Friday Focus: Affordable Housing and the Human Rights Act

I want to begin this Friday Focus by recognizing the passing of former Alberta Liberal Leader Bob Russell on August 30th. Bob led our party through some of its more difficult years with grit and determination. He was also a political fixture of his community of St. Albert, standing for election as a federal Liberal candidate twice and serving as a city councillor for multiple terms. His contributions to Liberalism, St. Albert and Alberta, will be dearly missed. 

Paying the Mortgage without Patching the Roof

This week unacceptable conditions came to light in public housing in Edmonton, including the presence of toxic black mould and accessibility problems. A lot of attention has focused on the government-funded provider of these homes. I don't deny they bear responsibility for these conditions, but the problems are the consequence of a broken provincial system. 

Underfunded maintenance is the result of chronic underfunding of affordable housing in Alberta. This is bad social policy and bad economic policy. Access to good affordable housing can lift people out of poverty and boost economies by improving employment opportunities and increasing consumer spending. 

In our last platform, we committed to doubling the funding for new affordable housing and providing an additional $50 million for maintenance and repair. However, with rising inflation pressures on citizens and a large windfall from petroleum royalties, some of this year’s enormous windfall must be spent ensuring citizens at the lowest margins have adequate housing. 

Bad Actors on Human Rights

This week, the UCP government fired Alberta’s Human Rights Commission's chief over past Islamaphobic remarks. He should not have been hired to begin with. The appointment of any individual with a history of discriminatory comments to the human rights commission chief position speaks to the UCP's lack of serious commitment to equality and social justice. Removing one individual doesn’t change that.

It's time the UCP followed the calls from the Alberta Liberal Party for a comprehensive review of the Alberta Human Rights Act. It has been over two decades since the last review. Society's understanding of equality and discrimination has evolved, and so must our legislation. Alberta deserves not only a new commission chief and an attitude adjustment by the government but also needs a revitalized Act.