I am not a Lawyer…

But I’ve been around the housing field for a while and I remember this line:

“All Canadians have the right to adequate housing.”  

That is what a Liberal Party Task Force headed up by former Prime Minster Paul Martin said in 1990.   

Martin, who left politics in 2008, is in the news again. The new coalition government in the United Kingdom apparently wants to pick the former Finance’s Minister’s brain in order to figure out how to solve their debt/deficit problem.

They’ve got lots of problems in the U.K. that need fixing but I hope when David Cameron’s policy peeps get to talking with Mr Martin they try to connect the dots of deficit reduction strategies and commitments to people’s rights.

Back in 1990 Paul Martin, opposition politician, had said:

The federal government has abandoned its responsibilities with regards to housing problems … The housing crisis is growing at an alarming rate and the government sits there and does nothing … The federal government’s role would be that of a partner working with other levels of government, and private and public housing groups. But leadership must come from one source; and a national vision requires some national direction.

Within 3 years Mr. Martin got his chance to “do something” and provide vision.  He spearheaded an initiative called Getting Government Right. 

But “getting it right” didn’t have to do with the right to housing.  In fact, under Martin’s watch the social housing budget was eliminated and housing responsibilities were downloaded in the rush to balance the books and pay down the debt. Viewed from a purely partisan political perspective the attractive surpluses that followed justified everything.

Last year Ed Broadbent delivered a speech at York University entitled Barbarism Lite: The Political Attack on Social Rights.  The former NDP leader and academic noted that Martin actually said his work on the budget constituted a redefinition of government and boasted that, relative to the size of the economy, program spending was at the lowest level than at any time since 1951.

Nothing has really changed.  Government isn’t about asserting people rightsThe Right to Housing Legal Challenge might be the only way we can establish this basic principle that housing is a right.

Bob Wood is Community Development Coordinator for the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.