A detailed plan to create a long-overdue national housing plan for Canada was introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday. The Wellesley Institute’s Michael Shapcott joined other national housing leaders, along with MPs Marie-Claude Morin and Andrew Cash, for the introduction of the draft legislation, which is called Bill C-400, An Act to Secure Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing For Canadians. The bill picks up from the former Bill C-304, which passed first and second reading in the last Parliament, and was amended by committee, before it died on the order paper in the spring of 2011 when Parliament was recessed for the election. Canada is the only major country in the world without a national housing plan. The Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canada report used the most comprehensive and current research and data to set out a pragmatic national housing strategy. We were invited by the Commons Committee that was reviewing Bill C-304 to provide expert testimony, and we have backed draft legislation to create a national housing plan.
Canada had a national housing plan from 1973 to 1993 that delivered more than 600,000 good quality, cost-effective and healthy homes to Canadians. This housing continues to provide good homes to millions of Canadian women, men and children. However, funding was cut in the early 1990s, and programs were dismantled and downloaded later in the 1990s; the loss of a national housing plan led to the rise in mass homelessness in many parts of Canada in the 1990s. Since 1999, the federal government, most provinces and territories, and many municipalities, have announced a variety of housing and homelessness measures, but the funding has tended to be short-term and inadequate to the scale of need, and there has been little or no co-ordination between the federal, territorial, provincial and municipal governments, along with Aboriginal governments, and the private and community sectors. Bill C-400 would require Canada’s housing and homelessness minister to consult widely and bring back a comprehensive national housing plan to the Commons within six months of the draft legislation becoming law.
Canada has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and many other international legal instruments that recognize the right to housing and impose an obligation on the government to ensure that Canadians have access to a good place to call home. In 2009, Canada’s record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of its first Universal Periodic Review of Canada’s compliance with its international housing and human rights obligations and 68 specific recommendations for improvement were made. Canada responded in June of 2009, accepting the failing grade on housing and homeless and promising to work more effectively with other orders of government in tackling housing and homelessness issues. Canada is up for a second review by the UN in 2013, and one test will be whether the federal government has finally adopted a national housing plan that meets Canada’s housing rights obligations.