Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to talk about Bill C-44.
I would like to start with a quote by Pope Francis, who stated:
And every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: “Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?” If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good.
When I came to Parliament only 19 months ago, I was faced with choices, choices about who I will serve and who I will be working for day in and day out. For me, one thing that guided me throughout that time is that parliamentarians are here to serve all citizens, everyone. I am sure everyone in the House agrees that we must serve both rich and poor alike, but we also have a duty to remind the wealthy to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them, and to build them up. I am reminded of that every time I am in Winnipeg Centre. I am reminded of that when I look at my family and friends and when I am in my riding when I am not here.
A few months ago, on April 16, I was called by Radio-Canada. The journalist was asking questions and wanted comments about the flooding going on in Manitoba and what the federal government’s probable response would be concerning those floods. I said I would certainly talk about the first nation communities affected. It was a Sunday and my wife goes to a soup kitchen every Sunday. It is her form of going to church. She does not enjoy the service so much when she goes to church, but she enjoys going to a soup kitchen run by St. Euclid church in North Point Douglas.
She goes there with about 50 other people who help serve the poorest of the poor of Winnipeg: people who sniff gas, young families, and people who have very little to call their own. She takes my two oldest children, who are 12 and 10 years old, Xavier and Jacob, and I am left to look after the three younger children, who are eight, six, and five years old. I told the journalist that I would love to do the interview on Sunday, but I have to look after my children, so I asked if we could meet somewhere in my riding downtown, to which he said, “Of course.”
My wife dropped me off on the south side of the Manitoba Museum. As we were doing the interview, a gentleman walked by. He was not dressed in an extremely rich way and did not look wealthy. As the interview was taking place, he asked very quickly if he could have a word with me once I was done the interview. He waited patiently until the interview was completed, my kids waiting patiently with him, and then we had the opportunity of speaking. He has been homeless for a number of years and has been forgotten for a number of years. People do not seem to have cared about him or his wife. They sleep under a bridge in Winnipeg. He told me about how many foster families he had been in throughout his life. He had been in 70, if anyone can believe it. He had been in 70 foster families throughout his life. He was taken by the government and thrown from family to family, with really no one to care for him. Imagine the type of individual who creates a sense of connection with others when no one, even as a child, really and truly wanted him.
He asked me what the federal government was doing for him. He said he did not read the newspapers and asked what it was doing for him. I was proud to say that in budget 2016, $69.7 million were given to the provincial government in Manitoba for social housing and infrastructure. I told him that funding is not yet on the ground to build the housing, but I am trying to work with the provincial government to see if it can get to that place to get him housed, get him something. He asked me to please not forget about them and that he voted for me. He said he had picked up beer bottles and managed to raise $10 to buy an ID card so he could vote in the election because it was so important to him. He said not to forget about him and his wife.
When I looked him in the eyes and saw the tears, I sensed at the same time that he is a little ashamed because he is homeless. One has to ask who we are here to serve. I asked myself what I am doing in Parliament and who I serve. I am reminded time and time again about that in my riding when I do meet and greets or go to the local Tim Hortons or Portage Place mall. The Portage Place mall had some racism issues. It was kicking indigenous people out of the mall about a year and a half ago when I was first elected, because they did not look right and were not welcome there.
We seem to have fixed that problem. I do my meet and greet there, so people who are poor and do not look quite right can go into the mall and sit down at the food court, and maybe I will buy them a cup of coffee. I get to hear their stories and what is going on in their lives.
I remember a young lady from an indigenous northern community, who on a Friday afternoon at 3:30 sat down in front of me, and—this is the troubling part—she smelled like she had been doused in kerosene. She was obviously a gas sniffer and had some addiction issues. She had the smell of alcohol on her breath. She had glassy eyes and she said, “Robert, help me.” She had been two weeks on the streets—
Madam Speaker, I did not realize I could not use my own name.
She asked me to help get her off the street. At 3:30, I started calling around to homeless shelters and addiction centres. At 3:30 p.m. on a Friday, it seemed that no one was around to respond to those needs. This is part of the issue about budgets. Budget are large macro things, but the issue goes far deeper. It is actually how we implement that budget on the ground, day in and day out. For me, that is the issue. How do I obtain services for this young lady? How do I get her the addiction counselling that she needs so that she can be successful because she was not happy working the streets?
She had come as a refugee from a northern community looking for better services, a better way, and she ended up slipping through the cracks. By 5:30 or 6:30, I had nothing that I could offer her. That is heartbreaking for an individual MP. All I could do was listen to her story and try to find whatever services existed, but no one seemed to respond on a Friday afternoon.
As we start moving forward in refastening the budget, I call upon the federal government to think about how our educated bureaucrats, who have bachelors’ degrees and masters’ degrees in urban design, social work, and finance, go about crafting the policy, how it actually impacts the people on the ground, how we ensure that we protect not those who do not need protecting but those who really need to be protected. This is the thing that pushes me to ask those bureaucrats to go in the trenches to talk to the people who need to be talked to.
I was proud to do town halls on homelessness recently, as well as on social housing. I went into a homeless shelter and asked homeless people what they want and need, to ensure that we get it for them.
With regard to the budget, I do not want to do a bunch of statistics because people forget stats, but we are contributing $11.2 billion over 11 years to a variety of initiatives to build, renew, and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing. I know we are trying to renew our federal-provincial-territorial partnership in housing. We are also trying to build a new national housing fund administered through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which is going to receive another $5 billion over 11 years. We are trying to target housing for people off reserve, and homelessness as well. However, these things are at the macro level, and I want to push our ministers to work for the people on the ground.
I will leave this with one final short quote from Pope Francis.
Each of us has a vision of good and evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good. Everyone has his or her own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight the evil as he conceives it. That would be enough to make the world a better place.
Robert Falcon Ouellette