Lorraine speaks to putting people first in Budget 2013
MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
I am quite pleased to be able to stand again and speak to the Budget that is before us in this House of Assembly. Of course, right now we are speaking to the second part of our debate, which is the non-confidence motion. We finished the sub-amendment that was put forward by the Leader of the Official Opposition one speaker ago. Now, so people watching us will know what is happening, we are into the non-confidence motion. Each of us, once again, gets a chance to speak to the Budget.
What I would like to do today, Mr. Speaker, and what I am going to do today is concentrate somewhat on my district. The first time I spoke to the Budget, I spoke to the larger picture of the Budget. I will get a third moment to speak before the debate is over and I am going to speak to that larger picture again, especially in my role as leader of our party.
Today, I want to focus somewhat on my district, on people in my district, on things that I hear from people in my district, and bring those issues here to the House of Assembly. Of course, these are the people who voted for me. These are the people who put their faith in me. I want them to know that I am listening to them and that I do have their thoughts here with me. I do have their interests in mind and I want to bring those interests here to the House.
I am particularly going to refer to things that I heard from a town hall in my district just a couple of weeks ago, a town hall that was well attended and really had quite a variety of people at it, Mr. Speaker. We had people from mixed economic background. We had people in the room from a mixed background in terms of ability. We had new Canadians in the room as well. We had quite a variety of people. What it represents, of course, is the makeup of my district.
It is a very interesting district. It is a district that has everything from an economic perspective in it, everything from people who are millionaires right through to people who are Income Support. I guess a lot of the districts are like that; mine certainly is.
One of the things that strikes me about my district, Mr. Speaker, and it certainly came out in the town hall, was how people are aware of the issues. I was struck at the town hall by the fact that people who themselves were not comfortable, that people who themselves were not in need or were not wanting, that they, Mr. Speaker, could come to that meeting and speak about the concerns that they have-
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.
MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
What I was talking about was the fact that people who came to the town hall did not come necessarily to represent their own needs but came to speak, to listen and to reflect what they see in the district, their concerns, their concern for people who do not have adequate housing. While they themselves, a lot of the people who spoke, they themselves had adequate housing they see in the district people who are in need and they came and wanted to talk about that.
I want to talk about that a bit, Mr. Speaker. It is extremely moving when you go into a room and see people who do not have to be there standing up and being concerned about their neighbours. I had people who were at that town hall who wanted to talk about the fact that they themselves help others who do not have good housing. There was a student at the town hall, and he talked about the fact that he was lucky that he was from outside of St. John’s but his parents owned property in the city and he was lucky because he was able to stay in an apartment in a house that was owned by his parents. They do not live here but he was able to stay there. He talked about having to give food to fellow students who could not afford to feed themselves and having to sometimes offer a couch for students to sleep on because they cannot find affordable housing. His concern for his fellow students, people his own age and as he put it they just cannot afford to pay their tuition, to feed themselves and to also put a roof over their heads. He was happy as another student to help them but his message was this should not be the way that it is, they should not be there in the university or at the College of the North Atlantic unable to take care of themselves. Where is the housing? Where are the supports for students? That was his message and he was reflecting people who live in my district.
Somebody else who spoke, Mr. Speaker, there were quite a number of people who spoke that night, somebody else talked about his concern that here in the Province right now, while things are going well, that the share is not happening equally, that people are not getting a fair share in the Province right now. His concern was that while he was doing okay, he was sixty-one, he gave his age, he has a job and he was doing okay, he was looking around him and seeing people who were not doing okay. What he wanted me to know was that this really upsets him, this bothers him. This is the reality of my district.
I had somebody else who stood, Mr. Speaker, and again, this person came from the university centre, teaches at the university, certainly is comfortable and has a job, even though it is not a permanent job, I think, and has skills and the ability to get other jobs; again, talked about the concern for people in the district. This person spoke in particular about our arts community and in my district of course I have a very large arts community. This person talked about how the government needs to be looking at all of our resources and when we talk about our natural resources we should not only be thinking about oil and gas, mining and forestry, that we should also be thinking about the people. One of the groups of people this person mentioned was our thriving arts community and how investment in arts and investment in the people who are in the arts community is just as an important investment as investment in oil or investment in energy, or investment in forestry.
Again, I bring that message here to the government. I bring that message to my colleagues here in this House that this person was saying, and I absolutely believe it, that when we put money into people that is just as important an investment as putting money into the development of any other natural resource that people are a natural resource. When we are putting that money into education of people, when we are putting that money into people becoming more skilled in their trade, whether that trade is a trade that involves welding, for example, or whether their trade is in the arts community, because that is a trade, in the days of apprenticeships artists apprenticed.
In the days in England where apprenticeships were so important, actors apprenticed, artists of various kinds apprenticed. So, putting money, investing money into people who are then going to go out and not just entertain us or help us see the beauty of life, but also put more money into our economy, that is an investment that is important and that was an issue that came up in my town hall, something that was presented by one of the speakers a the town hall.
One of the things that really struck me was we had some people at the town hall who are retired, retired teachers, some of them and retired from other professions as well and they volunteer in some of the centres in my district. In my district there are a number of places, for the most part run by religious groups where they try to meet the needs of people who are living in bordering houses, people who do not have enough money to feed themselves well and people who along with that are also lonely, people who spend a lot of time on the street because they really do not have a comfortable home to go in to.
Some of the places, one is Gathering Place, for example on Military Road. I know that St. Thomas’s church down at the very east end of Military Road does have some meals for people and I know that Gower Street United Church also does that. Some of these people came to my town hall; they are all in my district. As I said I have everything in my district from people who are millionaires right through to people who need the services that these churches offer.
One of the volunteers who came was so upset about during this past winter having come across five people who were sleeping and basically living under a bridge. They were men and women, one woman I think and four men but they would huddle together this winter and sleep under a bridge because they had no other place to sleep. They would go to whatever food is available in the downtown to the different food banks, to the lunches that are served, to the kitchens that are available. We have quite a number in downtown now. Twenty years ago that did not exist in St. John’s, now I can name – I named some of them already, I know George Street United Church also feeds people. The Salvation Army feeds people. All of our downtown, we are the way large cities are now, we have these kitchens, these soup kitchens all over the place in the downtown and quite a number are in my district. What I am doing today is, I think, letting maybe some of my colleagues across the way know something that they may not know. They may not be aware of the fact of how many soup kitchens feeding people regularly are here in the downtown. The building that was the school I went to, that is what happens in that building now, where Gathering Place is. The volunteer who came and who spoke was somebody we actually volunteers at Gathering Place and she talked about these people living under the bridge. She talked about how one night when she met the women she said to her, I am going to pay for you to go to a hotel tonight just so you can get a shower and freshen up. I want you to have a nice meal. That is only a Band-Aid and this person knew that that was only a Band-Aid. She said: what are we doing for people?
There was another story that was brought to me that night too, Mr. Speaker, the story of somebody who overnight no longer had a place to live in the city, through no fault of his own. He was over sixty-five. He went around to all the different places that offer short-term accommodation, but he could not get that accommodation because they do not take people over sixty-five. This person who was telling that story was so concerned about the fact that she herself was over sixty-five and she said, what makes sixty-five a magic age that if we are in need there is nobody that is going to take care of us anymore. If somebody is in need and overnight could be thrown out on the street and not be able to find a place to stay because he was over sixty-five. That issue was brought.
One of the things that was said by the person who was the volunteer from Gathering Place, she was so upset that we are not a Province, as she put it, we are not a have Province for the poor in our city. We are not there for the poor. The first man who spoke that night said the same thing, we are not taking care of people; people are not getting a fair share.
That is what we have a responsibility to do, Mr. Speaker, we have a responsibility to make sure that programs are in place so that if people, whether permanently or temporarily, are in such dire straits that in actual fact we can stop that from happening, that people not be in dire straits.
One of the things that governments have a habit of doing is expecting the not-for-profit sector, expecting volunteers, to pick up the slack when the system does not work for people and that has been our history; that has been the history of North America, picking up the slack when government is not doing what it should be doing.
What we need, and it came out very clearly the night of my town hall, Mr. Speaker, it was addressed a number of times, was the need for adequate housing. I know from the travelling I have done around the Province that need for people in the larger centres is not just here in St. John’s.
We have people couch surfing and living on the street. It does not mean they are there every night, but we have that happening in Corner Brook. We have that happening in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. We have that happening in Labrador City. It is happening everywhere in the Province where we have larger centres.
The government does not seem to be taking it for granted the that – this is what? I am in my seventh year now in this House of Assembly and I know that I, and since I have had a caucus with me, my caucus, we have been talking about the need for accessible housing, housing that is affordable, the need for a housing plan, and the need to make sure that everybody has the ability to have a roof over their head, Mr. Speaker.
Once again, we have a Budget that does not recognize that issue. It does not recognize that issue at all. Newfoundland and Labrador Housing is doing what it can do with the money that is given to it, but they can only work with the money that is given to it. This government has to have a plan. We need so much more social housing. We need so much more housing that will ensure that people can afford to have a roof over their head. It should not depend only on not-for-profit groups and volunteer groups accessing programs and making it happen with government’s help.
We need more new money put into housing, Mr. Speaker. Of all the issues that came out the night of my town hall, that was probably the one that was the loudest, the concern that people do not have enough money and cannot afford to pay for the rent that is there.
One of the women who spoke who lives in the downtown, I know exactly where she lives, spoke about her real concerns. She herself has been able to improve her life. She now does have a very nice place where she lives and she volunteers with Stella’s Circle. She does not have a lot, but she considers herself so much better off than those who cannot even afford the kind of small apartment she has herself.
The concerns she brought forward, Mr. Speaker, for example, the fact that we do have slum landlords in this city and we do not really have regulations to get at slum landlords; the fact that our rents have gone up, not just here but in all the centres I have mentioned already, that rents have gone up astronomically and that is why people cannot afford to live in an apartment or even a boarding house that people are on the street because of the astronomical rents.
She was just so concerned about illiteracy among the people that she meets on a regular basis. She was concerned about the fact how they are cut off because they cannot even afford a cell phone because cell phones are so expensive, yet we do not have regulations around that.
She talked about the fact, and I can hear her now, that the cost of food is going up. The cost of rent is going up. Everything in the City is going up, but if you are on income support that is not going up and if you are on minimum wage that is not going up. Yes, the government made some steps a few years ago and brought the minimum wage up to $10, but that was not even adequate when it happened and there is no talk by this government at this moment of changing that. Yet, we know how much the cost of living has gone up in the Province in general, but particularly, here in St. John’s. It has gone up in the other centres also, like in Corner Brook and like in Labrador City.
Mr. Speaker, what I am doing here today is bringing forward the reality of people who live in my district. I am doing it because I do not think we are in touch with that reality here in this room very often in the way decisions are made.
One man stood, and he listed it all off, he said this is what we need: we need accessible dental care, we need accessible home care, universal home care, we need universal pharmacare, we need full-time kindergarten, and we need accessible housing - I did not make this up, this was his list - we need transportation for everybody, we need assistant devices programs, and we need adequate mental health care. Those are the things that people need and this government has got start using its money and doing some planning so that those needs get taken care of, so that people come first in this Province, that we understand –
AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).
MS MICHAEL: Yes, people do need and that is what we have got to learn, people do need and we have to meet their needs. I am sick and tired of being made fun of in this House when we talk about the needs of people.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!