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Canada to take unprecedented measures for affordable housing: Fraser

Announcement expected this afternoon following a Liberal caucus meeting
Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser says the Liberal government will bring in unprecedented measures to help with the lack of affordable dwellings. Sean Fraser speaks to reporters during the Liberal Cabinet retreat in Charlottetown, Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser says the Liberal government is set to announce unprecedented measures to help with the lack of affordable homes in Canada.

He said the measures will start with an announcement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will make in London, Ont., Wednesday afternoon before meeting with most of his party’s 158 MPs.

“Today is going to be the first time that we’ve done something like this in Canada,” Fraser told reporters Wednesday morning.

“This (afternoon) announcement is one of a series of measures we’re going to be advancing over the course of the fall that are going to have a meaningful impact to get more homes built in this country.”

He was speaking between meetings the Liberal party is holding behind closed doors as MPs get ready for the fall parliamentary sitting amid some of the lowest polling numbers the party has seen since forming government in 2015.

The Liberal drop in support has largely benefited the Conservatives, with leader Pierre Poilievre buoyed by a focus on housing and the cost of living.

Fraser said Ottawa is planning to bring in new measures to tackle the housing crisis in the coming months, working with the private and non-profit sectors.

“We’re going to need to advance measures that are going to help change the financial equation for builders who are dealing with a lot of projects that are actually approved but have been put on pause because of a higher-interest rate environment,” Fraser said.

He also said the federal government will “work to change” how long it takes cities to issue zoning permits and find ways to attract immigrants with construction skills to Canada.

Fraser added the government will need to be “investing in innovation, like building homes in factories so we can actually be more productive with the assets that we have, with the investments that we make.”

Any new measures will come as the Liberals try to signal they are prudent fiscal managers.

An ongoing spending review calls for a $15-billion cut over five years, and a drop of $4 billion each following year. Treasury Board President Anita Anand insisted that won’t affect priorities such as housing, affordability and support to vulnerable Canadians.

“We’re going to continue to be focused on those priorities while making sure that our own fiscal house is in order. And that’s what all Canadians are doing right now,” she said.

Charles Sousa, a Toronto-area MP and Ontario’s former finance minister, said the party needs to balance building more in the suburbs with managing federal spending.

“We have to do more collaboratively with the provinces and municipalities, and we have to find ways to be constructive,” he said.

“We redistribute wealth where necessary, but we have to promote growth; we have to promote economic vitality.”

MPs are meeting in regional groups Wednesday to touch base on issues their constituents have raised, as well as unflattering polling numbers in surveys the Liberals commissioned this summer.

Yet Vancouver-area MP Ken Hardie claimed his constituents are generally feeling positive.

“We were talking about this last night. Whatever the polls are saying, we’re not hearing it at the doors,” he said.

“We were expecting to run into some heavy weather; some people are upset. Most people aren’t even paying attention.”

Various media reports have quoted backbench MPs as saying the party isn’t communicating its accomplishments well and that Trudeau isn’t listening to the concerns of MPs who are not in cabinet.

Quebec MP Brenda Shanahan, the Liberal caucus chair, said Tuesday that her fellow MPs are having “very frank” conversations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said those talks are crucial.

“We are going to have conversations that are sometimes not always easy, sometimes difficult, but necessary because we are a government that has been in power for eight years now, a government that has faced several crises and each time, we were able to overcome them.”

The caucus meeting is taking place in a convention centre with locked doors and heavy security.

On Tuesday, a dozen protesters gathered outside the venue holding flags with expletives seen during the Freedom Convoy protests in 2022. Some in that group were seen that evening lighting off fireworks in the vicinity of hotels where Liberal MPs were staying.

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