With only one week left until the federal election, the days to come will play a critical role in shaping the next four years in Canada. We are in the homestretch and the stakes are high. In the midst of COVID’s fourth wave, the results of this election will determine how Canada responds to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, as well as how we recover and rebuild our social, economic, and environmental landscape.
In mid-August Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau called a federal election two years early in hopes of winning back the majority government he lost in 2019. As a minority government, the Liberal party has been forced to negotiate with other parties in order to pass legislation. While this dynamic can result in greater communication and policies reflecting a broader perspective, it can stifle a governing party's ability to create substantial policy change.
The federal government's response to COVID-19 (beyond vaccines and economic recovery) and their approach to addressing reconciliation, affordability, and inequality have very local implications. Since early in the pandemic, our municipal government has relied heavily on federal support to weather its economic losses. As we have heard repeatedly, without this relief funding the City of Toronto would be forced to make significant cuts to vital services. The last two years have made it clear that Toronto’s ability to generate revenue, even if Council did fully utilize the revenue tools at its disposal, doesn't match its responsibilities. While emergency funding for municipalities may not be top of mind for most voters, it made it onto Mayor Tory’s wish list.
Below we take a brief look at some of the commitments that have emerged throughout this election around five important issues from four of Canada’s political parties. Investments in affordable housing, child care, income security and decent work, truth and reconciliation, and racial justice are urgently needed to address inequality, support community wellbeing, and ensure an equitable recovery.
It’s not surprising that affordable housing has become a key topic of this year’s election, with priorities emerging in the platforms of all the main parties. The housing and homelessness crisis is top of mind for Torontonians, with rising rents, low vacancy rates, a crumbling social housing supply, out-of-reach homeownership, and the financialization of housing. Fixing the affordable housing crisis will require a complex set of policy interventions involving all levels of government.
The Liberal and Conservative parties have focused on increasing supply and bringing prices down, while the NDP has emphasized both affordable rental housing and home ownership. Unfortunately, there is some doubt whether any of their promises will have an impact on Toronto’s skyrocketing prices. Taking a closer look at each party’s commitments to build new housing, it is important to distinguish what is actually above and beyond what is expected to be produced without their new measures. The NDP have committed to build the most new housing (500,000 units), but their plan is not costed out. And for the most part, party platforms have failed to adequately address the crisis in rental housing — a reality for the majority of Toronto residents — and there's little mention of defining "affordable" nor of how to ensure truly affordable housing is built and sustained. As municipal governments play the most significant role in housing, we can look to the Feds to push municipalities to “make better and faster planning decisions to increase housing supply, target federal funding to create housing that’s affordable” for lower-income earners, and create a regulatory environment that drives housing prices down and curtails the impact of the financialization of rental housing markets. Both the Liberals and the NDP include accelerator/fast-start funds, with the NDP targeting co-op and nonprofit housing. The Green Party, who released their platform most recently, wants to create at least 300,000 deeply affordable non-market, co-op, and non-profit housing and 50,000 supportive housing units over the next decade and offer some protections for renters.
Providing adequate, affordable long-term housing solutions, including supportive housing, is a key component to addressing homelessness in Canada, but in big cities like Toronto we need urgent action. The Conservatives seem to view homelessness as solely caused by substance use and addictions, as all five of their priorities to address it reference substance use and recovery. The Liberal and Green parties both want to see a new Federal Housing Advocate appointed, while the NDP is the only one that commits to fully implementing the right to housing and working towards ending homelessness in Canada within a decade. The Green party also has several policy proposals targeting youth homelessness, and all four parties plan to combat veteran homelessness in some way.
The need for truly affordable, safe, adequate housing is more critical now than ever, and our city urgently needs leadership from the federal government to make progress.
As economist Armine Yalnizyan has said, “No recovery without a ‘she-covery.’ And no ‘she-covery’ without childcare.” School and daycare closures have impacted parents and, disproportionately, women, who have had to cut back on hours or leave work to take care of children.
Although the governing Liberal party announced a subsidized national child care strategy earlier this year, the fate of this program will now be decided on Sept. 20. The Liberal party has promised, if re-elected, to move the program forward, resulting in average daily rates being cut in half next year and reaching $10 by 2026. The NDP has also mentioned a $10/day program in their platform. The Conservatives propose to scrap the universal program for a tax credit covering up to $6,000 in child care expenses for families earning less than $150,000. The CCPA’s analysis of these three options concluded that “under the Liberal and NDP plan to cut child care fees in half by 2022, Toronto families would save more than $10,000 a year for a regulated infant space compared to the Conservatives’ refundable tax credit.”
While the Green party platform was not available at the time of the CCPA’s analysis, it has since been released and includes a commitment to immediately increase federal funding for child care and building a universal system, although figures are not specified.
Income security and decent work
Across the country and locally, the pandemic helped to illuminate, and exacerbate, the challenges facing care workers, essential workers, and the precariously employed — work done largely by low-income racialized women. It also made clear how inadequate the old Employment Insurance system was and the relative ease with which some version of a universal basic income (UBI) could be implemented. While labour laws have predominantly been under provincial jurisdiction, the Feds have recently begun playing a more proactive role including, notably, setting a federal minimum wage and paid sick days for federally regulated industries.
The NDP says they will increase the Liberals' $15 federal minimum wage to $20, immediately deliver a new disability benefit, and prioritize creating a “guaranteed livable basic income.” The Liberals have not committed to a UBI and the Conservatives don't support one. Most parties support a $15 federal minimum wage, all are seeking to do more for people with disabilities, and the Liberals and Conservatives would expand/increase the Canada Workers Benefit. The Greens, like the NDP, have long committed to a guaranteed livable income, and say they want to establish a “fair, national minimum wage,” and that they will increase parity between student and minimum wages by establishing a $15 minimum federal student wage.
The Liberals say they will make EI simpler and more accessible, including for the self-employed, and expand EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks. They also commit to reforming economic immigration programs to help temporary foreign workers and former international students. The NDP also talks about an expanded and more accessible EI system, including a low-income supplement; expanded eligibility for those returning to school, providing childcare, or protecting the health of family members; additional provisions for workers in seasonal jobs; extended EI sickness benefits (to 50 weeks); and a permanent “safety net” of paid sick leave. The Conservatives say they will create a “super Employment Insurance” that temporarily provides 75% of salary (instead of 55%) in provinces in recession and will pay 25–50% of salaries of new workers for six months after the end of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. They also commit to expanding EI sickness benefits for the seriously ill to 52 weeks.
Truth and reconciliation
Photo: "Orange Shirt Day 2019," Province of British Columbia, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
As Indigenous communities continue to search for the bodies of children in unmarked graves on the grounds of over 140 residential “schools” across Canada (and as many non-Indigenous people and organizations think about our commitments and accountability to truth, reconciliation, Indigenous self-determination, and decolonization), many Indigenous leaders are concerned about the lack of focus on these issues in the election and the lack of significant commitments by the parties.
The Liberals have made Sept. 30 a federal statutory holiday — the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — and recently provided $320 million in new funding to help Indigenous communities search burial sites at former residential schools and support survivors. They had previously promised to enact all 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), but little progress has been made. And they continue to fight a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order to compensate First Nations children who went through the on-reserve child welfare system. The NDP promises to end this litigation, to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue accountability for crimes committed in residential schools, and to require churches and governments to hand over records. They devote a considerable amount of time to Indigenous issues in their platform, even beginning this section with an acknowledgement of the experiences of Indigenous peoples and a commitment to working in true partnership. The Conservatives plan to implement TRC calls to action 71–76, fund searches at all former residential schools and honour those discovered, and develop resources to educate Canadians on the history of residential schools. Both the Liberals and Conservatives plan to build a monument in Ottawa. In the past, the Conservatives voted in Parliament against implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Greens say they would fund Indigenous healing centres and provide funding to work on missing children and unmarked burials, call on the Pope to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, improve First Nations child welfare, and end the government’s legal fight over the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling.
With Canada’s largest population of racialized and immigrant communities, Toronto will look to each party for concrete and meaningful commitments to combatting anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, anti-Asian, and other forms of racism, as well as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and the gendered and intersectional ways in which diverse racialized communities are harmed by white supremacy. The vast majority of Canadians are against racism and activists are frustrated over the lack of attention on the issue during the election.
The word “racism” does not appear in the Conservative platform, and it contains no specific measures to address systemic or anti-Black racism. They pledge to tackle the rise in hate crimes, but the party leader pledged to hire more police officers despite calls from advocates to reform or defund police organizations. The NDP promises a national action plan to take on far-right extremist organizations, white supremacists, and neo-Nazi groups and a national working group to counter online hate. They will ban carding by the RCMP, push for all major cities to have dedicated hate crime units, create a national task force to address the over-representation of Indigenous people and Black Canadians in federal prisons, collect race-based data, and review employment equity to close the racialized wage gap. The Liberals launched a $291.3 million Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund last year, and their spring budget included hundreds of millions of dollars to support Black-led nonprofits and community programs and to combat anti-Black racism. They promise a national action plan to combat hate by 2022 as part of a broader anti-racism strategy, a Black Canadians Justice Strategy, and $172 million over five years to improve the collection of disaggregated, race-based data. Only the Greens' platform has specific promises to detask and reallocate funds from policing to community and social supports. They commit to an independent police oversight system, funding data collection on online hate and real-world violence, addressing systemic racism in the federal public service, and providing additional resources to review the Employment Equity Act.
Even though we’ve provided only a quick glance at five pressing issues, there are more details and countless other topics being debated and discussed throughout this election — including more on the care economy, climate, services for Indigenous communities, immigration, gender justice, healthcare, foreign policy, tax fairness, and more.
Election day is Monday, September 20. As you prepare to cast your vote, explore these additional resources to further your understanding of each party’s platform.
About the election and voting:
- Democratic Engagement Exchange: 2021 Voting FAQ and Resources Sheet
- Canadian Vote Coalition: various tools to help community leaders and organizations equip first-time and infrequent voters with the knowledge they need to make a confident, informed vote
- CTV News: Everything you need to know about the 2021 federal election
- Ways to Vote
- How to Find the Candidates Running in Your Riding
- What ID Do I Need To Bring?
- Voters Checklist
- in 16 Indigenous languages and 30+ other languages: Guide to the Federal Election and list of Voter ID
- CanAge: Voter Toolkit for seniors
- Native Women's Association of Canada: Voting Guide for indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ voters
- YWCA Toronto: Federal Election Guide for gender equity
- Toronto Drop-In Network: Election Toolkit for drop-in workers / anyone supporting unhoused people
- Inclusion Canada: Commitments on issues impacting the disability community
For issues and analysis:
- Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Election 44
- Imagine Canada: How to Engage in the Federal Election 2021: Rules for Charities and Nonprofits and On the Campaign Trail: Party Commitments
- First Policy Response: Campaign Catch-Up
- Maclean’s: 2021 Election Platform Guide
- CBC News: How do the main parties compare on these issues?
Campaigns and actions:
- Vote Housing: A national, non-partisan campaign to end homelessness and make housing safe and affordable in Canada
- Child Care Now: A campaign to get political parties and candidates to support building a publicly funded and managed, Canada-wide system of universally accessible, high-quality, affordable, and inclusive early learning and child care
- Up for Debate: A call for the human rights of all women and girls — trans and cis — and Two-Spirited and non-binary people to be fully respected, protected, and upheld
- Keep Transit Moving: A coalition urging federal parties and candidates to commit to providing emergency transit funding now and permanent operations funding in the future
- The Conversation: Article / call to action for the next federal government to shift from reconciliation to decolonization and Indigenous self-determination
- Platform for Tax Fairness 2021: Proposals from Canadians for Tax Fairness on creating a fairer tax system
- Fair Vote Canada: A campaign calling for electoral reform and proportional representation, a foundational issue that has not received much coverage this election
- Conservative: Secure the Future
- Green: Be Daring
- Liberal: Forward. For Everyone
- NDP: Ready for Better
- Bloq Québécois: Plateforme Politique Bloc 2021
For post-election analysis:
- YWCA Canada and Fora: Network for Change: Unpacking #Elxn44 — Canada's First Pandemic Federal Election event on Sept. 22 will discuss what the election outcome means, especially for young women and gender-diverse youth