It made perfect sense, of course, to unveil the country’s first-ever National Housing Strategy on National Housing Day.
And that’s just what the Trudeau government did Wednesday, winning general acclaim from almost all quarters.
The president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Winnipeg city council member Jenny Gerbassi, called the strategy “a breakthrough.” The Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century was “very pleased” while the Canadian Nurses Association called it “a positive step.”
The non-partisan charity Canada Without Poverty cheered that “this is an incredible moment for Canada.”
It may also have been, by happy circumstance, “an incredible moment” for the Trudeau government, happy to be able to land such a winning channel-changer in the middle of a week when its finance minister, Bill Morneau, was taking such a drubbing over conflict-of-interest allegations.
Now, once again, it was National Housing Day but, still, the timing of this announcement, given the government’s political troubles felt a bit more than coincidental.
Indeed, the first hint that this strategy might have been hustled out the door before it was truly ready for primetime came during a technical briefing held for reporters by officials with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
It was less a technical briefing than an exhortation and boasting of all the good things this strategy will bring about — in about 10 years time. Reporters asked lots of, er, technical questions about how various programs would work, how much money would be allocated to each province, and so on. The answer, more often than not, was “Details TBD.”
Another sign of the hastiness of this announcement: Hours after the briefing, in the early evening, CMHC officials had to send around corrected background information.
We did learn, though, that one of the centrepieces of this new housing strategy — the Canada Housing Benefit rent subsidy — will not ‘flow’ until 2020-2021 or until after the next federal election.
How Harper-esque of the Trudeau gang. Nice little Canada Housing Benefit you’ve got there. Be a shame to lose it if you made the wrong choice on election day, eh?
Don’t get me wrong: The Canada Housing Benefit’s basic premise — that the federal government ought to provide a portable subsidy for low-income renters makes eminent sense. It’s just the politics of how it was rolled out — complete with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking direct pot shots at the previous government he and his party vanquished more than two years ago now — had that slightly sour partisan flavour.
In any event: If the message masters in the PMO wanted to change the channel, mission was most definitely accomplished. The National Housing Strategy, despite being short on key details and though the real spending (maybe) won’t get going until after the next election, led national newscasts and dominated Wednesday’s “file from the Hill” of most major news organizations.
That left an embattled finance minister out of the news mix, at least for the day.