After stopping by to give a little boost to the United Way Drive-Thru Breakfast on March 2, Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sat down with the Penticton Western News to talk about some of the big issues impacting people in Penticton and across the South Okanagan.
The Western News had the chance to ask about the ways he feels that the crises of housing, mental health and cost of living should be met by the federal government.
One of the first issues, and one that the local city council has been vocal about tackling, is housing. While he did not commit to proposing or supporting it outright, Singh did offer consideration for a federal version of BC Housing, as a Crown corporation that would build and operate affordable housing projects.
“I think we absolutely need a federal partner,” said Singh. “We have the [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation], that can provide the support to build, but they don’t provide the operating costs. If we build housing, we also need to fund the operations of the housing and the maintenance and upkeep.
Singh also pointed to the need to take on private entities when it comes to tackling the rising rent rates and house prices, and the number of homes that are bought up and often sit empty.
“It has become extremely profitable, extremely lucrative for large corporations to make money off of housing,” said Singh. “If that’s the case, it will be impossible for people to be able to afford a place to rent to own because if it’s so lucrative and billion dollar corporations will continue to buy up housing that should be for rent, or that should be for people to own. They will then use it to make more, more profit, charging higher and higher rents or just sitting on it, leaving it empty while it increases in value. Both of those scenarios are wrong.”
The provincial government’s empty residence tax was one that Singh directly pointed to bringing to the federal level as a way to start tackling the corporate buy-ups of homes, but he also noted that was only one aspect of the bigger housing issue. He reiterated that alongside targeting the market end of the issue by making it less profitable for large corporations there also needs to be more cooperative and non-profit housing.
Another aspect that Singh pointed to was the NDP’s lobbying of the government to change the definition of what counts as affordable, which he said is set to come into effect later in 2023. Though he did not have local numbers, he cited Vancouver as an example where under the existing definition a rent of $2,200 would be considered affordable while under the new definition, it would just be $1,000, which will impact developers seeking to build grant-funded affordable projects.
When it comes to the mental health crisis on the streets of Penticton, Singh called out the Liberal government for not following through on their promised transfer for mental health funding and the federal government in general for having chipped away over decades the initial promise of equal funding for health care with the provinces.
“You go anywhere in this country and people who need to access mental health, whether it’s addiction services or counselling, it’s either extremely expensive or there’s just no availability,” said Singh.
“So we need to see a massive increase in the priority we put on health care and that means the federal government has to step up as an equal partner and invest in mental health and invest in health in general.”
This was Singh’s latest visit to the Okanagan, following previous visits in 2019, and 2021.
“My one complaint is that I’m here in the winter and I didn’t get to swim in the lake,” said Singh. “Normally I’ve never done a trip where I didn’t actually swim at least once.”
For the full interview, go to the Penticton Western News’ Facebook page.
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