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Pierre Poilievre’s pledge to get rid of housing “gatekeepers” was a nifty piece of political strategy that helped expand his appeal among younger voters and increase his political support. But it may prove self-defeating, too, given the biggest and most formidable gatekeepers in Canada’s housing market all seem to be conservative politicians. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent rebuke of fourplexes is just the latest example in a growing body of evidence here — one that could ultimately backfire on Poilievre when it comes to keeping his younger voters onside.

Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie smoked Ford out here with a proposal that would see fourplexes and four-storey buildings in Ontario no longer require municipal approval. In the midst of a provincewide housing crisis, this idea shouldn’t be particularly controversial. Indeed, it’s actually one of the key recommendations from the Ford government’s own housing task force, which filed its report back in 2022. “We heard from planners, municipal councillors, and developers that ‘as of right’ zoning — the ability to bypass long, drawn out consultations and zoning bylaw amendments — is the most effective tool in the provincial toolkit,” the task force's report says. “We agree.”

Ford, on the other hand, clearly doesn’t. “I can assure you, 1,000 per cent, you go in the middle of communities and start putting up four-storeys, six-storeys, eight-storey buildings deep in the communities, there’s gonna be a lot of shouting and screaming,” he said. “That’s a massive mistake.”

Nobody, of course, is proposing a six- or eight-storey building here. As Sabrina Maddeaux, a former National Post columnist and prospective CPC candidate in Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, noted on social media, “Fourplexes — dwellings with four units — aren’t four, six, let alone eight stories (that’d be the McMansion of all fourplexes). In fact, they’re often indistinguishable from townhouses, and even many single-family homes, on the exterior.”

She didn’t call Ford out by name, though, perhaps because his willingness to bend the knee to local NIBMY groups is so obvious. “They can run on doing that, destroying communities. Crombie thinks she knows better,” he said. “I’m gonna listen to the communities.” Ironically, it was his housing task force that warned against this very sort of capitulation to local interest groups. “Ontarians want a solution to the housing crisis,” it says. “We cannot allow opposition and politicization of individual housing projects to prevent us from meeting the needs of all Ontarians.” They probably never imagined the opposition would come from the premier himself.

Ford is hardly the only conservative who’s been practising his gatekeeping skills lately. In Calgary, where the city is proposing a “blanket upzoning” that would allow duplexes and rowhomes to be built without public hearings, Calgary-Centre MP Greg McLean was also doing his best to step on Poilievre’s housing talking points. “I oppose blanket rezoning,” he said on social media. “It removes the right of citizens to have a say in how their neighbourhoods grow, and has complications for existing infrastructure not designed for that density.” Those gates aren’t going to keep themselves, apparently.

Liberal Housing Minister Sean Fraser clearly smells some long-overdue political blood here. “When you look at the politics of this,” he said in an interview last week, “there’s one side that seems very happy to prey on the anxieties of people who are very worried about themselves, their families and their futures without actually offering solutions that will solve the challenge.” Indeed, Poilievre’s housing private member’s bill — the obnoxiously titled “Building Homes Not Bureaucracy Act” — would result in a massive cut to housing funding and effectively restore the GST on purpose-built rentals that the Liberals just lifted.

He’s also taking the fight with Poilievre to social media with a slick three-minute video contrasting the CPC leader’s ideas and record against the Liberal government’s recent efforts. His conclusion: Poilievre is using young people and their housing woes as a political wedge to get himself into power. The fact that he chose to attack B.C. Premier David Eby, whose province is way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to new home construction, but remains so conspicuously silent in the face of Ford’s intransigence certainly lends some credence to that conclusion.

If Poilievre wants young people to support him on housing and cast a ballot for his party in the next election, he’s going to have to do more than just bash Liberals and New Democrats over the head with spurious correlations. He’s also going to have to prove that he’s willing to talk tough with the people who are actively opposing the sorts of policies that would get more housing built, especially when they’re standing in his political midst.

Pierre Poilievre's pledge to crack down on housing gatekeepers has proven to be little more than empty talk. Ironically, it's been Doug Ford and other Conservative politicians — the real housing gatekeepers — who have done the proving here.

If he can’t be bothered to convince members of his own partisan family to follow his lead on this most important file, maybe it was never really that important to him in the first place. Younger voters would do well to keep that in mind.

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Neither Pierre Poilievre nor Doug Ford are really Conservatives. They are reactionary, retrogressive populists with authoritarian tendencies who appeal to people’s sense of grievance and anger at those who are their scapegoats. They blame all problems on Liberals and New Democrats while proposing no solutions themselves.
This is a democracy so the only way we can get rid of these dangerous demagogues is by voting against them. Let’s hope young people and all of us are smart enough to do so.

Exactly. Not only appealing to people’s sense of grievance and anger, but stirring it up. Break the system and then rage that the system is broken is another right wing tactic.

They are real Conservatives, though. The bottom line for conservatism for as long as it has existed is, trying to maintain oligarchy despite a formal system of democracy (specifically, oligarchy of money and property rather than say technocratic expertise). Over time, the specific rationales for letting your betters run things have shifted depending on what seems like it can be sold to the public. Right now, it's pseudo-populism and cultural reaction, which seems different from what Conservatism "stood for" back when that would not have worked and something else did, but the underlying point, often concealed, remains to give more money to them that has a lot, and step on them that don't to keep 'em cowed.