Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he “could have” and “should have” moved faster on making affordable housing a priority for his government — an insight that comes as his government faces the worst polling it’s seen since coming to power.
As Parliament resumes for the fall sitting, Trudeau spoke to the CBC podcast Front Burner about his record so far on housing affordability — the political issue that could define the next election.
“I will say it hasn’t been enough,” he told host Jayme Poisson. “We should have, could have moved faster. Absolutely. There’s always more to do.”
The housing market crunch has been a persistent point of vulnerability for the Liberals over the summer. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has blamed Trudeau’s government for a range of problems facing Canadians post-pandemic, including ballooning rents and a shortage of housing.
WATCH: PM says government could have moved ‘faster’ on housing shortage
While Canada’s national housing agency says progress is being made on building enough housing to close the affordability gap, a recent report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says almost 3.5 million new units will have to be built by the end of the decade.
Trudeau said repeatedly in the interview that he believes Canadians would feel even more squeezed under a Conservative government.
“If we hadn’t got the federal government back into the business of housing, then everything would be much worse right now,” he said, alluding to the government’s National Housing Strategy.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, housing is terrible right now.’ And it is. Would it have been worse if we hadn’t lifted a million people out of poverty over the first few years in government? Would it have been worse if we hadn’t created a million jobs? Would it be worse if we didn’t move forward on $10-a-day child care?”
Trudeau said he’d love “to wave a federal magic wand” to get more homes and purpose-built rental units built in municipalities.
“That’s not the way this country works,” he said.
WATCH: Trudeau says government can ‘bend this curve’ on housing
Trudeau announced new measures last week aimed at countering rising housing prices — and at fending off claims that his government has been missing in action on the issue.
The measures include removing the GST from the construction of new rental apartments to spur new development.
The federal government is also requiring that municipalities repeal or amend exclusionary zoning policies in order to access the government’s Housing Accelerator Fund.
Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser has sent letters to municipalities — including one to the mayor of Calgary — threatening to withhold funds if they don’t tweak their zoning policies.
When asked why his government is making these moves eight years into its mandate, Trudeau said now is the time to push municipalities into action.
“Even in Calgary that finally did it, it was a very contested discussion at municipal in municipal council chambers,” he said. Calgary City Council voted Saturday to approve a new housing strategy that will introduce blanket rezoning of residential districts to allow for more housing types.
“Getting them to the right place has been a lot of work.”
The Conservatives also have pitched new housing measures. They say they intend to introduce legislation as soon as possible that also would eliminate the GST on some rental construction.
Poilievre’s proposed “Building Homes Not Bureaucracy Act” would also withhold federal funding from cities that don’t build more homes, and would impose a “NIMBY penalty” for egregious cases. NIMBY stands for “not in my backyard,” a term used to describe local residents opposing new developments in their neighbourhoods.
Speaking to Poisson, Trudeau seemed keen on fighting an election on his housing plan.
“The question that people will ask politically over the coming years is, which government or which potential government has the solutions to this really big problem? And that’s what people are going to look at, not what is the perfect way to do it,” he said.
“Who has the best plan? Who has the track record? Who has the ability to bend this curve?”
Poilievre is also eager to make the campaign about Trudeau’s record.
“After eight years of Justin Trudeau, everything costs more,” Poilievre said Sunday during a news conference.
“Work doesn’t pay, housing costs have doubled, rent has doubled, the needed mortgage payment and down payment for a home have doubled.”
His Conservatives are trampling the Liberals in most polls and are feeling re-energized after a September policy convention.
Trudeau dismissed questions about the polls, arguing his party was lower in the polls two months before winning a majority 2015 than it is now.
“First of all, how many of our young people are actually answering polls?” he said.
“People are angry and worried. Absolutely. But it’s not enough just to reflect back that real anger to them and get up in the polls. People want us to solve those challenges.”
Trudeau said that when he and Poilievre take each other on in the next election campaign, Canadians will be faced with two different visions of Canada’s future.
“I think one of the challenges with [previous Conservative leaders] Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole is that I don’t think people had a clear sense of what was at stake in terms of the kind of country we were building. They did a very good job of looking fairly harmless or inoffensive,” said Trudeau.
“I think Mr. Poilievre has been very, very clear that he sees a radically different future for the country than what we’ve been building around climate, around inclusive economic growth, around reconciliation, around evidence-based policy, around defending people’s fundamental rights.”
To listen to Jayme Poisson’s full interview Tuesday morning, follow CBC’s daily news podcast Front Burner wherever you get your podcasts.