Adam Vaughan brought me to tears: dispatches from CHF Canada’s 2017 AGM in Niagara Falls

June 14th, 2017 by Celia Chandler

The Co‑operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada) AGM, a highlight in my annual calendar, is over for another year. Last week, co‑op members, staff, and others in the sector gathered in Niagara Falls to learn, to strengthen ties across the country, to hear from politicians, to make organizational decisions, and yes, to have fun. For me, all those things happened and more.

On Wednesday, I was privileged to be a co‑panelist on legal issues with my former colleague, Priya Sarin. After Priya and I each made a few comments on the hallmarks of good employment relationships, co‑op managers worked through a number of case studies tailor‑made for them to explore issues related to employment, human rights, and contract law. As panelists, we each reacted to the reports from the small group work. As is always the case, the managers exchanged great ideas about how to handle situations on the ground.

Thursday morning I conducted a workshop on human rights with 70 co‑op members from across the country. Co-op members are great participators and this group was no exception. They kept me on my toes answering questions about the legal information I presented. Then they too had a chance to discuss scenarios in small groups to figure out what they would do, if faced with similar situations in their co‑ops. Some of the cases edged into “competing human rights” territory, a topic that we have regularly blogged about since the Ontario Human Rights Commission released its Policy on Competing Human Rights five years ago.

Having wrapped up my own responsibilities, I was then free to attend sessions. One notable workshop was led by a representative from the Peel Dufferin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association who gave a very useful overview of issues related to mental health: she broke down the main categories of mental illness; gave us some tips on warning signs; and pointed co‑ops towards community resources. Her presentation used a range of teaching tools, including a really effective YouTube video on depression called “I had a black dog”.

On Friday afternoon, the Ontario Regional Council of CHF Canada had its annual meeting. Ontario’s Minister of Housing, Chris Ballard, addressed the group, highlighting the various ways the provincial government is trying to ease the housing crunch, including providing municipalities with an option to try inclusive zoning and expanding rent controls to post 1991 buildings.

Saturday was the main business meeting where delegates approved resolutions and elected new directors to the board. Most significant for me was Adam Vaughan’s address to the crowd. New CHF Canada Board Member, Tom Clement, presented Mr. Vaughan with an award for Outstanding Commitment to Co‑op Housing. Vaughan is a Toronto MP and currently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing and Urban Affairs) with a long history of support for the co‑op movement. In his acceptance speech he first gave an overview of the 2017 budget as it relates to housing but then shared with us the reason for his passion for co‑op housing: at a critical time in his family’s history, neighbours rallied and ensured that Vaughan, his mother and his siblings would not become homeless. This has given him a life‑long passion for ensuring that everyone has adequate housing. His very personal and difficult story moved many of us to tears. Vaughan ended his speech by saying that he’s confident that with the National Housing Strategy to be released later this year, we are “on the cusp of ending chronic homelessness in Canada.” Towards that end, he challenged individual housing co‑ops to incorporate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action into their local plans. I’m sure that co‑ops across the country will be considering how they might meet his challenge.

Thanks to everyone I spoke to and heard from in Niagara, I’ve returned to work with a renewed enthusiasm for helping co‑ops and other housing clients do the good work that they do. See you all next year in Victoria!

Filed in: Co-operative Law, Firm News, Housing