Question Period: National Housing Strategy

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: My question is also for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Senator Gold, a Scotiabank report issued on May 12 of this year suggests that Canada has the lowest number of homes per 1,000 people in the G7. The report suggests that while the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, the underlying cause of supply and demand had existed before the pandemic manifested itself in Canada.

The report also states that as we become vaccinated and our country begins to open, the demand for housing will grow as immigration rises.

The report concludes:

. . . house prices are likely to trend upward for the foreseeable future given the years it would take to close the gap between supply and demand. Much more policy focus should be devoted to finding ways to increase the responsiveness of supply to demand.

We are also witnessing a bidding war across the country on existing housing, which is pushing prospective homeowners out of the market. I also worry about the lack of transparency in that bidding process.

Is our National Housing Strategy addressing these new realities?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, thank you for your question. The government knows that maintaining the stability of Canada’s housing market is essential to protecting middle-class families and to our broader economic recovery. The government remains firmly committed to tackling the crucial problem and issue of housing affordability in Canada.

In terms of the supply side of the issue, the government is committed to ensuring that Canada’s residential housing stock is not used unproductively by foreign, non-resident investors. That is why Budget 2021 introduces a national, annual 1% tax on the value of non-resident, non-Canadian-owned residential real estate that is considered to be vacant or underused, effective January 1 of the coming year.

Budget 2021 also builds on the National Housing Strategy by providing an additional $2.5 billion, as well as the reallocation of $1.3 billion in existing funds to speed up the construction and repair of 35,000 affordable housing units.

With regard to the bidding process, colleague, which I know can be frustrating — certainly for buyers, if not, on the other hand, for sellers — these operational policies, as you know, are under exclusive provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

Senator Bovey: I thank Senator Gold for his answer. I appreciate that the Scotiabank report suggests the housing shortage should be a national priority. They’re suggesting the government should create a round table of federal, provincial and municipal governments — working with private-sector developers, investors and not-for-profit organizations — to identify and tackle the obstacles to more responsive supply in all segments of the housing market.

I know we have the National Housing Strategy, but I do wonder if such a round table has been or will be struck, considering the current and growing implications of housing shortages. Is there an appetite for such a response from the federal government?

Senator Gold: Thank you, senator, for raising this issue. Frankly, I do not know what the appetite may be, but I will certainly make inquiries and report back.

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