Am Johal: Stephen Harper's Conservatives continue to stand in the way of a national housing program

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      Canada is the closest it has ever been to re-establishing a national housing program since it was cut 17 years ago.

      Recently, with a razor-thin vote of 141 in favour and 132 against, Bill C-304, a bill to support a national housing program, passed through the House of Commons.

      It will now go to committee for final amendments and, hopefully, for a final vote before the mid-December break. There is a small possibility that it won’t get voted on until late January or early February.

      Housing activists are crossing their fingers that a spring election call won’t kill the legislation before it has a chance to pass.

      Voting against the bill was the vast majority of the Conservative caucus, including Housing Minister Diane Finley and every Conservative member of Parliament in B.C.

      With over 15,000 homeless people in British Columbia, it’s a crying shame that we have such pathetic representation for our province in Ottawa.

      Even Conservative senator Hugh Segal has called for a national housing program. Brian Mulroney even supported a national housing program when he was prime minister. But, unfortunately, the Conservative caucus from B.C.—including James Moore, Stockwell Day, Dona Cadman, Andrew Saxton, and John Cummins—don’t think a national housing program is a priority.

      The NDP, Liberals, and Bloc Quebecois all supported the bill.

      This video ridicules Stephen Harper's opposition to a national housing strategy.

      The research paints a very clear picture on what needs to be done. Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari articulated a blueprint for national standards in his 2008 report on Canada.

      A 2009 report by the Canadian Senate cowritten by Segal and Liberal Senator Art Eggleton articulated more national policy interventions, including support for a national housing program.

      The Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness, Housing and Health also argues that the development of affordable housing and support services are essential to eliminating homelessness across the country.

      Unfortunately, the Conservative government is continuing on with its obsession of limited government that it has turned in to some kind of fetishized obsession.

      Ryan Sparrow, a spokesperson for Finley, recently told the Globe and Mail: “Housing is a provincial jurisdiction. Housing issues differ across [the] country, and provincial governments and municipal governments are best able to identify and implement effective solutions. Vulnerable Canadians don’t need more bureaucracy and talk.”

      If the minister responsible for housing really feels that way, she should resign. There are 400,000 vulnerably housed Canadian across the country.

      Homelessness and affordability issues don’t recognize provincial boundaries. We wouldn’t have the crisis we have today if the federal government hadn’t gotten out of affordable housing in the first place. Now, the minister is saying it’s a provincial jurisdiction.

      We went down this road 10 years ago when B.C. and Quebec were the only provinces still building social housing. If the federal government had continued to be a partner, we would have built far more units of social housing in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics.

      In late October, Pivot Legal Society helped organize a Canada Day of Action as part of its Red Tent Campaign, in which cities across the countries joined in to call for a national housing program. With or without the Conservative government, Canadians will do whatever it takes to see this legislation passed.

      One more message to Stephen Harper and the Conservative caucus: Canadians across the country will be watching how you vote on Bill C-304 and will take that in to consideration when the next federal election is called.

      Am Johal is chair of the Impact on Communities Coalition.



      Ray I

      Nov 27, 2010 at 4:36pm

      "Brian Mulroney even supported a national housing program when he was prime minister." Obviously ever decision Mulroney made was not as economically sound as bringing in the Free Trade Agreement.

      A Nationalist housing strategy? Are you kidding me? Centrally planned housing? What next? Gulags and price controls? Are we in the USSR?

      Scott Clark

      Nov 28, 2010 at 10:41am

      Housing is simply a human right.

      It was the federal "liberals" who devolved housing to the provinces all under the Canadian Health and Social Transfer of 1996. This devolution process like many that followed to the cities was simply off loading responsibility without the resources to provide such basic services and programs.

      Canada is the only G8 nation without a national housing strategy, Harper has $9 billion for new prisons , $ 16 billion for fighter jets, $5 billion for tanks, $1 billion for recent G8 meeting in Toronto and lets not forget the $18 billion and rising cost for our participation in Afghanistan.
      Of course most of this could not happen without the federal 'liberals" support.
      Those prisons will be filled with Aboriginal, mental health and impoverished peoples.

      Even if this Housing Bill gets passed, I have no confidence in the Senate to support it.

      I wonder if all those Canadians who partied for two weeks celebrating being Canadian during the Winter Olympics support this kind of Canada?

      Catherine Soplet

      Nov 28, 2010 at 5:20pm

      At Toronto mayorlty panel hosted by Canadian Federation for Independent Business, I asked organizers and candidates if affordable housing would be an infrastructure requirement for SME's to prosper...

      they agreed that employees proximate to business, with more disposable income to consume the goods and services of SME's would be a good thing....

      and a way for taxes to indirectly reinvest for a prosperous economy

      Steve Y

      Nov 29, 2010 at 5:13pm

      A national housing strategy is completely insane. A national housing strategy looks like the Olympics village X 10,000, in other words, completely bankrupting our country.

      A Foot in the Door

      Nov 29, 2010 at 5:38pm

      A National Housing Strategy will not bankrupt the rich country of Canada but the social costs of leaving people to die on the streets is certainly costly as the homeless are said to lose as much as 40% of their lives. Its the life style with little treatment as even war vets are out in the cold how can the country not get involved?


      Nov 30, 2010 at 12:45pm

      And who is going to pay for this? We can't afford this. If housing is a human right, where do we draw the line? I guess I don't have to work for anything because everything I need is a human right which can be provided to me by the suckers who work for a living. Besides, BC doesn't get real winters anyway.


      Nov 30, 2010 at 5:04pm

      We once had a wonderful program for co-operative housing in Canada. it worked but was tinkered to death by politicians. If this were resurected in its original form it would go a long way to providing affordable housing to those who need it. The program provided for mixed income housing and worked but then the banks wanted a piece of the action and lending was given over to them when interest rates were 19%; then it was devolved to the provinces in 1996 with a new funding formula which was sure to fail given it was based on rising inflation.
      If we do not provide affordable housing we will send several generations to living in inadequate housing and the streets. This alone will have an enormous cost. If people do not have adequate, secure, affordable housing nothing else can begin. The mentally ill won't be able to recover; people who have addiction issues will come out of a program and head straight back to the streets. Children living in substandard housing will not do well in school nor will they reach their potential. The elderly will make more visits to the hospital and spend more time there.
      It doesn't matter who pays for it, it needs to be paid for or else the other costs will be much higher. Maybe it was about time they started raising the taxes on oil and gas, which is leaving this country at an alarming rate. It isn't as if tother countries will stop buying it.
      We don't need large complexes which bring a whole set of problems, we need small complexes, i.e. townhomes in all areas of a city or town with ten to twenty units. Government funding could be provided to Habitat for Humanity, etc.
      People need to realize if they loose their jobs, most of them are about 3 months away from being on the street themselves.