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Irrelevant issues overshadow real needs in this election

Rather than focussing on issues like affordable housing, the debate is wrapped up in non-issues like the niqab.

Donmount Court is a new affordable housing subdivision off of Carroll Street in East Toronto.

Torstar News Service

Donmount Court is a new affordable housing subdivision off of Carroll Street in East Toronto.

There are just two weeks left before Canadians go to the polls, so here’s a quick update on the election feelings I’m feeling: tired, frustrated, disappointed.

I had high hopes this would be an election about the kind of issues that matter to those of us who live in Canadian cities. But it hasn’t really happened.

Lately, the talk of the election has been a debate over the question of whether women should be permitted to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. But this, we now know, is an issue that has affected only two people since 2011.

That’s right: two people. As in one person and then another person, and then literally no one else.

The mind boggles, especially when you consider the number of people affected by issues that aren’t getting this kind of attention.

Take affordable housing, an issue where the number affected is many, many times larger than, um, two.

In Toronto alone, 93,957 households are on a waiting list for affordable housing. Of those, about 34 per cent are households with seniors, and 40 per cent include children under the age of 17.

Things aren’t much better for those who have found housing.

There are 45,857 affordable housing spaces that are at risk of falling into poor condition by 2023, while another 7,582 could fall into states of disrepair so awful that they’ll be forced to close.

The reason? That comes down to an even bigger number: $1.73 billion. That’s how much cash Toronto Community Housing needs from the federal and provincial governments to start to turn the situation around.

But despite the fact that the availability of housing is directly connected to a host of other issues like health care, this issue hasn’t received its due airtime.

It should. All three leading parties have released policies on housing. They’re worth debating.

The Liberals have promised to prioritize spending on affordable housing as part of a 10-year, $20 billion investment in “social infrastructure.”

The NDP, in the Toronto-specific platform they released last Friday, promised $2.2 billion to “renew and expand affordable housing units” over their first term.

And the Conservatives? Well, in an announcement promising to increase the home ownership rate, they note they’ve committed $1.9 billion for affordable housing between 2011 and 2019, though $1 billion of that has already been spent.

So we have three approaches to an issue badly in need of dedicated money and new ideas. What’s missing is substantive discussion about which plan will actually work.

That’s the kind of discussion voters and candidates are supposed to have during election campaigns. But instead, this election risks hinging on largely irrelevant concerns dredged up over two people, while thousands upon thousands can’t even find an affordable place to live.  

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