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Kirk LaPointe: Housing crisis at heart of potential Poilievre-Eby alliance

Housing may bridge ideological divide between B.C. NDP premier, federal Conservative leader
An uneasy ideological alliance between federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre (left) and B.C. Premier David Eby isn't out of the question, writes Kirk LaPointe.

At first blush, B.C. Premier David Eby and federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre have little in common other than being carbon-based forms of life.

They couldn’t be more polarized ideologically or more obsessively certain about their contrasting visions of government’s role in the economy. One searches for answers via government involvement, one searches for answers to government involvement. Eby leverages public investment and regulatory reform, Poilievre would reduce government intervention and quicken market responses.

Before long, whether we like it or not, and unless there is the shock to end all shocks in Canadian politics, they’ll lead our senior levels of government – possibly for years to come.

But upon closer examination, you can detect at least one shared purpose upon which they might one day do business: Cities and their lethargic housing construction.

May I say: City mayors, beware. Hide the good cutlery.

As we know, Eby has been playing tough-love with cities and housing for some time now. He wants to densify loads of single-family residential housing zones, accelerate permitting, suffocate public hearings and stimulate a larger stable of towers near transit routes. His government identified a “naughty list” of shameful municipalities that need to raise their game quickly with building quotas or face provincial edicts through a rare use of constitutional authority.

Now, it is fair to say his government is late to arrive on this issue and with these prescriptions. The horse has not merely left the stable, but has bred and been earmarked for the glue factory. Still, it’s rarely too late for any government to foist last decade’s ideas if it conveys the appearance of taking something seriously with a rapid response.

Ever politically shrewd, Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon carpet-bombed the province with housing legislation late enough in the election cycle so as not to be blamed if plans aren’t fulfilled by the Oct. 19 vote day.

“We’re on it,” they’ll say, and hardly anyone will call their baby ugly.

On the other hand, the prime minister, or what’s left of him and his party by the next election in the fall of 2025, won’t be so lucky. The public patience will be wearing thin when we are one more year out and even further away from satisfying the demand for housing stock. When Justin Trudeau says we’re on it, the voters may just say, “we’re on to you.”

On the other side of the 2025 federal election, polls tell us, is bound to be Prime Minister Pierre Poilievre, and on the basis of what he’s saying so far, he’d bring a pretty sharp stick to the cities and their housing activity.

At a speech earlier this month to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Poilievre characterized all forms of government as toll-takers on an asset class. He is particularly perturbed with municipalities for not only their fees but their languid processes of issuing permits and approvals.

His beliefs can get the better of the facts when he claims that 60 per cent of a new unit’s cost in Vancouver is attributable to governments. Experts don’t agree it’s quite that high but don’t think the claim is whackadoodle, either, when the Conservative leader includes not only the assortment of charges but the expense that saddles developers when permitting processes protract.

Poilievre wants levies conquered, processes at warp speed, and an increase of 15 per cent in housing completions year-over-year in major cities. The would-be PM says his government would take federal money away from cities if they don’t meet their finished-housing targets and continue to lose funds until they catch up on the shortfall. Transit and infrastructure funds would be withheld until a sufficient number of high-density housing around stations is not only scheduled but built and occupied. (They would earn bonuses for exceeding targets.)

That they will disagree as diametrically dissimilar leaders in style and strategies is unquestioned. That they approach challenges differently doesn’t mean they can’t be buddies on this one matter. That they will one day stand on the same stage and shake hands on a done deal pushing this city or that one concerning the critical, chronic housing shortage is something I wouldn’t bet against.

They would have a common perceived villain who, for once, isn’t each other, and their momentary truce would be just too tempting to pass up.

Kirk LaPointe is a journalist and the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver, and former vice-president editorial of Glacier Media Group.