Erin O’Toole on housing

I stayed up until about 2:00AM last night waiting to see the results of the Conservative Party of Canada’s (CPC) leadership election. Erin O’Toole won. He then gave a great speech.

He was my preferred candidate, due in some part to having two very good friends on his campaign team. But also because he seemed to me to be the most compelling of the four candidates running.

My thing, as you know, is housing. And infrastructure. This is what Erin’s campaign platform had to say about the former.

“Housing prices in Canada have skyrocketed in recent years. While much of this is due to provincial and municipal policies that make it too hard and too expensive to build more housing, the federal government has a role to play.

The federal government can make it easier to build rental housing. Since the 1970s, we have not been building enough housing — particularly rental housing — to keep up with our growing population. One of the key reasons is that Pierre Trudeau changed tax rules in a way that discouraged the development of rental apartment housing and encouraged condo development.

An O’Toole government will fix this, by allowing owners of rental housing to defer the capital gain when selling if the money is re-invested in rental housing.”

I like that he acknowledges that this is a supply issue, that “we have not been building enough housing”. This is already better than many politicians who think that housing can be made affordable by simply declaring that it be affordable (i.e., rent control).

I also like that he acknowledges the role played by provincial and municipal policies in constraining the supply of housing. He doesn’t reference land use rules specifically, but that’s obviously a big part of what he’s talking about.

I think that this sort of rhetoric helps shift the debate at all levels of government, on an issue that is very much top of mind for many (most?) Canadians.

I also like the proposal to allow for deferral of capital gains taxes provided gains are re-invested in rental housing. I don’t like capital gains taxes at all and think that this will lead to more rental housing, so: good on both fronts.

All of that said, I would have liked to see a more robust proposal addressing the “provincial and municipal policies” he references more directly. Land use rules do fall within provincial and municipal jurisdiction but there’s still a lot that the federal government can do.

For example, it can require that any municipality receiving transit funding materially upzone land along transit corridors. Or something like that. Basically, strings attached to federal money.

We’ll see if this becomes a more prominent issue in the general election, where the electorate is much more urban than it is in a CPC leadership election.