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Trudeau takes aim at housing affordability with help for first-time buyers in Greater Victoria

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made a Victoria-specific campaign pledge to increase help to first-time homebuyers on Thursday, the second day of the federal election campaign.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a campaign stop in Saanich on Thursday, Sept.12, 2019.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made a Victoria-specific campaign pledge to increase help to first-time homebuyers on Thursday, the second day of the federal election campaign.

Trudeau pledged to increase the maximum qualifying house price for the First-Time Home Buyer’s Incentive to $789,000 from $505,000 in Greater Victoria, Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto in November 2019. The program provides Canadians with up to 10 per cent off the purchase price of their new home.

“One thing I hear a lot from young people here in Victoria is that they can’t even imagine buying a home right now,” Trudeau said, speaking at a townhouse construction site in Royal Oak.

“Owning a house should be a realistic life goal,” said Trudeau. “But young people hoping to buy their first home, just like their parents did a generation ago, are facing a tough housing market.”

Housing prices in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto are “so significantly higher” — up to 60 per cent higher than the national average — “that there needs to be extra help,” said Trudeau. The increase is expected to benefit 120,000 Canadians. The 36 townhouses used as a backdrop for the Liberal leader’s campaign speech are each being listed for $699,000.

“We took at big step in the right direction, but we know a lot of people are still struggling, especially in places like Victoria or Vancouver where the cost of housing has skyrocketed due in part to speculation by foreign owners,” Trudeau said.

He also promised a national approach to address speculation by foreign buyers, which he said is pricing first-time buyers out of the market.

If elected, he said, the Liberals will introduce a “modest one per cent annual tax on residential properties owned by people who are not Canadian and do not live in Canada” on top of local taxes already in place.

The tax, to be administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, is modelled on B.C.’s speculation and vacancy tax. It would not affect Canadians who live abroad or non-Canadians who live in Canada.

“We have seen from British Columbia’s example that even a modest tax can have a significant impact on foreign speculation in housing markets,” said Trudeau. However, B.C.’s tax has also sent capital to other parts of the country where there’s no speculation tax.

“That’s is why we feel it is important to create a national measure right across the country based on B.C.’s success with it to ensure foreign speculation doesn’t make housing less affordable for Canadians, who we know are looking for places to live,” said Trudeau.

Victoria NDP candidate Laurel Collins, who opened her campaign office on Thursday, said urgent action is needed for housing and that’s why the NDP has a plan “to build affordable places to live in every community across the country.”

“An NDP government will create 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing in the next 10 years, replacing Trudeau’s empty talk with concrete action,” said Collins, in an email statement.

Political scientist Michael Prince said it’s “intriguing” if not a bit of a “head scratcher” why Trudeau, while he’s known to love B.C., would spend his second day on Vancouver Island.

The Island has traditionally produced NDP, Conservative and more recently Green MPs — with the exception of longtime Liberal cabinet minister David Anderson and Keith Martin whose personal popularity transcended party politics, said Prince.

“It’s a bit puzzling,” said Prince. It would be even more puzzling if Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer doesn’t spend time here given the Conservatives have elected MPs on the Island, said Prince. With all that said, the pre-campaign race on the Island was shaping up to be the Greens and NDP going after one another, he said.

Prince said the Liberals must have done private party polling that suggests they “have a shot” in Victoria with former NDP MP Murray Rankin having stepped down and the Liberal’s having a candidate who looks good on paper. Victoria Liberal candidate Nikki Macdonald, former executive director of government relations at the University of Victoria, worked for Jean Chrétien and her father was a finance minister in Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s cabinet.

Vancouver Island Liberal candidates at Trudeau’s event praised the party’s new pledges and the leader’s visit to the Island.

Jamie Hammond, Liberal candidate for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, said raising the threshold for the housing program to almost $800,000 from $500,000 is “really important” given housing affordability is a key issue for residents. “It’s critical to young families,” Hammond said.

In 2015, the Liberals won 17 of B.C.’s 42 seats.

The Liberal leader’s visit is a recognition of the opportunities for the Liberal Party to “make some huge gains here on the Island,” said Hammond.

Trudeau often refers to B.C. as his “second home” given his grandparents and mother lived in Vancouver and he has family on Vancouver Island. He also worked as a teacher in B.C.

In 2015 the campaign, Trudeau started in the West.

“Again in 2019 he’s starting out in the West and it really shows the deep commitment the prime minister has for British Columbia,” Macdonald said. The symbolism is significant: “He’s showing us that he really feels we have a good chance to win here.”

After Victoria, Trudeau flew to Kamloops, Edmonton and Trois Rivieres. He did not attend the first leaders’ debate in Toronto, which featured Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May.

“I’m really happy to be here on Vancouver Island this morning to meet with families like Lisa and Grey and others and talk about what we’re doing to make life more affordable for Canadians,” said Trudeau.

Trudeau was referring to single mother Lisa Welch, a hairdresser, and her three-year-old daughter Grey Welch, who were in the background.

Trudeau said by providing monthly tax-free dollars via the new child benefit plan — 900,000 Canadians, including 300,000 children, have been lifted out of poverty.

“We’ve done a lot these past four years but the truth is we’re just getting started,” said Trudeau. “Canadians have an important choice to make. Will we go back to the failed policies of the past or will we continue to move forward. That’s the choice. It’s that clear. And it’s that important. I’m for moving forward for everyone, particularly them,” he said, pointing to young toddlers playing in the background.