Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced onTuesday that the provincial government is going to start the flow of $392.5 million in federal funding to build new affordable homes in Ontario. Sounds pretty simple – all the province is required to do is get out of the way and let the federal money flow to housing developers across the province.
But it was a major policy win,an important step in a housing initiative that started back in the spring of 2005 in the halls of the Parliament of Canada as the then-Liberal minority government was casting about forpolitical support. The New Democratic Party agreed to supportPaul Martin’sbudget, but only if he shifted a multi-billion corporate tax cut into spending on post-secondary education, the environment and $1.6 billion for new affordable housing. Bill C-48 was authorized by Parliament in June of 2005, but theMartin government didn’t get around to actually allocating the funds before the federal eleciton of January, 2006, which saw the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. A strong campaign was launched at thenational level to secure Conservative support for C-48 (Harper’s party had voted against Bill C-48 the previous year) and, in its 2006 federal budget, the Conservative government announced that it would allocate $1.4 of the $1.6 billion in C-48. Ontario’s share of the $1.4 billion includes $312.3 million for affordable housing and $80.2 million for off-reserve Aboriginal housing.
But no sooner had thenew federal government agreed to honour the vote by the previous Parliament, than the Ontario government of DaltonMcGuinty declared that it was being short-changed bythe federal government in a number of areas and – until the broad range of fiscal issues was resolved – it wouldn’t take a penny in the housing money.
The Wellesley Institute, along with our partners at the national,provincial and local levels, has been at the centre of the work to get the federal housing dollars put to practical use in building new homes. In recent months, we’ve been working with housing and homelessness groups, faith communities, community organizations, municipal governments and many others to deliver a strong message to the Ontario government. As we said to provincial Treasurer Greg Sorbara recently: “It makes no sense to punish poorly-housed Ontarians to make a political point.”
We’re delighted that, with Premier McGuinty’s announcement, the province has decided not to use the federal housing dollars as a hostage in the federal-provincial fiscal dust-up. In making his announcement, Premier McGuinty echoed the sentiments of a great many Ontarians: “I believe that it would be unfair to allow people in need of adequate housing to have their needs go unmet because two governments are engaged in an argument, so we will use this housing trust money to help people with their housing needs.”
Now, the focus shifts to ensuring the funds roll out quickly, that the money is wisely spent and that Ontario doesn’t adopt the sharp practices sometimes used by other provinces and simply use the federal dollars to replace provincial dollars – leaving no net benefit to the people of Ontario. So, more policy work to do, but first a moment to pause and savour a nice $392.5 million housing policy win.
– Michael Shapcott