Affordable housing, universal access to clean water among topics addressed during NDP town hall

·6 min read

The difficulties of finding affordable housing in Canada have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and it has now reached a national crisis level according to federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

This week Singh took part in a virtual town hall on video conferencing platform Zoom which was hosted by Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, and also included Mushkegowuk-James Bay MPP Guy Bourgoin, as well as Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson.

“We are in the midst of one of the darkest moments in Canadian history with this third wave,” Angus told the 50 or so virtual attendees.

“We know people have a lot of questions. We came here tonight to offer an opportunity to ask questions and get answers,”

The meeting lasted approximately 60 minutes, and was intended to give people in the Northeast a chance to ask about how various levels of government are navigating one of the most challenging eras in the nation's history.

Two of the more discussed topics were access to safe drinking water and affordable housing.

With ongoing boil water advisories in more than 100 communities across the country, Angus said the federal government's “blanket approach” just isn't working, and that each community needs to be looked at independently.

“For example Attawapiskat, they're getting their water from a stagnant water pool. I dont care how much chemicals you pour into that stagnant water, it's not going to be safe water. Why are we not looking at getting water from a clean source? In Northern Ontario, we have multiple clean water sources. It just means the government has to spend a little more money, put the pipes a little further.”

Angus vowed to continue to fight for a coherent national strategy on ending boil water advisories once and for all, an issue that plagues remote First Nations communities.

“The big difference is, when you go to any municipality, they have standards and obligations. When you go to a reserve, it's whatever the federal government gives you,” he said.

Angus said it's clear the Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not going to fulfil its promise, which is still listed on the party's website.

“We will eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories on reserve by 2021, and continue to take steps to ensure water stays safe to drink,” reads the statement.

Angus said, “Until we have a plan that is built with the communities in mind, we're not going to get where we need to.”

The Daily Press asked Singh what tangible progress has been made on affordable housing over the past few years.

“Sadly, just announcements. No progress,” Singh replied. “The Liberals have made a lot of really big announcements. They got a lot of coverage on those announcements, but they haven't really done anything.”

He said to make matters worse, the Liberals often repeated the same vague announcements in order to create the illusion of progress.

“The only progress that has been made is maybe the Liberals have gotten better at their P.R. campaigns, but they haven't actually gotten any better at building housing.”

Singh stated that a bipartisan approach is needed, and that reviewing what has worked in the past would be highly beneficial to developing a modern strategy. He specifically referenced the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) which is a federal agency established in 1946 to assist returning Second World War veterans find housing. It has since expanded to include all Canadians in that blanket goal.

“It actually built thousands and thousands of homes across the country. We need to do that again. We need to get serious about building quality homes,” said Singh.

With the realities of today's cities, he emphasized that many different types of housing are needed.

“Houses. Townhouses. Apartments. Rentals. We need affordable housing in all of its forms, whether it's low-income or assisted housing. We really need to get serious about building housing in this country,” he said.

“There is a serious shortage, and it's a serious crisis. We've got to get down to work.”

Veteran Timmins MPP Bisson added his thoughts on the matter.

“One of the things that I was most proud of, from '90 to '95 when we were government, we had the most ambitious not-for-profit housing program in Canada,” he said, adding that evidence of this can be seen throughout the Timmins area.

“Unfortunately when the Liberals took over power federally, and the Tories took over provincially, they cancelled those not-for-profit housing programs. We need to bring those back, because they are in an investment in making sure that people have access to affordable housing, and quite frankly it's a good way of doing it,” said Bisson.

One of the virtual attendees vented about the currently “insane” housing market. With CERB payments maxing out at $2,000 per month, she said it doesn't add up, as for many it costs upwards of $2,000 per month just for having a roof over their heads. She said prices have continued to rise over the past few years, which is in turn causing more homelessness, more substance addictions and petty crime.

“We have to be able to afford to live,” she said. “When we can't afford to live, even with these things that are in place, its just a domino effect.”

Singh empathized with the speaker's comments, and spoke about how the housing crisis is no longer just a big city problem.

“The reality is, it's affecting everyone across the country,” he said. “People can't find affordable housing. Whether you're a young professional trying to find a place to live or trying to buy your first home or rent a place — low-income, no-income, housing is at a crisis level across the country.”

Singh said the first step is to acknowledge the problems that exist and fix them He said coming out of the pandemic, the government will need to make major investments in housing.

Singh also pointed to the inflation of housing prices caused by overseas investors.

“We also need to tackle the fact that housing is being used kind of like the stock market,” he said. “Foreign investors are dropping their money into the Canadian housing market, thinking it's a safe place to invest. I don't want people to look at housing as a stock market. It is a place for people to live. It is the most important thing in people's lives for them to buy.

“We need a strong foreign buyer's tax, and we need a vacant property tax, and we need to aggressively build new housing.”

Andrew Autio is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for The Daily Press. LJI is a federally funded program.

Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press