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Governments love big numbers.

In fact, they seem to love big numbers more and more every year.

The provincial Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment has a three-year, $100-million plan for municipal infrastructure. The Department of Transportation and Works has a five-year roads and bridge program, running through 2022 and announcing roads projects that won’t even go ahead until three years after the next provincial election.

Now, long-term planning is a good thing, especially because governments federal, provincial and municipal have a history of lurching from project to project, apparently without a clear concept of where they are trying to end up — but it also carries a big caveat.

Often, the money hasn’t been found or truly committed yet, and any change in government could mean a complete change in plans.

That’s the lens we should probably use when looking at the federal government’s $40-billion plan for revamping affordable housing in Canada.

First of all, it’s clear that there has to be substantial investment.

Often, the money hasn’t been found or truly committed yet, and any change in government could mean a complete change in plans.

But while the optics of the plan might be positive, parts of it don’t even begin until 2021, and that’s well after the next federal election.

In fact, the $40 billion is the financial commitment for the next decade — eight years of which will occur after the 2019 federal campaign. Not only that, but much of the plan depends on municipal and provincial cost-sharing — the details of which have not been worked out with, or committed to, by the other levels of government.

One core part of the program — a $4-billion Canada Housing Benefit — is a good example of the problem. The benefit would help 300,000 low-income families, but it doesn’t even come into effect until 2020, and the federal government is expecting the provinces to carry half the cost of the plan. (Also worth keeping in mind is the trail of the billions — $11.2 billion of the $40-billion in overall program funding was already announced in the March federal budget, which committed the money, you guessed it, stretching out over the next 11 years.)

Affordable housing is a critical need — in this province alone, the core housing need that was not being addressed in 2016 was more than 22,000 households, according to Statistics Canada.

Solving some of the more serious housing issues in the country — building and financing new and affordable housing for those who have the most trouble affording it — is an excellent step forward, and a laudable direction for the federal government to be taking.

But the fine print is equally important, and as politics to the south of us has shown — where U.S. President Donald Trump seems intent on undoing as many policies of former president Barack Obama as he possibly can — all it takes is a change in political direction to turn a vast raft of long-term commitments into dust.

 

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