Cathy Crowe

 

 


Newsletter No. 9, March 2005

 

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 16 years. In the spring of 2004 I received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue, for up to three years, my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues.  In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.
 

Further information about subscribing to the newsletter is found below.  I want to hear from you - about the newsletter, about things that are happening in the homelessness sector (what a sad term!), and about good things which will provide inspiration for all of us.

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FEDERAL BUDGET 2005:

“Zip – zero – reference to housing. Promise betrayed.”

This was the content of an email I received from housing advocate Michael Shapcott at 4:23 pm on Feb. 23. At 4 pm Finance Minister Ralph Goodale began reading the budget and the fiscal loss to one of Canada’s most needed social programs was known within minutes. I gasped when I read Michael’s message. No doubt there was a collective gasp from housing advocates across the country. They had worked in concert and had been relentless in their efforts to ensure that life saving housing money would be included in this budget. The federal Liberal government’s election promise of $1.5 billion dollars for housing had been left out of the budget.

After the shock – feelings of outrage, hurt, betrayal and worry. I promised you good news in this newsletter and have none – except that I was so enraged in the immediate days following the budget that I set upon my oven and it received a vigorous cleaning.

We must move from shock and outrage to mobilize and respond (i.e. first mourn then organize) First the facts:

The word “Housing” in the budget:

Housing gets almost no mention in federal budget 2005 and it only gets one slim reference in Finance Minister Ralph Goodale’s budget speech:

“Accordingly, when our Municipal and Rural, Strategic and Border infrastructure programs are due to expire in the normal course over the next several years, it is our clear intention to renew and extend them into the future. The same is true for our housing initiatives.”

There is also a slight reference in the Aboriginal section:

“We will also make immediate investments in early learning, in special education, in child and family services on reserves, and in better housing, with a view to stimulating Aboriginal businesses and jobs in the housing sector—all under more effective Aboriginal direction and control.”

In the 400-plus page technical document that contains budgetary details, there is also zip for housing and no reference to the Liberal commitment to spend $1.5 billion over five years for new social housing.


Making Good on Promises?

A theme in the federal budget 2005 is making good on promises:

“Today, we build on what has gone before—and for those who will come after—not by making promises, but by making good on promises. By delivering on commitments.”

Housing advocates and homeless people have been betrayed. There was good reason to believe we would see $1.5 billion over 5 years in this budget. During the election, Paul Martin promised that his government would provide $1.5 billion for social housing. (Note that $1.5 billion over 5 years is a far cry from the 1% solution which would equate to $2 billion per year.)

We were also hopeful due to what we believed were a number of positive indications on the housing front. Prime Minister Martin’s appointment of Joe Fontana as Minister of Housing was generally seen as a promising sign. He appeared knowledgeable and interested in housing. While in opposition, in 1990, Martin and Fontana had written a ground-breaking policy paper on housing. Another hopeful sign - the federal homeless portfolio was collapsed into the new Minister’s housing portfolio. Minister Fontana made himself accessible to housing groups across the country. Michael Shapcott and I had a very productive meeting with the Minister in Ottawa , followed by a personal tour for the Minister in Toronto where we showed him first hand examples of housing projects that are paralyzed without a national program. Minister Fontana ensured that the National Coalition on Housing and Homelessness was formally on the agenda of last November’s federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) housing ministers meeting. Shortly after the FPT meeting the Minister initiated what seemed to be a serious federal housing consultation which looked at delivery methods and ways to integrate services. In recent weeks, even more hopeful signs: a flurry of activity in Ottawa which included Finance Minister Ralph Goodale summoning Michael Shapcott to Ottawa and the inclusion of a number of national housing advocates into the budget lockup.

Ironically, one year ago to budget day ( Feb. 23, 2004 ), Paul Martin said in a press scrum in Montreal that his government was committed to a new, five-year national social housing program. Here is the exact transcript of those comments, provided by Martin’s office:
 

NEWS CONFERENCE EXCERPT: PAUL MARTIN, PRIME MINISTER

RE: SOCIAL HOUSING


QUESTION: On another subject, some of the people you met with earlier today came out and told us that you’d mentioned to them that the Liberal election platform would commit to a five-year plan for social housing. I’m just wondering, is that, was that a correct assessment of your, of your engagement and if so, are there any dollar figures floating around in your head at this point?

PAUL MARTIN (Prime Minister): The answer to both questions is yes.

QUESTION: And what would that dollar figure be sir?

MARTIN: I think we’ll wait for the platform.

GERALD TREMBLAY (Mayor of Montreal): Okay, thank you very much. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Can I, if that’s the end…

QUESTION: Can you just elaborate just a bit about the social housing though? I mean, what, why? You talked in French about how you were making a commitment in this regard. What, why are you concerned about this when before, as finance minister, you cut social housing?

MARTIN: No, I didn’t actually. In fact, social housing was cut before that. I, at one point, in fact wrote quite a report on social housing. But, and we did increase the mon…(sic). The money going into social housing has been increase over the last, over the last number, number of years. But essentially it’s, it’s been done largely on an ad hoc basis. But you know, and I think I’ll say this in French and English as we close if you don’t mind. One of the important reasons for this meeting is that our objectives are all the same. On the agenda that the mayors had at our meeting, was social housing. And Canadians’ priorities are the same whether you’re the federal government, provincial government or, or municipal government. And the fact is that, as the mayors have said, what we’ve got to do is work together to solve these problems. You’re going to have national objectives. You can’t have national objectives unless our cities and the provinces are onside for those national objectives. So we’re asked to accomplish what we want to do. In terms of social housing, as an example, we have to work together. And yes I did say that I believe that social housing, I think, you know a society that can’t nourish itself, that can’t clothe itself and that can’t, and that can’t house itself is a society that is just simply dysfunctional. And we’ve got to work on that. And, and that’s what, that is a major goal for us as national government, as it is, I believe, for both the provinces and the major cities. And that’s one of the reasons why this meeting was so important. So yes I did make that commitment.

(Translation) It’s very important to recognize that if we are going to have national objectives, such as social housing, then the only way, as a national government, that we can attain those objectives is by working in close partnership with the provinces and the cities and the municipalities, small and large. And that was the purpose of our meeting today and I think that we have made a great deal of progress. And I would just like to thank my colleagues for their invitation. I think it was a success. Thank you very much. (End Translation)

 

“I think, you know a society that can’t nourish itself, that can’t clothe itself and that can’t, and that can’t house itself is a society that is just simply dysfunctional.”

Paul Martin, 2004
 

Well, we can’t, can’t, can’t build social housing without a program.

 

  • We can’t promise the thousands of children (across the country) living in overflow shelters in motels that they might soon have a bedroom of their own without a program;

  • We can’t piece together the money to create a project like the Edmund Yu Safe House in Toronto that would provide a safe haven for people suffering from poor mental health without a program;

  • We can’t ensure that women, seniors, people living with chronic disease will be able to move into new housing projects without a program;

  • We can’t assure health and safety for anyone who is living in congregate group settings like shelters. Not with the new and old threats of tuberculosis, influenza, Norwalk virus and bedbugs, not without a program;
     

Ontario being “played” but London , Ontario fights back!

We’re all familiar with the political finger-pointing when it comes to blame, responsibility and who should pay. Each level of government points to the other. Never has this been more evident than in Ontario and the fight over housing dollars.

Federal housing minister Joe Fontana, who is a Member of Parliament from London, has made a series of promises about the date when a federal-Ontario housing deal will be finalized. Ontario first signed the federal-provincial Affordable Housing Framework Agreement in 2001, promising to match federal housing dollars to build tens of thousands of new homes in Ontario. Ontario signed a second, bilateral housing deal in May of 2002, once again agreeing to match the federal dollars. In the last provincial election, the Ontario Liberals promised that - if elected - they would match the federal dollars and fund 20,000 new affordable homes. To date, the federal government has promised $245 million over five years for new affordable housing (2001), then topping that up with an additional $100 million in 2003. That means that a federal-Ontario housing deal - if it is finally realized - would mean about $250 million in new federal dollars and $250 million in provincial dollars over five years.

Despite the two signed agreements and many promises and announcements, there has been no firm deal between the feds and Ontario. Minister Fontana was appointed to cabinet in the summer of 2004. Since November, he has been promising that there would be a federal-Ontario deal signed within "60 to 90 days". He has made the "60 to 90 day" promise at least three times.

Housing groups in London, Ontario, have started a 90-day countdown to call the Minister on his repeated promise of a federal-Ontario deal. The goal is to build the political pressure on the Minister to follow through on his promise and get a deal signed. If no deal is possible (and, after more than three years and two different governments, some are despairing that Ontario will never honour its promises), then the Minister should honour his pledge to bypass Ontario and provide housing funding directly to municipalities and community-based housing groups.


Minister Fontana calls.

Minister Fontana phoned Michael Shapcott, co-chair of the National Housing and Homeless Network, only hours after the budget. The Minister provided what I suppose is the official “spin” on the budget with respect to housing: "the commitment is still strong", "one can make additional spending in the course of the year" (implying that he didn't necessarily have to wait until the next federal budget for new money), that there is still $800 million in unspent housing dollars that can be used, and that we will be consulted on the report from the federal housing/homelessness consultation before it goes to Cabinet, and there will likely be another meeting of the FPT in the Spring.

To quote Michael Shapcott: “there is no such thing as a no money miracle" when it comes to housing.”


So what to do? Action ideas.

I’d like to begin with a sentiment written by my daughter when she was still in high school:

"We should not be shy when demanding to be part of the democratic process: it belongs to us as any politician or government body: we have ourselves to blame for allowing politicians to do what they have. Omission is submission is permission."

- Idella Sturino
 

I am encouraged that groups, such as a housing advocacy group in South Etobicoke have already started to organize. They have initiated a campaign to communicate their disappointment to their local MP and to the Prime Minister. Here are a few suggestions for what you can do:

1. Let the politicians know what you think. Demand a national housing programme. Money for social housing. Now.

CLICK HERE to identify and reach your local MP.

You can also phone or email the Prime Minister. His email is pm@pm.gc.ca or write or fax the Prime Minister’s office at:
 

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa
K1A 0A2

Phone: 613-992-4211
Fax: 613-941-6900

2. Should your organization hold an emergency Board or Executive meeting in order to pass a resolution or issue a communiqué describing the impact this budget will have on your community’s housing needs?

3. Are you part of a housing coalition that should spring into action to develop a “war plan” to fight this budget decision?

4. Is your local media covering the absence of housing dollars and what it will mean to your community? Can you contact them, can you write letters to the editor, or opinion pieces?

5. “People taking to the streets” is important. Organize a housing rally. Attend all future housing rallies, marches and forums. Donate to the groups that do this work and support them.

In closing, let me emphasize this last point. Major social change has only happened when a mass of people became organized, became part of a movement, and formed a popular movement demanding resources. Let’s make it so.

Cathy


With thanks to Michael Shapcott for background research.


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Photo: Cathy Crowe at the Federal-provincial-territorial meeting in Gatineau with members of FRAPRU; Photo by Danielle Koyama

 


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