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Chris Spoke: The federal government can and should tackle the housing crisis head-on

Commentary

Hub contributor and smart policy guy Ken Boessenkool has written a recent pieceLooking to fix housing? Run for mayor, not prime minister advocating for a hands-off approach to housing affordability by the federal government given that the issue might be best addressed by lower levels of government.

I hope that summary does his argument for subsidiarity justice. Make sure you read it for yourself, in case it doesn’t.

I’m going to take the other side of that argument.

I think the next Conservative prime minister should tackle this issue head-on, for two reasons.

First, it’s good politics.

Second, it’s good policy.

Let’s start with the politics.

In September of last year, in the midst of the 44th federal election campaign, Leger’s polling team published their results from a survey asking Canadian voters to rank a long list of election issues in terms of priority.Poll shows affordability on mind of Canadian voters — campaigns are listening

Number one on that list was cost of living. Number six on that list was housing affordability.

Numbers three and four, by the way, were pandemic related. If we were to drop them to reflect our new post-pandemic reality, cost of living and housing affordability would place squarely as two of the top four issues that Canadian voters care most about.

Federal Conservatives need to talk about that, and they need to pitch some solutions.

Yes, they can talk about monetary policy. Yes, they can talk about government-backed mortgage insurance.

But they need to also talk about the fundamental problem: housing in Canada is expensive because there’s not enough of it, and there’s not enough of it because NIMBY homeowners have captured municipal planning regimes and pushed for the introduction and enforcement of an ever-increasing list of regulatory supply constraints.

Our housing problem is a problem of enforced scarcity.It’s no wonder housing is so expensive. We don’t build anything

Canada’s politicians need to pitch solutions to that fundamental problem.

If they don’t, they’re not taking one-and-a-half (cost of living is mostly housing, but it’s more than housing) of the top four issues that voters care most about seriously, and they’ll lose.

Now, policy.

Ken opens his piece with a maxim: less government is preferable to more government.

I generally agree.

If the federal government were to issue block grants to municipalities that deregulated land use, would the outcome be less government or more government?

If the federal government were to require land-use deregulation as a condition of infrastructure funding, would the outcome be less government or more government?

Ten out of ten homebuilders would agree on the answer to both of those questions.

There is a categorical difference in the subsidiarity debate between a higher level of government pushing deregulation as opposed to new regulation that needs to be acknowledged.

Conservatives also care about Canadians having access to good jobs, good housing options within reasonable commuting distances of those jobs, and the time and money and space to get married, have kids, and raise families, if they so choose, in a country that is making progress in terms of productivity and economic growth. All while being good stewards of the planet.

And yes, we generally agree that market mechanisms and emergent order are more conducive to achieving those outcomes than state planning and intervention.

It’s hard to overstate how important it is to those outcomes that we make it easier—by reducing the scope and scale of state planning and intervention—to build more housing in our high productivity regions.

The housing affordability crisis could in theory be resolved by municipal governments. But it hasn’t.

It could in theory be resolved by provincial governments. And though I think we’ve seen some progress at this level and are about to see much more in the coming years, particularly in OntarioFive excellent recommendations from Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force report and B.C., it hasn’t.

The crisis persists.

I don’t think federal Conservatives (while remaining viable) could or should ignore it.

Malcolm Jolley: Loire Valley wines to watch for this spring

Commentary

It’s springtime for the winemakers of the Loire Valley.“The Loire Valley wine route is the longest in France. Wine tourism destination par excellence, it takes place over 800 km through the vineyards of the Loire Valley.” https://www.vinsvaldeloire.fr/fr/un-vaste-territoire The vines are well on their way and the risk of frost is receding as cool foggy mornings burn off into warm sunny days. The land is alive and the promise of another vintage of wine sits among the rows in the vineyards that surround the basin of France’s longest river.

It’s also springtime for the winemakers of the Loire Valley in the sense that a twenty-odd year push to modernize their wines and classify their particular sub-regions is very much coming to fruition. It’s a heady time in France’s “third wine region”,“Generally speaking, the French wine region’s map can be divided into northern vineyards that are reputed for white wines, and southern vineyards (with the exception of the Jura and Savoy) that are more renowned for their reds. The main wine areas of the French wine region map are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, Rhône, Provence and Corsica.” https://www.winepaths.com/articles/editorial/france/explore-wine-in-france-from-champagne-to-languedoc#:~:text=The%20main%20wine%20areas%20of,%2C%20Rh%C3%B4ne%2C%20Provence%20and%20Corsica.&text=Bordeaux%20on%20the%20Atlantic%20coast%20is%20among%20the%20most%20famous%20of%20wines. and I was lucky enough to see and taste some of that during the last week in April when I was a guest of Interloire, the Loire Valley’s inter-professional association which markets the wines.

The areas of focus for Interloire are the wine regions that surround the western end of the river, including running east near its mouth at the Atlantic in Brittany, Nantes, Angers, Saumur and Tours. The best-known wines of the Loire are, likely, Sauvignon Blancs, especially the famous appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, which lie several hundred kilometres to the east of this main area. While I tasted some Sauvignon Blanc from Anjou and Touraine, I was focused on the grapes that uniquely express the terroir of the Western Loire: Melon de Bourgogne, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Despite the moderating influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the effects of global warming, the western Loire regions are cool climate wine regions. At about 47 degrees of latitude, they are among France’s most northern viticulture sites. The wines, accordingly, tend to be fresh, often with a racy acidity. They are generally, in other words, food wines made to be drunk at the table. Indeed, outside of their natural habitat, the wines of the Loire might be most likely found in the bistros of Paris.

Here are some broad takeaways from my recent trip, organized by grape variety.

Melon de Bourgogne

Melon de Bourgogne is a white grape used to make Muscadet, the crisp and clean dry white wine. Unfortunately, Muscadet sounds a lot like “Muscat” the large aromatic grape that is most commonly used to make sweet wines and I have often wondered how many consumers are confused between the two very different styles. In any event, Muscadet from the Loire, including the Coteaux de la Loire designation, and the more commonly known Muscadet Serve et Maine, remains a discoverable bargain, far underpriced for its consistent value.

Textural depth and flavour complexity in Muscadet are arrived at by leaving it “on the lees”: look for the words “sur lie” on the label. The lees are the remains of the yeast that fermented the wine, and the vignerons of the Loire are masters of this technique, which retains freshness.“As the yeast cells start to break down during the process of autolysis, they release tiny amounts of sugars (called polysaccharides) and amino acids. The presence of these compounds is sensed on our tongues and palates as a textural weightiness or increased body in the wine. White and sparkling wines aged on the lees are often described as creamier, richer, fuller-bodied, or with greater depth and complexity of flavor.” https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/what-are-wine-lees-sur-lie-explained/ If there is a better wine to go with oysters, I have not had it. Anne Athimon, whose Muscadet from the Domaine des Génaudieres is left on the lees for two years, bears the name Champtoceaux on its label in reference to a nearby medieval village perched above the river. Champtoceaux is just one of a number of “villages” or “communes” Muscadets, part of an overall trend in the region to attach wines to the particular place they are from.

Chenin Blanc

The Loire is the spiritual homeland of the white Chenin Blanc grape, which has the dual talent of being able to express very clearly terroir or technique, or both. It is not unlike Chardonnay in this regard. It can be made into unctuous sweet wines, like Grand Cru Quarz de Chaumes, the best of which retain fresh and mouth-watering acidity. Or made bone dry, like sought after Savennières with its explosion of stone fruit.

Chenin from Savennières, made by only 30 producers, has the most famous labels, such as Nicolas Joly’s Coulee de Serrant, or his neighbour Tessa Laroche at the Domaine aux Moines, whose 2019 Roche aux Moines tastes like the Platonic ideal of a glass of white wine. Of course, it’s mostly priced accordingly, but the good news is that the success of Savennières has inspired Chenin growers across the western Loire who are pivoting from sweeter wines and are pushing the quality envelope for dry Chenin in the region.

A group of a few dozen producers have formed an unofficial appellation they call Anjou Blanc, drawing mostly from the area south of Angers, going down from the left bank of the Loire and east of one of its tributaries, the Layon. They’ve set up rules about making the wines: dry, aged for a minimum of a year, and so on. My press group met them at the thousand-year-old Château de Passavant, which is also a winery.

The new generation of Anjou Chenin seems intent on giving Savennières a run for its money, making rich and fancy whites, seasoned deftly (for the most part) with oak. Like the Muscadet producers, they are organizing themselves further into sub-regions, named for corresponding villages, including Ronceray and Montchanin. While retaining the characteristics of each village’s wine is daunting, the knowledge that the winemakers are making the effort to point out where their wine comes from and their ambition to reflect that taste of place is, in the best cases, a kind of quality assurance in itself.

Cabernet Franc

Red wine in the Loire almost always means Cabernet Franc, the red grape whose characteristic of ripening relatively early makes it ideal for cool climate viticulture. (Canadian winemakers have increasingly found success with it for this reason.) As average temperatures have grown in the last twenty years Loire Valley Cabernet Franc has consistently come to full ripeness, losing “green notes” in favour of red to black fruit ones: from cherries to raspberries or blackberries. There has never been a better time to drink Loire Cabernet Franc if you like a fresh, food-friendly, fruit-forward style.

The main Cabernet Franc growing regions in the Loire are Chinon, Bourgueil, St. Nicolas de Bourgueil and Saumur. Within Saumur is the specialized region of Saumur-Champigny, which is distinguished by its limestone soils. Around Angers, the geology of the Loire changes from the black schist rock of the Armoricaine Massif to the light, almost white, limestone soils of the Paris Basin. Saumur-Champigny is famous for its tuffeau stone, which was quarried from the middle ages on to build the churches and châteaux of the region.

The dug out caves of Saumur-Champigny are famous, like those of Champagne, and in fact are part of the same geologic formation. But it’s the effect of the soils on the Cabernet Franc grape that gives the region its distinction. While Cabernet Franc won on flinty schist soils that can have a slight pencil shaving finish, the Saumur-Champigny wines are clear in fruit and fresh in acidity. The eponymously named wines of Arnaud Lambert show this character, and so do those of Amélie Neau at Domaine de Nerleux, where they exhibit a certain purity.

Find out more about the wines of the Loire Valley at vinsdeloire.fr.