OTTAWA — An NDP motion calling on the federal government to build 500,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years was defeated soundly Tuesday by Liberals and Conservatives.
The motion, moved last week by NDP MP Sheri Benson, asked the federal government to commit in its upcoming 2019 budget to complete 250,000 of those units before 2024.
A statement released by the NDP after the vote chastised the government for being unwilling to adopt an NDP plan "aimed to bring immediate relief" to Canadians impacted by the housing crisis.
"If the Liberal government made different choices, we could bring relief to all Canadians and start building new affordable housing units in this year's budget," Benson stated in the release. "Mr. Trudeau calls the housing situation a crisis; but when it's time for him to act with urgency, he fails to do so."
Last year, Liberal MPs defeated a similar NDP motion that adopted language used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that "housing rights are human rights."
Parties debate over authority on housing issue
The federal government announced a 10-year $40-billion national housing strategy in November 2017 with ambitious targets that included reducing homelessness by 50 per cent. Most of the money will flow after the next election, a technical detail that has encouraged the NDP to push the government to implement immediate measures.
Opposition parties have been challenging the government on the effectiveness of the plan. The NDP have warned that a dearth of information about the number of housing units built, repaired and maintained hinders MPs from holding the government to account on the file.
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"There are real life consequences for people for this lack of transparency," Benson said during a debate over the motion last week. She shared a personal anecdote about growing up in Brandon, Man. and how her parents benefited from living in subsidized housing.
"That leg-up early in my parent's life together meant my mother was able to finish her post-graduate psychiatric nursing program while my dad began his career," she said, adding they were able to save money help pay for school.
"It meant I never questioned if I would be able to afford university to become a social worker, the education that brought me here today as an elected member of Parliament."
The debate even roused a few Conservative MPs from their seats to speak about affordable housing.
Tory MP Tom Kmiec quoted a Yiddish proverb — that "no good comes from hurrying" — to criticize how $5.7 billion in federal investments since 2016 have so far created nearly 15,000 new housing units, according to a fall report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
"That is a prodigious amount of taxpayer dollars spent on one problem, with so little to show for it," Kmiec said.
Federal NDP shaping housing to be major election issue
Housing has emerged as an issue the NDP is keen to talk about in this year's election.
Last month, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh revealed the first pieces of his party's plan to to stem a housing crisis that's "out of control."
Singh pitched that his "bold" plan can bring immediate relief for Canadians if the government pledges to build 500,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. He also proposes cutting the general sales tax for housing developers building affordable units.
The last piece of Singh's plan wants to see the first-time homebuyer's tax credit doubled as well as extending subsidies to struggling low-income renters.
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to the social development minister, has often shared his skepticism over costing of the NDP proposal. He has frequently claimed the party doesn't have a plan to pay for the construction of 500,000 affordable housing units.
Singh is currently a candidate in a Feb. 25 byelection race in Burnaby South — a British Columbia riding where the NDP leader admitted that he had a hard time finding his own affordable rental housing.
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