Richard Cannings, NDP MP for the South Okanagan West Kootenay riding. Photo: Brennan Phillips

Richard Cannings, NDP MP for the South Okanagan West Kootenay riding. Photo: Brennan Phillips

Housing crisis; the biggest problem in making lives more livable

Opinion piece from Richard Cannings

Monday (Sept. 4) 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 8-hour workday, workers’ compensation, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, and more.

The NDP has always fought alongside workers for respect, fair wages and safe workplaces.

We voted against Conservative bills put forward by the Harper government that made it more difficult to unionize and more difficult for unions to operate, bills that were fortunately repealed in the next parliament.

We’ve tabled legislation that would protect workers’ pensions after company bankruptcy.

And in this parliament, we finally managed to force the Liberal 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 to expand or even maintain their business.

This crisis has its roots in the 1990s when the Liberal government abandoned supports for affordable housing.

Previously, federal governments had 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 Chretien government stopped that funding.

The subsequent Harper Regime continued to neglect the housing crisis, creating a shortage of more than a half million 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 increase in house prices we’ve seen in recent years.

Prices are so high now that 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 that 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 are suggesting, 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 lands as Poilievre has proposed.

I was recently talking to a city planner in the Okanagan who said in so many words, “We are building more housing units every day than we ever have done, and every day we have fewer affordable houses.”

One of the Liberal government’s new programs helped fund rental housing projects that provided a portion of the buildings to affordable units.

Unfortunately, they only demanded 20 percent of those projects be affordable, and their definition of affordable was rents of $2,000 per month in our local markets.

Under our confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals, the NDP has managed to change this so that projects getting this federal funding would be 40 per cent affordable and that means rents averaging $1100 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.

We have also proposed removing the federal portion of GST and HST on the development of new affordable homes and setting aside federal lands 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 Liberal and Conservative polices that only work for ultra-rich investors.

Richard Cannings is MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding.