West End Votes—Candidate Profile: Breen Ouellette

Breen Ouellette
New Democratic Party
(778) 853-1008
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Question 1: Housing Affordability 
Approximately 80% of West End residents currently rent their homes. Many neighbours are concerned that rental prices and living expenses are rising exponentially faster than household incomes. What will you do to address rising inequality and housing unaffordability?
Breen Ouellette:
Right now, so many people are being squeezed out of Vancouver due to a shortage of affordable rental options. This includes people who make their living downtown, young people who have grown up here, seniors who have lived here all their lives, and young families.

Money laundering through property speculation is one major culprit of housing unaffordability in Vancouver Centre. Another major culprit is decades of misguided federal housing policy. In the 1980s, the federal government made the terrible mistake of shifting its property development focus to home ownership. The damage has been supercharged by the federal government’s promotion of luxury condos and their complete failure to develop co-op and social housing.

As your MP I will advocate for the federal government to reinstate the federal housing ministry, fix the damage done to the CMHC during the Harper years, return the federal focus to social and co-op housing, and promote vigorous prosecution of offshore tax haven abuses and the money laundering that fuels property speculation.

It is worth mentioning that it was the NDP under David Lewis that brought forward the National Affordable Housing Strategy in the 1970s and convinced Pierre Trudeau to move forward with it. Many of the older, more affordable rental units are the legacy of that strategy. Unfortunately, since the early 1990s when the federal government stopped meaningfully investing in affordable housing, the number of new rental units has only increased marginally. We need decisive action, and I and other New Democrats are committed to that.

Question 2: Homelessness
What will you do to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place?
Breen Ouellette:
Canada made a commitment to recognizing housing as a fundamental human right in 1948 when we signed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The federal government has the capacity and the responsibility to end homelessness across our country.

Homelessness was unheard of in Vancouver in the 1980s until the federal government dismantled the national housing ministry and shifted their focus to home ownership as the presumed goal of every Canadian. Vancouver’s homeless population has nearly doubled since 2005, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem by putting more people on the precarious edge of homelessness.

It makes clear sense to invest in more co-op and social housing development, and use the CMHC to impose social housing quotas on every development project that receives federal funding. Luxury condo builds are the last place incentives should be focused.

To deliver immediate help, the NDP will work with other levels of government to purchase, lease and convert hotels and motels for emergency housing relief until more permanent, community-based solutions are available.

Question 3: Opioids
The opioid overdose crisis has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and BC has reported record numbers of opioid-related deaths, emergency calls, and hospitalizations. We can all play a role in supporting those who use substances and have substance use disorders. What will you do to address this national crisis?  

Breen Ouellette:
The Liberals and Conservatives want to continue the status quo of criminalizing and stigmatizing  people with substance use disorders, instead of addressing the health crisis that we see on our streets and in our neighbourhoods every day.

There are solutions. The Portuguese model is one such answer to the Canadian opioid crisis. In the 1980s, Portugal was reeling from a heroin addiction crisis. The country had a choice to make, and they changed the narrative from stigma to health support. Portugal got serious about providing dedicated health resources to help people beat their addiction disorders. Portugal now has the lowest drug addiction rates and best health outcomes in the European Union.

Here in Canada, we can do so much more to save lives and support those struggling with opioid addiction. By decriminalizing all personal drug use while coming down hard on those who traffic in and profit from these addictive substances, we can end the stigma around drug addiction so that those who struggle are not afraid to seek help. By providing a safe supply of medically regulated alternatives to toxic street drugs, supporting overdose prevention sites, and expanding access to treatment on demand for people struggling with addiction, we can help end the cycle of oppression and abuse.

It is disappointing to see that Mr. Trudeau still opposes decriminalization and insists on failed, antiquated strategies.

Question 4: Reconciliation
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission 
produced 94 Calls to Action which have become the leading document for revealing the impact of violent colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples, and the pathway to reconciliation for settler societies and all levels of government. Some organizations claim that only 8 of the 94 Calls to Action have been implemented. What concrete plans do you have to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in the next four years? 
Breen Ouellette:
I am a Métis person with a long history of Indigenous ancestors who have been affected by and resisted colonization by Canada. I served as a Commission Counsel lawyer for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (and Two-Spirit People) and have been a consistent and strong advocate for an immediate end to the Constitutional apartheid and ongoing genocide committed against Indigenous people. Indigenous women have raised allegations of coerced sterilizations as recently as December 2018. Indigenous children are massively over-represented in the foster care system. The industrialization and corporatization of government support services is a root cause of these crimes of genocide.

The federal government has the moral and legal responsibility to protect the rights of all people, including Indigenous people. Services for Indigenous people must be safe and free from racism. Ideally, this will be achieved by transferring complete control and full funding of services for Indigenous people to Indigenous nations and Indigenous-led organizations. This will end the systemic dysfunction perpetrated by provincial government services, and place the power to change directly in the hands of those affected.

My party will work with Indigenous peoples as equal partners in developing a National Action Plan for Reconciliation that draws on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Question 5: Food Security
Food insecurity is on the rise and now affects one in seven Canadians. Many families, young adults, and seniors can’t afford food, or worry about running out with no money to buy more. A root cause of food insecurity is poverty. How is your party planning to decrease poverty and food insecurity?

Breen Ouellette:
In a country as wealthy as Canada, we have no excuse to leave any Canadian in poverty. We need to take bold and meaningful action so that every Canadian has the support they need to live in dignity. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us it is possible for government to act quickly to provide extensive support, including a basic income when Canadians are in desperate need. The NDP will invest in income security programs, starting with seniors and people with disabilities, as a first step toward a future where all Canadians can access a livable basic income.

Access to healthy and affordable food is at the heart of the NDP’s food strategy. The NDP would implement a national school nutrition program to ensure that no child enters the classroom hungry.

Question 6: Climate Change
This Summer, Vancouver experienced the hottest temperatures on record. Many political parties have committed to long-term plans and solutions. What will you do in the next four years to confront climate change? 

Breen Ouellette:
As an Indigenous person, I was raised to respect all our relations: the relationships we have to the earth, water, air, plants, and animals. As a member of the senior management team of the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan, I saw the relationship between exploitation of Indigenous peoples and the extraction of natural resources. As a lawyer at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (and Two-Spirit People), I became further aware of the resource extraction abuser relationship of the Crown toward Indigenous peoples; many of the witnesses for whom I conducted examinations of testimony spoke of the harms visited on Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit people by man camps brought into Indigenous communities to lay the groundwork for the resource-exploitation of the federal government and industry. As an Indigenous leader, I want to forge an alliance of Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, and innovators to offer concrete and real solutions to fight the Climate Crisis.

I have pledged to oppose the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, an issue which directly affects the Metro Vancouver area, and have publicly expressed my opposition to LNG in BC. I believe that direct subsidies of the oil and gas industries must end, and those subsidies must be diverted to green research and developing a job-sustaining clean energy industry in Canada.

Question 7: Health Care
Many neighbours are concerned about the underfunding of mental health services in comparison to physical health. What will you do to ensure all Canadians—regardless of income—can access the complete care they need?
Breen Ouellette:
Our neighbours are right to be concerned about our perpetually underfunded mental health services! The NDP supports head-to-toe health coverage, including mental health. We know the pandemic took a huge toll on mental health. The NDP will provide mental health care for those who don’t currently have coverage so that they could access the help they need without worrying about the cost. In addition, we support a comprehensive pharmacare plan that will cover prescription medication for mental health. Our plan will guarantee that every Canadian can get the medication they need.

And it’s definitely worth mentioning that our plan represents big savings for employers who are currently paying for employee benefits. We estimate that employers would save roughly $600 per employee with extended health coverage every year under our plan. Most importantly, our pharmacare plan will mean a healthier Canada where no one has to make the impossible choice between the medicine they need and other essentials, like rent and food.

Question 8: What is your favorite place on the downtown peninsula, and why?
Breen Ouellette:
That would be the Seawall. Every day, you can find me there with my wife, Cammy. We are committed to walking at least eight kilometers of the Seawall per day, and by this point we have covered every foot of it within Vancouver Centre!

End of Questions.
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