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All eyes on housing crisis as government, opposition duel over who’s to blame and how to fix it

A new 15-minute video produced by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is the latest salvo in the political fight over housing policy, which has dominated the second half of this year in politics.

Poilievre made housing costs and affordability a key part of his message early in his leadership run, and housing has now become an issue that parties across the political spectrum agree is a crisis facing Canadians.

The Conservative leader’s video features statistics, charts and news articles that frame the housing issue as one of the Trudeau government’s own making.

“Like all countries, we’ve always had problems throughout Canada’s past, though almost anyone who got a job could save up and buy a home in their mid 20s. When did that all change? About eight years ago,” Poilievre says in the video.

Housing costs have been on the rise for years in Canada, with the national average home price sitting at roughly $650,000 in October 2023. Canadians are also facing increased pressure from rental costs, as well as mortgage costs as interests rate climb.

The government, for its part, agrees that the situation is dire.

“One of the things that I think it’s important to address off the top is that we are in a housing crisis and we need to build homes and we need to build them by the millions,” Housing Minister Sean Fraser said during an announcement in Richmond Hill, Ont., earlier this week.

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Eddie Sheppard, a vice-president at Abacus Data, says a recent poll conducted by his firm suggests housing is now the second-ranked priority for Canadians, behind the economy and the cost of living but just ahead of health care. And Conservatives hold an advantage on the issue, Sheppard said.

“Right now about one-third of Canadians think [the Conservatives] would be best able to handle the housing crisis, followed by the NDP and then the Liberal party,” he said.

“We’re really seeing the Conservatives take the lead here in the minds of Canadians in terms of who can best deal with the housing crisis.”

The Conservatives also hold a huge lead — 19 percentage points — in the top line polling numbers, a new Abacus Data poll suggests. That’s the largest Conservative lead, the polling agency says, since 2015.

Poilievre’s message has focused strongly on affordability, noting the rise in housing costs, inflation and other cost of living concerns. He recently dubbed the current situation as “living hell for the working class.”

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser standing at a press conference in Kelowna, B.C. on Wednesday in front of a housing construction project along with members of city council
Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser makes a housing announcement in Kelowna, B.C., in October. (Brady Strachan/CBC )

Flurry of housing announcements

The government has responded in recent months with several measures on housing, including the elimination of the GST/HST on rental home construction and dedicated money to help boost construction. Housing Minister Fraser has engaged in a flurry of negotiations with municipalities to push for more aggressive local action in exchange for federal dollars through the Housing Accelerator Fund.

This last week also featured several housing announcements attended by prominent ministers, including Fraser, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We’re facing a shortage of housing right now. This is a big reason why prices are just way too high. So we need to build more homes faster,” Trudeau said at an announcement in Ajax, Ont., on Thursday.

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The government also recently released the Canada Mortgage Charter as part of an effort to help guide hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have mortgages that may soon need to be renewed at higher rates.

Trudeau this week criticized Poilievre’s plan as “empty slogans.”

“He thinks that bullying municipalities and cutting funding for affordable housing will somehow get more shovels in the ground. Well, I think we can all agree that’s not responsible leadership,” he said.

Sheppard said that despite the government’s efforts over the last few months, the message did not seem to be breaking through to Canadians.

“But I think the challenge is that a lot of Canadians are really overlooking those [announcements] and not necessarily even hearing or seeing them,” Sheppard said.

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