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A construction worker works on a house in a new housing development in Oakville, Ont. on April 29, 2011.Richard Buchan/The Canadian Press

There is a simple solution to the housing crisis: Voters in municipalities across Canada could elect mayors and councils dedicated to stripping away zoning restrictions, while simplifying and lowering the costs of permissions and permits.

Unfortunately, voters in municipal elections tend to be homeowners who benefit from escalating prices and who want to preserve their neighbourhoods. Councils reflect their will.

This may be why federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is violating a core principle of his party: that it does not interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Only Liberals do that.

Mr. Poilievre has abandoned that principle, as he says that, if he were prime minister, he would threaten mayors and councils with financial penalties unless they loosened zoning restrictions. Municipalities are, as the saying goes, creatures of the provinces. Mr. Poilievre wants to make them creatures of Ottawa.

He must believe that the severity of the housing crisis justifies this blatant intrusion into provincial powers. But as a policy choice, it’s Liberal times 10.

Former conservative prime ministers have refrained from overreaching in the provinces. John Diefenbaker dismantled federal restrictions that were preventing provincial governments from enacting universal hospital care, the foreparent of medicare. Brian Mulroney sought to entrench and expand provincial rights through the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. Stephen Harper led a decade of mostly peaceful federal-provincial relations, in contrast with the tumultuous Jean Chrétien-Paul Martin years.

But Mr. Poilievre believes that gatekeepers, as he calls them, are holding back progress. In the case of the housing shortage, many of the gatekeepers can be found in municipal governments.

So the Conservative housing plan announced Thursday would require large cities to increase their housing supply by 15 per cent annually or lose federal funding. If a big-city council bows to NIMBY complaints about a proposed development, the developer or anyone else could appeal directly to the federal government, which could withhold funding in punishment. Municipalities would also be punished if they fail to zone for high-density development around transit stations.

You might as well install a grim federal commissar on every city council across the land, to ensure local officials are doing the party’s – sorry, the federal government’s – bidding.

The Liberals are also pushing municipalities to loosen zoning restrictions. There is something approaching bipartisan consensus at the federal level on housing.

And with good reason: People are in serious pain. Rents and housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years – the combined result of many years of governments restricting supply, a pandemic that increased demand, the sudden arrival of inflation and boomers staying put in their old homes rather than downsizing.

And while Liberal increases to immigration are in all other respects a good thing, the new arrivals also put pressure on housing.

When people are in pain, they demand action. Because the federal government takes in most of the money people pay in taxes, they demand that Ottawa act, constitutional niceties be damned.

In truth, there is only so much Ottawa can do. Market forces affect housing costs as well as government policies. reported earlier this month that developers are holding back on housing projects in Toronto and Hamilton, waiting for inflation and interest rates to go down and demand to increase.

The Trudeau government’s stimulative fiscal policies and their obsession with manipulating the economy through regulations, incentives, subsidies and punishments contributed to this mess by distorting the economic landscape.

Case in point: Mr. Trudeau is threatening to do to supermarket chains what he did to Google and Meta. The Internet giants were told they must pay money to news organizations whose content they use or link to. In response, Facebook and Instagram no longer use that content; Google is threatening to do the same. Policies that aimed to help news sites are instead damaging them.

Now Mr. Trudeau is threatening to tax grocery chains unless they rein in food prices. Does anyone believe the supermarkets wouldn’t simply pass on the tax to consumers, further increasing the cost of food?

Please don’t tell the Liberals about the developers who are holding back on building while they wait for conditions to improve. God only knows what this government would do.

Both Liberals and Conservatives are prepared to use a heavy hand to achieve their goals. The only difference is that it’s new for the Tories but old hat for the Grits.

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