Welcome, everybody. I apologize for our tardiness getting started. We're usually pretty good on getting going on time, but as you know we had a vote this morning that interrupted a little.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, June 13, 2016, the committee is resuming its study on poverty reduction strategies.
I'm very pleased to welcome here today by video conference Kenneth Green from the Fraser Institute. We also have, from the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, Stéphan Corriveau, board president, and Jeff Morrison, executive director. From the City of Prince George, we have Mayor Lyn Hall and Chris Bone, manager of social planning. Finally, from the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, we have Émilie E. Joly, community organizer.
We're missing one witness. Hopefully he will join us.
Also, from the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, we have Aluki Kotierk and Aqattuaq Kiah Hachey joining us today.
I also wanted to acknowledge MP Hunter Tootoo who is joining us for the first time today. Welcome, sir.
Thank you for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to testify on what I consider to be one of the most important topics in public policy in our time, which is poverty, and particularly for me, energy poverty. We've done some research into this, the first done in Canada, to look at this question and that's what I'm going to talk about to you today.
First, we need to understand that energy is absolutely omnipresent in the lives of Canadians. We take it for granted that when we plug something in, power will flow; when we flip a light switch, the lights will go on; and when we gas up our car, the gas will be there and the car will function. But those are really the most superficial and obvious ways in which we consume energy.
We use energy to heat and cool our homes. We use energy to cook our food and to clean our homes and our clothes. We use energy to make the clothing that our children wear that keep them warm in the winter and keep them comfortable in the summer. We use energy to call our families and call 911 when we're ill or when someone else is ill. We use energy to preserve our foods and medicines.
Many people don't think about this, but without a refrigerator, your insulin is not preserved. Many of your drugs are not able to be preserved, and you can't necessarily have access to state-of-the-art health care. In fact, the cost of providing medical care is very highly infused in the cost of energy used to produce super-concentrated, pure, sterile substances that are moved while temperature controlled to the point of their destination so that you can have your modern, useful medications and medical treatments.
We use energy to transport ourselves to work, to home, to leisure destinations, and again to doctors, to clinics, to churches, to sporting venues, and to other countries to visit our families.
Energy is basically at the root of everything we do as Canadians and as people in a modern technological civilization. We use energy to produce virtually everything in the room around us. If you were to look around your room, everything you see started with an infusion of energy and is maintained on a daily basis with additional layers of energy put onto it in order to preserve the things that we make, use, and do.
Affordable, abundant energy is really central to the well-being of Canadians. This is the reason we wanted to look at the issue of Canadians' access to abundant, reliable, and affordable energy.
We know for a fact that many people around the world do not have that. According to the International Energy Agency, there are 1.2 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity. Think about that. They don't have access to electricity. They can't charge a cellphone. They can't turn on lights to study by. They don't have lights in their homes in order to read. They, of course, don't have televisions. They don't have access to modern technologies, and more importantly, they don't have access to the kinds of technologies and computers needed to teach their children so as to liberate them from physical labour and that sort of thing.
Another 2.7 billion people have to cook their food using biomass—that is, wood, dung, and other things such as that—indoors with poor ventilation, which causes a massive amount of disease.
That's internationally and that's not here in Canada, but we wanted to see what the situation was like in Canada, so we looked into the question of whether there is energy poverty in Canada and how much there is.
We used the definition that's used internationally, which is, if a household spends more than 10% of its total expenditures in the year just providing energy in the home, that's considered a definition of energy poverty because that's the point at which you start having to make significant trade-offs between buying higher quality foods or keeping the temperature where it's healthy and safe, getting your kids training in sports versus keeping the air conditioning going in the summertime or the heat going in the wintertime. The 10% threshold is recognized more or less internationally as a red line of entering into a state of energy poverty if you're paying that much just to heat your home.
We looked at this with data from Statistics Canada's survey of household spending here in Canada. We wanted to find out how much energy poverty there is in Canada. We were, frankly, surprised. In a country that considers itself, or has at times considered itself an energy superpower, we looked at the data and found out that when only energy used within the home—just heating, cooling, refrigeration, and that kind of thing—was included in the calculation, 7.9% of Canadian households were classified as being energy poor in the year 2013. That's when the latest data was available. That's up slightly from 7.2% back in 2010.
Atlantic Canada—and this, personally I found shocking—which is aggregated in the Statistics Canada data, so we can't pull it out by individual province, had the highest incidence of energy poverty in 2013. We found 20.6% of households were spending more than 10% of their entire expenditures just keeping the house warm. British Columbia had the lowest, at 5.3% of that level.
When gasoline expenses are included in the calculation, the incidence of energy poverty increases substantially. In 2013, 19.4% of Canadian households devoted at least 10% or more of their expenditures to energy, including both inside the home and for transportation. Alberta was the lowest, at 12.8%. There were five out of seven Canadian regions that experienced a decline in energy poverty from 2010 to 2013 when gasoline expenditures were included.
We also looked at where energy poverty falls with regard to income quintiles. What we found was that over 15% of the two lowest-income quintiles in Canada were in energy poverty when you included just energy in the home. When you included energy in the home plus the transportation that they needed to get to work, it was 30% of homes in the two lowest-income quintiles that were in energy poverty. Other income quintiles were much, much less.
I'll just give you a quick rundown by province. In 2013, 5.3% of households in British Columbia were in energy poverty; 6.8% in Alberta; 12.9% in Saskatchewan; 6.7% in Manitoba; 7.5% in Ontario; 6.2% in Quebec; 20%, as I said, in Atlantic Canada; and as a whole, we had 8%. With fuel, gasoline, British Columbia had 14%; Alberta about 13%; Saskatchewan 23%; Manitoba 20%; Ontario 19%; Quebec 19%; Atlantic Canada almost 40%; and Canada as a whole, 19.4%.
In a powerful country like Canada, in a country that has some of the world's biggest energy resources found anywhere and the technologies to extract and develop and use those, we nonetheless have a significant fraction of Canadian households living under the definition of energy poverty. That is, they are spending a bigger share of their household expenditures to keep warm and to move them to and from work, to and from school, to and from sporting events, and to and from the supermarket. That's a significant component of poverty overall, because it is, as I said, in so much of what we do.
We were asked to come up with some strategies for reducing this, and I'd say—
How could we reduce energy poverty? One thing we need to do is reconsider our current approach to energy and climate policy. We've settled on an immediate transition to renewable fuels, which are more expensive than conventional fuels such as gas, which is highly abundant and also a Canadian resource. We need to reconsider that approach and look at the previous approach, which was to accept that natural gas is going to be a bridge fuel until we can develop renewables that are more reliable and more affordable than the natural gas resources we have abundant to us here in Canada.
We need to increase our research and development into cleaner, more affordable renewables. Right now they're not deployable at scale in affordable ways. We need to find better ways to make those renewables cheaper so that people will want them, not have them imposed upon them.
We need to harmonize our energy regulations with U.S. markets. Our costs are higher than the U.S., our competitors, for manufacturing, as well as households. We need to find ways to bring our costs more into line with our American neighbours and competitors.
I would argue that those should be the focus of government right now, not necessarily aggressive greenhouse gas emission targets and more renewable energy targets that are not based on the reality of providing affordable, reliable, and abundant energy to Canadians.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the committee for undertaking this important study of a Canadian anti-poverty strategy. With me is Jeff Morrison, CHRA's executive director. We'll share our presentation.
As a national association representing the interests of the social and affordable housing sector in Canada, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA) is really pleased that the committee has drawn a clear link between poverty reduction and access to safe and affordable housing.
Housing that meets those characteristics is essential to enable individuals and families to have access to healthy living, access to education and academic success, and access to stable employment, which helps establish and develop families. Those are fundamental cornerstones for an anti-poverty strategy.
Since housing is an indispensable need, the cost of housing and the share of household income that goes to it are among the main factors that determine poverty. Having access to affordable housing increases the ability of households in difficulty to get out of poverty and to improve their conditions in the long term. When we see the real numbers and the current situation in Canada, we may be shocked by the situation. Actually, 1.6 million households in Canada, which means more than 3.5 million people, spend in excess of 30% of their income on housing. These are renters, not people who invest to acquire property and develop capital. About 850,000 of those households spend more than 50% of their income on housing. We can easily imagine what the consequences are on their ability to feed themselves, to educate themselves, to raise children properly, and so on.
Households that are in such precarious situations are predominantly made up of people from groups subjected to discriminatory practices. They include indigenous people, single-parent families, low-income people, racial minorities, persons with physical disabilities or mental health issues. Problems of access to adequate housing and the strategies to address them would benefit from being considered from a human rights perspective.
We are making an important proposal that the right to adequate housing be explicitly recognized in Canadian legal instruments. Somewhere in Canadian legislation, there must be a reference indicating that we have the right to quality housing. We are talking about affordable and adequate housing.
As you know, just as we speak, while developing its anti-poverty strategy, the Canadian government is taking other steps to define a national housing strategy. As we understand it, following this consultation, the strategy will be announced shortly after the next budget. We are talking about the housing strategy, but it is essential that the poverty reduction strategy and the housing development strategy be closely linked.
While we were holding consultations, the CMHC hired independent firms to conduct surveys with all Canadians. There were all sorts of public consultations and private consultations, and a report with the results of the consultations was published.
In all the provinces, in all the regions of the country and in all the categories of stakeholders, people said that the housing and poverty issues were closely linked and that those two needs require a joint response. If it has been established that there's a link between the two and that it's the collective desire of Canadian society, of Canadians across the country, how do we go about developing this strategic framework?
In October 2016, during the consultations on the national strategy, CHRA presented a brief entitled “Housing at a Crossroads: CHRA's Vision for the Next Generation of Housing Policy in Canada”. A copy of our brief was submitted to the clerk of the committee. You will be able to consult it.
We have an ambitious goal: by 2035, all Canadians and Canadian households should have access to safe, affordable and adequate housing.
There are 24 recommendations to do so in technical terms. We will not go through all 24 recommendations, but my colleague Mr. Morrison will present the main ones.
First, I will very quickly talk about our recommendations.
Our first key recommendation was to strengthen the role of housing as a social good. For example, we recommend specific measures to prevent and eliminate homelessness. We recommend the introduction of a federal program to subsidize the supply of rent-geared-to-income housing units available all across Canada. We talked about supporting supportive housing by increasing dedicated support to social services, because, after all, social housing is more than just a roof over a person's head. It also offers key social supports with regard to mental health and addictions, legal supports, and so forth, which are all instrumental in tackling poverty.
Second, we recommend that the existing supply of social housing capacity be maintained and that policy tools be put in place to grow the stock. With federal operating agreements already expiring, there's deep concern in the social housing sector as to whether non-profit providers can continue to offer subsidized housing to those in greatest need. In our submission, we identified some tangible policy options to maintain and grow capacity, such as expanding the surplus federal real property for homelessness initiative, which would essentially make land available, creating a stand-alone housing financing mechanism, and removing the GST from capital costs for social and affordable rental housing. By maintaining and increasing capacity, we're providing a necessary but required support for poverty alleviation.
Third, there's no question that Canada's urban and rural indigenous peoples suffer much higher rates of homelessness, core housing need, and substandard housing. For example, one in 15 urban indigenous people will experience homelessness compared to about one in 128 non-indigenous people. In 2011, a CMHC report revealed that 22% of non-reserve aboriginal households were living in homes that did not meet suitability standards, compared with 13% for non-aboriginal households. Social housing for urban and rural indigenous households faces a further challenge in that almost 100% of indigenous housing units are rent-geared-to-income models, meaning that the expiry of operating agreements will hit indigenous housing providers harder than other housing providers who employ a more mixed model.
As a result, CHRA is recommending that a distinct strategy to address rural and urban indigenous housing providers be created. Within that strategy, we recommend creating a unique indigenous housing trust, increasing investments in indigenous support service organizations, and improving indigenous representations within organizations such as CMHC.
Finally, a national housing strategy, just like an anti-poverty strategy, will be meaningless unless a robust implementation plan is put in place complete with national indicators and investment in research. That's why CHRA is recommending the creation of a housing research hub with a model somewhat similar to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which would bring researchers and housing together to define gaps and report upon national housing and homelessness indicators.
Parliament should hold the government to account for the results of both its housing strategy and its anti-poverty strategy objectives, and having indicators complete with research is the best way to do that.
Thank you very much for being here. It was great testimony, and I'm looking forward to hearing some of the responses to the questions that I know are coming.
I want to just take two seconds to recognize that we've been joined by a very large group. This is probably the most we've ever had come to HUMA to witness one of our sessions. Can one of you explain where you're from?
Ms. Katherine Takpannie (As an Individual): We're from Nunavut Sivuniksavut. It's an eight-month Inuit college program for [Inaudible—Editor].
The Chair: That's fantastic, excellent. Thank you very much for coming.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
The Chair: This is great.
I'd also like to acknowledge that we've been joined by Nicolas Luppens, coordinator of Groupe actions solutions pauvreté.
If you wish, if you are settled—I know you just sort of ran in—the next seven minutes could be yours, sir.
Thank you for inviting me. I will speak in French because it's easier for me.
My name is Nicolas Luppens and I am the coordinator of the Groupe actions solutions pauvreté. Our organization is a round table on combatting poverty, located in Haute-Yamaska, near Granby in Quebec. We cover the entire Haute-Yamaska region. We work on developing a number of strategies and innovative approaches in order to find solutions for poverty. Our mandate is to look for measures and solutions to solve the problems of poverty in our own local area.
In the past, we worked within the framework of a provincial action plan called the Government Action Plan for Solidarity and Social Inclusion. From that initiative, we were able to draw certain conclusions. Having worked with those on the ground, today we are able to provide expertise at that level, expertise that really does come from the community organizations working very closely with the people.
I would now like to give you a summary of what we observe in our area.
Our region has a significant shortfall in social housing. In terms of the government strategy, social housing clearly is a priority. In Granby, for example, as for other cities in the country, there are five social housing units for every 1,000 inhabitants. We are well below the Quebec average and a long way behind some cities.
The fact that, in 1994, the federal government withdrew from the strategy to build social housing is critical for our area. So, in the next federal strategy to fight poverty, it is vital for social housing projects to be funded. From what we can observe on the ground, with the people with whom we work, this kind of involvement helps a lot of people. It means that they do not have to spend a major part of their income on housing. The cost of housing has sharply increased, not just in Montreal, but all across the country. So adopting a federal housing strategy is vital.
In addition, we are being affected more and more by the problem of homelessness. A growing number of homeless people are asking for emergency assistance with food and shelter. For example, in Granby in recent years, as in almost every other part of Quebec, the number of people seeking food assistance has increased between 10% and 20%. Food assistance strategies really need to be expanded, as do approaches to homelessness through the homelessness partnering strategy, which, in our opinion is not adequately funded. In our region, we need more funding for that strategy.
During the election campaign, the Liberal Party announced a food safety strategy. We want to prevent people on the ground from going hungry and from experiencing all the problems that causes in terms of looking for jobs, social inclusion, and so on. For us, this is fundamental. We need direct assistance to ease the hunger in households living in poverty.
In the few minutes that I have left, I will talk about the recommendations arising from the fact that we have introduced the Government Action Plan for Solidarity and Social Inclusion in Haute-Yamaska.
We have noticed that, over the past few years, provincial strategies have been one-time five-year action plans. They should have continued, but every time a new action plan was implemented, the services were cut.
For the organizations on the ground, that involves a loss of expertise every time. Those cuts also go hand in hand with a loss of resources and assistance. In addition, services cannot continue.
In the fight against poverty across Canada, strong leadership is needed to recognize the fundamental rights of people who live in poverty and to make the fight a priority across the country.
We need measures that last longer than two or three years, so that we don't have to start from scratch afterwards with a new budget.
As I said earlier, there is a loss of efficiency for stakeholders locally. There is also a loss of expertise when there are constant budget cuts.
We are asking that action be taken on the structural causes of poverty. Action needs to be taken at the level of basic needs, but it has to be done on a global scale. Let me explain.
Household income must be increased. We think that's one of the strategies that would make the most sense, given that households are being squeezed right now. As we know, there's a high debt load in Canada. A poverty reduction plan must be developed bearing in mind both people's income and housing, which is fundamental. Those are two core priorities that must be highlighted.
Measures must also be taken to reduce social inequalities. A number of sources indicate that social inequalities are not declining. The gap has been growing more and more in the past few years.
Access to public health services must be improved without discrimination. Those services must be universal and of high quality.
Attitudes must be changed, for instance by launching an awareness campaign, not just by putting up posters, but also by reaching out to schools. An approach like that has worked for us. We have implemented local awareness strategies in primary schools and especially in secondary schools. That has produced excellent results. That has helped people understand poverty, feel more empathy for those people and avoid passing judgment too quickly. Even among decision-makers, there's sometimes prejudice that clouds their decisions. Young people should be educated, through the launch of a big national campaign explaining that poverty is not a choice.
As I said earlier, GASP recommends that the income of single people be increased. That's the category of people that has suffered the most from the latest social progress, if I may say so. Most of the social policies that have been implemented lately have targeted families a great deal. We now see that the situation of single people living in poverty has not improved. So the focus should be more on single individuals.
How much time do I have left?
Thank you very much for the invitation to appear as a witness. The mayor has asked me to provide a few comments to set the context for his presentation.
We have reviewed the document, “Towards a Poverty Reduction Strategy”, that was prepared by the Government of Canada and have reviewed all of the current and planned Government of Canada initiatives to support poverty reduction. In particular, over the coming months we look forward to more direction from the Government of Canada so we can appropriately mobilize our community to participate in the plan in person and in online consultation opportunities.
We also understand that, as part of the strategy, the Government of Canada will be launching the tackling poverty together project. We have some associated recommendations to make later in our presentation.
Our comments today, therefore, relate to what we understand to be the focus of the standing committee in relation to this broader consultation and strategy development process.
In terms of background, we would like to let you know that, in 2012, the city of Prince George was one of seven communities selected to participate in a pilot poverty reduction project that was initiated by the Province of B.C. and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
That project was intended to provide low-income families with tailor-made springboards out of poverty. As such, the goal was to develop successful strategies that addressed the unique needs of families living in poverty. Over a two-year period, the City of Prince George actively facilitated a community process to identify what was needed to enable these low-income families and individuals to find their way out of poverty.
However, the City of Prince George withdrew from the pilot project when it was evident that without a provincial poverty reduction framework with the associated policies and resources, community organizations would only better serve those living in poverty, not give them a pathway out of poverty.
Since that time, the city has refocused its efforts. It has initiated a collective impact process with the assistance of the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement. Our community has identified a shared vision of improving children's health, and we fully expect that poverty reduction will be one of the key strategies that enable the achievement of that vision.
Having said that, we know, as identified in Northern Health's chief medical health officer's report on growing up healthy in B.C., that we can only address poverty reduction with the support and resources of all levels of government.
With those brief comments, which also provide some context, I would now like to turn to Mayor Hall so that he can provide his comments to the committee.
Thank you very much, Chris.
Good morning, everyone.
In relation to its focus on housing, we want to urge the committee to carefully consider the analysis of consultation feedback outlined in the recently released Let's Talk Housing report. As noted in the report released by the , the feedback was received through a broad range of outreach efforts, which helps to frame the challenges facing Canada's housing system and details innovative ideas.
The City of Prince George was an active contributor to the consultation process, as were a number of community-based organizations within the city of Prince George.
There are a number of themes that emerged from the consultation process that are particularly applicable to the city of Prince George, which serves as a service hub for many northern communities. For those of you not familiar with Prince George, it is located in the central part of the province of B.C., and is, in fact, a hub to many service organizations, such as housing services, RCMP services, and medical services.
It helps indigenous people achieve better housing outcomes, adopts a housing systems perspective to ensure that housing needs across the continuum are addressed, and sets clear outcomes and targets in relation to housing so that progress can be monitored and reported. We want to take a collaborative approach to housing by building on the capacity of all orders of government to achieve a national vision of housing.
We would like the committee to recommend that Prince George, B.C., be chosen to participate in the tackling poverty together project. This will provide the opportunity to consider how utilization of a collective impact approach may enable systemic change in relation to poverty reduction, and it will provide the opportunity to shed light on the challenges associated with poverty reduction in the absence of a supporting provincial framework.
We are aware that no B.C. communities have been invited to participate in the tackling poverty together project, and we believe that in order to get a comprehensive picture of the Canadian context, B.C., and particularly a community with a large percentage of indigenous peoples as residents, must be included in the study.
In Prince George, we are also challenged with distressed neighbourhoods and urge the committee to consider how the federal government may be able to support, through policy and programs, a community development corporation model such as the one currently being trialled in Edmonton, Alberta. We note the model creates and expands economic opportunity for low-to-moderate income people in high-need neighbourhoods by implementing a full set of tools requiring a cross-governmental approach to poverty reduction that integrates both orders and departments of government.
Criteria for current funding programs often cause divisiveness amongst the very partners required to initiate innovative multi-sectoral approaches to addressing complex social issues. We'd like to close by reiterating the need for the committee to ensure the mechanisms necessary to ensure there is collaboration and commitment between levels of government to address poverty and that associated policies and funding initiatives are aligned with a shared vision.
It is also critical that poverty reduction targets be established and associated progress measured using a shared definition of poverty and agreed-to metrics.
Thank you very much to the committee for giving us an opportunity to say a few words, and we'll certainly be available for questions later on. Thank you very much.
First, I would like to thank the committee for inviting FRAPRU to appear.
My presentation will be in French but I can take questions and discussion in English afterwards.
First of all, it is important to mention that FRAPRU is pleased with the federal government's interest in implementing a poverty reduction strategy. We hope that the federal government's next efforts will lead to a real poverty reduction strategy that takes a holistic view, rather than arriving at piecemeal strategies, measures or programs.
In our view, in a strategic way, if we really want to focus on poverty reduction measures, we must inevitably begin by recognizing economic, social and cultural rights, which go hand-in-hand. In our view, not only should the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights be the basis for public policies, but it is also one of the key ways to ensure the long-term basis for these policies, so that the next poverty reduction strategy is not the effort of a single government, in this case the one in place. At the moment, the development of a Canadian poverty reduction strategy, along with the national housing strategy, provides an opportunity to build a strong foundation for the long term.
Some of my colleagues have already spoken about this, but I am pleased to be able to emphasize the importance of the right to housing in the fight against poverty. FRAPRU is a group whose main focus is the right to housing and the fight against poverty. We believe that the right to housing is the cornerstone for ensuring that several other rights are respected and, as a result, meeting several other needs. As my CHRA colleague said, if you do not have a place to live, it's hard to talk about adequate food, and if you spend too much on housing, you're not able to meet all of your other housing needs. It is important to keep in mind that housing is one of the essential determinants of health. A poverty reduction strategy cannot be built without a comprehensive analysis of needs and the right to housing.
Today, we are discussing a poverty reduction strategy. At FRAPRU, we are convinced that in a country as rich as Canada, not only do we have the means to reduce poverty, but we should also really be moving towards a strategy to eradicate it.
The portrait of renter households in Canada is rather disastrous for such a rich country. My colleagues talked about that a little while ago. It was mentioned that there are four million tenants in the country, of whom there are 1.6 million tenant households whose needs are considered urgent, that is, they pay too much or they have a housing that doesn't meet their needs. That said, another figure is even more striking. I don't want to dwell too much on statistics, but I think there are some that must awaken our consciences. In Canada, 1 in 10 tenants spend more than 80% of their income on housing. So close to 400,000 renter households in Canada are forced to spend 80% of their income just to pay their rent. You can imagine that there isn't much left after that for their other needs. This is not to mention the homelessness situation in Canada and the tragic situation in many indigenous and northern communities, where there is a very high rate of inadequate housing. These communities also lack easy access to electricity and drinking water.
What can be done about the right to housing in order to address these problems? FRAPRU has put forward three solutions.
First, long-term subsidies for existing social housing must inevitably be maintained. We can't rely solely on the $30 million allocated in 's budget from last year. In the long term, the financial accessibility of existing social housing must be ensured.
In addition, we must focus our efforts on creating programs to build new social housing. At FRAPRU, we did the calculations and determined that the CMHC budget should be doubled to meet all the needs. So the amount should be increased from $1.7 or $2 billion to $4 billion, just to build new social housing and make sure that these units are affordable to low-income households in the long term. That's what social housing can do.
At the moment, there are several discussions on how to best ensure the right to housing and to ensure that low-income households have access to decent housing. Individual aid often has adverse effects, such as rent increases. We are convinced that we can fight poverty through affordable and long-term social housing.
Finally, we need a national housing strategy that recognizes the right to housing from the get-go and serves as a cornerstone for building long-term programs. As mentioned, it is difficult to build with programs spanning two or three years. A long-term, massive investment strategy is required to enable communities, community groups, cities, provinces and territories to build and plan for the long term.
Lastly, I will say a few words on the importance of transfers to the provinces.
For us, the fight against poverty isn't a matter of provincial, territorial or federal jurisdiction. There are already very adequate transfer mechanisms in place to make investments in the fight against poverty. These transfers have to be much larger. Several transfer amounts have not been indexed. Compared to 1990 levels in constant dollars, they are well below what they should be.
Clear priorities need to be established to ensure that some of the transfers in the fight against poverty, housing in particular, are not used to replace budgetary envelopes already set out by the provinces. These transfers have to be used to make additional investments in social infrastructure, for example. We must ensure that this money will be used for the construction and renovation of infrastructure, which will make it possible in the longer term to fight poverty effectively.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut
I want to thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation on behalf of the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
My name is Aluki Kotierk. I'm the president for Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. I'm here with Aqattuaq Kiah Hachey, who is the assistant director for social and cultural development. Before I begin I'd like to extend a special recognition and welcome to the Nunavut Sivuniksavut students.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, NTI, is the co-chair of the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction with the Government of Nunavut. As you already may be aware Nunavut has 25 communities. The population is a little over 35,000, and of that, more than 85% are Inuit. Because the territory is so vast, politically, Inuit are represented by three different regions, by three different regional Inuit associations. In the east, we have Qikiqtani association. In the centre, we have Kivalliq association. In the west, we have the Kitikmeot association.
In recent living history, Inuit were moved from the land to communities, which explains the 25 communities that I just referenced. Inuit, as you may be aware, were a nomadic gathering and hunting society. Traditionally, Inuit didn't have a wage economy, yet they were able to provide for their food and shelter needs. There was no formal school system as we know currently but there were intricate ways in which knowledge was passed from parents, and from grandparents.
Inuit governed themselves autonomously and were not subject to policies from the government. Above all, Inuit were self-reliant and interdependent on each other in their family group. They were masters of their own destiny, of their own lives. I like to think of Inuit as the original affluent society because they had the skill sets to live on the land and were able to provide for their needs.
For many Inuit, poverty is associated with contemporary society. We will look at the numbers currently in Nunavut. In 2014, the median income reported for Nunavut, before tax, was $26,098, with 25% of the population reporting income less than $8,589. In Nunavut, 40% of the population are recipients of income assistance. Nunavut-wide, 52% live in social housing, with 38% of social housing tenants living in overcrowded conditions. In Nunavut, 56% of Inuit households are food insecure. This was recently highlighted in a Statistics Canada report on Inuit Nunangat last week. The cost of living, as you know, is 30% higher, with food costing twice as much as in southern Canada.
I will just talk a little about the poverty definition. The conventional definition of poverty used in Canada and internationally is a formula of various states of inequity and unfulfilled need conditions that were introduced in what is now our territory during the colonization process. Many of the indicators we use to measure the extent of poverty in Nunavut today are based in ways of living that emerged in our new communities.
The Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction in 2012 commissioned a report called “Understanding Poverty in Nunavut”. It outlines three elements that are used to measure poverty: financial poverty, not having enough income for basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing; capability poverty, lacking the skills or health to meet their needs and participate fully in their community; and social exclusion, being excluded from economic, political, or community opportunities as a result of barriers to participation.
Since then, the poverty reduction round table has defined poverty in Nunavut as a situation that exists today in Nunavut when people cannot access the supports they need to maintain their connection to the land or to participate fully in a wage-based economy.
I'll just give you a background on the process by which we developed the round table for poverty reduction in Nunavut. In August 2010, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the Government of Nunavut entered into a co-sponsorship partnership for the creation of the poverty reduction strategy for Nunavut. Learning from the Nunavut suicide prevention strategy community engagement model, NTI and the GN developed community engagement models for poverty reduction in Nunavut.
Members of the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction include all the Nunavut communities and hamlets; regional Inuit associations, which include elder and youth representatives; businesses; and not-for-profit organizations and wellness centres.
Between August 2010 and November 2011, many dialogues on poverty and how to reduce it were undertaken across the territory, such as community round tables, a policy workshop, and ultimately, a territorial poverty reduction summit, held in November 2011 in our capital city of Iqaluit. Participants in the summit collectively drafted the makimaniq plan. For those of you who don't understand Inuktitut, “maki”, the root word, means “to stand up, to rise”, so makimaniq is the way in which we stand up.
The makimaniq plan was finalized in February 2012. This plan was created in response to the issue of poverty in Nunavut. The Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated allowed voices of each and every community to be heard. The makimaniq plan is our response to the poverty we see across our territory.
As stated in this plan:
||Public engagement allows for the community voice to be amplified, as the process builds from the community level to the regional level to the territorial level. The essence of this process is respect for community perspectives, capacity and self-determination, demonstrated in the public community dialogues that took place across Nunavut. Dialogues informed regional roundtable discussion.
The makimaniq plan focuses strongly on community self-reliance and collaboration, and relies on Inuit traditions of working together—piliriqatigiingniq—and helping one another to address the root causes of poverty. The themes include collaboration and community participation, healing and well-being, education and skills development, food security, housing and income support, and community and economic development.
Themes for each round table have been consistent with priorities set out in the makimaniq plan and have been determined by round table members. Past themes have included inunnguiniq, justice and community healing, and income assistance.
I want to spend a few minutes talking about inunnguiniq—
I know there's a lot to say. It's unfortunate we have to limit time on such an important topic, but it is what it is. A lot of people have input.
I want to focus on Mayor Hall and Ms. Bone from Prince George. I want to thank you, especially, for appearing today. You have to get up early to appear at committee in Ottawa, thanks.
One thing that got my attention specifically was what the Prince George housing strategy steering committee had come up with. Chris, I believe, was part of it back in 2011-12 and continues to be part of the Prince George plan today.
One topic I've brought up a lot in this study is that we don't want to sustain poverty. We want to have a reduction strategy. That's the one reason you're appearing today because Prince George is very forward thinking in that you have a plan to get somebody out of poverty, and to me that is a great plan.
Can you explain why you saw the need to formulate a housing strategy in Prince George and how has this strategy been rolling out?
I'll just reiterate the things that are outlined in our makimaniq plan. They include collaboration and community participation, healing and well-being, education and skills development, food security, housing and income support, and community and economic development.
I know we're limited for time, so I would invite everyone to look at our website, www.makiliqta.ca.
One area I'd like to expand on is education and skills development, because I think if there are investments in our people, in Inuit, then they will be able to do their part to get out of poverty. Given the drastic changes we had from the land to the communities, we're still working through how we address that. We're starting to get our footing in the modern world, but my view is that we can be modern and Inuk. We can still have a strong identity in being Inuk and also be part of the Canadian story.
I think investment needs to be focused on our people, however, so that our people are able to be in decision-making positions and make positive improvements in all aspects, including housing, child care, food security, and things of that nature.
I will ask my questions in French.
CHRA and FRAPRU are both talking about housing strategies based on human rights and the right to housing. As you know, I am very supportive of that because I introduced a bill in the House of Commons that specifically calls for the right to housing to be included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. My colleague also presented one on the subject.
I would like to move on to the issue of housing for aboriginal people, since Inuit representation has increased considerably in the room this morning.
CHRA mentioned specific strategies for aboriginal people. It even talked about
unique housing trust.
According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the shortage on reserves and in villages will reach 115,000 units by 2031. Forty-one percent of households live in homes requiring major repairs, and 51% of units have mould. I saw it myself when I visited Nunavik.
FRAPRU's brief speaks of poor housing conditions, saying that this constitutes a blockage that prevents access to other human rights.
I would like to know what FRAPRU and CHRA mean when they talk about blocked access to other human rights and
unique housing trust.
I will ask you to answer first.
I will then ask the two women from Nunavut to give us their points of view.
We rarely ask for your point of view on that.
If I understood the question properly, in terms of Nunavut housing, Kiah has already talked about the overcrowded housing situation that we have. I think it impacts people's abilities for education when they don't have any place to do their homework, and there are so many people that they have to take turns sleeping.
On another level, it impacts people's health. As you may be aware, in Nunavut, among Inuit, TB is still rampant, and when we're in overcrowded situations, it does not help.
In terms of the setup of the house, it is important to include Inuit knowledge and Inuit ways of being with regard to how the house is set up. Many of us like to have an open space where we can eat our country food on the floor, so the house needs to be designed in such a way that it respects Inuit culture. It would be helpful, for instance, if there were areas where we could clean skins and prepare them for use, and some of the designs are not thinking of how Inuit would use the house.
One of the greatest challenges we also have is in terms of supports for owning a home, given that we have such a high rate of poverty and that we don't have banking services in many of our communities. There is no credit that Inuit maintain, in terms of credit scores, so trying to purchase a house, even if there were a house available for sale.... There are so many barriers to home ownership.
Thank you, Mr. Long, and Mr. Chair and committee members, for giving me this opportunity.
I think you can guess I'm going to focus specifically on Nunavut, as we have Aluki here.
Mr. Robillard asked about the housing situation. When I was housing minister in Nunavut, probably about five years ago, we needed about 3,300 units just to meet our current demand. That was growing with a forced growth that I think is now between 75 and 90 units a year. That's over a billion dollars just to meet our current demand right now, and that was a number of years ago.
On top of that you have the other issue that was mentioned, the declining funding from CMHC on the social housing agreement. That's putting an extra burden on the jurisdictions to be able to maintain the units.
My question for Aluki is this. You mentioned long-term, stable funding. I know that's something that the Government of Nunavut has always been pushing for, to allow for better planning and expenditure of those resources, and not just with housing. Do you see the lack of what you called “social infrastructure” in the communities as partly the result of a flawed funding model, not only for Nunavut but for NWT as well?
Basically, the funding over the years has been allotted on a per capita basis. You have a jurisdiction with the highest cost of any kind of living, a small population, and one-fifth of the land mass of Canada. Do you see the inadequacy of historical funding as contributing to the lack of social infrastructure and making it difficult for Inuit people to get out of the poverty that we're stricken with?
. Thank you for that question.
This touches upon something that I've talked about quite frequently, that in Canada it's coast to coast to coast. It's not just coast to coast. I know that in building Canada, through the nation-building exercise, there was a lot of infrastructure investment from the east to the west. This is an opportune time to say that there needs to be that kind of investment in the Arctic, in Inuit Nunangat.
An Arctic infrastructure strategy would be ideal, rather than one-offs where we get a pool today and focus on a treatment centre tomorrow. There should be some kind of thought on how we're building Canada, given that so many of us Canadians like to say that we're a northern country. It's important that Canada make investments in its north, not in an ad hoc way but thinking about the infrastructure needs that we have, whether it be electricity generators or the infrastructure we have at the community level, which includes housing.
There's an endless supply of needs in our territory and across Inuit Nunangat, so I think it needs to be part of that broader vision of what Canada is, particularly when we're going into Canada 150.
In these discussions we often ask how government can help solve the problems of poverty. We forget that often government is the problem. We often ask, for example, how the government can transfer wealth from those who have to those who have not. We forget that often the government transfers from those who have not to those who already have.
One example, one proven case, of this, of course, is the case of energy poverty, on which the Ontario Association of Food Banks just wrote a very extensive report pointing out that 60,000 low-income Ontarians have had their electricity cut off.
People are going to the food banks because they can't afford their $700 electricity bills. The cause of these high prices is not market pricing. It's not that there's not enough electricity. In fact, we have an oversupply of electricity in Ontario, more than we use. In fact, we're giving it away or paying other jurisdictions to take it. The government intervened to pay 90¢ or 80¢ for something that's worth 2.5¢ in order to subsidize wind and solar power, which constitute a tiny fraction of the electrical mix of the province.
We know the people at the lowest end of the income scale suffer the most because electricity is a bigger share of their budget. We know that wealthy investment bankers have profited, because they're the ones who have been able to secure the contracts. This is a classic wealth transfer from those with the least to those with the most.
Dr. Green, you have been talking about energy poverty today. Do you have any way of calculating the distributional impacts of the Green Energy Act in Ontario; that is, how much wealth has been taken from low-income and impoverished people and how much has been transferred to the extremely wealthy?
We have to close it there. I've gotten several notes from my colleagues that we clearly did not have enough time today to really delve into questions that we needed to with each of you.
For the record, I'm going to suggest that if there are additional questions from any of you for these witnesses, have them to the clerk by the end of this week. If we could then distribute those questions to the appropriate witnesses for a written submission, that would be very much appreciated so that we'll get a more holistic experience with this.
I really do want to thank each and every one of you, and all those who came out to witness today. I think we've now determined how many people we can get into this space. We do have some committee business to deal with, so that's why we have to cut this off now.
I'm going to suspend for just a few moments. I'm going to ask those of you who don't need to be here to move fairly quickly to the lobby so that we can come back in a very brief time, maybe two minutes, to wrap up our committee business.
Thank you very much to everybody and all those who made today possible.
As you know, has been away, but in March 2016, he put forward a motion. I just want to read a statement from Mark before I begin.
He writes, “In my role as the Official Opposition Critic for Seniors I have met with many stakeholders and all of them are calling for the government to create a National Seniors Framework to help centralize and address the concerns of Canadian seniors. Never before has our country faced this type of demographic change, and globally, we have seen the effects of a lack of government planning for this shift. I call on my colleagues in this committee to support my motion, and begin this study at the earliest convenience.”
Putting forward the motion, the motion is:
||That the Committee conduct a study on a Canadian “National Seniors Framework”;
||That the study focus on the percentage of the Canadian population that are seniors and the need to prepare for this quickly changing demographic;
||That the study be conducted immediately following the current study on “poverty reduction strategies”;
||That the study consist of at least ten (10) sessions; and, that the findings be reported to the House.
As I indicated previously, this was a motion that Mark Warawa brought forward in March 2016. It has been outstanding for almost a year. We've done so much work on poverty, and I think this is a great segue because we have seen that there is definitely a tie. When we're looking at seniors, there has to be a next step for our senior population.