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Long way home: Blamed for affordability crisis, Liberals look to pivot on housing

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OTTAWA –

Chris Burke and his fiancée have been less than a year away from buying their first home for the past three years.

Saving for a down payment was the first challenge. Now, rising interest rates have kicked home ownership down the road again, stalling the couple’s plans to get married and have children.

“Any gains we make towards purchasing a house, we’re watching the goalposts move further and further away,” the 31-year-old Ottawa resident said.

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Feeling “stuck,” as Burke put it, is a sentiment shared by many young Canadians who are increasingly pessimistic about their home ownership prospects.

For the federal Liberals, the growing discontent with the state of the housing market is becoming a political threat.

“I’m a former Liberal voter,” Burke said. “I certainly wouldn’t be voting for them this time around.”

Experts say the housing crisis poses a great risk to the incumbent government in the next election if it doesn’t take drastic action soon.

“This has become probably the most important both economic and political problem facing the country right now,” said Tyler Meredith, a former head of economic strategy and planning for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“And especially given the significant emphasis the government has put on immigration and the relationship between immigration and the housing market, there is a need to do more.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has taken direct aim at the Liberals for the state of the housing market, highlighting the dramatic increases in home prices, rents and even interest rates.

According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the national average price of a home sold was $709,000 in June 2023, up from $455,000 in Oct. 2015, when the Liberals first came to power.

And the cost of getting a mortgage has soared, following a series of aggressive interest rate increases by the Bank of Canada in response to rising inflation following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rent prices have also skyrocketed, with some cities seeing double-digit increases over the last year.

Trudeau has tried to deflect for the housing crisis, recently saying there are limits to what the federal government can do.

“I’ll be blunt as well: housing isn’t a primary federal responsibility,” Trudeau said during a housing announcement in Hamilton on July 31.

“It’s not something we have direct carriage of. But it is something that we can and must help with.”

His remarks were quickly blasted by Poilievre, who reminded people of earlier promises Trudeau had made on housing.

“(Trudeau) held a news conference to tell you all he’s not responsible for housing. That’s funny, because eight years ago, he promised he was gonna lower housing costs,” Poilievre said in a news conference the next day.

Most experts agree that Ottawa isn’t solely responsible for the problem. But many say the federal government could still be doing more to alleviate the shortage of housing at the root of the affordability crunch.

The Canada Mortgage Housing Corp., the national housing agency, warned last year that the country needs to build 5.8 million homes by 2030 to restore affordability.

If the current pace of building continues, then only 2.3 million homes will have been added to the housing stock by then.

There are several things experts say the federal government could be doing, such as better calibrating its immigration policy with housing and reforming tax laws to incentivize rental developments. It could also push local governments to get housing built faster.

The federal government has been hearing from stakeholders and housing experts on these potential solutions, as rumblings grow about a focus on housing in the coming fall economic statement and next year’s budget.

A senior government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss matters not yet made public, says the Liberals plan to take steps over the next year to get other levels of government, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector to build more homes.

Trudeau’s recent cabinet shuffle might be an early sign that the federal government plans to prioritize housing. The prime minister appointed one of the stronger communicators and a rising star on the Liberal bench, Sean Fraser, to take on housing and infrastructure as one, amalgamated file.

“The prime minister said something to the effect of, ‘I’ve got a big job for you to do,”‘ Fraser said in an interview.

Fraser said he hopes to help restore a housing market closer to the one he grew up with in small-town Nova Scotia: one where having a job was enough to buy a home.

“It might take a bit of time for us to solve the housing challenges that are before us,” he said. “But man, is it a challenge we’re solving.”

That challenge includes overcoming jurisdictional issues. Many of the policy levers that could help spur more housing development are at the provincial and municipal levels of government.

Urban planning, zoning laws and red tape are the purview of local governments, which have decision-making powers that can help or hinder housing development.

Ben Dachis, associate vice-president of public affairs at the C.D. Howe Institute, says the predicament the Liberals find themselves in speaks to the “insidious nature of consistent federal overreach.”

“The cautionary tale is that the federal government needs to stick with jurisdiction,” Dachis said.

But housing expert Carolyn Whitzman has a different take. The University of Ottawa adjunct professor says the federal government can’t turn its back on Canadians in the middle a crisis.

“The federal government: it’s where the buck stops,” Whitzman said.

“If housing and climate change are the crises that they’re certainly treated (as), the federal government is going to have to put on its big kid pants and actually deal with it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2023.

 

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Julia Malott: Nope, parents are not ‘fascists’ for being skeptical of gender politics

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The core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education

In the coming days, Canada will see heightened activity in the nation’s ongoing gender identity politics debate. The “1 Million March 4 Children” protest against how gender identity is taught in schools, is set to occur on Wednesday, with synchronized events in more than 50 cities countrywide. Two days later, separate Toronto rally will spotlight two figures prominent in the gender-critical movement: Chris Elston, colloquially known as “Billboard Chris” for his distinctive method of protesting against childhood medical transition, and Josh Alexander, a Renfrew, Ontario student who was expelled earlier this year after objecting in class to his school’s transgender washroom policy.

Organizers of these events bill them as a defense of the safety and wellbeing of children, though the protesters’ opinions span a wide spectrum of positions. While some desire personal discretion in how matters of gender identity are handled for their own children, others urge broader constraint on transgender-related discussion and accommodations for the entire student body. The perspectives reflect the diverse community backing the movement.

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As parents’ voices grow louder, there’s a perception in the progressive left that all of these emerging movements are rooted and inspired by “far-right” extremism. Many in leftist circles suggest that parental rights advocacy is a dog-whistle: a veiled attempt to advance anti-transgender policies. A recently leaked video from an Ontario Federation of Labour meeting offers a glimpse into how some of the province’s most influential union members perceive these protests. As one member notably stated during the meeting: “The fascists are organizing in the streets … . This is far more than a far-right transphobic protest. They’re fundamentally racist, they’re fundamentally anti-union, they are fundamentally transphobic, and it’s just a matter of time before they come for us.”

Such language of a growing fascist movement, evoking images of 1933 Berlin, is more than a little unhinged, particularly when all they are discussing is parents uniting together to demand involvement in their children’s education. As a covert spectator in the union meeting, there was an undeniable sentiment among participants that if not for them democracy would surely collapse.

It’s a grave mistake to deride the parental collective pushing back against the status-quo as fascist sympathizers motivated by transgender hate. A glance past such alarmist rhetoric reveals that — while a fringe group of hate has always existed — the concerns many parents are championing are much more moderate than a “far-right” moniker suggests.

For many parents, the core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education. They want transparency about what is being taught, the option to excuse their child from content they believe doesn’t align with their values, and the discretion to determine age-appropriateness for activities, such as certain reading material or events like drag queen performances at schools. Perhaps least surprisingly, parents want to be involved in the key decisions of their own child undergoing a social transition in the classroom.

Many of these matters have been surfacing in school board meetings for several years, largely to be ignored by Trustees and Education Directors. The shared sentiment among these parents is the perception that the education system increasingly sidelines them, diminishing their role in their children’s upbringing. This sense of alienation is leading a growing number of parents to take a stand, even if it means confronting accusations of extremism.

The matter of social transition behind parents’ backs in particular is so condemning of their role in upbringing that it has thrust the entire gamut of gender identity matters into the national spotlight, revealing just how out of balance transgender accommodation has become. The manner in which the left has responded — by doubling down in their rhetoric and deriding parents as militant zealots, has played powerfully into the rapid growth of this grassroots movement.

Many parents, even amid those who will stand in protest, have little desire to limit other families’ decisions regarding gender teachings and expression for their children. They realize that their objective of ensuring their own parental autonomy is intertwined with safeguarding those same freedoms for other families as well.

Over time, the persistent branding of even modest parental rights positions as far-right extremism does injury. As the left cries foul each time they encounter a perspective they don’t like, they desensitize the meaning in such a label. By regularly branding modest parental concerns as extremist, progressives may very well be shoehorning the adoption and normalization of more hardline positions that do straddle the line of the parental rights of others. As grassroots gain traction, a vocal minority have now taken to calling for sweeping bans on gender affirming teaching and accommodation for all children and families alike within the public education system.

So where do we go from here? What might a balanced approach to parental rights look like within the nuanced landscape of gender identity politics? Fortunately, we need not start from scratch; history offers us a model for the coexistence of diverse ideologies within our educational institutions. Look no further than religion.

For years, Canada has upheld an educational system truly inclusive of students from all religious backgrounds. The classroom approach to religious topics is robust; it sidesteps direct religious instruction, and when religion intersects with the curriculum, it is presented academically rather than doctrinally. Instead of dictating what’s “true” in religious contexts, educators shed light on what various groups “believe,” cultivating an environment of both choice and critical thinking.

Amid religious diversity, we teach acceptance. Students are taught to make space for varied faith expression among their peers, whether through clothing or other customs, and with a strong desire to maintain neutral, religious symbols are not adorned by the institution. The lesson for students is to embrace and include, even where personal beliefs diverge; Meanwhile, the guiding principle for the institution is to avoid actions that display favouritism toward any specific religious doctrine.

Such a solution could address a significant portion of the concerns fuelling the rising parental unrest. Moderate parents would applaud such an education system, and this would still be inclusive of transgender students. But in order for this to be realized, the two factions moving ever further apart will first need to come to the table and talk. Given the recent rhetoric from progressive quarters, the prospect of this dialogue anytime soon appears distant.

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Ex-diplomat says Poland asked him to keep tabs on Alberta politician

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A month after Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it was looking into claims that the Polish government asked one of its diplomats in Canada to gather information on a former Alberta cabinet minister, the dismissed consul general at the centre of the affair says he still hasn’t heard from the department on the matter.

Andrzej Mańkowski told CBC News the only official he has heard from is a B.C. bureaucrat who asked him to return his diplomatic licence plates and identification.

“[Officials with Global Affairs] haven’t tried talking to me,” he said.

Mańkowski showed CBC News a copy of a letter dated Aug. 31 he received from B.C.’s Chief of Protocol for Intergovernmental Relations Lucy Lobmeier asking him to turn in his identity card and to return his diplomatic plates “within 30 days of this letter.” She also thanked him for his service.

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Mańkowski alleges he was dismissed from his post in late July after he refused to carry out orders from the Polish government to gather information about Thomas Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier of Alberta who often provides commentary to CBC News about the province’s politics.

“It’s clear that Polish diplomacy during Communist times, the main responsibility was to collect information, to gather information on some Polish representatives abroad,” Mańkowski said, adding he felt as if the request was a throwback to that time.

“The analogy’s extremely evident.”

Last month, Global Affairs Canada said it was taking the allegations seriously.

Spying allegations ‘out of this world’: ambassador

In August, Lukaszuk said he believed he had been targeted by Poland’s department of foreign affairs over his activism against a controversial Polish pastor, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has private radio and television stations in Poland.

Rydzyk, who has ties to the Polish government, has been criticized for delivering sermons featuring homophobic and anti-Semitic views and for preaching against the European Union.

Lukaszuk also shared what he said were encrypted messages Polish government officials sent to Mańkowski asking him over the course of a year to prepare notes on the former Alberta politician.

CBC News has not independently verified these messages were official government communications. Mańkowski did not dispute their veracity in his interview.

“Asking for my opinion about Lukaszuk was just a kind of trap, was just a political test of my loyalty,” he said.

Polish Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski has dismissed the claim that his government tried to get a diplomat to keep tabs on a former Alberta politician. (Darryl G. Smart/CBC News)

Poland’s Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski called the allegation “totally absurd.”

“The idea of Polish diplomacy spying on a former provincial politician … it’s really out of this world,” Dzielski said.

He said he has never met Lukaszuk and did not know of his previous career in politics before Lukaszuk emailed him about an unrelated consular matter long before the reports about Mańkowski came out.

Dzielski said that if the notes cited by Lukaszuk are real, they were leaked illegally because they would constitute private diplomatic communications.

The affair has captured attention in Polish media, where the story first broke.

In July, Polish opposition politicians cited the messages released by Lukaszuk when they asked Piotr Wawrzyk, a secretary of state in the government’s foreign affairs department, whether Mańkowski was dismissed because he refused to spy on Lukaszuk.

In reply, Wawrzyk said the government could recall a diplomat who refused to carry out an assignment.

Wawrzyk, who was also a deputy foreign minister, has since been fired himself over an unrelated matter both local media outlets and Reuters have linked to a clandestine scheme awarding migrants visas in exchange for cash.

On Saturday, The Associated Press noted he had been hospitalized following an apparent sucide attempt. 

“The minister, Wawrzyk, was laid off because of a totally different subject,” Dzielski said.

He pointed out that those documents were cited by opposition politicians in the context of a heated election campaign.

Dzielski� also said it’s normal for diplomats to be asked to gather information on notable members of diaspora communities.

‘A very marginal conversation’

“We are working very closely with them,” he said. “It is obvious and natural, and it is an element of diplomatic workshops, that we provide and we build ourselves opinions about the quality of cooperation with particular actors.”

He said Global Affairs has spoken to him about the allegations. “We had a very marginal conversation on this which reflects the level of seriousness of this topic,” he said.

A NATO member, Poland has worked closely with Canada to help out its neighbour Ukraine ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.

Asked for comment, Global Affairs said in a media statement it “continues to work closely with security and intelligence community partners to assess the situation and identify next steps as appropriate.”

The department said last month it had contacted Lukaszuk and that it took the responsibility of protecting Canadians from “transnational repression” very seriously.

 

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Put politics aside to solve housing crisis, or your kids might never own a home: Raitt

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The Current20:05Putting politics aside to tackle the housing crisis

 

Political leaders of all stripes must find a way to work together to solve the housing and climate crises impacting Canadians, says former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.

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“Toronto is the best example. NDP mayor, provincial premier who’s Conservative, federal Liberal who’s the prime minister,” said Raitt, co-lead of the new non-governmental Task Force for Housing and Climate, which launched Tuesday.

“And if they don’t figure this out, one voter is going to punish them all.”

The new task force is concerned with accelerating the construction of new homes, while ensuring that’s done in a sustainable way. In a press release, the group of former city mayors, planners, developers, economists and affordable housing advocates said it intends to convene until April 2024 to develop policy recommendations. The work is supported by the Clean Economy Fund, a charitable foundation.

Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. But as co-lead of the task force, Raitt said she won’t engage in the political partisanship that she thinks “poisons the well” around these issues.

“Part of the reason why we’re coming together as the task force is to have a real pragmatic and practical conversation about these issues instead of weaponizing it into a political arena, and finger pointing back and forth,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.

Trudeau pledges more housing as pressure mounts over affordability

 

Justin Trudeau announced funding to build more housing in London, Ont., as he and Liberal MPs kicked off their caucus retreat. The agreement comes as the government faces growing pressure to help make housing more affordable.

Canada needs to build an extra 3.5 million new units by the end of the decade, over and above what’s already in the works, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. A report this week showed rental costs have increased 9.6 per cent from Aug. 2022 to 2023, to an average now of $2,117 a month.

This week, the federal government announced it would cut the federal goods and services tax (GST) from the construction of new rental apartments, in an effort to spur new development. The Liberal government also pledged $74 million to build thousands of homes in London, Ont., — the first in what it hopes will be a series of agreements to accelerate housing construction.

Speaking in London on Wednesday, Housing Minister Sean Fraser called on municipalities to “legalize housing,” urging them to remove “sluggish permit-approval processes” and zoning obstacles if they expect federal investment in housing construction.

Poilievre slams PM on housing, says Trudeau ‘funds gatekeepers’

 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s housing plans Thursday, saying the Liberal government’s ‘inflationary deficits’ and ‘taxes and bureaucracy’ are holding back construction of new homes.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the government’s plans as not going far enough, while pointing out it echoes some of his party’s proposals. He’s proposed measures that tie federal funding to the number of housing starts. Funding would be withheld from cities that fail to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent, while cities that pass that threshold would receive bonuses.

Poilievre’s proposals also include a “NIMBY” fine on municipalities that block construction because of opposition from local residents, and the sale of 15 per cent of federally owned buildings so the land can be used to build affordable homes.

Don Iveson, former mayor of Edmonton and co-lead of the task force, said he understands why partisan politics can creep into the debate — but Canadians expect more.

He said the task force intends “to help all orders of government” understand what’s needed to tackle these problems from an economic, technical and planning perspective.

“We’re not going to be able to solve the housing crisis [by] building housing the way we built it for the last several generations,” said said Iveson, who was mayor of Edmonton from 2013 to 2021.

A woman stands in the House of Commons in Ottawa, with people sitting in the background.
Lisa Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Your kids need a place to live: Raitt

Iveson said the challenge of scaling up housing construction will require some new ways of thinking.

That might mean a greater emphasis on automation and building houses from components prefabricated off-site, which he described as “essentially a more factory approach” that could also reduce construction costs.

Raitt said the task force will examine where houses are built, and in what kind of density, to ensure scaling up can “get the most bang for the buck.”

That might mean Canadians might need to have difficult conversations, including whether to build multi-storey buildings instead of single-family homes.

Raitt said older Canadians who already own their own homes might not like the idea of taller buildings going up around them, but they should speak to their kids about it.

 

Strangers buy homes together to combat unaffordable housing.

 

CBC’s Sohrab Sandhu reports on an unorthodox strategy where some people are deciding to buy homes with strangers.

“They don’t care if it’s going to be four, six storeys in a residential neighbourhood. They just want a place that they know that they can purchase,” she said.

“Talk about whether or not our kids are going to have a place to live, let alone rent, let alone own, let alone a house in the communities where they were brought up, because right now it’s not looking so good.”

Counting the cost of climate change

When it comes to climate change and sustainability, the task force’s goals come down to a “very simple equation,” Raitt said.

“Whatever we’re building now is going to be here in 2050. So if it’s going to be part of the calculation of our net-zero aspirations, whatever they’re going to be,” she said.

She said the task force will work to formulate ways to build housing that take emissions into account, but don’t include prohibitive costs that slow down the rate of construction.

“It’s going to be a little bit more costly to build with climate indications built in … but you’ve got to make sure that there’s policies surrounding that to make sure it still makes it affordable,” she said.

 

Visuals of homes destroyed by wildfire in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

 

Officials say the fire, which is burning out of control as of Monday morning, is expected to grow.

Iveson said wildfires, floods, heat domes and extreme weather events are already disrupting the economy, as well as posing huge financial burdens for the Canadians caught up in them.

“Climate change is already costing us a fortune,” he told Galloway.

Building without those climate considerations “maybe seems affordable in the short term, but it’s false economy when it comes to the real costs ahead of us,” he said.

 

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