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Liberal grassroots choose affordable housing as top priority
Talking to federal Liberals at the national convention in Ottawa
I just got back from the national Liberal Party convention in Ottawa. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what the federal government is doing on the housing file, but I also have the sense that there’s some ambivalence among Liberals about whether there’s a huge problem with housing scarcity in general (and so we need a massive 10-year buildout of market housing, especially in Ontario and BC), or whether the issue is primarily the lack of affordable housing for lower-income households. To me it seems clear:
The recent launch of the Housing Accelerator Fund is a clear decision to push for more market housing (as well as directly funding non-market housing). If municipalities need more infrastructure funding to support infill housing, e.g. to upgrade water and sewer infrastructure in a neighbourhood that has a lot more townhouses or multiplexes, the Liberals are willing to provide it, with up to $20,000 per additional home. (This seems like a key difference from the Conservatives, who tend to focus on lower taxes and less spending.) But I think Liberal messaging has some catching-up to do.
The convention is primarily an opportunity to connect with Liberals from across the country - a huge amount of the communication that happens at a convention like this is informal, in hallways, after panel discussions, and at hospitality suites. Apparently there were something like 4000 people there. (I remember going to my first Liberal convention in 2018, in Halifax, and being astonished by the sheer number of people there. It’s not easy to hold together such a large and regionally divided country; the national parties, not just the Liberals but also the Conservatives and the NDP, are institutions that help to do so.)
I was able to meet a number of pro-housing Liberals from Toronto and Halifax at Nate Erskine-Smith’s crowded hospitality suite. (Erskine-Smith is running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal party, and he’s very pro-housing, saying that while Doug Ford is right to set ambitious goals for more housing in Ontario, Ford's actual plan is insufficient, prioritizing sprawl over infill.) And of course I talked about the need for more housing (both market and non-market) to all the MPs and staffers I could.
Grassroots policy ideas
Besides the informal conversations, there’s a more formal policy process, a way for grassroots Liberals to propose and vote on non-binding policy resolutions. The NDP and Conservatives have similar processes, and it sounds like they take them quite seriously. For the Liberals, these are more like suggestions, to be considered by the leadership team when putting together the platform for the next election.
The resolution headlines are useful as a way of getting a sense of what's popular with the base, although the content of the resolutions themselves would typically not be great policy. (After all, the people writing the resolutions, debating them in policy workshops, and voting on them are not policy experts, we're just laypeople.)
On the last day of the convention, we voted on which policies we wanted to see at the top. This time, the headline for the top resolution was "Affordable Housing." Even if the specific ideas in the resolution itself may not be that useful (it talks about switching funding from market rental housing to non-market housing?!), I’m glad that the sponsors put in the work to draft it, and that people voted it to the top.
(Some other top priorities: defense spending, #3; health care, #4. High-speed rail for the densely populated Windsor - Quebec City corridor made it to #2. Surprisingly, climate was at #6, after a resolution on four weeks of paid vacation.)
A mock Parliamentary debate on housing - the Liberal approach to housing affordability, before and after Covid
The housing debate within the federal Liberal party - we need both market and non-market housing.
What Liberals need to know about housing, as a Twitter thread
The Conservative approach: more punitive (emphasizes sticks rather than carrots to motivate municipalities), doesn’t mention that the Ontario Conservatives already have the power to override municipalities.
The NDP approach: Daniel Blaikie argues that the housing crisis is driven by cuts to non-market housing back in the 1990s. (The 2017 National Housing Strategy allocated $15 billion for non-market housing, but there’s a big hole to fill.) Mike Moffatt says that it’s a good speech, but: “The rough history it's telling is that housing was relatively affordable in Canada until 1993, when social housing programs were cut, then we had a steady-30 year decrease in affordability. That’s, frankly, nonsense.”