Expect affordability to play an immediate and central role in the next government.
All the parties prioritized cost-of-living issues — a rare consensus that persisted despite a polarized electorate and bitter, angry campaigning. And that consensus gives the next Parliament some common ground that they could use to keep some election promises and show the electorate that yes, they heard them.
Affordability — and it means something different to everyone — was a constant throughout the campaign. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives put it at the centre of their platforms and their strategies to win the hearts of anyone concerned about making ends meet — especially the middle class and the suburban and urban voters whose ballots can make or break a campaign.
While it lacked definition, tackling affordability also meant tackling voter anxiety — a crucial ingredient for any campaign in Canada hoping to keep at populism at bay.
Polling done by Abacus Data put “cost of living” as the top vote driver at the beginning of the campaign and at the end, with the issue only gaining in importance. While national inflation numbers show that costs are well under control, voters have been telling politicians for months now that household debt is too onerous, housing costs are too high, daycare is out of control, wages are barely budging, and they’re worried about the future.
Even Green Party supporters put affordability ahead of climate in terms of importance, according to Abacus.
The challenge for politicians was to show more than empathy; they also had to offer solutions to a problem that takes on many different forms — and stand out in the crowd so that voters would see their package as better than the other guys’.
The Liberals saw affordability as Part 2 of the middle-class campaign that help propel them to power in 2015. Their approach was to target transitionary moments in a typical voter’s life — the first year of a child’s life, or kids going off to university, or retirement.
They started rolling out their measures in the spring budget with a first-time homebuyers subsidy that was then enhanced for Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria during the early days of the campaign. They followed up with enriched seniors benefits, expanding the Canada Child Benefit for babies, before and after-school care for older children, and more generous terms for student loans.
The icing on their affordability cake was, in their eyes, an income-tax cut for everyone except the top income bracket.
The Conservatives saw the affordability nexus as a way to enhance their reputation as reliable economic managers but with a small-government flavour to distinguish their offerings from the Liberals’. They too proposed an income-tax cut, although theirs doesn’t cut the rich out of the benefits, and it doesn’t help the very poor.
They offered a plethora of boutique tax cuts — for transit, home retrofitting, children’s arts and fitness and so on. They targeted housing, by offering up insured 30-year mortgages and looser qualifying rules for homebuyers. Their centrepiece, however, is the cancellation of Justin Trudeau’s carbon-tax regime, which the Conservatives have argued will save everyone money.
The NDP, by contrast, has been focused on big spending programs to help regular people pay the bills: universal pharmacare and dental care, universal child care, a rapid and large increase in affordable housing. And May, when she piled on, stressed the affordable housing aspects of her party’s platform.
The end result, from a voter’s perspective, was a broad and sometimes confusing array of promises meant to resolve some or all aspects of the affordability crunch. From a political strategist’s perspective, since every party had something major on the table for affordability, the issue was not a potent vote-driver. Rather, it was a necessary and effective vote-keeper, making sure each party’s traditional supporters felt they were properly heard and looked after, says David Coletto of Abacus Data.
While the affordability offerings all stay true to the traditional ideology of each party, there is ample ground for compromise — regardless of the configuration of the new Parliament.
The Liberals promised to make their income-tax cut their first order of business, while the Conservatives promised to cut the carbon tax and then quickly move on to other tax measures. The carbon tax aside, many of the tax proposals are simple but dramatic moves that a new government could find enough support to adopt in a first budget or even in a first fiscal update this fall if they choose.
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On housing, however, quick movement will be more difficult. While both the Conservatives and the NDP want to offer insured 30-year mortgages, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has warned that such a policy would only increase indebtedness and push prices higher, which would be “reckless” in their eyes. And increasing the housing supply through funding for affordable housing is time-consuming and expensive.
As for the carbon tax, division runs deep.