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Trudeau’s 2024 budget could drive out investment as housing bubble continues

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From LifeSiteNews

By David James

The extent to which the Canadian economy is distorted by a property bubble can be seen by comparing government debt with household debt, with the latter being 130 percent of GDP, nearly twice as much as American households.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government has brought in its 2024 budget, which projects C$53 billion in new spending over the next 5 years. It includes a significant capital gains tax increase, which some are warning will drive away investment, and a plan for more government-controlled public housing.

The Trudeau government is wrestling with a problem that is afflicting most English-speaking economies: how to deal with the consequences of a 20-year house price bubble that has led to deep social divisions, especially between baby boomers and people under 40. 

House prices have tripled over the last 20 years on average, fuelled by the combination of aggressive bank lending and, until recently, falling interest rates. Neither is directly controlled by the federal government. There is no avenue to restrict how much banks lend and the Bank of Canada sets interest rates independently.

Accordingly, the Trudeau government is left to tinker at the edges. It will legislate an increase, from one half to two-thirds, in the share of capital gains subject to taxation for annual investment profits greater than C$250,000. The change will apply to individuals, companies and trusts.

Christina Freeland, Canada’s minister for finance, claimed improbably that only 0.13 percent of Canadians with an average income of $1.42 million are expected to pay more income tax on their capital gains in any given year. 

That is a dubious forecast. The average house price in Canada 20 years ago was C$241,000; it is now C$719,000. Any Canadians who bought an investment property (family homes are exempt) before about 2015 are likely to have a capital gain larger than C$250,000 should they sell. 

The government’s claim that the change will only affect a tiny proportion of Canada’s population is also belied by the government’s own forecast that the tax change will raise over C$20 billion over five years.

The extent to which the Canadian economy is distorted by a property bubble can be seen by comparing government debt with household debt. Canada’s government debt is fairly modest by current international standards: 67.8 percent of GDP in March 2023, down from 73 percent in the previous year. That is about half the U.S. government debt and half the average for G7 countries. 

Canada’s budget deficit is also cautious by Western standards. In 2023-24 it was C$40 billion, equivalent to 1.4 percent of GDP. The U.S. budget deficit is currently over 6 percent of GDP.

Investors account for 30 percent of home buying in Canada, and about one in five properties is owned by an investor. Worse, the enthusiasm for property investment seems to be intensifying. According to one survey, 23 percent of Canadians who do not own a residential investment property say that they are likely to purchase one in the next five years, and 51 percent of current investors say that they are likely to purchase an additional residential investment property within the same time frame.

The problem with the bias towards property investment is that it is actually a punt on land values – and land is inherently unproductive. Business groups have criticized the government’s capital gains hike as a disincentive for investment and innovation, but the far bigger issue is investors’ focus on property, which is crowding out interest in other kinds of investments. 

That means the main source investment capital for businesses will tend to come from institutions, such as mutual funds, which typically have a global, rather than local, orientation.

Faced with forces largely out of its control, the Trudeau government is fiddling at the edges. It has announced the introduction of what it calls “Canada’s Housing Plan”, which is aimed at unlocking over 3.8 million homes by 2031. Two million are expected to be new homes, with the government contributing to more than half of them. This will be done by converting underused federal offices into homes, building homes on Canada Post properties, redeveloping National Defence lands, creating more loans for building apartments in Ottawa, and looking at taxing vacant land.  

The initiatives may have some effect on supply and demand, but the property price excesses are mainly a financial problem caused by unrestrained bank lending that has been fuelled by low interest rates. When a correction does occur, it will most likely be because of changed global financial conditions, not government policy or fiscal changes. 

There are other measures that could be taken to address the property bubble such as reducing, or removing, negative gearing or more heavily taxing capital gains only on property but not other types of investments. But these policies would no doubt would be politically unsalable, so the Trudeau government is instead making minor changes, probably hoping that the problem will fix itself.

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City of Red Deer

City Council paving the way for more house suites, backyard suites, tiny homes, and duplexes

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Council adopts new Zoning Bylaw

At Monday’s regular City Council meeting, City Council passed second and third reading of the Zoning Bylaw 3357/2024, replacing the former Land Use Bylaw.

The goal of the Zoning Bylaw is to reduce red tape, permit more uses in each zone and improve ease and understanding of the document. Notable updates include:

  • Reduction from 11 residential districts to 9 zones
  • Reduction from 7 commercial districts to 6 zones
  • Reduction from 5 industrial districts to 3 zones
  • More permitted uses in each zone
  • More gentle density options to provide increased housing options, including house suites, backyard suites, tiny homes, and duplexes
  • Increased building heights to 12.5m that considers sightlines and privacy of existing dwellings
  • Greater flexibility for development applications
  • Expanded definitions
  • Reduction of duplex side yards, removal of side yard setbacks on corner lots, and reduced frontage in residential narrow lots to improve competitiveness
  • New regulations to gently transition existing neighbourhoods to maintain character

Following adoption of the Zoning Bylaw, the following amendments were made by City Council.

Proposed Amendment Public Hearing Date 
Increase suites from 15% to 25% of the houses in a neighbourhood.   June 24, 2024
Allow commercial uses on the main floor of R-H Residential High Density.   June 24, 2024
Correct errors in the PS Public Service Zone use list: (*Recommended) a) Gaming and Gambling Establishment (Only at the Westerner) b) Education Primary & Secondary – Add to discretionary use list   May 27, 2024
Returning the Cannabis Retail Sales setbacks to be consistent with the current Land Use Bylaw 3357/2006   May 27, 2024

“The new Zoning Bylaw incorporates years of public feedback and best practices to make a Zoning Bylaw that will result in more housing options, easier development, and ultimately will improve our competitiveness,” said David Girardin, Major Projects Planner. “With the approval of the Zoning Bylaw today, we are not finished our community engagement as there will be future public hearings on potential amendments in the coming weeks, as well as more formal public participation for each additional phase of the Zoning Bylaw.”

The Zoning Bylaw will come into effect in 30 days. Public participation for phase two of the Zoning Bylaw will begin later this year. For more information, visit engage.reddeer.ca.

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Economy

Ottawa’s homebuilding plans might discourage much-needed business investment

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From the Fraser Institute

By Steven Globerman

In the minds of most Canadians, there’s little connection between housing affordability and productivity growth, a somewhat wonky term used mainly by economists. But in fact, the connection is very real.

To improve affordability, the Trudeau government recently announced various financing programs to encourage more investment in residential housing including $6 billion for the Canada Housing Infrastructure Fund and $15 billion for an apartment construction loan program.

Meanwhile, Carolyn Rogers, senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, recently said weak business investment is contributing to Canada’s weak growth in productivity (essentially the value of economic output per hour of work). Therefore, business investment to promote productivity growth and income growth for workers is also an economic priority.

But here’s the problem. There’s only so much financial capital at reasonable interest rates to go around.

Because Canada is a small open economy, it might seem that Canadian investors have unlimited access to offshore financial capital, but this is not true. Foreign lenders and investors incur foreign exchange risk when investing in Canadian-dollar denominated assets, and the risk that Canadian asset values will decline in real value. Suppliers of financial capital expect to receive higher yields on their investments for taking on more risk. Hence, investment in residential housing (which the Trudeau government wants to promote) and investment in business assets (which the Bank of Canada warns is weak) compete against each other for scarce financial capital supplied by both domestic and foreign savers.

For perspective, investment in residential housing as a share of total investment increased from 22.4 per cent in 2000 to 41.3 per cent in 2021. Over the same period, investment in two asset categories critical to improving productivity—information and communications equipment and intellectual property products including computer software—decreased from 30.3 per cent of total domestic investment in 2000 to 22.7 per cent in 2021.
What are the potential solutions?

Of course, more financial capital might be available at existing interest rates for domestic investment in residential housing and productivity-enhancing business assets if investment growth declines in other asset categories such as transportation, roads and hospitals. But these assets also contribute to improved productivity and living standards.

Regulatory and legal pressures on Canadian pension funds to invest more in Canada and less abroad would also free up domestic savings for increased investments in residential housing, machinery and equipment and intellectual property products. But this amounts to an implicit tax on Canadians with domestic pension fund holdings to subsidize other investors.

Alternatively, to increase domestic savings, governments in Canada could increase consumption taxes (e.g. sales taxes) while reducing or even eliminating capital gains taxes, which reduce the after-tax expected returns to investing in businesses, particularly riskier new and emerging domestic companies. (Although according to the recent federal budget, the Trudeau government plans to increase capital gains taxes.)

Or governments could reduce the regulatory burden on private-sector businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, so financial capital and other inputs used to comply with often duplicative or excessive regulation can be used to invest in productivity-enhancing assets. And governments could eliminate restrictions on foreign investment in large parts of the Canadian economy including telecommunications, banking and transportation. By increasing competition, governments can improve productivity.

Eliminating such restrictions would also arguably increase the supply of foreign financial capital flowing into Canada to the extent that large foreign investors would prefer to manage their Canadian assets rather than take portfolio investment positions in Canadian-owned companies.

Canadians would undoubtedly benefit from increases in housing construction (and subsequently, increased affordability) and improved productivity from increased business investment. However, government subsidies to home builders, including the billions recently announced by the Trudeau government, simply move available domestic savings from one set of investments to another. The policy goal should be to increase the availability of risk-taking financial capital so the costs of capital decrease for Canadian investors.

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