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Economy

Housing policy should focus on closing the demand-supply gap, not inducing demand or stifling supply

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From the Fraser Institute

FEDERAL REFORMS TO IMPROVE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY

BY JOSEF FILIPOWICZ AND STEVE LAFLEUR

Canada’s declining housing affordability reflects a large, worsening imbalance between housing demand and housing supply.

Few policy areas are gaining as much attention in Canada as housing. This is unsurprising, given that Canada has the largest gap between homes prices and incomes among G7 nations (OECD, 2023) and rents continue to rise in most cities (Statistics Canada, 2023a). As eroding housing affordability has expanded to more parts of Canada, demands for policy solutions have grown beyond local jurisdictions, pressuring federal decisionmakers to act.

First, this essay offers a diagnosis of the issue—a large, growing imbalance between housing demand and supply. Second, it discusses federal policies affecting housing demand, urging better coordination and restraint amid tight supply conditions. Third, it discusses the federal government’s less-direct—though still important—options to improve housing supply.

Guiding principles: do no more harm, and close the demand-supply gap

Canada’s declining housing affordability reflects a large, worsening imbalance between housing demand and housing supply. This is evident when comparing trends in population growth and housing completions. Figure 1 charts these two metrics between 1972 and 2022. In recent years, Canada’s population growth has accelerated, while the number of homes completed has declined relative to the 1970s. 1

Policy efforts should focus on closing the demand-supply gap. The federal government should first ensure that it is not exacerbating the problem, either by stoking demand or by stifling supply, and second by both reviewing all existing policies through a supply-demand lens while implementing tailored policies aimed at closing the demand-supply gap.

Demand-side considerations for federal housing policy

Though all levels of government influence both housing demand and supply, the federal government’s policy levers pertain more directly to demand. They do so in two important ways.

First, federal policy influences population growth. As Canada’s birth rate has declined, population growth has been driven primarily by immigration (including both permanent and temporary residents) (Statistics Canada, 2023c). Though provinces may influence immigration decisions, the federal government establishes annual targets (where applicable) and admission criteria (Filipowicz and Lafleur, 2023).

Second, the federal government influences households’ ability to pay for housing. Policies for home buyers including the First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit and the First Home Savings Account, which, combined with the Home Buyers’ Plan, enable the accumulation of tax-free savings for a down payment. Federal policies for homeowners include the exemption from capital gains taxation on the sale of primary residences, loan insurance through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and residential mortgage underwriting through the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. Combined, these policies influence the relative attractiveness of housing as an investment.

Without adequate supply, these policies result in higher prices, rather than greater affordability. The federal government should review all existing or proposed policies directly or indirectly impacting housing demand. Further, it should adopt the following two policy approaches:

• Stronger consideration of housing supply dynamics when determining short, medium and long-term immigration targets or visa issuance. For example, supply metrics (e.g. housing starts, completions, and rental vacancy rates) should help inform multi-year plans or criteria for permanent and non-permanent resident admissions.

• Refraining from introducing new demand-inducing subsidies, such as tax credits or subsidies to homebuyers and homeowners, while comprehensively reviewing the impact of existing subsidies.

Supply-side considerations for federal housing policy

Housing supply in Canada is influenced primarily by provincial and local governments. Decisions concerning land-use and growth planning—including for lands owned by the federal government—largely rest with these levels of government, meaning housing construction projects cannot be realized without first aligning with, and receiving approval from, local authorities. Federal policies aiming to grow the housing supply must account for this.

Federal influence on housing supply can be divided into four policy types. First are fiscal transfers. Every year the federal government transfers billions of dollars to municipalities to fund infrastructure. In some cases, funding is permanent and based on federal-provincial agreements.3 In other cases, funding is negotiated for specific projects.4

Second, the federal government also funds the development of non-market housing. Programs such as the National Co-Investment Fund and Rapid Housing Initiative offer low-interest or forgivable loans, and direct funding, respectively, to organizations building or acquiring non-market housing.

Third, federal tax policies and programs influence the financial feasibility of homebuilding. For example, federal sales and capital gains taxes apply differently to different housing types, such as condominiums, rental buildings and accessory dwelling units (e.g. basement or laneway suites).5
Further, federal programs such as the Rental Construction Financing Initiative and multi-unit mortgage loan insurance products influence project feasibility by providing rental builders with low-interest loans or reduced premiums.

Fourth, the federal government’s primary responsibility for immigration gives it significant influence over the mix of skills prioritized in application screening, affecting the construction sector’s ability to recruit workers. Indeed, the share of immigrants working in the construction sector was lower than that among Canada’s overall population in 2020 (BuildForce Canada, 2020), reflecting the longstanding selection preferences of federal immigration policy until more recent changes.6

The federal government should coordinate with local and provincial governments as it develops policies, avoiding the creation of additional barriers and duplication. Specifically, the following three approaches should inform federal efforts to improve housing supply:

• Tying all federal infrastructure funding to housing supply metrics such as housing stock growth, starts or completions, ensuring limited funds are directed to those regions facing the strongest growth pressures in a transparent fashion, while reducing administrative costs and jurisdictional overlap.

• Reviewing and reforming the tax treatment of all housing development, helping improve the feasibility of large- and small-scale projects Canada-wide.

• Further prioritizing skills related to homebuilding in immigration policies and eligibility criteria.

Conclusion

Faced with a widening gap between housing demand and supply, this essay focuses on the federal government’s influence on housing markets, offering five areas of policy action.

The most direct federal levers pertain to housing demand. Housing constraints should be weighed more heavily when setting immigration policy, including temporary immigration, and new demand-inducing policies such as homebuyer tax credits should be avoided, while existing policies should be reviewed.

Given the federal government’s less direct influence on housing supply, intergovernmental coordination is recommended. Limited transfer funding should follow local housing supply metrics, while the tax treatment of housing development could also be reformed, enabling a larger number of projects to be financially feasible.  Lastly, immigration policies should emphasize skills required to build more housing.

Notes
1 For more on the gap between population growth and housing completions, see Filipowicz (2023).
2 For a full list of incentives and rebates for homebuyers, see <https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/consumers/home-buying/government-of-canada-programs-to-support-homebuyers>, as of February 5, 2023.
3 For example, the Canada Community-Building Fund (formerly the Gas Tax Fund) delivers approximately $2 billion annually to local governments.
It is governed by a series of federal-provincial agreements.
4 For example, the federal government has committed one-third of the capital funding required by the Surrey Langley SkyTrain. Similar agreements
are common for major transit infrastructure.
5 The federal government recently announced the removal of the goods and services tax on purpose-built rental housing, helping the feasibility
of this housing class. For more on the influence of federal taxation on rental housing, see Canadian Home Builders’ Association (2016).
6 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada changed screening processes in mid-2023, favouring trade occupations, among others. The full effects of these changes will become apparent with time.
Sources for Figure 1
Statistics Canada, 2023a, table: 17-10-0009-01; Statistics Canada, 2023b, table: 34-10-0126-01.
References
BuildForce Canada (2020). Immigration Trends in the Canadian Construction Sector. <https://www.buildforce.ca/system/files/documents/Immigration_trends_Canadian_construction_sector.pdf> as of September 13, 2023.
Canadian Home Builders’ Association (2016). Encouraging Construction and Retention of Purpose-Built Rental Housing in Canada: Analysis of Federal Tax Policy Options. <https://www.evergreen.ca/downloads/pdfs/HousingActionLab/HAL_EncouragingConstructionAndRetention_FINAL.pdf> as of September 13, 2023.
Filipowicz (2023). Canada’s Growing Housing Gap: Comparing Population Growth and Housing Completions in Canada, 1972–2022.
Fraser Institute. <https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/canadas-growing-housing-gap-1972-2022.pdf>, as of February
5, 2024.
Filipowicz, Josef and Steve Lafleur (2023a). Getting Our Houses in Order: How a Lack of Intergovernmental Policy Coordination
Undermines Housing Affordability in Canada. Macdonald-Laurier Institute. <https://macdonaldlaurier.ca/getting-our-houses-in-order-how-a-lack-of-intergovernmental-policy-coordination-undermines-housing-affordability-in-canada/>, as of February 5, 2024.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2023). Express Entry Rounds of Invitations: Category-based Selection. <https://www.
canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/express-entry/submit-profile/rounds-invitations/category-based-selection.html>, as of September 15, 2023.
International Monetary Fund (2023). Report for the 2023 Article IV Consultation. [or Country Report: Canada]. <https://www.imf.
org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2023/07/27/Canada-2023-Article-IV-Consultation-Press-Release-and-Staff-Report-537072> as of
September 13, 2023.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]. 2023. Housing Prices (indicator). DOI: 10.1787/63008438.
OECD. <https://data.oecd.org/price/housing-prices.htm>, as of February 5, 2023.
Statistics Canada (2023a). Table 34-10-0133-01. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, average rents for areas with a population of 10,000 and over. <https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/cv.action?pid=3410013301>, as of February 5, 2023.
Statistics Canada (2023b). Table 34-10-0127-01. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, vacancy rates, apartment structures of six units and over, privately initiated in census metropolitan areas. <https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3410012701>, as of February 5, 2024.
Statistics Canada (2023c). Table 17-10-0008-01. Estimates of the components of demographic growth, annual. <https://www150.
statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1710000801>, as of March 2, 2023.

Business

Maxime Bernier warns Canadians of Trudeau’s plan to implement WEF global tax regime

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From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

If ‘the idea of a global corporate tax becomes normalized, we may eventually see other agreements to impose other taxes, on carbon, airfare, or who knows what.’

People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier has warned that the Liberal government’s push for World Economic Forum (WEF) “Global Tax” scheme should concern Canadians. 

According to Canada’s 2024 Budget, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is working to pass the WEF’s Global Minimum Tax Act which will mandate that multinational companies pay a minimum tax rate of 15 percent.

“Canadians should be very concerned, for several reasons,” People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier told LifeSiteNews, in response to the proposal.

“First, the WEF is a globalist institution that actively campaigns for the establishment of a world government and for the adoption of socialist, authoritarian, and reactionary anti-growth policies across the world,” he explained. “Any proposal they make is very likely not in the interest of Canadians.” 

“Second, this minimum tax on multinationals is a way to insidiously build support for a global harmonized tax regime that will lower tax competition between countries, and therefore ensure that taxes can stay higher everywhere,” he continued.  

“Canada reaffirms its commitment to Pillar One and will continue to work diligently to finalize a multilateral treaty and bring the new system into effect as soon as a critical mass of countries is willing,” the budget stated.  

“However, in view of consecutive delays internationally in implementing the multilateral treaty, Canada cannot continue to wait before taking action,” it continued.   

The Trudeau government also announced it would be implementing “Pillar Two,” which aims to establish a global minimum corporate tax rate. 

“Pillar Two of the plan is a global minimum tax regime to ensure that large multinational corporations are subject to a minimum effective tax rate of 15 per cent on their profits wherever they do business,” the Liberals explained.  

According to the budget, Trudeau promised to introduce the new legislation in Parliament soon.  

The global tax was first proposed by Secretary-General of Amnesty International at the WEF meeting in Davos this January.  

“Let’s start taxing carbon…[but] not just carbon tax,” the head of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said during a panel discussion.  

According to the WEF, the tax, proposed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “imposes a minimum effective rate of 15% on corporate profits.”  

Following the meeting, 140 countries, including Canada, pledged to impose the tax.  

While a tax on large corporations does not necessarily sound unethical, implementing a global tax appears to be just the first step in the WEF’s globalization plan by undermining the sovereignty of nations.  

While Bernier explained that multinationals should pay taxes, he argued it is the role of each country to determine what those taxes are.   

“The logic of pressuring countries with low taxes to raise them is that it lessens fiscal competition and makes it then less costly and easier for countries with higher taxes to keep them high,” he said.  

Bernier pointed out that competition is good since it “forces everyone to get better and more efficient.” 

“In the end, we all end up paying for taxes, even those paid by multinationals, as it causes them to raise prices and transfer the cost of taxes to consumers,” he warned.  

Bernier further explained that the new tax could be a first step “toward the implementation of global taxes by the United Nations or some of its agencies, with the cooperation of globalist governments like Trudeau’s willing to cede our sovereignty to these international organizations.”   

“Just like ‘temporary taxes’ (like the income tax adopted during WWI) tend to become permanent, ‘minimum taxes’ tend to be raised,” he warned. “And if the idea of a global corporate tax becomes normalized, we may eventually see other agreements to impose other taxes, on carbon, airfare, or who knows what.”   

Trudeau’s involvement in the WEF’s plan should not be surprising considering his current environmental goals – which are in lockstep with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – which include the phasing out coal-fired power plants, reducing fertilizer usage, and curbing natural gas use over the coming decades.    

The reduction and eventual elimination of so-called “fossil fuels” and a transition to unreliable “green” energy has also been pushed by the World Economic Forum – the aforementioned group famous for its socialist “Great Reset” agenda – in which Trudeau and some of his cabinet are involved.     

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Business

Canada’s economy has stagnated despite Ottawa’s spin

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From the Fraser Institute

By Ben Eisen, Milagros Palacios and Lawrence Schembri

Canada’s inflation-adjusted per-person annual economic growth rate (0.7 per cent) is meaningfully worse than the G7 average (1.0 per cent) over this same period. The gap with the U.S. (1.2 per cent) is even larger. Only Italy performed worse than Canada.

Growth in gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of all goods and services produced in the economy annually, is one of the most frequently cited indicators of Canada’s economic performance. Journalists, politicians and analysts often compare various measures of Canada’s total GDP growth to other countries, or to Canada’s past performance, to assess the health of the economy and living standards. However, this statistic is misleading as a measure of living standards when population growth rates vary greatly across countries or over time.

Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, for example, recently boasted that Canada had experienced the “strongest economic growth in the G7” in 2022. Although the Trudeau government often uses international comparisons on aggregate GDP growth as evidence of economic success, it’s not the first to do so. In 2015, then-prime minister Stephen Harper said Canada’s GDP growth was “head and shoulders above all our G7 partners over the long term.”

Unfortunately, such statements do more to obscure public understanding of Canada’s economic performance than enlighten it. In reality, aggregate GDP growth statistics are not driven by productivity improvements and do not reflect rising living standards. Instead, they’re primarily the result of differences in population and labour force growth. In other words, they aren’t primarily the result of Canadians becoming better at producing goods and services (i.e. productivity) and thus generating more income for their families. Instead, they primarily reflect the fact that there are simply more people working, which increases the total amount of goods and services produced but doesn’t necessarily translate into increased living standards.

Let’s look at the numbers. Canada’s annual average GDP growth (with no adjustment for population) from 2000 to 2023 was the second-highest in the G7 at 1.8 per cent, just behind the United States at 1.9 per cent. That sounds good, until you make a simple adjustment for population changes by comparing GDP per person. Then a completely different story emerges.

Canada’s inflation-adjusted per-person annual economic growth rate (0.7 per cent) is meaningfully worse than the G7 average (1.0 per cent) over this same period. The gap with the U.S. (1.2 per cent) is even larger. Only Italy performed worse than Canada.

Why the inversion of results from good to bad? Because Canada has had by far the fastest population growth rate in the G7, growing at an annualized rate of 1.1 per cent—more than twice the annual population growth rate of the G7 as a whole at 0.5 per cent. In aggregate, Canada’s population increased by 29.8 per cent during this time period compared to just 11.5 per cent in the entire G7.

Clearly, aggregate GDP growth is a poor tool for international comparisons. It’s also not a good way to assess changes in Canada’s performance over time because Canada’s rate of population growth has not been constant. Starting in 2016, sharply higher rates of immigration have led to a pronounced increase in population growth. This increase has effectively partially obscured historically weak economic growth per person over the same period.

Specifically, from 2015 to 2023, under the Trudeau government, inflation-adjusted per-person economic growth averaged just 0.3 per cent. For historical perspective, per-person economic growth was 0.8 per cent annually under Brian Mulroney, 2.4 per cent under Jean Chrétien and 2.0 per cent under Paul Martin.

Due to Canada’s sharp increase in population growth in recent years, aggregate GDP growth is a misleading indicator for comparing economic growth performance across countries or time periods. Canada is not leading the G7, or doing well in historical terms, when it comes to economic growth measures that make simple adjustments for our rapidly growing population. In reality, we’ve become a growth laggard and our living standards have largely stagnated for the better part of a decade.

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