So You Think You Can House?

by Clark Brownlee

About 150 people jammed the Winnipeg Free Press News Café and spilled out into the patio to take part in the “So You Think You Can House”, pre-election debate on Monday, September 19. Ron Schuler (PC), Paul Hesse (Lib.), Kerri Irvin-Ross (NDP), and Harold Dyck (Green), settled into the carefully planned program moderated by Terry McLeod, host of CBC’s Information Radio. A panel of policy experts made up of Shauna McKinnon (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-MB), Tom Carter (Carter and Associates), and Peter Squire (Winnipeg Realtors) represented the public with informed questions for each candidate.

The candidates and the panel were given the questions one week in advance. The questions concerned the creation and financing of social housing and affordable rental housing, and government accountability. After each question had been addressed (or not addressed) by the candidates and the panel had asked their questions, the audience voted for the candidate that they thought had the best answer, by hold up coloured cards.

The response of the audience was very positive. Many were party faithful but many were also young people who seemed to be seriously trying to assess the party’s positions on housing.

All candidates agreed that the housing shortage in Manitoba is a serious problem, affecting not only the thousands of households living in core housing need, but also industry and businesses that are hampered because there is not sufficient housing for their employees. This is resulting in jobs going unfilled and overcrowding. The other commonly acknowledged theme was the absence of the federal government as a major funder in solving the housing shortage that affects not just Manitoba, but all of Canada.

The event was co-sponsored by the Right to Housing Coalition, the Planners Network and the Winnipeg Free Press. The News Café won wide praise as a nifty venue for this type of event with full restaurant service throughout the event and a lively vibe. My only concern was that with a few exceptions, the media coverage was not extensive. As the main objective was to raise housing as an election issue, the limited coverage was disappointing. However the competition for media attention that night included a leadership debate, the Jets and a shooting in the downtown. That being said, we can hope that the 150 plus people who attended went home with a clearer idea of the housing issues and the parties would offer to address them.

Clark Brownlee is the coordinator of the Right to Housing Coalition. 

For more details, see Marlo Campbell (Uptown Magazine)’s write-up about the event.

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