The Speech from the Throne, which will be read on Tuesday, October 16, sets the key objectives for the federal government in the next session of Parliament. The throne speech, along with the budget (which is usually released in February), are the two most important annual policy statements of the federal government. The policy environment during a minority Parliament (when no one political party has majority control) can be very dynamic, so there will be even more eyes on the upcoming throne speech than usual.
Here are three key questions for the throne speech on housing and homelessness, which continue to be urgent priorities for Canadians right across the country.
ONE: Will the federal government renew and enhance housing, homelessness and rehab funding? Fiscal 2008 will be the final year for the federal affordable housing funding authorized by Parliament in 2005. It will also be the final year for the federal homelessness program – which provides funding for shelter and services in more than 60 communities across the country. And the current funding for the federal housing rehabilitation program – which helps to upgrade rundown homes – is also set to expire in fiscal 2008. If the federal government waits until the end of fiscal 2008 to renew and enhance the funding, then there could be a critical loss of services. Housing advocates will be looking for a clear signal in the throne speech and the upcoming budget that the government intends to expand investment in these three critical programs.
TWO: Will the federal government commit to funding and realistic targets for new affordable homes across Canada? Only about one in every one hundred new homes that are built in Canada are truly affordable. Federal housing funding cuts in the 1980s and 1990s led to a sharp drop in the number of new truly affordable homes being built. More than half a million new homes were built in 2005 and 2006, but only about 5,000 were truly affordable. Average market rents have increased faster than the rate of inflation over the past decade, while ownership costs have priced a growing number of Canadian households right out of the market.
THREE: Will the federal government invest some of its multi-billion dollar surpluses in new affordable homes? The federal government has been running a multi-billion dollar annual surplus every year since 1998. The most recent federal surplus is more than $11 billion. Only once in all those years has any of the federal surplus been invested in new affordable homes (in 2005, Parliament authorized $1.6 billion over two years from the federal surplus). But that’s not the only federal surplus. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the government’s national housing agency, is expected to run a surplus of about $1 billion this year – but none of that will be invested in new affordable homes, either.