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Morneau seeks ‘co-ordinated approach’ to assess housing market

Blog by Andrew Reid | June 23rd, 2016

Ottawa will create a “working group” of officials from all three levels of government to study the state of the Canadian housing market over the summer and make recommendations to the government, federal finance minister Bill Morneau announced Thursday.

In a news release issued in conjunction with a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto, Mr. Morneau said the group would include officials from the federal government, the Ontario and British Columbia provincial governments, and the cities of Vancouver and Toronto – the two markets that are in the grips of a housing boom.

The group will study “a broad range of factors that affect supply and demand for housing, the issue of affordability, and the stability of the housing market,” the release said. The group will be constituted “in the coming days,” the release said.

“By collaborating even more closely with our provincial and municipal partners, we will ensure a co-ordinated approach, and make use of the best available evidence to arrive at the right conclusions,” Mr. Morneau said in a statement.

Mr. Morneau suggested that provincial and municipal governments might have an important role in using their regulatory powers to best manage the housing excesses in specific city or regional markets.

“It’s important to understand that while the federal government has some levers it can pull, we don’t have all of them. The issues surrounding home ownership are a shared responsibility, with provincial governments and municipalities having the ability to act locally,” he said.

In a press conference following his speech, Mr. Morneau declined to put a timetable on when the new working group on housing would deliver recommendations, or when Ottawa’s wide-ranging analysis of housing data – what he again called a “deep dive” – would be concluded.

“That working group ... has just been set,” he said, adding that he “literally” only brought the idea up with the mayors of Vancouver and Toronto, and the finance ministers of British Columbia and Ontario, on Monday and Tuesday. “We’re going get together in the coming week or weeks.”

“As I have more information, I will provide it,” he said.

Mr. Morneau reiterated that it’s “critical” to complete a thorough analysis of the housing issue before detemining possible policy actions, and declined to discuss what policy options are being considered.

“I’m not going to speculate on conclusions before we make sure we’ve done all the ground work.”

In the press conference, Mr. Morneau also dismissed suggestions that the federal and provincial governments are moving too quickly on this week’s agreement in principle to expand the Canada Pension Plan. There is a July 15 deadline to secure approval of the agreement by the federal and provincial cabinets.

But Mr. Morneau pointed out that the changes to CPP wouldn’t go into effect until 2019, providing “significant time to consider the administrative issues.”

“I can’t say I understand at all the point of view that we are moving too quickly. In fact we are moving in a very gradual fashion.”

In response to a reporter’s question about possible government help for troubled aerospace manufacturer Bombardier Inc., Mr. Morneau said, “We continue to engage with Bombardier,” adding that the government considers the aerospace sector “very important” to Canada, and a key hub for innovation. “We’re engaging with them to think about how we can ensure that the sector remains successful.”

However, he declined to provide any details about how the government’s talks with Bombardier are progressing, noting that the negotiations are “private.”