The housing crisis could kill Canada’s competitive advantage


Of all the social and cultural experiments Canada embodies, its embrace of diversity is by far the most successful. Last week, the country’s population surpassed 40 million, with most of that growth coming from immigration. Indeed, last year Canada welcomed 431,645 new people to the country, with that figure expected to hit 500,000 by 2025.

The scale of this success story continues to grow. Nearly one in four Canadians is or has been a landed immigrant or permanent resident, the highest proportion since Confederation and the highest among G7 countries. If Canada’s immigrant population continues to grow at this pace, our population will double by 2050, surpassing that of Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

This is, for the most part, an unalloyed good. It helps inoculate us against the economic and social impacts of an aging population that every developed economy in the world faces. It helps address growing labour and talent shortages in our economy, from the health-care sector to skilled trades. And, of course, it enhances our cultural diversity, which remains one of Canada’s greatest competitive advantages.

The proof is in the economic data. “Canada is booming like it never has before,” Bloomberg News editor emeritus Matthew Winkler wrote. “Unprecedented population growth, record-low unemployment, the most diversified economy in its 156-year history and a world-beating stock market since 2021 are contributing to what nine out of 10 economists say will be the best performer among the Group of Seven developed countries by 2025.”

Unlike almost every other country on Earth, there’s been very little public or political resistance to this reality. Environics Research conducts an annual survey on the subject, and its data shows that nearly 70 per cent of respondents disagree with the statement “overall, there is too much immigration to Canada.” That’s the highest reading since the poll began in 1977.

But we shouldn’t rest on our considerable laurels here. Canada’s catastrophically unfair housing market, and the federal government’s lethargic reaction to it, could easily undo this progress. “We’re opening the door to the same kind of problems that we see in other countries,” said David Green, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics. “The hard right-wing is going to pick this up and run with it, and at least a modicum of what they’re going to say on the housing market strains is going to be true. That’s going to give credence to the rest of their narrative. This is a very dangerous game.”

In a Substack post of his own, Abacus Data CEO David Coletto seemed to agree. “If the ‘market’ (public opinion) shifts,” he wrote, “it will create an opportunity for market-oriented political parties to take advantage of it.” It’s unlikely that Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party of Canada would go there, given its need to win votes in immigrant-rich ridings in the Greater Toronto Area and other urban and suburban centres.

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But the People’s Party of Canada and Maxime Bernier will happily jump on it, given the fading relevance of the vaccine issue and their need to find a new political button to push. So, too, will the far-right media ecosystem, which has always flirted more openly with the sort of anti-immigration rhetoric more common in the United States and Europe.

The governing Liberals may be tempted to let this play out, given the negative repercussions that a resurgent PPC might have on the CPC’s electoral fortunes. But that would be missing the forest for the trees here — and risking a fire that burns them all to the ground.

Canada’s diversity is its biggest strength and greatest success story. How the housing crisis could put both at risk — and why the Trudeau government needs to get ahead of this issue before it’s too late. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

Instead, they should actively remove the kindling. Half-measures on housing are no longer even remotely sufficient given the scope of the problem, and the ongoing lack of urgency at the federal level is hard to miss — especially if you’re on the wrong end of the issue. Poilievre is wrong about a great many things, and his proposed solutions on this front are predictably one-dimensional. But he has tapped into a very real sense of anger and frustration that transcends traditional partisan boundaries and could easily be weaponized for more dangerous purposes than winning an election.

As such, getting on top of the housing issue, or at least getting out from under it, should be the Liberal government’s top priority. It should frame their efforts from now until the next election, whenever that might happen. And it should be done with the same sense of purpose that they brought to the management of COVID-19.

The diversity that underwrites Canada’s prosperity and serves as its greatest economic and cultural asset is perhaps its greatest legacy as a political party, one that has now permeated into the bedrock of our national identity. But the bedrock of democratic societies can be eroded far more quickly than we think possible, as millions of Americans have learned over the last few years. We’d do well to avoid that lesson ourselves.

Source: National Observer