Improving Access to Food and Essential Needs: Options for a More Generous Cash-Transfer Benefit

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis has highlighted the deficiencies in Canada’s social safety net. Provincial social assistance programs, which are supposed to provide a minimum level of income to buy food and other essential needs, fall short.

Low-income households, which spend a larger proportion of their income on basic needs, are most affected by food and shelter inflation. Single parents and working-age unattached adults are more likely to be low-income than other family types.

At the same time, the rate of food insecurity is rising. In 2022, 18 per cent of Canadians experienced food insecurity, up from 16 per cent a year earlier and 17 per cent in 2019. Households most vulnerable to food insecurity are the same as those that are more likely to be low income, including single mothers.

There is an urgent need to increase income supports to low-income households. This report outlines the various cash-transfer mechanisms that the federal government could use. It focuses on reforms to already existing cash-transfer programs delivered through the Canada Revenue Agency, including the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) credit, the Canada Child Benefit and the Canada Workers Benefit, because these reforms could be implemented more quickly than designing an entirely new benefit.

To determine which of the potential cash-transfer scenarios the government should implement, the report sets out the following evaluative criteria:

  • Does the benefit reach those who need it most, notably working-age unattached adults, single parents and those with the lowest income?
  • Does the benefit reduce barriers to access for marginalized and vulnerable groups?
  • Is the benefit adequate and does it allow recipients to purchase basic needs?
  • Is the cost of the benefit reasonable and feasible?

Based on these criteria and analyses of the various options, the report recommends that the federal government expand the existing GST/HST credit for families with working-age adults and their children. The existing GST/HST credit has several advantages: it reaches all family types including working-age, unattached single adults and single-parent families, and is well targeted to low-income households. However, the existing credit provides modest support: in the 2023-24 benefit year, it provided a base benefit of $325 a year per adult and $171 a year per child. Although the existing GST/HST credit is indexed to inflation, it is pegged to the overall Consumer Price Index, which has risen at a slower rate than food and shelter prices.

The report recommends the federal government adopt one of two options: a GST/HST credit of either $100 a month per working-age adult spread relatively evenly among low- and middle-income households or $150 a month targeted to those in deep poverty. Both scenarios would improve access to basic needs for low-income households at a comparatively moderate cost. It does not extend the top-up to people 65 years old and older because they are less likely to be low-income or to experience food insecurity, and they already receive income supports through the Old Age Security benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

In addition, it recommends that the expanded GST/HST credit be distributed monthly rather than quarterly, as is currently the case. This would spread the payments evenly throughout the year and give recipients more stability to pay monthly bills. It also recommends that the federal government implement the automatic tax filing pilot program announced in the 2023 budget to help Canadians who currently do not file their taxes receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

Based on the findings in this study, the Affordability Action Council, a non-partisan collaboration of diverse policy experts and community leaders from across the country, recommended in a report released in December 2023 that the federal government restructure and expand the existing GST/HST credit and rename it the Groceries and Essentials Benefit. The proposed benefit would build on the one-time Grocery Rebate implemented in 2023 and would target lower-income households with working-age adults. The option selected by the Council would provide $150 a month per adult and $50 per child to the lowest-income households. All households that currently receive the GST/HST rebate would receive more money under the Council’s proposal, but the lowest-income households would see the largest increase.

The New Mobility Era: Leveraging Digital Technologies for More Equitable, Efficient and Effective Public Transportation

Digital technologies have the potential to enhance urban mobility to achieve a variety of societal and environmental benefits: They can improve access to public transit for those who are underserved. They can help transit users optimize routes and combine various modes of transportation through integrated apps and contactless payment. And they can improve the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of public transportation systems that are increasingly electrified. However, to reach their full potential, digital technologies must be a part of a broader government-led transformation, which includes greater joint planning of land use and transportation, and improving shared-mobility services such as ride-hailing, car-sharing and bike-sharing. Governments at all levels have an important role to play in shaping this transformation in ways that improve the equity, efficiency and effectiveness of public transportation.

National Pharmacare: Laying the Groundwork

Drug coverage in Canada is a patchwork of provincial, territorial and federal public plans, private drug insurance and out-of-pocket payments. Millions of Canadians cannot afford the drugs they have been prescribed. But there is an opportunity to change this. The federal Liberal government has signed a supply-and-confidence agreement with the New Democratic Party that includes a commitment to introduce a national pharmacare plan. There are several models the government could use to implement such a plan. This paper calls for a fiscally prudent staged approach, starting with a federal reinsurance program for high-cost medications for rare diseases, which would lay the groundwork for moving toward a comprehensive, universal drug-coverage plan.

Making Ends Meet: A New Approach to Tackling Affordability

As the COVID pandemic began to show signs of receding in early 2022, Canadians were looking to the future with renewed hope. Governments initially spoke of “building back better” after the devastating pandemic, with aspirations for addressing social inequalities and making the country’s systems more resilient.

But for many people, that hope for progress was soon tempered by soaring prices for food, rent and gas, as well as the effects of a record-breaking wildfire season, floods, storms and other climate-change-induced events that have touched virtually every corner of the country.

It was in the context of these twin crises that the Affordability Action Council, a non-partisan collaboration of diverse policy experts and community leaders from across the country, came together to develop a suite of policy measures to simultaneously tackle the effects of high inflation and climate change. The Council gathered experts, commissioned research and convened discussions to provide evidence-based policy recommendations to the federal government. This report is the culmination of our work.

The Council was guided by a new approach to policymaking — one that eschews piecemeal policy measures in favour of a holistic view that considers all basic needs at once. Because no one should have to forgo buying food to pay the rent. No one should avoid heating or cooling their homes to afford a transit pass to get to work. And none of these things should come at the expense of addressing climate change.

Too often we hear arguments that efforts to speed the transition to a low-carbon economy will make life more unaffordable. We think that with the right policies in place it’s possible to ease near-term affordability concerns while putting in place the building blocks for lasting affordability, resilience and emission reductions. Indeed, if efforts to address affordability and climate change remain on separate tracks, low-income families will become more vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel prices and bear the cost of a changing climate.

At the forefront of the Council’s work has been the recognition that efforts to address these challenges should make lower-income families a priority. And younger generations — which have already been saddled with high housing costs, a disproportionate share of social benefit payments and growing climate risks — shouldn’t be further disadvantaged.

The Council’s recommendations will not solve all affordability and climate-change challenges, but we think they provide a good starting point that integrates these policy objectives. It is possible to find innovative solutions that help Canadians make ends meet while preparing them for a lower-emission, climate-resilient future.

Jennifer Ditchburn
President and CEO,
Institute for Research on Public Policy   

Lili-Anna Pereša
McConnell Foundation

Éric St-Pierre
Executive Director,
Trottier Family Foundation

Catherine Abreu
Founder and Executive Director,
Destination Zero

Yasmin Abraham

Jasveen Brar

Caroline Brouillette

Cherise Burda

Evan Fraser

Brendan Haley

Kate Harland

Paul Kershaw

Marc Lee

Angella MacEwen

Mike Moffatt

Gillian Petit

Shelagh Pizey-Allen

Rosemarie Powell

Lisa Rae

Nate Wallace

Rural Recognition: Affordable and Safe Transportation Options for Remote Communities

More than four million Canadians live in low-density areas, which include rural, remote, Indigenous and northern communities. Most have few transportation options aside from driving a personal vehicle. For those who cannot drive because of cost, age or ability, the lack of options can exacerbate inequities and increase risks to their health and safety.

To address these issues, the federal government should work with its provincial, territorial and Indigenous counterparts to develop a new vision of passenger travel in Canada, while leveraging and expanding federal infrastructure funding to close gaps in service.

Although fewer people live in these areas, they are more likely to face higher transportation costs and generate more greenhouse-gas emissions per person because they must travel longer distances.

Given the unique needs of rural communities, creative solutions are necessary. The absence of a reliable national transportation vision contributes to gaps in services, and the closure of vital bus routes is amplifying the problem. While the federal government has made progress on rural daily transportation needs through its Rural Transit Solutions Fund, the fund’s potential is limited because it does not cover operating costs or intercommunity routes.

The Affordability Action Council recommends that the federal government:

1. Work with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments to develop a renewed national vision of passenger transportation supported by better data, research and analysis

  • Update the 2013 Vision for Transportation with greater emphasis on the needs of rural, remote and Indigenous communities and closing gaps in inter-regional bus and rail service
  • Invest in improved data collection, including a national survey to track household travel patterns that extend beyond work commutes

2. Leverage infrastructure funding and Via Rail to help close gaps in inter-regional bus and rail service

  • Invest in improving Via Rail’s service coverage, service offerings, frequency and fare affordability
  • Support provincial, territorial and Indigenous-led efforts to close gaps in bus and rail service

3. Expand the Rural Transit Solutions Fund to cover a greater range of costs, projects and applicants

  • Allow the fund to cover operating expenses such as leased vehicles and employee salaries
  • Use the fund to support intercommunity travel

Rural Residents Face Increasing Transport Poverty

The risk of transport poverty, or the lack of adequate transportation options to access essential services and employment, is increasing across Canada’s rural and remote communities. While transport poverty also exists in urban areas, people in rural and remote communities face additional barriers because of the long distances they must travel to access services, see a doctor or apply for social assistance (Fairbairn & Gustafson, 2006).

People living in these areas rely more on cars to get to work and to access services and amen-ities in part because they must travel farther distances and because they have significantly smaller public transit systems. The increasing costs of car ownership may also limit their transportation options. People who live in rural communities typically have lower earnings compared to their urban counterparts, which may compound the problem.

There are higher proportions of seniors and young people living in rural and remote communities — two groups that are often unable to drive or access a vehicle and are thus more restricted in their travel when no other transit options exist (see table 1). Very remote communities may have few roads, and northern communities face the added challenge that ice roads built on permafrost only function part of the year (Barrette & Charlebois, 2018). Climate change is increasingly creating uncertainty around the future of these ice roads.

Compared to urban areas, large-scale public transportation options are less feasible in rural and remote communities. Less than 2 per cent of commuters in rural and remote regions use public transit to get to work (Larijani et al., 2019; Statistics Canada, 2023b). This is because communities are spread out over a large territory, and rural populations are smaller. Consequently, rural transportation systems are often smaller, with fewer riders, and lack the economies of scale of many urban systems.

Figure 1 shows Canada’s census subdivisions grouped according to five degrees of remoteness, as defined by Statistics Canada (2022a). Canada’s population centres are shown in orange. All territory outside the orange areas is considered to be rural. Atlantic and northern Canada have a significantly higher share of rural and remote communities.

Some of the most remote communities in Canada lack road and ferry access for much of the year (Transport Canada, 2020). In 2021, 117 census subdivisions, out of a total of 5,112 across Canada, were not connected to population centres via a main road or ferry network. These communities can be reached only by plane, seasonal ferries and water taxis, which in some cases don’t have a regular schedule or must be chartered (see box 1).

Transportation Options in Rural Areas Are Key to Addressing Equity Concerns

A lack of transportation options for those living in low density areas can restrict their access to health care and social activities and put people at higher risk of physical harm. Those who are low-income, Indigenous, older or young people and those who have disabilities are particularly affected.

Access to essential services such as health care is more restricted in rural areas, an issue that is exacerbated by a lack of transportation options (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2012; Mirza & Hulko, 2022). Remote areas are also less likely to have access to the quality telecommunication networks that would allow them to circumvent some issues of transportation access, such as by telehealth appointments.

Seniors living in urban and rural areas alike face increased risk of social isolation (National Seniors Council, 2014), but those living in rural areas and in places without adequate transportation options face even higher barriers to participating in social activities (National Seniors Council, 2017).

Some people who are unable to drive or lack accessible and affordable travel options may be at risk of physical harm. The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019) called for increased safe and affordable
transit and -transportation services and infrastructure for Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people living in remote and rural communities. In response to the murders of more than 40 people, who were mainly Indigenous women and girls, on a stretch of highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia, the provincial government took steps to improve community transit (Government of B.C., n.d.).

Fewer and more costly transportation options also exacerbate the incidence of poverty in rural communities, where the cost of essentials such as food and energy is already considerably higher than in urban areas (Food Banks Canada, n.d.; Lovekin & Heerema, 2019). Studies show that energy bills in remote communities can be six to 10 times higher than in the rest of Canada (Lovekin, 2021). Adding higher transportation costs to the equation can bring low-income rural household budgets to their breaking point.

Accessible and affordable transportation options can enhance the resilience of communities by providing workers with the ability to travel to places of employment and nearby regions, and helping communities retain their working age population (Orb, 2021). This is particularly important for communities with a high share of seasonal workers because it could increase employment opportunities available in the off-season, and for communities with smaller economies that rely on emission-intensive industries such as mining and oil production, which may be more vulnerable to economic fluctuations (Canadian Climate Institute, 2021; Infrastructure Canada, 2019).

Transportation Solutions Are Critical to the Rural  Net-Zero Transition

Canada has the highest rural population growth rate among the G7 and is one of only two countries where the rural population is growing (Statistics Canada, 2022a). Many rural and remote communities are composed of farmers, foresters, tradespeople, fishers and mine operators. Many Indigenous communities are also located in remote areas.

Although fewer people live in these areas, they face higher costs and generate more -greenhouse-gas emissions per person (OECD, 2021). In part, this is because Canadians living in rural, remote and northern communities must travel longer distances and are more likely to rely on more expensive and polluting fuels such as diesel, propane and home heating oil (Campbell, 2023; Lovekin & Heerema, 2019; Statistics Canada, 2022b).

As Canada and other countries transition to net-zero and adopt more renewable energy options, mismatches between the supply and demand for oil could lead to increasing price volatility (Leach, 2022). Households that remain dependent on fossil fuels for transportation and energy will be increasingly exposed to cost increases. Without affordable alternatives, low–income rural households will increasingly see their budgets squeezed.

The Rural Supplement to the Climate Action Incentive Payment (carbon tax rebate) was doubled in 2023 to account for the higher cost of living in rural areas (Department of Finance Canada, 2023). The federal government also removed the carbon tax on home heating oil for three years to provide time for households to switch to heat pumps. An enhanced rebate for heat pump installation helps make the switch more affordable.

Expanding access to affordable, low-carbon transportation solutions will require a different approach in rural communities. Creative solutions such as on-demand transit and shuttle buses tailored to specific community needs will be most effective because they provide low-emission alternatives while also helping to address transport poverty. These options are often at the appropriate scale for rural and remote regions, which lack the density required for cost-effective fixed-route transit. Greater access to affordable low-emission private transportation options, such as used electric vehicles, will also help (Affordability Action Council, 2024).

Gaps in Rural and InterCommunity Transportation

Canada lacks a coherent national vision for transportation

In 2013, federal, provincial and territorial transportation ministers agreed on a strategic vision for transportation that would maintain, promote and enhance safe, competitive, viable and sustainable transportation networks that would in turn enhance economic prosperity and Canadians’ quality of life. It included a five-year priority plan to foster seamless transportation systems that connect people, services and jobs (Council of Ministers, 2013).

While progress has been made in some areas, gaps still exist. The 2013 strategic vision preceded Canada’s current climate targets and must be updated to reflect them. Additionally, Transport Canada describes the role of transportation largely as supporting Canada’s economy and trade (Transport Canada, 2023a). While that role is important, transportation is also a basic need, necessary for people to survive and thrive in their communities.

The closure of Greyhound Canada bus routes and the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) in 2017 and 2018 led to sharply reduced affordable transportation options for many Canadians in rural and remote communities (see box 2). However, the scale and scope of gaps in bus and rail connectivity go far beyond these closures.

Governments have failed to develop a reliable backbone of affordable -intercommunity bus and rail transportation

Passenger transportation in Canada is a shared jurisdiction across federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments. Bus and rail operators range from private companies to public agencies, with a mix of other models in between. The federal government plays an important role in passenger transportation through infrastructure funding, Via Rail, regulation and its collection and analysis of transportation data.

Providing affordable, sustainable transportation services to rural communities requires a national backbone of motorcoach and rail routes along the most travelled corridors, with hubs along the way where smaller communities can develop fixed or on-demand transportation solutions that safely drop off passengers to continue their journey.

And yet, Canada does not have a reliable transportation backbone. Via Rail services and ridership have been in decline since capital and operating subsidies to the Crown corporation were significantly reduced in the 1990s (Dupuis, 2014). Between their peak in 1983 and 2022, combined capital and operating subsidies decreased by 66 per cent (Dupuis, 2014; Via Rail Canada, 2022). In addition, Via Rail owns only 2 per cent of the tracks it uses, which has led to challenges in delivering frequent, on-time service because Via trains must yield to freight traffic on shared tracks (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2016).

With the loss of important transportation services from Via Rail, Greyhound, Saskatchewan Transportation Company and many more since the onset of the pandemic, passengers in communities across Canada are left without safe and affordable transportation options.

The 2023 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities called on the federal government to collaborate with other levels of government and public and private operators to identify and close gaps in passenger transportation services. One of the committee’s recommendations was for the federal government to expand the Rural Transit Solutions Fund administered by Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Canada to provide incentives for intercommunity rural routes (House of Commons, 2023a).

The federal government has other levers at its disposal to improve Canada’s transportation backbone, including infrastructure funding for provinces, territories and municipalities, Via Rail and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB).

Since many of the routes that are needed most urgently in rural areas are not profitable, the federal government would need to either adjust the mandate of the CIB or provide supplementary sources of funding for CIB investment to be a long-term solution that creates permanent and reliable transportation options. It will also be important to keep fares affordable for those who need transportation the most. In many cases, a public or non-profit entity may be best suited to providing affordable passenger transportation services in rural and remote areas.

For example, a combination of funding sources from Transport Canada, CIB and the government of Quebec was used to finance Canada’s first Indigenous-led railway, Tshiuetin, which connects three First Nations (the Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-utenam, the Innu Nation of Matimekush-Lac John and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamac) with Schefferville, Quebec (Canada Infrastructure Bank, 2021). Fares are structured to provide deep discounts to youth, seniors and Indigenous people (Transport Ferrovaire Tshiuetin, n.d.)

Ontario has invested in improved transportation service to northern communities through its Crown corporation, Ontario Northland, which provides bus and rail service. It is in the process of reinstating shuttered train routes between Toronto and the northeastern part of the province (Ontario Northland, 2023). This will leave northern Ontario communities served by a mix of bus and rail services provided by provincial and federal entities, a model that could be adopted by other Crown corporations.

British Columbia’s provincial Crown corporation, BC Transit, also manages public transportation within cities and between cities outside the Greater Vancouver Area. Federal funding was used to help establish public transportation services for rural, remote and Indigenous communities in northern British Columbia following Greyhound’s cancellation of routes in 2018 (House of Commons, 2023b).

Via Rail provides important linkages to and between rural and remote communities in Canada. These routes could be extended and the frequency of service could be improved and made more affordable. For example, a one-way economy class ticket from Sioux Lookout, Ontario, to Toronto in February 2024 cost $221 and trips were only available on Mondays and Thursdays (Via Rail Canada, n.d.).

The federal government has announced a high-frequency rail project that will span the Toronto to Quebec City corridor with dedicated tracks, which aims to improve the frequency and reliability of rail service in the future (Transport Canada, 2023b). To ensure that rural and remote communities can also benefit from these and other improvements to the system, rail stops could be part of a regional hub-and-spoke system that provides bus or van connections to smaller communities, as well as warm buildings, washrooms, seating and food services.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach has launched a petition calling for the federal government to develop legislation to update the mandate of Via Rail to meet passenger and environmental needs and finance the renewal of Via Rail’s long-distance fleet (House of Commons, 2024).

Greater collaboration between transportation service entities at the federal and provincial levels is needed to support seamless connections between services by integrating booking systems and enabling transfers.

The Rural Transit Solutions Fund is a great start, but its mandate and tools are limited

The $250-million, five-year federal Rural Transit Solutions Fund (RTSF), introduced in 2021, was a first step in addressing the severe lack of access to day-to-day transportation options that rural communities face.

The RTSF has supported solutions in very small communities with fewer than 1,000 people as well as small cities with rural peripheries. It also provides significant support to Indigenous communities and has already exceeded its mandate to dedicate 10 per cent of its funds to Indigenous communities. Nova Scotia and Alberta took the early lead in accessing the fund, but its popularity is expanding to other regions (Infrastructure Canada, personal communication, September 6, 2023).

However, there are several constraints placed on the fund that limit its potential. The program only covers the capital costs of transit systems, and not their operations. For rural transportation, operating costs such as driver wages can be one of the most significant expenses and a barrier to service expansion. The focus on capital costs also prevents the use of leased vehicles, which can be a cheaper option.

Currently, many rural transit options are community-based charities that rely on volunteer drivers or are supported by local governments with very limited tax bases (Levesque, 2022). It is difficult to introduce new service lines without being able to fund the operating and capital costs required to manage and run the routes, in particular for communities with limited tax bases.

On-demand transit service allows passengers to book a ride on a day and time when they need it. It is growing in popularity in small cities and rural communities. Some services target seniors or people with disabilities, but many are expanding service to offer it to anyone who needs it. On-demand transit is being made more practical and cost-effective with software applications and digital technologies that allow for seamless ride booking and route planning (Mobility Innovators, 2022). To realize the potential of on-demand transit, operators need funds to provide software or partner with private technology providers.

The RTSF generally limits project funding for travel to nearby communities and for daily appointments and groceries rather than for travel between communities or connections to transportation hubs or larger urban centres. It also has not supported interprovincial or territory-provincial travel (see figure 2).

The Role of the Federal Government in Supporting Better Rural Transportation Options

The federal government should play a greater role in supporting transportation solutions in rural communities. The Affordability Action Council recommends that it take the following actions.

Recommendation #1: Work with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments to develop a renewed national vision of passenger transportation supported by better data, research and analysis

The federal government should spearhead a pan-Canadian initiative to update the 2013 federal-provincial-territorial Vision for Transportation in Canada, with greater emphasis on the needs of rural and Indigenous communities and closing gaps in inter-regional bus and rail transportation. The vision should be informed by Canada’s climate targets, and the federal government should invest in improved data collection and analysis to identify transportation needs and gaps that are a concern from an affordability, equity, health and safety, and environmental perspective. This should include developing a national household travel survey, managed by Statistics Canada, to track travel patterns that extend beyond work commutes.

Recommendation #2: Leverage infrastructure funding and Via Rail to help close gaps in national inter-regional bus and rail service

The federal government should support provincial, territorial and Indigenous-led efforts to close gaps in bus and rail service through infrastructure funding and through improvements to Via Rail infrastructure and services. As part of its efforts, the federal government should aim to address the needs of vulnerable populations with more affordable, accessible and lower-emission transportation services. Improving Via Rail’s frequency of service and affordability of fares will require greater investment in locomotive and train car renewal, stops and stations, staff, as well as rail infrastructure.

To make Via Rail the backbone of a national transportation network, the government could provide additional funding for Via to offer shuttle bus service from rail stops to nearby communities. Via Rail should also improve its integration with existing provincial bus networks, using rural and remote stops as safe regional transportation hubs that enable seamless transfers across a Canada-wide network.

Recommendation #3: Expand the Rural Transit Solutions Fund to cover a greater range of costs, projects and applicants

The federal government should expand the Rural Transit Solutions Fund to build on its success. It can do this by expanding eligible costs to include operating costs such as leased vehicles, employee salaries and other human resources required to oversee routes, as well as the software required to manage on-demand services. The fund can also be used to support intercommunity travel across provinces and territories.

These adjustments will advance equitable and sustainable transit solutions across rural communities and will help the federal government meet its climate and poverty-reduction goals while facilitating reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities.


The Affordability Action Council has prioritized housing, transportation and food as key areas in which the federal government can take action to help low-income households meet their basic needs in ways that also support emission reduction and resilience to a changing climate.

Well-planned and affordable transportation options can improve access to employment and social activities and reduce the need to own a car in rural areas. In an accompanying policy brief on urban transportation, the Affordability Action Council recommends changes to the federal Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles Program that could likewise benefit rural drivers by providing incentives to the purchase of used electric vehicles. Smoother connections between regional bus and rail networks and urban public transit systems would improve transportation access and affordability across the country. More affordable transportation options would benefit household budgets as well as the environment, and free up spending for food to reduce food insecurity.

Rethinking Urban Mobility: Providing More Affordable and Equitable Transportation Options

Transportation is one of the largest expenses for households alongside housing and food. It also represents the second-largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in Canada. To provide affordable, clean-energy transportation options to lower-income Canadians, the federal government should revise its electric-vehicle incentive program and provide sustainable operating funding for transit systems.

Nearly one million people living in Canada’s eight largest cities were at risk of transport poverty in 2019, meaning they cannot access or afford transportation. Without more support, these Canadians risk social and economic isolation. Urban mobility policies must better serve low-income households and consider their needs foremost on the path toward net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions.

With transit systems in financial crisis and the introduction of national regulations that will phase out the sale of new gasoline cars by 2035, now is time to rethink the federal role in passenger transportation.

To achieve a more equitable and low-carbon transportation system, the Affordability Action Council recommends that the federal government take two key actions:

1. Reform the Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) program to support the purchase of lower-cost zero-emission transportation options such as used electric vehicles, e-bikes, mopeds and e-scooters, and shift incentives to better support low- and middle-income households.

To manage program costs and promote equity, the federal government should make low- and middle-income buyers the main beneficiaries of the program and phase out the point-of-sale discounts for higher-income households. It should also gradually lower the existing price limits on vehicles that are eligible for the program.

2. Leverage federal transit funding to expand accessible and affordable service by providing operating funding to boost ridership.

Operating funding would allow transit systems to adapt to new travel patterns and recover from pandemic-related ridership losses, expand service frequency and improve fare affordability. To boost ridership growth and housing affordability, the government should also accelerate the deployment of the Permanent Public Transit Fund and put in place housing density requirements near transit stations.


When it comes to getting around, many Canadians lack affordable choices. Public transit is often not available or convenient in areas where housing is affordable, and the costs of car ownership are rising.

This results in transport poverty, which occurs when people lack access to transportation options that are affordable and accessible (Kiss, 2022). Without the ability to get where they need to go, people who face transport poverty often experience social exclusion and have limited access to work opportunities and essential services such as health care and education.

Low-income households are particularly vulnerable to transport poverty because many are unable to afford private vehicles. Other factors, such as disabilities, parenthood, gender and ethnicity, can exacerbate it. A 2019 study found that 65 per cent of the dissemination areas of Canada’s eight largest cities were at some risk of transport poverty (see figure 1). The study also found that 40 per cent of all low-income residents (nearly one million people) of Canada’s eight largest cities were at risk of transport poverty (Allen & Farber, 2019).

Transportation is one of the largest costs for Canadian families. As figure 2 shows, transportation spending accounted for more than one-quarter of the before-tax income of very low-income households in the second quarter of 2023.

Although household spending on transportation declined in the wake of the pandemic, people are now returning to in-person workspaces and commute times are increasing again. Between January 2019 and January 2023, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for public transportation rose 17 per cent, while private transportation prices rose 21 per cent over the same period (Statistics Canada, 2023a).

High transportation and housing costs create an affordability paradox

Rapidly rising housing costs are pushing more and more Canadians to live farther from urban cores. This has pushed many low-income families into more auto-dependent places that have less frequent transit service and require longer commutes. Many low-income and racialized Canadians face “extreme commutes,” that is, those that exceed one hour for a one-way trip (Allen & Farber, 2021).

Canadians increasingly face an “affordability paradox”: they must choose between lower-cost housing in suburban outskirts, where a lack of public transit service makes costly personal vehicle ownership a must, or more expensive housing in urban cores, where access to reliable public transit can potentially make automobile ownership unnecessary (Kramer, 2018). For many, the choice to live farther from central areas has led to increased social isolation and compounded social disadvantages, such as reduced access to jobs, services and other opportunities (Allen et al., 2022).

A lack of transportation options exacerbates inequity

Across Canada’s 10 largest metro areas, racialized individuals, young people, women, immigrants and individuals with low income are more likely to use public transit to get to work (Statistics Canada, 2022a). Supporting public transit systems is therefore key to advancing equitable access to transportation options.

Additionally, a significant portion of the people relying on public transit take off-peak trips, including low-income workers, who are disproportionately racialized (Palm et al., 2023). Yet most public transportation systems are designed to serve commuters going to and from a central business district on a 9-to-5 weekday schedule (Taylor & Morris, 2015).

In Montreal, work-related commuting trips comprise less than half of all public transit trips (Ravensbergen et al., 2023). The second most common trip type is care travel, which is disproportionately carried out by women. It includes activities such as grocery shopping, escorting children and other trips related to household upkeep. The pandemic proved that public transit is a key enabler of daily life, not just a means of commuting (Farber et al., 2022). Throughout the pandemic, transit demand remained strong in low-income neighbourhoods where manual and service workers are more likely to live (Freemark et al., 2021).

In Canada’s three largest metro areas (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver), only 12 per cent to 16 per cent of trips are taken via public transit (ARTM, 2018; TransLink, 2017; Transportation Tomorrow, 2016). In smaller urban areas where public transit stops are fewer and farther between (Statistics Canada, 2023b), the majority of trips are by car (Statistics Canada, 2022b).

Estimates show that 20 per cent to 40 per cent of people in a typical community cannot, should not or prefer not to drive for most trips (Litman, 2023). This includes people with disabilities, seniors who do not or should not drive, adolescents, households with a shared vehicle and others. For some people, including those with certain mobility impairments and other special needs, driving a car may be the only viable option for getting where they need to go. Yet owning and operating a car is becoming increasingly expensive.

The median price of a used vehicle, which low- and middle-income families are more likely to purchase, increased by 110 per cent between 2019 and 2023, from just under $19,000 to about $40,000 (AutoTrader, 2023). For new vehicles, prices rose almost 70 per cent from $39,000 to $66,000 over the same period. Higher interest rates are also making it increasingly difficult for households to service car payments (Young & Fanjoy, 2023). Compared to pre-pandemic prices in early 2020, the cost of monthly car payments has risen by 30 per cent for used vehicles and 20 per cent for new vehicles (Alini, 2023).


More housing is being built farther and farther from city centres, transit systems are cutting service and increasing fares, and the size of vehicles is growing. As a result, household transportation costs are rising. These trends are also pushing Canada off track from meeting its greenhouse-gas emission-reduction targets.

Transportation is the second-largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in Canada, emitting 150 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021 (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2023). Passenger travel (including passenger cars, light trucks, motorcycles, bus, rail and aviation) accounted for more than half of these emissions.

Emissions from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles pose significant health risks, particularly for children and seniors. Health Canada estimates that air pollution from car traffic contributed to 1,200 premature deaths and resulted in $9.5 billion in socioeconomic costs in 2015 (Health Canada, 2022).

Urban sprawl and commuting

Urban centres are growing and commute times are increasing. In 2021, 73.7 per cent of Canadians lived in a large urban centre (Statistics Canada, 2022b). From 2016 to 2021, there was significant growth in intermediate suburbs (those located 20 to 30 minutes from downtown); these areas grew by more than 20 per cent in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. Distant suburbs (those located 30 minutes or more from downtown) also grew. These areas increased by more than 9 per cent in Toronto and Vancouver, and more than 7 per cent in Montreal.

Between May 2021 and May 2023, the number of workers with a car commute lasting over one hour increased by 51.7 per cent and accounted for 7 per cent of all car commuters (nearly 900,000 people) (Statistics Canada, 2023c). Notably, these long commutes are increasingly taking place within the same urban areas.

Driving longer distances means households are spending more on gasoline and cars are emitting more carbon dioxide. It also means more traffic congestion and air pollution for urban areas.

Transit systems and the revenue gap

Public transportation systems are struggling to adapt to post-pandemic travel patterns (see figure 3). Previously, transit systems focused on peak commuter-travel patterns and operating budgets relied on passenger fare revenue to cover more than half of costs (Canadian Urban Transit Association, 2020).

During the pandemic, the federal government provided emergency operating support to transit agencies so they could continue providing service to essential workers and rebuild ridership, but that support has since ended, and the revenue gap has only partially been filled by some provinces.

Many municipalities have opted to pass the burden onto transit riders through higher fares and cuts to service. Yet these trends drive an even greater reduction in ridership, which inevitably leads to more route cuts and fare increases (Freemark & Rennert, 2023).

Vehicle size and fuel efficiency

Passenger travel using light trucks accounted for one-third of total greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation in 2021 (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2023). The share of light trucks (minivans, sport-utility vehicles, light trucks and vans) as a percentage of all new car sales in Canada has steadily climbed from 53 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2022 (Statistics Canada, 2023d). As a result, the Canadian passenger-vehicle fleet has the worst fuel economy of any major car market in the world and the growth in light truck sales is offsetting gains in fuel efficiency and GHG reductions (see figure 4). Light trucks have worse fuel efficiency compared to other models of cars, produce more emissions and have higher costs for their owners.

Positive trends

There are positive trends as well. The number of new vehicle registrations for battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles is steadily increasing, reaching 13.3 per cent of market share in the third quarter of 2023. S&P Global Mobility (2023) predicts zero-emission vehicles will account for 25 per cent of Canada’s new market share by 2025.

The federal Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) Program offers up to $5,000 to individuals purchasing new zero-emission vehicles from registered dealerships in Canada. Between 2019 and 2023, annual incentive requests rose from around 34,000 to 114,000 (see figure 5). Modelling suggests that continuing existing subsidies until 2035 would cost nearly $27.3 billion (Axsen & Bhardwaj, 2022). As the Canadian EV market expands, it will be crucial for the iZEV program to evolve and provide more targeted support to low- and middle-income households.


All orders of government are falling short on efforts to improve transportation access, affordability and sustainability. Public transit systems are struggling, and they need more operating funding to run additional service and boost ridership. Provincial measures like gasoline tax cuts primarily benefit wealthy households, work against efforts to reduce emissions and deprive governments of revenues needed to invest in solutions. And the signature federal program aimed at encouraging the purchase of electric vehicles is not working for lower-income people.

Focus on providing capital funding is leaving many buses sitting idle

In 2016, the federal government launched the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), which included $23.5 billion in capital investments for transit systems. The program committed to sharing 40 per cent of the costs of capital projects through federal-provincial-territorial bilateral agreements. Despite the promise of these historic investments, public transit service per capita is now 7 per cent lower for the average Canadian than when the program was launched (Canadian Urban Transit Association, 2022). Public transportation systems have simply not kept up with population growth.

Because the ICIP only funds capital investments and not operating expenses, a growing number of buses are sitting idle in garages. For example, the Toronto Transit Commission has 172 buses, 44 streetcars and 13 subway trains that are sitting idle because of a lack of drivers (Elliott, 2023). Across the country, there are an estimated 1,700 buses sitting idle.

In 2021, the federal government committed to providing $3 billion annually in permanent public transit funding starting in 2026-27 through the Permanent Public Transit Fund, but it will also fund only capital projects and not operations (Infrastructure Canada, 2022).

Without a predictable and stable source of operational funding, municipalities with tight budgets struggle to shoulder the burden. Local governments collect only 10 per cent of all tax revenues (OECD, 2021), but are responsible for 60 per cent of Canada’s infrastructure (Johal, 2019). Municipalities already pay 75 per cent of transit operating costs (Canadian Urban Transit Association, 2023). Regions that rely primarily on bus service, including most of Canada’s medium and small cities, are disproportionately affected since each bus needs a driver and labour is the primary operating cost of transit.

Fuel tax cuts are primarily benefiting the wealthy

In response to increasing energy prices and affordability concerns, some provincial governments have cut fuel taxes to relieve price pressures for consumers. However, these policies often have a regressive impact, primarily benefiting wealthier people because they drive more. Fuel tax cuts also work against climate policies such as the carbon price, and result in forgone tax revenues needed to support government services (Samson et al., 2022).

Recent research by Trevor Tombe and Jennifer Winter (2023) shows that indirect taxes such as sales taxes, fuel taxes and the federal carbon tax have a minimal impact on consumer prices. They estimate that the cumulative impact of all indirect tax increases on consumer prices from January 2015 to October 2023 was just 0.6 per cent. An analysis by the Canadian Climate Institute shows that exemptions to the carbon tax, such as the federal government’s recently announced exemption for home heating oil, increase emissions and leave low-income households worse off due to reduced rebates provided under the Climate Action Incentive Payments program (Sawyer & Beugin, 2023).

The iZEV incentives are not serving the needs of low-income households

Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) currently come with higher upfront costs compared to gasoline-powered equivalents, but their long-term operating and maintenance costs are lower, contributing to significant carbon reductions and cost savings for their owners in the long run (see figure 6) (McNamara et al., 2023).

Transport Canada encourages the adoption of zero-emission vehicles through the iZEV program. However, this program does not serve the needs of low-income households.

Lower-income households are more likely to purchase used cars. Used ZEVs can offer meaningful discounts compared to newer models. However, they are not currently eligible under the federal iZEV program. Several other jurisdictions, including the United States, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador include them.

The iZEV program is also not income-tested. As a result, higher-income households are the primary beneficiaries. Many higher-income buyers purchase an EV regardless of government subsidies, which means the government is effectively subsidizing existing behaviour (Sheldon & Dua, 2019). Studies have found that 90 per cent of all EV tax credit benefits are distributed to the top 20 per cent of income earners (Borenstein & Davis, 2016) and are predominantly distributed to more affluent neighbourhoods (Guo & Kontou, 2021).

Lower- and middle-income consumers are typically more on the fence about purchasing an EV. Tying incentives to income would better influence their buying decisions (DeShazo et al., 2017). Some jurisdictions such as British Columbia and California are already income-testing their EV incentives, adjusting their programs to focus on lower-income households as ZEV uptake increases.

The iZEV program also does not apply to newer forms of zero-emitting micro-mobility such as e-bikes, mopeds and quadricycles despite the growth in demand for these forms of mobility. British Columbia’s income-tested e-bike rebate saw overwhelming interest, reaching oversubscription just eight hours after it was launched (The Energy Mix, 2023). Globally, ZEV adoption has already reduced oil demand by nearly 1.7 million barrels of oil per day in 2022, with 61 per cent of that coming from two- and three-wheeled vehicles (BloombergNEF, 2022).

Canada’s new vehicle regulations will require all new light-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emission by 2035. Modelling suggests that these regulations can lower the price of a ZEV by approximately 20 per cent below the current baseline trajectory by encouraging more investments in vehicle and battery research and development, bringing more affordable models to market (Axsen & Bhardwaj, 2022). As Canadian requirements for zero-emission vehicle sales ramp up, rebates will play a reduced role in driving demand for EVs and broad-based incentives will become fiscally unsustainable.


While provincial, territorial and municipal governments are on the front lines of fixing Canada’s transportation woes, the federal government can play an important role in two critical areas. It can reform its iZEV program to better support low- and middle-income households. It can also adjust its funding for public transit to provide operating funding that better targets affordability and access, and capital funding that is linked to housing and climate outcomes.

Recommendation #1: Reform the iZEV program to focus on low- and middle-income households

As the EV market grows and budget models become available, the iZEV program should offer targeted support for low- and middle-income buyers purchasing EVs in the affordable segments of the market. It can also be used to encourage new and innovative forms of zero-emitting modes of mobility, providing more choices to Canadians.

  • Expand the program’s scope to include used ZEVs

The program should expand eligibility to used ZEVs. In other jurisdictions where used ZEVs are covered, there is typically a single incentive allowed for each used vehicle (verified with the vehicle identification number), applied only at registered dealerships and with a requirement for testing the battery’s performance. The United States has set an upper price limit on used ZEVs eligible for the incentive at US$25,000 (C$34,000) and buyers can determine used vehicle eligibility for tax credits by entering the vehicle identification number in an online search tool (Internal Revenue Service, 2023).

  • Gradually lower the price limit for vehicles purchased with iZEV incentives

Industry analysts have observed how ZEV prices are influenced by the price limits set by the federal government for eligible vehicles under the iZEV program (Kennedy, 2023). The current price limits range from $55,000 to $70,000 depending on the model. Gradually lowering the existing price limits could encourage automakers to bring more affordable EVs to the Canadian market.

  • Provide more support to low-income households

The program should reallocate existing funds in a more equitable way by providing more support to lower- and middle-income households and phasing out incentives to wealthier ones. California has placed an income cap on eligibility for its ZEV rebate program, and British Columbia has done the same while expanding the rebate amount for lower-income buyers.

  • Support the purchase of lower-cost zero-emission transportation options

The iZEV program should be expanded to include mobility chairs and quadricycles, as well as two- and three-wheeled vehicles such as electric mopeds, e-bikes and scooters. Over half of all commuter trips taken via car, truck or van are less than 10 kilometres, and 32 per cent are 5 kilometres or less (Statistics Canada, 2017). Replacing these short trips with scooters and e-bikes could significantly improve traffic congestion and reduce emissions. In British Columbia, income-tested e-bike rebates range from $350 to $1,400 (BC Electric Bike Rebate Program, n.d.). California offers up to US$1,000 for regular e-bikes and up to US$1,750 for cargo or adaptive e-bikes (California E-Bike Incentive Project, n.d.).

Recommendation #2: Leverage federal transit funding to expand accessible and affordable transit service that aligns with housing and climate targets

The federal government can use support for operating funding to drive improvements in transit service quality that increase ridership. Long-term capital investments can be leveraged to ensure that housing, climate and transportation funding decisions are integrated.

  • Accelerate the Permanent Public Transit Fund

One of the most significant drivers of transit demand is the frequency and proximity of transit service (Diab et al., 2020; Redman et al., 2013). Increasing federal government support for operations would be a quick and effective way to increase ridership by enabling transit systems to get their idle vehicles running again. This is particularly important for medium and small cities that rely on bus transit.

Support for operating funding can be delivered through the proposed Permanent Public Transit Fund. The government should accelerate the funding promised under the program to 2024-25 from 2026-27 so that local transit agencies can begin hiring drivers and operators as soon as possible.

Taking lessons from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, the federal government should deliver this funding in a way that accounts for regional differences, including expected population growth and the capacity of municipal infrastructure. It should also require provincial cost sharing for major projects. Similar to the Canada Community-Building Fund, Infrastructure Canada’s permanent source of infrastructure funding, the Permanent Public Transit Fund should offer predictable and long-term funding directly to municipalities (Canadian Urban Transit Association, 2021)

Operating funding will allow transit systems to improve service outside of peak periods and better serve the travel requirements of equity-seeking groups. Cities should be allowed to use the operating funding to reduce the fares paid by public transit riders, and to establish discounted fares for those with low incomes.

  • Link housing and climate outcomes to public transit investments

When allocating transit funds, the federal government can take inspiration from the success of the Housing Accelerator Fund, a program that delivers funding directly to local governments to increase housing supply. The Permanent Public Transit Fund can likewise provide incentives directly to municipalities that achieve federal goals on housing affordability, poverty reduction and emissions reductions through transportation projects.

Major capital projects funded by the Permanent Public Transit Fund should include “supportive policies agreements” that acknowledge municipal jurisdiction over land use policy while encouraging changes that would ensure the success of transit projects. These could include housing density requirements, the elimination of minimum parking requirements around public transit stations, and improved transit connection points for buses, pedestrians and cyclists. Increasing housing supply near transit stations would bring more riders closer to accessible transit options and foster higher levels of ridership.

In support of climate goals, the federal government should require all new transit vehicles procured with federal funding to be zero-emission. To ensure that transit-oriented development is equitable, municipalities that receive federal funding for large transit projects should also be required to have action plans to prevent resident displacement.

People need more low-carbon transportation choices that work for their lives and their wallets. Experience proves that, when people have better, more affordable and low-carbon mobility options, they use them. Giving people reliable, affordable, and sustainable ways to get where they need to go gives them more control over their costs, their time and their well-being.


The Affordability Action Council has prioritized housing, transportation and food as key areas in which the federal government can take action to help low-income households meet their basic needs in ways that also support emission reduction and resilience to a changing climate.

Well planned public transit can play a significant role in advancing affordable housing developments. Providing efficient and accessible transportation options that are integrated with affordable housing developments can reduce costs for households, improve access to employment opportunities and social activities, and reduce the need to own a car, which is good for household budgets and the environment.

Transit-oriented housing density reduces car dependency and distance travelled. For those who need to drive, the switch to zero-emission vehicles can reduce maintenance and operating costs and lower emissions at the same time. Housing developments that include electric vehicle ride-sharing programs and charging stations for micro-mobility options may require fewer parking spaces, which can reduce development costs and lower rents. More affordable housing and transportation options boost household budgets, improve air pollution and lower emissions. Lower costs can free up spending for food and reduce food insecurity.

Groceries and Essentials Benefit: Helping People with Low Incomes Afford Everyday Necessities

Almost seven million people in Canada — including almost two million children — do not have stable access to sufficient food. Recent increases in food, rent, energy and transportation prices have outpaced incomes, leaving little left over at the end of the month. It’s often easier to cut back on groceries than rent and utilities, leaving many people going hungry.

Canada — one of the richest countries in the world — shouldn’t tolerate this. The federal government should create a new benefit to help low-income families purchase food and everyday necessities.

Current efforts to reduce food prices and rents should continue, but on their own these actions are unlikely to address the immediate and urgent needs of low-income households. Slowing action to combat climate change is also not the answer — fluctuations in global oil prices, droughts and floods exacerbated by climate change, and geopolitical instability have a far greater influence on food prices than current climate policies.

Instead, governments need to provide additional income to people who need it most. To address food insecurity, the Affordability Action Council recommends the federal government take the following action:

Create a new Groceries and Essentials Benefit

The federal government should restructure and expand the Goods and Services Tax/-Harmonized Sales Tax rebate and rename it the Groceries and Essentials Benefit. The proposed benefit would build on the one-time Grocery Rebate implemented in 2023, and would target households with working-age adults. It would provide $1,800 a year per adult and $600 per child. In addition, the Council recommends that the proposed benefit be provided monthly rather than quarterly. This change — which would provide $150 a month per adult and $50 per child to the lowest–income households — would spread the payments evenly throughout the year and give recipients more stability to pay their monthly bills. All households that currently receive the GST/HST rebate would get more money, but the lowest-income households would see a larger increase.

Household Budgets Are Squeezed, Making It Harder to Put Food On the Table

Food insecurity — facing inadequate or uncertain access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food — is on the rise (Health Canada, 2020). According to a recent Statistics -Canada report, almost seven million people, including almost two million children, face food insecurity. More than 40 per cent of families led by single mothers, about 60 per cent of single mothers with a disability, more than one-third of Black and Indigenous families and more than 60 per cent of families with a major income earner who is unemployed are food insecure (Uppal, 2023a) (see box 1).

Other indicators also point to a troubling trend. Food Banks Canada (2023) recorded almost two million visits to food banks across the country in March 2023, up 32 per cent from the same month a year earlier and up more than 78 per cent from 2019. Single, working-age adults accounted for 44 per cent of food bank users, one of the largest subsets of visitors.

The number one reason for food insecurity is financial constraints (Uppal, 2023a). Food prices are rising, and rents are at an all-time high. People who rely on government supports, such as social assistance, child benefits or employment insurance, are far more likely to be food insecure (Uppal, 2023a). People who earn a minimum wage are increasingly unable to afford basics such as shelter and food. According to one calculation, the living wage rate in the Greater Toronto Area rose to $25 an hour in 2023, while the minimum wage in -Ontario was only $16.55 (Pickthorne, 2023). In Saskatoon, the living wage for a family of four was $16.23 per hour in 2022, yet the province’s minimum wage was just $14 per hour, the lowest in the country (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Saskatchewan Office, 2022; Saskatchewan, n.d.)

Prices rose rapidly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with inflation reaching a peak of 8.1 per cent (year-over-year) in June 2022, its highest level since the early 1980s. While inflation has moderated in recent months, prices are still going up. Increases in food and shelter prices have outpaced overall inflation since November 2021 (Statistics Canada, 2023a).

Rising prices are an affordability challenge for many Canadians, but for households with low incomes, they are a matter of survival. Figure 1 shows that very low-income families (the lowest 20 per cent of earners) spend more than 100 per cent of their disposable income on shelter, food and transport.

Low-income households (the second-lowest 20 per cent of earners) also struggle; almost 60 per cent of their disposable income goes to basic needs. Overall, a greater proportion of low-income families living below the poverty line reported experiencing food insecurity in 2022. However, food insecurity is widespread and recent research by Statistics Canada shows that eight in 10 food-insecure families are above the poverty line (Uppal, 2023a).

Governments Have Limited Options for Lowering Food Prices

The Bank of Canada’s efforts to bring core inflation down to its one to three per cent target range have yet to meaningfully slow the increase in food prices. As an essential part of everyday life, food tends to be less responsive to interest rate increases than other areas of consumer spending. Although increases in food prices have moderated, prices are expected to remain high well into the future (Janzen & Fan, 2023). Several factors behind the increase, such as the war in Ukraine, are external to Canada’s economy, and structural constraints in the agriculture sector (such as an aging workforce) are expected to remain for some time.

The lack of competition in Canada’s retail grocery industry has been identified as a possible culprit. A report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food (2023) notes that Canadians purchase three-quarters of their food from grocery stores and that Canada’s five largest retailers control 80 per cent of the grocery market. To spur competition, the Competition Bureau (2023) recommends that governments at all levels take steps to encourage the growth of independent grocery stores and ease the entry of foreign-based retailers.

In September 2023, the federal government introduced Bill C-56, the Affordable Housing and Groceries Act (Department of Finance, 2023a). Among other things, the proposed bill would give the Competition Bureau enhanced powers to reject mergers in some circumstances. In addition, at the insistence of the federal government, the CEOs of the top five grocery chains have presented plans to federal officials about how they plan to contain food prices. But the results of these efforts are uncertain and unlikely to be felt in the near term.

Recently, there have been growing calls to reduce the carbon tax (fuel charge) because of the additional costs it creates. However, research has found that such a move would likely have a very small impact on food prices. A policy brief by University of Calgary economists Trevor Tombe and Jennifer Winter (2023) compares the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the CPI without indirect taxes (e.g., the GST, carbon tax, etc.). It finds that consumer prices were only 0.6 per cent higher in August 2023 than in January 2015 due to indirect taxes.

Tombe and Winter (2023) also use Statistics Canada’s Social Policy Simulation and Database Model, a database of representative Canadians from all provinces (but not the territories), to examine the impact of carbon pricing on inflation in British Columbia. Even when taking spillover effects from transportation and other parts of the supply chain into account, they conclude that carbon taxes pushed up the average cost of food in B.C. by only 0.33 per cent.

Fluctuations in oil prices have a far greater impact on inflation and food prices than the carbon tax. For example, the change in the global price of oil between the beginning of 2021 and spring 2022, from US$40 to US$120 per barrel, is equivalent to a hypothetical increase in the carbon price to C$300 per tonne. During the same period, the carbon price increased by only C$10 per tonne (Stanford, 2023).

A long-term strategy for reducing the effect of oil and natural gas prices on food prices could include improving energy efficiency and reducing the use of fossil fuels throughout the supply chain. This would have the benefit of simultaneously reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2021, Canada’s agriculture sector produced 69 megatonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions, accounting for 10 per cent of Canada’s total emissions (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2023).

The effects of climate change are also likely to have a greater impact on food prices than policies aimed at reducing emissions. Erratic weather events — which are expected to become more frequent and intense over time — are increasingly affecting the supply and production of food. A severe heat wave in Canada’s Prairie provinces in 2021 contributed to higher prices for meat, particularly beef, and grain products. In the U.S., Canada’s top agricultural trading partner, a drought in the American southwest, along with heat waves, floods and a snap freeze in other parts of the country, led to an increase in the price of vegetables and fresh fruit (Fradella, 2022).

The Root of Food Insecurity Goes Beyond Food Prices

Higher food prices are not the only cause of food insecurity. With the costs of other essential goods and services, such as shelter, energy and transportation, also rising, households increasingly have to make tough choices between paying the bills and putting food on the table. Food is often the area that tends to be cut because it is the easiest thing to do: skipping rent payments could lead to eviction, not paying energy bills could lead to the heat being disconnected, and forgoing a transit pass could mean not being able to get to work or medical appointments (see figure 2).

A 2023 survey by Statistics Canada found that about one in seven Canadian households had to cut back on spending for essentials, such as food, for at least one month a year in order to pay an energy bill (Statistics Canada, 2023b).

According to a report by the Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank (2023), food bank clients had around $200 a month left after paying rent and utilities in 2023 to spend on other necessities, down around 17 per cent from the previous year.

A lack of income is one of the main sources of food insecurity, but households with high levels of debt and low levels of assets are also at risk (Uppal, 2023b). More than five million Canadians lived in families in the bottom-income quintile (the bottom 20 per cent of income earners) in 2019 (Uppal, 2023b; see box 2). The median after-tax income for families and single adults in this group was $21,000. Almost 70 per cent of bottom-quintile families lived below the poverty line.

More than 60 per cent of Canadians in the lowest-income quintile report being very concerned about their ability to meet everyday expenses, and 19 per cent report that they often have to borrow money from friends and relatives or take on debt to make ends meet (Uppal, 2023b).

Income gains for the lowest income households have not kept pace with cost-of-living increases since the pandemic. Organizations working in the field of food security have long noted that those living on lower and fixed incomes need more (and better) income supports to make ends meet. While these organizations propose different ways of delivering these supports, they all agree: the current social safety net is not delivering sufficient support to those who need it most (Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank, 2023; Food Banks Canada, 2023; PROOF, 2022).

Numerous studies have shown that the incidence of food insecurity declined among families and individuals who receive income supports such as the Canada Child Benefit and provincial social assistance (Brown & Tarasuk, 2019; IonescuIttu et al., 2015; Li et al., 2016; Loopstra et al., 2015; Men et al., 2021; Tarasuk et al., 2019). School food programs are another way to tackle food insecurity but they will not help families without children and are challenging to implement at the national level.

Households led by people who are 65 and older, who receive pensions, the Old Age Security benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, face lower levels of food insecurity, demonstrating the importance of income support (McIntyre et al., 2016; Uppal, 2023a).

The federal government has previously acknowledged the link between food insecurity and income. In Budget 2023, it announced a one-time Grocery Rebate that provided $2.5 billion in targeted inflation relief. The rebate consisted of a one-time top-up to the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) credit, which was delivered July 5, 2023, to an estimated 11 million low- and modest-income Canadians as a tax-free payment. Eligible couples with two children received $467, single Canadians without children received $234 and seniors received $225 (Department of Finance, 2023b). The Grocery Rebate was in addition to the federal government’s one-time doubling of the GST credit in the June 2022-July 2023 benefit year, which was issued to help households most affected by inflation (for example, the benefit for a single mother with one child and $30,000 in net income went up to $1,160 from $773) (Department of Finance, 2022).

However, the relief was inadequate and temporary. The Grocery Rebate amounted to less than $20 a month for an adult, while a typical family was estimated to spend roughly $130 more a month on food purchased from stores in July 2023 compared with July 2021.

Introducing a Groceries and Essentials Benefit

The best way to provide near-term income support to those who need it most is to build on previous top-ups to the GST/HST credit.

Research commissioned by the Affordability Action Council by Gillian Petit (forthcoming) from the University of Calgary compared different options for the federal government to provide income support. She analyzed increases to the Canada Child Benefit, the Canada Workers Benefit and the GST/HST credit. The proposed Canadian Disability Benefit, which has yet to be implemented, was not included in her analysis. Additional income support for disabled people would undoubtedly help address higher rates of food insecurity in Canada’s disabled population.

However, food insecurity affects many household types. Petit concludes that the GST/HST credit is the best option to reach a wide range of family types including adults without children and those who are unemployed, and is well targeted to lower and middle-income families.

According to Petit’s analysis, 78 per cent of households that receive the GST/HST credit are single adults, and 90 per cent of recipient families have a net family income of less than $60,000 a year.

However, the existing GST/HST credit, which is based on family income, is modest. It provides a base amount of $325 a year per adult and $171 a year per dependent child under the age of 18; single adults receive an additional $171 a year. The maximum benefit level is $496 a year for a single adult, $821 for a single parent or a couple with one child, and $650 a year for a couple with no children (see table 1).

Total federal expenditures on the existing GST/HST credit are projected to be $5.44 billion in 2023, including the one-time Grocery Rebate (Department of Finance, 2023c).

Petit ran several scenarios using the Social Policy Database and Model (SPSD/M), which can simulate the costs and benefits of proposed changes to tax benefits. Drawing on Petit’s -analysis, the Affordability Action Council recommends that the federal government create a new Groceries and Essentials Benefit to help households buy adequate food and other essentials.

Create a new Groceries and Essentials Benefit

The Affordability Action Council recommends that the federal government restructure and expand the existing GST/HST credit and rename it the Groceries and Essentials Benefit (see figure 3). The proposed benefit would target households with working-age adults, providing benefit amounts based on the income and number of people in a household. The expansion would increase the base amount provided to $1,800 a year per adult (from $325) and $600 per child (from $171).

In addition, the Affordability Action Council recommends providing the benefit monthly rather than quarterly. The change would spread the payments evenly throughout the year and provide recipients more stability to pay monthly bills. Studies have shown that consumption is sensitive to the timing of income payments (Aguila et al., 2017; Shapiro, 2005; Stephens, 2006). The more frequently social assistance payments are delivered, the more households can spread out purchases and consistently spend on essentials such as food and health care.

Households would receive a monthly benefit of $150 per adult (up from $41.33 a month for a single unattached individual with a net income between $10,544 and $24,824, and up from $27.08 a month for a single unattached individual with a net income between zero and $10,544) and $50 per child (up from $14.25).

The Affordability Action Council also recommends lowering the level of net income at which the benefit starts to phase out to $24,824 from $42,335. This would ensure that very low-income households, who are more at risk of food insecurity and homelessness, would receive the highest possible benefit. These households would receive a proportionally higher benefit under the new structure. Low-income and moderate-income households with an income higher than $24,824 would still receive more than they do under the existing credit, but less than those at the bottom of the income spectrum. The proposed restructuring would also increase the amount received by single individuals earning below $10,000 to the same level as single adults earning less than $24,824.

Table 2 provides a breakdown of the impact of the proposed Groceries and Essentials Benefit across different income levels and family structures. It shows the role the proposed benefit could play in helping households with low incomes pay for essentials such as food, shelter and transportation.

According to Petit’s calculations, the proposed benefit would reach around 9.7 million families with an estimated additional cost to the federal government of about $11 billion per year. The proposed benefit would exclude seniors, who face lower rates of food insecurity and already receive targeted income supports through the Old Age Security benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. However, they would continue to receive an amount equivalent to what they currently receive with the GST/HST credit.

The Groceries and Essentials Benefit should be periodically reviewed and adjusted based on income changes and inflation (as is currently the case with the GST/HST credit).

As with other benefits that are provided through the income tax system, people who do not file tax returns would not receive the proposed Groceries and Essentials Benefit. Robson and Schwartz (2020) estimate that 10 to 12 per cent of Canadians do not file a return, and for working–age people with low incomes, this estimate rises to 22 per cent; working-age individuals who did not file tax returns missed out on approximately $1.7 billion in cash benefits in 2015. Those who don’t file are more likely to be people who live in poverty, Indigenous people, those experiencing homelessness and social assistance recipients (Calgary Homeless Foundation, 2018; Petit et al., 2021; Prosper Canada, 2018; Robson & Schwartz, 2020; Stapleton, 2018).

In Budget 2023, the federal government announced plans to introduce an automated tax filing system for individuals with low and fixed incomes. The Canada Revenue Agency is expected to pilot the new system in 2024. The federal government should expedite the launch of the pilot so that as many households as possible can receive the benefits to which they are entitled. The federal government should also collaborate with community organizations, provincial and territorial governments, and Indigenous governments to reach individuals who are experiencing homelessness, Indigenous people and those without a fixed address and lacking bank accounts to identify ways of helping these groups access benefits.

Connections to Other Affordability Priorities

The Affordability Action Council has prioritized housing, transportation and food as key areas where the federal government can take action to help low-income households meet their basic needs in ways that also support emission reduction and resilience to a changing climate. All areas of affordability are interconnected — actions in one area will benefit others.

All Canadians deserve the right to be able to put food on the table. Doing so shouldn’t mean going without a suitable place to live, going without a transit pass to commute to work, cutting back on heating and cooling, forgoing prescription medications or going without other necessities. Research shows that families in the lowest-income group will spend the benefit on food, housing, transport and other essential needs.

Canada should not be a country where almost two million children go without enough to eat. The federal government should take immediate action to alleviate food insecurity amo

Can Canada Help Feed the World While Reducing Emissions? Assessing Challenges and Barriers to Digital Opportunities in Agriculture

Generating, sharing and using digital data is key to accelerating new scientific discovery, innovation and efficiency in the global food system. Done well, digital technology adoption should enable Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sectors to support some of the most pressing Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations, including reducing hunger, mitigating and adapting to climate change, optimizing the use of arable land and water, and providing decent work and sustainable economic growth. It can also support food security and affordability in Canada.

Canada has a comparative advantage in food security and is a major supplier of food, feed and fibre to the world. Canada also has an advanced telecom sector and is an early innovator and adopter of many of the approaches farmers, scientists, industrialists, governments and NGOs are hoping will realize this potential.

Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, big data and gene editing offer the potential to increase production; reduce costs, emissions, water use, food waste and risk; improve resilience and food safety; and provide consumers with more information about the food they eat. New technologies and services are emerging in a wide range of areas relevant to agriculture, including precision agriculture, variable-rate technology, digital-farm management and digital animal-health management. There are significant opportunities for economic growth for technology developers, telecommunication companies, farmers and other companies along the supply chain from farm to table.

There are, however, many challenges and barriers to the development and adoption of these digital opportunities, including the readiness of the agriculture and agri-food sector to adopt new technologies, incomplete markets for data, industrial concentration and poorly defined data governance.

Canadian governments face a choice. They can follow the quintessential Canadian model of passive technology adoption, which is both low risk and low return. They can pursue a more proactive muddled approach, addressing easier barriers while ignoring the harder ones. Or they can go for broke, with an ambitious high-risk, high-reward strategy aimed at large-scale transformation.

The scale of the economic opportunity in growing global markets, combined with the societal benefits of greater global food security and a more efficient, lower-emission food-production system, justifies the ambitious strategy. This will require bold action on several fronts, in collaboration with the private sector and academic institutions:

  • A comprehensive agricultural skills strategy, which capitalizes on a looming generational change to ramp up just-in-time, targeted training, certification and microcredentials aimed at boosting digital literacy, and supply-chain and on-farm readiness to adopt digital technologies.
  • A world-leading effort on food system cybersecurity, combining research,
    regulation and co-ordination to address vulnerabilities.
  • Expanded rural broadband connectivity to ensure that internet access grows in line with technology adoption.
  • Creating an agricultural data exchange with transparent pricing, similar to existing stock exchanges like the Toronto Stock Exchange. However, instead of buying and selling stocks, participants would trade information collected on farms. This gives data a clear value that farmers can sell, and technology providers can buy.
  • Countering the market power of large agricultural technology providers by supporting homegrown competitors, collaborating with like-minded countries on data regulation, and accelerating early and rapid adoption of new innovations.
  • Committing to a data-governance system that supports innovation, building on lessons learned from Genome Canada’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems initiative.

Canada has the chance to succeed with a well-thought-out plan and the right mix of investment, planning, collaboration and governance. Canada can do well by doing good, increasing our economic returns from our world-class agri-food system, and contributing to global food security and climate change goals. There is no time to waste.

Affordable Housing Reboot: Bring Back Federal Leadership

To provide affordable housing to those who need it most, the federal government should aim to build one million rent-geared-to-income community homes by 2030 and reboot the not-for-profit and co-operative housing sector. To align with climate-change goals and provide lasting affordability, these homes should be built near public transit and meet net-zero and climate–resilient codes and standards.

This level of ambition requires an all-hands-on-deck approach by governments and partners. Federal leadership can be the catalyst that sparks widespread action. The federal government used to play a significant role in building subsidized community housing (or public housing) and financing a once-thriving not-for-profit housing sector, including co-operatives, but no longer does so. Building more affordable housing can relieve market pressure, improving affordability for everyone.

The Affordability Action Council recommends that the federal government:

1. Acquire property near transit to build net-zero and climate-resilient community-housing infrastructure

  • Expand the Federal Lands Initiative and make a front-loaded investment in property acquisition close to rapid public transit;
  • Keep land in federal hands so the value of the asset reduces the budgetary impact;
  • Leverage the capacity of the Canada Lands Company to co-ordinate housing developments;
  • Combine low-cost leases with other federal incentives and an expanded Rapid Housing Initiative to develop innovative mixed-income housing on acquired properties;
  • Leverage the investment power of the Canada Infrastructure Bank — and its mandate for green infrastructure — to ensure developments and retrofits use future-ready building and energy practices and meet net-zero and climate-resilient codes and standards.

2. Provide more attractive financing to scale the not-for-profit housing sector

  • Use federal programs to reduce the financial barriers facing land trusts, co-ops, charitable housing and not-for-profit community corporations committed to providing affordable housing;
  • Increase the upper limit of non-repayable contributions and guarantee a fixed low interest rate on loans for not-for-profit projects under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund;
  • Allow not-for-profit housing providers to stack federal, provincial and municipal financing programs so that they can draw on multiple avenues of support;
  • Provide greater financial incentives for not-for-profit projects located near rapid public transit that meet net-zero and climate-resilient codes and standards;
  • Use the Housing Accelerator Fund to encourage municipalities to remove barriers, including zoning and permitting regulations, for not-for-profit housing developments near rapid transit.

Lack of Community Housing has Left Low-Income Households in Dire Straits

Canada’s population has doubled since the 1970s, yet community housing construction has dropped (box 1). Most of Canada’s public, not-for-profit and co-operative housing was built before the 1990s with assistance from the federal government (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2021a); more than half of Canada’s community and below-market-rent housing stock was built before 1980 (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2023a). Non-market housing represents only about 5 per cent of Canada’s existing housing stock, intensifying Canada’s affordable housing challenge (Statistics Canada, 2023a).

Over one million low-income or very low-income families live in unaffordable, overcrowded, uninhabitable or inadequate housing. They require rent below $1,050 per month to afford other basic needs such as food (figure 1a and 1b). Average rent for a vacant one-bedroom apartment in Toronto in September 2022 was $2,329; in Vancouver, it was $2,574 (Myers, 2022). And more than 230,000 people are homeless (Dionne et al., 2023). Canada has a lot of catching up to do.

The federal government dropped the ball over three decades ago when it stopped funding community housing. Federal support for the construction of community housing declined in the late 1980s and ended altogether in 1992, when responsibility was shifted to the provinces (Deng et al., 2023). Some provinces, including Ontario, subsequently downloaded responsibility to municipalities, which lack the revenue streams and budgets to build enough community housing units to meet demand (Canadian Centre for Housing Rights, 2022).

Wait-lists for community housing in major metropolitan areas are very long. In Toronto, the average wait time for a one-bedroom subsidized apartment was 14 years at the end of 2022, with over 85,000 households waiting for all types of subsidized housing (City of Toronto, n.d.). In Montreal, the average wait time for subsidized housing is six years (Vallis, 2023).

The federal government has committed to reducing poverty by 50 per cent below 2015 levels by 2030, but this goal is at risk. Temporary benefits introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic helped reduce poverty, but the rising cost of housing and other basic needs is now eroding those gains and increasing food insecurity (Food Banks Canada, n.d.).

Of the households living in poverty in 2016, 62 per cent were renters (Randle et al., 2022). In Toronto, almost one-quarter of renters spend more than 50 per cent of their income on shelter costs (City of Toronto, 2021). People earning minimum wage are no longer able to afford rent in major cities, and, with a shortage of community housing, they are increasingly competing with those on social assistance for rental spaces (Macdonald & Tranjan, 2023). This competition pushes rents even higher. Businesses dependent on low-wage workers are struggling because workers cannot take a job where they can’t afford to live (Statistics Canada, 2022).

Housing Has Important Implications for Affordability, Resilience and Emissions

Housing built today will still be standing in 2050 and perhaps beyond. In this respect, it is similar to long-lived infrastructure like roads and bridges. The type of buildings constructed and their location will affect societal, economic and environmental outcomes for decades. An estimated 5.8 million housing units are needed to restore overall housing affordability by 2030. This will require building an additional 3.5 million units beyond what is already planned (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2022).

While there may be a temptation to build cheap housing as quickly as possible, the relationship between housing and greenhouse-gas emissions must be considered. Meeting Canada’s 2050 net-zero target will require all residential buildings to be zero emitting. In 2021, residential buildings emitted 40 million tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions. CMHC estimates 3.5 million additional units of housing are needed to restore housing affordability by 2030, on top of the 2.3 million units already expected to be built (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2022). If the 5.8 million new and proposed -residential and commercial buildings are constructed without changing building practices, it will be more difficult for Canada to meet its 2030 and 2050 emission-reduction targets. (Guldimann, 2023).

Every residential building that is built between now and 2050 without the net-zero target in mind will create a liability down the line that someone will have to pay for. While retrofits generate multiple benefits, it is much cheaper to build new housing that meets a net-zero standard than it is to retrofit buildings.

Housing that is not designed to withstand the effects of a changing climate, including the increased frequency and severity of heat waves, floods, wildfires, smoke and storms, will put people living in them at increased risk (Canadian Council of Academies, 2019). Households that can least afford to rebuild or replace food lost in a power outage are most in need of protection (Dugan et al., 2023). They can also face long-term health consequences from mould and poor air quality resulting from flooding or storm damage.

The location of housing is critical for both affordability and emission reduction. Housing built on land that is far from public transit and other amenities such as grocery stores, health care and schools may be cheaper, but costs for households and municipalities will be higher. People will need to travel by car, increasing their energy costs as well as air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. Municipalities will need to invest in new road, water, sewer and power infrastructure. Higher density does not necessarily mean building rows of large apartment towers. Mid-rise rental units with ample green space and shared heating that can accommodate families offer significant potential for improving affordability and reducing emissions.

Affordable housing strategies need to see the big picture and include near-term plans that will foster the communities we want to develop over the next 30 to 40 years. This means focusing on affordability as well as convenience, resilience and energy efficiency (box 2). Future-ready community housing infrastructure has the potential to provide a better future for everyone.

Community Housing Is at the Heart of the Challenge — and the Opportunity

While there is a need to build all types of housing, community housing with rent geared to income should be the priority. From an equity perspective, shelter is a critical basic need. Those struggling to pay rent and buy groceries should be first in line for affordable housing.

Housing for low-income Canadians can help improve rental affordability for everyone

Current spending on housing programs aimed at low-income households is a drop in the bucket. Canada’s Rapid Housing Initiative, which is part of the National Housing Strategy, has dedicated $4 billion since 2020 to create new affordable homes for those in greatest need (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2023b), mostly in the form of supportive housing to respond to critical homelessness during the pandemic (BC Housing, n.d.; National Housing Council, 2022). However, over one million low-income households are in core housing need and over 230,000 are estimated to be homeless (Housing Assessment Resource Tools, n.d.).

Several initiatives aimed at spurring construction have recently been announced. The federal government has removed the GST on new rental construction, announced funding through the Housing Accelerator Fund and expanded access to low-cost loans for builders (Appendix A). On their own, these initiatives will increase supply and improve affordability for middle-income Canadians. In the interim, however, lower- and fixed-income Canadians will continue to compete with moderate- and middle-income households for limited rental supply (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2023d).

A focus on building more community housing will directly target Canadians in greatest need and relieve competition in the broader rental market. Scotiabank has argued for accelerating the building of community housing, noting that shortages in one housing market segment will have spillover effects in others (Young, 2023). There is an urgent need to scale up the construction of homes for households at the bottom of the income ladder.

Governments and not-for-profits are best placed to provide affordable housing

Housing cannot be built fast enough through private initiatives to bring down market rents to the level needed by low-income households. The only near-term solution is to build more publicly subsidized community housing with rent geared to income and housing with below–market rents operated by non-profit organizations.

Not-for-profit developers — such as land trusts, co-ops, charitable housing and not-for-profit community corporations — have demonstrated the ability to deliver affordability (Lee, 2021). They can reduce project costs by 20 per cent to 25 per cent. If the project is built on public land, it can lead to savings of 15 per cent to 30 per cent (Whitzman & Goldstein, 2023).

Community housing infrastructure offers the opportunity for federal
innovation and leadership

Community housing can be an opportunity to establish the future-ready housing infrastructure Canada needs to achieve lasting affordability, net-zero emissions and resilience to a changing climate. There are opportunities for these communities to pay off financially while also meeting public policy objectives:

  • Mixed-income community-housing developments are feasible with cross-subsidization

With a desirable location near rapid transit, a mixed-income housing development that includes subsidized housing along with moderate- and middle-income rentals would be possible (Lee, 2021). Revenues from moderate- and middle-income housing could help cover the cost of subsidized housing for very low- and low-income households.

  • Net-zero housing at scale can lower building construction and operational costs

Better energy efficiency means lower bills. But construction costs can also be reduced with proper design and planning. Some components, such as insulation, may require more upfront investment, but will save costs because they require smaller heating systems. Electrification also reduces the need for extra fossil fuel exhaust and distribution systems (Haley & Lockhart, 2023; ZEBx, 2021). Simpler designs, integrated project teams and pre-manufactured building components can further reduce expenses.

  • Housing communities could be virtual power plants

Utilities could use household technologies such as smart thermostats, battery generators, solar panels, district heating and two-way vehicle charging to reduce electricity demand and to provide extra power during heat waves or cold snaps. This would avoid the need to construct new larger power plants. This has the potential to result in lower overall power costs, increased resilience to storms and natural disasters, and higher revenue for households and landlords (U.S. Department of Energy, n.d.). California is already offering incentives to vulnerable customers to install battery generators (California Public Utilities Commission, n.d.).

The Federal Government Should Lead the Way

The federal government should renew its commitment to playing a leading role in building affordable housing. It could be a nation-building infrastructure exercise aimed at achieving critical public policy goals such as poverty reduction, net-zero emissions and resilience to a changing climate.

The effort could start with an ambitious goal to build one million community housing units by 2030. Canada has among the lowest levels of non-profit community housing in the developed world, accounting for only 5 per cent of its total housing stock, compared to 40 per cent in Sweden, 16 per cent in the U.K. and 14 per cent in France. Building one million units would double the community housing stock and bring Canada closer to 10 per cent (Saravanamuttoo & McKenney, 2023).

Constructing community housing on federal lands and scaling the not-for-profit housing sector will expand the supply of housing at below-market rents.

The Affordability Action Council recommends a two-pronged federal strategy:

Recommendation #1: Acquire property near transit to build net-zero and resilient community-housing infrastructure

The federal government should expand the Federal Lands Initiative with a front-loaded major investment in property acquisition of land close to rapid public transit. The Federal Lands Initiative supports the transfer and repurposing of surplus federal properties for new, affordable, sustainable, accessible and socially inclusive housing. Adding a property-acquisition element would help to scale the popular program. Property acquisition has been recommended by the proposed National Housing Accord, which has been developed by non-profit and private–sector organizations (Richter et al., 2023), and other experts. Properties could be those well-suited to new or rehabilitated and retrofitted community housing.

However, instead of transferring properties, the federal government should retain ownership to keep the value of the asset on its books and limit the budgetary impact (Meredith & Broadbent, 2023). The land could be leased at low cost to partner organizations, community land trusts or other levels of government as long as housing affordability is maintained. The Canada Lands Company, a Crown corporation, has already demonstrated the capacity to co-ordinate the development of innovative housing projects on federal properties. Its mandate and funding could be expanded.

The map of Toronto shown in figure 2 highlights some of the opportunities the federal government could explore. Properties close to existing or planned rapid-transit stations with low population density and a high share of old dwellings may be some of the most promising locations for new or retrofitted affordable housing. The Housing Assessment Resource Tools (HART) developed by the University of British Columbia could be used to evaluate the suitability of properties for housing development (Housing Assessment Resource Tools, n.d.).

The Rapid Housing Initiative, which provides capital contributions for the construction of new housing and the acquisition of existing buildings for rehabilitation or conversion to permanent affordable housing, should be expanded with significant additional funding to achieve the pace and scale of the effort needed.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) also offers the potential to scale the initiative and ensure housing developments and retrofits use leading building practices consistent with Canada’s climate goals (Kershaw, 2021). The CIB is already involved in major retrofit projects with non-profit housing providers and is committed to investing up to $5 billion in green infrastructure (Canada Infrastructure Bank, 2022). With a public purpose mandate to support green infrastructure, clean power and public transit infrastructure, there could be an opportunity to explore innovative, net-zero, mixed-income housing developments that could serve as a launch point for livable communities. These developments could generate and store power and be integrated with CIB public-transit investments.

Recommendation #2: Provide more attractive financing to scale the
not-for-profit housing sector

The federal government can also help Canada’s not-for-profit housing sector overcome financial barriers to building affordable housing projects.

For example, the National Housing Co-Investment Fund provides low-cost repayable loans, forgivable loans and non-repayable contributions to a Canadian entity developing affordable housing near transit, schools and other amenities (Appendix A). However, it caps funding at $25,000 per unit for units that meet minimum social-outcome requirements, and $75,000 for units that exceed affordability and energy-efficiency standards. In addition, the interest rates on the loans fluctuate with CMHC borrowing costs. These features make it difficult for non-profit organizations to break even (box 3).

The program also has limited requirements for energy efficiency and resilience, requiring only a 25 per cent decrease in energy consumption and GHG emissions from 2015 National Energy Code levels, despite existing newer and more stringent building codes. The 2020 model national building code, for example, has tiers progressing toward a net-zero energy-ready standard and a net-zero emissions code in development.

The federal government can do better. CMHC could increase per-project contribution financing and provide fixed low interest rates for the most affordable, net-zero, resilient buildings located near public transit. CMHC could also allow greater stacking of its programs so that developers can draw on multiple avenues of support (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2021b; Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2017; Whitzman & Goldstein, 2023). Developers should be expected to meet the latest energy-ready and net-zero emission standards and codes but receive additional funding for doing so. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association has called for more generous project funding, noting that interest rates and inflation have eroded the value of the incentive (Sullivan, 2022).

The federal Housing Accelerator Fund, which provides financial support to local governments, could be used to encourage municipal governments to ease restrictive zoning and permitting regulations, and the building of more affordable, high-density housing with leading net-zero and resilient building practices (Appendix A). Greater use of federal sticks and carrots can help unlock housing investment where it is needed (Canada Lands Company, n.d.). For example, the federal government could set quotas for the quantity of affordable housing and increase requirements for new developments to meet net-zero and climate–resilient building codes and standards.

The federal government will not be able to achieve the goal of building one million community homes without an all-hands-on-deck collaboration involving multiple levels of government, non-profit organizations and the private sector. Municipalities must ease zoning and permitting regulations, non-profit organizations will need to scale, workers and building materials must be found, companies should innovate building practices and provincial utilities will need to develop programs that value distributed energy resources. However, the Affordability Action Council’s two-pronged strategy provides a solid foundation on which to build.

Connections to Other Affordability Priorities

The Affordability Action Council has prioritized housing, transportation and food as key areas in which the federal government can take action to help low-income households meet their basic needs in ways that also support emission reduction and resilience to a changing climate.

All areas of affordability are interconnected, with actions in one area benefiting another. Building energy-efficient and climate-resilient community housing will help to avoid costly retrofits in the future, and building housing near public transit will help to reduce transportation costs and emissions. Reducing housing costs will also improve food security by freeing up money for groceries.

Restoring federal leadership in community housing offers the potential to restore affordability and fight poverty, and do so in a way that helps Canada meet its climate goals.

Retrofit Reset: Prioritize Low-Income Households

To reduce energy costs and climate risks faced by low-income households, the federal government should establish a new free retrofit program aimed at making about 100,000 homes per year more affordable, energy efficient and climate resilient.

Low-income households are more likely to live in older, drafty homes without air conditioning. Less efficient homes make homeowners vulnerable to high energy costs and growing risks from a changing climate. Without support for retrofits that reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and protect them from climate risks such as heat waves and flooding, these households could face financial, health, safety and housing-insecurity risks.

Existing federal retrofit programs miss the mark. They are primarily geared to higher–income homeowners who can more easily navigate complex administrative processes and cover costs while waiting for reimbursement. Households struggling to make ends meet need more support.

Landlords of small, affordable rental buildings are also falling through the cracks, resulting in missed opportunities for cost savings that can be passed on to tenants. The Canada Green Buildings Strategy, a federal initiative primarily aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, offers an opportunity for a retrofit reset.

The Affordability Action Council recommends the federal government take three key actions to reduce energy costs and climate risks faced by low-income households:

  • Offer free and turnkey retrofits

Establish a new program — in co-operation with local partners — to provide free, turnkey, energy-efficient and climate–resilient retrofit solutions to low-income homeowners, prioritizing older homes, seniors and people with health conditions. Widespread installation of heat pumps, combined with energy-efficient home upgrades, can improve affordability, protect against heat waves and reduce emissions.

  • Generate savings for renters

Allow private landlords with smaller, affordable buildings to access the retrofit program and require them to sign agreements to maintain or improve affordability.

  • Pivot the retrofit strategy to start with low-income homes

The Green Buildings Strategy discussion paper proposes complete deep retrofits in 3 per cent to 5 per cent of buildings annually by 2025. The effort could start with a goal to retrofit around 100,000 low-income homes a year, prioritizing investments that also improve affordability and resilience.

Low-Income Households Are Vulnerable to Energy Costs and Climate Impacts

Low-income households spend a higher proportion of their income on energy (Natural Resources Canada, 2022a). A significant proportion of very low-income households live in energy poverty (between 30 per cent and 60 per cent, depending on the definition used; see figure 1). Low-income households are often required to make tough choices to meet their basic needs: cut back on heating to pay for food or cut back on food to pay the utility bill.

Although 62 per cent of low-income families are renters, a substantial number are homeowners (Randle et al., 2022). Moreover, two-thirds of households experiencing energy poverty own their homes (Rezaei, 2017). In 2021, 13 per cent of all homeowners were living in unaffordable housing (Statistics Canada, 2022a).

Low-income homeowners live in rural or urban areas, and in single family homes, co-ops, condos or townhouses. Many homeowners who live in urban areas stretched their budget to buy their first condo or home when housing prices were at their peak, only to see mortgage payments rise alongside interest rates. More than one-third of first-time homebuyers in Ontario, Saskatchewan, -Alberta and British Columbia live in housing that is unaffordable, too small for their family or in need of major repairs (Statistics Canada, 2023a).

Higher energy, food and housing prices are squeezing the budgets of low-income households. (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2023; Uppal, 2023). Energy prices have grown faster than overall inflation for years, but the gap has widened since 2020 (figure 2).

Older buildings tend to use more energy than newer ones. For example, an older low-rise building constructed before 2005 may use as much as 200 per cent more energy than a similar new building (Kukadia et al., 2022). Rural homes are more likely to be older and larger; 54 per cent of rural homes were built before 1980 versus 47 per cent in urban areas (Riva et al., 2021; Statistics -Canada, 2023b). Since older homes are typically more affordable, they are more likely to be owned by people with low incomes, who as a result face higher energy costs than -higher-income households (Aviles, 2022).

Homeowners in rural or remote areas and those in Atlantic Canada often have no access to natural gas networks and pay more for oil and propane heating. Homes dependent on fuels like oil and propane are more exposed to global price shocks. Moreover, these homeowners usually deal directly with private companies that may not offer the same flexible payment options as utilities. Canadian energy expert Andrew Leach (2022) has argued that mismatches between the supply and demand of oil could grow as global climate action accelerates. More oil price volatility could expose oil-dependent homeowners to unexpected cost increases.

Low-income households are also more vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate (Canadian Climate Institute, 2020; Tower Renewal Partnership, 2023). They are more likely to face risks to their health during heat waves and from wildfire smoke because they are unable to afford air conditioning, a heat pump or a high-quality air-filtration system (Beugin et. al., 2023; Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, 2023). This is particularly true of seniors and people with underlying health conditions.

Low-income households are more vulnerable to flooding and wildfires because they cannot afford investments to protect their homes and are more likely to live in areas at risk (Canadian Climate -Institute, 2020). Low-income households also suffer the most during storm-related power outages because they can least afford to replace spoiled food, eat outside the home or pay for temporary accommodation (Ramesh & Coutinho, 2022). Many low-income households also lack insurance coverage. Around 1.5 million households are vulnerable to flooding but do not have access to flood insurance (Stewart, 2023). Low-income renters often forgo tenant insurance to save money.

Challenges pertaining to housing resiliency and energy efficiency are even more pronounced for Indigenous Peoples, particularly in remote, rural and northern communities. Over 23 per cent of very low-income individuals in Canada are Indigenous, versus 13.8 per cent of non–Indigenous individuals (Uppal, 2023). In 2021, nearly one in six Indigenous people (16.4 per cent) in -Canada resided in dwellings in need of major repairs, almost three times as high as non-Indigenous populations (5.7 per cent) (Melvin & Anderson, 2022). Indigenous Clean Energy estimates that 65 per cent of First Nations, 46 per cent of Inuit, and 65 per cent of Métis households were in need of major energy-efficiency-related repairs in 2021, totalling 133,195 homes (Indigenous Clean Energy, 2021). Lower-income rural, remote and Indigenous communities are often on the front lines of climate impacts, a situation that was highlighted during the unprecedented wildfire season of 2023 (Webber & Berger, 2023).

Gaps in Existing Retrofit Programs

Reducing household dependency on energy and helping households avoid costs associated with growing climate risks is critical to addressing affordability. But the current suite of federal retrofit programs is leaving low-income households — both homeowners and renters — out in the cold.

Some promising federal retrofit programs are emerging, but they have gaps in coverage (see Appendix A). New programs such as Natural Resources Canada’s Deep Retrofit Accelerator and Greener Neighbourhoods Pilot Program have the potential to support retrofits in affordable rental buildings and community housing if they are scaled up and prioritize low-income housing, but they would need more funding.

The main programs aimed at homeowner retrofits involve high upfront costs and complex administrative processes. They also miss the big picture by focusing only on greenhouse-gas reductions, often overlooking opportunities to improve affordability or resilience.

Barrier #1: High upfront costs

While NRCan’s Greener Homes Grant program provides some assistance, it requires homeowners to pay up front, making it inaccessible for those struggling to put food on the table (Box 1). Programs are often designed to provide an incentive to nudge homeowners toward a more efficient version of a product, like choosing an LED light bulb over an incandescent one. They do not provide sufficient funding to drive more transformative investments, such as upgrading windows in a home. The Greener Homes Loan provides up to $40,000, but loans are often out of reach for a low-income household because of the need for a strong credit history. Many low-income households already have significant debt (Uppal, 2023).


  • Home insulation up to $5,000
  • ENERGY STAR windows and doors, up to $5,000
  • Smart thermostat, up to $50
  • Heating, up to $5,000
  • Solar panels, up to $5,000
  • Resiliency measures such as foundation waterproofing, up to $2,625 (and must be combined with another retrofit)

(Natural Resources Canada, 2023b)

The revised Oil to Heat Pump Affordability Program (Prime Minister of Canada, 2023) offers upfront payments that cover part of the cost of a new heat pump, with some provinces and territories offering additional funds that make the average heat pump free for lower-income households. However, most households across Canada rely on natural gas or electric heating and are unable to take advantage of the program (Statistics Canada, 2023c).

Barrier #2: Complex administration and gaps in eligibility

The Greener Homes Grant requires the homeowner to complete several steps and involves detailed criteria to confirm eligibility, long application forms that require personal information, and the challenge of booking pre- and post-retrofit EnerGuide evaluations. Homeowners are also expected to book contractors to do the retrofit and submit receipts to receive payment. If they do not qualify or decide to opt out of upgrades, homeowners bear the pre-assessment cost. The benefits of the program relative to the costs are often unclear, requiring homeowners to undertake their own research to determine potential monthly savings. The complexity of the program is a barrier for many low-income households, single-parent families, recent immigrants and seniors.

The program is also designed for homeowners with a detached home. In 2021, 47 per cent of Canadians resided in a privately owned, single detached home (Statistics Canada, 2022b), which leaves a substantial proportion of Canadians who are not well served by the program. For example, condo owners living in small multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) are only eligible if the building has three stories or less and a footprint smaller than 600 square metres. For those who are eligible, the entire building needs to have an EnerGuide evaluation, the condo board needs to approve the retrofit and each condo owner must apply individually to receive a grant for shared equipment such as a furnace or an entrance door. The $5,000 maximum is multiplied by the number of units, but the total is capped at $20,600 (Natural Resources -Canada, 2023a). For many condo owners, it is not worth the hassle.

Small rental buildings are also falling through the cracks of existing retrofit programs. This is a significant issue for affordability because 62 per cent of low-income Canadians rent, and 72 per cent of renters live in housing built before 1990, when energy efficiency was not included in Canada’s building codes (Kantamneni & Haley, 2023; Randle et al., 2022).

Most retrofit programs for rental buildings are aimed at community housing and large buildings. CMHC’s National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) for renovation projects, for example, limits funding to rentals with five or more units, and projects must meet extensive requirements for partnerships and accessibility (CMHC, n.d.).

Other programs such as the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s Building Retrofit Initiative may be available to privately owned MURBs but come with investment minimums that preclude small landlords with modest financial means (CIB, n.d.). Small landlords are also less likely to have the capacity to navigate complex program applications.

Grants and loans provided under the Greener Homes program are available to smaller landlords who live in their buildings, but the maximum amount of the grant is $5,000 if all other units are occupied by tenants. These programs also do not include tenant protection policies to maintain affordability. The U.S. Weatherization Assistance Program includes agreements (or covenants) with landlords to ensure that rents are maintained at affordable levels and energy cost savings are passed on to tenants (Department of Energy, n.d.).

Barrier #3: Missing the scope and scale of required retrofits

The narrow focus of retrofit programs on household greenhouse-gas emission reductions is missing the potential to achieve gains in affordability, adaptation and net-zero goals.

Done well, housing retrofits can help lower energy costs and improve indoor air quality while protecting people against heat waves, floods, wildfires and power outages (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, 2020; Canadian Climate Institute, 2023; Kantamneni & Haley, 2022). Low-income households may have few chances to undertake a significant retrofit. It is therefore vital not only to improve homes for current conditions, but to future-proof them for tomorrow’s power grid, climate and economy.

Heat pumps, for example, can reduce energy consumption, shrink monthly energy bills, and cool and filter air during extreme climate events (Canadian Climate Institute, 2023). But if they are installed without upgrades to old windows and doors, the installation could increase bills in the short term.

Energy storage solutions such as thermal storage in hot-water tanks can help utilities manage power demand while providing savings to households. This is already underway in Summerside, P.E.I., where smart grid technologies are connected to home-heating and hot-water systems (City of Summerside, n.d.). Newer technologies have the potential for even greater benefits.

Housing also has the potential to become part of the electricity system, with grid-integrated residential buildings acting as a distributed power plant that draws on household battery backup generators, thermal energy storage, smart thermostats, heat pumps and two-way vehicle charging to efficiently manage demand and generate additional power during heat waves or cold snaps. Avoiding the need to build additional electricity generation to cover demand peaks could help reduce everyone’s utility bill (Monie et al., 2021).  District energy systems also offer an opportunity to reduce costs and improve resilience (Quest Canada, n.d.).

However, the scope and scale of retrofits needed to bring about these large benefits are costly and complex. They can be highly technical projects that involve multiple contractors, varied construction timelines and interactions with several financial incentive programs. Most households will not be able to manage the retrofits on their own. And the scope and scale of the current suite of programs are insufficient to undertake retrofits that address affordability, adaptation and net-zero goals simultaneously. According to Haley and Torrie (2021), it would take 142 years to retrofit all low-rise residential buildings at the current rate of progress (less than 1 per cent of homes per year).

Indigenous organizations such as the National Indigenous Housing Collaborative have called for dedicated funding, a revised National Housing Strategy, greater Indigenous representation and sustained federal investments in Indigenous housing (Indigenous Housing Caucus -Working Group, 2018). While Indigenous communities can access existing retrofit programs, the programs are not sufficient to meet the full scale of the need.

Opportunity for a Retrofit Reset

The federal government released in 2022 a discussion paper proposing elements of a Green Buildings Strategy (Natural Resources Canada, 2022b). Two of the eight principles proposed focus on affordability and equity, diversity and inclusion. However, the proposed actions fall short, and few proposals address affordability or resilience to climate risks.

The federal government could go further by taking action in three areas:

Recommendation 1: Offer free, turnkey retrofits

The federal government should establish a new program — in co-operation with community organizations, utilities and other levels of government — to provide free, turnkey, energy–efficient and climate-resilient retrofit solutions to low-income homeowners. Such a program would address affordability and administrative barriers while generating multiple societal benefits. For example, widespread installation of heat pumps, combined with energy-efficient home upgrades, can improve affordability, protect against heat waves and reduce emissions.

The program should focus on very low- and low-income homeowners (around two million households) and prioritize those who are most financially vulnerable and at risk of energy poverty, as well as those living in older homes, seniors, people with health conditions and Indigenous communities.

The new program can provide one-stop-shop service delivery that makes it easier for all types of low-income homeowners, including condo boards and co-ops, to apply for retrofit funding (Canadian Climate Institute, 2023). Allowing program administrators to combine funding and support from different federal, provincial and utility funding sources with unique objectives would leverage more funding while removing administrative barriers for participants. Program administrators with building science expertise should also be given the flexibility to address structural housing needs such as mould or asbestos removal, which can act as barriers to energy upgrades (Kantamneni & Haley, 2022).

Recommendation 2: Generate savings for renters

The proposed turnkey homeowner retrofit program should also include private landlords with smaller, affordable retrofit buildings who do not qualify or are not well served by other programs. Rental building retrofits should require landlords to pass along savings and maintain low rents following retrofits (Haley & Kantamneni, 2023). Older rental buildings with significant potential for energy savings, and high vulnerability to climate change, should be prioritized.

Recommendation 3: Start with low-income homes

The Green Buildings Strategy discussion paper includes a proposal to complete deep retrofits in 3 per cent to 5 per cent of buildings annually by 2025. With about 15 million residential buildings and 480,000 commercial buildings in Canada, the commitment equates to between 460,000 to 770,000 buildings per year (Government of Canada, 2021). This is a bold goal, and an ambitious timeline.

The goal should start with low-income households. Instead of generic retrofits, the effort could target investments that address affordability, improve resilience and help meet net-zero climate goals. Such a shift will bring low-income households to the front of the line for retrofits, better aligning the Green Buildings Strategy with the principles of affordability and equity, diversity and inclusion. If 20 per cent of the targeted deep retrofits focused on low-income households, Canada could retrofit around 100,000 homes per year (between 92,000 and 154,000).

Low-income programs that are managed from start to finish for participants are also able to scale quickly through bulk purchase contracting, strategic timing of retrofits, and training and employment of people from low-income communities.

To support the recommendations, the federal government should work with local community organizations, utilities and other levels of government to establish standards for energy–efficient, climate-resilient retrofits for low-income households, with adjustments for renters, rural and remote homes as well as for different geographies and climates.

An ambitious retrofit strategy is also an opportunity to develop a diverse local workforce that can offer high-quality, energy-efficient, climate-resilient retrofit solutions cost-effectively. The plan can create good jobs for equity-deserving groups through integrated on-the-job training, community-benefit agreements and inclusive workforce development approaches.

The federal government should also continue to work with provinces, territories, Indigenous governments and the insurance industry to ensure that low-income households are able to afford and access insurance to protect against growing climate risks. The National Flood Insurance Program announced in Budget 2023 is a good first step.

Connections To Other Affordability Priorities

The Affordability Action Council has prioritized housing, transportation and food as key areas where the federal government can take action to help low-income households meet their basic needs in ways that also support emission reduction and resilience to a changing climate. All areas of affordability are interconnected — actions in one area will benefit others.

Housing retrofits can help to preserve and protect affordable housing in Canada and limit the need for new housing. Existing housing is likely to provide better access to public transit, schools, medical care and other amenities, reducing transportation costs. Reducing housing and energy costs can also improve food security by freeing up money for groceries.

It’s time to bring low-income households to the front of the line for housing retrofits.

More generous cash-transfer benefit would improve access to essentials, says IRPP report
More generous cash-transfer benefit would improve access to essentials, says IRPP report