An Interview with MP Don Davies
By Edrick Dudang, Grade 12
(Published online only)
Me: My first concern is about Bill C-304. Bill C-304 is an affordable housing plan that is sponsored by Libby Davies. Can you comment on this bill on how this would reduce poverty rates and guarantee affordable housing to all Canadians?
Davies: Sure. Well, I’ll start of by saying that when you talk about the welfare of the population, there are certain things economically that I believe are our foundations. So, in other words, there are things that people need that are the building blocks of their economic well being. As opposed to something not critical for us to be able to take care of ourselves and have a respectful lifestyle, housing is one of them. So, to give you a list: housing, education, and a good job, these are the foundations we build our lives on. Having a car, going on vacations, having nice clothes, those things are nice to have but they are not foundational.
Me: Yeah, I agree.
Davies: I was very proud of my colleague for drafting and proposing such a thoughtful bill such as Bill C-304. I’ll tell you a fact: Canada is the only country of the G8 that does not have a national housing strategy.
Me: Yeah, I know. I noticed. It’s pretty embarrassing, actually.
Davies: It is. That wasn’t always the case; I’ll give you a little bit of the history, because I think it’s important to know how we got into this state. Have you heard of Canada Housing Mortgage Housing Corporation?
Me: No, I’m sorry.
Davies: It’s referred to as CMHC. CMHC is a federal body that was created decades ago and it was created with two mandates. One mandate was a vehicle to which the federal government participated in helping to build affordable housing. The second mandate was made to help Canadians house themselves, by insuring for mortgages. If you or your parents wanted to buy a house, and you had to go to the bank to get a mortgage Let’s say, if you only have $50,000 to buy a $100,00 house banks won’t lend the money with only 10% down. So what the CMHC did was for a fee it insured the bank against the default of you or your parents. If you have 25% money down, then a bank requires you to use CMHC insurance. So you or your parents will apply to CMHC for a onetime fee of three or four thousand dollars that is added to the mortgage. CMHC will then guarantee to the banks that if you or your parents defaulted on the mortgage, it would be paid out. So CMHC was a very important source for Canadians to buy houses for decades. Now what happened was, in 1992, the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney ended the first mandate. So they stopped CMHC’s first mandate in terms of building affordable housing. Now let me stop there for a second and explain that for a bit. What CMHC did is the federal government would take, in a variety of ways, federal land or the provinces or cities donated land and the federal government would finance buildings like co-ops. So I don’t know if you’ve seen around Vancouver but there’s a whole bunch of co-ops. For example, Trout Lake co-op was built with federal money and many other kinds of housing as well. So in 1982, Brian Mulroney ended that mandate leaving CMHC with one mandate. The only thing that they have done in that time is insure mortgages, but it’s taken the federal government money out of the game, in terms of building affordable housing. While I’m taking a look at parties here, the Liberals here in 1993 promised to, if they win the election, restore that mandate of the CMHC. They promised it in 1997, they didn’t do it. They promised it in 2001, they didn’t do it. To this day, 2011, basically 20 years later nothing has been done about the first mandate of CMHC, , virtually a generation, you’re probably 17-18.
Me: Yes, I’m 17.
Davies: Yeah, a whole generation grown up and gone through school without the federal government playing the role in share of affordable housing. Affordable housing is what we, the NDP, have been pushing for years now, and what Bill C-304 would do is restore that mandate to the federal government. What we are really saying is that affordable housing is a big job, and we need the contribution of all 3 levels of government. The municipalities, the provinces, and the federal government need to all be cooperating and right now in the last 19 years, the federal government has been absent. So it’s no wonder there is a growing housing crisis across the country, I’m not just talking about B.C., but it is totally acute in places such as in the Lower Mainland where housing is expensive.
Me: Yeah, I also heard that Aboriginals has a severe case of lacking affordable housing.
Davies: Yes. Problems with affordable housing, of course, tend to hurt vulnerable populations more than others, so you find much higher rates of homelessness or poor housing. This tends to hurt First Nations, New Canadians, single parents and any groups of societies that already has a economic vulnerability is actually hurt deeper along with lack of affordable housing.
Me: Well, thanks for answering that question about Bill C-304.
Me: I would like to ask about immigrants. I was watching the Federal Election Debate the other day. I understand that the Conservative party never addressed immigration. Can you comment on family re-unification, and the challenges they face such as affordable housing and low-income jobs? I noticed that a lot of immigrants who come to Canada fall behind the poverty line.
Davies: Yeah, well as I said, let me come to this with a broad point of view, what happened is, well, the last 30 years primarily because of the economic policies of the right. There has been a growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in our country. Since the economy has grown from 1980 to 2011, if you add up the increased wealth in our country in that time period it has been demonstrated and proven time and time again, that the vast majority of the extra income has gone to the top 20% of earners in our society, and the bottom 80% are either at the same level they were in 1970 or worse. That’s not just NDP data but that is actual economic data, there’s no question about that. Again with new Canadians, who come to this country, they tend to have a number of challenges to begin with. There’s social relocation, they’re off with their credentials, and their skills are not recognized. Also, there’s usually an under-employment and language barrier. So you find the process I described where the middle-class is shrinking across this country and the working class and the poor have been poorer that is felt more acutely again with immigrants. And again, numbers are all over the places, there is no question about that.
Me: Yeah, I do agree. Has there been any action to the federal government lately about this? Are the Conservatives actually addressing this issue?
Davies: Generally, no. For instance, the best way to help people in difficultly is you help them get affordable decent housing and the Conservatives did nothing on that. The next thing you do is you try to adopt policies that create good family sustaining jobs but that’s not in the case of the Conservatives. Here’s what happened in the last 20-30 years, the old sustaining family middle class jobs have been decreasing and our economy is shifting more minimum-wage service economy. The Conservatives in the house, in the last two weeks, they’ve been saying we have created 400,000 to 600,000 jobs since the recession started.
Me: Yeah, I noticed…
Davies: Well ok. First of all, I don’t know how they measured that, (we both laughed) but what happened is your asking yourself, what kinds of jobs are those is the question we ask. If you close a car dealership in Ontario that’s paying 25-30/hr with benefits and pensions, and you now have a 1000 people at work at, the call centres in Nova Scotia at 10/hr with no benefits that were created to replace the dealership, you up a 1000 jobs but they have harmful effects on our economy. So what NDP has been calling for is policies that encourage the creation of good jobs in our country.
Me: Wow, I never thought about it like that.
Davies: Basically, you fund higher education to make post-secondary education much more accessible and cheaper, if you want to go to UBC, BCIT, SFU or UNBC. It makes it easier for people because the people gain the skills that will likely, when they graduate, cause them to be employed or engage in a higher-wage job. The only university that has been built in the last 50 years in BC was built by the NDP and that is UNBC.
Me: Really? I never knew that. That’s… that’s pretty cool.
Davies: If you think about it, you have Prince George sort of community that is sort of hit by the forestry sector. So what do you do? What the NDP did there is, well, of course this is provincially but it’s a good example, is you build a university. Think about the jobs you created, you created a whole bunch of construction jobs, then you build buildings and you fill those with professors and technicians and researchers, librarians and all types. Think how many different jobs you have in there. Say you want to become a professor, you go to UBC to get your masters and your doctrine and then end up teaching it in UNBC. So the kinds of jobs with economic investment are good ones, as opposed to open a call centre or fast food restaurants. They’re jobs but it’s difficult to raise a family with them, and with these polices have a direct link to poverty. The economy is not creating jobs that you can sustain a family on good middle-class paying jobs then you’re going to have increase amounts of poverty and that is exactly what’s happened and what’s happening right now.
Me: I agree. My extended family needs 3 jobs to sustain themselves and it’s hard.
Davies: I saw that in a statistics compared that to 1970, longitudinal studies shows people have been working 30% more hours and earning 20% less in real terms. That’s a vast majority of people.
Me: So, the Conservatives are helping these people but it doesn’t fix the problem. Like what you said about the call centre, these jobs are 10/hr and have no benefits.
Davies: There are tons of policies. The Conservatives established free trade, while the NDP goes into a policy called fair trade. Free trade is when the Conservatives turn to the business and say, we’re going to remove the borders. The countries have tariffs on the borders. So for instance, say if you want to open up a factory in Bangladesh and you want to make sweaters. We know when you are in Bangladesh, you are in wage of 20 cents/hr, there’s no compensation and no EI plan, and no pension plans, you’re making sweaters there at 1/30th the cost that would make it here. Let’s say, I want to open up a factory here in Canada, Quebec. What do I have to pay? Well I got meet minimum-wage laws, I got to at least pay $10 an hour, I might get unionized, so maybe I have to pay 20 bucks an hour? Also pay for employment insurance, I have to pay for Canada Pension Plan, there’s regulation of safety, those kinds of things. So, my labour costs are 30 bucks an hour and yours are 5 dollars all in. What countries used to do to protect their population and economy, they would, when those sweaters arrives from Bangladesh into their border, they would put a tariff on those, and say “hang on” until we even things up. So were going to put say 20 dollars a sweater on each one, so that our market won’t be flooded with cheap markets from different economies and therefore are protecting jobs. What the Conservatives have done in the past decades and Liberals too, is they pursue a policy that removes those tariffs so it lets those sweaters come to Canada, so what does that do in our textile industry in Canada? Well it got shut down, that’s exactly what happened in Quebec, they had a very strong textile industry in Quebec and very strong clothing industry and it got completely shut down because they couldn’t compete with the cheap prices of other factories. So what the NDP wants is to manage fair trade and that is one way is to protect our domestic jobs and domestic industries. I’ll say this, you know, there is no question that people are struggling more today than they were 10-20-30-40-50 years ago. When I grew up, most families had only one person work outside the home. It was usually the males because it was a very sexist society back then. The dad would work Monday to Friday and the mom would stay home with the kids. You could raise a family with one salary. Now you fast forward to 2011 and you said it, you have two parents not at home, and are working between 2-3-4-5 jobs and that’s just to make ends meet and to boot, my parents could buy a house and they could have a car. Even today, you have parents working quite a few jobs and can’t afford a house and a car. So what I say is, those policies of the right, they implemented for the last 30 years are horrible. You can’t blame the NDP because those policies were not ours; we were never in power federally. I think the Conservatives and Liberals should be accountable for their policies. I would ask them, so how has that worked out? If they’re going to have the power to implement these polices, they should be held accountable for the outcome. Our economy is not doing well. A vast majority of people are having a very difficult time and it looks like it’s going to be even more difficult.
Me: Yeah I see that happening. I was actually afraid of what you said back there like, Canada wants to eliminate its borders, isn’t that hurting our sovereignty against the U.S.?
Davies: Yes, absolutely.
Me: It’s pretty shocking.
Davies: Yeah it is. You know, I fought against the Free Trade Agreement in 1988. I was your age actually, I was 17 years old and I got interested in politics, and I’m saying we shouldn’t really integrate our economy more closely to U.S. We should start seeking to be more independent because they are always going to be our natural trading partner because we share the largest undefended border in the world. There’s a natural trade….
My camera ran out of memory, so the interview had to be stopped. Thanks for reading so patiently.