Transparency needed in fight to end homelessness

Federal housing strategy

Any resident in Kelowna-Lake Country is all too familiar with the increasing scale of chronic homelessness in our community and our country.

The source of Canada’s housing crisis varies widely, including increasing housing costs, sudden job loss, mental health and addiction challenges. The face of it is evident to everyone—increased burdens on public resources, small businesses and not-for-profits, more people living in shelters and tent cities and, unfortunately, increased suffering.

The federal government's solution, a 10-year, $78.5 billion National Housing Strategy, has recently come under fire from Karen Hogan, the non-partisan Auditor General of Canada, for missing its targets and lacking the data to demonstrate results.

The AGs office dug into the results of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Infrastructure Canada's $3.5 billion Reaching Home Program to curb homelessness in Canada, with a crushing report.

Reaching 64 communities around Canada with this program, the government set itself a target of curbing 50% of chronic homelessness by 2028. Yet, the lack of identifiable results does not demonstrate the government even knows how close it is to accomplishing that goal. In fact, recent reports in Kelowna state shelters are at capacity and there is an increase in homelessness.

The report stated the agencies responsible for these programs did not know whether their efforts improved housing outcomes for people experiencing homelessness and did not know whether homelessness had increased or decreased since 2019, as a result of billions spent.

The CMHC could not say, as a result of the $9 billion spent, who benefited from its initiatives because it did not measure changes in housing outcomes.

Its programs often housed vulnerable individuals and families in "affordable" rental units that ended up unaffordable for their income level. Worst of all, despite being designated as the lead for the National Housing Strategy and Reaching Home programs, the CMHC and Infrastructure Canada refused to take accountability for not addressing chronic homelessness, instead passing the buck to provinces, municipalities and not-for-profits.

Much of this dodging of blame likely stems from the AG identifying a wide gap in the data collection. The agencies responsible have produced no findings on homelessness since March 2020 and the data for 2019-2020 is contradictory, showing both an increase and decrease in homelessness.

Compounding this confusion is the admission they do not analyze any up-to-date national shelter-use data or properly share program results across departments. It will be impossible for us to find success in getting people off the streets if government departments silo their findings from each other while not correctly looking at the information that front-line shelters are providing them.

The report shows a lack of transparency, accountability, oversight, good governance and basic project and fiscal management on the part of the federal government. The results of years of photo ops and billions spent are clear. Housing prices have doubled since 2015, the dream of home ownership is only a dream for many and people are struggling to just afford to keep a roof over their head.

The government needs to provide a full account of its $78.5 billion housing strategy. I’ll be pressing the government on this important issue and will have more to report.

If you need assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out, at 250-470-5075 or at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Concerns about Ottawa's fall economic statement

No sign of 'robust' economy

Last week, we saw the federal finance minister table (the government’s) fall economic statement, effectively a “mini-budget” that provides us a snapshot of our economic forecast and the government's plans.

With Canada now facing 40-year high inflation, the statement was widely anticipated.

I am disappointed in the results, however, which ignored weeks of Conservative calls for immediate tax relief and a reining in of government spending.

Young adults, families, seniors and persons with disabilities often write to me about the difficulty of affording ever-increasing grocery, gas and heating costs. Labour shortages and supply chain issues across our economy still need to be addressed.

The government's proposals involve more inflationary stimulus, which will only drive-up costs further. Worse yet, the statement predicts a recession is now likely in 2023.

Independent government officers, like the Parliamentary Budget Officer, have also recently published their analyses of Canada’s economic situation.

I'll go through some of the biggest takeaways from my perspective when going through the PBO’s detailed report for what is estimated to come down the line economically over the next couple of years.

I'll focus on three areas—employment, federal debt and inflation.

First, the PBO estimates the unemployment rate will increase in 2023 to 5.8%, with a significant factor being people retiring. If the predicted recession hits next year at levels that some economists are projecting, the unemployment rate could certainly increase further and we'll see a move away from “help wanted” signs, to companies having to downsize in some sectors, while others will still struggle to get the skilled workers they need.

Second, the PBO lays out the estimated federal government revenue and debt levels and states, "despite the projected decline in the budgetary deficit; public debt charges are projected to more than double from their 2020-21 level (of $20.4 billion), reaching $47.6 billion in 2027-28 due to higher interest rates and the additional accumulation of federal debt."

As the finance minister talks about how the federal debt should be lower (though it is the highest ever in Canada), the PBO reports the public debt charges will actually be more than double. That means we are paying more for that debt.

A comparison is it is like doubling the interest you'd be charged on your monthly credit card bill. As you make payments, your bill total could slowly decrease, but every dollar you put in would be worth less as it will take much longer to pay the debt off, and you'll pay far more in total.

Third is our record high inflation. The PBO's estimates show federal government revenues increasing yearly until 2028. The estimated increase is more than $40 billion alone from 2022 to 2024.

We all know inflation has been as high as 8.1% this year, with food costs even higher, and the government's revenue increase is primarily due to higher inflation adding tax revenue. In addition, the government increases to payroll tax, excise tax and carbon tax all bring in more revenue. Those increased tax dollars to the government's coffers, based on inflation and tax increases, do not reflect a robust economy. That extra revenue is on the backs of seniors, families, young adults, small businesses and not from profits.

As we enter what is likely to be a turbulent 2023, I will continue to represent the residents of Kelowna-Lake Country by advocating for solutions that will preserve jobs and lower costs.

Meanwhile, with Veterans Week and Remembrance Day, I hope everyone in Kelowna-Lake Country will join me in taking a moment to recognize those who bravely served Canada in times of war, conflict, and peace. We also honour those who continue to serve our country today.

Kelowna City Park features the Field of Crosses display, and poppies were available for purchase around our community (leading up to Remembrance Day today) to help support local veterans and their families.

Lest we forget.

If you need assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out, at 250-470-5075 or at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Private member's bill to help deal with mental health, addiction issues

'End Revolving Door Act'

Ever since I was first elected to serve as an MP, I knew I wanted to use my position to help those suffering from mental health and addiction problems.

While federal legislation can only address federal jurisdiction, I was looking for opportunities to help those struggling with mental health and addiction issues, as well as issues involving with what some people frequently refer to as the "revolving door" in our criminal justice system.

While it took some time and research, I'm proud that this week the House of Commons debated my first Private Member's Bill, Bill C-283, the End the Revolving Door Act. It is scheduled to come up for debate again in December.

A 2015 study by Correctional Service Canada showed at admission to federal custody, 70% of men and 77% of women offenders had a substance use issue. Similarly, a review of the National Parole Board files revealed about 73% of the offenders who were returned to custody abused substances while on release and substance use contributed to the termination of their release.

The effects of the revolving door in our justice system for those with mental health and addiction issues are felt in communities across Canada.

In Kelowna-Lake Country, desperate people suffering from severe addictions and mental health issues are entering and exiting our justice system without the proper treatment they need. As a result, they return to our community, only to repeat the same cycle of behaviour that, for many, will see them re-entering the justice system and those same penitentiaries again and again and again.

The effects of this spread widely. Crime numbers show law enforcement spend a lot of its time focusing resources on those with mental health and addiction. Courts are backlogged with re-offender cases. Small businesses have to foot the bill for damages. People are injured. Families are torn apart. Lives are tragically lost.

There’s no single piece of legislation that will solve all the challenges facing those with mental health and/or addiction issues who enter the criminal justice system. However, experts who work to help those with addiction and work within the criminal justice system believe my legislation can offer an important tool to help reduce recidivism, address our mental health and addiction crisis, and improve public safety in our communities.

In that effort, if made law, the act would first empower the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada to designate all, or a part, of a facility as an addiction treatment facility. Such a facility could help focus the work of addiction professionals already hard at work within our federal prisons.

Second, this legislation would amend the Criminal Code of Canada to support a two-stream sentencing process. While both would have the same sentence time, for certain convicted individuals who demonstrate a pattern of problematic substance use, at the time of sentencing a judge could offer the choice to be sentenced directly to participate in a mental health assessment and addictions treatment inside a federal prison while they serve their sentence.

Through this sentencing process, offenders would still receive meaningful consequences for their actions while also receiving curative treatment, leading to a path of reducing the risk of reoffending, in other words, ending the revolving door.

I'm thrilled to have the support from so many, locally and across the country who are in favour of seeing this bill go forward. Convincing my colleagues across party lines in Parliament to support it will be the next challenge.

With a vote likely to be held in December, I'll continue to reach out to my Liberal, Bloc, NDP and Green colleagues to support this vital legislation, which could help improve Canada's complex mental health and addiction crisis, as well as help address crime in our communities.

If you need assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out, at 250-470-5075 or at [email protected]

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MP calls for a halt to all federal tax hikes

'Stop all tax increases'

It's important, as political leaders, that we make recommendations to deal with important issues, and this is why Conservatives put forward a motion in the House of Commons calling for the government to end all scheduled tax increases.

This motion, unfortunately, did not pass.

The reason I supported the motion is clear—it was precisely what many of you here in Kelowna-Lake Country have been telling me, life is becoming more unaffordable and families just can't absorb any more cost-of-living increases.

I've sent out many surveys this year to get feedback on how people are coping with the rising cost of living. I'm not surprised that, with 40-year high inflation, thousands of you responded. While some households have been able to weather rising prices, most wrote of the heartbreaking sacrifices they were forced to make to feed their children, pay their heating bills or cancel trips to see extended family.

I was particularly taken aback by the hopelessness of many young people who responded or reached out to me over the summer. Young workers tell me of their desperation when they see the value of their paycheques decline with no hope of ever owning a home. Seniors tell me how being on a fixed income (they are) seeing their savings depleted just to keep up with basic necessities. Entrepreneurs tell me they struggle to stay afloat with increasing costs and their rising debt.

Tax relief would provide relief to everyone here in Kelowna-Lake Country, as well as throw a lifeline to our local small businesses when they most need it.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, nationwide, 54% of businesses still report below-normal revenues and about 62% of small businesses still carry debt from the pandemic. This is in addition to the effects of inflation, chronic labour shortages and lingering supply chain issues.

Costs like these are already proving unmanageable for local entrepreneurs. To subject them to new taxes, I believe, is nothing short of cold-hearted.

What are the main taxes going up soon? They are payroll tax, the excise tax, and the carbon tax.

First, payroll tax increases will increase employers' costs while hitting workers' paycheques. Some argue that these costs are not taxes, but any government-mandated charge that carries penalties for not paying represents a tax on the bottom line of small businesses.

Even the prime minister has called these types of premium increases payroll taxes, and the government's website refers to them as such.

Second, the upcoming excise tax increases at our local wineries, cideries, distilleries and breweries will affect these producers and trickle down to restaurants, retailers and, ultimately, consumers. The excise tax is also an escalator tax, a fancy bureaucratic word for "automatic," meaning it increases without coming to Parliament. Its rate is also tied to inflation, meaning it will be a higher increase than ever.

Restaurants Canada said the government's introduction of the automatic escalator in 2017 "made an already bad situation worse" for restaurants, with price increases stemming from the commercial costs of ordering wine, beer, and spirits (and this was before current inflation numbers).

Finally, is the carbon tax. The government said it would cap it at $50 a tonne, but is now planning to force British Columbia to bring it tax up to $150 a tonne. This is more than triple what was initially promised and at a rate that small businesses still disproportionately pay without the appropriate rebates to offset it.

These increases will only make the cost of fuel, food, and all goods shipped anywhere more expensive for everyone.

These new tax hikes, if not reversed, will further add to inflation, reduce paychecks, hit the bottom lines of small businesses, and increase the cost of goods.

That is why Conservatives are calling to stop all tax increases.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More In Your Service articles

About the Author

Tracy Gray, Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is her party's critic for Employment, Future Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

She is a member of the national caucus committee’s credit union caucus, wine caucus, and aviation caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, worked for 27 years in the B.C. beverage industry.

She founded and owned Discover Wines VQA Wine Stores, which included the No. 1 wine store in B.C. for 13 years. She has been involved in small businesses in different sectors — financing, importing, oil and gas services and a technology start-up — and is among the “100 New Woman Pioneers in B.C."

Gray was a Kelowna city councillor for the 2014 term, sat on the Passenger Transportation Board from 2010-2012 and was elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the boards of the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library and was chairwoman of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She volunteers extensively in the community and welcomes connecting with residents.

She can be reached at 250-470-5075, and [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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