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‘It’s good sometimes to reach across the aisle’: Meet the Liberal YIMBY group that will meet with anyone ready to build

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Who can work a room full of federal Liberal cabinet ministers and then be arm-in-arm with Pierre Poilievre the next day? The Toronto New Liberals apparently, and they are happy to meet with almost anyone who shares their YIMBYYes-In-My-Backyard values when it comes to housing. 

On March 4, the group caused a minor stir on Twitter after two of its members posted a photo of themselves smiling with the Conservative leader, just 15 hours after posting photos of their attendance at the Ontario Liberal AGM in Hamilton. 

Since beginning his ultimately successful campaign to become Conservative leader last year, Poilievre has called for densifying housing in Canada. He has promised to require municipalities to build more housing to bring prices closer to affordable levels at the risk of losing federal infrastructure funding for non-compliance. 

As members of the OLP, the loyalty of the TNL members to the party was questioned by some partisan Twitter users after the group posted a photo of their run-in with the Conservative leader. The TNL is an officially non-partisan group despite sharing a similar name to the OLP and the federal Liberals, and comprises the Toronto chapter of the Center for New Liberalism

“I personally might not have a lot of things to share with Pierre. But I think it’s good sometimes to reach across the aisle…especially on issues that we can agree on,” says Alex Sonichev, a member of the TNL. “My friends thought it was a good idea to chat with Pierre because his housing policy is not that bad.”

The meeting itself was unplanned. Poilievre held an event in Hamilton on the same weekend as the OLP AGM, and the TNL happened to run into him at a local cafe. 

The Center for New Liberalism is a self-described public policy organization “dedicated to forging a new path for liberalism in the age of populism.” With an international focus, the Toronto chapter is one of many across North America. 

The Center’s principles include a firm belief in a market economy, albeit with a strong social safety net, and promoting expanded commuter transit alongside deregulated housing policy and relaxed land-use restrictions. With an already strained housing supply, punishingly high rental costs, and a government intent on bringing in 500,000 new immigrants per year by 2025, housing is the main focus of the TNL. 

“I would say housing is the most important issue, at least for as long as I’ve been with this group,” says Saeid Hashemi, another member of the group. “It’s been the thing that we’ve tried to bring into the real world more than the other issues in practice.” 

At the AGM on the same weekend the TNL ran into Poilievre, the group handed out buttons with labels such as “Liberal YIMBY Caucus” which were accepted by likely OLP leadership candidates Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Ted Hsu.

Both Hsu and Erskine-Smith are advocates for significantly increasing the housing supply. In the past, the TNL have also praised Conservative MP Scott Aitchison, another vocal advocate for increasing the housing supply to reduce unaffordability.

“At the end of the day, many people of all backgrounds want more housing to be built, and we’re happy to work with them,” says TNL member Shea Cardozo.

Hashemi says that it is important when dealing with Canada’s housing crisis to push for policies that increase housing supply rather than reduce housing demand.

“Supply and demand is a real thing, which is surprisingly controversial, even though it’s a fundamental starting point in the logic of housing policy,” says Hashemi. “Demand is healthy, that’s a sign of our economy doing well and other folks are doing well, so supply should be going up.” 

To accomplish that, Hashemi says regulatory levers need to be changed so low-density neighborhoods can be rezoned to allow for condos and apartments. Cardozo says zoning regulations in places like the Greater Toronto suburbs are the biggest impediment to more housing development.

“These badly restrict the supply of cheaper mid-rise construction that is required for young people and young families to become homeowners,” says Cardozo.

Sonichev says that while housing is not the sole issue pursued by the TNL, it affects other policy matters too.

“We have other policy issues that we care about. To name a couple, immigration, climate change,” says Sonichev. “But I think housing touches a lot of them, especially with climate change. If we’re not building in an efficient matter…we’re not really going to be hitting those climate goals” 

Sonichev says Canada’s extensive single-family housing, currently comprising 70 percent and 80 percent of residential areas in Toronto and Vancouver, respectively, will make it difficult to meet the federal government’s climate goals. 

A 2018 article published by the University of British Columbia reported that single-family homes were among the most carbon-intensive building types. It found that the cycle of tearing down older houses to build new ones, rather than constructing apartment buildings or condos, only added to the amount of carbon emissions being produced by single-family homes. 

“New, denser housing construction is often a lot more efficient to heat and cool, saving a lot of energy during winter and summer months,” says Cardozo.

Poilievre takes aim at Big Pharma, promising a $44-billion lawsuit

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Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre announced on Tuesday that a Conservative government would launch a massive lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that contributed to the opioid epidemic that has swept across Canada in the last decade.

Speaking from New Westminster, B.C. and surrounded by Canadians who have overcome addictions, Poilievre turned his attention to pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, which manufactures OxyContin, for incorrectly marketing some of their products as “safe” and “non-addictive.”

Citing 33,000 overdose deaths in Canada since 2016, Poilievre blamed pharmaceutical companies for contributing to the overdose crisis for profit. 

Statistics from the Government of Canada place the exact number of overdose deaths at 33,493 from 2016 to 2022, numbers which exclude data from Quebec. Data from the B.C. government lists 11,390 deaths due to “Drug Toxicity” in the province alone from 2016 to 2022. 

“The Trudeau Government has done nothing to hold these powerful pharmaceutical companies, and their consultants like McKinsey, accountable for what they have done, for the misery they reaped, and for the profit that they have made,” said Poilievre. 

The provincial government of British Columbia launched its own lawsuit against Purdue and other pharmaceutical giants in 2018 after accusing them of whitewashing the addictive risks of their products. Poilievre pledged a future Conservative government would join a B.C.-led lawsuit to recover the costs borne by the federal government in response to the opioid crisis. 

Last August, then-B.C. Attorney General David Eby announced that the province had actually reached a $150 million settlement with Purdue, which some critics of Poilievre were quick to point out on Twitter.

Nonetheless, Poilievre promised that if elected, his government would launch a series of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies amounting to $44 billion in costs related to the opioid crisis, a pledge that drew praise from BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon.

“We will launch a separate federal lawsuit to recover money that the federal government has had to spend on borders, Indigenous programs, policing, treatment, and other costs associated with this crisis,” says Poilievre. “The people who profited from this misery can be the ones to pay the bill.” 

Poiliever then pivoted to praising the Alberta government’s approach to the opioid crisis, which emphasizes recovery and treatment over the growing use of “safe supply,” which entails distributing alternative drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies to addictive persons. 

The reasoning behind “safe supply” is that addicted persons will be using substances that are free of toxic chemicals that have contributed to the overdose-related death toll. B.C. has made “safe supply” a centrepiece of its response to the opioid epidemic, while the “Alberta Model” has resulted in a $275 million investment in February for treatment and recovery programs across the province. 

“We need to get people off the streets and into treatment so that we can bring them home drug-free, and a Poilievre government will do that,” said Poilievre after praising the “Alberta Model.” 

The Alberta government’s Substance Use Surveillance System, an online database that includes monthly fatal overdoses, has not been updated since October. However, the database until October shows a large decrease in the amount of monthly fatal overdoses between October 2021, and October 2022. 

Once updated to include fatal overdoses from the previous five months, any increases or decreases could alter the Alberta government’s record in reducing drug-related deaths thus far. 

Pharmaceutical companies have been a constant target of Poilievre’s ire in recent months, whom the Conservative leader has called “scumbags.” 

“You favoured policies that flooded our streets with heroin and fentanyl and you tied the hands of our police and prevented them from doing anything about it. You failed to hold the scumbag corporations who brought the drugs to our streets accountable. Companies like McKinsey, Mr. Trudeau,” said Poilievre during a speech in February. 

In 2021, McKinsey reached a USD $600 million settlement with 49 states for contributing to the “turbocharge” of opioid sales across the United States.