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Condos in the Gilmore area of Burnaby are seen in the distance behind houses in east Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 20, 2015.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Data indicating how much of Canada's real estate is being snatched up by foreign buyers is scant, but the country's national housing agency is working to change that.

In a briefing note dated May 15, 2015, obtained by The Canadian Press through an Access to Information request, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., says it will be hosting "bi-lateral meetings" and roundtables with industry stakeholders to fill a number of data gaps, including the share of new and existing homes owned by foreigners.

The initiative will go beyond the limited data the agency currently gathers, including a survey of property managers indicating how many condo units are owned by people whose permanent residence is outside of Canada.

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"Currently there is no perfect source of information on the level of foreign investment in the housing market," chief economist Bob Dugan said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

"CMHC has undertaken steps to address this data gap. As a result, we know a lot more about it today than we did a year ago and are continuing our program of work to determine the level of foreign investment in Canadian residential real estate."

The contentious issue has been in the spotlight recently, especially in Vancouver, where some have blamed demand from offshore buyers for the city's soaring home prices.

In August, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper waded into the debate, saying that if re-elected, the Tories would gather data on foreign ownership of Canadian homes – and would even consider implementing taxes and other rules to govern the practice.

However, the briefing note prepared for Pierre Poilievre, the minister responsible for CMHC, suggested that work was already underway at CMHC.

"For high priority data gaps that it cannot address on its own, CMHC has started to engage in discussions with other data providers and organizations," the document reads.

"Although this work is at an early stage, CMHC will keep you informed regarding progress."

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Other gaps that CMHC intends to address include the total volume of mortgages issued and outstanding and mortgage data broken out by lender type, characteristics of borrowers, property type and geographic location.

In another briefing note, the agency said it is keeping a close eye on the rise of unregulated mortgage lenders such as mortgage finance corporations, mortgage investment corporations and individuals.

"The exact number of unregulated lenders in Canada is not known since this includes private individuals and a multitude of small private firms," the note, dated May 26, 2015 and also obtained under the Access to Information Act, reads.

"CMHC and its government partners continue to closely monitor developments in unregulated mortgage lending."

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