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MEI celebrates a quarter century as the rest of the country is ‘finally catching up’ to Quebec on health care

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The Montreal Economic Institute, a free market think tank based in Quebec, will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year with a new president and CEO taking charge.

Daniel Dufort, who currently serves as the organization’s vice president of operations, will take over from Michel Kelly-Gagnon, who will shift to the role of founding president.

Although cultural issues have dominated the debate in Quebec recently, it hasn’t reduced the relevance or need for a free market think tank, said Dufort, who will officially assume the new role on April 5.

“Luckily for us, Quebecers have also remained extremely engaged when it comes to discussing the state of our health-care system and they show increasing openness to the ideas that promote freedom of choice and free market solutions in that sector,” said Dufort.

The pandemic has shifted the tectonic plates beneath our health-care debates, as provinces experiment with private delivery of health-care services to battle backlogs in the system.

Dufort said that MEI conducts regular polling on Canadians’ attitudes toward entrepreneurship in our provincial health-care systems and they have found that people are becoming more open to the idea.

“You could say that they are finally catching up to Quebecers when it comes to that. So that is very good to see,” said Dufort.

“What we’re trying to do is to be at the vanguard of change and innovation in Quebec, and then to help export this to other Canadian provinces. And I think we are finding some success in this. And we want to build on that,” said Dufort.

Kelly-Gagnon said the increased openness of Quebecers towards more entrepreneurship in health care is one of the most satisfying achievements of his quarter century at MEI.

Both men credit this success with MEI’s insistence on taking policies to policymakers and trying to get them implemented, helping with some of the heavy lifting of lawmaking.

“In the past 24 months, for instance, our presence and impact in Alberta has grown significantly. I think this flows from our willingness to engage with policymakers via our civic engagement program,” said Kelly-Gagnon.

“The fact we offer our advice free of charge to political parties of all stripes helps us popularize our research and make sure it reaches the appropriate decision-makers,” he said.

Dufort who previously worked in Stephen Harper’s prime minister’s office as a speechwriter, issues manager, and stakeholder relations adviser said his experience in Ottawa taught him how to help a policy paper turn into legislation.

“One of the things at MEI that we put focus on is to be able to lay a blueprint for how that change can actually be implemented by decision-makers. And my background certainly is very helpful in that regard,” said Dufort.

While this initiative provides policymakers with ideas and solutions, it also pushes the think tank to offer policies that are politically viable.

Kelly-Gagnon said he’s hopeful about the future of MEI as he departs his role. The think tank has always argued for free market ideas, entrepreneurship, and free speech and that spirit runs through the organization.

“Our willingness—as an organization—to constantly experiment with new ways of doing things (gives me hope). Fundamentally, we are an entrepreneurial organization,” said Kelly-Gagnon.

‘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.