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Cities seek immediate help on housing affordability in federal budget

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are being pressed to use this week’s federal budget to make a significant down payment to help lower the cost of housing.

Rising housing costs was a key issue for all parties during the last federal election and prices have continued their meteoric rise in the months since.

The latest figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association showed the average national home price was a record $816,720 in February, up 20.6 per cent from the same month one year earlier, and heavily influenced by sales in and around Vancouver and Toronto.

Statistics Canada reported last month that rent prices were up 4.2 per cent year-over-year in February.

The pandemic-induced rise in prices — fuelled by rock-bottom interest rates, demand for larger homes and supply-chain bottlenecks — has shown how dire Canada’s housing needs are, said Joanne Vanderheyden, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

She said delaying spending because of competing demands on the public purse is not an option given the situation.

Any delays would slow the country’s economic recovery and further strain already financially vulnerable households, Vanderheyden said.

“The time for the federal government to be bold on housing and fix this crisis for all is right now,” said Vanderheyden, who is also the mayor of the municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc in southwestern Ontario.

“We don’t want to wait another budget season. We can’t wait, we just can’t. We need to tackle this issue right now in concrete ways.”

She said the government can rely on existing programs that have proven successful during the pandemic to boost the supply of housing such as the popular and successful rapid-housing program.

That program gives cities money for quick construction of modular homes or to buy buildings that can be turned into affordable housing units.

The Liberals promised a reboot of the popular program as part of a political pact with the New Democrats made last month. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday that he expects to see something in the budget to that end.

Housing advocates are hoping to see at least $1 billion annually for the rapid-housing program, and potentially more for another measure of keen interest to cities.

In last year’s election campaign, the Liberals promised $4 billion for a “housing accelerator fund” to build 100,000 new “middle-class” homes by 2025. Some funding promised to cities in the plan would be available on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

The Liberals envision it as a program to help cities pay for more planners to reduce construction approval times or quickly redo zoning rules, or help offset the cost of buying land for new projects.

Cities have been quite keen on the getting the fund up and running since the promise was first made in August. The government issued a call for proposals on the plan earlier this year and it was mentioned in the deal between the Liberals and NDP in March.

That gives city leaders hope that the money will materialize in the budget on Thursday.

Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen told the House of Commons on Monday that the government intends to move ahead on measures to increase the supply of homes.

The plan with the NDP also calls for a one-time, $500 top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit to help low-income renters offset cost increases.

Rebekah Young, director of fiscal and provincial economics at Scotiabank Canada, wrote in a pre-budget analysis that measures to boost supply should help address some price pressures, but that won’t happen quickly enough to “tamp down” short-term inflation on housing costs.

She warned that some measures could actually fuel housing demand on the margins, and add heat to price pressures, including the government’s promise to double the homebuyers’ tax credit and reduce CMHC mortgage insurance costs by 25 per cent.

David Macdonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the federal government can help cool housing prices by moving ahead with an anti-flipping tax or requiring larger down payments to get a mortgage for an income property.

“One of the big drivers of inflation is high house prices. They’ve gone through the roof in the last year,” he said. “That is absolutely something that the federal government could play a key role in capping and reducing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5 2022.

 

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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A report on wildfire in Lytton, B.C., says more community fireproofing needed

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VANCOUVER — A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.

Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”

Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.

Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.

“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”

Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.

“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”

The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.

They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.

The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.

Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.

Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.

Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.

“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.

“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Regular travel and public health measures can’t coexist: Canadian Airport Council

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OTTAWA — International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up that people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.

The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.

The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.

“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.

The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.

Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.

Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.

“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.

The government is aware of the frustrating lineups at airports, a statement from the transport minister’s office said.

“Current health measures in place are based on the advice of public health experts to protect Canadians. We will continue to base our measures and adjustments on their expert advice,” the statement read.

The ministry is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to post more screening officers at checkpoints, the minister’s office said, and the agency is working on hiring even more.

The government will not ask airlines to cut back their flight schedules, the statement noted.

Between May 1 and May 7, about 1.3 per cent of 1,920 travellers tested at airports were COVID-19 positive.

For comparison, 3.46 per cent were positive between April 1 and April 9, though significantly more tests were performed during that time.

Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.

The requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.

“We’re effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.

The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.

“It tells you to go elsewhere, that we’re not open for business,” she said.

On Monday, several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, pleaded their case for fewer COVID-19 restrictions at the House of Commons transport committee.

“These are costing our economy deeply and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events,” Robin Guy, the chamber’s senior director for transportation policy, told the committee.

The witnesses urged the government to review their COVID-19 regulations at the border and do away with those that are no longer necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour – CTV News

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St. JOHN’S –

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived Tuesday in St. John’s, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that will largely focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Under partly cloudy skies, the couple landed at St. John’s International Airport aboard a Canadian government jet. They then headed by motorcade to a welcome ceremony at the provincial legislature with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

The couple were met by an honour guard and various dignitaries before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people in the crowd. On the steps leading to the legislature, about 100 schoolchildren waved small Canadian and provincial flags.

Grade 6 student Anna Jeans said she was thrilled at the possibility she might get a high-five from Charles or Camilla. “I’m very excited,” she said, bouncing on her toes. “It’s a big opportunity for me.”

Nearby, Tara Kelly — wearing a homemade fascinator with a tall plume of green feathers — said she’s long been a fan of the Royal Family. “It’s a fantasy,” she said.

Inside the Confederation Building’s purple-lit foyer, the prince and the duchess looked on as Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue offered a blessing and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds sang.

The event began with a land acknowledgment honouring the province’s five Indigenous groups as well as the Beothuk people, who were among the first inhabitants of Newfoundland, their history stretching back 9,000 years.

Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked Charles and Camilla to listen to the Indigenous groups they will meet in Canada and to learn their stories.

“I encourage you to learn the truth of our history — the good and the bad,” she said. “In this way, we will promote healing, understanding and respect. And in this way, we will also promote reconciliation.”

The prince started his speech by noting that the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — for thousands of years.

“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” he said. “It is a process that starts with listening.”

The prince said he had spoken with the Governor General about the “vital process” of reconciliation.

“(It’s) not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding,” he said. “I know that our visit this week comes at an important moment with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada, committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past.”

Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote, the Queen’s representative in the province.

Outside the residence, they will take part in a reconciliation prayer with Indigenous leaders at the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province’s residential schools.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said reconciliation will form part of the discussions Charles and Camilla engage in during their visit. But the prime minister avoided answering when asked if he thinks the Queen should apologize for the legacy of residential schools.

“Reconciliation has been a fundamental priority for this government ever since we got elected, and there are many, many things that we all have to work on together,” he said. “But we know it’s not just about government and Indigenous people. It’s about everyone doing their part, and that’s certainly a reflection that everyone’s going to be having.”

Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron has said she intends to make a request for an apology to the prince and duchess during a reception Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Caron has said residential school survivors have told her an apology from the Queen is important as she is Canada’s head of state and the leader of the Anglican Church. “The Royals have a moral responsibility to participate and contribute and advance reconciliation,” Caron said in Ottawa on Monday.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools when Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors visited the Vatican. He will travel to Canada to deliver the apology this summer.

Leaders from four of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous groups were expected to attend the prayer ceremony at the lieutenant-governor’s residence in St. John’s. Elders and residential school survivors were also invited to take part in a smudging ceremony, musical performances, a land acknowledgment and a moment of silence.

Charles and Camilla will then tour Quidi Vidi, a former fishing community in the east end of St. John’s.

The couple are expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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