From him we don't need lectures

Hey. I finally found a public policy problem I can solve. Let’s tell Miloon Kothari to buzz off.

Not high on your list? Perhaps you missed the Tuesday Citizen story that after a quick tour of Canada this month, this international man of meddling pronounced himself “disturbed” by the lack of adequate housing in Canada. As opposed to where he’s from, namely India?

Mr. Kothari is the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur on adequate housing. Which pretty much lets you guess what he’d say about housing in an advanced western democracy after a whirlwind tour talking to the usual advocates and activists. He’d say it isn’t up to international standards because we have a wretched exploitive market economy. And he did.

What I want to know is why the official reaction wasn’t “Ah shaddap!” Canada is a wealthy democratic country with lively debate on public policy and megabillion dollar social programs to solve every imaginable crisis including some we made up ourselves. If we haven’t solved the housing problem it’s not because some nit failed to do a fly-by and recommend socialism.

Mr. Kothari even had the gall to accuse us of not obeying international law, specifically the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. OK, we did sign it. So let’s withdraw from it, pronto. Where did we ever get the idea that a superior method of creating fundamental law was an international body full of supercilious bureaucrats, scaly dictators and failed states instead of a parliament full of people we elected?

Does anyone out there honestly suppose we’ll give better attention to social issues because some representative of a body composed of nations like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Gabon tells us we don’t measure up to their high standards? Tell me: What’s the housing situation in Gabon?

The funny thing is, there are people who suppose exactly that. Mr. Kothari’s verdict was greeted with predictable enthusiasm by the Ottawa-based Alliance to End Homelessness. But it also prompted a spokesperson for Human Resources and Social Development Minister Monte Solberg to say the minister will review the recommendations, and whine that federal spending on housing is at an all-time high. CTV gave Mr. Kothari favourable coverage half-way through his tour and suggested that one in 100 Canadians are homeless. And when he was done the federal NDP aboriginal affairs critic chimed in that regrettably the Tories do indeed favour a market-based approach to housing. Uh, except on aboriginal reserves. Where the housing situation is, um, yes well …

When we’re handing Mr. Koothari his hat I suggest he make his next stop China, where the government has displaced over a million people to flood the reservoir behind the wobbly, environmentally disastrous Three Gorges Dam and plans to remove four million more. Lovely house. A bit damp, though. Is having running water in your house a right? What if it extends dozens of meters above your roof?

China is not just an egregious human rights violator. It is also, of course, a member of the UN Human Rights Council. So what’s the UN doing about repression there, including deliberately erasing the culture of Tibet? Sort that one out and a few other things like Darfur then get back to us about housing in Edmonton.

If Canada has a homeless problem it’s because homelessness is complicated, not because some high-falutin’ bureaucrat from the other side of the world didn’t drop in to hector us about bad economics. As for Mr. Kothari telling us to use a national housing strategy instead of markets, isn’t India, after wasted decades of Soviet-style planning, finally enjoying real economic growth because its government decided to let markets work?

Oh, and how’s everything in Mali? Also a member of the Human Rights Council. Would you like to try to explain why Mali is sending someone to criticize housing in Canada? Or why we let them? Of course in one sense these bureaucrats aren’t from Mali, Bangladesh or Djibouti (also HRC members) but from an international jet set elite, accountable to no one and contemptuous of ordinary people. But that doesn’t answer the key question. What on Earth prompts us to accept lectures from such people?

Obviously Mr. Kothari’s report is mostly harmless in the sense that it won’t produce anything besides headlines. But it’s discouraging that it doesn’t prompt bracing, common-sense, pro-democratic statements of contempt for him and the organization he flew in on.

There’s one problem I can solve. Shoo.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]