Pierre Poilievre’s 15-minute advertisement masquerading as a mini-documentary on the housing crisis contains inaccuracies and distortions. That doesn’t matter. The thing is a work of genius.
The Conservative Leader has taken ownership of an issue critically important to many Canadians: the seeming impossibility of ever being able to afford a home, or even rent one.
The Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintain that the Tory approach to the housing crisis is simplistic and unworkable. That doesn’t matter either.
Brand Poilievre is fresh and Brand Trudeau is stale. Mr. Poilievre is leveraging the difference. His video is a nail, and this Liberal government is beginning to resemble a coffin.
Mr. Poilievre’s video, “Housing Hell,” which was released Dec. 2., probably cost little to make. But it’s very well put together and brings its message home. The payoff on social media has been stunning. As of Tuesday afternoon it had received just under four million views on X, the platform formerly called Twitter.
In the video, Mr. Poilievre states that, under the Liberals, the average price of a home in Canada has doubled. One reason, he says, is that Mr. Trudeau’s government amassed hundreds of billions of dollars in deficits, which fuelled inflation. The Bank of Canada helped finance the deficits by printing money, he adds, which further fuelled inflation, which forced the bank to raise interest rates to bring inflation down.
Another reason for high housing costs is that too many people are chasing too few homes. The Poilievre solution: cut government spending and eliminate deficits, while requiring large municipal governments to loosen restrictions on housing construction as a condition of receiving federal infrastructure grants.
“Housing costs were not like this before Justin Trudeau,” Mr. Poilievre states. “And they won’t be like this after he’s gone.”
You may have noticed some glaring omissions in that argument. The largest, by far, is that Mr. Poilievre ignores the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments everywhere fought the economic trauma of lockdowns by supporting workers and businesses, which led to massive deficits and, eventually, higher inflation and interest rates.
Still, the Liberals were posting large deficits before the pandemic, and seem in no rush to balance the books today. So the argument sticks.
There’s another problem: Mr. Poilievre is violating one of the core tenets of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who believed the federal government should not interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction.
But the counterargument is that Ottawa is already funding municipalities directly, so it might as well use that financial clout to get homes built. Indeed, the federal Liberals are also tying federal funding to increased municipal housing starts. On this, the Liberals and Conservatives are more in sync than either would admit.
Finally, the Conservatives ignore market forces. Plenty of housing permits have been issued to builders that have decided not to build because of rising construction costs and high interest rates. No government – at least, no Conservative government – can force builders to build.
So is the Conservative mini-documentary a bust? Hardly. First off, it rebuts the allegation that Mr. Poilievre only offers simplistic nostrums and sound bites. When was the last time any other political party or leader delivered a 15-minute lecture on a complex issue, complete with charts and graphs and proposed solutions? You may question those solutions, but the fact remains that the federal Conservatives are making a genuine effort to explain themselves.
Then there is the politics of it. According to all major pollsters, Mr. Trudeau is seriously unpopular. A 15-minute video by the Prime Minister extolling his government’s achievements would, we suspect, not be viewed as often or as favourably as Mr. Poilievre’s Housing Hell.
Housing Minister Sean Fraser, who is a very capable minister and speaker, has been leading the government’s defence on this issue. He posted a one-minute video on Nov. 30 in which he stated that: “For 30 years, the federal government, under both Liberal and Conservative leadership, failed to make the necessary investments” to ensure an adequate housing stock. His government is working to solve that problem, he said, pointing to the November economic statement. A little over 119,000 views.
The Tories own the housing issue, and they have the video to prove it. There are more videos, on other issues, to come.