3 min

Libby Davies talks housing

If you need a break from all the Obamamania, here is my interview with NDP House Leader Libby Davies from last week. Davies – currently the only openly lesbian MP in the Commons – has been involved with justice issues in the Commons in the past, and on top of her House duties, she continues to keep an eye on some of her old projects there.

Q: What are you up to this session? I know you’re not on any committees as a full member.
A: I’m the House Leader for the NDP, so I kind of go to other things like the Board of Internal Economy, and the House Leaders’ meetings, and I occasionally fill in for people on committees. The pace here is really, really hectic. I go home on a Friday and I kind of back look over the week and it’s a blur. I think my god, what did you do? Because once you get back home, you get grounded, and you think what was that all about in Ottawa? But it has been really busy, particularly with the budget. The NDP, we’ve been really focused on exposing what we think are some terrible provisions in this budget, whether it’s attacking labour rights or pay equity for women, trying to turn the clock back. This is a pretty mean and vindictive government and they’ve used the budget as sort of a cover to push through all kinds of pretty draconian measures. So we’ve been pretty focused on that. We have a very strong caucus, a very united caucus, so every day is just fly through it, and cover all the bases you’ve got to do.

Q: Is there anything you’re looking to champion this session?
A: One of the things I did this week was introduce my housing bill for a national housing strategy and housing programme. I think this is a very important issue right across the country, certainly here in Ottawa. It is in my riding and Vancouver generally. The whole issue of the housing crisis, whether it’s homelessness, whether it’s people who can’t afford rents anymore, a zero vacancy rate, so we think that the provision that’s in the budget, there’s no guarantee that the so-called social housing units will actually be built. It’s basically a one-time infusion of two billion dollars, which may sound like a lot but it’s required with matching funds, so we’re very concerned that the housing won’t be built. One of the things I’m going to be doing is working with Megan Leslie, who is our Member from Halifax, who is actually the housing critic, and we’re going to be trying to develop a broad campaign to really get support for this housing bill, because I’m in the first group of thirty, so my bill’s going to come up fairly soon, within the next couple of weeks when we get back, so I’m hoping that we can get this housing bill through, because I think a lot of people would really like to see the federal government take its responsibility and commit to a national programme for co-ops, for social housing, special needs housing, or so on.

Q: A couple of years ago, you had your big report on prostitution laws. Whatever happened to that?
A: The committee did report. I think the report was disappointing to a lot of people in terms of recommendations, but the language in the report, where the three opposition parties were in agreement, was actually very strong, basically saying that the state should not become involved where there are consenting sexual adult activities, whether or not money’s involved. That was a very key line for me. I still have been very active on that file, because it’s something I have become very involved with. I have been supporting the two legal challenges – one in Ontario and one in BC. The one in BC just got shot down a few weeks ago and I think they might be appealing it, and I’ve been supporting the one in Ontario to challenge these laws based on sex worker rights, so I’m still very involved in that, both locally and talking to people. I don’t hold out much hope obviously that this government is actually going to repeal those laws, but I do think it’s very important that we keep the political pressure up because sex workers are people who are often very criminalised, they are very marginalised and to remove the prejudices and stereotypes about sex workers and to affirm people’s rights and dignity to me is very important, so I’ll certainly be continuing to do that.