Stephen Harper government lies to world on housing

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      The federal government will have to answer to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for its failure to keep its promises to the international community around housing.

      Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Toronto-based Wellesley Institute, told the Georgia Straight by phone that in 2009 Canada made several pledges to the Universal Periodic Review process. This was created by the UN in 2006 to hold countries accountable for their human-rights records by forcing them to answer to questions from other countries.

      In April 2013, Canada is scheduled to undergo scrutiny of its performance since the last review.

      “[Canada’s] specific commitment was we recognize more needs to be done, we promise we’ll work with the provinces and territories, and we’ll come up with a strategy,” Wellesley said. “They’ve absolutely completely failed in that regard of having a strategy.”

      The Wellesley Institute filed a five-page document with the Universal Periodic Review citing a litany of Canadian cutbacks to housing programs. It states that in 2009 the federal government announced $2.1 billion in new funding for affordable housing over a two-year period, plus another $5.7 billion for homeowners in middle- and upper-income brackets.

      By 2011, these short-term measures were terminated, and there was a 39 percent reduction in affordable-housing funding compared with the previous year.

      “Since most federal dollars were matched by provinces, territories, municipalities, non-profit and private housing organizations, the combined loss added up to more than $3.5 billion in one year,” the institute declares in the document. “Included in the federal cuts were: 97% cut in Affordable Housing Initiative (new affordable homes) from $452 million to $16 million; 94% cut in national low-income housing repair program from $674 to $37 million; 27% cut in on-reserve Aboriginal housing from $215 to $156 million; and, 5% cut in assisted housing from $1.7 to $1.6 billion.”

      In addition, the institute revealed that a federal Crown corporation, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, will cut the number of households receiving assistance under federal programs by almost 100,000, or 16 percent, between 2008 and 2016. And CMHC’s expenditures on the Affordable Housing Initiative will fall from $582 million to $0 between 2010 and 2015.

      In 1992, the year before Ottawa cancelled funding for new affordable housing, various levels of government contributed 0.57 percent of the gross domestic product to housing, according to the institute. Since then, there has been a “massive erosion in public housing spending and in legislated housing protection”.

      “Fifteen years later, Canada’s GDP had doubled, but housing spending had shrunk to 0.29% of GDP,” the institute states in its submission.

      Shapcott said that the international community doesn’t expect Canada to solve the housing problems of every citizen, but that it does expect things to improve. In 2009, the then–UN special rapporteur on housing, Miloon Kothari, reported that Canada was violating this notion of realizing progressive gains, and that things were in fact getting worse.

      According to Shapcott, representatives of other countries have told him they’re “shocked” that Canada appears to be falling behind. They also can’t understand why Canada, unlike other industrialized countries such as the United States and Great Britain, has no national housing strategy in place to address this.

      “One of the key things we want to say is not only is Canada failing to meet its obligations, but it’s also failing to meet its commitments it made last time around in 2009, when it was under the Universal Periodic Review,” Shapcott said.

      The institute ends its submission with several recommendations to the Canadian government, including a call to “incorporate the international right to housing into domestic law” and to “immediately commit to renew and enhance the federal housing and homelessness programs that are due to expire in fiscal 2013”.

      “Housing insecurity is widespread and homelessness is on the rise,” the institute states. “The impact is measured in poor health and premature mortality of the growing number of precariously-housed Canadians.”

      Michael Shapcott will give a free public lecture on Canada’s housing policies and international commitments at 2 p.m. on Tuesday (November 20) at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in SFU Woodward’s.

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      Esteban Casagrande

      Nov 15, 2012 at 9:29am

      Stephen Harper and his Neohacks don't give a flying beaver-tail about social housing as on their balance sheets it is considered an expense and not income to the government.
      The only way to change he system is to vote out the present government.
      Still another two and a half years before we can make that change.


      Nov 15, 2012 at 9:38am

      Canada does not have a national housing strategy because it is ultra vires the federal government's powers to do that sort of thing. Housing and welfare are provincial issues. You might as well ask why Canada has no standard federal welfare system. It is because our way of Government gives that responsibility to the provinces. The federal government can always do stuff, but it needn't, it surely needn't merely to placace koolaid drinking internationalists.

      Michele Baillie

      Nov 15, 2012 at 10:02am

      Canada is the only G8 country that doesn't have a housing program- they leave everybody to fend for themselves. Gordon Campbell's dislike for middle class people is well known; The Federal Conservative's don't look to be any different


      Nov 15, 2012 at 12:00pm

      The UN can kiss my you know what. The so called "Human Rights Commission" is led by a bunch of despot countries that don't know the meaning of the word. And anyone that would suggest that Canada is in violation of this is as delusional as the UN. I don't expect this to hit the blog page but I hope whoever reads it realizes what a pile of BS this article is and should really have their fucking head examined for publishing it. In short take your socialist crap and shove it up your ass. This country is turning into a population of self-entitled takers. God help us.


      Nov 15, 2012 at 12:21pm

      Please, Canada - let us free ourselves of the oppressive regime that is the Harper Conservatives. Vote this horrible government out of office. Encourage as many folks as you can to vote come the next election.

      Rick Manson

      Nov 15, 2012 at 1:22pm

      Canada's affordable housing programs are moving backwards. Please vote out the Conservative morons at the earliest available opportunity.

      I am getting tired of reading BS from people like Staunch. If you think we're better off without the good work of the Straight journalists, maybe you should "have your fucking head examined", or go play outside, watch some more TV, or drink more Conservative Koolaid. But can you please stop whining? Your inability to understand the issue at hand is palpable. Thank you.


      Nov 15, 2012 at 1:32pm


      An oppressive regime is one that violates rights, such as the right to property. It's cuckoo-bananas to suggest that lack of a socialist wealth redistro scheme, couched in the language of "housing" is somehow oppressive.

      Oppression is when wealthy industrialists and other Prime Movers are shaken-down by mobs of angry trade-union taxmen and polis officers, to pay to house people who don't do a lick of work for themselves.

      adam gee

      Nov 15, 2012 at 1:40pm

      Please let them punish Harper by shaving off his ridiculous hair helmet and fixing the clueless look on his face.


      Nov 15, 2012 at 3:01pm

      The Harper Gov't answer is to receive kick backs from the $13,000,000,000 he has earmarked to construct new prisons. Since Canada has a declining crime rate he will undoubtedly pass new laws about being homeless or impoverished to fill the spaces.

      Anonymous because I have to be

      Nov 15, 2012 at 3:12pm

      I hear the phrase "redistribution of wealth" tossed around by right-wing mantra-chanters who are too stupid to realize that it's been happening for decades, but in the other direction. Wealth has been steadily taken from the lower and middle-class and put directly into the pockets of the wealthy in the form of tax breaks/shelters, and corporate subsidies.

      If it keeps going unabated - if the "rich" are allowed to keep getting more obscenely rich on the backs of the workerts, while those same workers have to fight for survival, there WILL be a "let them eat cake" moment, and we all remember what happened to Marie Antoinette...