Canadian budget neglects homeless, favors rich, critics say FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 18 Feb 1999 06:48:38 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  Toronto Star - February 18, 1999


     By  Valerie Lawton - Toronto Star  Ottawa Bureau
     With files from Dan Girard, William Walker,
     Catherine Dunphy and Theresa Boyle.

 OTTAWA - Finance Minister Paul Martin came under attack yesterday as
critics charged his budget doesn't do enough - on taxes, poverty or health

 From the right, the Reform party said the tax relief it offers is just a
tiny piece of what's really needed.

 From the left, the NDP said Martin has provided $8,000 in tax breaks to a
millionaire, but nothing for a homeless person.

 The criticism came in the wake of Tuesday's federal budget, which included
modest tax relief and $11.5 billion to the provinces over five years for
health care as well as new funds for scientific research and job creation.

 ``Never in Canadian history has any government taxed Canadians as much as
this government,'' Reform Leader Preston Manning told the House of Commons

 And there were also questions about how far the centrepiece of the budget
- billions for health care - will go to solving a crisis.

 ``It's a step in the right direction,'' said Sharon Sholzberg-Gray of the
Canadian Healthcare Association. ``But the amounts for health care are not
enough to meet the health needs of Canadians or to create a sustainable
health-care system.''

 Martin brushed off his critics, suggesting all of Canada was cheering.

 ``We celebrated a health budget. We celebrated the fact that the federal
government is reinjecting $11.5 billion into health across Canada,'' he
said during the daily Question Period.

 Afterwards, Martin insisted he hadn't ignored the plight of homeless
people and that the budget actually offers them plenty of help.

 ``It's not an answer that's going to be arrived at by any level of
government alone,'' Martin said.

 He said billions in new spending for health care will help tackle a root
cause of homelessness.

 ``When you look at one of the reasons why there are a large number of
homeless who are people who have been released, perhaps prematurely, from
hospitals you begin to realize that, in fact, what we have done here is to
deal with one of those causes,'' he said..

`Lack of leadership' disappoints Harris

 In Toronto, Premier Mike Harris said he's disappointed by ``the lack of
leadership and response'' on homelessness from the federal government.

 Harris said he wasn't expecting a ringing endorsement of Anne Golden's
recent task force report on homelessness, but to ``not even recognize it, I
think, was a shortcoming of the budget.''

 Harris refused to say how his own government will respond to the report.
It called for a concerted effort against homelessness by federal,
provincial and municipal governments.

 Mayor Mel Lastman, meanwhile, suggested that if the finance minister wants
real answers to the homeless crisis, he should look at a report written
nine years ago.

 The document's author? Paul Martin.

 Lastman said there's ``no resemblance'' between what Martin said in that
1990 housing report and his budget. The Liberal task force report, written
while the party was in opposition, was co-authored by Martin and fellow MP
Joe Fontana.

 They wrote that ``the time has arrived to make housing the cornerstone of
federal social policy.''

 One recommendation was for federal programs to offer an adequate supply of
affordable housing.

 The budget ``just mentions the word `homeless' but it doesn't commit to
anything,'' Lastman said.

 An official from Martin's office said the minister is following ``the
spirit'' of the nine-year-old report, noting $2 billion in annual federal
spending on social housing. The government is also using other approaches,
he said, including education and tax measures.

 Health Minister Allan Rock said yesterday his government is committed to
helping the homeless.

 Speaking to reporters at the University of Toronto, he noted Prime
Minister Jean Chretien is seriously concerned about the problem and created
a cabinet committee to address it.

 All of Toronto's MPs are Liberals. Some jumped to Martin's defence
yesterday, saying the homeless will benefit from the health money and the
government's fiscal direction.

 ``We can't hit all priorities at once, then we don't have any priorities .
. . Our priority was health care,'' said Derek Lee (Scarborough-Rouge

 Toronto's homeless advocates are outraged.

 ``A national housing policy is an investment in the future, in the same
sense as health care is,'' said Beric German of the Toronto Disaster Relief

 The Disaster Relief Committee is incensed the federal government didn't
tackle the issue.

 Slamming the budget as a national disgrace, the committee issued a press
release stating ``not a single penny has been allocated for new spending -
that means no new social housing units this year and no money for
homelessness initiatives.''


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