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Liberals set to declare housing a right

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OTTAWA—The federal Liberals are signalling they are ready to make a right to housing a tenet of the government's upcoming national housing strategy.

The declaration appears aspirational in nature at this point.

Sources with knowledge of the government's thinking said there won't be any legislated specifics tied to the promise—unlike the detailed benchmarks to measure progress on other parts of the plan.

Government officials have told housing and homeless advocates to expect a declaration in the plan set to be released this fall.

There also are suggestions the idea will be enshrined in legislation to make a bold statement that would be difficult for a future government to ignore or reverse.

A spokesman for Social Development minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government couldn't yet speak definitively to the details of the strategy.

The UN special rapporteur on adequate housing said declaring a right to housing in Canada would be a huge step forward for the country as it looks to curb homelessness and poverty.

“This country has been very slow to embrace all social and economic rights, including the right to housing,” said Leilani Farha, who also is executive director of Canada Without Poverty.

“They're being pretty bold and creative in their thinking,” she added.

“I don't know how that thinking translates into strategy.”

Stating support for a right to housing will carry with it the possibility of new tribunals, for example, to handle complaints if someone feels their right has been violated.

“If you have the right to housing, if it's recognized, if it's the basic underlying pin of a strategy, then it means something because people have actual recourse in court,” noted NDP critic Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet.

There are indications the Liberals are willing to make the strategy flexible to the needs of provinces and cities—a key issue for opposition critics.

“We have seen legislation come down from this government that the provinces are not embracing,” noted Conservative critic Karen Vecchio.

“We have to make sure, is this something that are we pushing on the provinces or are we going to work with the provinces?”

Sources also said the Liberals are looking to create specific strategies each for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, instead of a singular aboriginal housing strategy.

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