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COLUMN: Carol Hughes on country's most pressing issues

Parliament needs to place Canadians’ needs at the forefront, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP says
Carol Hughes

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes writes a regular column about initiatives and issues impacting our community.

As summer comes to a close, Parliament has once again convened for the year. Canadians expect their government to address their concerns and to help alleviate their burdens. From inflationary pressures that have pushed housing and grocery prices through the roof, to a record-shattering wildfire season likely made worse by climate change, to challenges in our health care system and beyond, people are looking for some stability and a focus on addressing these pressing issues. So what can Canadians expect from parliament in the coming months, and will these measures be enough to alleviate their growing concerns?

Inflation and the cost of housing have clearly risen to the top of Canadians’ concerns. A recent poll by Leger has 47 percent of respondents saying they are currently living paycheque to paycheque. Soaring inflation has eroded people’s purchasing power. The costs of food and housing remain persistently, stubbornly high. What can we expect from this government’s approach to deal with these issues, and is it the right approach?

On food, the Industry and Finance Ministers recently met with the heads of Canada's five largest grocery chains, asking them to stabilize food prices by Thanksgiving. If they fail to do so, the Prime Minister has said "if their plan doesn't provide real relief ... then we will take further action and we are not ruling anything out, including tax measures." It’s curious that the Prime Minister would come forward demanding action from grocers at this point because food prices have outpaced inflation for the past 20 months. He seems to be proposing windfall tax measures to help reel in the cost of groceries if the large grocers are unwilling to do it themselves, but the Liberals joined with Conservatives to vote against a motion demanding exactly that in March 2022, near the start of food inflation woes. Clearly there’s a need to address food inflation but work to reduce food costs needed to start over a year-and-a-half ago.  

The government also seems keen to expand the tools provided to the Competition Bureau to increase competitiveness in the grocery market to bring down prices. New Democrats have introduced a Private Members Bill to do just that, and if the Liberals are keen to address grocery prices, the bill is ready-made to address the lack of competition in the market. It will increase penalties for price fixing, protect smaller grocery stores from anti-competitive tactics from bigger players, give the Competition Bureau more powers to crack down on abuses like price-gouging, and stop mergers that decrease competition.

On housing, the government has proposed eliminating GST on the construction of new rental housing units. That seems to be their entire plan in a nutshell. It’s not a bad idea in itself, one New Democrats have previously proposed, but this can’t be their sole solution to affordable housing.  If we are to achieve the CHMC's target of 3.5 million new homes needed in the next decade, we must look at other measures, such as re-establishing the co-op housing program axed by the previous Conservative government, which eliminated 800,000 affordable homes and helped create the crisis we are currently in.

On climate action, following the worst wildfire season on record, the government hasn’t signaled much on this front. C-50, the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, was introduced at the tail end of June, and has received no debate. It’s difficult to grasp whether climate change adaptation is really being prioritized, but the coming months will help tell that story.

On health care, we are anticipating the tabling of a framework for a national universal pharmacare program, which is a precondition of the Supply and Confidence Agreement. The government’s own advisory council, chaired by former Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, recommended such a program in 2019, and we have still yet to see a bill tabled on the matter. They have only a few short months to uphold their own commitment to universal, accessible pharmacare.

There’s frankly a huge amount of work to do this fall. It’s imperative that we focus on the key issues of affordability, climate change, and health care now.