Yesterday in Parliament – November 27, 2018
House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to speak tonight about Canada’s engagement with UNRWA and generally with the Palestinian territories.
In response to an earlier question I asked, the Minister of International Development spoke of the time she spent in the West Bank visiting UNRWA facilities, which I have also done. Earlier this year, as part of a trip with the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, I also had the opportunity to visit the West Bank and an UNRWA school and to speak with students there. It left me with some striking impressions.
I believe deeply that Canada must continue to support a two-state solution, recognizing that both Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate historical connection to the territory covered by both Israel and the Palestinian territories, recognizing as well that what is required is an appreciation and understanding of each other’s histories and each other’s connections, and constructive dialogue that recognizes the legitimacy of each other’s situation and the challenges presented by this conflict.
At the UNRWA school I saw many of the challengers that others have reported, including that the students were not being given any opportunity to interact with their Israeli neighbours. When we spoke to students, they spoke of not even having a desire to have those interactions, as a result of the situation they were in. The teachers in the room nodded along with that.
UNRWA is well known and well documented to be an organization that is far too tolerant of intolerance and accepting of curricular materials that do not recognize the essential connection between both peoples. In this particular case, the materials do not recognize the connection between the Jewish people and that territory and the need for that kind of understanding and appreciation of both positions.
Therefore, the question for Canada is that when we are sending money to support development of state Palestinian education, are we becoming subject to that soft bigotry of low expectations that says that even though there is intolerance in the curriculum, that is good enough? Or, are we insisting that when Canadian tax dollars are spent, those be reflective of Canadian values, so that we set the highest possible standards and look for an alternative to the current situation that we see with an organization like UNRWA, where dollars are not being spent in a way that reflects our values?
What was striking when I posed this question to the minister was that we had previously heard, on the one hand, that she had allegedly raised issues about the problematic material, but on the other hand that she had said that spending that money was totally fine. In other words, they are trying to say on the one hand that there are not problems, but on the other hand the minister is speaking about and raising problems that exist within UNRWA. It seems to me that we cannot have it both ways. Either there are not problems, and therefore it is acceptable to be spending this money, or there are problems. If the minister is raising the problems, then why is this money being spent?
Our Parliament should be deeply concerned about the welfare of the Palestinian people. That is why we should not be giving money to UNRWA, but instead should be looking to deliver support in ways that set the highest standard of pluralism, neutrality, and encouraging peace and peaceful coexistence. That is our position.
Will the government come on side with that, stop funding UNRWA, and instead look for more effective ways that are more reflective of Canadian values to deliver support to the Palestinian people?
Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to providing humanitarian assistance and responding to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.
Having travelled to the region recently, I am sure my hon. colleague opposite would acknowledge that Palestinian refugees endure high levels of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. By helping to support their humanitarian needs, Canada is also contributing to stability in the region.
On October 12 of this year, the Minister of International Development announced $50 million over two years to support millions of vulnerable Palestinian refugees who lived in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. This funding is the same that has been provided over the past two years. lt will help support education, health and social services, as well as urgent humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Syrian crisis.
Canada is also providing up to $12.5 million in support to Right to Play International, which will collaborate with UNRWA to help create a more inclusive environment for Palestinian refugee children and to also respond to existing educational gaps and needs in the West Bank and Gaza.
As the only UN agency mandated to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees, UNRWA delivers basic education, health and social services and humanitarian assistance to millions of people whose needs would otherwise be unmet. As it has been for years, Canadian support for UNRWA is also linked to Canada’s commitment to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East negotiated by both parties, which includes the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.
As we do with all our contributions in the region, Canada is monitoring and working with UNRWA very closely. Our re-engagement with the agency allows us to do so. It also allows us to raise allegations of violations when they come to light and to find solutions.
I am sure my colleague opposite knows that UNRWA is required to use textbooks of the jurisdiction in which their schools operate. This allows students to sit for local exams.
UNRWA has in place a formal framework to review all textbooks and, where needed, provides additional training for teachers to address any problematic issues related to neutrality, bias, gender equality or age appropriateness.
Canada will continue to take all allegations of neutrality violations extremely seriously. Our government will continue to support the provision of assistance to the most vulnerable on behalf of Canadians and in a way that reflects Canadian values.
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member that Palestinian refugees are in need of our engagement and support. However, I do not accept that the recognition of that vulnerability justifies giving money to just any organization that is involved in providing social programs to them. It behooves us to assess the nature of the information and the education provided by that organization in the process.
The member acknowledges that the textbooks used are dependent on the jurisdiction in which they take place, and this creates significant problems in being able to ensure our values are reflected, that universal human ideas of human rights, pluralism and human dignity are reflected in those institutions.
All of the problems are evident in what the member is saying. Instead of simply accepting that this is as good as it gets, let us insist on doing better with respect to the issues of neutrality and pluralism.
I want to ask the member if the programming provided through the Right to Play organization will include programs that encourage different communities to be involved in sporting activities together. For instance, will these dollars be used so Israeli and Palestinian children are playing in programs together or will that play, which is facilitated through that program, be happening exclusively in each community separately?
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, Canada and other donors expect UNRWA to uphold UN standards for neutrality. This also includes the educational materials of the jurisdictions in which UNRWA operates and which UNRWA is required to use.
Along with other donor governments, Canada will continue to closely monitor these issues, if and when they arise. It gives us an opportunity to find solutions if we are at the table.
Thanks to UNRWA’s work, more than three million people have access to primary health care and over half a million Palestinian refugee girls and boys benefit from the quality education provided to them in UN schools.
Mr. Speaker, I am here today because I asked a question of the minister about a woman in my riding named Pat.
Pat is now 80 and was desperately ill. In fact, her family was not certain how long she would be with us. The good news is that Pat got better. The bad news is that during her time of having a hard health issue, she did not have a home any more.
The reality for Pat is that she was told by the hospital that she would have to leave. She had nowhere to go and ended up spending months in a hotel where the rent was $500 a week, which was much more than the pension she had.
When we look at the reality of seniors across Canada who are facing the same challenges that Pat is, we want to make sure that they have a safe place to go, that seniors are not homeless and put in this situation.
It is important to recognize that in our communities, including the communities that I represent in North Island—Powell River, that there are a lot of organizations working hard every day to address issues of homelessness and the high risk of homelessness that is happening in so many communities across Canada. I would like to name just a few in my riding: the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness; Grassroots Kind Hearts Society, which feeds people in Campbell River every day; the Salvation Army Lighthouse Resource Centre in Port Hardy, which provides lunch five times a week; Port Hardy Seniors, of which I am a member, that feeds seniors lunch every Tuesday and provides many opportunities for activities in the community; Homelessness Partnering Strategy funded in Port Hardy through the Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre; Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness; Dawn to Dawn in Comox Valley, which does so much to support those who are at high risk and homeless; Community Resource Center of Powell River, which recently received 20 beds to provide emergency shelter; Powell River committee against homelessness; and the Salvation Army, which has shelters in several of the communities I represent.
These are just a few of the organizations that work hard every day with people across our communities who are facing significant challenges with housing.
It is so important that we recognize that in rural and remote parts of Canada, housing is a significant crisis. The organizations I mentioned before do everything they can, but they need a more active partner in the federal government.
In B.C., we are actually seeing what an active partner looks like. Recently, the housing minister of B.C. made a significant announcement in investments for housing. What I really appreciate is that rather than leaving the majority of the resources at the back end, like the federal government currently is with 90% not even beginning to move until the next election, the housing minister is making sure that it is in the front, as the housing minister said in an announcement about the housing crisis in B.C.
She said, “We’re frontloading because it’s so desperate…It breaks my heart every time I hear a story, and I heard another one today, of a community, an Indigenous community that is reeling from two suicide deaths of young people.” This is from an article in The Tyee.
I want to be really clear. This provincial B.C. government is dedicating funding for 1,100 units of indigenous housing both on and off reserve. Provinces do not usually fund housing on reserve. Usually, they step out of that and see it as a federal responsibility, but as the article said, on-reserve housing has been a federal responsibility since 1867 and has been chronically underfunded.
When we look at stories like Pat’s, we know that there is a significant issue for seniors across this country, and we need to make sure that they do not fall through the cracks. I want to make sure that today in the House that people understand that seniors simply cannot wait.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for bringing that human story not just to Parliament but to all of Canada through Parliament. The challenges facing communities across this country, as they relate to homelessness, are profound. Housing and homelessness are partnered in this challenge.
We have done several things to support governments like the B.C. government and others, to try and turn the situation around with a historic investment in housing, which is not just the $40 billion over the next 10 years, but also includes the $5.8 billion put in our first budget, which are the dollars that are being spent by the provincial government in B.C. so effectively. However, more has to be done.
Part of what also has to be done is that we have to understand that the story that was just told to us comes from rural Canada. Rural Canada has housing and homeless challenges as well. When the previous government identified 61 designated communities, it kind of forgot rural Canada and imposed the same rules on rural Canada that were imposed on urban Canada. In other words, the definition of what constituted chronic homelessness was exactly the same as what was designated in major cities like Vancouver or Toronto.
The challenge here is that rural communities, especially northern rural communities, experience homelessness differently, women experience homelessness differently, women in rural communities experience homelessness differently, and seniors who are women in rural Canada experience homelessness differently. The notion that the woman who was just described would have to spend six months living on the street before a federal program would even contemplate supporting this individual, is obscene. It is wrong.
The changes that we have made to the program allow for the HPS, the homelessness partnership money which is now renamed as “reaching home” to work in preventative strategies. One of the things we are trying to get to, as shown in a good study coming out of London, Ontario, is the role that hospitals play in projecting people into homelessness. The right to housing is going to be realized when governmental organizations that provide provisional housing do not simply swing the door open to say, “Good luck. I hope you find housing out there” but actually have a responsibility before discharge to make sure that people have a place to call home, that their rent is secured and they are attached to housing systems that can realize their housing needs and, thus, respect their human rights.
This is the change to “reaching home”. As I said at the beginning, it is intertwined with an approach to housing that also is building new housing now. We have built 14,000 units of housing since we took office. We have repaired 156,000 units of housing and our support has reached into more than a million homes across the country.
Even though we have put these large numbers in play and even though we invested before the $40 billion and have reprofiled the money in that $40 billion investment, when we hear stories like this, we know we have to work harder and deliver more because no senior, no woman, no person in rural Canada, no person anywhere in Canada should be in a situation where they find themselves paying the sorts of rents that were described and not having supports of meals, social services and community. That is just unacceptable.
The national housing strategy is a bold new beginning on the housing front. More needs to be done and we have to make sure that when we act, we act in recognition of the complexity of this issue right across Canada.
As for the issue of indigenous housing, the government is currently engaged with national indigenous organizations, the Métis, the Inuit and first nations. We are also in the groundbreaking moments of a national urban housing strategy to fulfill the last chapter of the national housing strategy to make sure that all Canadians get the home they deserve.
My thanks to the member for the story she told. I assure her that help is on the way because help has already arrived in places like B.C. in a strong partnership between our government and the provincial government in Victoria.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly do hope that help is on the way because so many people are falling through terrible cracks. I sat with Pat in her not very warm and friendly hotel and she talked about how the community around her was doing everything they could to support her and how grateful she was. I thought to myself that she had a lot more grace than I would have in that circumstance.
However, it is also about working with women who are in their eighties who are calling my office because they did not get their taxes done on time because of health issues, so they have lost their GIS and are now facing eviction. One woman in particular was 86 and she did not know what she was going to do if she was homeless at that age.
Seniors from small communities being sent to large communities to access health care are struggling to find housing. At the same time, seniors in the larger communities are being sent to the smaller communities because they cannot afford to live in bigger communities. Based on the vital signs of my community, we know that we have a lot of seniors, up to 26% plus, in our communities. Over 40% of renters are spending 30% or more of their income, in some cases, 50% on rent, and the vacancy is very low.
Therefore, I look for action. Right now I just have to say that Canadians are waiting and waiting and they simply cannot wait when they are in these vulnerable circumstances.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to report that for many Canadians, the wait is over. The 14,000 new housing units are a start. I agree, we need to do much more. The national housing strategy, with the co-investment fund and other investments, is poised to do just that.
The challenge we have is that it took us 25 years to build the crisis. Our party was part of the problem, in the early nineties, when we made significant cuts to the housing program.
People like Claudette Bradshaw invested her time and energy in changing course and delivering the homelessness partnering strategy program from this side of Parliament. There were people like John Godfrey, who resuscitated and reinitiated federal investments in housing, and Bill Graham, who refused to let the operating agreements expire in cities like Toronto, in particular for co-ops. All these Liberal members also helped start to rebuild the system. Quite clearly, by the time I stood for the by-election,
This government took office and invested $5.8 billion immediately. Those dollars are the dollars producing houses in places like B.C. now. We have now reprofiled the dollars to make them more effective, over the next 10 years, with a $40-billion investment and good, strong bilaterals. I am proud to say that British Columbia was one of the first provinces to sign a bilateral, and that means 10 years of runway for housing to be constructed in that province, and that will turn things around, hopefully. If not, we have—
Nothing to report.
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