Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest says he'll address Canada's housing affordability crisis by boosting the supply of new homes — essentially the same pitch being offered by his main leadership rival and the Liberal government itself.
That strategy is outlined in Charest's housing plan, being released today under the title "Building the Canadian Dream."
The plan's stated goal is to "help all Canadians achieve home ownership" by reversing a years-long trend of price gains that have made it hard or impossible for many Canadians to afford a home.
The former Quebec premier said Ottawa can help resolve that crisis by giving better support to the municipal and provincial governments that hold jurisdiction over things like zoning, development approvals and the construction of affordable housing.
"The federal government, on an issue like housing, should be in a supportive role," Charest said in an interview with CBC News.
"We need to recognize that it is municipalities and provinces who are on the front lines."
The topic of housing affordability is primed to play a central role in the Conservative leadership contest that will run for most of the summer.
Pierre Poilievre, arguably Charest's main competitor in the race, almost immediately pushed the topic of housing affordability to the forefront of his leadership campaign.
The Liberal government also has identified housing as a key issue.
The government's 2022 budget commits just over $10 billion to new programs and policy changes meant to make housing more affordable — about a third of all new spending announced in the budget.
'The main issue is inventory,' Charest says
While Charest, his fellow Conservative leadership rivals and the federal government are jockeying for advantage on the housing issue, they've all identified the same problem: a lack of new supply to keep up with Canada's population.
"The main issue is inventory," Charest said.
Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen also has singled out a lack of supply as the primary factor driving up prices, although some experts say that argument oversimplifies a very complex economic issue.
Charest's plan cites a goal of "massively increasing housing supply" through various initiatives, such as funnelling more affordable housing grants to municipalities that speed up their approval processes and tying infrastructure funding to projects that create density along public transit corridors.
Charest also would create a new immigration pathway for skilled construction workers. A shortage of capable workers has been identified by economists as a major hurdle in the way of any plan to massively increase new construction.
Charest's proposals comprise a strategy that is in many ways similar to the Liberal government's approach — particularly its proposed Housing Accelerator Fund. That program also intends to boost supply by rewarding municipalities that show an ability to speed up the housing construction process. Exactly how that program will work has not been announced.
Conservative rivals outline similar approaches
Poilievre has outlined a more punitive strategy to speed up new development. He has said that a government led by him would "fire gatekeepers" and unclog bureaucratic processes he blames for Canada's shortage of new housing.
He said "severely unaffordable cities" like Toronto and Vancouver would have to increase home building by 15 per cent to continue receiving federal funding under a Poilievre government.
Scott Aitchison is the only other Conservative leadership candidate to date to release a detailed housing plan. It also focuses on a push for more supply.
Aitchison's strategy would see Ottawa "tie funding to results" and push municipalities to end exclusionary zoning practices which forbid the construction of certain types of homes.
Patrick Brown has so far promised to "bring the fight for affordable housing" to Ottawa while pointing to his housing record as mayor of Brampton since 2018.
The Charest plan does not say how many new houses Canada should build to address the affordability crisis.
Based on an analysis by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Liberal government argues that Canada needs to build another 3.5 million homes over the next 10 years.