Ontario MP blasts Pallister government for inaction on national housing strategy

An Ontario Member of Parliament is calling out Manitoba for not accepting money from the Liberal government’s $40-billion national housing strategy, accusing the Pallister government of trying to “teach us how to balance the budget instead of house people.”

Money for affordable housing off the table while bilateral agreement negotiated

Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina-Fort York, called Manitoba out Sunday for not accepting money from the Liberal government’s $40-billion national housing strategy while people need housing. (Tanner Grywinski/CBC)

A Toronto MP is calling out Manitoba for dragging its heels on the Liberal government's $40-billion national housing strategy. 

But a local politics professor says it's just the latest in a "clash of ideologies" between the provincial and federal governments. 

Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina-Fort York and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, made the comments Sunday after calling into CBC Radio's Cross-Country Checkup.

When asked by host Duncan McCue what he would say to Canadians who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, Vaughan said provinces need to work with the federal government.

He then singled out Manitoba for not yet agreeing to take the cash.

"We have a Manitoba government that is refusing to take federal dollars to house people, think about that," he said during the unplanned call to the national call-in radio program.

"You've got a provincial government that no matter how much money you put on the table, they want to teach us how to balance the budget instead of house people."

Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina-Fort York, made the comments during a call into CBC Radio’s Cross-Country Checkup. (CBC)

The federal government announced plans for the housing strategy in November 2017.

Len Catling with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said B.C., the Northwest Territories, Ontario, P.E.I. and New Brunswick have all signed agreements with the federal government. A CMHC spokesperson said another will be announced in the near future while others are expected to sign by April 1.

Catling wouldn't weigh in on whether Manitoba is refusing federal funds, though he noted the province continues to receive funding from Ottawa for other programs under the national housing strategy.

The 10-year strategy promises everything from tackling homelessness and the shortage of new housing units to enshrining the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right in Canadian law.

The government is also preparing a separate Indigenous housing strategy tailored to the needs of the many Indigenous communities with inadequate housing where market-based solutions are often unfeasible.

Negotiations ongoing, says province

During his call Vaughan told McCue about $5.7 billion has been spent through the strategy so far, building around 15,000 new units, repairing roughly 150,000 units and delivering subsidies to more than 800,000 homes.

But none of that work is happening in Manitoba, where a spokesperson for Manitoba's Minister of Families confirmed late Sunday the provincial government is still negotiating a bilateral agreement with the federal government.

The spokesperson added that "most provinces [and] territories continue to negotiate their bilateral agreements" and said that process is ongoing between Manitoba and the federal government.

"Manitoba's expected allocation is an estimated $300 million over nine years, and further details are being finalized through our bilateral engagement," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

'Clash of ideologies'

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said this is the latest salvo between two governments known for butting heads on health funding and other philosophical differences.

The Pallister government has implemented an austerity program and committed to balancing budgets and reducing the size of government, whereas the federal government is "spending their way to prosperity," said Thomas.

"There's a clash of ideologies here, and then when you go against Premier Pallister you better know that you're in for a fight. He's a quite combative, competitive person," said Thomas.

"He won't take kindly to a Toronto-based MP from the Liberal Party telling him how he should spend Manitoba's money."

About $15 billion of the $40 billion plan is dependant on provincial cost sharing, according to a report from the Social Planning Council Right to Housing Coalition released in March, which urged Manitoba to contribute its share.

The report suggested Manitoba would need to reverse cuts to its housing capital program.

'Crucial ingredient'

Thomas said there are a variety of demands on the public purse, particularly with respect to social services, health and education, but housing is a "crucial ingredient" to helping people lead more productive lives.

"You don't want to turn money down if it's on offer, especially if you don't accept the money for whatever reason: if you're hung up ideologically or constitutionally because you don't want Ottawa interfering in your provincial affairs," he said

"At some point I think you swallow your pride and you take the money and you say, "Well, we're not happy about it,' and that's what they eventually did on the mental health."

Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies, said he understands relations are "frayed" between the Trudeau and Pallister governments but that doesn't change the pressing need for housing.

"Manitobans are falling behind in affordable housing and we still have a crisis with respect to housing individuals who are homeless," he said.

"It is a bit frustrating because you would hope that we would have a bit more collaboration between the two levels of government to get these types of projects funded and supported."

The list of promises includes:

  • Construction of 100,000 new affordable housing units.
  • Repairs on 300,000 affordable housing units.
  • Cutting chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.
  • Protecting 385,000 households from losing an affordable home.
  • Removing 530,000 households from housing need.

The strategy would also introduce a housing benefit for families that won't kick in until after the next federal election. The Canada Housing Benefit will help 300,000 families by providing an average rent subsidy of $2,500 annually, beginning in April 2020 and ending in 2028, the government has said.

'Have to take advantage'

Distasio said while the two governments hash out their differences, there are a number of community non-profit housing organizations caught in the middle, waiting on needed funds.

"Any time we have an opportunity to leverage significant federal interventions in housing — and over the last two decades they've been far and few between — we've got to take advantage," he said.

"We need a provincial housing strategy that takes advantage of what's available and also does so in a manner that makes sure that every Manitoban has access to quality affordable housing."

Vaughan says the ongoing negotiations are leaving a pot of money for supportive housing initiatives untouched in the Keystone province.

"Yes the federal government has to be a leader in housing … but we need provincial governments and territorial governments to participate," he said during the call, describing housing the most important issue facing the country.

"When you deliver good, affordable and safe housing to people you stabilize their lives."

With files from Bryce Hoye