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Don Martin: Trudeau's seeking shelter from the housing storm he helped create


For the fourth day in a row, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a cabinet contingent of potted palms in tow to backdrop another housing announcement, this time delivered Friday in that bastion of Liberal loathing called Calgary.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau centre tours modular home construction facility before making a housing announcement in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 5, 2024 (Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

This was a relatively cheap unveiling in the Trudeau multi-billion-dollar scheme of things. A $600-million push for innovation and factory-built housing was added to the $25-billion pre-budget lineup of housing inducements -- with another 10 days of heavy spending to go before the actual budget.

Okay, let’s give Trudeau the benefit of the doubt and say that the prime minister has suddenly experienced a come-to-Jesus moment and divined the right set of ideas to deliver relief to the overpriced, undersupplied Canadian housing sector.

Housing experts are generally supportive of most initiatives announced this week.

Still, the timing is beyond suspect and it deserves a blatantly cynical reception.

He announced these budget measures just as another carbon tax increase was biting at the pumps. And it’s aimed at a housing shortage crisis even Trudeau admits was exacerbated by the excessive influx of asylum seekers, temporary workers and foreign students he authorized.

There shouldn’t be any standing ovations for a prime minister who caused a problem, delayed action until raw politics demanded a diversion and introduced long-overdue programs on a timeline which won’t deliver results until long after he becomes electoral road kill.

And all this housing action comes in the aftermath of Trudeau’s correct observation that housing was mostly a provincial matter.

Couple his housing plans with intrusions into provincial areas like health care, natural resources and education and one wonders if Trudeau is auditioning for the job of premier after he leaves federal office.

I digress. Nobody with a real life cares very much about constitutional boundaries and, given that housing is a national crisis spilling from one province into another, nor should they on this issue.

Besides, some of his better-late-than-never ideas deserve to outlive his death row government.

Boosting densities around transit lines is solid common-sense policy first advocated by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

The federal inducement to quadruple housing per residential lot maximizes land use more efficiently, if only it can overcome city councils unnerved by the NIMBY syndrome which dominates single-family subdivision thinking.

Trudeau's damage control

The topped-up housing accelerator is having some impact but, as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) reported this week, construction is actually de-accelerating and will dip below the 2021 new housing count for the next two years.

Federal help to expand sewers, watermains and bridges is a welcome initiative because politicians don’t consider it a sexy funding priority, even though it’s vital to have that infrastructure in place before the first subdivision foundation is poured.

And what about those new apartment units Trudeau aims to build? Well, given the original loan program failed to produce pedal-to-metal construction, only delivering a fifth of the target, another $15-billion to the cause seems doomed to deliver only disappointment.

Keeping in mind this push to detonate an explosion in housing construction plays out in a fully-employed building sector. It’s tricky to sprawl out hundreds of thousands of new dwellings when there’s a shortage of skilled trades to build them.

This week was a textbook example of creative damage control by Trudeau, a rush of budget leaks from a politician more concerned about saving his own skin over giving Canadians access to an affordable roof.

But if the polls hold in their current trajectory, Justin Trudeau will be in the rear-view mirror of Canadian political history long before any of these policies deliver tangible relief.

So if they actually work to ease the housing crisis, the next prime minister will get the credit.

That’s the bottom line.




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