What do I know about Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre? He hates our prime minister. He loves cryptocurrency. If he’s elected PM, he will fire the governor of the Bank of Canada. He thinks everything in the country is broken and he will fix it by cutting taxes.
Hmmm. Flaky. Is that all there is? Well, actually he is right about one thing. He believes that residential zoning should be relaxed in order to allow the building of more homes. He opposes the red tape and NIMBYism that prevents affordable housing from being developed in established communities.
He advocates for the federal government withholding infrastructure funds for municipalities that refuse to ease zoning restrictions. Some of his proposed policies are over the top—such as “big financial penalties” for recalcitrant cities— but the gist of his idea is bang on.
His approach recently intruded on the decision-making of Calgary’s City Council.
Increasing housing in established neighbourhoods in the city has been a struggle. For years, if a homeowner wanted to a add a basement suite to her/his home they had to submit the application to a public hearing before council. The fight to overcome that tedious and rather silly exercise took over a decade.
Recently, an affordable housing task force presented council with recommendations that included ending zones that allowed only stand-alone homes in most residential areas. A new zoning would permit row houses, side-by-sides and duplexes throughout Calgary neighbourhoods city-wide. Primarily because of the call to ease zoning, council narrowly rejected the entire package.
The councillors who voted against were conservative-leaning as were those who had opposed basement suites. “This would be like secondary suites on steroids,” said Councillor Andre Chabot, “I think there’s absolutely no way that I could convince my communities to support that major of a change.”
Other conservatives had different ideas. Specifically Conservative MPs. The federal breed, in line with their new leader, roasted council. “I call upon colleagues on that council who I share constituents with to buck up and be actual leaders”, said MP Michelle Rempel Garner. “Vote for housing and hope, not for NIMBYism.” Garner accused councillors of pandering to their residents
Her accusation is a tad perverse considering that’s essentially what councillors are elected to do. And the residents have a point. They bought their homes under the current zoning and changing it now may seem like a betrayal, rather like bait and switch. Hard to take when for many their home is the biggest investment they will ever make.
In any case, council was suitably chastened by the scolding and held a makeup vote tentatively endorsing the task force’s recommendations.
Coincidentally a recent study by students at the Swiss university ETH Zurich confirmed the need for change. The architecture, spatial planning and environmental system design students spent months studying Calgary and concluded the city lacks housing options between single-family homes and high-rise apartment buildings, especially for low-income groups and the elderly.
This assessment of how to meet housing needs is not limited to conservatives and foreigners. To the contrary, these are ideas many progressive housing advocates have long promoted. Edmonton got rid of zones similar to Calgary’s in 2018. As have cities in other provinces.
At a time when housing has become a major problem in this country, and cities continue to march over farmland and nature, providing more housing in developed neighbourhoods is an obvious answer. Conservatives and progressives could actually work together on this.