Vaughn Palmer: B.C. wants federal housing dollars tied to immigration patterns

Good to see the discussion happening at the political level and that Don Wright’s assessment getting attention (

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy expressed disappointment this week that the federal budget did not respond to B.C.’s calls for more funding for housing.

“There doesn’t seem to be funding for the housing that we have been asking for,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Ottawa did allocate new money to an Indigenous housing plan, valued at $4 billion.

Conroy was “really happy to see more funding for that,” though she noted B.C. already funds Indigenous housing.

Based on what she didn’t see in the budget, it appeared to her that B.C. would be left on its own to fund other types of social housing as well as develop housing for middle income levels.

“We need to be in a partnership with the federal government, municipal governments and our provincial government to ensure that we have enough housing for people,” said Conroy.

However, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland had a ready explanation for the apparent shortfall when she visited B.C. on Thursday.

There was no new money for the housing crisis in this year’s budget, because Ottawa is still rolling out the $10 billion commitment in last year’s budget.

“This was a multi-year plan,” Freeland told a news conference in Surrey. “You don’t deploy $10 billion in one month or in one year.”

The plan includes the $4 billion “housing accelerator program” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched in mid-March.

The goal is to accelerate construction of 100,000 homes over 10 years.

To tap the fund, municipalities must submit plans for fast-tracking housing units, with an emphasis on affordability.

“Tell us what your plan is to get more homes built,” said Freeland. “Tell us how some of that money can help you build those homes, and we will write a cheque. And $4 billion will mean we can write a lot of cheques.”

Premier David Eby, who shared the platform with Freeland, took a more conciliatory tone than his finance minister had done earlier in the week.

“There are very significant parcels of federal housing funding from the last budget that have yet to be deployed in a significant way in British Columbia,” he acknowledged. “B.C. needs to see our fair share of that funding. We have partnered with the federal government on many projects and many more to come.”

By way of a hint, the premier added: “If they have surplus from other provinces that is unspent, bring it to British Columbia, because we’re going to put it to work right here. We’re an excellent partner for that.”

On the fairness question, Eby was referring to his government’s argument that B.C. is entitled to a disproportionate share of housing funding because the province receives a disproportionate share of immigrants to Canada.

B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon made the case at the beginning of the year, and he’s reinforced it at every opportunity since.

“I’ve spoken to the federal ministers multiple times, urging them to consider tying their immigration numbers to both housing starts and affordable housing,” he said recently.

“We know it is going to be critical to build that stock for the amount of people that are coming, not only the new immigrants but also the temporary residents that are being approved to come to Canada.”

Kahlon’s concern was reinforced this week in an opinion piece from Don Wright, who headed the provincial public service in the first term of the John Horgan NDP government.

“B.C.’s success in addressing the public’s concerns here will be largely hostage to the federal government’s immigration policy,” Wright wrote in an article Monday in the online Orca publication that asked, “Will Trudeau make it impossible for Eby to succeed?”

His point was that the federal government’s ambitious immigration targets will add to existing pressures on the supply of doctors and housing, two challenges Eby is pledged to address.

Wright challenged the conventional wisdom that housing affordability is best addressed by the supply side of the housing equation.

“Demand matters too,” he wrote. “And as quickly as we have built new homes, the population in our major urban centres rises as well.”

“The federal government’s prescription for this? Ramp up immigration numbers!” said Wight.

“A story is spun that this will actually increase housing supply because we are going to bring in more trades workers to build the houses we need,” notes Wright, before knocking down the “heroic assumptions” in that statement.

“It is not going to work,” he wrote. “Of the 160,000 new British Columbians last year, more than 95% settled in the Lower Mainland, Southern Vancouver Island, and the Okanagan — where affordable housing was already acutely unavailable.”

Net result, concludes Wright: “Premier Eby is going to have even more difficulty in delivering more affordable housing.”

Wright did not conclude his piece with a call for Ottawa to slam the brakes on immigration.

In less judicious hands, it might come to that. But the New Democrats don’t want it to come to that.

Hence their argument that B.C. should get a greater share of federal housing dollars in recognition that the province also welcomes a greater share of Canada’s newcomers.

Source: Vaughn Palmer: B.C. wants federal housing dollars tied to immigration patterns

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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