Last month’s 2017 Federal Budget contains some good news for fans of housing rights. Despite this, the the new pan-Canadian National Housing Strategy (as yet unreleased) may risk excluding our most vulnerable citizens (women, racialized communities, seniors, etc.) by refusing to recognize that housing is a basic human right and needs to be part any comprehensive housing policy.

Minister Bill Morneau actually did mention housing rights in his address on March 22nd, something that is unheard of in the House of Commons from a ruling government, let alone a Liberal Finance Minister. Standing at his desk, he declared a “National Housing Strategy to protect every Canadian’s right to a safe and affordable place to call home.”

At the risk of indulging my own paranoia, though, there is something fishy about the fact that Morneau specifically mentioned the word “RIGHT” in English but that this was nowhere to be found in the official Hansard version in French. Make of this what you will. I hope it’s simply a translation error but…

The budget also offered a very promising sum ($11 billion) over 11 years for the National Housing Strategy and renovations and repairs required by affordable housing stocks. That may seem like a huge number, but it should be kept in mind that this figure will be divided into several federal/provincial/territorial programs, and only for as long as the Liberal government stays in power.

11 years is an eternity in federal politics. Further, almost half of that amount ($5 billion) will be going to a new national fund for housing, managed by the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Society, and they have yet to announce how that money will be spent.

Despite the crisis, no money was set aside for the development of new social housing stocks.

Quebec will receive a part of the $3.2 billion allocated for services related to housing. At the same time, between 2019-2020, only $255 million will be provided annually to the provinces.

Aside from these investments related to the National Strategy on Housing, the federal government foresees other sums that touch the housing crisis. Notably, they are re-investing in the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which had been cut under the previous government. This money will finance life-saving frontline services that help sustain people living on the streets every day.

The government will be investing a further $101 million in the national strategy against gender based and sexual violence, something that will likely help the many organizations that offer refuge and other forms of housing to women who are victims of violence.

Ultimately, we will have to wait for the unveiling of the National Housing Strategy later this year to see how and if the promises made by the Trudeau government in housing will be implemented. It’s only then that we will know how the $5 billion, reserved for the National Housing Fund, will be spent. We will also see whether the government’s talk of the right to housing is merely words, or whether it will be a central part of the government’s national action plan for housing.

I’m a progressive who is generally skeptical of the prospect of real, positive change coming from the Liberals, Canada’s so-called “natural governing party.” So far, Justin Trudeau has made it hard for me to maintain that skepticism. With Wednesday’s announcement of who would be the first people to sit in his Cabinet as our federal ministers, he’s made it damn near impossible to object and criticise.

Let’s have a look:

No Bill Blair

It’s not just about who Trudeau picked – it’s about who he didn’t. In particular, former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair was left out of the mix in the first round. The man who was responsible for reprehensible police tactics against protestors at the G20 summit won’t sit at the Cabinet table.

I was so sure he would have been included and be tasked with a portfolio like Defense or Public Safety that I had written a rant condemning this hypothetical choice. Fortunately I won’t have to publish it.

For Public Safety, Trudeau tapped longtime MP and former Cabinet Minister Ralph Goodale. For defense we have Harjit Sajjan, the new “badass” fave of many online. He’s a former soldier in the Canadian Forces, a former Vancouver Police detective, and a Sikh who proudly wears a turban.

Logical and Representative

Sajjan exemplifies the choices Trudeau made with his Cabinet. They are both logical and representative of Canada’s diversity.

We’ve got a soldier for Defense and a doctor, Jane Philpott, for Health. We also have a First Nations woman and former prosecutor Jody Wilson-Raybould heading up Justice. If Trudeau is serious about an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, she will be the person running it.

Catherine McKenna is the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Yes, you read that right; climate change is part of her title. She is a former lawyer who focused on international trade and competition. While I would have preferred an environmental activist, her experience may help at the UN Conference on Climate Change taking place very soon in Paris.

We also now have a Minister for Sport and Persons with a Disability. Carla Qualtrough, who got this portfolio, is a three-time Paralympic Games medalist.

Trudeau’s Cabinet is ethnically diverse and regionally representative. Also, as everyone knows by now, it has gender parity:

Montreal Represent!

My fellow Montrealers can rejoice. For the first time in a long time, Canada’s second-largest city is represented at the Cabinet table.

New Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during her campaign for Mayor of Montreal (photo Valeria Bismar)
New Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during her campaign for Mayor of Montreal (photo Valeria Bismar)

Melanie Joly who was elected in Ahuntsic-Cartierville is our new Heritage Minister. Trudeau recruited her and helped her win the nomination, so it was clear she would get something.

Judging by her campaign for Mayor of Montreal, her main areas of interest were culture and transport. Since Bus Rapid Transit lanes on the Trans-Canada just aren’t going to happen, a portfolio which includes Canada’s culture industries makes sense.

Transport went to Marc Garneau. The one-time astronaut and Liberal leadership contender returns to Parliament representing the newly created riding of NDG-Westmount.

Garneau won’t even have to leave his riding to find a transport issue that needs fixing. Bus service in NDG has been a bit of a nightmare lately.

Stephane Dion is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, now known as Global Affairs Canada. As Canada’s face to the world, Dion is responsible for a huge portfolio.

It makes sense that he would get such an important role. Not only was he just a Harper proroguement away from being Prime Minister, he also managed to hold onto his seat in Saint-Laurent when his party was routed in Montreal, and Quebec overall, during the 2011 Orange Wave.

The new Minister of Youth and Intergovernmental Affairs was also elected in a Montreal riding, Papineau. Though I’m pretty sure he’ll be focused on his larger portfolio, being Prime Minister of Canada.

The Downside

Looking at this Cabinet, there is only one glaringly problematic choice for progressives and it’s in a pretty crucial area: finance. Trudeau picked Bay Street multi-millionaire Bill Morneau to head the department.

It’s not really that surprising. The Liberals are generally progressive on social issues and downright neo-con when it comes to money.

So what does this choice mean, given Trudeau’s play to the left with his election promise to run deficits and raise taxes on the 1%? To his credit, Morneau has expressed interest in income equality and said the tax code needs to be fixed, but, really, only time will tell.

The only other eyebrow-raising choice was Chrystia Freeland as Minister of International Trade. She oversaw two dozen layoffs at Reuters and helped ship those jobs to India, but it is possible to chalk that up to just following orders.

Grasping at Straws

There really isn’t much else to criticize. That hasn’t stopped some from trying, though.

First, there was a story about how five of Trudeau’s female ministers were considered Ministers of State, meaning less pay, while none of his male ministers were in that boat. Now, it seems like that situation will be rectified.

Now there is an issue raised by Kim Campbell, of all people, but shared by some on the left, about the fact that Defense Minister Sajjan is still technically in the Canadian Forces, as a reservist. The problem being that, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, he is part of the chain of command which he, as the Minister of Defense, is supposed to be above. The thing is, Sajjan is already in the process of getting his release from the military, the paperwork just takes time.

As someone who didn’t vote Liberal and are generally skeptical of the party, I’ve been looking for fault as much as anyone. There really is none to be found in his cabinet choices. Trudeau is starting off on the right foot, or rather, the left foot.

Yes, the other shoe will drop. His continued support for the Keystone XL pipeline and his “disappointment” expressed to President Obama when the US rejected the plan is an indication of where progressives will find fault with the Trudeau regime.

For now, though, it is all smiles and roses. I think we should make the most of this moment and get the most out of our new government. If Trudeau is playing to the left, we should support him. The moment he switches, we should call him on it.

The C-51 debate is coming up and there are plenty of issues Trudeau has promised change on and could well deliver. This is the time to get practical, and that means accepting the line that there is hope for change with the new government and encourage it to happen.

There will be plenty of reasons to criticize the Trudeau regime in the next four years. His Cabinet choices, at this point, aren’t among them.