Downtown Toronto candidates agree housing should be priority

Ellen Michelson, Bob Rae, Susan Wallace and Bahman Yazdanfar discuss affordable housing at a Toronto-Centre debate April 15. (Beth Ford/Toronto Observer)

Four candidates in the Toronto-Centre riding can agree on one thing: housing should be accessible and affordable.

But the federal hopefuls expressed differing views on how to achieve that goal at a candidate’s debate held on Friday.

Liberal incumbent Bob Rae, NDP Susan Wallace, Green Ellen Michelson and independent candidate Bahman Yazdanfar faced off at the debate held April 15 at the 519 Community Centre.

Wallace said the NDP have a national housing strategy in mind. It would include a variation of housing units from co-op’s to rent geared to income. She said the plan also includes retrofitting existing units to bring them up to code. She called out Rae and his party for spinning too much rhetoric regarding housing.

“It’s unfortunate that the action record of the Liberals fails to match Mr. Rae’s words,” she said. “Not a single unit of affordable housing is being planned in that massive development in North St. James Town.”

Rae managed to avoid the massive development issue and rebutted by pointing out that every form of housing is subsidized. He said diversity is also a major component of the Liberal’s national housing strategy.

“Toronto Centre has the largest variation of affordable housing,” he said. “The key is to make it affordable in order to meet the various needs of young families, the aging population, students, and people transitioning from shelters to get into some kind of housing.”

Rae said the federal government has been absent from housing far too long and said the Liberals are ready to put it back on the table. But, he said, the federal government cannot be everything to everyone and said he is committed to working will all levels of government.

“In order to create sustainable, affordable housing we’re going to have to work in partnership with the provinces, cities and co-ops,” he said.

Michelson said the Green party plans to uphold the government’s responsibility to provide affordable housing by amending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We advocate including a clause in the Charter that states everyone in Canada is entitled to affordable housing,” she said.

Independent candidate Bahman Yazdanfar agreed. He said housing is a basic human need and should be provided unconditionally.

“We propose an income guarantee for everyone, people shouldn’t have to line up to apply for housing under any circumstance, it should be guaranteed,” he said.