Canadians could see a regime change in the next federal election if the current housing crisis holds tight, according to Chantal Hébert, political commentator, journalist, columnist and author, during the keynote session at the Canadian Investment Review’s 2023 Risk Management Conference.

While health care and inflation are major concerns for Canadians, the one issue that keeps coming to the forefront is affordable housing, she said, noting people of all stripes are feeling the squeeze from astronomically high mortgage rates. And as more Canadians are priced out of the home-buyers’ market due to rising interest rates, she said housing may well be the driving issue for voters at the ballot box in the next federal election.

Discussion around the lack of affordable housing used to revolve around the cost of living in Canada’s largest cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, but the affordability crisis has now seeped into the housing market in several smaller regions across the country, said Hébert. Indeed, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many people left the country’s big cities for areas farther out, but it’s becoming more difficult for employees to find affordable housing that makes it worth their while to commute to work.

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“Students who are . . . coming to smaller centres to study can’t find affordable housing. This is a crisis. . . . Migrants are going to shelters for homeless people because they cannot put a roof over their heads. People who are coming to this country as refugees are camping outside refugee offices.”

For years, key stakeholders have been ringing the bell about the housing crisis, including the lack of affordable units and the need for more public and institutional investments in this area. But the obvious solution, which is to build more units, isn’t likely to materialize any time soon, according to Hébert. “This is the kind of issue people will vote someone out over because it’s a fundamental issue.”

However, any government response is complicated, she added, noting no government — whether municipal, provincial or federal — can suddenly just build housing units on their own. They all need to work together to make progress in this area, which is a rare beast in this political climate.

“Justin Trudeau, like all prime ministers before him, is now facing, after three terms, a non-friendly provincial table. That’s what happens to prime ministers. . . . When [he] meets with the premiers, he’s got François Legault and Danielle Smith and [Doug] Ford waiting for him across the table. So cooperation is not easy to get.”

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In the end, housing is more of a provincial and municipal issue, but across the country, premiers are at a cross-purpose with many of the mayors of their major cities, she noted.

“So you are asking all of these players who actually don’t play well together to find a way to play really, really well together on an issue that requires it. That is going to be a major challenge . . . because all the other [leaders], . . . except for Justin Trudeau, are all sitting pretty. They’ve just been elected. If Canadians get really angry about housing, the person that will be standing there that they can take that anger [out] on is going to be Justin Trudeau.”

Read more coverage of the 2023 Risk Management Conference.