Politics

Poilievre vows to fire senior bureaucrats who preside over sluggish housing programs

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre tabled a bill Wednesday that would withhold federal cash from "high-cost" cities that fail to build more homes quickly.

Tory leader's housing bill would tie cities' approval of building permits to federal funding

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre tabled a bill Wednesday that would withhold federal cash from "high-cost" cities that fail to build more homes quickly.

The legislation also would compel the head of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to fire senior bureaucrats responsible for underperforming federal housing programs.

It would withhold some federal infrastructure and transit funding from any municipality that sits on a housing building permit application for more than six months.

Federal transit funds would also be placed in a trust until a city ensures "high-density residential housing" is built around federally funded transit stations. Once those apartments and condos are "substantially occupied," the bill says, Ottawa would release the cash.

Canada is facing an acute shortage of affordable places to live. Poilievre wants municipalities to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent each year and he's pitching penalties as the way to get it done.

While Poilievre has floated ideas like this in the past, his legislation brings his stump-speech rhetoric closer to reality.

The private member's bill has little chance of passing, given Liberal and NDP MPs control the Commons under the supply-and-confidence agreement. The Senate is dominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's appointees.

But the bill serves as a roadmap for a future Conservative government housing plan — if the party wins the next election.

"Now, more than ever, it's necessary," Poilievre said of his new legislation in a brief speech in the Commons.

"We have the fewest homes per capita of any country in the G7, even with the most land to build on."

"It is a simple mathematical formula for which no new forms, no new bureaucracy and no new delays are required. It is common sense for the common people," Poilievre said, citing proposed penalties for cities that fall below the 15 per cent building target and incentives for those that exceed it.

WATCH: Poilievre slams PM on housing, says Trudeau 'funds gatekeepers'

Poilievre slams PM on housing, says Trudeau ‘funds gatekeepers’

7 months ago
Duration 3:26
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's housing plans Thursday, saying the Liberal government's 'inflationary deficits' and 'taxes and bureaucracy' are holding back construction of new homes.

It shouldn't take "high-cost cities" longer than six months to give a housing project the green light, the text of the bill says.

Funding would be held back "in proportion to the severity of the failure" if a municipality doesn't meet the prescribed six-month standard, the bill says.

The bill defines a "high-cost" city as a municipality with a population of 200,000 or more where the benchmark home price is five times the median household income.

Cities that currently meet that standard include Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto, suburbs like Brampton, Markham, Mississauga, Richmond Hill and Vaughan, smaller Ontario centres like London and Kitchener and West Coast cities like Vancouver and Surrey, B.C.

Poilievre's plan would threaten to withhold from municipalities funding from the existing Canada Community-Building Fund (formerly the "gas tax fund") and the municipal GST rebate.

The World Bank ranks Canada 64th in the world in terms of the ease with which builders can get permits.

It concluded the timeline to secure a permit to build in Toronto is about 249 days — a lot higher than the OECD average of 152.3 days.

The bill also shows Poilievre is committed to punishing CMHC executives who preside over a slow-moving approvals process for the federal Crown corporation's various housing initiatives.

The CMHC administers the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, the rental construction financing program and the Federal Lands Initiative, among others.

Under Poilievre's bill, if the average time to approve or reject an application under these programs is more than 60 days over a six-month period, the salary of "every officer or employee employed by the Corporation at the executive level" would be reduced by 50 per cent.

The agency's executives would get their full pay when the average processing time hits 60 days and consistently stays at that level.

If the processing time is longer than 60 days for a full year, a Poilievre-led government would instruct CMHC's president to "terminate the employment of every officer or employee at the executive level," the bill says.

If Poilievre's target of building 15 per cent more homes every year isn't met, the bill also directs that no performance bonuses be paid to CMHC executives.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits the construction site of an affordable housing project in London, Ont. on Wednesday, September 13, 2023.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits the construction site for an affordable housing project in London, Ont. on September 13, 2023. (Nicole Osborne/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government has taken a more collaborative approach with the cities and it's leaned on the CMHC to get more homes built.

The government has pointed to the application-based Housing Accelerator Fund, which gives more money to eligible cities that cut red tape and get homes built quickly.

But the funds have been slow to roll out so far.

The fund only approved its first application last week — for the city of London, Ont.

The fund was first proposed in the 2022 budget about 18 months ago.

There's no talk of holding back cash from cities under the Liberal program. Instead, the optional funding is meant to induce communities to make changes.

In an interview with CBC News on Monday, Trudeau conceded the government could have "moved faster" on the housing file.

"I will say it hasn't been enough," Trudeau said in an interview with Front Burner. "We should have, could have moved faster. Absolutely. There's always more to do."

The CMHC has said the country must build 3.5 million new units by the end of the decade.

To meet that demand, the Liberal government recently announced it will drop the GST on new housing construction and speed up funding agreements under the Housing Accelerator Fund, the program Poilievre has attacked.

WATCH: Trudeau defends record on housing, affordability as he slumps in polls 

Trudeau defends record on housing, affordability as he slumps in polls

7 months ago
Duration 9:46
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to Jayme Poisson, host of CBC's Front Burner, about the frustrations with his government’s approach to tackling the housing crisis and rising grocery prices, as well as Pierre Poilievre’s growing appeal.

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser said the government has nothing to learn from Poilievre.

He said that when Poilievre was briefly the minister responsible for housing under former prime minister Stephen Harper, the government did "absolutely nothing."

Fraser said Poilievre touted a $300 million plan that he claimed would build 25,000 homes, but "fewer than 100 were built."

"We are not going to take lessons from the Conservatives, who failed miserably when it came to housing," he said.

"We have removed taxes on home construction, we're changing the way cities build homes. We're going to build Canada and we're going to advance the measures to make it happen."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

Your weekly guide to what you need to know about federal politics and the minority Liberal government. Get the latest news and sharp analysis delivered to your inbox every Sunday morning.

...

The next issue of Minority Report will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window

now