By Christopher Alexander

From a housing perspective, it was an interesting and enlightening 40 days leading up to Canada’s 2019 federal election. Justin Trudeau’s new mandate was far from a landslide win, resulting in a Liberal minority government at the helm. This means Liberals will need the support of the other parties to pass legislation. Could this prospect of collaboration be a saving grace for Canada’s housing?

One thing Canadians have agreed on is that housing affordability and the cost of living are a top priority. The question about which party would effectively address those concerns was largely up in the air, and it still is.



The new minority government could be just what Canada needs to pull it out of this housing quagmire, which only seems to have gotten muddier since the Liberals took power in 2015. The last four years have seen skyrocketing housing prices and rents rising in lockstep, while housing supply dwindles.

This story of unsustainable growth in parts of Ontario is offset by the turmoil in Western Canada, with Liberal policies taking the brunt of the blame for what’s happening in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Generally speaking, the Liberals haven’t had positive impacts on real estate – yet.

The solution to Canada’s housing woes, at least for the next four-year term (barring any political shake-ups, which could cut that short) might be found through collaboration.

The Conservatives and New Democrats laid out some seemingly solid plans to address the housing crisis in their 40-day campaign period, tabling changes to the mortgage stress test, a return of 30-year amortizations for first-time homebuyers (even though it’s likely that both of these policies would have only pushed prices up in the long run) and addressing housing supply. Meanwhile, the Liberals are largely planning to stay the course, much to the chagrin of many Canadians who have been hoping, if not praying, for real estate relief.

With that being said, Team Trudeau has made some moves on the housing front over the last four years.

The National Housing Strategy is one of the wins, established in 2017 to help reduce homelessness and increase the availability and quality of affordable housing, at a cost of $50 billion over 10 years. Trudeau also increased the amount first-time homebuyers can withdraw from their registered retirement savings plan, from $25,000 to $35,000. And let’s not forget about the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, an interest-free government loan covering up to 10 per cent of a home’s price, to lower the mortgage payments.

On the questionable side of the Liberals’ 2019 campaign was their promise to boost the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive amount in Toronto and Vancouver, to offset the sky-high prices in these markets. But when the average home hovers around $800,000 and $1 million respectively, the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive isn’t much of an incentive. The Liberals have also tabled a one-per-cent speculation tax on vacant homes owned by foreigners, which could limit price growth. But in reality, this policy won’t have much impact on the average Canadian.

What the Liberals have failed to address entirely is the prohibitive mortgage stress test, which was implemented to put the brakes on Canada’s runaway housing markets. While it did help rein in unprecedented price growth in Toronto and Vancouver, the policy has come under scrutiny for being outdated and ultimately, a barrier to home ownership. I am 100 per cent supportive of responsible debt levels and policies to ensure that goal, but even with the recent modifications, the mortgage stress test is more hindrance than help.

Another gap in the Liberals’ platform is the issue of housing supply, which is at the crux of our affordability crisis. Between the lack of rental housing and supply of affordable housing and less incentive for developers to build new communities, Canada is experiencing a serious housing shortage. This is particularly true in Vancouver and Toronto, where the average cost of living continues to tick upward, and residents are left scrambling for affordable alternatives.

It seems to me that Trudeau needs a reality check, which may come from the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois. By taking the best proposals put forth by each party, perhaps a patchwork solution will be found. But the collaboration can’t stop at the federal level. Trudeau must work closely with provincial and municipal governments, as well as the private sector, to create more housing supply.

Many Canadians, especially millennials, new immigrants and those employed in the so-called “gig economy” feel home ownership is becoming less tangible by the day. While politicians of all stripes acknowledge the mounting urgency of affordable housing, few are offering any timely or compelling solutions.

Real estate is still one of the safest and most reliable financial investments for Canadians. As real estate professionals, it’s our duty to help prospective homebuyers navigate this tricky landscape. Outside of creating more supply and affordable housing, I urge governments to refrain from meddling with the private real estate market. History shows that whenever they do, the effects are mostly detrimental.

I urge Canada’s new government to work together to develop a national housing strategy that addresses all issues relating to affordability. The health of Canada’s housing is at stake.

Christopher Alexander is Executive Vice President and Regional Director of RE/MAX INTEGRA, Ontario-Atlantic Region. Christopher started his career as a Sales Representative at RE/MAX Professionals Inc. in 2010. He then joined the Regional Office as a Franchise Sales Consultant in 2014. Christopher rose through the ranks and is a third-generation RE/MAX leader, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, RE/MAX INTEGRA Co-founder and Chairman Frank Polzler, and his mother, RE/MAX INTEGRA, North America CEO Pamela Alexander.

7 COMMENTS

  1. 1) Canada must do a Fiscal “Re-Confederation” upload the prov &municipal debt a la ss, 102-126 https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-6.html#h-26 NB (as then) it’s to be prorated w $ credits to the lesser-debted
    2) Fed govt must retreat to s 91-92 Powers Dist (ok no TV &internet then) – Prov’s will have enough money to operate Heath-Fund and Education w/o the public debt charges
    3) Allocate to source municipality 25% of the revenue from their residents’ Personal Income Tax
    4) Let the govt that provides the service/program to its residents also TAX the same residents for it
    5) Allow any population Agglomeration over 500,000 become a City-Province, w all the Powers of its Mother province BUT w no change in its ConFederal representation in our One Parliament – hence no Constit Amend required (beyond consent of the Mother province) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_census_metropolitan_areas_and_agglomerations_in_Canada

    Once the budgets are back in order – we can address the specifics of Affordable Housing for One Income Families & Individuals

    For TORONTO only — I’m a suburban city-boy (Etobicoke / North York / Richmond Hill Markham) so I dare not make any suggestions for elsewhere
    1) Expand the boundaries of the 416 City-Province to incorporate the 905 territory south of Oak Ridges Moraine and East of Niagara Escarpment (this commuter watershed is one ONE socio-economic-infrastructure-transit ENTITY… but its boundaries haven’t be adjusted to match the ECO-ECO functional reality (ECOnomic-ECOlogical)
    2) Create 2 new “Brasilia” cities one to the East and one to West – create construction jobs, create service industry and public service jobs to serve new Residents, build homes on cheap land w today’s infrastructure systems (not not 5G) built from start, let One Income Families move from 416 (relieving Demand $ pressure & prompting long-time residents to ‘sell at the top’ -relieving Supply $ pressure)
    3) Pay politicos One Big Salary and have them pay the office budgets and staff salaries/benefits from the One Big …. efficiencies and best-practices will blossom and can become standard operating procedures

  2. I am glad that our government is trying to prevent people from getting in over their heads. If there is no stress test and amortization is raised to 30 years now, a lot of people will lose when the interest rate inevitably goes up. I agree with Rita, that expectations need to be more modest but also, it is essential that those same people have an affordable place to live while they save for a home. Developers must be incentivized to build smaller, simpler homes of good quality for those ready to enter the market and also to build 2-3 bedroom rental apartments to provide stable homes for those who either choose to be renters or require rental homes while they prepare to buy. Relying on private investors to support the needs of renters is inadequate.

  3. Good article. Been in the business for 32 years. We need a Canada wide foreign buyer tax and a larger foreign owner vacancy tax to pay for housing for Canadians who can’t afford to compete with wealthy foreigners and a little laundered money.

  4. It was during Trudeau senior’s reign that interest rates rose to 21.6% in 1981. The stress test may have had some moderate success in slowing down housing prices but it effectively locked out over 200,000 Canadians from purchasing a home. Those prospective buyers remained as renters, causing a domino effect back through the whole rental housing chain to lock out tens of thousands of vulnerable groups who desperately need housing.

  5. It would perhaps help if those who lobby governments would mention that many couples who go through a divorce essentially have to start over and should be able to qualify as ‘first-time’ buyers so they can take part in those applicable government programs.

  6. Home buyers need to lower their expectations when looking to purchase a home. This is key. They should think about buying a 2sty. 3 bedroom Link home with single car garage instead of 2sty 3 bedroom detached with double garage.The Gov’t has put forth some very helpful incentives.
    Builders should have incentives to build homes that are affordable, many are building homes with second suites. It really comes down to the consumer.

    • I’ve been a licensed active Real Estate Broker for

      45 years the publication today by Alexander is too much slanted on political debate that’s not what REM
      Articles represent.
      Jackie Laurin
      Ottawa

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