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Five issues that didn't get enough play during the federal election campaign — so far

By Pieta Woolley

Sick of hearing overly general hoo-ha about “the economy,” “the environment,” “the middle class,” and the PM candidates’ family origin stories? Me, too! But I’d love to hear more about the following issues, which affect literally millions of people here in Canada and around the globe.

1. Employment Insurance
In any given month, about half a million Canadians receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits — a mix of those laid off from their jobs, new parents with infants at home, those caring for sick relatives and others. This insurance program, which relieves working Canadians when they need it, has been plagued by upsets over the past several years. There was the rejection quotas scandal; the scooping of the EI “surplus” into general revenues; the low-uptake system introduced to cover Canada’s 2.6 million self-employed workers (a good thought . . . . needs work); and the general overhaul of the beleaguered system. Given that so many people are affected by this system, you’d think it would be a headliner. Nope.

2. CMHC & housing

This agency insures mortgages, funds cooperative housing and collects housing statistics, which helps the government set policy. Canada famously axed its federal housing program in the early 1990s, so CMHC is really all there is, folks. Comparatively, with its worker-housing programs and rent controls, the U.S. looks positively socialist compared to Canada. Today, more than a million Canadians live in coop housing — a mixed-income solution to the affordability crisis. Those whose units are subsidized may get their housing yanked over the next few years, as the federal agreements that fund those subsidies run out. Action = needed. In addition, the Conservative government once introduced changes to CMHC policy aimed at helping new homeowners into the market (5 percent down, etc.) that have since disappeared. Today, affordable housing is largely the domain of provinces and municipalities. But CMHC? That’s all feds.

There was, of course, the KAIROS funding debacle — a top-of-mind scandal for most Christians in Canada,  representing about three in four Canadians. But the larger issue is the slashing of funding to Canada’s development agency by about seven percent — or $377 million — in 2015. Plus, don’t forget the maternal health debacle.

4. Federal corrections
About 15,000 Canadians are in prison at any given time, but at least 3 million have a criminal record, which can make getting a job or crossing borders difficult. Over the past decade, the government introduced legislation that has made it more difficult to receive a pardon, which makes working possible. It also introduced “record suspensions,” which don't erase records but seal them for the purpose of applying for jobs, universities or to volunteer.

5. Reconciliation
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered an apology for the government’s involvement in Indian residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is wrapping up this fall. The commissioners released 94 “calls to action” on behalf of survivors, intergenerational survivors, those who worked in the schools and others. As we're  all treaty people — the 1.4 million indigenous Canadians, plus the 33 million “others” — how we’re going to conquer this moral and social shadow should be more of a priority. Still, it hasn't taken centre stage during the federal election campaign. Here’s a nice summary of what the parties have said so far.

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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