Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ended his three-day cabinet retreat Wednesday acknowledging that Canada is facing a housing crisis, but provided no timeline for a revamped federal plan to tackle the rising prices pushing Canadians to the brink.
At a press conference in Charlottetown, Mr. Trudeau said the government is looking at a variety of options and promised to do more. He said both the public and private sectors will have to play a role in addressing the housing crisis.
“The good news is, Canada has done this before. We have faced housing crises before,” the Prime Minister said, pointing to the time periods after the Second World War and the baby boom.
“We have strong employment and there is a shortage of workers. We are short places to safely house these people. That’s the problem that we have to address, and we will do it in a collaborative and respectful manner.”
Recent data shows just how unaffordable Canadian housing has become: The typical home price in Canada has jumped 40 per cent in five years, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Rents in Canada reached a new record high this year, with the average asking price hitting $2,078 in July, rentals.ca reports. The company says in the last year, rents increased 8.9 per cent.
Despite a low unemployment rate, Food Banks Canada says visits to their sites are the highest they have ever been. One in seven employed Canadians relies on a food bank, and clients cite housing costs as a key reason why they can’t afford food. And housing charity Habitat for Humanity says it’s now backstopping mortgages for people making as much as $100,000 annually.
Mr. Trudeau said his government’s policies already have Canada on track to double housing construction by 2030. However, that is well short of what the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says is needed to restore affordability.
Given the national picture, the opposition parties on Wednesday decried what they described as an insufficient and slow response from the federal government.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre warned that Canada is headed for a major crisis and said Canadians could be forced out of their homes when their mortgages renew at much higher interest rates. Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, he said the House of Commons should resume early to bring forward new housing policies.
At a press conference in Burnaby, B.C., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh described the housing crisis as Canada’s greatest challenge. He said after a three-day cabinet retreat where the issue was the top priority, the absence of a new federal plan constitutes a “complete failure of leadership.”
“People with good incomes can’t find housing. People with lower incomes, of course, are extremely challenged. And this government had nothing to say in terms of a plan,” Mr. Singh said.
A new Leger poll suggests 40 per cent of Canadians think the federal government is to blame for the country’s housing crisis, compared with 32 per cent who blame provincial governments. Just 6 per cent of those polled felt their municipal government was to blame and another 22 per cent said they were not sure. Leger surveyed 1,537 people online between Aug. 18 and 20.
On Wednesday Mr. Trudeau repeatedly described the struggles people are facing to put a roof over their heads as a “crisis” and said inflation has given Canadians a “big kick in the teeth” but he announced no new policy and instead pointed to the work his government has already done, and promised to bring “leadership” to the issue.
He said his government is looking at an array of options to address the shortage in housing, including assessing whether Canada needs to limit the number of international students it accepts, which has been linked to rising rents in cities with colleges and universities. The number of foreign students has more than doubled under the Liberals from 352,325 in 2015 to 807,260 at the end of last year.
On Tuesday The Globe reported that Quebec would oppose any such cap. Mr. Trudeau played down the possible conflict Wednesday, saying his government will work collaboratively and noting that Quebec has more affordable housing than other areas of Canada.
Mr. Poilievre was particularly critical of Housing Minister Sean Fraser’s suggestion of a cap on international student visas given that until last month, Mr. Fraser was the immigration minister responsible for the system he now acknowledges might be contributing to the housing problem.
The Housing Minister is “attacking the very programs that he ran up until two weeks ago,” said Mr. Poilievre. “The fact that they promoted Sean Fraser to housing after the disaster he made of immigration programs is incredible.”
On his way out of Charlottetown Wednesday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc dismissed the critiques from the opposition and said the government has put a sharp focus on housing that is detail-oriented.
“Canadians should be reassured that we understand the context and we’ll continue to work on it,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says in addition to the units already planned, Canada needs 3.5 million more housing units by 2030 to restore affordability. It says the last time housing was affordable was in 2004 and since then it has become worse.
A new report on housing says numbers from the housing corporation show Canada will need to triple housing completions by 2030 to close the affordability gap.
Two of the report’s authors briefed cabinet on their findings. The report outlines changes the federal government could make now to address affordability – for example, by removing the federal share of HST from purpose-built rental housing to incentivize construction and by introducing a new homelessness prevention and housing benefit that would provide immediate rent relief for people at risk of homelessness.
The NDP is proposing Ottawa allow more homes be built on federal land. The Conservatives say cities that don’t build enough housing should lose federal funding, while those that do should get bonuses. They also suggest selling 15 per cent of federal buildings and turning them into affordable housing.
With a report from The Canadian Press