Some things just need to be said...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Canadian Budget for Housing - Goes to City Council

As Members of Parliament attempt to get out of Ottawa, a few major pieces of legislation need to be passed. The number one item on the government's agenda is the passing of the NDP budget amendment. The amendment has been lauded upon by municipalities across Canada for a couple of reasons, primarily due to its provisions for affordable housing and the environment.

Last week the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a motion endorsing the NDP Budget and asked municipalities to pass the motion in their own communities. Canadian cities are jumping on board. Housing and more importantly, affordable housing is one of the major issues facing our cities.
"The two budget bills now before the House,C-43 and C-48,contain provisions the municipal sector has long advocated: a $5-billion share of the federal gas tax over the next five years; a $300 million top-up to the Green Municipal Fund; $800 million in transit funding over the next two years; and $1.6 billion for affordable housing." ~ FCM President, Duncan Mayor Michael Coleman in a Media Release June 15, 2005

The issue of affordable housing has been a dilemma for ten years across Canada with cuts having been made by all provinces except BC and Quebec. In BC's case, severe cuts began in 2002 with the BC Liberal government. Prior to that BC was on one of the largest expansions of affordable in our Province's history.

The federal Liberals have been throwing a few more dollars into the program in the last few years, though it is peanuts when compared to what was there in the past. The NDP budget amendment would see 1.6 billion dollars put into the program, the largest infusion of dollars in affordable housing for over a decade.

Here in Kelowna, the federal riding of Kelowna Lake Country in held by the Conservative party as are the neighbouring Okanagan ridings. In most cases the MPs were first elected as Reform party MPs. The current Conservative party has been vocal in its opposition to the NDP budget amendment. In fact they have voted against the bill so far.

Current city councilor Ron Cannon, is the Conservative candidate for the next federal election. How will he vote today on the motion before the City of Kelowna. Will he vote to support the NDP Budget amendment? If he is acting in the interests of Kelowna citizens he will vote in favour. Ironically Kelowna city council will also be voting on an amendment to the Official community plan that would allow a developer to put in as many as 1200 units. Not one of the new units being proposed would be for affordable housing.

It is beginning to appear that a deal struck between the Conservatives and the Liberals to pass the NDP budget amendment as long as Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act is delayed until the fall. It begs the question of the Conservatives resolve or their understanding of the federal budget. One has to conclude that the most important item on the agenda for the Harper led Conservatives is the same-sex marriage issue.

The other conclusion that could be arrived at is the Conservatives underestimated the support of the urban communities for the NDP Budget amendment. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver now hold a great deal of control over who forms the next government in Canada. These large urban centres are dealing with transit and social issues such as the lack of affordable housing for growing populations. Gridlock is setting in as municipalities are struggling to fund much needed transit expansion.

This last week we have learned that many of the transit routes in Vancouver are at or operating beyond intended traffic volumes. Transit is a success and its success could also be its downfall if it strands too many people needing to use it.

Housing and transit remain the number one issues facing larger urban centres. The problem is growing every day. It cannot go unnoticed that Jack Layton, leader of the NDP and former President of the Canadian Federation of municipalities championed this kind of federal budget support on transit and housing for years. One more prominent NDP participating in the new attention of the federal government focused toward municipalities is former BC Premier and Mayor of Vancouver, Mike Harcourt, who heads up the government's task force on cities.

I await the resolve of the City of Kelowna on this issue. Will they pass it in the heart of Conservative territory, or will they lend a hand to Stephen Harper and vote it down.