Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If Passed Bill C-400 will help Municipalities

If the following story induces a Groundhog Day moment for you, well, it probably should.

A Private Members Bill (Bill C-400) is working being considered tonight in the House of Commons. This bill sets out a method to develop a national housing strategy.

It picks up where a former Bill (C-304) left off. That Bill was introduced in the last Parliament then passed first reading, was amended and passed second reading, before it died when Parliament adjourned for the May 2011 election.

So you’ve heard this before. And you have heard that Canada is one of the few industrialized nations in the world without a national housing strategy.

We used to have one.

Housing expert Michael Shapcott from the Wellesley Institute notes that the plan we had in place from 1973 – 1993 delivered 600,000 good quality, cost effective homes.

“Since 1999, the federal government, most provinces and territories, and many municipalities, have announced a variety of housing and homelessness measures, but the funding has tended to be short-term and inadequate to the scale of need, and there has been little or no co-ordination between the federal, territorial, provincial and municipal governments, along with Aboriginal governments, and the private and community sectors,” writes Shapcott.

BILL C-400

This new bill calls for a national strategy to address housing costs so that the cost of housing “does not compromise an individual’s ability to meet other basic needs.

Among other things the bill, if passed, would make it a priority to ensure the availability of housing for those without housing and as well for those members of groups “particularly vulnerable to homelessness.”

And Bill C-400 envisions a consultation process that would involve municipal governments, the federal, provincial, and aboriginal communities. A conference with these representatives and non-profit and private sector housing providers and others would be required six months after the passage of the bill and a report to Parliament would be due six months after that conference.

The report would include standards, dates for programs to start and principles for inter governmental agreements. In short, we’d have a housing strategy again.

You can find the full content of the Bill at

(This story originally appeared in North End Breezes on February 1st. It was been revised and updated on February 27th. North End Breezes online newsletter can be found at

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pro Poor Strategies for Municipalities

Recently staff from the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, where I hang out when not blogging, spoke at the Hamilton City Council’s General Issues Committee (GIC) regarding the establishment of a community economic development pilot project.  (You can read that report here )

Our argument was that the proposed pilot project should incorporate ‘pro poor’ economic strategies.

I must say that I didn’t know a lot about the concept of pro poor strategies but after some research I’ve come to believe municipalities ought to be considering this approach.

The term “pro poor growth” is generally thought to apply to developing or transitional economies.  But that is not the case, according to McMaster University’s Dr. Atif Kubursi.

Dr. Kubursi indicates that pro-poor policies are not restricted to third world or developing countries, but rather the entire development approach of the UN (adopted at the Economic and Social Commission) is a pro-poor, rights based development policy.

The traditional trickle-down approach that is typically put into place to address poverty reduction doesn’t work.

Wealth and income are more like glue they stick to the hands that first touch them,” notes Kubursi.

The renowned economics professor defines pro-poor growth as growth “that reduces absolute poverty and hunger while simultaneously slimming down existing inequalities in distribution.”

Craig Foye from our Clinic spoke to the fact that that countless research papers, government submissions, and community presentations have made the case that the rate and depth poverty in Hamilton remains relatively stagnant and takes a very high human toll on community members.  Hamilton is, of course, not unique in this regard.

 These matters also affect our economy, both directly through the absence of buying or tax-paying power, and indirectly through the high costs of services to deal with poverty (such as social services, health services, etc) and the effects of obvious and prevalent poverty on the quality of life and culture of our community for all,” Foye told the Committee.

Examples of economic development strategies that might be considered as applying a poverty reduction lens or defined as  “pro poor” would include: living wage strategies, micro loans, community economic development, and targeted business development (such as supermarkets in poor neighborhoods).

While the General Issues Committee did not endorse the Clinic’s recommendation it is hoped that in the future the community economic development strategy might include such “pro-poor” policies.

I wonder if other cities are pursuing pro-poor policies?

More on Dr Kubursi ideas on Pro-Poor Growth strategies can be found at  “Macro Economic Policies Promote Pro-Poor Growth Strategies: ESCWA’s Perspectives”, Dr. Atif Kubursi, Undersecretary General and Acting Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia



Sunday, February 03, 2013

Social and Economic Rights

Last year United Nations Special Rapporteur, Dr.  Oliver De Schutter came under fire from Federal Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

De Schutter had expressed concerns about the barriers that many in this country face in getting enough good food to eat.  

“Canada is much admired for its achievements in the area of human rights … but access to adequate diets, too are human rights issues - and here much remains to be done,” De Schutter had said when visiting Canada in May.

Minister Kenney went on the offensive arguing that the Special Rapporteur should focus on countries where there is widespread hunger.  Looking at Canada isn’t a “very intelligent use of resources” and is “completely ridiculous,” huffed Kenney.

But does Kenney really appreciate what is happening around the world on the human rights front?

Bruce Porter, of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (, would say he doesn’t.

I had the privilege to hear Porter speak in Hamilton last summer. He focussed on the “very important new developments in the human rights world particularly in the area of social and economic rights.”

These rights were originally articulated in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. A bill and two covenants ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations in 1976 meant that the declaration took on the force of international law.

Now domestic judicial bodies must pay attention to rulings in other jurisdictions.  For example, a ruling in a South African case dealt with the Grootman community’s right to housing.  The ruling articulated the concept of “reasonableness.” 

Porter argues that this ruling suggests that governments must “take reasonable measures in conformity with available resources” to address issues like poverty and housing.  (Porter has written about the case at http://www.escr,_Reasonableness.pdf)

Municipal governments are accountable too.  Martha Jackman and Porter write:

Recalcitrance on the part of one level of government, however, should not prevent others from implementing their own mechanisms, procedures, and strategies for ensuring meaningful accountability to international human rights. City or municipal charters can be adopted to implement the right to housing and an adequate standard of living within all areas of municipal authority.  (International Human Rights and Strategies to Address Homelessness and Poverty in Canada: Making the Connection Social Rights Advocacy Centre, September 2011.)

Of late the Canadian government has failed to adequately address social issues using the excuse of financial constraints, essentially arguing that dollar concerns trump human rights considerations.  But Porter notes that it is “no longer acceptable to treat social and economic rights as policy objectives.  Government is obligated to provide effective remedies.”

Porter says that many in the U.N. system have become increasingly alarmed with what they are seeing in Canada as, unlike many countries, we have resources available to ensure that no one is hungry or homeless and yet choose to allow violations of social and economic rights. 

Bruce Porter and others spoke at an event in Hamilton on the right to an adequate standard of living.  This video captures some of that event.