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Homes, women workers and mental health: three ways politics mattered this week

October 07, 2016 - 12:03 PM

OTTAWA - Is it a price or is it a tax?

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inadvertently used the Conservatives' favoured word "tax" to describe this week's new measures on greenhouse gas emissions, the Opposition had a "gotcha" moment that delighted them for several days — even as they watched their long-standing resistance to putting a price/tax on carbon be crushed by the Liberal majority.

Semantics notwithstanding, the effects of the price/tax won't be felt by most consumers for a few years yet, since most provinces already have some kind of carbon, um, regime.

But the week in federal politics will indeed have some more immediate, material effects on many Canadians — indebted home buyers, chronic house flippers, women in the workplace and perhaps those needing some help with mental health.

Here are three ways politics touched us this week:

HOME FLIPPERS BEWARE:

After much contemplation, Finance Minister Bill Morneau rolled out new rules on Monday to deal with heavily indebted homeowners and overheated housing markets.

Home buyers who want an insured mortgage will have to pass a "stress test" to see if their finances could withstand higher interest rates. And homeowners who want to flip their homes to take advantage of rising prices will now have to tell all to the Canada Revenue Agency to make sure they don't flip too often.

Foreigners who flip and claim tax exemptions are now out of luck. And the government has served notice that it is looking at ways to have lenders shoulder more of the risk for insured mortgages.

Will these measures add up to a gentle calming of overheated parts of the housing market and a careful restraint on people who are already carrying too much debt? Or will they amount to a popping of a bubble that would sucker-punch homeowners who have their life savings tied up in their houses?

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., says the Vancouver market has already started to soften.

WOMEN AT WORK:

The federal government made three unrelated announcements this week that all touch on women in the workplace.

On Wednesday, Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said she would introduce legislation compelling all federally regulated companies to ensure men and women get equal pay for work of equal value. The measures would apply to 874,000 workers in the civil service and sectors such as banking and telecommunications — but not for a while yet. Legislation is not expected until 2018.

On Thursday, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to hundreds of former and current female Mounties for decades of bullying, discrimination and harassment in the force. He also set aside $100 million for settlements, but also for the creation of a scholarship and for setting up advisory committees on gender, harassment and equity. The hope is to clear the cloud hanging over the police force.

Also on Thursday, the government opened up a four-week consultation period on how to design parental leave. During the election campaign a year ago, the Liberals said they would extend the 12 months of leave to 18 — although with no extra employment insurance benefits. They have also toyed with the idea of including dedicated paternity leave as part of the mix.

The three announcements all point to the years-long processes required for each small step.

MENTAL HEALTH

Research on the lack of funding for and attention to mental health is copious and the problem has received more and more attention from the public and corporate Canada over the last few years. But the mental health care system is notorious for being two-tier. Those who can afford to, pay for private services; those who can't are usually forced to stand in line for a very long time for scarce public resources.

The federal and provincial health ministers are well aware of the challenge, and have included mental health as a key focus in their negotiations towards a new health accord. But the only new federal funding on the table until now has been $3-billion for home care — a sticking point in the health accord talks.

This week, under pressure from the provinces, Health Minister Jane Philpott opened the door a small crack to the possibility that other areas of concern, such as mental health, may be in play.

The ministers meet in Toronto on Oct. 18.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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