Canada’s renters are finally getting their moment in the political sun. After a lifetime of being studiously ignored by most elected officials in favour of current and aspiring homeowners, renters and their issues are suddenly at the tip of almost everyone’s political tongue. That includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made his appeal to them on Wednesday in Vancouver, the city with the country’s highest rents. “In today’s Canada, more people are renting than ever before. And that number is growing at double the rate of those able to buy a new home compared to a decade ago.”

Trudeau’s newfound interest in renters is understandable. Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives are eating his breakfast, lunch and dinner with younger voters, without whom he has no possible road to re-election. “Nearly two-thirds of young Canadians rent their homes,” Trudeau said in his remarks, “and they pay a greater share of their income on housing than other generations.” And no wonder: according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in Vancouver, the average two-bedroom apartment now rents for nearly $2,200 a month, up almost 10 per cent from the previous year. With vacancy rates sitting below one per cent, those rents aren’t going down any time soon.

If anything, that data undersells just how dire the situation really is. According to the monthly listings from and Urbanation, which offer a more accurate perspective on what it costs to rent something today, the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment is $3,541. This actually represents a modest decrease from where prices were a year ago, if you can believe that. This increasingly desperate situation is draining the bank accounts of younger renters and making it impossible for them to save for their futures, much less the sort of down payment required for an average Vancouver condo that now costs $827,000.

Given that backdrop, the prime minister’s words will only go so far. That’s especially true given the actual measures he announced will only add insult to the injuries of Vancouver’s renters. The $15 million in funding he announced for provincial legal aid organizations to protect tenants against unfair practices and bad landlords is fine, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that gets people excited about their futures.

And the pledge to encourage banks and other lenders to take greater stock of rental payments in a borrower’s credit history is downright tone deaf. The problem most renters are facing isn’t bad credit but the brutal economic math around trying to jump on the property ladder right now, especially when rents keep rising five to 10 per cent a year. As a recent report from RBC noted, renters are now “dissaving” — that is, spending more than they earn — at a rate of almost nine per cent. It’s hard to build that nest egg when the nest keeps getting smaller.

Finally, there’s a promised “renters bill of rights” that will apparently force landlords to disclose an apartment’s pricing history. We’re being told this will help renters with negotiating their rent, but that’s not at all how negotiations in the rental market work when vacancy rates are as low as they are right now. If anything, this just makes the situation even more infuriating as renters will be told that the unit they want for $3,000 used to rent for $1,500 a few years back and there’s nothing they can do to close that distance.

The sheer thinness of the gruel he’s serving doesn’t seem to have dawned on the prime minister. "It's about changing the rules of the game in a way that meets young people where they are," he said on Wednesday. But the rules of the game will remain exactly the same: landlords will have the power, renters will have almost none, and the game will still feel rigged against them and favour those who already own real estate. As that RBC report noted, while homeowners have seen their net worth grow from nine times household disposable income in 2010 to 13 times in 2023, renters have only seen it go up from three to 3.5. The house-rich keep getting house-richer and nothing in the prime minister’s announcement will change that.

Neither will anything Poilievre is proposing, mind you. His pledge to eliminate the Trudeau government’s GST waiver on new purpose-built rentals unless they offer below-market rent prices is a de-facto pledge to eliminate it entirely, since there’s no way a new apartment could ever compete on price with one built 10 or 20 years ago. His refusal to call out people like Doug Ford, political allies who are standing directly in the way of new housing supply, shows just how insincere his promise to “fire the gatekeepers” really is. And his refusal to contemplate the idea of direct government involvement in building co-operatives and other non-market options means he’s not actually serious about the sort of deep affordability renters in cities like Vancouver desperately need.

As someone who has written repeatedly about the virtues of renting and the importance of renters, I’m glad to hear federal political leaders finally recognizing their existence. Having them fight, however half-heartedly, for the votes of this country’s renters is far better than actively ignoring them. But until the policies being proposed match the rhetoric that surrounds them, Canada’s renters shouldn’t get too excited about all the attention they’re getting.

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How many politicians of each party actually live in rental housing?
How many OWN rental properties?
"Windfall" profits are simply theft under the guise of smart investing.

Totally agree, and governments are incapable of dealing with it.

Over and over again critics have called for the federal government to actually build rental housing. Thousands of units a year nation wide. Stop talking and start building already!

More than once I've described here the Policy Alternatives idea of non-profit rentals. One model would importantly involve the participation of cities to donate land to rentals, with a mix of co-op, seniors and social services-backed housing for the hard to house. In this case, the feds wouldn't need to account for the cost of land, only with the break even cost of the housing which then could be amortized over long periods of time. Therein, rents would be lower than average because land costs and profits are excluded and only upkeep is added. Break even, no subsidies.

Involving cities directly would push beligerent provinces back one step from involvement, but would still allow more caring provinces to fully participate in resolving one of the key issues today with their own constituents. Even the most conservative premier today would be loathe to be seen shamefully blocking desperately needed affordable rentals built for free by Trudeau.

If it was a matter of money then hundreds of billions in subsidies for profitable mega oil companies would not have been flowing over the years. It's a matter of priorities.

The irony is that, even with the above action, Trudeau will be seen as doing too little too late and will be turfed in a kneejerk act of mass anger. Poilievre will rise to power and will do far, far worse, like stop all money flowing into all forms of housing...except to private developer donors to the Conservative Party who will not lift a finger to solve the problem unless paid generously to build for profit rentals with marginally lower market rents.

Poilievre will also likely try to dismantle the entire social safety net that his long time voters and new younger voters will increasingly need to rely on.

You get the government you deserve when you vote without really thinking it through, especially under our current majoritarian electoral system.

Everyone knows where Trudeau stands on the hot button issues of the day -- he's weak on climate and affordable housing. That doesn't mean Poilievre's "manly" chest thumping contains any answers. In fact, he needs to be challenged on actual policy, not on how "strong" rage is compared to Trudeau's weakness, which also needs some serious challenging over the next year and a half.

Otherwise we'll have a lot more to complain about, especially the consequences of reactionary voting youth who don't know what they'll be getting because the Trudeau alternative hasn't bothered to explain his policy platform yet.

Great comments. We do not consider the rabbit hole into which we will desend. More trickle down, more inequality, more privatized everything and more wealth to the already rich.

CMHC's average rents are based on an aggregate of existing rents for occupied units and asking rents for available units (which are around or below 1% of all units.) This aggregate includes units that have had the same tenants for long periods of time and are renting for far below average current advertised rates.'s average rents are based on asking rents for available units. If you come to Vancouver and try to rent, you will not find any two-bedroom units for $2200 a month. Median income tenants who haven't moved in years are terrified of being thrown into this rental market.