Housing shortage tiptoes onto political agenda
Published On Wed May 12 2010. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
It would take a minor miracle for Parliament to pass a private member’s bill calling for “secure, adequate and affordable housing for Canadians.”
But faith, hope and the prospect of a miracle are what sustain the churches, unions, municipalities, community groups, social agencies and anti-poverty activists who have been fighting for a national housing strategy for 20 years.
The sponsor of Bill C-304, Vancouver New Democrat Libby Davies, has beaten the odds so far.
Last fall, her private member’s bill was one of a handful selected for parliamentary debate. It won approval in principle in the House of Commons and was referred to an all-party committee for detailed study. But it died on the order paper when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.
Davies revived it when the House reopened in March. The human resources committee (made up of six Conservatives, three Liberals, two members of the Bloc Québécois and one New Democrat) resumed its study. Three weeks later, it returned the bill to the House of Commons with a few amendments.
Then the Vancouver MP’s luck ran out. The government woke from its slumber and challenged one of the committee’s amendments. (It would have allowed Quebec to opt out and adopt a parallel housing strategy). The Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken, agreed the measure went beyond the committee’s jurisdiction.
That leaves Davies in a quandary. Without the opt-out provision, the Bloc Québécois won’t support the legislation. And without its 48 votes, her bill has little chance of becoming law.
But the five-term New Democrat isn’t admitting defeat. “The housing crisis is one of the core reasons I ran for Parliament,” she says. “It had fallen off the political agenda.”
She is now mounting a three-pronged effort to save her bill:
- She is attempting to delay the vote on her bill. She hopes to buy time by allowing other MPs with private member’s bills to move ahead of her on the order paper.
- She is encouraging individuals and organizations that believe affordable housing is a basic right to contact their MP. (Many of her supporters need no urging. Groups such as Campaign 2000, the Salvation Army and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities have already launched email blitzes.)
- And she approaching as many MPs as she can — urban Conservatives in particular — about the housing needs of their constituents.
Will it work?
It’s a long shot, but anything can happen in a minority Parliament.
The biggest risk is that the Conservatives will engineer a quick vote on Bill C-304. They tried last Wednesday but failed because too few MPs were in the House.
The longer-term danger is that Davies won’t be able to muster the votes she needs. But she does have a few bargaining chips. More than 50 groups have endorsed her bill. And they’re not all left-wing. They include the Conservative-friendly Evangelical Federation of Canada. She also has the support of four major social action groups in Quebec, which can put pressure on the Bloc.
And there is still a possibility — albeit remote — that the public will weigh in. Homelessness is no longer a big city issue. Virtually every municipality has an Out of the Cold program. No one feels as immune to misfortune as they did before the recession.
Canada needed a national housing strategy in 1990 when aspiring prime minister Paul Martin declared: “The housing crisis is growing at an alarming rate and the government sits there and does nothing.”
He could have acted, but didn’t. Harper could have acted, but hasn’t. The sole remaining hope is that Parliament will rise to the challenge with a rare act of leadership.
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