I thought I’d share with you something that raised a few eyebrows in the real estate industry this week.
A very interesting Urban Development Institute panel event was held at the Hyatt in downtown Vancouver yesterday, entitled “Politics, Pundits and Predictions on the Provincial Election.” Three of our province’s leading political reporters: Keith Baldrey of Global News, Mike Smyth of The Province and CKNW and Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer took to the stage in front of hundreds of members of the real estate and development industry to share their insights on the upcoming provincial election and in particular how they see the issue of housing being tackled by the two key parties.
Now, we all know that Christy Clark’s incumbent government has already made two (and a half) significant moves to influence the housing market in recent months, despite previously declining to intervene. To recap, those moves were the August introduction of the 15 per cent foreign buyer tax and the December launch of a five-year interest-free down payment loan program for first time buyers. I say two “and a half,” because I consider the half to be the recent amendment to the foreign buyer tax to exempt foreign BC residents with work visas. In addition, the province has injected a record $500 million in affordable rental and low-income housing units, announced last fall.
With these recent policy changes in mind, and housing affordability being regularly touted as a key concern of British Columbians, many of us at the UDI event expected our political panellists to predict one or two more vote-grabbing moves under the housing file, ahead of May’s polls.
However, two of the panellists, Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey, seasoned and insightful journalists, both asserted their belief that the BC Liberals will “gamble” that their housing market interventions to date have been enough to cool the issue. And all three speakers expected the focus of the incumbent party’s campaigning to be more on the economy and taxation, predicting either sales or income tax cuts in next week’s provincial Budget announcement.
Vaughn Palmer told the UDI audience, “Read the throne speech. [Housing] is a non-issue – well, according to the government. After all their nasty talk about making local government increase density around transit lines, what did they say in the throne speech this week? ‘We’re going to work with municipalities to encourage them to increase housing density.’”
Keith Baldrey added, “I think the issue of housing is partially diffused. Certainly it’s not the red-hot issue that it was a few months ago. I think the Liberals have made all the changes they are going to, pre-election… I think they’re gambling that it has been diffused to the point where they don’t think the voters are going to say ‘well the NDP has much better policies [on housing].’ Basically the Liberals stole some NDP policies on housing anyways.”
Baldrey added, “[The Liberals] don’t care about people in Vancouver, in Mount Pleasant. They relentlessly pursue the ridings in which they know they can win.”
An interesting point – and perhaps the commentators are right about the Liberals basking in some complacency over the housing file, following their recent big moves. But the NDP certainly does care about keeping its seats in Vancouver and Burnaby’s urban ridings – so even if the Liberals rest on their housing laurels, that doesn’t mean that the NDP will allow the issue to be sidelined in its upcoming campaign. Leader John Horgan has already highlighted cost of living as one of his key platforms, and NDP MLS for West Point Grey, David Eby – arguably more prominent and certainly more media-savvy than Horgan – seems to be all housing, all the time.
The BC Budget next week will be telling – and then we’ll soon be full swing into the election campaign. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a fascinating spring.