Monday, March 23, 2020

On spin over substance

PressProgress is right to point out how many landlords are using the loud announcement of coronavirus relief - which, if you read the small print, won't be available for months - as an excuse to keep charging rent as of April 1. (Not to mention to attempt to pressure tenants out of their homes when they're unable to work due to a public health emergency.)

But it's worth noting that the same dynamic applies in the opposite direction as well. The financial sector and federal government have made a show of announcing "mortgage relief", which would suggest a widespread system of savings in the cost of housing ownership which could be passed on to renters. They haven't been so vocal about that claim hiding a cumbersome and confusing process which is ultimately designed to keep power and financial reward in the hands of the banks.

In both cases, the headline fails to reflect the limitations of the government's actual policy. And the result is to set up obvious potential for finger-pointing between parties who wrongly think the other has been bailed out - leading to both an erosion of trust, and readily-avoidable policy failures.

But there are a couple of necessary changes which can be made to avoid similar difficulties. First, we should expect our governments to take an all-of-the-above approach to getting help to Canadians immediately, rather than looking for excuses to minimize the effect of announcements. And second, we should demand they recognize that (even more than usual) lives are at stake when their talking points fall short of their actions.

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