October 5th, 2023 - 5:37pm
Hansard – English (44-1, 230)
Government Orders, Words: 46,127
Affordable Housing and Groceries Act
Brian Masse Windsor West, ONNDP
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today with respect to Bill C-56, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act, and I will get into those two components.
It has been an interesting debate in the House, hearing various land barons talk about affordable living for other people who have to rent from them. However, the mixture of our market right now has brought us to this situation. That mixture of the market was abandoned by then Paul Martin, when we lost our housing initiatives. Since then, the recovery process has been brutal and that lack of stock has led to the problems we have right now in a free-market system.
On top of that, in communities like Windsor, Tecumseh and Essex around my riding, a lot of building has taken place, but they have been more affluent homes, more on the higher end of the market for the profit margins to be higher. That has been one of the problems. We have lost co-operative and other types of housing units that really should have been built during that time frame. Therefore, even when we have had an increase in housing stock, it has not led to the things we want.
Today, at least we are trying to do something with respect to it. It is not a great bill, but it is something coming forward on which we have some unanimity in the House of Commons. The GST is something that even the Conservatives think the they could agree with, which is ironic, because the Conservatives, going back in history, brought in the GST under Brian Mulroney and brought in the HST under Stephen Harper. In fact, we are still paying for that. When the HST was brought in, the government had to grease a couple of provinces to come on board and we had to borrow billions of dollars, on which we are still paying interest.
I have an updated Parliamentary Budget Office paper and also a House of Commons Library of Parliament paper, which is updated every year to show how much interest we are paying from Harper bringing in the HST, and borrowing billions of dollars. We borrowed billions of dollars to bring in a new tax on Canadians.
Therefore, when the Conservatives talk about taxation, they need to keep their history in check. It is good that they are owning up to the GST issue and these regressive taxes that have been put on Canadians. We even had an election at one point in time when the Liberals and Conservatives talked about getting rid of the GST. We can see it still has not happened in the fullness of time, but at least in this instance we are going to support the waiving of the GST tax for new builds. There is a problem, though, that we have to monitor. Are those savings going to be passed on to consumers who are renters and to other people in the market purchasing those homes.
There need to be real incentives to build those homes. To this day, many people enjoy what is called “wartime housing”. After the Second World War, smaller units, with two to three bedrooms, were built and these were affordable for veterans. Those units now have had additional components built on to them or they have stayed the same. They are still very much part of a good market for many people, including in my riding where we have had a lot of veterans, some who served most recently in Afghanistan and other theatres. Windsor, Ontario has always done its part, going back to the War of 1812. We even contributed support for all kinds of different wars and conflicts, and for peace. We still have housing stock from World War II that has never been followed up on, which is a real issue with regard to our veterans, but thank goodness those housing units are there.
I would point out the new residential rebate, which is important. It is probably going to have to get through the Senate, so we are looking at more delays. When we are looking at an opportunity to get something done, we are probably looking at the new year for this. We have a housing crisis right now, so the response of this chamber is at least a modest improvement. However, not everybody in this chamber is willing to support this bill and get it done as quickly as possible. Therefore, we are going to continue to inflate the problem because the bill is going to take some time to get through.
The other component in the bill is the amendment to the Competition Act, which is really important. As I mentioned in a previous debate, the Competition Act needs massive updating. I am really pleased that my leader, the member for Burnaby South, has tabled legislation to fix the Competition Act in some respects.
This bill is going to have a few components too. It would “establish a framework for the Minister of Industry to direct the Commissioner of Competition to conduct an inquiry into the state of competition in a market”, which is important; “permit the Competition Tribunal to make certain orders…to an agreement or arrangement…to prevent or lessen competition; and repeal the exception in section 96 of the Act involving efficiency gains brought about by mergers.” The last one is a bit more technical, but basically the “efficiency gains” argument is really outdated in Canada.
We can prove that it would be less competition if there were a merger, and the Competition Bureau can prove that as well, but at the same time the merger can go ahead at the expense of people just because there would be a better profit margin. Therefore, we need to get rid of that altogether.
One thing that is really interesting about the situation we have right now is that both Conservative and Liberal governments have constantly allowed mergers to take place, resulting in the loss of Canadian jobs. We had the Lowe’s takeover of Rona. We have seen where that has backfired. Some of the Rona stores are now being reopened.
Target took over Zellers, and then Target closed all its stores. By the way, at the time of the takeover, Zellers was the only department store making money and had benefits for its workers. The workers were paid about 12% more than other department stores. It was a Canadian-owned operation. The Liberal government allowed the takeover to take place. We lost all those stores. Target closed in Canada and moved back, south of the border. It was a complete and utter disaster.
There have been others. We watched Future Shop be taken over by Best Buy. Now there is a lack of competition now in the electronics sector. Future Shop was a Canadian icon store, gone. Now we have the Best Buy option and Amazon online, and very little competition.
I could go on and on about some of the different things that have been allowed to be taken over, basically leading to a lack of competition.
I want to highlight a couple of things with regard to the grocery store retail industry, which is another part of what are fighting for. This is going to help in that situation as well.
The CEOs of the grocery stores came before the industry committee and we questioned them. Unbelievably, on the same day, all three of the major chains cut their hero pay, which was paid during the pandemic, on the very same day. There are still issues out there.
Right now in the retail sector, several different things are taking place. In fact, we can look at some of the media stories coming out. Global and Mike Drolet did a good piece on theft in the retail market, how it was changing, how some stores were closing, not only in the United States but in other places, also potentially here, and the way that stores looked at and handled some things.
I bring this up because it is not a victimless crime. It raises the price of all groceries, with respect to theft and the types of behaviour taking place. Also, the same workers, who were the heroes during the pandemic, have to face increased and complicated situations at the workplace, either defending the products, feeling that they are compromised or having confrontations with customers. What is taking place is very important; it is a culture change.
We can look at the obvious things these grocery store chains have done in the past, such as fixing the price of bread, an important staple for children going to school and for families to survive. They colluded, like the robber barons of the past, to fix the price of bread. There was not only a lack of competition, but there was a coordinated approach on one of the basic human staples, increasing prices for Canadians. What happened? The grocery store chains got a slap on the wrist because of current competition issues.
The government responded by saying that it brought the CEOs in and asked them to at least hold the prices, to hold the line. What a garbage stance that is from the government.
Let us go back in history and look at some of the things that have taken place. Even the Liberal government had issues with its own in calling for corporate tax cut reductions until recently. In fact, some of the former Liberal leadership said that it did not cut taxes fast enough. That was their competition.
These grocery store icons, which enjoy monopolies in Canada, had a reduction of corporate tax at that time. At the same time, these CEOs with big pays were fixing the price of bread. There are other types of malfeasance going on with regard to their operations. They have also been known, as I mentioned, to actually push their workers the hardest and, frankly, in some of the most despicable ways possible.
All three of the grocery store chains cancelled hero pay at the same time. Not only does that stink to high heaven, it tells us the disdain they have for their workers. They had no shame in this whatsoever. There was no shame whatsoever when they were in front of the committee, saying that this was just the way they did business, that it was okay.
This bill is a modest improvement. As members in the House, we have the control to get something done on the GST with regard to housing, as well as on increased competition in Canada. Between the grocery retailers, the telcos and others, we need competition and we need it now.