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Kirk LaPointe: B.C. could soon reject hometown boy Justin Trudeau

Commentary

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a campaign stop in Victoria, B.C., Aug. 19, 2021. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.

Among all the matters that require our attention, can we save some time to consider an important personal political question: how might Sukh Dhaliwal need to prepare for loneliness?

Important to consider soon, because if we are to believe that today’s opinion polls will translate into next year’s federal voting, Dhaliwal as the incumbent Liberal MP in Surrey-Newton would be the last British Columbian vestige of Trudeaumania, 2015 Justin Edition.

s Poll aggregator 338Canada identifies his riding as the only prospective safe federal B.C. seat for the Liberals. The natural governing party. Canada’s third-largest province. One seat. That’s all.

Right now at least, beyond Dhaliwal it is looking like a wipeout. Gone, for instance, would be 10-term MP Hedy Fry, the longest-serving female in Canadian parliamentary history (to be fair, 338Canada says her riding and two others are toss-ups), ascendant cabinet ministers Jonathan Wilkinson, Carla Qualtrough, and Harjit Sajjan (also a toss-up) (Joyce Murray has already said she’s not running).

There were a total of 17 Liberal MPs elected in B.C (more than 40 percent of its 42 seats). when Trudeau changed the channel in 2015. It felt like the start of something even bigger. Even if there were only 11 when he took the haircut in forming a minority in 2019, there were 15 elected in another minority in 2021. They finished first, tied for second, then first again. When the rest of the country was slipping into disquiet, B.C. wasn’t turning its back. But over the last two years, BCers have been most unkind to the party. The polls, at least, agree the Liberals stand to finish third or even behind the Greens in fourth. Fall of 2025 stands to be the Liberals’ fall of 2025.

And without a poll 180, Dhaliwal would be the sole Liberal member of the Left Coast brigade who ages with every respite in the Maple Leaf Lounge and every boarding of the four-hours-there, five-hours-back Air Canada shuttle, an Eleanor Rigby-like solitude. Should he have a puppy? Has AI advanced to the point of acceptable professional companionship? At least Air Canada and the House of Commons permit knitting needles.

This B.C. collapse is in all a rather perplexing development at first glance in a province where Prime Minister Trudeau shares an agenda on the economy and environment aligned with the ruling NDP provincial government. Not to mention, his B.C roots run relatively deep, with family ties and friends aplenty, a work history (he was a bouncer, snowboard instructor, and teacher here before the capital called), and a locally developed persona preceding politics.

It’s that second glance that one wipes the fog from their glasses, of course. There have been many signature “wheees” and “whaahs” and “whooos” on Trudeau’s B.C. roller-coaster ride, and a few times, many of us hurled as he hurtled.

Think buying the TransMountain pipeline while crusading globally about a climate emergency, then being unable to divest as it hemorrhaged financially.

Think gleefully legalizing cannabis yet waiting forever to pay attention as B.C. led the country into opioid overdose agony and denouncing his enthusiasm for drug decriminalization.

Think pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould as attorney general before people had forgotten his “because it’s 2015” line on equity and diversity at the cabinet table.

Think blackface and brownface, and how he couldn’t recall how many times he’d donned it beyond his costume debut in a Vancouver gymnasium.

Think COVID-19, the vaccines, the federal piece of the restrictions, and how the convoy camp-out in Ottawa turned some British Columbians on him—count them among the Canadians who weren’t all-in with him.

Think about his pledge to Indigenous reconciliation, creating an annual day to recognize it, then instead surfing our Tofino waves on the first one.

Regrets, sure, he’s had a few. But on a macro, nearing his 10th year in the job, it’s the pocketbook stuff he is wearing and cannot shed. The report last week that called Vancouver “impossibly unaffordable” as the world’s third most expensive city was a surprise to everyone but the residents.

Every 37 days, 10,000 more people arrive in British Columbia. But it feels like only 37 houses are built for them, so serious are ownership costs and rental inflation fueled by supply shortages. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some—not a lot, but some—recent post-graduate immigrants could be living on the streets this summer or couch-surfing because they cannot find affordable accommodation. This is at the heart of why so many people are looking to leave a postcard province.

The provincial government may be able to skate past the housing crisis in the October election because its supply-side legislation has only been in place a few months, but the federal government will have had a decade of failure on the file by its election, that it cannot wash from its hands.

It hasn’t helped that Trudeau, like B.C. Premier David Eby, can’t spell out a growth strategy for the economy. Excellent at spending, terrible at stoking. I’ve lost count of the business leaders who can only remember two of the prime minister’s quotes: on how the “budget will balance itself” or how “you’ll forgive me if I don’t think of monetary policy.” The capital gains changes may not send the economy into depression, but like Bill Morneau’s early-Liberal ill-considered tax threat to small businesses, it doesn’t send a great signal to the same donors he courts or prosperous Canadians he needs to pay for his ideas. As someone told me the other day about the capital gains change: “If it was such a good idea to serve social equity, where was it when times were good?”

B.C. is now experiencing its “Before Conservatives” era. There is no actual Liberal party left provincially. The party that once called itself the BC Liberals is now branded brutally as BC United, and it has sunk in a few short years from government to the gutter. Now the Liberals mainly hang with the ruling NDP.

Our approaching provincial election is a good barometer of how the atmosphere has changed for Trudeau. Where the province was once a cheerleading exemplar—the original pre-federal home of the carbon tax, an economic leader despite the uncompetitive corporate tax environment, the clearest reconciliation champion on issues of land and development partnership—these issues are now making many uncomfortable.

The rise of the BC Conservatives has something to do with the causal assumption by the BC NDP that these issues were tenets of the political environment. What happens in October could well be what happens when I mow my lawn: a first cut that might take a second one to finish the work. Between what John Rustad will achieve in signaling the pendulum swing toward conservative politics, and what Pierre Poilievre stands to do next year, the lefty dominance ought to be considerably subdued in a province that historically stood out for it.

The Liberals are like other governments that unelected themselves. They are finding that the policies they thought would sustain them—their commitment to the environment and social equity, in particular—mean less when they aren’t joined by an economic plan to bail people out of inflation and other elements of unaffordability.

Amid this self-sabotage, its iconic leader might be wise to think of B.C., after the autumn of 2025, in the way many Canadians have: as a place to escape to and retire. He can always get together for cards with Dhaliwal at the coastal end of the commute and ask, “How’s business?”

Alicia Planincic: Can Alberta keep its affordability advantage as home prices cool everywhere else across Canada?

Commentary

Mountains loom over condos being constructed in Canmore, Alta., Monday, April 24, 2023. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press.

In each EconMinute, Business Council of Alberta economist Alicia Planincic seeks to better understand the economic issues that matter to Canadians: from business competitiveness to housing affordability to living standards and our country’s lack of productivity growth. She strives to answer burning questions, tackle misconceptions, and uncover what’s really going on in the Canadian economy.

It’s no secret that owning a home has grown out of reach for many. In a recent report that looks at housing affordability across the globe, four of the six Canadian cities examined were labeled as either “severely unaffordable” or “impossibly unaffordable.”

The two that weren’t? Both are in Alberta.

Not only was housing in Alberta significantly more affordable to begin with but also, prices in Alberta didn’t surge as they did elsewhere in the early 2020s. Now, that is changing.

Since 2023, prices have skyrocketed thanks to the province’s extraordinary population growth. Somewhat ironically, affordable housing is what is attracting those from higher-priced markets to Alberta.

Could this bring an end to affordability in Alberta, too? Already, prices have risen more for an apartment in Alberta than they have in B.C. since 2019. Prices of single-family homes have further to go but the same would be true in a couple of years if current trends were to continue. These increases, while good for owners, will be tough on renters—increasing the likelihood of pushing them out of home ownership or even into homelessness.

But as far as relative affordability goes, an enormous gap remains. A typical home in B.C. costs double that of one in Alberta. The province’s Alberta is Calling campaign was onto something when it targeted these higher-priced markets; it has an incredible advantage in an era of housing unaffordability.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

Even so, this advantage could quickly erode. If price growth were to continue at its current pace, it would be more expensive to buy a single-family home in Alberta than in Ontario within just six years and more expensive than in B.C. within eight. In a more reasonable scenario where home values increase at historical norms in other markets, it would take longer but still evaporate within a couple of decades.

Assuming migration to the province continues, what will determine just how much further prices rise will be the province’s ability to respond to new demand. Maintaining its advantage will require Alberta to do what other provinces have struggled to do—build housing at the pace needed to match population growth.

This post was originally published by the Business Council of Alberta at businesscouncilab.com