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Federal gov't now doing more than 'fair share' on housing, minister says

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Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon says the federal government is now doing “more than our fair share” when it comes to addressing the housing crisis in Canada.

In an interview with CTV Question Period host Vassy Kapelos airing Sunday, MacKinnon called housing “an urgent national priority.”

“That’s why you’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, ministers and the prime minister go out around the country, work with cities, provinces, community groups, and others in terms of addressing this priority on a segment by segment basis,” MacKinnon said.

Since March 27, the federal government has unveiled measures that will be included in the April 16 federal budget, with many of them targeted towards boosting housing supply.

Some of those measures include a $400 million top-up to the Housing Accelerator Fund, a new $6 billion Canada Housing Infrastructure Fund and a $15 billion top-up of the Apartment Construction Loan Program.

But some premiers have already pushed back against the latest housing announcements because much of the money comes with conditions and benchmarks that the provinces must meet.

“This is a significant overreach by the federal government to come in and attempt to nationalize housing,” said Jason Nixon, Alberta’s Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services.

In order to access funds from the new Canada Housing Infrastructure Fund, provinces must require municipalities to allow development of four-unit residential dwellings, commonly known as four plexes. In some cases, those buildings could be up to four-storeys tall without amending construction bylaws.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has spoken out strongly against four plexes recently, and on Wednesday urged all levels of government to stay within their own jurisdictions.

“I'm going to leave that up to each municipality to decide because they know better than the province and the federal government,” Ford told reporters in Vaughan, ON.

Back in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even said housing falls mostly under provincial jurisdiction.

"I'll be blunt as well — housing isn't a primary federal responsibility. It's not something that we have direct carriage of," Trudeau said.

When asked by Kapelos whether the federal government’s recent housing announcements are in response to falling public opinion polling for the Liberals, MacKinnon pushed back.

“What the prime minister also said is that the federal government will be there with the tools, the programs, the resources to do its part. I would argue that we're actually now doing more than our fair share in terms of bearing the weight of this problem,” MacKinnon said.

According to Statistics Canada, housing starts have declined since 2021, and a new outlook from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) released Thursday says that trend is expected to continue this year before recovering in 2025 and 2026. That same report also forecasts home prices could match peak levels seen in early 2022 by next year and even surpass those prices by 2026.

The federal government has acknowledged its latest housing measures will take years to impact housing supply and affordability. When asked by Kapelos whether any shorter-term levers around immigration are possible to help alleviate demand, MacKinnon said no changes will be made to Canada’s permanent immigration targets.

“In terms of our regular immigration program, no we are going to continue with that because it's what demographers and others say is required in the long-term interests of paying the pensions, and the health care and the things that Canadians value,” MacKinnon said.

The Liberals have set targets aiming to bring in 485,000 immigrants this year, and 500,000 in both 2025 and 2026.

The federal government faced criticism earlier this year, after The Canadian Press — citing internal documents obtained through an access to information request — reported in January the federal government was warned by public servants two years ago that its ambitious immigration targets could jeopardize housing affordability.

Two weeks later, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced plans to reduce the number of international student permits by about 35 per cent from 2023 levels. Then, in late March, Miller announced Canada would put a “soft cap” on the number of temporary resident arrivals, with targets to be set in September.

Mackinnon was also asked how the federal government plans to pay for these latest housing initiatives, while also facing a $40 billion deficit in the 2023-24 fiscal year. He would not say whether Canadians can expect new taxes, such as a wealth tax, to help generate revenue.

“I'm going to let the finance minister talk about her own budget,” MacKinnon said.

With files from CTV News’ Spencer Van Dyk and CTV News’ Mike Le Couteur 

Watch the full interview with Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon at the top of this article

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