Cahdco Attends the National Housing Debate

Written by Billy Cohen

October 16, 2019

The Canadian Federal Election is fast approaching, and from coast to coast to coast, Canadians have universally expressed their concerns over the rapidly increasing cost of housing. That is why on October 6th, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, alongside four partner organizations, hosted the National Housing Debate at The Westin Ottawa hotel. Five candidates representing the five major parties presented and debated their respective party’s housing platforms, hoping to make the case as to why their party should be entrusted to address the Canadian housing crisis. The bilingual debate was moderated by Heather Scoffield of the Toronto Star, Jordan Press of the Canadian Press, and Joël-Denis Bellavance of La Presse. A video recording of the full debate can be found in both Official Languages on the CPAC website.

The debate kicked off with opening statements, in which the candidates begun to lay out their party’s visions for housing in Canada. Angella MacEwen, New Democratic candidate for Ottawa West-Nepean spoke first, presenting her party’s plan to build 500,000 new public housing units over 10 years. Adam Vaughan, Liberal Member of Parliament and candidate for Spadina Fort-York defended his government’s National Housing Strategy that had passed in the 42nd Parliamentary session before pre-emptively refuting any potential attacks from the Conservative candidate regarding capital gains taxes on sales of primary residences. Following Vaughan, Pierre Poilievre, Conservative Member of Parliament and candidate for Carleton attributed much of Canada’s high housing costs to significant bureaucratic development fees, as well as criticizing the Liberal-implemented Mortgage Stress Test that he argues makes it difficult to shop around for favourable mortgage rates. Next, Angela Keller-Herzog, Green candidate for Ottawa Centre, spoke of the need to enshrine a national right to housing into for Canadian citizens and permanent residents into law. Opening statements concluded with Geneviève Nadeau, Bloc Québécois candidate for Gatineau, who advocated for a housing policy based on the ideals of social justice, in line with her past professional and political experiences. Moderators engaged with the candidates in both Official Languages, though only Nadeau opted to debate in French. The other four candidates conducted nearly the entire debate exclusively in English.

Adam Vaughan, Liberal candidate for Spadina-Fort York

Pierre Poilievre, Conservative candidate for Carleton

While policy discussion prevailed as the main focus of the debate, Vaughan and Poilievre sparred on one another’s past records and party platforms on several occasions. Poilievre, the Shadow Minister of Finance, lambasted what he perceived as wasteful Liberal bureaucratic costs in the development process, promising to slash development expenses and red tape in order to liberalize the housing development sector. Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (formerly Housing and Urban Affairs) stood in defence of the current development process and the National Housing Strategy, arguing that those costs are critical in order to fund the associated costs of housing, including additional school space, sewage infrastructure, and provision of utilities such as electricity and water. Poilievre further attacked Vaughan on his record as a Toronto City Councillor, alleging that he was unable to get new units built in housing-starved Toronto. Vaughan, the former City Councillor refuted this claim; Vaughan stated that his Ward and subsequent federal riding had in fact seen so much housing construction that the size of his district had to be cut in half to account for the resulting population growth.

Though the debate was often overshadowed by the clashes between the Liberal and Conservative candidates, the debate was reasonably well-mannered and policy oriented, with candidates discussing issues including the Mortgage Stress Test, Urban Indigenous Housing, and the role of social housing, amongst other issues. However, much of the debate was focused on home-ownership issues, to which MacEwen took issue. MacEwen advocated for greater provision of rental housing services, highlighting the NDP’s plan to provide $5,000 in rental assistance to low-income renters. MacEwen unequivocally stated that “it is okay to rent,” in response to the disproportionate focus on home-ownership policy. Keller-Herzog and Nadeau were quick to concur; the former promised that a Green government would abolish the first-time homebuyer incentive in order to ease rapidly increasing home values, and the latter highlighted the need for more social rental housing in Québec.

Angella MacEwen, NDP candidate for Ottawa West-Nepean

The debate concluded with closing statements after just over an hour of thoughtful discussion on housing policy and Canada’s role in ensuring that all Canadians have an affordable roof over their heads. Whomever is elected on Monday, October 21st, Canadians will be watching to see how our government will work to address the national housing crisis.

Geneviève Nadeau, Bloc Québécois candidate for Gatineau

Angela Keller-Herzog, Green candidate for Ottawa Centre

The Canadian Federal Election will be held on Monday, October 21st. You can find out who your local candidates are, where and when to vote, and ID requirements to vote at the Elections Canada website.

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Billy Cohen

Development Assistant

October 16, 2019