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Speech

The National Housing Strategy Act provides Canada with an opportunity to recognize one of the basic and fundamental rights

Published on 05/06/2019

Oral presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology regarding Bill C-97, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019 and other measures

June 5, 2019


Good afternoon. My name is Garima Talwar Kapoor, and I am the Director of Policy and Research at Maytree. Maytree is a charitable foundation that works to advance systemic solutions to poverty through a human rights approach.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee to provide comments on Bill C-97, Budget Implementation Act, 2019. While my presentation will focus on Division 19 of Bill C-97, the National Housing Strategy Act, my written submission also includes comments on Division 20, the Poverty Reduction Act.

In 1976, Canada became a signatory to two incredibly important international covenants on human rights—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. At that time, the government recognized that just as Canadians had the right to be free from discrimination and the right to free speech—typically framed as civil and political rights— there are others to which people, indeed all Canadians, have a right to because they are integral to the inherent dignity of human beings.

Over the past 43 years, Canada has moved significantly on civil and political rights—as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, to date, we have had little success on progressively realizing economic and social rights.

Today, about 13% of Canadians—about 3.4 million people—are considered low-income. Furthermore, over 235,000 Canadians are homeless, and over 1.7 million households live in unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable housing.

Despite our many successes over the past four decades, I do not believe that Canadians find the levels of income and housing deprivation that we see today acceptable.

We can do better.

The National Housing Strategy Act provides us an opportunity to course correct.

After decades of advocacy, petitions, the development of the National Housing Strategy, the introduction of this legislation, and the recent testimonies of civil society leaders before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, we finally have before us a National Housing Strategy Act that upholds and protects the right to housing.

While it has certainly been a long journey, the National Housing Strategy Act is reflective of the years of work between governments, communities, and civil society organizations. It is demonstrative of democracy in motion.

Last week, the Honourable Maryam Monsef introduced amendments, as part of the Report Stage of Bill C-97, which strengthen the National Housing Strategy Act. The Act, as amended, has the support of a wide coalition of civil society organizations across Canada.

In particular, we are pleased to see that the National Housing Strategy Act now:

  • Unequivocally recognizes that adequate housing is a fundamental human right;
  • Mandates the Housing Advocate to study petitions identifying systemic housing rights issues, and establishes a process for a review panel to hear and make recommendations on these issues; and
  • Strengthens the monitoring role of the Housing Council.

With these amendments, it is clear that Canada has started to recognize that human rights are indivisible and inalienable. Just as the rich and the poor have the right to be free from discrimination, so too should they have access to safe, secure, and affordable housing.

The National Housing Strategy Act proclaims that it is the housing policy of the Canadian government to progressively realize the fundamental right to adequate housing. While the what—that all Canadians should have access to adequate housing—is clear, progressive realization recognizes that this goal will be achieved over time. How governments move towards achieving this goal will depend on the mandates upon which Canadians elect them.

Furthermore, the National Housing Strategy Act outlines a strong mandate for the National Housing Council, and ensures that the Housing Advocate is empowered to monitor and study systemic infringements to the right to housing. This innovative, made-in-Canada accountability framework enables affected groups to access public hearings into systemic issues, before an expert panel with at least one representative of affected communities.

These accountability mechanisms are not only critical to a rights-based framework, they are also the foundations of good public policy. As a former public servant myself in Ontario, I know that all governments hold accountability to the electorate at the core of their work.

I am sure that it is not lost on anyone the critical moment that we are in—the status quo will no longer do.

This is why the National Housing Strategy Act is so important. It provides the country with an opportunity to recognize one of the basic and fundamental rights that all Canadians should be afforded. It provides us an opportunity to re-set the framework within which we conceptualize, develop, and implement housing policy in Canada.

Related:

Summary

Oral presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology regarding Bill C-97

Topic(s)

Housing and homelessness, Human rights