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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Canada needs a national housing strategy; Support Bill C-304

 Canada needs a national housing strategy; Support Bill C-304

"I'll never forget the small, remote communities I visited where I saw people in jail, only because they were homeless and on the street during brutal winter nights." - Libby Davies, Member of Parliament, Vancouver East
Ottawa (7 Mar. 2011) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has a strong and proud history of campaigning on important equality and human rights issues. So, I am very proud that the National Union has committed its support to help ensure that my private member’s Bill C-304, An act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, is passed in the House of Commons. I like to call it, a Housing Bill of Rights.
Homelessness is an issue in Canada because the federal government has mostly abandoned its role in the provision of housing. Even the UN through its special Rapporteur on Housing has singled out Canada for its abysmal performance and lack of action.
It didn't used to be like this.
Prior to 1995, Canada had very good housing programs along with an affordable housing supply. We had not-for-profit programs which were accessible and funded right across the country. Communities, especially urban centres, provided good zoning and land to help develop social housing.
All of that changed in 1995, when Finance Minister Paul Martin eliminated federal funding for housing programs in the name of fighting the deficit. Ever since, we have faced a deteriorating situation of growing homelessness and housing insecurity in communities across the country.
Before developing my "Housing Bill of Rights", I traveled the country twice in the last decade to get first-hand knowledge of the state of the housing crisis. While I was fairly familiar with the issues, what I saw was shocking.
I'll never forget the small, remote communities where I saw people in jail only because they were homeless and on the street during brutal winter nights. I talked with families whose kids were removed, not because they were bad parents, but because they lived in terrible housing without heat. I walked with advocates like Cathy Crowe, from the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, who worked (and are still working) to find shelter for people and raise awareness and action on this "human-made" disaster. They have attended too many Coroner's Inquests where the "crime" and cause of death was homelessness.
All the while in Ottawa, there was a culture of denial; it’s an isolated, local problem not a national crisis. Thanks to growing pressure from groups like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and many NGOs, the government was finally forced to act. It appointed Claudette Bradshaw, an MP from New Brunswick, as Minister for Homelessness. But it didn’t last. In 2004, the government of Paul Martin abolished the position.
Claudette did some good work but homelessness and lack of housing are often defined as a "social problem", focusing on people who are hard to house and have mental health issues. While pieces of the problem, it is primarily the failure of public policy to produce a supply of affordable housing that has created the crisis.
I mention this because it's so easy (and false) to blame the victims and make out that it’s so hard to fix this "complex social issue". It isn't! It’s a straight forward matter of public policy and political commitment to follow-through: Is affordable housing a priority or not? Does the federal government believe it has a role to play or is it to be left to the marketplace to sort out? The marketplace will fail. Can we afford to not deal with this question?
So, where are we at today? Well, about 1.3 million Canadians households are considered to be in core need of housing. And despite short term programs, the problem continues to grow without a long-term, comprehensive, and adequately funded national affordable housing program on the horizon.
That is why I drafted Bill C-304.
The Bill lays out the fundamentals of what needs to be done. Briefly, the Bill brings all levels of government, Aboriginal communities and civil society together to develop a comprehensive national housing strategy. Respecting jurisdiction over delivery of programs, Bill C-304 provides a framework for all stakeholders to work together to set timelines, targets and develop review mechanisms to enable Canada to meet its existing obligations.
Bill C-304 is now approaching a critical stage. It has passed all the hurdles in Parliament. Shortly, it will be voted on at the third and final reading. All three opposition parties (Liberal, BQ, and NDP) support this Bill.
Despite the incredible and growing support for this Bill, there's more to be done. We need to ensure that the Bill has enough votes to pass into law. We need to make sure that every MP who supports this Bill or is thinking of supporting this bill votes in favour of it.
I’m counting on help of NUPGE activists to get Bill C-304 approved by Parliament. Please go to NUPGE’s web page to learn more and to find out what you can do to help ensure all Canadians have access to secure, adequate and affordable housing.
Together, we can do this.
Thank you so much.
Libby Davies has been the New Democrat Member of Parliament for East Vancouver since 1997. She is the NDP Deputy Leader, House Leader, and the critic for Housing and Homelessness and Drug Reform Policy and Solicitation Laws.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
 More information:
Support Bill C-304: A national housing strategy

Abbotsford NDP Candidate David Murray with Ed Broadbent at Halifax convention
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