There are simply not enough affordable places for people to live across Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday during a housing announcement in Hamilton, where he promised the federal government would work to scale up supply.
Mr. Trudeau stood alongside Mayor Andrea Horwath in Hamilton to announce a joint plan to build and repair 214 homes in the city, with Ottawa spending $45-million for four projects. The City of Hamilton will contribute $19.1-million.
“Today is about increasing housing supply,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I will be blunt as well: Housing isn’t a primary federal responsibility. It’s not something we have direct carriage of. But it is something that we can and must help with.”
During the federal cabinet shuffle last week, Sean Fraser, who previously handled the immigration portfolio, was tapped to take over the helm of housing along with infrastructure. Political insiders expect Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals to spend the rest of the summer focused on affordability issues, and housing in particular, as Canadians struggle with high inflation, especially the rising cost of groceries, and global uncertainty.
The issues are also expected to be central to a forthcoming election campaign, although the Prime Minister said last week he does not expect one before 2025 as a result of a working agreement with the federal NDP.
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau pointedly criticized Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre, accusing him of failing to provide solutions to the housing crisis and other economic problems.
But Conservative Deputy Leader Melissa Lantsman said Mr. Trudeau created the housing crisis through his own policies. She said housing prices, mortgage payments and rents have doubled in most major markets since the Liberal government took office in 2015. The rising costs of food and gas are also making life unaffordable, she said.
“This is desperation,” Ms. Lantsman said of the Prime Minister’s comments about the Conservative Leader. “He’s attacking Pierre Poilievre for eight years of failure of his own government.”
Ms. Lantsman also said the Prime Minister’s announcement about 214 new or refurbished units will do little to address the crisis when the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates Canada needs 3.5 million more homes by 2030.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in an interview Monday that his party has been ramping up political pressure on this file, adding that the Liberals have had eight years in government to tackle the issue and that he can’t “shuffle his way out of his record.”
Mr. Singh said housing is one of the greatest challenges for Canadians, with many deeply worried about the rising cost of rent and never being able to afford a home. The federal government has a very significant role to play on housing and it has “not been playing that role,” he said.
The federal government’s “action has not been sufficient to deal with the heightened crisis that we are in,” Mr. Singh said.
Specifically, the NDP Leader said he would like to see incentives to have homes built rapidly, more purpose-built rental units and non-market housing. He pointed to an example he made at a co-operative housing location in Hamilton where the rate of rent was between $500 and $700 a month.
Tyler Meredith, a founding partner of the public affairs firm Meredith Boessenkool who previously served as the head of fiscal and economic policy in the Prime Minister’s Office, said while Ottawa has done a lot of work in the area of housing, it can still explore other tools across the whole of government that help to meet the scale that is required.
“This is the underlying fact … the government acknowledges that there’s a problem,” he said. “It acknowledges the seriousness of the problem. But it hasn’t yet taken the whole-of-government approach.”
As housing becomes more expensive, the country is eroding an advantage that it has to attract, retain and grow talent, he added.
“Our talent is what is going to, long term, be the thing that will sustain our prosperity,” he said. “If we can’t create an affordable housing market, we won’t be able to keep, retain or grow the talent that we need in the future to be that economic power.”
Mr. Meredith said that he does not believe that Pierre Poilievre has a realistic housing plan but he said that where the Conservative Leader succeeds is in correctly identifying that people feel there has not been the necessary level of ambition, at all levels of government, to tackle this issue.
Nemoy Lewis, an assistant professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Toronto Metropolitan University and an expert in access to housing for Black Canadians, says the housing problem is most acute for racialized and low-income people.
Prof. Lewis said carrying mortgages is vastly unaffordable right now, and a lot of people aren’t making the income necessary to buy a home or even to rent.
“Income is not increasing at the same rate as the cost of shelter,” Prof. Lewis said. “We’re essentially creating more income-polarized cities where only the wealthy can afford to live.”