Last Monday was Labour Day, a time to reflect on the contributions of workers and celebrate the advances that organized labour has achieved to make our lives truly livable—the weekend, the eight-hour work day, workers’ compensation, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave and more.
My party, the NDP, has always fought alongside workers for respect, fair wages and safe workplaces. In the past, the NDP voted against Conservative bills put forward by the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper that made it more difficult to unionize and more difficult for unions to operate, bills that were fortunately repealed in the next parliament.
The NDP tabled legislation that would protect workers’ pensions after company bankruptcy. And in this parliament, the NDP finally managed to force the (current) government to protect the right of workers to withdraw their labour in strikes by making it illegal for companies to use replacement workers.
But now the biggest problem in making workers lives more livable is outside the realm of wages and workplaces—it’s the housing crisis that has made it very difficult for most people to find rental accommodation, let alone dream of one day owning a home. And that crisis also affects companies that struggle to attract workers in order to expand or even maintain their business.
This crisis has its roots in the 1990s when the Liberal government of the day abandoned supports for affordable housing. Previously, federal governments put considerable effort and funding into building affordable housing, through the construction of rental housing units, co-ops and modest single-family homes. Post-war housing projects made it possible for veterans and their families to settle down to create the boom economies of the 1950s and 1960s. I grew up in one of those houses on a Veterans Land Act subdivision just outside Penticton.
Construction of truly affordable homes continued until the government of former prime minister Jean Chretien stopped that funding. The subsequent Harper government continued to neglect the housing crisis, creating a shortage of more than a 500,000 affordable housing units today.
On top of this growing deficit in affordable housing construction, the real estate market has changed considerably in the last 20 years. More and more homes are now being bought by real estate investment trusts—in other words they are not being purchased by homeowners, but by corporations looking for profit. This trend has been responsible for a lot of the dramatic increases in house prices we’ve seen in recent years. Prices are so high now, first-time buyers are being shut out of the market as they must compete with wealthy investors and companies with deep pockets. It shouldn’t be that way.
So, what can we do to fix this? We must urgently renew federally funded programs that will actually build homes Canadians can truly afford.
Just getting out of the way of developers and letting them build these homes wherever and however they want—as the Conservatives suggest—will do very little to help.
The federal government has the land, the money and the power. It needs to get back in the game of building housing, not selling off federal land as (Conservative Leader Pierre) Poilievre has proposed.
I recently talked to a city planner in the Okanagan who said, “We are building more housing units every day than we ever have done, and every day we have fewer affordable houses.”
One of the government’s new programs helped fund rental housing projects that provided a portion of the buildings for affordable units. Unfortunately, it only demanded 20 percent of those projects be affordable, and its definition of affordable was rents of $2,000 per month in our local markets.
Under (the terms of) our confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals, the NDP has managed to change this so projects getting this federal funding would be 40 percent affordable and that means rents averaging $1,100 per month. That will really make a difference.
The NDP is also calling for the creation of an affordable housing acquisition fund that would support community housing providers in acquiring rental buildings that go on the market, to preserve and improve affordability permanently.
The NDP has also proposed removing the federal portion of GST and HST on the development of new affordable homes and setting aside federal land to build rental housing or homes for first-time homebuyers.
We need a housing market that works for workers, for families, for seniors, for students and for people living with disabilities. What we do not need is more polices that only work for ultra-rich investors.
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.