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Construction crews work on top of a low-rise condo development being built in Coquitlam, B.C., on May 16.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

For years now, politicians in Canada have talked urgently about our housing crisis.

And they have talked and talked and talked.

Not surprisingly, the crisis hasn’t abated. If anything, it’s become worse as the tepid remedies offered by Canada’s political class have failed to make any inroads in addressing supply and costs – until now.

B.C.’s NDP government recently wrapped up the fall sitting of the legislature, ramming through a raft of bills related to its housing agenda. It should be noted that “ramming” is the proper word here; the government did not allow any time for honest debate on its various initiatives. Instead, it did what it always angrily protested when in Opposition: arrogantly shut down debate.

That’s lamentable, because the legislation the government passed is easily defensible.

What’s been clear for years now is that the housing crisis is not going to magically fix itself. Interest-rate changes, mortgage-rate adjustments and punitive taxes applied to foreign investors have not had any real impact on supply and prices. It’s been clear for some time that only bold, transformative change would have any meaningful effect. Which is precisely what the B.C. NDP has introduced.

The suite of measures are intended to accomplish a number of things, including densifying single-family neighbourhoods by enforcing zoning changes that will allow up to four units to be built on a standard residential lot and up to six on larger lots near rapid transit.

That multiplex policy is very similar to the one New Zealand’s government introduced in 2016, which is reportedly already leading to some progress on the supply-and-cost front.

A panel of experts on the NDP’s housing strategy found that B.C.’s various housing initiatives could result in up to 293,000 net new housing units being built by 2034. They also suggested the proposed changes could reduce housing prices by 7 to 14 per cent over five years from what they might have been, absent the new measures.

It should be noted, however, that there are caveats in the panel’s report that you could drive a bulldozer through. Much depends, the authors noted, on interest rates remaining stable, construction capacity being able to meet demand, there being no constraints on infrastructure development, and so on.

But the purpose here is not to take issue with the report, or to pooh-pooh the government’s gaudy projections. No, I think at this point, one needs to applaud the NDP for having the courage to push forward with these changes in the face of intense objections from powerful forces at the municipal level that object to having these moves foisted upon them.

Many of the cities now grappling with these new zoning changes have asked for more time to implement them. The NDP, quite correctly, said it didn’t have that luxury. Doubtlessly, municipalities could come up with a million reasons why it would be better to put the housing measures on ice until there was more time to study their implications.

That pause could have easily stretched on for years. And the status quo would have prevailed.

That is not an option. Radical change is the only way forward. Is this all going to go according to script? Inevitably not. There may well be problems that arise as a result of the government’s ambitions: the necessary infrastructure might not be available, there could be a shortage of construction workers, or economic headwinds may slow the pace of progress. Segments of the population won’t like the changes and could foment revolt.

All that could happen and more. And don’t think there weren’t elements inside the NDP government who wished Premier David Eby had taken a slower, more risk-free approach in addressing the housing crisis. But that gets us nowhere. It’s sometimes better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and this is one of those cases.

The NDP may have to adjust on the fly and take another look at their plans if something clearly is not working. That’s the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do is to hold off on everything until you imagine you have eliminated every possible landmine. That is a strategy for failure.

It’s more than possible, even a likelihood, that even if the NDP achieves its housing targets, it won’t be enough to meet demand. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that B.C. needs to build more than 600,000 new housing units by 2030 to improve affordability. It may be that Ottawa’s current immigration strategy, which will increase demand, is not sustainable.

But for now, the B.C. NDP is doing the right thing. They are doubtlessly being watched by governments across the country to see what kind of political price they pay, if any at all.

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