The major political parties haven’t adequately addressed Canada’s affordability problems in the federal election campaign, and voters should demand that politicians tackle issues such as the rising cost of living, housing shortages, and declining economic growth, experts say.
According to a poll by Maru Public Opinion published Aug. 19, the top issue for Canadians (28 percent) going into the election is for government “to make the cost of living and affordability better for themselves and/or their family.”
Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy and a former Liberal MP, notes however that none of the major parties have addressed affordability issues but rather have “skillfully avoided it.”
“Everyone tends to have wonderful, creative ideas how to spend money, but very few people are taking the responsible position of recognizing that the cost of living has gone up dramatically. No one seems to see the results of our supply chains being under significant pressure,” McTeague told The Epoch Times.
Ian Lee, an associate professor of management at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, says the major parties haven’t been addressing the issue of generating economic growth to pay for rising costs.
“My criticism of this campaign is that all the talk, all the focus, has been the redistribution of money and the unstated assumption that the money is going to come in all by itself, that the economy is going to grow by itself,” Lee said in an interview.
“If we’re going to talk about spending and redistributing money, then we have to talk about growing the economy to generate money. … We should be demanding of our leaders, each [party] leader: What are you proposing to create growth and jobs in the Canadian economy going forward.”
McTeague says that as a result of years of government focusing on “one or two issues driven by political elites,” costs in the areas of food, energy, heating, and housing have all risen.
He says even the Conservative Party, which traditionally places importance on fiscal prudence, is endorsing energy policies that could lead to a further increase in costs.
“The Conservative Party has not recognized that these green policies are a mirror image of what we saw here in Ontario with green energy, which has driven up the cost of electricity threefold and crippled the finances of the province,” he said.
An Angus Reid survey released in June found that Canadians are experiencing rising costs in their day-to-day lives due to inflation. Respondents said that over the past six months it has become more expensive for them to improve their home through renovations (96 percent), potentially purchase a new home (95 percent), fill up their tank with gas (93 percent), buy groceries for their household (92 percent), and pay rent (56 percent).
McTeague points out that carbon taxes have driven up transportation fuel prices, which has had an impact not only at the gas pump but also a trickle-down effect on the cost of food as well as goods and services. What’s more, fuel prices will continue to escalate as incremental carbon tax prices are enacted and the federal government’s new clean fuel standard comes into effect, he says.
“A storm is coming, and it’s going to hurt [people],” he said.
National Housing Shortage
Lee says one of the most concerning affordability problems facing Canadians, especially the younger generation, is the shortage of housing units, which is driving up housing costs.
A Scotiabank study released in May found that the number of housing units in Canada falls far short of other G7 countries, whose average number of housing units per 1,000 residents is 471. To achieve this level of housing supply, Canada would need to build an additional 1.8 million homes, the study said.
Lee says a major reason behind the housing shortage is that “in municipalities and the big cities across Canada … the municipal councillors and mayors have been passing different bylaws and rules that restrict the building of new suburbs and new homes” out of concern that urban sprawl would harm the environment.
Urban sprawl—the rapid expansion of cities and towns to accommodate the rising population—is “the negative pejorative term for growth,” he said, and to avoid that, municipal governments are reluctant to build more housing, leading to a shortage of homes which in turn drives up prices.
“I believe there is an increasing recognition by ordinary Canadians that the principal problem of the housing crisis … is a lack of homes being built,” he said.
The Liberals and Conservatives have both promised to build a million or more new houses if elected, but they have not adequately worked to solve the root cause of the housing shortage, Lee said, which is to force municipalities to build more homes.
“The Government of Canada provides significant fiscal support to municipalities across Canada—they can use that support and make it conditional, make the fiscal support for municipalities such as mass transit, and make it conditional on building more houses,” he said.
“Likewise, provincial governments can use leverage over these municipalities that are deliberately trying to restrict the supply of housing.”
Another troubling issue is the lack of a “positive climate” for foreign investors, Lee said, which has led to a decline in business capital investment in Canada—something that’s needed to generate economic growth.
“That’s not helpful for Canada,” he said. “We’ve got to develop a climate that encourages countries to invest in Canada, not discourages companies on investing.”
Issues such as red tape and a “hostile ideology” targeting certain sectors such as the fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries are also causing foreign investors and companies to leave Canada, Lee said.