“If not now, when?”

Adam Vaughan, Liberal Party candidate in Spadina Fort-York discusses housing, post-secondary funding, Bill C-51
Adam Vaughan. Courtesy of the Adam Vaughan campaign.
Adam Vaughan. Courtesy of the Adam Vaughan campaign.

Before entering federal politics, Vaughan worked as a journalist at CBC and Citytv specializing in municipal politics. Vaughan also served twice as a Toronto City councilor, where he was involved in city planning and developing housing programs. Vaughan is the current Member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina and is the Liberal Party’s critic on urban affairs and housing.

The Varsity (TV): Why are you running for re-election?

Adam Vaughan (AV): I sought a seat in Parliament last year when the vacancy was created because cities in this country, Toronto in particular, had virtually no support from Ottawa on two critical issues: housing and transit. We have a very strong and very progressive infrastructure program for Toronto and Canada’s focused on spending $50 billion over the next 10 years to not only build a stronger economy, but [also] build stronger cities. I’m running to make sure that the platform that we’ve put together over the last year gets enacted in Parliament.

TV: Can you expand on your plans for housing and transit?

AV: The housing program is probably the most detailed one in terms of the range of specifics that have got to be achieved. Immediately what we need to do is renew and protect existing agreements with co-op housing and public housing providers across the country. The Conservatives have been allowing it to expire and people [are] losing their rent subsidies. Affordable housing is becoming unaffordable so we need to stabilize the existing housing agreements immediately and start enrolling back into the program the ones that have fallen off the table in the last couple of years.

In Toronto, we’re 92,000 households on the waiting list with a $2.6 billion repair backlog. We need to start protecting existing housing stock and build new housing stock, and that involves working with provinces and municipalities and third-party providers to build a full range of affordable housing — from supportive housing to co-op and public housing — as well as to make sure that we stimulate the private rental market so that even affordable rental housing is built once again in this country.

The program breaks down to $6 billion in the first four years [and] is designed to immediately address the backlog of repairs, get at the waiting lists and at the same time start making sure that the whole housing spectrum of needs is met.

TV: What’s on your platform that students can look forward to?

AV: One of them’s housing. My daughter just started first-year university. The biggest ticket in her budget in terms of price is rent. The housing program I just described includes provisions to build student housing again, and student housing as a way of reducing the cost of postsecondary education is probably the most important step you can take because other than tuition, which requires a new subsidy every year, and a subsidy that can disappear if a student drops out even though the university has already got the funds. It’s a really smart way to drive down the cost of education.

Another provision that we’ve proposed is to drop the requirement to pay back your student debt until such a time that you’re earning more than $25,000 a year, and so if you’ve graduated and can’t get full-time employment, or if you’re precariously employed we wouldn’t burden you with debt repayment requirement until you’re in a position where you can actually afford it.

We’ve also committed to making sure that universities and provinces and the federal government get together and make sure that the caps on the programs for endowments and research are topped up and that academic freedom is respected through unmuzzling of scientists and making sure that Stats Canada data is strong data again.

TV: Do you have any ideas as to how the provincial funding model for post-secondary institutions could be revised? Ontario has the lowest funding per capita in the country.

AV: We haven’t had a partner in Ottawa that has been prepared to sit down and talk to the premiers. So before I get in there and start re-wiring or re-financing post-secondary schools, we need to sit down with the provinces and figure out what all of the cost-share programs are and figure out which ones we need to get to work on solving. I’m not going to sit here as a Federal Member of Parliament and override or overcommit provincial funds. It’s a mistake when governments start to mess around in other people’s jurisdictions.

What I can tell you is that the party has committed to sitting down with the premiers working out where the cost-share agreements need to be strengthened and making sure that Ontario has the capacity to do better by everybody, including students.

TV: Can I ask you why you voted for Bill C-51?

AV: There are some elements of Bill C-51 [that] are needed. For example, we have 19 security agencies in the federal government that legally were not allowed to talk to each other. They’d have to go to parliament to get privacy rules altered in order for them to [share] information. Changing that is very, very important so that our security apparatus was updated.

The thing that was required was that the thresholds were changed so that when we had someone presenting a threat to Canada, we had a way of dealing with it. The existing laws before C-51 the threshold was so high that the warrant officer, he couldn’t get a detention order sworn out against them because the threshold was too high. Two days later, somebody died. So we have to change laws every now and then to model them around the threat, big or small as it may be, to protect Canadians and those are some of the things we thought were actually critically important.

We also thought it was important not to allow people to fly off to Syria to join in a civil war in a failed state in a chaotic situation when you’ve got Canadian military on the ground trying to act as peacekeepers. We thought it was wrong to allow young Canadians to go overseas and put themselves in harm’s way while they made the situation worse. What we did was we changed the ‘no fly’ rules which were designed to stop hijackers getting on airplanes, and so that the government has the ability to take people’s passports away if we thought there was a situation that was going to be made worse and more volatile if individuals joined the fight. 

We also worked to get amendments through: things like taking away the arrest power for citizens. We also talked the government into taking the word “lawful” out of the descriptions for protests and artistic expression and defence so it wasn’t “lawful protests” that were exempt from the rules and regulations contained in C-51.

But there’s work to be done. We have to make a decision where we have to protect public safety in the short-term, as small as that may be or as real — I was on Parliament Hill when the shooting happened; that was real enough for me. It’s not a perfect bill and so we’ve committed, even though we supported the omnibus bill to get specific improvements in place. After the next election, hopefully we’ll be in a position where we can do three more things that are critically important.

One of them is [to] establish civilian oversight. We also think there should be a sunset clause. As well, we think that the entire bill should be sent to the Justice Department for a charter compliance audit to make sure that provisions are consistent with our charter values.

At the end of the day, somewhere between this notion that there’s a spy in every wall or a terrorist under every rock—both of which are extr eme and [are] caricatures of the dynamics we’re facing in Canada — at some point there has to be a balance between the public’s right to safety and the public’s right to charter protection.

The politics of just simply saying yes or no oversimplifies the [extraordinarily] complex legislation. We took a very nuanced position; we continue to advocate for a review of the bill and fixes to the bill where there are problems.

TV: Do you think it is necessary to run a deficit in order to deliver the Liberal Party’s promises?

AV: When you have First Nations communities without drinking water for 19 years in parts of Manitoba even with an NDP government in power; when you have 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country; when you have people with disabilities sitting behind a 92,000 person waitlist on housing; when you are watching five or six streetcars go by in the morning, to say that you’re going to balance the books first and make some talk show radio host happy, instead of making investments to grow the economy and serve Canadians and change the social configuration of this country, now is the time. If not now, when? Now is the time to step up and deliver change to this country.

This election is about change. It’s not just about making a point, it’s about making a difference. And the platforms matter and the speed at which change happens is critically important. We don’t have a lot of economic growth happening in the country. With 82 per cent of Canadians living in cities, we need to grow smarter cities faster. And that’s the urgency that Justin Trudeau has spoken to and that’s the urgency that’s put us in the first place in the polls. What we need on Monday night is a victory so we can get to work.

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