The affordable housing crisis dominated the debate during the first question period session at the Nova Scotia legislature on Wednesday.
Premier Tim Houston and the new Progressive Conservative government came under fire by both opposition parties for their lack of “solutions” being offered to help fix the ongoing housing crisis across the province, which was a major issue during the summer provincial election campaign.
“There is a housing crisis in the province and we are very focused on it,” said Houston.
All three Nova Scotia political parties agree there’s a housing crisis underway, but both opposition parties say the Progressive Conservatives aren’t treating the crisis with enough urgency and they’re calling on the newly elected government to step up with a plan to address the crisis.
“I think there’s a lack of understanding (of the housing crisis) for sure, but (the Progressive Conservatives) certainly feel the pressure,” said Liberal leader Iain Rankin. “Especially when you see personal attacks being thrown on day one towards an opposition leader.”
The back-and-forth between leaders got personal as Premier Houston and NDP leader Gary Burrill got into a heated exchange.
The NDP’s election campaign focused on the housing crisis and over the past nine weeks, the party has been calling out the PCs for what they say is inaction on the housing file. Burrill said the issue of affordable and accessible housing could no longer be ignored.
“The premier says he feels the urgency and we’ve heard the premier say this many times,” said Burrill. “But frankly, we are not primarily concerned about what the premier feels, we are primarily concerned about what the premier is going to do.”
Houston said the NDP was playing politics and looking to make headlines with soundbites.
“What this government will do is put forward real solutions, we’re not interested in a soundbite that grabs a headline, we’re actually interested in real solutions,” said Houston. “We’ve gone to work on that and we’ll put our plan forward and we recognize the anxiety Nova Scotians are feeling and we feel that anxiety too.”
Burrill said the debate got off on the wrong foot and instead of offering solutions, the premier settled on attacking the opposition.
“Every question I asked the Premier today, about people in particular situations of crisis in their personal lives with housing, he began his answer by diminishing and personally attacking me,” said Burrill.
Rent control needed, says Burrill
According to a release from the NDP, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax went up by 20 per cent between January 2020 and January 2021, and the average price to purchase a home went up by more than $100,000 between June 2020 and June 2021.
The party tabled a bill Wednesday to recognize housing as a human right and make rent control permanent. The current two-per-cent rent cap is set to expire in February 2022 or when the COVID-19 state of emergency ends, whichever one comes first.
Already, some tenants have received notices of rent increases beyond their means.
Earlier in the day, Burrill introduced his motion for an emergency debate on the housing crisis, saying that more than 120,000 people in Nova Scotia rent and more than 23,000 spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing each month.
He also noted that homelessness continues to be a pressing issue and hundreds of Nova Scotians are either at risk of or experiencing homelessness as the end of Nova Scotia’s rent cap looms.
“I wish to move that the business of this house be set aside for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgent public importance: that matter is the clear and present emergency posed by the housing crisis,” said Burrill.
However, House Speaker Keith Bain dismissed the motion, saying that while the issue of housing does fall under the administrative responsibilities of government, the issue will already be debated in the house.
Bain said six private members’ bills on the topic of housing were introduced.
“As such, the housing crisis is not just likely to be debated within a reasonable time, but rather it is certainly to be debated later, including at the very time the emergency debate would have been held,” he said.
Houston says the Progressive Conservatives will release the party’s plan for housing in the coming days but couldn’t offer an exact date.