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Quebec election candidates haven’t been alone touring the province this month, vying for support.

Rather than travelling by bus, however, a group of housing rights activists from across Quebec decided on a slower approach to their 500 kilometre journey from Ottawa to Quebec City. They are walking.

They’re pushing the federal and future Quebec governments for concrete commitments to develop more social housing in the province, said Véronique Laflamme. She is spokesperson for Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), a provincial federation of housing rights groups which organized the march.

The walkers were scheduled to end their march in front of the National Assembly in Quebec City on Saturday, after visiting more than 30 communities, big and small, over 27 days to speak with citizens about the need for social or affordable housing.

At the beginning of September, intense heat was a challenge, said Patricia Viannay, one of 14 walkers who has been with the group since day one. On any given day, Viannay said anywhere from 10 to 100 more walkers joined them en route.

As they walked along the path of the St. Lawrence River, passing corn fields on their way up to Quebec City, the hot sun gave way to cold rain. Viannay considers herself lucky. She’s one of the few who has not suffered an injury walking between 15 and 25 kilometres a day.

"If we want to make (the right to housing) a reality, we need offer an alternative to private markets." @FRAPRU #DeVillesEnVillages story by @kelseylitwin in @NatObserver #PolQC #Quebec2018

“We never stop,” she said during an interview with National Observer along the way.

Montreal residents join affordable housing activists in Montreal Sept. 13, 2018 during their 500 km walk from Ottawa to Quebec City. Photo by Véronique Laflamme

Communities losing elders and young families

For Viannay, the march is as much personal as it is professional. She works for a housing committee in the southwest of Montreal and lives in a housing co-operative, a form of social housing. The march has deepened her intimate understanding of the need for affordable housing.

“We have seen communities that are in deep need of social housing because they lose their elders and young families because there are no options for them,” she explained. “Sometimes they have to move out of their communities because there is no housing they can afford ... It’s very sad to see that.”

According to the 2016 census, 33.7 percent of renters in Quebec spend more than 30 per cent of their revenue on housing. Laflamme estimates there now are about 244,000 households in the province in serious need of better housing and says that the current provincial government’s investment of $230 million for 3,000 social housing units in 2018-2019 isn’t enough.

The group calls for 50,000 new units over the next five years. So far, only Québec solidaire has added the point to their platform.

“We are very disappointed, to be honest,” said Viannay.

The Liberals, Coalition Avenir Québec and the Parti Québécois have all touched on social housing throughout the campaign, but Viannay said they don’t seem like true promises.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, PQ candidate for Hull Marysa Nadeau said they would increase the number of units constructed each year to 5,000, while the Liberals' platform refers back to the $3 billion Government Action Plan to Foster Economic Inclusion and Social Participation 2017-2023, which cites social housing as a priority.

Coalition Avenir Québec’s platform does not explicitly mention social housing but pledges to increase support and simplify how community groups apply for and receive funding. In an interview with Métro, CAQ leader François Legault acknowledged FRAPRU’s demands and a need for more social housing in the province, but said he couldn’t address specifics.

Affordable housing activists gather local support on Sept. 23, 2018 in Trois-Rivières, one of the communities they visited on a 500 km walk from Ottawa to Quebec City. Photo by Véronique Laflamme

‘The federal government has its share to do’

“If we want to make (the right to housing) a reality, we need offer an alternative to private markets, and that is the responsibility of the government,” Laflamme said.

In November 2017, the federal Liberals introduced a 10-year national housing strategy. The strategy includes $20.5 billion dollars over 12 years for provinces and territories, which have to match about half of the funds, as well as legislation establishing housing as a right. The legislation is expected to be introduced later this year.

So far, Laflamme claims that it’s just a lot of talk. Viannay agreed, saying the strategy is still just a promise.

“The federal government has its share to do,” she said.

After the trek, Viannay said the group will be motivated to continue pushing both governments until their demands are met.

“We will find a way (to reach politicians),” she said. “We have seen the need, we have seen that people are with us.”