me narrate the story of a refugee from Afghanistan. His name is Gada, and here is his story—and I quote:
My family and I, that is to say, my wife and four children, came as
landed refugees from Afghanistan to Canada on 25 November 1997. Then
I received a letter from the Chief of Collection Services dated 25 May
1998 saying that I should start paying my loan in the amount of
$8,932.75 and later on they showed the total amount $9,857.63....
While I am very grateful to the Government of Canada for its
humanitarian help, I must admit that I find it difficult to pay my big
loan. My two children are anemic. and I buy medicine for them
regularly. Unfortunately I am on social assistance. Recently I got a
part-time job which will end in March 2000. I earn about $900 a
month, which is not enough to make ends meet.
In our calculation, Gada will have to continue paying this.... He pays $187 a month toward his loan, and it will take him a minimum of several years to repay this loan.
Mr. Chairman, the right of landing fee, as a budgetary component, generates revenue. The projected revenue for ROLF is $156.8 million every year. However, the actual earnings exceeded that amount. In 1996-97, while the planned revenue remained unchanged, $156.8 million, the total revenue generated reached $167.3 million. That's well above the planned actual revenue. From 1997 to 1998, ROLF generated $119 million, and that was as a result of the shortfall in immigration numbers.
What's wrong with the right of landing fee? The right of landing fee discriminates against newcomers because it's a special tax, and newcomers pay taxes like other Canadians. We believe immigration is an investment, and immigrants and refugees ultimately contribute more to the Canadian economy than is spent on them. The right of landing fee discriminates against the poor and people of colour because ROLF is a flat-rate tax and does not reflect newcomers' ability to pay. It has a deeply inequitable impact on refugees and immigrants from third world countries, most of whom are relatively poor and of colour.
Mr. Chairman, the ROLF violates the principle of fiscal fairness. As a flat rate, it violates this principle of fiscal fairness because it's doubly regressive. First, it's charged to individuals and families that are least able to shoulder the burden. Second, for those who must borrow the money to pay the fee—the $975 per adult—and those with no ability, the total cost would be higher than for those with more resources.
Most important, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, the inability to pay that right of landing fee delays family reunification, which is the cornerstone of our country's immigration policies. Prospective spouses who cannot afford the ROLF fee cannot sponsor their families, their spouses, their children outside Canada. This in return causes long delays in family reunification and violates the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the protections accorded to families under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Mr. Chairman, ROLF also places a heavy financial burden on newcomers. We have to borrow the money to get landed. And even government loans are excessive, or private loans are excessive, so a newcomer who wants to start his or her life again is saddled with a heavy debt. So there's great financial jeopardy in this case.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the right of landing fee hinders integration. Newcomers have to work significant amounts of overtime to earn the extra $975 per adult needed for the landing of their family. Thus, they have very little time to interact with other Canadians, they have very little time for participation in regular civic life, much less for language training and skills upgrading.
Mr. Chairman, ROLF, in our opinion, contravenes Canada's international and national obligations. It violates in spirit, if not in point of law, the Geneva Convention of Refugees, which requires governments to make every effort to expedite the naturalization proceedings and to reduce, as far as possible, the charges and costs of such proceedings—article 24 of the convention.
Mr. Chairman, we believe that the ROLF has outlived its purpose. The right of landing fee was introduced at a time of deficit reduction. As discussed above, $119 million is raised annually through the ROLF. Out of that amount, the refugees' contribution annually is $55.5 million. That's a mere drop in the bucket of the projected surpluses, yet Canada is the only country in the world that imposes fees for the landing of refugees. We have that distinction in the world.
Mr. Chairman, we are gratified to know there has been opposition within Parliament regarding ROLF since its introduction. In 1997 and again in 1999 members of Parliament across party lines have expressed their opposition to ROLF. Our coalitions appreciate the fact that many members of Parliament, sensing the unfairness of this fee and that Canadians do not want to use refugees as a source of revenue, have expressed their concern and opposition to the right of landing fee.
Opposition to ROLF also cuts across religious lines. In 1995 leaders of every major faith in Canada joined together in a statement of solidarity with refugees. National representatives of the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious communities jointly called on government to rescind the head tax.
Mr. Chairman, we recommend that the federal government, in the budget for 2000-2001, remove the right of landing fee.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We will now proceed to the question and answer session. We will begin with Mr. Epp and it will be a ten-minute round.
Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, Ref.): Thank you very much, and thank you to our guests this morning.
I listened with interest to your various presentations and I have a number of questions. I'd better start my watch, otherwise the chairman will be on my back.
The first question is to both the Teachers' Federation and the School Boards Association. You expressed concern about malnutrition, lack of meals; you want to have the schools perhaps be providing meals for children. I want you to help me here, because I grew up in a very poor home. You may not know that, but it's true. We were farmers in Saskatchewan, and I was born at the end of the Depression and we were very, very poor. Certainly it's different because we lived on a farm, but we never expected anybody else to feed us. It was always our parents who scrambled and did what they had to do in order to make sure we were fed.
What do you suggest in terms of parental responsibility here to make sure that children have food? To me that seems so obvious. I'm missing something.
Mr. Harvey Weiner: First of all, I would suggest that schools don't want to provide meals for students; schools have to provide meals for students because of what is happening in society. Schools have to do, unfortunately, a lot of other things in order to deal with a lot of the baggage that children are bringing to school today, in order to ensure that they do have some opportunity to learn.
It is clear, and the studies and the research will demonstrate, that students can't learn if they're hungry, if they're malnourished, etc. Why is it happening? Well, I suppose your guess is as good as mine. If you suggest that the parents—and we would agree—should have the primary responsibility for this and the conclusion of that is if the parents don't take the responsibility, well, the rest of society should simply abdicate, then I guess we get back to a law of the jungle type of attitude, survival of the fittest.
But the very fact that these problems do exist—and I don't think you can deny that they exist—means that they have to be dealt with. If the student comes to school hungry, that student has to be fed. It is a problem; we can't deny that it's a problem. Are we going to incarcerate parents for not fulfilling that responsibility? Are we just simply going to cut their taxes by $100 and expect that the $100 somehow is going to compensate for that? We don't think that's a solution.
Mr. Ken Epp: I repeat, how pervasive is this problem?
Mr. Harvey Weiner: It's a very significant problem, and it's a growing problem in many areas of the country. I think there was a comment made in terms of the accessing of food banks by young children. It's a growing problem in our society.
The Chair: Ms. LeGrow.
Ms. Kathy LeGrow: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
In response to your question, Mr. Epp, the reality for schools is that we receive these children. Why they come there, I think, just sort of points towards the root causes in terms of our society and why parents are unable to feed their children, for whatever reason. We in the school system are forced to deal with this issue, because if children aren't fed they can't learn. This is only one of many problems that children in poverty have to cope with when they come to our system.
In order for us to provide the service we have to provide for our children.... And they certainly take up a lot of resources in terms of teaching resources and other resources of the school system. If those resources were made available in a universal way to all children, we would be able to more effectively deliver our programs.
I'm from Newfoundland, by the way. The issue of hungry children and poverty is very acute where I'm from. We have formed partnerships with the schools and the communities to provide sustained feeding programs for our children. It settles them down, it enables them to learn more readily, and it gives them an opportunity they probably wouldn't otherwise have.
I would go back to your question and ask, should we not feed these children?
Mr. Ken Epp: No, no—
Ms. Kathy LeGrow: We in the school system say that we should, and we do as much as we can with the community resources that are available.
Mr. Ken Epp: No, I'm not in any way suggesting that the poor children who are.... Really, they're caught in it, right? I'm not suggesting that we don't do anything for them, but I'm just surprised. I don't know whether there's a sociologist alive that can answer this, but I really would like to know what has changed, because in the last 50 years or a little more.... I won't tell you how old I am, but conditions now I think are generally much better than they were then. To me, the fact that this problem has grown is perplexing.
I have two more questions for you. Then I want to go on, but perhaps the Canadian Living Foundation wants to dig in here too.
First of all, we're dealing here with producing a federal budget. Schools are run by municipalities within provinces and the provinces are in Canada. Are you really suggesting that you want distant, bureaucrat-laden Ottawa to get into a program like this? Or are you suggesting that there should be something in our budget that better enables provinces and municipalities to meet this need? Let me just stop there.
Ms. Pamela Heneault: [Inaudible—Editor]. The Canadian Living Foundation supports community action on child nutrition. What we've been advocating with the federal government is a partnership. In no way do we want the federal government to operate the programs.
It's similar to the way a number of communities have addressed the honourable Minister of Labour, who has special responsibilities for housing. Communities have said, look, we know what the problem is and we believe we have some of the solutions, but we simply don't have the resources to apply those solutions.
That's what communities have told us. Eighty percent of the programs we support in communities are self-funding. Parents pay for them. Local fundraising pays for them. In those communities where there's an insufficient economic base to raise funds locally, we ask other levels of government, the provinces and the federal government, to reallocate resources to provide for equity.
So we are really not asking at all. We don't think the federal government knows anything about delivering food programs. We think the communities do. They're community-owned and community-operated programs.
We're just going through a process whereby we're developing a best practices process, under Health Canada funding, as a way of demonstrating, in fact, how well communities have addressed and dealt with the problem.
On your earlier question—why are we seeing an increased incidence of this?—aside from the poverty statistics increasing, sir, just the change in family structures and changes in the nature of the workplace and the economy have given rise, as you likely know, to a number of two-income families. If you were raised in a family like mine, with six children going out the door in the morning...it was lucky if there wasn't a donnybrook, let alone fights over who would eat what food.
What we provide is an opportunity for children who simply don't have the time. As you know, with a number of education systems closing schools, kids are being bused for two hours in the morning; they are required to be on the bus. Are they expected to have breakfast at 6 a.m., travel two hours, and then arrive at school well nourished and ready to learn?
So communities have said to us, look, our parents can afford to supply this, and we'd simply like to supply it in this facility.
It's not working, given the way their morning structures are operating. There are a number of factors contributing to it. It's not simply an issue related to poverty.
Mr. Harvey Weiner: In addition to that, I think we now have, for the first time, a mechanism agreed to by the provinces and the federal government; it is called the social union framework, and it provides an opportunity to integrate this as one aspect of a comprehensive child development system in which the provinces, the communities, the voluntary sector, the NGOs, and the federal government work together to ensure that there are accessible opportunities for those who need that particular aspect of the service and for other services that will form part of a comprehensive package.
We certainly appreciated the announcement in the throne speech, where the Prime Minister indicated and set a deadline of December 2000 for the provinces and the federal government to reach agreements on these kinds of programs and services.
We believe that in this upcoming budget Finance Minister Martin can do something that he did quite effectively when he announced that he would tackle the deficit, that is, establish some very clear targets over the next five years in terms of additional investments to be made on behalf of children and youth. Our recommendation is for a minimum of $2 billion per annum over the next five years.
He can certainly, by announcing those sums of money, make it clear to the provinces that the federal government is prepared to make a major commitment, based on agreements that will have to be reached in a number of these areas where there is cross-jurisdictional responsibility. That would provide an impetus to a good negotiation, we believe.
The provincial ministers have been involved in discussions and officials have been involved in discussions over a period of almost two years now. We think there is definitely an appetite there and a demand on the part of the Canadian public that will lead to agreements and that will, for the first time, enable us to hold our heads high as a Canadian society and say that we are really investing in our future, that we are really providing for the children and youth who will be the taxpayers of the future, who will be supporting our pension plans and our health plans and who will be assuring that we do have those tax cuts a lot of people want—by enabling us to cut billions of dollars in non-discretionary expenditures that we're forced to make.
For example, do you know that we spend $51,000, on average, to incarcerate a prisoner? How much above the average salary is that? What would that sum of money have done had it been invested at the early stages of life for those individuals?
There are a whole series of facts I think the committee should be aware of. Brain development linked to vision, emotional control, and language-symbol cognition is almost complete by age three. That data is there. Twenty-eight percent of boys with anti-social behaviour who enter kindergarten were delinquent by age 13. Our ability to remediate social and developmental problems is significantly reduced after a child reaches age six. It costs—and I've mentioned this—enormous sums of money annually to keep people in prison.
Economic research proves there's a two-to-one return on investment in children aged zero to six. The data is there. Poor early childhood experiences lead to long-term physical and mental health problems, which we're paying millions of dollars to deal with and to treat. Of all children born in any given year, 6%—an amazing statistic that has been researched—are responsible for 50% to 70% of all crimes committed by those in that group in later life, and if we have the resources and facilities, most of these potential offenders can be identified by age three.
To use a stock market analogy, the Perry Preschool project had an 11% return on the investment made in that limited project over the period 1963 to 1993, and the stock market return was only 6.8% over the same 30 years.
In this country, there are 1.4 million children under age six and 1.9 million children aged six to twelve who have working parents who need child care, and they're not getting good child care.
I refer you again to the study I mentioned this morning: that over the medium to long term, a universal child care system would provide incalculable civic and societal benefits and result in a $10.5 billion annual saving on the non-discretionary expenditures we are currently paying to help fix broken lives.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Epp, and thank you, Mr. Weiner.
Mr. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP): I think we've heard some very moving testimony this morning from everybody at this table. I'm not exactly sure where to start. Maybe I'll start with the child issue.
I remember in December 1989, when I was in the House and Ed Broadbent was retiring, he moved a motion to eliminate or eradicate child poverty. That was supported unanimously by all members of Parliament and all three national parties. All of a sudden, it just disappeared. It was a nice sentiment, and it just disappeared. Child poverty has increased.
The other commentary about our country is that despite our increasing wealth in terms of the economy, the gap between the rich and the poor has really been widening. We made great progress after the Second World War in terms of social programs, greater equality, and greater opportunities that went through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and somewhere in the 1980s it started to go the other way again.
I like what you're saying about targets. I think that has to be followed through. Resolutions don't do any good unless there's a follow-through and a deadline, and targeting and timetabling. I think we have to do that. There has to be a commitment of money, an investment of money.
I have two questions for you. One would be, why this increase in child poverty? I guess we know some of the reasons, cutbacks in social programs, and so on, but I think it's even deeper than that. Maybe I'll start there and ask you, why that increase in child poverty?
Maybe I'll ask the second question while I'm at it. We get pressure from the so-called conservative agenda—not just the Reform Party, but other people who come here from the big business community and so on—that the money should be spent in bringing down the debt and on across-the-board tax cuts, which help the wealthy more than they help the ordinary citizen. We've had people come before us saying double the limits on RSPs from $13,500 to $27,000. By the way, people who have maxed out RSPs now have an average income of over $100,000, as they themselves confirm, so you're looking at the top 2% or 3% of the population. They say we should spend the money there; bring down the debt, and spend more money there; cut taxes for the wealthy, and spend more money there; social spending is too high in this country. Mike Harris wants to cut back more in Ontario. Klein wants to look at privatizing the health care system and a parallel system in Ontario. There's a tremendous movement there to be even more conservative and more hard-nosed and take stands that oppose what you're saying this morning, more and more and more.
I wonder if you could elaborate a bit on the study you referred to by Gordon Cleveland and the other economist, where you invest $5 billion and you get back $10 billion, in terms of doing like the big business community does or the right wing does in this country and say if you invest in this economy, your return in dividends is going to be so much.
Maybe that's an argument we should use on the other side, that the investment of a dollar in the aboriginal communities over ten years pays you a dividend, along with your stock options, of so many percent, in terms of what it does on the Kawacatoose Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan.
I know those are general questions, but if you can respond to them, I'd really appreciate it, because there's a real battle here as to what we do with that fiscal dividend and surplus.
I share your point of view. First of all, it's a human argument, in terms of human quality of lives and broken lives, and so on, but we also have to make an economic argument: that it's a very wise investment for the country to make us more competitive, more productive, with higher standards of living in the 21st century.
Mr. Harvey Weiner: I thank you for the question. It's precisely why today—and we don't traditionally do this—we are challenging the proponents of tax and debt reduction to demonstrate, even in strictly economic terms, that their proposals would produce a rate of return over the long term that would even remotely approach that to be gained by investing in children and youth. So we share that view.
The research is clear, and I think we've ignored it to our peril over a period of years. How do I explain it? I explain it in a number of ways. First of all, children and youth don't vote. They don't come to the table. They don't make presentations.
Secondly, the life of the average politician is somewhere between three to five years in terms of the upcoming election. Politicians—and I've heard a few of them around the table—say show me that I'm going to have a result I can demonstrate quantitatively within the next two or three years, and so on.
The issues have been studied longitudinally. The federal government has taken an initiative in the past six years, called the national longitudinal survey of children and youth. The research is beginning to demonstrate what has already been demonstrated fairly conclusively in other countries: that we are talking about the medium and long term, ten or fifteen years, in terms of the production of the dividends.
In fact, the dividends, if I can use that economic language, are substantial. And I don't have to convince you, Mr. Nystrom, but there are other people around this table who I do have to convince. The studies indicate that the tax cuts that will result from that will be more substantial than anything the government could do, even if they invested the entire surplus in tax cuts in the short term.
The reasons should be obvious to the most conservative around this table. If you have large percentages of the population that you are subsidizing and supporting with remedial programs, support programs, incarceration in prison at huge costs, at perhaps double an average salary in the country, these individuals are all potentially productive members of society in economic, social, and civic terms, and the research is there to show that there are significant cuts in terms of the problems these individuals will carry through life as a result of having the benefit and the access to these kinds of services.
So the only argument or rationale I can see is that people are looking at it in terms of short-term gain. But at some point, if you want to look at the pyramid game, the pyramid will collapse. Canadians are having fewer and fewer children. This is a phenomenon that is worldwide. It's those children who will become the adults and the taxpayers in the future. If we want to at least maintain that base, if not increase it, we want to ensure that every one of those reaches maximum potential and becomes a useful contributing member of society, paying taxes and sharing the burden, reducing the gap, which you've quite well identified, which has increased substantially, between the haves and the have-nots in this country.
Mr. Francisco Rico-Martinez (President, Canadian Council for Refugees; Getting Landed Project): I want to say in terms of refugees and poor immigrants, the right of landing fee and the payment of the right of landing fee is a cause of child poverty. It is a cause of the increasing number of refugees and poor immigrants accessing food banks. It is a cause of homelessness. It is a cause of different things, and it could deleted by a political decision from the federal government.
That's something you have to take in consideration, the number of refugees and poor immigrants who go to food banks and now appear to be homeless, or are homeless at the beginning of their life in Canada. The child then goes to the school without food in the morning because they don't have food on their table. It is because they are investing in paying a terrible tax, the landing fee.
That is a cruel one. That never was a happy decision, and we understand that, but it will be a happy ending if you completely abolish the head tax for refugees and immigrants.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Rico-Martinez.
Ms. Pierce, followed by Ms. Heneault.
Ms. Marie Pierce (Executive Director, Canadian School Boards Association): From the School Boards Association perspective, we've always found that it's a lot easier to prevent problems than to try to resolve them later on. If we can address some of the concerns and the needs of these children prior to when they get into the school system or in the early years of the school system, it costs a heck of a lot less than if we try to address them later.
In looking at our child poverty initiative, as school boards what we tried to do is document the impact poverty had on readiness to learn as well as eventual school success. As school boards, we've said it's not good enough. We have to actually take action to ensure that these children get the services they need.
As you're probably all aware, unfortunately education cuts in every province have been prevalent for a large number of years now, even with regard to English as a second language programs for refugee students and children. We've been recognizing that one of the solutions we have to look at is a coordinated, cooperative approach with other agencies and other deliverers of programs, so that the children do get the services they need. Education can't do it own its own. So we do recognize that there are new models of partnerships and we've been trying to address them.
Also, we do know—and Harvey referred to it—the link between poverty and lack of access to services and youth crime. Youth crime is a huge issue and concern for school boards, and we've recognized that by looking at some early intervention programs and some identification programs, which schools can play a role in doing, we can have major benefits. Although you can make the financial arguments, I think—more importantly—we can make the argument that as a result of having these programs we can ensure that every child reaches their full potential and can take advantage of what Canada has to offer and contribute to Canada. We have tended to always argue from the perspective of what's good for the child, but tied in with that are very good economic arguments.
So I take your point very well that we have to provide both kinds of arguments. But there's no question that early intervention saves a lot of money in the long run.
Mr. Harvey Weiner: Just quickly, to tie this down, we're not asking for money to be poured into programs and services that don't work. Part of our proposal, part of the school boards' proposal and, I'm sure, other proposals that have been made on this issue, insists on ongoing monitoring, reporting, and review mechanisms to make sure these programs and services are evaluated and that we see the benefits of those programs.
Where this has been done—and these are not innovations, there's very little that's new under the sun—the proof is there, the research is there. And we will be able to demonstrate it, perhaps not during the term of office of any specific individual sitting around this table, but over two terms and three terms and on an incremental basis we will see these benefits. These benefits will in fact permeate Canadian society and allow Canada to literally bloom as a country. They will reduce the size and the consequences of the various problems that currently exist in our society, which are quite frankly shameful for a society that has the kind of wealth and the kind of potential this country has.
The Chair: Ms. Heneault.
Ms. Pamela Heneault: Mr. Nystrom, if I understood your question, it was really how to present an argument in favour of investing in children when the consumer society, particularly corporate society, can demonstrate return on investment, return on capital, those types of indicators. Well, I guess there are two things.
The perversity of that system should not be imposed on a more guardian system. If you recall, Jane Jacobs wrote a book a number of years ago called Systems of Survival: a Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, in which she said there are two moral systems that operate. Basically, one is a moral system that operates in the commercial sector and that looks at preservation of capital and return on investment. There's another system that our politicians participate in, which is a guardian system. So your decisions are not driven by returns on investment. In fact all of your investment decisions are strategic.
The question this committee presented to us was what are the strategic investments? Implicit in that is long term. So we are talking about a set of criteria that looks at a long-term investment, and we're arguing the data is there. You can make a case for a long-term return. But to superimpose the consumer and treat the consumer just like the citizen, from our perspective, is perverse.
Mr. Lorne Nystrom: A good example of that is the aboriginal community. I have 12 Indian reserves in my riding. I have the city core in Regina, which is made up of a large percentage of aboriginal people—status, non-status, Métis and so on. There is tremendous poverty. Unfortunately in Regina we have the highest crime in Canada, and most of it is in my riding. We have the highest violent crime rate, the highest murder rate quite often, most of it in my riding once again and a lot of it in the aboriginal community. In my riding there is a lack of opportunities, food banks, and things of that sort.
So any investment in terms of aboriginal people in training, skills, giving people some opportunities and some food and so on, would be just wonderful. A lot of these people come from broken homes, or they're kids who are basically on their own—looked after by parents, friends, grandmothers, aunts or whatever. It's not the kids' fault that they're in that kind of situation. Yet we have these forces of conservatism that say cut back even more and more.
I'm just wondering if I can ask Frank or Debbie to elaborate a bit once again with regard to how we can better put our arguments to persuade government in general right across this country, not just the federal Parliament, that this is not just a tremendous human investment, but it's very good for Canada in terms of investment in the country. Just think of the potential of the aboriginal people of this country in 30 or 40 years if they're well educated, trained, and given some hope and some opportunities, compared to the flip side of the coin, which is more crime, more violence, more welfare, more EI, more poverty, more fear, more distress, more suicide, and so on. What's the cost of that?
In fact the consequences of the conservative arguments for more cutbacks are more people on welfare, more costs to the federal government, bigger debts, bigger taxes, more spending for all these kinds of programs that are dead-end programs. The flip side of that coin is that more investment now creates an awful lot of long-term relief in terms of a stronger economy, let alone the human arguments that Pamela has made so well.
Mr. Frank Palmater: If I can, Mr. Nystrom, I'll offer this: You know, as do most people around this table, that aboriginal people didn't get to this situation they're in overnight. It took years and years of bureaucracy. We didn't get to this situation because of something that happened last year. If we had, maybe we could do something to fix it right now.
But it's very interesting to note that in the aboriginal community we've always stressed the importance of the family. In the rest of Canadian society, in the schools, wherever you go, if a problem arises we go after the problem—an individual child, an individual in jail. We go after it. We never look at the family in a holistic approach, which is where the problem comes from. In some of our communities, we've instituted investments in individuals.
For example, we give dad an opportunity to get a job. Well, we go back and check in in three, four, five, or six weeks, and dad is out of a job. Why? While dad was away working, little Johnny was home beating up mommy. They solved the problem with dad, but dad had to quit and come home to take care of his wife. It's his wife. But they never solved the problem with little Johnny.
Society doesn't look at the family with a holistic approach. Child poverty, child education, child starvation, child abuse—we think all of those things could be eradicated by looking with a holistic approach at the family. I don't mean an individual, but the whole family, because as someone said—and I hope I get it right—in order to raise a child, it takes a family; in order to raise a family, it takes a community. It's true. The community has to be involved.
Mr. Nystrom, you said it very eloquently when you said that if aboriginals were given an opportunity for themselves or their collective to invest in that aboriginal's future, then the proof is in the pudding. We could probably fill this room and a couple of side rooms in this building with the studies that have been done on aboriginal people to prove that given an opportunity, they can make themselves better, that they can create things that every other Canadian expects.
It's funny—if you want to look at it funny-wise—somebody said they were surprised at the response the homeless people had. Well, we had a meeting in downtown Regina with some of the gangs. One guy looked at me and said something I will never forget, no matter where I go.
He was 17 years old and had $8,000 or $9,000 in his pocket. He said “I came to the meeting to hear a better way.” I said “Did you hear a better way?” He said “No, I didn't hear a better way. Where am I going to get $8,000 from a job? Where am I going to get that?” I said “Well, aren't you afraid to go to jail because what you're doing is illegal?”
He made a joke. “Illegal, he said, “what's that, a sick bird? It's illegal. What's going to happen to me, Frank? I'm going to get caught and I'm going to go to jail. I get three square meals a day. I get clothed. I get housed. I get a bed. I get help. What's wrong with that? Right now I have to watch my back everywhere I go in case someone's going to stick a knife in me. I have to worry about where I'm going to eat tomorrow morning, where I'm going to sleep tonight, right now. I don't have to worry about that in jail. Why would I be afraid to go to jail?”
Some of the homeless people here in Ottawa have that exact same.... Why? They're going to be warm. They're going to be taken care of.
We believe, as we state in our brief, that the root cause of homelessness in this country is because the Canadian government decided to get out of the housing business, get away from social housing. It's a responsibility they had. They decided to get away from it and give it to the provinces.
When we go to the table with the provinces, they say “Hold it, Frank. We don't have the money that's necessary to make an investment in that individual's life. We just don't have it.”
In the government's decision to reduce the deficit, all taxpayers would have an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief, which, I might add, hasn't come to most taxpayers...some it has, but not most. In their fervour to do that they cut the programs that could ill afford to be cut. Government sometimes has to make a tough decision. Every time they make that decision, folks, somewhere along the line we have to live with it.
There are studies made within schools, within housing, within whatever sector you want to look at that prove an investment in an individual today pays dividends in the future. What is our future, our children's?
I hate the fact that aboriginal kids get up in the morning and have to duck a blow going out of the house. There might be a donnybrook from your system. What happens if your dad's waiting there with a stick or a baseball bat?
In some aboriginal communities—it doesn't happen any more, but it did—you had to watch out for the brothers and the nuns, like in the school I went to when I was a kid. In three years I got to go home on one day. Guess what day? Easter Sunday. I didn't know what Christmas was. In grade one, grade two, and grade three I spent Christmas in the school cleaning for the nuns.
I thank the good Lord that I didn't go to the brothers' school. I ended up going to the nuns' school, where it wasn't so bad. All I had to do was make sure I didn't have eye contact with either a priest or a nun—none. That's why they were called “nuns”. You don't look them in the eye.
You're less than a human being because you're an Indian. Why? What happened there? Where did that come from? You're less than a human being because of the colour of your skin, because of the dialect you speak. That happens in this country, folks. It happens every single, solitary day.
So when we come here before this committee on finance to make a recommendation to the government to invest in people, we mean people, not a program that's going to fail. There are all kinds of programs out there, and you're going to get a program where someone will say go and do this in the community. What gets down to the community is not necessarily always what this committee or the House decides. That's what wrong with the system.
Something has to be done. We believe it has to be done using the holistic approach, looking at the entire family and not just at the symptom of the illness. In that entire family one of the symptoms is a lack of adequate, safe, affordable housing. This is why we came and made the presentation today—for you and this committee to go back and convince your cabinet colleagues that an increase in housing is necessary.
It's ironic that in 1976 in the province of New Brunswick, which is where I'm from, there was a Conservative government that accepted the federal government's initiative for the section 40 program, the old RNH program, the old rural and native housing program. It was developed on the backs of aboriginal people from the west, because at that time aboriginal people occupied the very bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder. It's no longer true, Mr. Chairman. It's not only aboriginal people who occupy that rung. It's people of all colours, all races. Yes, we're still there, we haven't gone up, we haven't gone to the second rung, but there have been more people added to it. Why?
I never thought the federal government, especially the Liberal government, would reduce programs and services that they knew paid dividends. I never thought they would, but in their fervour to reduce the budget that's exactly what they did.
We came and told them this is what's going to happen, and it did happen, Mr. Chairman. Now we're here before this committee because there is a surplus. There's an opportunity for Canada to right the wrong. We believe one measure of righting that wrong is in housing.
If I had my dad's ability to go and find a job rather than worry about where his nine children were going to put their head at night.... That was good. There was nothing bad about that. My dad did go and do that. He went out and found a job. He didn't have to worry about safe, affordable housing. You can't say that in an urban environment today. People are wondering where they're going to sleep, not the fact that they're going to get a safe, affordable house.
In the aboriginal community we heard from people just last week in the Senate. Senator Pearson at a committee asked us to go where favours, not money, are given for a place to sleep. A child 14, 15, 16 years old—do me a favour and I'll give you a place to sleep. Is that right? No. Is it anybody's fault? No. But if this committee doesn't recommend to the House, then there's a fault, there's a blame.
You have to start somewhere. Start with the things that we know work, Mr. Chairman, not those programs and services that have failed.
The Chair: Thank you.
Ms. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.): First, I just want to ask the Getting Landed Project a question.
Because it is the finance committee, how much do you think this would cost if the finance committee made this recommendation?
Mr. Ahmed Hashi: For refugees, it would cost $55 million. For immigrants, in general—
Ms. Carolyn Bennett: To get rid of the landing fee it would be $55 million?
Mr. Francisco Rico-Martinez: For refugees, it would be $55 million.
Mr. Ahmed Hashi: The whole total, immigrants and refugees included, would be $136.8 million.
Mr. Michael Kerr (Chair, Media Committee, Karuna Community Services, Getting Landed Project): It's not even that. That was the projected revenue, but the actual revenue over the past two years, the total revenue, is $119 million.
Just to underscore that, it's inevitable, given the relative orders of magnitude in terms of issues of housing, issues of child poverty. Given the very modest sum we're talking about in the context of the head tax, it's inevitable that all of the questions would be directed otherwise. Because the sum is so modest, there's a terrific opportunity that will have terrific resonance for society, generally.
We are at the 100-year anniversary of a time when this House was debating the doubling of a head tax of an earlier era. So here is a chance to enter the new era, the new millennium, by wiping that slate clean. All parties in this House are on record, including the Liberal Party of Canada, by resolution...to that commitment, so we look forward to that.
Ms. Carolyn Bennett: That's good.
I was impressed that the Canadian Teachers' Federation had such a comprehensive and holistic recommendation, including affordable housing.
One of my concerns from breakfast programs to all of these things is that certainly when you go down and talk to the people at the food bank, food security is really because people are now spending more than 50% of their disposable income on rent. They used to be able to afford the Kraft dinner, right? There used to be modest ways of feeding your family that didn't involve having to go and get it.
Whenever we raise the housing problem, people immediately go to the difficult-to-house reason—the drug addicts, the deinstitutionalizations. That obviously is a real issue, but I don't believe it's an excuse not to do affordable housing.
Could somebody just go over those numbers again in terms of what percentage you think are the difficult-to-house and who would require supportive housing or some type of special program? What percentage of our problem would be properly dealt with if there were simply more units?
Mr. Frank Palmater: The Centre for Equality of Rights in Accommodation recently released a certain amount of studies and statistics. They didn't get specific, because as you say, a lot of times people in a position to make a decision will look at the difficult people. They don't look at the easy people.
For instance, take a guy who comes off the street and says, listen, I lost my job, and I need a place to stay for a couple of weeks. He's okay, she's okay, but what about the one who says, gee, I've been living on the street, because last week or last month I got kicked out of the mental institution. They shut it down.
I'll use the city of Saint John as an example, where 182 people were evicted from the provincial hospital under the province's “scheme”, as it was referred to. Of those 182 people, 18 of them, within the first three months, died of exposure. That's in the city of Saint John, where there's a population of maybe 65,000. What about a city of 1 million or 1.5 million, where they do the exact same thing?
But with regard to the difficult-to-house people, the difficult-to-help people, I don't have at my disposal actual numbers. We deal with aboriginal people.
Ms. Carolyn Bennett: My experience as a family physician was that with downsizing, a lot of people lost their jobs, ran out of UI, and then ended up on social services until they could get a job. They were still in the apartment they were in when they were working and had a reasonable job, but they had no choices in terms of finding affordable housing. Some ultimately got evicted.
So I don't think those are difficult-to-house people, but I think there are a lot of them, and I think it would help us, in terms of policy, to be able....
Whenever I raise the issue of affordable housing, people talk to me about supports and services that are provincial, and ask what the feds can do about that. So I think that would be helpful.
In the longitudinal studies on children, where the whole idea is to learn measures, my instinct is that, as my spies say, we seriously need universal programs because the people from the wealthier areas aren't so well either, particularly the people who have someone else, an informal caregiver, looking after their children.
In terms of our debate around early childhood education, then, and whether these various programs need to be universal, perhaps you could comment.
Ms. Pamela Heneault: I have a comment with respect to universality as a strategy. Typically, those programs were developed for targeted populations, but research in the United States demonstrates that the target populations increased their participation from 14% to 75% when the programs were universal.
That would suggest that the stigmatizing effect of targeted programs inhibits participation. We advocate universality as a way of promoting equity, and all of our programs are universally accessible for that reason. It's the best means.
Mr. Harvey Weiner: We would certainly support that. I think you made an excellent point, that it's not only the poor families who are having some of the problems that have been raised and who would benefit from those services.
When you do make the program universally accessible, you will, I think, inevitably touch more of those who are living in poverty and still be able to reach, one hopes, a number of those who aren't in those financial circumstance but whose children nevertheless are susceptible to many of these problems.
Ms. Carolyn Bennett: With regard to conflict resolution and sharing, maybe you could explain what actually is being measured in the readiness-to-learn measure and how that's helpful in terms of a child's future education.
Ms. Kathy LeGrow: From the readiness-to-learn studies that have been done, we know that children learn their coping strategies by the ages of two or three. If they've been exposed to violent, neglectful, or abusive situations—and their ability to cope in those situations are formed through their synapses, as brain studies have shown—then by the time they get to school, the way they cope with or respond to situations that frustrate or challenge them in some way is usually quite a challenge for the school system to deal with.
I want to get back to the point of universality. As someone who's been involved in families where two parents are working—and I'm one of those people—the challenges of working and providing a living for the family and the children means that two people are out of the house, and you're depending on child care arrangements that are oftentimes not adequate. The choice issue is certainly important, as well as the variations in accessibility options across the country, because they do vary from province to province.
Because of the society we live in and the expectations society has created, and we ourselves have created, we want to provide an adequate living for our children, which means both parents go out to work. This means the time available for your own involvement with your children and the challenges to those parents are critical. It's even greater when the challenge is just to survive in families that aren't working and that just have to try to do the best they can.
The Chair: Any further comments?
Dr. Bennett, do you have another question?
Ms. Carolyn Bennett: No.
The Chair: You don't? You can have one.
Ms. Carolyn Bennett: No.
The Chair: Okay.
On behalf of the committee, I'd like to thank you. This is a very interesting panel. What's great about it is the fact that you bring to light some of the challenges faced by Canadians who perhaps are those individuals who lack voices in the process. By raising their voices in forums such as this one, you really do a great service to the committee, and indeed the country.
After all, in a nation as wealthy and as rich as ours, although of course we all face economic challenges living in a globalized economy, it's really at home that you have to take care of things, and you can't have the growing gap between the rich and the poor. You can't have people being marginalized. You simply can't accept that as part of the reality of a nation that, really, should be promoting itself as a civil society.
So you can rest assured that we will give the issues you've raised the attention they deserve. You've certainly made a very strong case to focus not only on the standard of living issue but also on quality of life, on creating greater social cohesion in our society.
As you correctly point out, the arguments often raised about tax issues and debt and globalization and all that, valid as they may be, sometimes don't address some of those issues. Having said that, issues related to, for example, tax cuts and the working poor and indexation didn't come up today, but I'm sure you're very aware of these issues that also need to be addressed.
We'll try to do the very best we can to bring everything together and to give the Minister of Finance a clear picture, an entire picture, of the challenges our country faces.
Mr. Kerr, you have a final comment.
Mr. Michael Kerr: Yes, just one final thought, and thank you, Mr. Chair.
To paraphrase Prime Minister Chrétien in recent statements, what we're speaking to is trying to achieve that Canada is—what is the phrase, the place to be?—the place where all have an equal chance to be in the 21st century. I think that's what's crucial.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Kerr.
If I can personalize this just for a second, some of you may or may not know that I immigrated to Canada myself at the age of ten, and we as a family also faced the challenges of finding work and dealing with a new environment, a new language, and a new community. So when you speak to me about your issue, you can rest assured that I'm very receptive, because I've lived through that experience, an experience that is indeed very challenging.
I've often said that for people who immigrate from abroad to come to a new country and face those challenges, it's a real human experience of great proportions. That, in and of itself, is a great experience. But then, going back to what Mr. Palmater said, being part of society and feeling marginalized is even worse. So I think we have to keep this in mind as we reflect upon the budgetary priorities.
Thank you very much.
The meeting is adjourned.