NDP’s Singh seeks urban support with housing billions, avoids deficit questions

OTTAWA — Jagmeet Singh continued his push to win progressive votes on Tuesday by promising an NDP government would invest billions of dollars in affordable housing to help Canadians struggling to make ends meet.

The commitment was the NDP’s latest pledge to expand social programs. The party’s promises have included universal pharmacare and free tuition for post-secondary education while promising higher taxes on large corporations and the wealthy.

Yet Singh also deflected questions about how and when an NDP government would tackle the federal deficit, saying only that he would make different choices from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and that his priority is helping Canadians now.

“We want to take the budget very seriously, and we’ll look at what that means in the future,” Singh said during a campaign event at a non-profit housing complex in downtown Ottawa, a few kilometres from Parliament Hill.

“But right now our priority’s investing in some of the crises that people are going through.”

Singh’s stop in the capital on Tuesday meant a return to Ontario, where he spent the first few days of the campaign before a tour of western Quebec over the weekend. He was in Ottawa Centre, where Liberal Catherine McKenna defeated New Democrat Paul Dewar in 2015. The seat has historically flipped back and forth between the Liberals and the NDP.

After kicking a soccer ball with some children, Singh announced that an NDP government would build 500,000 new affordable homes over 10 years, starting with an immediate investment of $5 billion.

“Our priorities are the people behind me, the families who need affordable housing, the people who tell me that they cannot find a place to live,” Singh said during the low-key campaign event before attacking the Liberals’ record.

The NDP leader cited a report by parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux in June that found under the Liberals’ plan, spending on affordable housing is slated to fall as a percentage of the economy over the next decade.

While the raw dollar figure is set to increase, Giroux found federal spending on housing is slated to decline from 0.13 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product in 2017-18 to 0.11 per cent in 2027-28.

Meanwhile, census data released Tuesday shows roughly one-third of Canadian households, 4.7 million, live in rental housing and they are often low-income earners, young adults, or newcomers to Canada.

In addition, 44 per cent of renters under age 30 spend 30 per cent or more of their incomes on housing. More than half of young renters in Toronto, Metro Vancouver and Ottawa do.

Similar affordability issues are found among seniors (including for 64 per cent of those renting in Regina), recent immigrants to Canada, and single mothers.

“We hear Mr. Trudeau talk about there is a housing crisis with more of those pretty words,” Singh said during the campaign event. “You know, acknowledging the problem, but then when it comes to the actual solving of the problem, empty promises.”

Yet Singh was hard-pressed to say where he would find $5 billion for affordable housing in the first year of his mandate, and instead pointed to the Liberal government having found billions to pay for corporate tax cuts and the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Singh painted the $4.5 billion for the pipeline and $14 billion in corporate tax cuts, which the government has said were needed to help Canadian companies compete with U.S. competitors following similar cuts down south, as a handout to the wealthy.

Some experts have said such a characterization is misleading as it does not acknowledge how ordinary Canadians might benefit, too, by driving investment in the country and getting Canadian oil to more lucrative markets.

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