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Costly construction isn’t the culprit behind unaffordable housing

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Wendell Cox

Land restriction creates what amount to land cartels. A now smaller number of landowners gain windfall profits, which, of course, encourages speculation

The latest Demographia report on housing affordability in Canada, which I produce for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, reveals that over half of the 46 Canadian housing markets we assess are severely unaffordable. In fact, Vancouver and Toronto rank as third and 10th least affordable, respectively, among the 94 major global markets included in our latest international housing affordability study.

To evaluate housing costs, we utilize the “median multiple,” which divides the median house price within a given market (census metropolitan area) by its median household income. A multiple equal to or less than 3.0 is categorized as “affordable,” while anything exceeding 5.0 is labelled “severely unaffordable.”

Among the major Canadian housing markets, Vancouver (with a median multiple of 12), Toronto (9.5), Montreal (5.4), and Ottawa-Gatineau (5.2) fall into the severely unaffordable category. Vancouver has maintained a high median multiple for several decades, while Toronto has been in this range for approximately two decades. The increased prevalence of telecommuting has recently contributed to Montreal and Ottawa-Gatineau’s affordability challenges, leading to a surge in demand for larger homes and properties in more distant suburbs. In contrast, housing in Edmonton (4.0) and Calgary (4.3) remains comparatively affordable.

In Toronto and Vancouver, the implementation of international urban planning principles, particularly those promoting anti-sprawl measures like greenbelts and agricultural preserves, has led to unprecedented price hikes. This “urban containment” approach has consistently driven up land values where it has been adopted. And high land values rather than increased construction costs are what explain the substantial disparity between severely unaffordable and more budget-friendly markets.

Land restriction creates what amount to land cartels. A now smaller number of landowners gain windfall profits, which, of course, encourages speculation. Maintaining or restoring affordability requires eliminating windfall profits by ensuring a competitive market for land.

Another issue arises from urban planners’ preference for higher-density housing, such as high-rise condos. Some households may prefer high-rise living, but families with children typically seek housing with more land, whether detached or semi-detached. When they’re priced out of good housing markets, their quality of life suffers and they may even fall into poverty.

The troubling paradox is that unaffordable housing is far more common in markets like Vancouver and Toronto, which have embraced the planning orthodoxy — which is supposed to produce affordable housing. The same applies to international markets like Sydney, Auckland, London and San Francisco, where urban containment and unaffordable housing have gone hand in hand.

What’s the solution? Give up on urban containment and make more land available for housing. But wouldn’t that threaten the natural environment, as critics of Ontario’s recent attempt to allow development of a sliver of its greenbelt argued?

Not at all. It’s true that land under cultivation in Canada has been declining steadily over the years. But the culprit is improved agricultural productivity, not urban expansion. According to Statistics Canada, between 2001 and 2021, agricultural land shrank 53,000 square kilometres. That’s about equal to the land area of Nova Scotia. And it’s about triple all the area urbanized since European settlement began. Even in Ontario and B.C. where most of the severely unaffordable markets are concentrated, urban expansion from 2016 to 2021 took up less than one-quarter of the agricultural loss over that period. Urban expansion is not squeezing out agricultural land.

Given all this, what should we do about affordability? In my view, three things:

First, it’s essential to acknowledge that Canadians are already addressing the issue by relocating from pricier to more affordable regions. Housing is more affordable in the Atlantic and Prairie provinces and areas in Quebec east of Montreal. So it’s not surprising there is now a net influx of people to smaller, typically more affordable, locations. In the past five years, markets with populations exceeding 100,000 have collectively witnessed over 250,000 people moving to smaller markets.

Second, make more land available for development in increasingly unaffordable markets like B.C., southern Ontario, and the Montreal-Ottawa corridor. One way is with “housing opportunity enclaves” (HOEs), in which traditional, i.e., not high-density, housing regulations would apply, but essential environmental and safety regulations would. The aim would be to provide middle-income housing at the price-to-income ratios that were typical before urban containment came along and housing across the country was largely affordable.

Market-driven development would be ensured by relying on the private sector to provide housing, land, and infrastructure, a model that has been successful in Colorado and Texas. Current residents would maintain their property rights but could sell to private parties and First Nations for development.

HOEs would be situated far enough outside major centres to take advantage of low-priced land, prioritizing areas with the largest recent agricultural land reductions. Communities likely would resemble Waverly West in Winnipeg or The Woodlands in Houston, with ample housing space and yards for families with children.

These new communities would attract people working at least partly from home. Jobs would naturally follow, creating self-contained communities where most commutes occurred within the HOE. To ensure a competitive market and prevent land cost escalation, HOEs must have ample land available.

Third, public authorities should allocate an ample amount of suburban land to safeguard reasonable land values in the Prairie and Atlantic provinces, as well as in Quebec east of Montreal. This would allow currently more affordable markets such as Quebec City, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Moncton and Halifax to accommodate interprovincial migrants without jeopardizing their affordability.

Provincial and local governments would need to monitor housing affordability multiples on at least a five-year cycle, and legislatures, land use authorities and city councils would have to allow enough low-cost land development to maintain price-to-income stability.

It’s not enough just to provide enough building lots to meet projected demand. The goal should be to enable builders to provide housing at prices middle-income households can afford. The key to that is affordable land.

Wendell Cox is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is the author of 2023 Edition Of Demographia Housing Affordability In Canada and has been featured on Leaders on the Frontier – Cost of Living Under Crisis With Charles Blain.

Economy

Taxpayer watchdog slams Trudeau gov’t for increasing debt ceiling: ‘Put down the credit card’

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From LifeSiteNews

By Anthony Murdoch

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland authorized an additional $73 billion in borrowing this fiscal year.

After Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland gave herself and the government the authority to borrow an additional $73 billion this fiscal year, the head of the nation’s leading taxpayer watchdog group said the federal government needs to “put down the credit card” and return to common-sense spending.

Freeland, as per a February 15 cabinet order made under the Financial Administration Act, allowed the extra borrowing to take place.

The government has set “$517 billion to be the maximum aggregate principal amount of money that may be borrowed” before April 1. Before this cabinet order, however, the maximum amount was $444 billion.

Despite Freeland claiming that the increase in borrowing is “in no way a blank cheque,” Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Franco Terrazzano said the borrowing needs to end.

“The Trudeau government needs to put down the credit card and pick up some scissors,” Terrazzano told LifeSiteNews.

“The government should be cutting spending and balancing the budget, not racking up more debt for years to come.”

In 2021, Canada’s Parliament raised the federal debt borrowing amount by a whopping 56% under the Borrowing Authority Act. The amount went from $1.168 trillion to $1.831 trillion.

“What it does is set a ceiling for how much the government can spend,” Freeland said at the time.

Terrazzano told LifeSiteNews that the Trudeau government should be cutting spending and balancing the budget, not racking up more debt for years to come.

Terrazzano observed that in the coming year the Trudeau government will be spending “more money on debt interest charges than it sends to the provinces in health transfers.”

“In a handful of years, every penny collected from the GST (Goods and Service Tax) will go toward paying interest on the debt,” he noted.

Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, due to excessive COVID money printing, inflation has skyrocketed.

Last month, LifeSiteNews reported that fast-rising food costs in Canada have led to many people feeling a sense of “hopelessness and desperation” with nowhere to turn for help, according to the Canadian government’s own National Advisory Council on Poverty.

Last year, the Bank of Canada acknowledged that Trudeau’s federal “climate change” programs, which have been deemed “extreme” by some provincial leaders, are indeed helping to fuel inflation.

Terrazzano told LifeSiteNews that Trudeau should “completely scrap his carbon tax,” which is making everything more expensive.

Conservatives blast increased debt

Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MPs have been critical of the raised debt ceiling. “You’re simply saying, ‘Give me a blank cheque and then trust me,’” MP Ed Fast said.

Freeland claimed that the “characterization of the borrowing authority limit as a blank cheque is simply false.”

CPC leader Pierre Poilievre recently asked, “Is there a dollar figure to which she would limit the debt?”

She replied that the government is “mindful that limits exist.”

During a February 13 Senate national finance committee meeting, Budget Officer Yves Giroux noted how Trudeau’s cabinet plans in terms of spending are not clear.

“We don’t know exactly what the government plans on spending or doing in terms of new spending or potential spending,” he said when asked by Senator Elizabeth Marshall if the new borrowing limits are “still realistic.”

Marshall added, “As it stands now, do you think it looks reasonable?”

“It looks sufficient, but the government always wants to give itself some room to maneuver in case there are unforeseen events that require borrowing on short notice,” Giroux replied.

A report from September 5, 2023, by Statistics Canada shows food prices are rising faster than headline inflation at a rate of between 10% and 18% per year.

According to a recent Statistics Canada survey of supermarket prices, Canadians are paying 12% more for carrots, 14% more for hamburger (ground meat), and 27% more for baby formula.

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Energy

A carbon tax by any other name

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From Canadians for Affordable Energy

Written By Dan McTeague

It turns out that the story circulating last week from The Toronto Star that the Liberals were considering a “rebranding” of their Carbon Taxation program was true. On Wednesday the Liberals announced that the previously known “Climate Action Incentive Payment,” will now be referred to as the “Canada Carbon Rebate.” This was done “in an attempt to tackle what it calls confusion and misconceptions about the scheme.”

According to Liberal Minister Seamus O’Regan “If we can speak the language that people speak, because people say the words ‘carbon,’ they say the words, ‘rebate,’ right? And if we can speak that language, that’s important, so people understand what’s going on here.”

The Liberals seem to actually believe that the problem Canadians have with the carbon tax, and their growing support for Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives to “Axe the Tax,” has simply been a matter of Canadians not “understand[ing] what is going on.”

The implication, of course, is that Canadians aren’t really struggling to pay their bills, feed their families and heat their homes right now. That their lives haven’t gotten more expensive overall as the cost of fuel has risen steadily.

That they’re just confused by poor branding — probably some high-priced marketing firm’s fault, really — and that once Trudeau & Co. find the right words, people will finally be happy to pay the tax, and be grateful to get some of their money back, since doing so will — somehow — save the planet.

Which is ridiculous.

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t even the first time Trudeau’s carbon tax has been rebranded. You might recall that prior to 2018, the scheme was referred to as “carbon pricing” or simply the “carbon tax.” If you look back at Hansard records — the records of Parliamentary debate — you can see that in October 2018, Liberal MPs began referring to the scheme as a ‘price on pollution.’ Of course, calling carbon dioxide, a gas on which all life on earth depends, “pollution” was an obvious attempt to justify taxing Canadians for it.

But no matter what they call the thing, they are determined not to let it go.

Recent polls have indicated that the carbon tax is losing support from Canadians. A Nanos poll showed nearly half of Canadians think the carbon tax is ineffective; another poll indicates most Canadians want it reduced or killed altogether.

So why are the Liberals clinging so desperately to this tax that Canadians don’t support? Going so far as to rebrand, reframe, recommunicate rather than scrap it?

I might start to sound like a broken record here, but the only way to understand the context of the carbon tax, the second carbon tax (the Clean Fuel Standard,) an emissions cap, electric vehicle mandates and on and on, is to recognize that they are all components of the insane Net-Zero-by-2050 scheme dreamed up by Justin Trudeau and his UN and World Economic Forum cronies.

A carbon tax is simply one of the pillars of their Net Zero Agenda which they contend will enable Canada to achieve this nebulous goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Though apparently to achieve it, the tax will need to get progressively more punishing. On April 1 the carbon tax goes up another $15, to $80 per ton, and will continue to rise yearly until it hits $170 a ton in 2030. Canadians are already feeling the pinch and it is hard to imagine it getting worse. But Liberals aren’t concerned with the struggles of everyday people and that is the reality. This has become a communications issue to them, not an existential one.

As to the new name itself, the Trudeau Liberals love to pay lip service to their rebate scheme and claim that Canadians are getting back more than they pay. But as we well know even the Independent Parliamentary Budget Officer found that, contrary to what their talking point, a substantial majority of households are paying more in carbon taxes than they get back.

Their communications plan too is so unhinged that they are pitching the carbon tax as an affordability measure designed to help struggling Canadians. Of course this begs the question: If Canadians are getting back more than they pay in carbon taxes, why take the money in the first place?

The rubber is hitting the road and Canadians have had enough. No matter what it’s called, the carbon tax has made our lives worse.

That will continue to be true, no matter what they call it.

Dan McTeague is President of Canadians for Affordable Energy

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