Whether you like it or not, and many people don’t, Toronto is the most important city in Canada. It’s the beating heart of our cultural industries, the home of our biggest companies and financial institutions, and the source of huge reserves of entrepreneurial and intellectual energy. And right now, it’s slowly bleeding to death.

That blood is coming from a self-inflicted wound: housing. The combination of rapidly rising interest rates and slowly moderating prices means housing is even less affordable for new buyers today than it was a year ago, before the rate hikes began in earnest. Worse, that’s the good news here, given that rents have shot up nearly 25 per cent over the last year. Unless you’re a homeowner with a paid-off mortgage, housing in Toronto is a living nightmare for almost everyone living there.

That helps explain why the GTA saw the biggest wave of interprovincial out-migration in nearly 40 years, with many of them moving to more affordable markets like Edmonton or Calgary. It also helps explain why the number of people choosing to raise their young children there continues to decline, with 50,000 fewer children under the age of 15 since 2001 in a city that’s grown by more than 300,000 people over the same period.

Toronto isn’t alone here, of course. Vancouver has been experiencing a similar sort of hollowing out for even longer as the combination of rapidly rising housing costs and stubbornly low median incomes has transformed it from a functional middle-class city into a glass birdcage for tourists and the internationally wealthy. Even Montreal, which has long been more affordable than the major cities to its west (thanks, separatist movement!), has moved into the ranks of the “severely unaffordable” in recent years.

This can all be fixed, given enough time and political courage. But that would require our elected officials, especially the ones at the municipal and provincial levels, to end so-called “exclusionary zoning” — in other words, the primacy of the single family home. In Vancouver, for example, half of the land is occupied by just 15 per cent of the homes, while in Toronto, more than two-thirds of the city’s land is zoned exclusively for single family homes. In both cities, density tends to get squeezed into pockets of ultra-tall towers, with all the attendant challenges that creates.

There have been some baby steps here in recent months. In Toronto, Mayor John Tory got council to sign off on “more permissive” zoning in key parts of the city, the details of which will be released in March. In Vancouver, meanwhile, the new city council put forward a proposal that would rezone all standard single-family lots for up to four units, with the bigger lots in the city’s westside rezoned for six.

But this so-called “gentle density” is still far too little, and it’s way too late. If these cities are going to staunch the bleeding of young families, their leaders need to stop tinkering at the margins and instead take the fight to homeowners in these established neighbourhoods who continue to resist meaningful density.

Appeasement, in other words, can only work for so long. As Winston Churchill said in November 1936, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

Young Canadians have been bearing the brunt of the housing market’s consequences for years now, of course. But if they continue fleeing cities like Toronto and Vancouver for less overtly hostile environments, those consequences will be visited upon a much broader range of the public — including, perhaps, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada's housing market has gone from bad to worse in most major cities — and it's driving young people away in droves, writes columnist @maxfawcett. Could it end up tipping the next election, too?

That’s because for all of Pierre Poilievre’s misfires on issues like cryptocurrencies and COVID-19, the Conservative Party of Canada leader has been consistently on the mark when it comes to housing. That’s allowed him to connect with younger voters in a way that no Conservative leader has in recent memory, and it could pave a rather unique path to victory for his party in the next federal election.

It’s time for political leaders on the progressive side of the spectrum to get more serious about this issue as well, if not for the sake of young Canadians then at least for their own. Yes, implementing policies that visibly transfer wealth or opportunity from today’s voters to tomorrow can be a form of political suicide. But so is visibly fiddling while their futures burn before their eyes.

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The article correctly states that it is politicians at the provincial and municipal level (and I would argue almost exclusively the provincial level - given that the provincial govt can dissolve city council at a stroke of a pen) who have the power to do things. Pierre Poilievre is attracting young voters by essentially lying. The Federal government has very few levers in the area of municipal zoning, rent control, or other areas directly related to housing supply. The Federal government might be able to intervene to stop large billion $ hedge funds from buying up available housing stock - so far they haven't, and a CPC government led by PP most certainly wouldn't.

Spot on comment.

In addition, despite rightfully nailing exclusionary zoning to the wall, Fawcett has no follow up solutions other than nonsensically cramming more high density towers in between existing high density towers, and seems too angry and dismissive to conduct more than superficial research into what viable solutions exist. He has nothing to say about rental as an alternative to ownership. The Missing Middle espoused by urbanists for a couple of decades so far offers many viable housing alternatives beyond Vancouver's timid action on oversized lots that cover 80% (not 50%, Max) of residential zones, and starts with the most basic element: the land upon which a house sits. Unlike the GTA and Calgary, Vancouver has no more land to develop and must now infill -- or fill in the ocean for more single family subdivisions.

Given this opinion piece, Max Fawcett is the last person I would trust to develop viable solutions for this urban dilemma. I rank Fawcett's take on urbanism with his take on carbon capture and blue hydrogen. Unworkable.

I wish my NO subscription paid for more professional research.

Hugh Fergusen above hit all the nails on the head. Its called neoliberalism. Profit and privitization, before citizens. Inequality will kill our democracy on the path we are on

Unfortunately not enough people (particularly younger ones) even know what "neoliberalism" is, and even though it's actually a bona fide conspiracy, the fact that it sounds like one sidelines it along with the ever more timely truth behind the rampant inequality.
Being so systemic makes it almost as huge and overwhelming as climate change though, so beleaguered young people have responded in kind, turning to whoever offers hope for change (remember the Liberals campaign message a few years ago and how many young people signed on), with desperate times calling for desperate measures creating a sanction for "burning it all down" even. Talk about "consequences" though; is this generation possibly MORE apolitical and ahistorical then?
Their preoccupation with the digital realm suggests so and the link mentions Poilievre's "digital game" surpassing even Jagmeet Singh's. The facile preoccupation with bloody gamesmanship in the context of millions of people's lives and the quality thereof ASIDE, that realm is also where misinformation, disinformation and TiKTok originated, still thrive, and where Elon Musk now owns the upper echelons with Twitter. This is far from a solution to anything, quite the contrary and the same goes for the Convoy Party of Canada.
I assume that more young people may have turned away from the NDP toward PP because they DO know that the NDP can't win on their own.
All the more reason why Jagmeet needs to hold firm on the confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals, setting the stage for the best solution for ALL of us which is uniting the left. This is how systemic change can happen, quietly through the back door.

Pierre Poilievre complains about everything, and since there are plenty of very real problems to complain about, he can certainly be "consistently on the mark" in the sense that a thing is bad and he is complaining. The chances of him being "on the mark" in terms of what he recommends to do about those things (if anything--often he's got nothing) are far, far lower. So I'll believe it when I see what he's recommending. Or rather, I'll probably see that he's recommending bullshit.

Thinking of recommendations, Mr. Fawcett's sole recommendation is high density zoning. That is a piece of the puzzle, but I think it's not a co-incidence that it is both the piece pundits like Mr. Fawcett talk about the most and a piece dearly beloved of wealthy developers. However, the biggest piece of the puzzle would be large amounts of social housing directly built by governments, the way they used to when homelessness wasn't a significant problem and housing prices were far, far lower relative to people's earnings. Of course, high density zoning is also a piece of the puzzle that neither Justin Trudeau not Pierre Poilievre can do much about, since it's very much a municipal function, with little room for national legislation to have a whole lot of impact. What the national government CAN do is build homes, directly creating a supply of affordable housing (and thus indirectly, via supply and demand effects, tending to lower the price on the rest of the housing stock). But that's exactly what neither Justin nor PP nor apparently Mr. Fawcett are interested in talking about. By an odd co-incidence, it's a policy measure very likely to reduce the profits of wealthy developers.


There seems to be a lot of supposedly climate aware people encompassed by Max's generalization about "young families" that have been brainwashed into believing they are entitled to a 5,000 square foot yard in deeply car-addicted suburbia to raise a couple of kids. That is one of the most important causes at the core of the affordability problem than some hotheaded rhetoric about "glass birdcages for tourists and the international wealthy" followed by a near total dismissal of "gentle density." This goes against my 44 years of personal renter / owner and professional experience as an urban designer in Vancouver, a city Max seems shockingly ignorant of while freely offering his opinions. The fact remains that Vancouver hasn't even tried gentle density yet at any meaningful scale, even though it ran out of land decades ago while under significant demographic pressure. Supply meet demand.

The “glass birdcages” in fact are crammed into just the 20% of land left over after decades of development and demographic pressure since the 1948 zoning bylaw was initiated mainly to protect large detached properties and introduce massive infrastructure to accommodate the private car over top of the 19th Century streetcar urbanism. It’s now a cliff face, the 60 storey towers plunging down to single storey detached houses sprawling to the horizon in nearly every Canadian city, Metro Vancouver none the least.

Vancouver's real estate value is mainly in the land, and that high value remained intact after several recessions (even the 2008-9 biggie), taxes on vacant homes, taxes on speculation, the exposure of pre-land registration ghost sales by sleazy developers, tracking foreign influence on Canadian housing (now blown up to mythical proportions by people like Max Fawcett), tabulating the billions now being quietly transferred from Canadian Boomers to Gen Xers in the form of down payment assists on housing demand, etc. etc.

Perhaps the public needs to finally admit that land is now permanently expensive in the most desirable Canadian cities. Therefore, building more housing using less land is absolutely necessary, with high rises not necessarily being the sole response. Calgary has cheaper housing because it consumes vast tracts of cheap agricultural land at the periphery at a gluttonous pace, thousands of hectares at a time for single family subdivisions punctuated by malls and small clusters of townhouses and riven by community-busting arterials lined with concrete sound attenuation walls. And the entire thing is subsidized in the form of services and public roads and utilities suburbanites don’t entirely pay for. But the myth of cheaper suburban housing is soon put to bed by the high costs of transportation, namely owning several family vehicles and the value one’s time wasted in the inevitable traffic jams.

Europeans worked it out centuries ago and have found ways to mitigate high housing prices, often by not having the excessively high personal expectations of Canadians and relying more on the community and adaptable personal initiatives for the necessities of life. I’m still waiting for a facsimile of the 1878 London Chelsea freehold rowhouse on a postage stamp lot of my grandfather to appear in Canada in adequate numbers, especially in transit-rich neighbourhoods. Build them with basement rental suites to offer both expanded incomes for working families and more housing stock. Subdivide a lock-off studio flat from larger flats, offering affordable rentals for tenants starting out and supplemental income for owners. Build 9-12 unit two-storey rental buildings on typical 10 m Vancouver lots through a more progressive zoning change over subdivision.

There are lots of solutions that don't require high rises that will also sextuple the population and increase tax revenue to the city and support local businesses. Take on an overall planning initiative to build walkable neighbourhoods with greater zoning diversity and presto! fewer cars and better high streets with kilometres of sidewalk retail, and more shopping and employment opportunities. And all that by learning to work with high land prices. There is also a very large source of of land available to tap — the road network with its attendant wasteful use as dead storage space for machines. If even 10% of that land was liberated …….

One thing senior governments must do at this juncture is actually build housing, especially tens of thousands of non-profit, break even rentals, with probably 1/3rd subsidized. Cities could donate the land, thus shaving off a chunk of the costs to provinces and Ottawa. A large enough critical mass of mid-rise rentals divorced from the market will do wonders for affordability all around the country.

On that, no government is offering this workable solution let alone anything beyond sympathetic rhetoric and demand side grants for first time homebuyers when supply is an area that really needs attention.

Not even Poilievre, Max.

Informative and knowledgeable comment but with all due respect, Max's comment about "severely unaffordable housing" is about how the generation most affected by that (his) is becoming so desperate as to start seriously eyeing Poilievre as a solution. We on the left, especially us older ones, still can't imagine that such a person is even in the running, let alone having a chance to win, but here in Alberta we're living that very conservative dream, over and over, and even a joke leader like Danielle Smith might still prevail in the spring election!
The media needs to change and become absolutely laser-focused on linking the right wing masters of misinformation with the chaos that naturally occurs among people when there is one unprecedented situation after another. Hobble their stunts and antics by going high every time and calling them out for what they are---casually malevolent destroyers of our democracy for the sake of watching it burn because it didn't "work" for them.