Lessons learned from the spring provincial election
ONPHA’s 2014 provincial election resources included social media shareables about housing
Ontario was rushed into an election earlier this year when New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath said that she could no longer support the Liberals’ minority government budget. Horwath cited a loss of confidence in the Wynne government, prompting Wynne to dissolve the legislature on May 2. Ontarians were called to the polls on June 12.
With the goal of making housing a priority for the next government, ONPHA launched a grassroots election campaign ‘Affordable Housing. For Ontario.’ The campaign urged member organizations to meet with local candidates, use social media to spread the word about critical housing issues, and connect their tenants to voting information and resources supplied by ONPHA.
With more than half a million households struggling to afford their homes, and waiting lists for housing steadily climbing to over 160,000 households, ONPHA outlined two main asks: the creation of new affordable homes for those in need and capital investment in existing housing infrastructure.
To help further prepare members for meeting with candidates face-to-face, ONPHA hosted a webinar where government relations experts shared best practices for establishing and building relationships with candidates and incumbent MPPs.
“The webinar provided some very good insights and ideas on how to engage with politicians and inform them about housing issues in our local area,” said Lori Trumper, Accounting Manager at Kitchener Housing Inc., who later met with candidates in her riding.
Leigh Bursey, an ONPHA board member and President of the Brockville Municipal Non-Profit Housing Corporation, attended the campaign office openings and special events of NDP candidate David Lundy, Liberal candidate Christine Milks, and incumbent PC candidate and MPP Steve Clark.
“I encouraged Lundy to mention the need for more adequate housing in southeastern Ontario at his campaign opening speech, and he did,” said Bursey, who distributed information about key housing goals and asks to each candidate along with a follow-up email.
Bursey also organized an all candidates’ meeting on affordable housing in downtown Brockville. The event was covered by local media affiliates such as Eastern Ontario Network, Bell Media Radio Brockville, and the Brockville Recorder and Times. More than 25 people attended the meet and greet, where two candidates arrived in-person to speak at the event and another two candidates offered comprehensive written responses to Bursey’s questions about housing.
“I touched upon ONPHA’s affordable housing objectives and highlighted the growing waiting list,” says Bursey, who cited the event as an important step to getting housing on the local agenda. “The added media exposure helped us generate interest in a topic that many aren’t familiar with – this was a great educational opportunity for all of our participants.”
Bursey also made use of ONPHA’s election resources, which included a variety of tools from media engagement and riding toolkits, tenant posters, and social media graphics to sample letters to MPPs or candidates, briefing notes and asks, and meeting preparation checklists. The hashtag #vote4housing was created to spread and track ONPHA’s housing messaging on Twitter, where advocates such as YWCA, Daybreak Housing, and AMH joined the conversation.
“Affordable housing is simply out of reach for many Ontarians. When you vote, #vote4housing,” one tweet from YWCA Toronto read.
As the election progressed, Ontario candidates talked about jobs, transit, past scandals, and old grievances – but little was said about affordable housing. Sharad Kerur, ONPHA’s Executive Director, wrote an article in response to this omission. His piece ‘Affordable Housing Isn’t Even on the Ontario Election Radar – Why?’ was published by Huffington Post Canada in early June, and focused on how affordable housing is a key part of increasing economic competitiveness, delivering jobs, reducing gridlock and creating a brighter future for all Ontarians.
Housing received more media coverage when Kerur was featured in the Torontoist article, ‘Provincial Election Campaign Ignoring Affordable Housing Crisis.’ Kerur commented that the parties have primarily concentrated on policies for middle-income earners, ignoring issues related to poverty and the need for systemic change: “I always assume that my government was elected to represent all of the citizens of Ontario, not just the ones who vote.”
With the Ontario election over and Wynne’s Liberals winning a majority government, advocates such as Bursey are turning their attention to keeping housing on the radar of political leaders.
“We need to take the lessons we’ve learned and think about how it could be used both municipally and federally as we approach 2015,” said Bursey.
There are a variety of ways to get involved in upcoming elections if setting up a meeting with a local candidate isn’t possible. Social media, Bursey points out, is an example of a medium that can foster rich dialogue about housing. You can direct questions and asks to leaders on a public platform like Twitter, which is a powerful tool that can reach an indirect audience and even reframe the housing debate.
“With four years to go and opposition parties now rebuilding and targeting new areas of conversation and policy, we have many opportunities and platforms to campaign for housing,” says Bursey. “If we could rally our members, staff, and tenants to be civically engaged in some way, then we could have a lot of people to affect change.”