Liberal platform highlights past commitments to families, climate action but many benefits won’t be seen for years

·24 min read

The Pointer is breaking down the platforms of Canada’s major parties, analyzing their promises to Canadians and what they plan to deliver for Peel. These stories are not endorsements, but meant to provide information to assist voters, and a record to hold the future government accountable.

Despite being the party that triggered Canada’s 44th federal election, Justin Trudeau and his Liberals took their time before releasing the party’s platform.

Its guiding document was offered to the public on September 1, more than two weeks after the rigour of daily campaigning had begun. Over 91 pages, Trudeau and his team have tried to outline their case for a snap election during a pandemic and explain to voters why they should be given four years of majority rule.

The Liberal minority had barely started to work through its legislative agenda when the pandemic threw its two-year term into chaos. The vast majority of political energy was pushed into handling the COVID-19 crisis, meaning key promises made to win the election in 2019 were left untouched.

The branding of its 2021 platform hints at continuity. The 2019 document was called Forward: A Real Plan For The Middle Class, changing only slightly this year to read Forward, For Everyone in 2021. Some of the ‘Team Trudeau’ branding has been dropped this time around, perhaps an acknowledgement the party’s leader isn’t as popular compared to the days when he reached international celebrity status.

Aside from this shift in optics, many promises and themes in the Liberal platform remain the same.

It includes few details around Peel-specific issues but many policy commitments touch on areas of critical importance to the region and its residents.

In its push for a majority, the Liberal Party is relying on its record in government over the past two years. The recovery plan isn’t dissimilar to a free trial: you liked large parts of how we handled the pandemic as a minority government, so give us a majority to finish the job.

As a result, healthcare and how the Canadian government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic is a key theme running through the Liberal pitch. Trudeau has tried to drive the issue to the top of the election agenda, saying he is the only leader who can effectively manage the next stages, and ideally end, of the pandemic, then the full recovery to follow.

Vaccination is the cornerstone of this promise. It is a pledge that is especially relevant in Peel Region. Trudeau has already made two visits to Mississauga to talk specifically about vaccines, and appeared at a pop-up event Tuesday night in Brampton to boost the local Liberal candidates. His appearance in Mississauga—Streetsville and then in Mississauga—Malton, where he stood inside a hangar at Toronto Pearson Airport flanked by candidates, saw the Liberal Leader announce a policy to mandate vaccines for interprovincial travel.

“A re-elected Liberal government will require that travellers on interprovincial trains, commercial flights, cruise ships, and other federally regulated vessels be vaccinated,” the party’s platform pledges.

The policy could face challenges from provinces whose leaders are not in favour of the idea and ultimately control the healthcare platforms and legislative jurisdiction needed to impose a true national vaccine mandate within the country.

The Liberal push for such mandates would be welcome by those in Peel who have been hardest hit by COVID-19, which has swept through Brampton and Mississauga across multiple waves. Between January and April this year, sixty-six percent of all transfers out of hospitals in Ontario were to relieve Brampton’s only hospital - Civic - and stop its ICU from overflowing.

Workers at Toronto Pearson Airport, many who live in Mississauga and Brampton where it is located, might also be reassured by the Liberal promise to mandate full vaccination for air travel. Around 10,000 Brampton residents and 13,000 from Mississauga work at the airport, a figure that does not include the bus drivers or taxi services ferrying passengers to and from Canada’s largest travel hub.

In addition, a $1 billion fund to help provinces and territories develop a proof of vaccination protocol would help fill a gap identified by Peel Public Health. Before the Government of Ontario was forced to flip-flop and introduce a vaccine passport system, Peel’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, was in discussions with other experts about rolling out a local proof of vaccination system. Peel’s municipal leaders, alongside Loh, have been vocal in their calls for proof of vaccination to access a range of non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and personal care salons.

Critics have questioned the Liberal proof of vaccination push, as provinces have all the authority over decisions outside Ottawa’s jurisdiction, which is limited to things such as international travel and access to federal buildings and services. But the platform makes clear the Liberals would try to incentivize provinces into buying into a full mandate of proof of vaccination as part of the road to a quick recovery, by offering considerable funding for such monitoring and regulatory platforms to the provinces that would have to operate and enforce them.

The region’s brutal COVID-19 experience, and woeful per-capita healthcare funding, have left Peel’s hospitals with a large backlog of surgeries. With fewer beds than neighbouring cities like Toronto, William Osler and Trillium Health Partners, the two group’s responsible for frontline healthcare in Brampton and Mississauga respectively, were forced to ramp down elective surgeries to prepare for a crushing influx of COVID-19 patients.

The Liberal Party has promised to help make up for the growing demand this has created by immediately adding $6 billion in national funding to help tackle the growing medical backlog. The Party’s platform notes the figure would come on top of $4 billion that has already been committed. A further $3.2 billion is being promised to provinces and territories to hire 7,500 new family doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners.

“A re-elected Liberal government will negotiate agreements with every province and territory to ensure that Canadians who are waiting for care get the treatment they need as quickly as possible, and that the primary care system is positioned for the future and able to deliver the care outcomes that Canadians need,” the Party’s list of promises says.

A key point where the pandemic and healthcare have intersected, beyond the vital work done by burned-out hospital workers, is mental health. Economic turmoil, isolation and uncertainty have compounded existing problems in a nation struggling with anxiety and depression. Last year saw fatal opioid overdoses in the Region of Peel spike to an all-time high.

A total of 121 people lost their lives between January and October, with much of Region of Peel’s work on its opioid strategy placed on hold as a result of pandemic restrictions. The Mississauga Halton LHIN currently has one mental health bed per 78,500 people, and Brampton and the Central West LHIN have one per 66,808 people. In Toronto Centre, there is one mental health bed for every 3,500 people.

The Liberal Party has promised to create a new Canada Mental Health Transfer to send provinces funds specifically to help manage these issues. This would follow the mechanism of the Canada Health Transfer, which sends healthcare funding to provinces and territories to distribute. Over its first five years, the Liberals say the Canada Mental Health Transfer would deliver $4.5 billion dollars. If the model follows the mandate of the health transfer, which under federal legislation has to allow provinces to make all allocation decisions, the Liberal plan would also provide the money for targeted mental health funding, while each province would decide how it wants to use it.

“Building on the principles of universality and accessibility in the Canada Health Act, this transfer will help establish standards in each province and territory, so that Canadians are able to expect services that are timely, universal, and culturally competent,” the platform says.

The Liberals have also committed to creating a three-digit mental health and suicide prevention emergency support line.

Trudeau has spent much of his time during the campaign highlighting the Liberal childcare plan, an extension of agreements already reached with seven provinces and one territory ahead of the election.

The agreements and the plan in the platform, hinge around a formula to significantly reduce monthly childcare fees for families.

Though Trudeau and the Liberal candidates across the country have described their childcare commitment as “$10-a-day” care, drilling into the details reveals this will be far from the case for most families and it could take years before the full savings under the plan are realized by those parents who need assistance most.

"Before the pandemic, (due to the lack of available spaces) we only had about 28 percent of families who were in the workforce who had a child in licensed child care," Kerry McCuaig, a fellow at the Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development at the University of Toronto, told Global News. But this limited capacity, she said, has been further reduced by 25 to 35 percent in major cities due to impacts of the public health crisis, primarily the closure of many childcare spaces due to various health and safety protocols.

In Brampton and Mississauga that capacity was reduced even more, in two cities already struggling because of the dire lack of childcare.

According to data from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, between February of 2020, just prior to the pandemic, and the fall of 2020, there were 50 percent fewer children enrolled at child care centres in Brampton and 48 percent fewer in Mississauga.

In Brampton and Mississauga, the state of child care is becoming increasingly desperate for working families. Prices in the two cities are among the highest in Canada, while research has listed both among the most sparsely served areas for child care in the entire country.

The recent report, entitled Sounding the Alarm and published by the CCPA, laid out the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s child care sector. In Peel Region, where the pandemic has hit a majority non-white community especially hard, the impact on child care has been devastating.

Conducted by phone, the survey approached child care centres across Canada between September and November 2020. The results? A dramatic decline in child care enrolment in every city outside Quebec, where the government heavily subsidizes the sector, with each reporting at least 10 percent fewer children in care in the fall of 2020 compared to February, before the pandemic began.

In Brampton and Mississauga, the enrolment drops have been enormous. In real terms, the report estimated 5,000 fewer children at daycares in Mississauga and 3,500 in Brampton.

A 2018 report, also by the CCPA, found Brampton had the second worst provision of child care in the country, with Mississauga also inside the top ten for worst childcare coverage. The report found the L6Z postcode in Brampton had the best coverage in the city at 42 percent and L6R was the worst with just 10 percent, meaning 90 percent of children in the area who needed care had no option where they lived.

Overall, Brampton had a child care coverage rate of just over 21 percent, while Mississauga had a rate of 35 percent.

In Peel’s two cities, there is little ability to pay for childcare fees. At $1,194 per month, the median preschool-aged fees in Mississauga are the fourth highest in Canada, with Brampton’s $1,153 ranking seventh. A monthly median for infant fees of $1,606 makes Mississauga rates the second highest in the country, with Brampton fourth at $1,549.

“Child care is mostly funded through parent fees, it's not [government] funded, so… when the parent fee revenue wasn’t there for (childcare) centres anymore, it basically kind of ripped the Band-Aid off,” Martha Friendly, an expert in childcare told The Pointer recently. “Think about these operators: whether they’re profit or not-profit, they’re trying to cover their budget. They’re kind of stuck. The same number of parents aren’t coming, but putting up their fees puts them in a catch 22.”

To address the childcare crisis the Liberal platform pledges to cut average child-care fees for regulated childcare centres by 50 percent by the end of next year, while getting to $10 a day, on average, five years from now. Such five-year agreements have already been signed, recently, between the federal government and Newfoundland-Labrador, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Yukon.

An analysis by CCPA stated parents in high-cost cities could see savings of about $10,000 annually per child by 2022 and nearly $20,000 per child by 2026, but these figures are essentially for expensive childcare usually paid for by higher income earners, many of whom can already afford it, even without any government subsidy, and would not be eligible for savings under the Liberal plan which is aimed at low-income families. In Ontario, which has not signed an agreement, the proposal means those families earning under $20,000 would get the full subsidy, while those earning below $45,000 would get a partial saving based on a sliding scale.

Even with the eventual full benefit, referring to the plan as $10-a-day childcare is somewhat misleading. Initially that will not be the cost, and even eventually if the program does get fully implemented in Ontario, many families will still pay much more than $10 a day, for each child.

Critics have said the plan does not offer full immediate relief to families for five years, so those voting now will only see some benefits. Others have said the Liberal plan has a major flaw: it will only help those families who already have access to childcare spaces or will be able to secure them in the future, leaving most families in places like Brampton and Mississauga, where there are so few spaces available, left out of the Liberal plan.

The Region of Peel produced a shocking statistic last year. It is one that has been printed time and again, but it bears repeating once more. Homeownership and renting are unaffordable for 80 percent of households in Peel.

Housing in both Brampton and Mississauga ranges from a daily struggle to an impossibility. The crisis is not a political buzzword in Peel, it is a daily reality for the vast majority of residents.

The Liberal platform, like most party platforms in the 2021 federal election, makes a point of acknowledging the issue. It includes some innovation but few radical solutions. A bland statement in the document highlights a plan to respond without a particular sense of urgency.

“Canadians see owning a home as key to building their future and joining the middle class,” it says. “But with rent increasing and housing prices continuing to rise, too many young people don’t see a clear path to affording the same lives their parents had. Everyone should have a home to call their own.”

The Liberal platform promises to make homeownership affordable for everyone and has different elements. Many of the policies are tweaks to the current system — smaller changes to help people on the cusp of homeownership.

Examples include increasing the insured mortgage cut-off from $1 million to $1.25 million, doubling the First-Time Home Buyers Tax Credit and banning blind bidding to reduce housing inflation through bidding wars. There is also a commitment to introduce a “tax-free First Home Savings Account” that would allow “Canadians under 40 to save up to $40,000” for a first home, “and to withdraw it tax-free to put towards their first home purchase, with no requirement to repay it.”

The Liberals say the plan combines “features of both an RRSP and a Tax Free Savings Account” so young Canadians can use up to $40,000 toward a down payment on their first home.

Critics have pointed out that those who need help with affordable housing most likely don’t have $40,000 sitting around, and others have said this figure would do little to offset the overall costs required to enter the housing market in many Canadian cities, including Mississauga and Brampton.

The Liberals have also committed to a two-year ban on foreign buyers who use Canada’s housing market to park capital for investment, which has prompted critics to point out how potentially disastrous this could be on the overall economy, signalling to foreign investors that Canada is a closed economy that does not welcome the kind of outside capital that can drive many sectors responsible for much of Canada’s growth. The construction and trades industries have also questioned if choking off some of the most in-demand, lucrative jobs in Canada is a recipe for shrinking, not growing the economy.

The Liberals have also committed to creating 1.4 million new affordable housing units over four years by building, preserving or repairing units, including the use of federal buildings no longer needed by the government, but there are few details around this commitment and few funding details for places like Peel, whose affordable housing plan has effectively been abandoned due to the lack of money from all three levels of government.

An illustration of just how far the gap is between what higher levels of government pledge for affordable housing and what is actually needed is found in a central part of Peel’s 2018 to 2028 Home For All plan that has been abandoned. It called for 75,000 new housing units over the ten-year period, including 20,000 affordable units for low-income families and 55,000 units for middle-income earners and higher.

Private developers were expected to cooperate using a range of incentives and Peel Region was also responsible for some construction, stating that more than one in ten new homes built in Peel must be affordable to low income households. But, stunningly, two years after the 2018 to 2028 plan came into effect, less than one in 2,600 new ownership homes that had been built met the affordable threshold, about 0.4 percent of what was supposed to be built.

The Liberals own plan would require at least $140 billion to build 1.4 million affordable units over four years, at a cost of $100,000 per unit. It’s unclear how many of these pledged units would be built in existing federal buildings, and how much this would cost. But the amount the Liberal government has provided to municipal region’s such as Peel, which are responsible for providing and managing affordable housing, since 2015 has been a tiny fraction of what is needed.

The different steps toward a solution outlined in the Party platform might help some families and young first-time buyers in Peel but they suggest a piecemeal plan that fails to grasp the enormity of the region’s housing emergency.

The Liberal Party’s housing program also includes a new emphasis on rent-to-own, hoping to push renters to eventually be able to afford their homes. The party is promising $1 billion in loans and grants to “develop and scale up rent-to-own projects with private, not-forprofit and co-op partners”. It also mentions a new rent-to-own scheme but does not attach a figure to the proposal.

“Even if more Canadians can afford a down payment, without a greater supply of homes, that would just mean more people lining up to purchase existing available homes,” the platform says. “As a country, we need to build more homes—the kinds of homes that meet the different needs of different lifestyles.”

The figure of 1.4 million new affordable homes pledged in the Liberal platform includes 250,000 new or revitalized homes in the next four years (an average of 62,500 per year) across the entire country, in addition to the 285,000 annual new homes current policies and market conditions already provide, according to the platform. This raises questions about whether the Party’s characterization that these 1.4 million units would be “new” is accurate, as more than a million appear to be part of existing commitments.

The most innovative pledge in the Liberal platform, and one that plays to the strengths of Mississauga in particular, is a new $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund, designed to increase the supply of housing in big cities. The fund will go directly to municipalities in order to improve how they handle development proposals and local building permit applications.

“This application-based fund will offer support to municipalities that: grow housing supply faster than their historical average; increase densification; speed-up approval times; tackle NIMBYism and establish inclusionary zoning bylaws; and encourage public transit-oriented development,” the platform stipulates.

NIMBYism is a big problem in places like Mississauga, as witnessed by the conduct of Councillor Dipika Damerla. She caved to residents who voiced NIMBY concerns over a dense housing application in her ward, and instead of supporting staff and the City’s own commitment to smart, dense growth, the Liberal who will run in next year’s provincial election to recapture her Queen’s Park seat, blatantly ignored the type of progressive leadership that, under the federal Liberal’s new commitment, would help secure new funding for the type of housing needed to move past Mississauga’s unaffordable sprawling past. Critics of Damerla pointed out that her actions would be doubly costly for Mississauga taxpayers, as the applicant would surely win a costly challenge at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The Liberal commitment to fund cities that stop causing such delays, often motivated by the political calculations of people like Damerla, could be a significant incentive to local leaders responsible for getting affordable housing that aligns with smart growth online as fast as possible.

Despite the actions of councillors like Damerla, staff at the City of Mississauga have prioritized the type of expedited process being pushed in the Liberal platform, regularly referencing their ability to process development applications and building permit requests digitally. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it meant the City could continue to meet its obligations and avoid unnecessary delays in bringing new homes to market.

The Liberals have also promised a Multigenerational Home Renovation tax credit to add a secondary unit to homes lived in by large, multigenerational families and an anti-flipping tax for properties sold within 12 months of purchase.

More than half of Peel’s residents were born outside of Canada. Hundreds of thousands of Brampton and Mississauga’s citizens came to Canada and settled down in one of the most diverse regions in the country. Data from the 2016 Census show 706,835 of Peel’s 1,372,640 residents immigrated to Canada over many decades. Between 2011 and 2016, around 94,000 immigrants arrived and now call Peel Region home.

This majority new-Canadian population means immigration is more than just a political football or vague economic concept in the region, it is a value and policy that has immediate consequences for the local economy and residents.

Significant recruitment efforts abroad, coupled with Peel’s large South Asian-Canadian population, have made Brampton and Mississauga a magnet for international students. Young academics landing in the country can be particularly vulnerable to poor housing and worker exploitation, often suffering terrible conditions hoping to land a permanent residency card.

The Liberal Party has promised that, if elected, it will reform economic immigration and expand pathways to permanent residency for both foreign workers and former international students. It plans to bring this change about by updating Express Entry, a point-based immigration system. Details in the platform are vague, signalling intention rather than a roadmap of how the Grits plan to get there.

In tandem with this promise, the platform pledges to scrap citizenship application fees for those who already hold permanent residence.

“Permanent residents are deeply committed members of our communities,” the platform says. “They work hard, start new businesses, pay taxes, raise their families, and do so in hope that they will one day be full citizens. Becoming a citizen allows new immigrants to fully participate in Canadian society. It should not be subject to a user fee.”

At the other end of the immigration plan, the Liberals are once again planning to tweak how the government handles family reunification applications.

When Trudeau first came to power, his party reformed the family reunification portal to a first-come, first-served system, replacing the Conservative’s lottery. In its first year, January 2019, the web-based portal opened only to close almost immediately after reaching its cap of 27,000 applications significantly faster than anticipated. At the time, the government confirmed that 100,000 people had attempted to access the online form.

The Liberals delayed the January 2020 intake in order to learn lessons from 2019, a process that was further confused when the pandemic hit. Now, the Party is promising to reduce processing times, introduce electronic applications and issue visas “to spouses and children abroad while they wait for the processing of their permanent residency application, so that families can be together sooner”.

As for overall immigration levels, the platform mentions no changes to the current plan, which calls for 401,000 newcomers this year, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023, with about 60 percent of immigrants entering through one of the economic categories (this increases slightly year-to-year) and the remainder entering through family reunification (which is not set to increase next year) and refugee and other amnesty categories.

The environment, with the daily reminders of dramatic changes to our climate, is one of the biggest concerns for people living across Canada.

Brampton’s downtown is currently covered by a floodplain designation which has halted almost all development in its decaying city centre. Mississauga is essentially at the bottom of a basin leading into Lake Ontario and, with watersheds flowing down from the north across much of the city, large areas are susceptible to flooding.

The Liberal Party is promising a series of plans to help governments and residents begin to resist devastating storms like the one that ripped through much of Southern Ontario Tuesday night. The Party has promised to help support climate-resilient retrofits, improve mapping for higher-risk flood areas and create a nationwide flood-ready portal to inform people about the threat of flooding. The platform is light on details for these initiatives.

The platform calls for reducing Canada’s overall emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2030, from 2005 levels, but critics have been hard on Trudeau throughout the campaign pointing out annual targets required to meet the 30 percent reduction commitment by 2030 under the Paris Agreement have not been met by the Liberals since they took office in 2015. Party leaders have pointed out that provinces such as Alberta and Ontario have not been good faith partners, making the targets hard to reach by challenging the Liberal carbon tax in court and by poor provincial policies, such as Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to scrap the electrical vehicle subsidy, which cut EV sales in half.

Mississauga and Brampton are also both hoping for help from the federal government to get residents out of their cars and onto public transit. Both cities have submitted expensive federal wishlists, including $850 million for an LRT extension through Brampton and funds to build a bus rapid transit corridor along Dundas Street in Mississauga.

The Liberals have included a variety of green commuting initiatives, with broader support for electric vehicle purchases, but do not have any local specifics.

“Our investments in public transit up until this year were ten times those of Stephen Harper’s. We were just getting started,” the platform says. “Earlier this year we invested an additional $14.9 billion, including establishing Canada’s first permanent public transit fund.”

Despite the lofty promise, the only commitment directly relevant to Peel is extremely vague. One bullet point in the platform commits the Liberals to “accelerating major public transit projects”.

Email: isaac.callan@thepointer.com

Twitter: @isaaccallan

Tel: 647 561-4879

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