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

Robert Barron column: Let’s hear it for the kids

The students I talked to at the event came from numerous schools

Cowichan transgender woman hosting Gender Identity Expression Day

“We need to have a public conversation about this.”

Andrea Rondeau column: Chemainus Theatre Festival a unique, surprising venue

Not many towns the size of Chemainus can boast a year-round professional theatre

Sarah Simpson Column: Perfect road trip features flat tire and lost wallet

My husband is a loser. Not a loser in the dead-beat, good-for-nothin’… Continue reading

Are you 55 or older? Try 5 sports for free

June 5 event promotes BC 55+ Games and active living

REPLAY: The best videos from across B.C. this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week in the province

Coming up in Cowichan: From bike rodeo to ‘A Word About Consent’, lots on the calendar

Christian Science event coming to Duncan Saturday, May 25 “Breaking News: Freedom… Continue reading

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen found in torched SUV

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

PHOTOS: First responders in Fernie rescue baby owl who fell from nest

The baby owl’s inability to fly back to its nest prompted a rescue by first responders

Most Read