Can a new strategy put a dent in Canada's housing problems?

This week on The House, will the Liberals' National Housing Strategy really make a difference? We talk to cabinet minister, and the former head of a homeless shelter, Patty Hajdu. Then, we look at what the potential roll back of net neutrality regulations in the U.S. could mean for Canada with the former head of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, announces the Liberal government's National Housing Strategy in Toronto on Nov. 22, 2017. (David Donnelly/CBC)
Listen to the full episode49:59

Housing advocates say they are pleased with the federal government's national housing strategy, but see the billions of dollars in promised spending over the next 10 years as just the beginning of the effort needed to combat homelessness.

The president of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association says this week's announcement, and acknowledgement that housing is a human right, are excellent news but only first steps to address homelessness in this country.

"What we've created is a situation where it won't be worse tomorrow than it is today, which is already great news, but it's not fixing the problem," Stéphan Corriveau told The House.

The plan unveiled on Wednesday contains money to build 100,000 new affordable housing units and to repair another 300,000 existing ones.

The government also says it will cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.

The issue for many advocates is that several of the commitments, including a housing relief benefit that would provide low-income families with an average rent subsidy of $2,500 a year, won't begin until after the next election.

The President of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association explains what's to like about, and what's missing from, Ottawa's National Housing Strategy. 6:56

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu says the government understands the urgency to act.

"I can tell you it's profoundly distressing that no government in the last 25 years had taken their obligations seriously to Canadians who are literally freezing to death," she told The House when asked why that housing benefit won't be available until 2021.

"It is something that will actually transform, I think, precarious housing. It will transform lives in this country."

Corriveau says the housing benefit is not the only promise that will come later. His main concern is addressing the challenges faced by Indigenous people and homeless youth.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"If the government thinks it is off the hook? No. They are seen as a credible and solid partner but they still have to deliver."

Hajdu says a separate housing strategy is coming for Indigenous people and will be developed with their input.

"Gone are the days when the federal government will say to Indigenous communities and people thou shalt do this," she says.

"That is the principle of nation-to-nation relationships. It's insisting that things are done in partnership with Indigenous leaders."

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour discusses her government's National Housing Strategy. 9:49

Net neutrality changes in the U.S. could affect Canada

Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Tom Wheeler. (Lauren Victoria Burke Associated Press)

The former head of the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. has a strong warning for Canada: do what you can to protect the internet.

Tom Wheeler, head of the FCC under former U.S. president Barack Obama, said the Trump administration's decision to roll back net neutrality regulations could become a cross-border issue.

In 2015, Wheeler approved an order that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing down consumer access to web content.

This week, his replacement, Republican Ajit Pai, unveiled plans to repeal that decision and said the U.S. regulator will prevent states and cities from adopting similar protections.

"The market in the United States now is a market that is dominated by a handful of gatekeepers that are exacting some kind of tribute. I'm sure that'll be felt around the world," Wheeler told The House.

"I hope that the Canadian government is smarter than the United States government and won't let this kind of closing down an open internet exist."

For some, the term net neutrality might have the accompanying side effect of glazed-over eyes, but Wheeler describes it as "the openness of the internet."

"Will the internet be like your telephone service where anybody can use it and your privacy is protected or will it be like your cable television service where somebody makes the decisions as to what you can see? They start charging you extra prices for things you want to see," he said.

This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood up for the idea telling reporters he's concerned about what is happening in the states. He called net neutrality "essential to keep the freedom associated with the internet alive."

"God bless Justin Trudeau for standing up for net neutrality," said Wheeler, who is also a former venture capitalist. 

Wheeler admits changes to the U.S. market are likely to have a ripple effect on Canadians.

"One of the interesting challenges is that, as the world becomes interconnected, then what happens in major markets ends up affecting the whole world," he said.

The former head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission talks about the current effort to roll back net neutrality regulations. 10:42

Rachel Notley's pipeline pitch

(CBC)

Rachel Notley has hit the road to deliver her pipeline message to the rest of the country.

The Alberta premier was in Ottawa this week as part of an outreach effort to increase the level of support for future pipelines.

She's also visited Toronto, and will also travel to Vancouver where there is strong opposition to Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain project.

Notley's core message is that her province is doing its part to fight climate change, and that the economic benefits of pipeline projects won't solely be felt in Alberta. 

"It shouldn't be just Albertans who care about this," she said. "It should be all Canadians."

Notley also said she hopes she won't be the only one doing outreach, that the Prime Minister will also do his part.

"We're looking forward to seeing more of that," she said.

The Alberta Premier was in Ottawa this week as part of an outreach effort to increase the level of support for future pipelines, and she sat down with The House. 12:06

Frustrated AG to get help from public accounts committee

Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Members of the committee in charge of studying government audits are ready to help Canada's increasingly exasperated Auditor General follow up on his often damning reports.

Michael Ferguson delivered his fall audits this week, along with a blunt message for the federal government. 

"I keep delivering the same message: that the government doesn't understand the results from the citizen's perspective. It's possible that our message of citizen-centric service delivery has been heard at the individual program level, however we see no signs of it being picked up government-wide." Ferguson during his press conference.

For example, Ferguson found that only 36 per cent of calls to the Canada Revenue Agency were able to connect, and that the tax agency didn't account for 29 million calls it blocked in a year.

In an interview with The House, Ferguson pointed out another problem: the lack of follow up on his audits.

After an appearance in front of the public accounts committee, "the only step that would happen next, normally,  is for us to come back and do a follow up audit, which would be a few years down the road," he said.

Departments might not act as quickly to implement change, knowing that a follow up audit might not come for several years," he said.

We spoke to the Auditor General following the release of his falls reports, and the normally even-keeled Michael Ferguson had trouble hiding his frustration with the federal government. 15:26

That's changing.

"We've now started to call departments back when we're not satisfied with their answers or we're not satisfied with the pace of the progress, or we see changes that we don't think are supportive of the direction they've indicated. So we really ramped up efforts," said NDP MP David Christopherson, vice-chair of the Commons' powerful public accounts committee.

"We'll bring them back to committee, we'll ask the questions again. And it's not just to say that we're not happy with how they're going, we want to make sure that what they promised they would do in their action plans is being done," said the Liberal vice-chair, Alexandra Mendes.

"They know we won't forget to check."

​Conservative committee member Gérard Deltell also told The House he was ready for the committee to take on a more active role.

Both Mendes and Christopherson said they are also ready to help departments understand the auditor general's message about the need to look at government services through the eyes of the citizen.

Christopherson added that the committee will, "haul the departments back in when we're not satisfied, and put them under the glare of public transparency and accountability. The camera is on you folks all there."

The vice-chairs of the Public Accounts Committee, the NDP's David Chistopherson and Liberal Alexandra Mendes, explain how they are planning to help the Auditor General. 4:32