David Staples: Poilievre makes winning pitch to young Canadians: Own your own home

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Pierre Poilievre delivered a winning pitch to young Canadians on Monday: It’s time that government got out of the way of you owning your own home.

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Poilievre, the frontrunner in the race to be new leader of the federal Conservatives, threw down his gloves and started to throw punches at one ugly opponent: bloated, inflated and ever growing housing prices.

You know your message has hit home when folks across the political spectrum react strongly, with even your critics reluctantly praising your point of view. An example of such grudging praise came from progressive urban planner Brent Toderian of Vancouver, who worried about Poilievre taking the lead on the housing file: “It’s not a good thing if a pretty awful federal leadership candidate like Poilievre is allowed to seize the issue of housing supply and home prices…”

Every candidate should make building more homes a priority, Toderian quite rightly noted.

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But it’s Poilievre who did so.

As young conservative commentator Ben Woodfinden put it: “Housing is the crisis of my generation and I’ve decided to endorse Pierre Poilievre because he’s the only federal politician taking this issue seriously.”

If Poilievre is going to actually succeed making homes more affordable for young Canadians, he’ll need to back up these opening blows with a game plan of sound and proven policy. On that count, he can borrow from the excellent blueprint for affordable housing already in place here in Edmonton. He can use it as an example for reluctant housing-unfriendly city councils.

So far Poilievre has released only the base bare bones of his policy, but he did so in one war hammer of a tweet: “Big city gatekeepers — like Vancouver City Hall — are destroying the home ownership dreams of working class youth. Enough. If they want more federal money, these big city politicians will need to approve more home building.”

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in to facebook-video, Poilievre said his government would require municipal governments to speed up permitting and reduce governmental costs for zoning and planning. “Remove the gatekeepers. Stop blocking the poor, the working class and our immigrants from the privilege of owning a home here in this country.”

Other Canadian politicians have decried how much homes cost, including Finance Minister Chyrstia Freeland, who just now said Canada’s housing prices represent an “intergenerational injustice.” Freeland’s problem is her party de ella has been in power for seven years now and prices shot up 20 per cent last year alone. As Poilievre pointed out, since Trudeau came to power in 2015 the typical Canadian home has doubled in cost from $464,000 to $868,000.

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In Edmonton, the average price for a single detached home in early 2022 was about $450,000, up from about $400,000 in 2015.

Edmonton’s lower prices have to do in part to our sluggish local economy, which only now is picking up momentum, but we shouldn’t underestimate the work done by Edmonton city council to free up private developers and home owners.

The positive change started with Stephen Mandel’s council closing of downtown airport in 2013, which allowed for far taller skyscrapers to be built in downtown Edmonton and kicked off a trend in permitting and building mixed use commercial/residential towers.

After Mandel, ex-major Don Iveson and former councillor Michael Walters led even more aggressive change. Iveson and Walters are far from being right wingers, but there was a free enterprise tinge to their reforms in that they greatly empowered property owners to make the most of their land by cutting away massive amounts of red tape and regulation.

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They started off by getting regional agreement on higher density quotas for new suburbs in and around Edmonton, moving 15 to 25 housing units per hectare to 45 in Edmonton suburbs and 35 to 40 in satellite communities.

The progressive Iveson council also changed zoning bylaws to allow for lot splitting on all lots 50 feet across or more, allowing for skinny homes and duplexes. City council also allowed for laneway and garden suites on suitably deep lots, as well as a plethora of high-density options along major transit routes. Parking requirements for high-density buildings were also cut.

It all adds up to more houses, more supply, which is what Poilievre now calls for.

If elected, Poilievre could push across Canada this Edmonton blueprint if he’s indeed serious about using the one big lever the federal government has with municipal governments, which is federal funding programs for cities.

Such a move would amount to a bipartisan, progressive and conservative solution, a great Canadian commitment in order to enable a new generation to get a big piece of our national dream, their very own home.

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