Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon candidates talk housing

Candidates in the Mission - Matsqui - Fraser Canyon riding share their views on housing in the Fraser Valley

By Tyler Olsen | September 13, 2021 |6:05 am

For the 2021, federal election, The Current is focusing on two issues with critical and unique local implications: housing affordability and Indigenous issues.

We sought interviews with candidates from each of the four major parties. In Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon, we spoke to Green candidate Nicole Bellay, NDP candidate Lynn Perrin, and Conservative candidate Brad Vis. Liberal candidate Geet Grewal did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. (You can read why we did not request interviews with other parties’ candidates here.)

To read candidate questionnaires from other ridings, and to catch up on all our election coverage, check out our Fraser Valley Votes election hub. You can also read our riding profile for Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon to learn more about the election in that riding.

Green — Nicole Bellay

FVC: We’ll start with housing. Before we get to specific positions, are house prices too high?

Bellay: Yes, definitely. Yeah, that’s a hard question [laughingly sarcastic].

FVC: Some people are less confident to declare that. So that’s why I’m asking that. The next question is: what is your party going to do to try to depress house prices?

Bellay: I’ll be more clear then: for the income that the people are earning right now, prices are too high. So we think that housing is a human right and it shouldn’t be used as an investment in general. So we want to tighten regulation regarding housing investment. There’s all sorts of real estate trusts and foreign or not, the investment on housing creates a lot of problems in our society, because people cannot afford to live in a house.

FVC: How does that investment affect the price of homes?

Bellay: Well, there’s people with a lot of money, and they’re investing mostly in Vancouver and big cities, the money is coming from other countries oftentimes. So that pushes the people to communities like mine in Mission, and because they received quite a bit of money for whatever they sold, now they have a bunch of money. So the prices are going up in small communities also. It started in Vancouver a while back, but now the whole Fraser Valley is unaffordable for most people. Some people are happy because they made a bunch of money and they can move away and still find a house that they can afford. But, you know, how far can you push people away from their community?

FVC: Isn’t part of the problem, and this is what economists have said, that there just aren’t enough houses for as many people as we have right now?

Bellay: Definitely. So the first point is only one aspect of it, but the supply is lacking. In the late ’80s, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation cut down quite a bit on the investment because they used to provide much more financing for co-op and affordable housing. And during the late ’80s, I think, this financing maybe not stopped but decreased quite a bit. So there’s [now] a lack of supply. There’s a lack of supply also in the choices of houses, because now we’re building all at the same time. It seems like condo, condo, condo, or a lot of single-family—there’s a lack of choice and there’s a lack of houses. There’s a lack of supply for sure.

FVC: So what would the Greens do to address that?

Bellay: Well, financing. So increase the financing for the CMHC to add way more co-op, affordable housing, all sorts of housing for the market, for sure. And create the empty home tax for foreign and corporate residential. And, as I said, strengthen the regulation for foreign investment. And enhance their Canada Housing benefits too.

FVC: So what would you do to encourage more market development of houses, so not just the CMHC-financed public housing but the creation of homes by private developers?

Bellay: That’s complex because, of course, it’s provincial and municipal so we need to have a very good cooperation between municipal, provincial, and federal, to be able to build houses. Because it’s municipal, all the rules are municipal. And then federal is on top of that. So you just need good cooperation and understanding that the goal is to build more houses and to have a choice for everybody.

FVC: And finally, economists often say that relaxing mortgage rules and doing more things to help more people seem to afford houses in the short term actually creates more demand, and helps push prices just higher, leaving that money in the pockets of the people selling the homes rather than the people trying to buy the homes. The policies are attractive in the short-term, but is your party willing to make decisions that might be less popular in the short-term to break that cycle of continually funneling more money into the housing market and pushing prices higher?

Bellay: I can’t confirm for sure that it is the policy of my party. But I believe strongly that’s the kind of decision that the Green Party is willing to do: solutions that are not necessarily very popular, but that works for the long-term.

——

Following questions on Indigenous issues, Bellay added: “There are two crises, there’s the homelessness and the housing affordability, and these two crises are also based on wealth inequality that I believe is very important to address. So the housing is the symptom but the wealth equality is the source of the problem, I believe. A lot of it—not only—but it’s a big part of it. And of course the Greens want to address the wealth inequality.”

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NDP — Lynn Perrin

FVC: Are house prices too high right now?

Perrin: Absolutely.

FVC: So if that’s the case, what would the NDP do to decrease house prices?

Perrin: We would build 500,000 new homes that families can afford. Really important, we would keep wealthy speculators out of the housing market and crack down on house-flipping and help families buy their first home. And important to me: protect affordable rental properties and take steps to make rent more affordable. I’ve been housed in a number of different ways in my adult life. I was fortunate when we bought our first home in Surrey that we were able to buy it directly from the owners and we had an agreement for sale instead of a mortgage. So that really helped us start with our very first home purchase. And then we were fortunate enough to be able to buy five acres in Bradner—we wanted to raise our children in a more rural area. And so we were able to do that. But during that time, the interest rates were over 15%. And, in fact, our mortgage took my husband’s entire salary. So I was able to work part-time. We had young children but I was able to work part-time to make up for the rest, like the food and clothing and all the rest. Housing prices back then were certainly way more affordable than they are now. And then I had home on the Gulf Islands, and what’s interesting in this whole COVID experience is that during 9/11, I was a tourism-related gift shop and gallery that sold local art. And at 9/11, the tourism industry just took a real serious dive. And so what ended up happening was me having to close my business and take some of my own savings to pay off the business loan, and sell my home. I had owned that property for 28 years, and I have to sell it. So since then, I’ve lived in three different rental places. And the one I’m in now is an older building. It’s owned by Main Street and they own a lot of rental properties here in Abbotsford. And there’s almost zero vacancy here, so I’m really glad that I live in a space where I’m comfortable. I love the building because it’s a family- and pet-friendly building. And I look out on trees. But you know, I worry. I worry that, what if what if the owners of this building decide they’re going to convert them into condos? What, what would I do?

FVC: So what can the federal government do to protect those?

Perrin: Well, I always prefer carrots to sticks. But sometimes you need both. So I’ve actually talked to the City of Abbotsford in the past about allowing more density in new buildings, like rental, the high rises, and that. And having a certain percentage of them be low-cost housing in the building. And so that would be the carrot that would be the incentive, you know. So I mean, an NDP government could help with that. We could help with carrots to entice developers and builders to do that kind of housing.

FVC: But what can the federal government actually do there? That’s more of a local government thing.

Perrin: Well, the local government. It’s kind of all three levels. So the local government, of course, has the zoning. And the provincial government does some housing assistance, especially for renters, for instance, seniors. There’s SAFER, shelter aid for seniors. And there’s also money for low-income families, rental assistance for low income families. And the federal government could give grants to support low-income rental housing. And then as far as purchasing goes, the federal government has typically had different first-ownership purchasing plans that you can put money into, and they supplement and allow you to have a credit on your income tax. So, there is a role, definitely. And then Jagmeet, just yesterday in Montreal, was talking about using some of the federal lands for low-income housing. Another thing that I’m a real supporter of is co-op housing. And in fact, in Abbotsford, the one on Marshall road, near Gladwin, that co-op was the very first co-op in BC. So there’s an opportunity there as well to be more supportive of co-op housing and the federal government doing some funding of it.

FVC: You mentioned the promise to build 500,000 units. The Liberal government and other governments also made similar promises and proposals, and they’ve said they’re going to spend a lot of money and they found it difficult to actually do that and execute that for a number of reasons. What would the NDP do to ensure that it can and would actually follow through on its goal to build that many new homes?

Perrin: Actually, we’re committing to build 1.7 million homes. And Justin Trudeau has in the last six years had all kinds of nice promises that for some reason or other have not been fulfilled. They have not been acted on, and there are a number of them. I don’t know whether it’s because it’s kind of last-minute, on-the-napkin kind of idea, or whether it’s just something that really they haven’t collaborated with the other partners that are necessary. You hear that word ‘consultation’ a lot. But I really think what is important today, in a lot of issues, is collaboration, and partnerships, and bringing in a lot of minds to solve a problem and I don’t think that’s being done enough. And what I find with the New Democratic Party is that they do a lot of on-the-ground outreach to formulate policy right from their grassroots membership. That’s where a lot of NDP policy starts, at the grassroots membership. But also, to do outreach to the groups who have the expertise, in whatever issue you’re dealing with, whatever problem you’re trying to solve, and don’t dictate to them and say, ‘Hey, can you sign on to this?’ It’s really got to start way, way before that. And there really has to be outreach to the experts on housing. And not only developers, not only the construction industry, but also the groups that are involved in trying to advocate for affordable housing in whatever manner that could be, whether it be a single-occupant house, a family home, or whether it be a condo or an apartment rental. I really think that’s what’s missing. I worked for the federal government for 10 years, so I know what it’s like, as a frontline person to try and deliver policy that has been made thousands of miles away in Ottawa.

FVC: The vast majority of new homes are built by the private market and by private developers. What can the NDP do to incentivize more building by the private market, especially given the fact that there is a lot of building going on and there’s only so many people who can build homes? What can you do to encourage even more building, given the state the level of building we’re already seeing?

Perrin: I think you’ve got to have the trades to do it. You need the workers to do it. So there’s the whole aspect of training up workers to be electricians, to be framers, to be plumbers, to be finishers. And I’m looking and I’m seeing that in BC there is a real labor market shortage. And so we need to do more training. A number of years ago, former finance minister Paul Martin thought that he would be a hero by getting rid of the debt or the deficit. That was in ’96. Now they not only cut healthcare funding in that budget, but they cut post-secondary as well. And neither of those have ever kept pace with the need. So another thing that an NDP government could do is increase the funding for trades training so that we have the workers to build the houses and the apartment buildings.

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Conservative — Brad Vis

FVC: Are house prices is too high right now?

Vis: Generally, I think that they are too high because young people can’t afford to buy them. And young families can’t seem to get into the market with the way things are right now.

FVC: So given that, what, what would your party do? What would you do to decrease house prices?

Vis: The biggest thing that I heard—I’m on record asking Romy Bowers, the CEO of CMHC. I said, ‘What’s the number one way we can address the affordability crisis we find ourselves in?’ And she said to build more. And so our platform has, as you’ve probably read, has some measures on banning foreign buyers on addressing money laundering, updating some of the federal laws related to FINTRAC, and where the federal government plays a role in housing. But it’s very clear from leading experts—Scotiabank put out a report—that we don’t build enough in Canada quickly enough. And in a growing region like ours, that’s even more acute. So we have to do more to build more homes. And you talk to any developer in Mission, Abbotsford—not so much in Chilliwack I’ll say, but in Abbotsford and Mission—they say ‘It’s taking me a year to get approved to build a home.’ And when there’s a lot of people that want to come and live in our neck of the woods, and when there’s a lot of young people that grew up here that are just looking for a stable place to live, I think we can do more, and the federal government can play a role through the spending power that it holds to incentivize municipalities to get more done. I’ll admit that there’s no easy solution to the housing crisis we find ourselves in today. But if we don’t start addressing the lack of supply, we’re never going to get out of the conundrum we’re in today.

FVC: So what exactly could you do to incentivize local governments? Because I think your platform talks about using spending power on mass transit initiatives, but there aren’t any of those at the moment in Abbotsford.

Vis: Yeah. So you know, for major infrastructure projects in British Columbia, the federal government will tie criteria to receiving money. And we heard loud and clear from the Surrey Board of Trade, the Vancouver Board of Trade, they said, ‘Well, you should start saying if the municipality is going to get a big chunk of money from the federal government, what are they doing on zoning to ensure that people can live in those communities?’ So that’s one thing, and that’s one area where we’re going to start. Again, there’s no easy solution to this. But this was a recommendation I heard loud and clear from many chambers of commerce and boards of trade in Canada that we need to use federal spending powers to incentivize how housing is going to get built. And the Conservative Party looks forward to operationalizing that and working out the details if we’re successful in form of government. But it’s something I’ve heard loud and clear across the country that we need to use the federal spending power to get more housing built.

FVC: As I was saying, your platform talks about transit spending, would you consider tying other forms of spending to that too?

Vis: Yeah, I think we’re very open to doing what we can to get more housing built at the local level. Other things the federal government can do is look at the taxation system. Right now, for a developer, we have a huge shortage of purpose-built rental as well. We have a lot of condos being built in some cases, but not necessarily as much rental housing. And we can look at deferring capital gains and looking at why is it more profitable to for a developer to build a condo versus a purpose-built rental building, so maybe taking a hard look at the taxation system to encourage the construction of purpose-built rental will help a lot of people as well address a very cute need along the housing continuum.

FVC: We’ve heard governments and various other decisionmakers talk about the need to both address housing affordability, but also I guess they often catch it and they want to preserve people’s equity. It seems like that—

Vis: That was Adam Vaughan, the Liberal parliamentary secretary.

FVC: Would your party do everything it can to decrease house prices, even if it leaves existing homeowners with less equity?

Vis: You know what, in terms of of equity, like I said, I asked those questions to Romy Bowers, the head of CMHC, and she said that we need to build more supply, and we’ll let the market take care of where prices go. But we’re not building enough. If Canada continues to lag its G7 partners in housing constructions per person, we’re never going to get out of this problem. So, yeah, I’m not going to make a hypothetical commitment to reduce house prices one way or the other. But we need to build more supply. Every expert in Canada says any way to address the affordability gap starts with more options for people. It’s a simple supply and demand problem. We’re not building enough and we need to get going.

Technical difficulties briefly halted our interview. We resumed with Vis adding:

Vis: On the affordability crisis, as it relates to the challenges that I hear about every single day for young people to get into the market, the challenges that new immigrants to Canada facing now, is that they don’t see a pathway to homeownership. And at the same time, we have leading economists at the Bank of Montreal, at Scotiabank, decrying the situation. This spring, I put forward a motion in Parliament and I stated that the cost of housing continues to rise out of reach for Canadians, and that the current government has failed to provide sufficient housing supply. And that was after I had multiple opportunities to question Romy Bowers at CMHC. And so I was just saying: the only way we’re going to get out of this crisis is if we focus on putting in policies that are going to get more housing built, especially purpose-built rental and homes for first-time buyers, and, and really take action to get more people into the market that want to be in the market. I did a town hall in my riding multiple times, but I also did one across BC, and the biggest thing I heard is: I was talking to a young nurse in the Fraser Valley, and she said, ‘I followed all the rules, and all I ever wanted was to like live in the Fraser Valley. I work at the local hospital, and I make a really good income but I can’t afford a $750,000 townhouse or a $650,000 townhouse right now. And I want to have a family and things are just out of reach for me.’ So that’s why I brought that motion to Parliament.

FVC: So beyond incentivizing municipalities to do their bit, do you have any other particular policies that can really help address this?

Vis: Yeah, well, one big thing is that I put forward in my motion, I talked about putting a temporary freeze on home purchases by non-resident foreign buyers, and that’s in our platform as well. And talking to housing advocates in Vancouver, we’ve all heard the stories about how foreign buyers and—I’ve even heard in Mission—that foreign buyers are coming in on a housing tour and they’re purchasing multiple homes, and they’re pricing the local people out of the market. Which has upended our market in some cases, and that was even addressed in some of the Peter Germain reports a few years ago about the negative role that foreign buyers are playing. So we’ve proposed to put a temporary ban on foreign buyers until we sort out what Canadian needs are for the housing market, and to make sure that Canadian citizens and permanent residents have first crack at new builds especially.

These interviews have been very lightly edited for clarity and basic grammar. Nothing of substance has been omitted. Each interview was recorded, but technical difficulties with two interviews makes publishing consistent recordings for each candidate difficult, so in the interest of fairness and consistency, we are publishing the transcripts.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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