A Green Party motion to explore ways to cool P.E.I.'s hot housing market went down to defeat Wednesday, gaining no support from either Liberal or PC members in the P.E.I. legislature.
The motion called for the creation of an independent commission to study the issue and report back in twelve months.
It also called on parties to support a "Lands Protection Act-styled regulation" for housing in P.E.I. "to protect against the concentrated ownership of Island housing stock in the hands of a few, to protect against speculative activities that benefit private interests over the public interest and to improve access to homeownership."
P.E.I.'s Lands Protection Act places limits on how much land individuals and corporations can own in the province.
"Imagine for a moment if the Lands Protection Act did not exist here on Prince Edward Island? What do you think ownership of our land would look like?" Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker asked MLAs during debate on the motion.
According to the Canadian Real Estate Association's home price index, a tool to measure housing price trends across the country, housing prices on the Island increased 26 per cent in the 12 months leading to March 2022. Across the country the increase was 11 per cent.
Meanwhile the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said rental costs on P.E.I. rose eight per cent in 2021, the largest increase in a decade, and increasing shelter costs have for months made P.E.I.'s inflation rate the highest in the country, reaching 8.9 per cent for the month of March.
The province's apartment vacancy rate in 2021 fell to 1.5 per cent. In 2018, the rate bottomed out at 0.3 per cent.
On the same day the Green push for an independent housing commission went down to defeat, government made it clear that its new Residential Tenancy Act, the first draft of which was completed in 2019, won't be ready to be tabled in the legislature before the fall.
That bill is meant to modernize tenancy current legislation developed 30 years ago. Government says it will send the bill for further consultations as it tries to strike a balance between protecting the rights of tenants and landlords.
Declare housing a human right
The Greens have been pushing to have the legislation declare housing as a human right, and say government actions would increase commercialization of the housing market.
They say rising prices are pushing future generations of Islanders out of the housing market.
"Housing can't both be a commodity and a human right. They cannot exist together," said Green MLA Steven Howard during debate on the motion.
Some of the measures the Greens hoped a housing commission could explore include a vacancy tax on empty homes and a deposit requirement on home purchases that rises as a person buys more properties, a measure meant to reduce speculation.
"There are various choices that government could make if it so chose to regulate the market," Bevan-Baker said. "So far the government has decided just to let things be."
Housing Minister Brad Trivers voted against the motion and urged his colleagues to do the same.
Trivers said the language of the motion seemed to pre-suppose that speculation is in fact driving up housing prices in P.E.I. "They said that is what's happening, and then they said we want to study it, and I couldn't marry the two things together. They'd already made their conclusions in the motion, that's why I couldn't support it."
Debate on the motion got side-tracked as it was first introduced when Environment Minister Steven Myers accused Bevan-Baker of talking out of "both sides of his mouth" on the issue because he once owned a second home.
Bevan-Baker said the second property had been meant to be a retirement home, and was sold after his second election win in 2019 delayed the former dentist's retirement plans.
Myers' words were ruled unparliamentary and he retracted them.