OTTAWA — Canada’s cities say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is reducing its efforts to invest in affordable housing and fight poverty despite suggesting earlier that it was ready to take action.
The government rejects this claim, suggesting that it’s already doing its fair share.
But mayors and other representatives of cities said they were assured in meetings last November with Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that the government was prepared to deliver a long-term plan now to avoid a looming crisis. However, on the eve of Tuesday’s budget they said the government’s latest message in meetings suggests it’s getting “cold feet” about taking immediate action.
“We’re not asking for some money,” said Claude Dauphin, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. “We’re asking for a long-term plan, just like we did for infrastructure … and ultimately we want the federal government to sustain its investment in housing.”
The cities estimate that about 3.4 million households across the country are waiting to get affordable housing.
The federation, which represents about 90 per cent of the Canadian population, says its municipalities don’t have adequate funding to address all needs for new construction or maintenance on aging units.
Andrew McGrath, a spokesman for Social Development Minister Candice Bergen, said the existing federal funding in multiple programs, now worth about $2 billion per year, provide flexibility for provinces and territories to design programs to meet local needs.
“Ultimately, it’s the provinces and municipalities that decide how to best use these funds,” said McGrath.
Dauphin, the mayor of the Lachine borough in Montreal, explained that one of the main funds is rapidly declining by about $100 million per year.
“So it’s looking less likely that the budget will say anything significant on housing if it says anything at all,” said Dauphin.
In his own municipality, Dauphin said the federal government contributed about 40 per cent of the cost of building low-income housing in the 1970s, but that all these buildings now require repairs and renovations.
“Year after year, if you lose $100 million a year, it means that there’s a lot of poor people who will lose their social housing,” said Dauphin. “That’s why we need a long-term plan to ensure that this won’t happen.”
(By Mike De Souza)