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Pierre Poilievre held a press event in a shopping-mall parking lot in Montréal’s West Island railing about big-city bureaucrats blocking the development of housing.

The mall is near a soon-to-be-built station on a new REM train line partially funded by the federal government, and the Conservative leader showed up last Thursday morning to complain that bureaucracy is blocking plans to build apartments near the station.

“The local builder, the local owner, wants to develop apartments and housing in this parking lot,” Mr. Poilievre said, noting the empty stretch of concrete. “This is an under-used parking lot.”

Some minor corrections apply here: Mr. Poilievre arrived at the mall before it opened, but the parking lot is often very busy. The owner is not local but Toronto-based Cadillac Fairview Corp., which has a $30-billion real-estate portfolio and is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

And the project was not blocked by bureaucrats, but by the city council of Pointe-Claire, population 32,348.

Pointe-Claire hasn’t eschewed residential development. It had a lot of it. Between 2017 and 2022, more residential units were built there than in the eight other West Island municipalities combined.

“Mr. Poilievre’s out to lunch on that,” said Tim Thomas, Pointe-Claire’s mayor.

Perhaps a federal politician coming in from Ottawa can’t be expected to know what’s happening locally. But Pointe-Claire is worth a closer look – it shows us why Mr. Poilievre’s housing policy makes no sense.

For starters, most of the housing incentives he has proposed, set out in a private-member’s bill he called the Building Homes Not Bureaucracy Act, would not apply to Pointe-Claire. Most – including restrictions supposed to require the building of housing next to federally-funded transit stations – only apply to a list of 22 “high-cost cities” with populations above 200,000. They don’t apply to the parking lot Mr. Poilievre was standing in.

But even if all of the Conservative leader’s proposed policies did apply to Pointe-Claire, it would be bonkers. Its situation shows why his policy is a bad plan.

Mr. Poilievre proposes is to withhold federal infrastructure and gas-tax money from “high-cost cities” that don’t increase home building by 15 per cent each year, and provide bonuses to those that do. Smaller municipalities won’t be affected, but if they beat the annual growth target, they would be eligible for bonus payments from a $100-million fund.

The beauty, Mr. Poilievre suggested Thursday, is that it works “mathematically.” In fact, that is a design flaw.

Just look at Pointe-Claire. In 2022, 629 housing units were completed there, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2023 figures, on which Mr. Poilievre’s bill is based, are not yet available.) To exceed a 15-per-cent growth target, the city would have to have 724 built the following year.

But only one unit was completed in neighbouring Kirkland in 2022, according to the CMHC, so to grow at the rate that qualifies for Mr. Poilievre’s bonus, they’d only have to build two homes the following year. Nearby Baie d’Urfe would need four. Closer to downtown, ritzy Westmount would have to complete seven.

That’s the perverse way it will work for large municipalities. Municipalities that permitted a lot of home building in 2023 would have to permit bigger numbers, year after year, while those that discouraged it last year could continue slow residential development. And big municipalities would face penalties, while small suburbs in the same metropolitan housing market would not.

In Pointe-Claire, some felt the extensive development of recent years was haphazard in some areas – “a bad Eastern Europe,” in the words of Mr. Thomas. The council froze it in seven areas until it has a development plan.

The freeze includes Cadillac Fairview’s plan to build three 27-floor apartment towers in the mall parking lot, but the mayor said the city would eventually consider a plan for, say, five or eight-storey apartment buildings.

“Come back to us with something that better fits the mood of the residents,” he said.

Not everyone agrees. But Mr. Thomas campaigned on the issue. And Pointe-Claire is still permitting far more housing than towns around it.

“It’s just got to be done sanely,” Mr. Thomas said.

Sane isn’t part of Mr. Poilievre’s formula. It is unconcerned with local realities and relentlessly, mathematically, illogical.

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