Liberals put ‘right to housing,’ anti-poverty laws into omnibus budget bill

The bill would set into law rules for the Liberals’ 10-year national housing strategy

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. The federal Liberals are using an omnibus budget bill to legislate a “right to housing” and the requirements on future government to not drop the concept. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The federal Liberals are using their omnibus budget bill to legislate a ”right to housing” in Canada, a pledge advocates worry could fall short of being the historic step the government wants without a few parliamentary tweaks before summer.

The budget bill would set into law rules for the Liberals’ 10-year national housing strategy, now valued at more than $55 billion, impose those rules on future governments and create two new oversight bodies meant to make sure the spending reduces homelessness.

A national housing council is to advise the government on the effects of the strategy and a new housing advocate, tied to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is to report annually on systemic issues preventing Canadians from finding affordable and safe places to live.

Reports would also be required every three years on how well the strategy is meeting national goals and furthering “the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing” — wording that mirrors international standards.

READ MORE: CMHC sets target to make housing affordable for every Canadian by 2030

In each case, the minister in charge of the strategy would have to “reply and act” on the reports, said Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, “which will ensure there is sufficient pressure on the federal government to meet the legislated right to housing.”

Characterizing housing as a human right is meant to provide recourse, usually through tribunals, to anyone wrongfully denied a home for reasons such as ethnicity, religion, or gender identity, and put pressure on the federal government to help make the right a reality.

“The federal government has admitted to having an obligation when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable of Canadians,” Duclos said in an interview Wednesday. “There will always need to be a continuing conversation (and) that’s exactly what the bill says — the national housing strategy will need to evolve, but I think we’ve made major steps in very little time.”

The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing said wording in the budget bill is a big step forward and addresses a long-running concern from the international body.

But Leilani Farha said her chief concern is that having an advocate “hot-desking” at the human-rights commission and filing annual reports “doesn’t amount to human-rights accountability by any measure.”

“The government needs to strengthen the role of the advocate so that they can appoint panels to hear systemic housing-related claims and recommend remedies,” said the Canadian-based Farha.

“And the government can’t be allowed to just ignore recommendations. If the legislation is strengthened in this way, then Canada would not just be in compliance with its international human rights obligations, it might also be a model for other countries.”

The Liberals have been looking into setting the right to housing into law since early in their mandate, when they met with housing advocates about ways to pump more money into affordable housing.

What followed, though, was a debate among officials in Duclos’s Department of Employment and Social Development Canada and their counterparts in the Finance and Justice departments over how far the government could go in its wording, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

As time wore on, housing advocates became concerned about whether the government would have time to pass a law before the next election.

Putting the housing law into the budget bill is a tacit acknowledgment that time was running short. Inside the budget bill, it is practically assured passage by the summer.

Now, groups plan to lobby MPs for amendments to give the new housing council greater powers to critique government progress on the strategy and allow the advocate to refer issues to the human-rights tribunal for public hearings.

In a post to members, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness said “the government got a lot right” on housing in the budget bill, but the legislation lacks ”important elements of a workable, rights-based accountability framework that would ensure that the housing strategy is effective.”

Also in the budget bill is the government’s poverty-reduction law, which was part of a separate bill introduced in early November that hasn’t been debated since the end of that month.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Island Inked magazine cover hopeful receiving strong local voting support

Chemainus Secondary grad and Ladysmith resident a strong contender for the top prize

Victoria to see extra ships after cruise company cancels Asia tour in wake of COVID-19

Coronovirus fears cause Celebrity Cruises to head west early

‘Not the monster everyone thinks’: Sister of human-trafficking suspect speaks out

Trish Kelly’s brother was one of four Vancouver Island residents arrested last month in Saskatchewan

Vancouver Island’s L’Arche community reeling over findings of inquiry into founder

Participants stunned over findings of founder’s sexual misconduct

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Demonstrators plan to shut down Pat Bay Highway Wednesday afternoon

Protest is in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nation

Toffoli scores OT winner as Canucks beat Habs 4-3

Demko makes 37 saves for Vancouver

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Most Read