A while back I wrote about the importance of the Parliamentary watchdogs that we have in Canada and why they need to be defended. These officers of Parliament do very important work, work that Canadians depend on. For my money, the officer that probably rises to the top of that list in importance these days is the Parliamentary Budget Officer. This position is relatively new, created at the beginning of the Harper government, that basically studies anything and everything that’s asked of them or they wish to investigate. The first Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page became somewhat legendary in Ottawa for his persistence and enlightening reports on the very government that appointed him.
The PBO brings great transparency to our politics and will continue to do so this Fall as they will actually report on party platforms for the first time ever, which will be fascinating to see from the outside. But around official Ottawa, PBO releases have become something to watch. Today the PBO made one release, looking specifically at “Federal Program Spending on Housing Affordability”. And the results? Not very good:
“It is not clear that the National Housing Strategy will reduce the prevalence of housing need relative to 2017 levels”…. “Canada’s National Housing Strategy largely maintains current funding levels for current activities and slightly reduces targeted funding for households in core housing need”….. Ouch, that’s not a good report for the government, especially going into an election where affordability of housing is going to be a key issue in many parts of the country, but especially in Ontario and British Columbia, places where the Liberals need to hold seats.
What makes this worse is what the report says about how the Liberals are following through on their spending promises to fund this strategy. The report points out they have spent only $16 billion on this program, versus the $55 billion that the Liberals say they have spent. For some quick math folks, that’s less than a third of what they claimed to be spending on housing. 33%. Yikes, that’s very bad and raises a lot of realistic questions that need to be answered.
This is the kind of report that shows the importance of this kind of position. In the past, this is the kind of research and information that would have been buried or torqued in all kinds of ways. But thanks to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we get an unbiased, fact-based analysis of these questions and issues, leaving it to the Canadian public to decide for themselves. What more could we ask for, right?
In the meantime, this report will serve as fodder for some of the Opposition parties as they go at the government for their failures on this important topic. The issue of housing and affordability is one that has big potential to impact the upcoming campaign, and to find out that the Liberals are failing on this account is sure to feed into the potential of that issue. We’ll see how this develops but thanks to the work of the PBO, we all have more information to determine what is happening and what is not.