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Opinion

Politicians won’t be caught dead agreeing, even when there’s common ground

By Susan Riley      

There's a tired, unproductive, inward-looking discourse that makes it hard to fix problems in this country, even universally acknowledged ones.

Politicians, like the new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, might be more productive if they admitted they actually do agree on certain basic points, writes Susan Riley. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
CHELSEA, QUE.—This will come as a shock to many, but, looked at from a certain angle, our major federal parties—even premiers and municipal leaders—actually do agree on some of the fundamental issues facing Canadians.
Consider the housing affordability crisis. A cast of characters as diverse at Pierre Poilievre, Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford, and leading Ottawa mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney—a progressive and long-time champion of the homeless—agree that new housing must be built around transit hubs as new rapid transit systems, or extensions, are built in our larger cities.
Details and strategies differ, but let’s stay positive for one minute.
For his part, Poilievre wants cities to pre-approve high-rise development around all federally-funded transit hubs or lose federal transportation funding. The stick. In the Liberals’ last budget, the government announced plans to make infrastructure and transit funding contingent on action by provinces, territories, and municipalities to increase housing supply—including requiring developers to build affordable housing. Another stick.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford released a plan in 2020 to force cities to increase density around transit hubs and is enthusiastically promoting high-rise clusters along the Yonge Street line in Toronto. In Ottawa, McKenney—progressive with a background in housing affordability—is calling for “transit-oriented development,” and, sounding vaguely like Poilievre, cutting “red tape to get affordable homes built faster and cheaper.”
Not surprisingly, McKenney, Poilievre, and Ford each envision different kinds of development, with McKenney proposing to give city-owned land near transit hubs to non-profits to build affordable housing. The Trudeau housing plan also emphasizes affordability and housing targeted at Indigenous, low-income single mothers, and others on the constant brink of homelessness. Ford favours new highways to exurban areas, ripe for suburbanization.

These distinctions are important. If cities throw up shiny new towers near light rail, with no rent controls, or requirements that developers include affordable units, the wealthy will simply have more choice. These condo units will still be beyond the means of many of the middle and lower-income earners who are struggling today. If cities continue to sprawl, the climate consequences (and commuter traffic) will be dire.

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