Every once in awhile all the slogging pays off.
That’s what I felt like Wednesday night, September 30 when my Bill (C-304, an Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians) passed second reading in Parliament.
It sent me back to May 1997 when I campaigned in my first election for MP for the great riding of Vancouver East. You see, I ran because I was so furious that Canada’s great housing programs had been axed by the then Liberal Government in the name of deficit cutting.
As a city councillor I had seen first-hand the enormous benefits of the federal housing programs that helped build strong communities in Vancouver. I ran because I felt compelled to get to Ottawa to work to get those programs back. That’s where the slogging began. After two national housing tours across the country to draw attention to the devastating impact of homelessness in Canada, I introduced my first Housing Bill of Rights.
And the work of taking on the Liberal government began too, to force them to take responsibility for the growing crisis in housing in Canada. The effort within Parliament and the amazing work of housing organizations across the country to pressure the government began to pay off in the announcement of various homelessness programs. But the federal government never wanted to admit that the decision to unload its housing responsibility to other levels of government was enormously harmful, both to individual Canadians, and whole communities.
It was the relentless work of people like Michael Shapcott, Jack Layton (then a municipal councillor and President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities), Jean Swanson in Vancouver, and groups like TRAC (Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre), the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and Cathy Crowe, that moved us forward bit by bit.
But still, there was always a fundamental problem of no national housing strategy and funding. It was (and still is) a patchwork of on and off programs that couldn’t deliver what was really needed: clear federal leadership for a national program that would actually build affordable and not-for-profit housing.
Thanks to the wonderful efforts of many people and organizations, and mayors and city councils, the message is getting through.
The diversity of people and groups supporting the need for a national housing strategy and program has been extraordinary and resulted in 148 MP’s voting in the affirmative for the Bill to be approved “in principle”, and will be sent to a Parliamentary Committee for detailed examination.
Thank you to the Canadian AIDS Society; the Wellesley Institute; the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (Street Level); Multi-faith Alliance to End Homelessness; the Homelessness and Housing Umbrella Group, Kitchener; the Alliance to End Homelessness, Ottawa; Canadian Pensioners Concerned, Ontario Division; Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division; Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec; Victoria City Council; Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, Tracadie-Sheila Mayor Aldéoda Losier, and all the other communities, mayors, and individuals who have worked so hard for more and better housing. Also, many thanks to MP Megan Leslie, the NDP’s new Housing critic, who worked really hard to gather support for the Bill.
I’m under no illusions that we still have much work to do to get this Bill through. But every once in awhile it feels good to pause, and think, today, something good happened, because we made it happen. A small step – but significant.
So what needs to be done now?
If your MP voted to support the Bill – please email and thank them. A list of the 148 can be found by searching VOTES, September 30, 2009, at this link.
If your MP didn’t support the Bill, feel free to email them and ask why?? (Only one Conservative supported the Bill, Peter Goldring, MP for Edmonton East … It’s hard to believe the whole Conservative Caucus voted against secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.) After that, let me know if you’re ready to help the Bill get through the Committee and I’ll let you know when it comes up.
Libby Davies is Member of Parliament for Vancouver-East. She can be contacted at daviel[at]parl[dot]gc[dot]ca.