How current federal housing platforms stack up
Six key takeaways from our analysis of federal housing platforms

All federal parties agree housing affordability is an urgent problem, and a key election issue for many Canadians.

But has that translated into meaningful election promises?

To find out, Gen Squeeze thoroughly analyzed the platforms of the Conservatives, Greens, Liberals and NDP. We even gave the parties scores on how well their election promises will deliver, which you can find in our fedElxn'19 Voter's Guide.

The idea wasn't simply to break down what each party has committed to (though we do that), it was to assess how far the party platforms go towards actually solving the housing crisis.

Bundling all of the platforms together, here's what we noticed in two (long) sentences:

  • We’re seeing some general enthusiasm for maintaining and strengthening Canada’s social and non-profit housing strategy; moves to crack down on the easy villains in the regular housing market; duelling ideas about how to best help first time homebuyers (hint: there is definitely a wrong way to do this); vague-ish promises on supply; too little clarity from most parties on the overall goal; and a failure by all parties to acknowledge or address the crux of the issue.

  • All told, we’re definitely seeing some progress compared to 2015 platforms, but nowhere near what is likely required to actually solve the problem.

Going a bit deeper, here are six key takeaways from our review.

🎯 Only one party is shooting for the right end goal

When it comes to housing, the obvious goal should be to make sure all Canadians can afford a good home, right?

That’s Gen Squeeze’s goal, and it’s also the goal of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (“CMHC”), which aims to achieve that by 2030.

The Green Party is also shooting for this goal, but the other parties stick to sub-goals, half-efforts or don’t clearly say what their goal is. [1] That’s a real problem, because good policy flows from clear end goals.

👍 Most parties are supportive of the current National Housing Strategy

For the last four years, federal action on housing has focused on non-profit and social housing through the creation and implementation of the National Housing Strategy (“NHS”).

The NHS was long overdue and needs to at least be maintained. The Liberals imply they’ll keep the strategy (which makes sense since they designed it), and the Greens and NDP want to expand it in various ways. It’s less clear what the Conservatives would do with the current NHS.

However, even heroic efforts to scale up social and non-profit housing over the coming years (the focus of the NHS) will leave the majority of Canadians relying on the regular housing market for homes -- a market where there is a massive gap between average prices and local earnings. So while we maintain and strengthen the NHS, we also need action to get the regular housing market back under control.

👍 Most parties are finally going after the “easy villains”

We’re finally seeing the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives promise to go after easy villains like speculators, foreign capital, money laundering and corrupt real estate practices (the Greens are noticeably silent on this).[2]

Those moves are really significant and an obvious, low-cost priority to help get the regular housing market in check.

But they alone likely won’t be enough to actually restore affordability to Canada’s major markets (i.e. to close the gap between average housing costs and local earnings) and maintain that affordability for young Canadians and future generations.

👎 All parties fail to address the crux of the issue

If we want all Canadians to be able to afford a good home, parties need to come to terms with a basic fact:

It’s not possible to restore widespread housing affordability while at the same time pushing for home values to keep going up!*

*Faster than inflation/local earnings

None of the parties currently acknowledge this basic if uncomfortable fact, revealing a tacit acceptance of both the ongoing financialization of housing and growing inequality driven by housing wealth.[3]

If parties were to acknowledge that basic fact, we’d see more policies in the platforms that:

  • Go after the “easy villains” even more decisively e.g. with an outright ban on foreign ownership of certain kinds of homes.

  • Discourage ordinary Canadians from treating housing as a way to get rich (and encourage us all to treat housing as a place to call home, first and foremost).[4]

  • Help recapture for the public any land wealth created through public re-zoning decisions.

  • Protect highly leveraged households from a necessary cooling of prices.[5]

😐 Parties don’t have much to say about supply

We can’t build our way into widespread housing affordability (at least over the short-term). In fact, just focussing on supply can sometimes make things worse.[6] But to solve the problem, a lot of new housing still needs to be created.

New non-profit/social housing also won’t meet the full demand for affordable homes anytime soon. So construction in the private market is key to addressing housing affordability. Especially:

  • “Missing middle” housing, like townhomes, duplexes, triplexes and multi-unit buildings in the 4-5 storey range with enough bedrooms to raise a family.

  • Purpose-built rental homes.

  • Infill housing on existing residential land (to protect industrial land, agricultural land, and greenspace).

The NDP, Greens, Conservatives and Liberals have very little to say about all of this.[7]

🙄 Some parties remain tempted by looser mortgage rules

If we want all Canadians to be able to afford a good home, the answer is not making it easier to take on bigger and bigger piles of debt.

Unfortunately, both the NDP and Conservatives promise looser mortgage regulations, which may help some first time homebuyers get into the market (by helping them qualify for a mortgage and/or by keeping monthly payments lower by increasing and spreading total payments over a longer period of time). But this approach will create serious long-term consequences, including by driving up the overall cost of housing and inviting Canadian households to take on more debt than they can afford.

The Liberals explicitly hold the line on mortgage regulations (a line previously strengthened by a Conservative government), and instead seek to help first-time homebuyers through their shared equity program, which evidence from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation suggests is a better approach.

The Greens take an approach that is none of the above, but don’t have much else to say on the topic.

To learn more, check out our detailed analysis for side-by-side comparisons and scores summarizing how each party stacks up on housing. 

There’s still time for all parties to do better, and we’ll be updating our detailed analysis between now and Oct. 21. Stay tuned!

[1]  To learn more about the four major national parties’ language on this see our detailed analysis. 

[2]  E.g. the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives all promise action on money laundering and the NDP and Liberals propose taxes on foreign buyers and speculators. See a breakdown of party promises on this issue in our detailed analysis. 

[3] These two underlined concepts were identified as the “two core issues that underpin our housing problems” at Canada’s 2018 National Housing Conference, as outlined in the conference report (p. 5). You can read more about our analysis of party platforms on this issue in our detailed analysis. 

[4]  The only promise that sort of, indirectly does this is the NDP’s promise to raise the overall capital gains inclusion rate back up to early 2000s levels (which would apply to some secondary home sales).

[5]  The only promise that sort of, indirectly does this is the Liberal’s first time homebuyer / shared equity program

[6]  E.g. through land value inflation resulting from speculation associated with densification, through the removal of existing affordable stock, and through construction cost inflation during building booms

[7]  There are some promises made but they require a bit of unpacking, and all parties miss one big, notable opportunity. Learn more in our detailed analysis. 

Eric Swanson
Eric is the Executive Director of Generation Squeeze.
Promising the sky (or just a roof): How each party’s housing election promises stack up
How current federal housing platforms stack up
Check out Generation Squeeze. I just joined.
Read the blog at Generation Squeeze 2
News & Resources