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Trudeau wraps retreat with message to millennials, no new housing plans

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up a multi-day meeting of his ministers with a message to young people: "We owe it to you to take action."

From housing affordability to climate change, Trudeau attempted to reach out directly to the demographic that's helped him win past elections, as his rival Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is trying to tap into millennials' concerns with a starkly different message about the challenges the country is facing.

"To young Canadians, I want to say something: You've had two crucial years of adulthood dramatically interrupted by COVID, and then you were hit by global inflation and increased interest rates. These events upended your educations, your first jobs, your early years of building a career and a network," said the prime minister in Charlottetown on Wednesday.

After highlighting what the government has done to try to address these strains so far, from offering ways to save up to buy a home to eliminating interest on student loans, Trudeau noted "there's lots more to do."   

"We owe it to you to take action, so you can fully benefit from the promise of Canada. So you can succeed and access all the opportunities the generations before you had. So that you can have both a healthy economy and a healthy environment in strong, vibrant communities long into the future. As a team, this is one of our top priorities," he said.

Trudeau's millennial reach-out comes after cabinet was to hear directly during the retreat from Paul Kershaw, the founder of Generation Squeeze a think-tank focused on advocating for young Canadians struggling to get ahead in the current economic climate.

This renewed messaging targeted at younger voters also follows recent polling by Abacus Data, which found the Liberals were trailing the Conservatives by 11 points among millennials (those born between 1980 and 1996), and among Gen Z voters (those born between 1997 and 2005) Trudeau's party is four points behind Poilievre's Conservative Party.

Speaking to CTV News at the cabinet retreat, Kershaw said Poilievre should be credited for "tapping into" the grief many young people are feeling, but cautioned that if his "doom and gloom momentum" gives rise to a disillusionment it could have a counterintuitive effect given millennials'' lasting electoral sway.

"If it gives rise to more cynicism, and has younger people opt out, and we need them to opt in with their parents and grandparents to change the system… so that we can make our policies ready for the moment… cynicism won't get us there," Kershaw said. 

A new analysis by RBC released Wednesday warns that millennials are "more indebted than ever."

"Canadians between the ages of 35 and 44 (who have debt) had a total debt-to-disposable income ratio of 250 per cent in 2019. That’s far heavier than the debt load that was carried by Canadians of the same age in 1999," reads the post. "Younger indebted millennials (under age 35) aren’t faring much better, with debt loads worth 165 per cent of their disposable income." 

HOUSING TOP PRIORITY BUT NO NEW ACTION

Backed by his recently-rejigged front bench of ministers, the prime minister said that heading into the fall, the rising cost of housing will be one of the minority Liberal government's "core" priorities, however he's wrapping up the three-day retreat without announcing any concrete actions on that front.

Trudeau said the retreat was productive, included hearing directly from Canadians who are struggling to buy a home or afford rising rents, as well as studying historical trends and StatCan census data, but offered no timelines or specifics on further efforts to tackle the housing crisis beyond building more homes.

"Everyone agrees that it's a complex issue that requires solutions that bring together all orders of government, the private sector, and the non-profit sector… Middle-class Canadians who want to build equity through homeownership feel increasingly like that dream is out of reach. And now, more and more renters in the housing market means rising demand is causing rent to rise for everyone," Trudeau said.

Zeroing in on Trudeau's handling of housing and how it's impacting young people in a press conference outside of the House of Commons, Poilievre panned the prime minister for coming away from cabinet without a plan, while comparing the current housing market to prison.

"The truth is… for young people and the working class the housing market after eight years of Justin Trudeau is a prison. It's a prison of walls for 350 square foot apartments that cost $2,000 A month. Or parents' basements where young adults of 35 years old live, never having a chance to start a family with their biological clocks running out," he said.

Poilievre spoke about how the "average mortgage payment in Canada has now risen to $3,500." Though, by the end of the availability upon questioning from reporters, he clarified that the figure he was citing was based on one housing analysts' assessment of newly purchased homes with a 20 per cent down payment.

He ended his availability calling for Trudeau to recall the House of Commons, which is on a summer break. 

"Open up the House so Canadians can get a home," he said. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called it a "complete failure of leadership" that Trudeau's cabinet walked away from the east coast waterfront confab without announcing any new housing policy plans.

"One of the most serious things that we're up against. How does that make any sense? We're faced with a housing crisis, and we've got Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who's busy blaming others saying it's not his responsibility. We've got Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who wants to blame cities. New Democrats want to build," Singh said.

Singh said while he's happy to talk housing "any day," he didn't specifically say whether he agrees with his opposition colleagues in calling for an early House recall. 

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS 'EASY VILLAN'

Trudeau said the government is being careful to not place blame on any one group such as foreign homebuyers, aggressive developers, or international students. Rather he is viewing the current crisis as one simmering for decades, exacerbated by a multitude of factors, and not solvable with one "silver bullet."

"I think it's really critical at this moment for the federal government to acknowledge the grief that a younger demographic is feeling about being locked out of housing as renters and as owners," Kershaw said.

 Still, there was much chatter at the cabinet retreat over the Liberals considering a cap on international students as one way to tamp down skyrocketing rent. 

"We only get through this by rolling up our sleeves and getting the work done… And the good news is, Canada has done this before. We have faced housing crises before in our history," Trudeau said, pointing to the post-WWII era when governments built entire neighborhoods.

Kershaw said that in order to "meet the moment," the federal government can't then just pick an "easy villain" like the current focus on international students.

Echoing this in an interview on CTV News Channel, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students and international student Maelis Barre called a potential cap “quite disappointing and shameful,” that if pursued would amount to a “band-aid solution” that doesn’t address the root issue of housing affordability.

“We know that the housing crisis is rooted in complex economic and policy factors that have evolved over the decades,” Barre said.

Asked his views on an international student cap, Poilievre accused current Housing Minister Sean Fraser, who until a few weeks ago was the immigration minister, of ruining the program.

“We as Conservatives, we'll make sure that international students have homes, health care, and when they want it: jobs, so that we can get back to a system that supports our universities, attracts the world's brightest people, helps the demographics of our country, but does not leave people living in squalor,” Poilievre said.  

CLIMATE POLICY 'MORE URGENT THAN EVER'

On the climate front, Trudeau called it a worsening "emergency" but similar to the housing issue, the cabinet retreat has not resulted in any announcement of new plans, seeing Trudeau make efforts to tout the existing carbon pricing and rebate program, and industrial green tech efforts.

Speaking about the extreme weather witnessed across the country this summer, from devastating wildfires, to dangerous air quality blanketing much of Canada as a result of the smoke.

"Climate policies are more urgent than ever. Canadians cannot afford leaders who want to roll them back," Trudeau said, in an apparent jab at Poilievre.

While Poilievre didn’t speak to, nor was he asked about the environment file on Wednesday, he has been running paid advertising on his fight against the carbon tax and recently had to postpone his tour of British Columbia and call off an "axe the tax" rally in Yukon due to the wildfires ravaging the region.

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