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Ottawa rejects plan on housing

Minister says he won't agree to transfer of costs to municipalities

Toronto Star - July 24, 1997
By Derek Ferguson


OTTAWA — The federal government will not allow Ontario to transfer social housing costs to municipalities, Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano says.

Gagliano told reporters he may refuse to transfer administrative responsibility for social housing to Ontario if Premier Mike Harris' government doesn't back off its plans to shift costs on to municipalities.

"I don't have to sign with every province," Gagliano said after yesterday's five-hour Liberal caucus meeting.

Ottawa announced in its 1996 budget that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) would transfer administration of social housing to the provinces and wanted to sign deals to that effect with every province by Jan. 1, 1997.


FOUR PROVINCES

However, Ottawa so far has signed deals with only Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories.

"The government policy is to negotiate that transfer with the province, not with the municipalities," Gagliano said yesterday. "So, therefore if they (Ontario) change their position we definitely have to reconsider our own."

Gagliano's comments were welcomed by the Ontario caucus, particularly the 33 GTA MPs who have been vocal in their opposition to the province's intentions concerning social housing.

Toronto Liberal MP Tony Ianno (Trinity-Spadina) said he believes Gagliano is picking up where his predecessor, Diane Marleau, left off.

Earlier this year, Marleau issued a controversial public rebuke of the Harris government's policy.

"Our intent has not changed," Ianno said. "We have stated very clearly and categorically we want to ensure the integrity of social housing in Ontario. "Whatever has to be done from the federal government has to ensure the security of the people living in social housing."

However, social housing activists say the deal Ottawa signed with Saskatchewan last spring doesn't prevent that province from downloading housing to municipalities or from selling it outright, The Star's Laurie Monsebraaten reports.

"Given the kinds of agreements Ottawa has already signed in other provinces, we don't know how they are going to make a stricter deal with Ontario," said Ann Fitzpatrick, of the Public Housing Fight Back Campaign, a coalition claiming to represent the tenants from Ontario's 84,000 public housing units and from social agencies dealing with poor children, individuals and families.


`NOT IN THE RULES'

Gagliano, who is also minister responsible for CMHC, said he will not be cowed by provinces who refuse to adhere to the federal criteria for the transfer.

The minister said that Ontario's plan to offload social housing costs to municipalities "is not in the rules and the conditions and principles that we established when we decided to transfer housing's administrative responsibility to the province."

Ontario has appointed an advisory council on how to better manage its social housing responsibilities. It is supposed to report by the fall.

Gagliano said he will wait for the Ontario government's final decision on the issue before he acts.

"When Ontario makes its final decision then I will make mine," Gagliano said.

Fitzpatrick, who works for Metro's Children's Aid Society, doesn't think the federal government should be transferring responsibility for social housing to the provinces.

"Affordable housing is key to helping poor families," she said. "But Ottawa doesn't seem to be making the connection."


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