Ottawa – September 15, 2021 – On September 7, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted “Young people aren’t asking for a free house. They want a fair shot at buying their own. We’re going to make sure (they) can.” This prompted several Twitter users to inform the Liberal Party leader that, “actually, I am asking for a free house.” It was a bold statement for Trudeau to make at a time when the cost of living is everyone’s top priority, and when many young people are considering moving provinces due to housing affordability.
The issue of housing has become a top concern for many voters in this federal election, and has drawn responses from all federal party platforms. It has also prompted some important interventions from those who want to push politicians to expand their policies to address the concerns of people who are often forgotten during election campaigns. In her article in The Conversation, Jennifer Chutter points to how housing discussions rely on narratives that associate access to home ownership to the settler dream of “having a good life.” Further to that, in his analysis, Ricardo Tranjan highlights the lack of political commitments to a national rent freeze for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a policy that would trigger an eviction moratorium in the event that unemployment surpasses a certain threshold.
All major federal parties have offered their proposals on housing, with the New Democrats providing the most ambitious plan. The NDP wants to build 250,000 affordable rental units in the next five years. All parties have been focused on solving the housing affordability crisis by increasing housing supply and making it easier to own a home. However, the NDP is the only party emphasizing that access to good rental homes is just as important as home ownership. This leaves voters with an important distinction to make, given that there is a large number of Canadians who rent out of necessity. Simply put, much of the discussion regarding housing affordability could capture the dire needs of most Canadians if it were not so fixated on the concept of home ownership.
For those of us eager to elect a government that can provide public policies and programs that can support the needs of workers, it is important for us to also consider the criticisms of those who want to push an even more progressive agenda. After all, childcare was once a provincial concern, but has now become a top federal campaign issue. As we move closer to Election Day, it is incumbent upon us to expand our understanding of community, shelter, and ownership in our labour activism and in how we exercise our political obligations. Issues surrounding housing affordability and rent could, in the end, determine the outcome of this election.