Cabinet meets with experts to discuss housing crisis on day 2 of retreat

The Liberal cabinet will hear today from the authors of a recent report that pitched the federal government a strategy to get more rental units built — recommendations the housing minister isn’t ruling out as policy options.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet are meeting in Charlottetown to regroup ahead of the fall session of Parliament and to find new ways to address mounting economic anxieties.

Tuesday, the second day of the retreat, will see the ministers meet with outside experts to discuss how to tackle the shortage of housing and the problems facing younger Canadians — whose votes helped Trudeau form his first government in 2015.

During one of those sessions on housing, ministers will hear from two of the authors of a recent report on how the federal government can boost the availability of rental properties.

The report, titled A Multi-Sector Approach to Ending Canada’s Rental Housing Crisis, was written by a coalition of housing experts, advocates and industry representatives.

One of its key recommendations calls on the federal government to take on a leadership role and co-ordinate with provinces, territories and municipalities to ensure that more rental units are built.

Trudeau came under fire for saying earlier this month that “housing isn’t a primary federal responsibility.”

While he followed up that statement by acknowledging housing is something the federal government “can and must help with,” the prime minister has been accused by housing advocates, pundits and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre of ignoring the severity of the issue.

According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data in July, the rising cost of living is far and away the top concern for Canadians — while housing affordability now rivals health care as a priority. Recent data from Environics also shows that Canadians are markedly more worried about household debt than they were a decade ago. 

Fraser looking for measures with ‘the greatest impact’

The housing report also calls on Ottawa to create a national workforce strategy — in co-operation with other levels of government, trade unions and educational institutions — to ensure Canada has enough skilled labour to build the housing units it needs.

It also calls for financial reforms to ensure rental units are viable for builders and developers.

Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser speaks to reporters during the Liberal cabinet retreat in Charlottetown on Aug. 21, 2023. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser said he’s looking forward to speaking with the authors before committing to any of their proposed solutions.

“I think we need to have a conversation with the report’s authors, with the people who informed that report … to determine how we can best prioritize the measures that are going to have the greatest impact as quickly as possible,” he said.

“But I also need to engage with other players in the housing sector to make sure that we’re leaving no stone unturned.”

The cabinet retreat wraps up on Wednesday.

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