Despite the length of the current Canadian federal election, there is not a lot of opportunity to ask questions of party leaders. Parties like to control the campaign discourse, and the debates focus on questions posed by the debate organizers and sponsors. But like many Canadians we have some questions here at Maytree. In fact, we think we have five good questions.
Will you undertake to include social and economic rights for Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
When the Charter was drafted and approved in 1982, social and economic rights were left out. They are included in other rights regimes around the world, and include the right to social security, work and good working conditions, an adequate standard of living, food, housing, education, health and the benefits of science and culture. By including these things as rights, nations create an obligation of the state to provide them adequately. This is a much stronger commitment than a government simply choosing to adopt a policy, which might easily be overturned by an ensuing government. Inclusion of social and economic rights in the Charter is a much stronger protection for citizens.
Will you commit to a dramatically accelerated provision of affordable housing, using the fiscal capacity of the federal government to close the housing gap that has developed in recent decades?
Too many Canadians are housed in substandard housing in locations far away from where they are employed. They spend far too much of their income on housing, often forcing them to skimp on food and other necessities at the end of the month. They are forced to move house frequently to find cheaper or less contaminated accommodation. Waiting lists for existing affordable housing are long and growing. This is damaging for children whose ability to learn is hampered by poor nutrition and loss of community. It is a contributor to labour market turnover as workers face long commutes which can be disrupted by weather or transit problems. The federal government in the past has been a vital player in affordable housing provision and could be again.
Will you commit to supporting public transit at a much higher level than the federal government has in recent years to close the transit gap that has opened up?
Transit is the lifeblood of cities. Successful cities have robust transit systems to move workers to their jobs, residents to school, playground and place of worship, and visitors throughout the city. Cities themselves don’t have the fiscal capacity to undertake large infrastructure projects like subway and light rail lines, or even large bus purchases in the case of smaller cities. They are limited to a small range of revenue tools like the property tax. The federal government has the largest fiscal capacity of any government in Canada and should, as in other nations, take the lead in funding municipal transit.
Will you commit to the full funding of Canada’s income support programs?
Vital programs like the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the Working Income Tax Benefit are well designed but underfunded. Many agree that the Canada Pension Plan payouts are inadequate for retired people who depend on them to live in dignity. Many other programs are similarly underfunded. We know these programs work because they have had dramatic effects in reducing poverty among seniors, families with children, and people living with disabilities. They would work even better if properly funded. For many Canadians, particularly those who work in jobs which pay at rates leaving them below the poverty line, improving the funding of these income supports can be the difference which raises them out of poverty.
Will you make federal lands available for local benefit?
In many towns and cities across Canada, the federal government owns land in key locations. If this land were to be developed in alignment with the wishes and plans of local communities, the resulting development could become a vital community asset: a community centre or concert hall; a dynamic waterfront community; a new transportation hub. Particularly in bigger cities, land ownership can rest with different levels of government (federal, provincial, municipal), with institutions (universities, hospitals) and with the private sector. Too often big projects get delayed because ownership interests can’t be worked out, or because politics intervene. A willing federal partner to take the lead in contributing land and aligning interests would be a tremendous boon to building our cities, towns and communities.
These are five good questions we would ask of our campaigning party leaders.
— Alan Broadbent is chairman and founder of Maytree, and chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corp. He co-founded and chairs the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement. This column first ran on Maytree’s blog.