Housing, emissions and children: three ways politics touched Canadians this week

By , on April 23, 2017


When decision-makers from three levels of government met Monday in Toronto to discuss that region's runaway housing prices, the takeaway was an agreement to do no harm. (Photo: Robert Jack 啸风 Will/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
When decision-makers from three levels of government met Monday in Toronto to discuss that region’s runaway housing prices, the takeaway was an agreement to do no harm. (Photo: Robert Jack 啸风 Will/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

OTTAWA—Save for the several thousand pot-smoking protesters who lit up outside the Peace Tower on Thursday, Parliament Hill was an island of quiet this week—even as global forces battered the country’s sense of security.

MPs were mainly in their ridings for the Easter break, and several cabinet ministers were south of the border preaching the wonders of the federal agenda.

But reminders of the unpredictability of powerful international events hailed down around them, with terrorists striking again in Paris and U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly turning his protectionist wrath on the “disgrace” that is Canada.

At the same time, there were concrete developments on housing, greenhouse gas emissions and the rights of children. Here are a few ways federal politics touched us this week:

DEFLATING THE BUBBLE?

When decision-makers from three levels of government met Monday in Toronto to discuss that region’s runaway housing prices, the takeaway was an agreement to do no harm.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, his provincial counterpart Charles Sousa and Toronto Mayor John Tory made a pact to refrain from doing anything that would drive prices even higher. The pact would preclude boosting incentives for first-time homebuyers—always tempting when an election is at hand.

After agreeing on what not to do, the politicians turned individually to what actions they could take to cool the Toronto-area market without destroying wealth and stability elsewhere in the country.

Ontario made the biggest splash, rolling out 16 measures, including a 15-per-cent tax on foreign homebuyers and stiffer rent controls.

But there is little agreement on what the root causes of the surging prices are. Tory talks about strong economic growth attracting attention. Ontario’s measures suggest foreign buying is to blame. The head of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says it’s not all foreigners. And the federal government, after studying the alarming market dynamics in Toronto and Vancouver for years, is collecting more data, which suggests it still doesn’t know exactly what is going on.

GASSY POLITICS

The Trudeau government’s best-laid plans on climate change are running into some friction.

The Conservatives asked the Library of Parliament to figure out how much revenue the federal government was collecting off provincial carbon taxes in Alberta and British Columbia.

The answer came this week: $280 million over the next two years, despite Ottawa’s arguments that carbon taxes would be revenue neutral for the federal books. The figure prompted an outcry from the Conservatives, many of whom are dead-set against federal plans to promote carbon taxes.

Then came word that worries about Trump and his new approach to climate change were prompting a slowdown in plans to cut emissions from methane.

Last year, to much fanfare, Trudeau and then-U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to chop methane emissions by more than 40 per cent from 2012 levels by 2025 by cracking down on the oil and gas sector.

Since then, Trump has rolled back some of Obama’s climate provisions. Trudeau’s government has said repeatedly it would stick to its plans, regardless of Trump. But on Friday, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said competitiveness with the U.S. has pushed Canada to take a second look at the methane commitment and to proceed more slowly.

CHILDREN AND THEIR RIGHTS

The Canadian Human Rights Commission, a watchdog that hears complaints from the public and can take them to court, has issued its 2016 report and is raising the alarm about the protection of the rights of children.

The commission has gone to bat for years for First Nations children on reserve, arguing they receive substandard social services. Now, the commission is expanding its glare to immigrant children held in detention, children who are struggling with gender identity and children who are bullied because of their disabilities.

Indeed, more than half of the complaints received by the commission in 2016 were related to disability, and almost half of those were linked to mental health.

The government says it is working hard on all fronts.