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Rishi Sunak can learn from Canadian Conservatives on housing

Will Rishi Sunak seize the Yimby vote? Credit: Getty

September 1, 2023 - 1:30pm

In Canada, something that would be unthinkable in UK politics is occurring. Young people are voting centre-right, with Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party (CPC) enjoying a seven-point lead among 18-29 year-olds, rising to 19 points among 30-44 year-olds. By contrast, in the UK the Tories trail Labour by 44 points among 18-24 year-olds, and by 43 points among 25-49 year-olds. 

There are various reasons why young people are voting for the CPC. The shine has long since come off Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; inflation has started rising again; and Poilievre’s personal charisma is winning over voters. However, the CPC’s willingness to embrace one particular issue should offer a lesson to both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer. It’s housing, stupid. 

In Canada the average house price is $668,754 (around £390,000) — approximately 10 times higher than the average salary. In Toronto, the average house will costs a staggering  $1,161,200 (the equivalent of £674,866). On TikTok, young Canadians are posting irony-laden videos comparing the cost of domestic real estate to the cost of private islands and European castles. In parliament, Poilievre is making political capital out of their concerns. Last year, an exchange between the opposition leader and tourism minister, Randy Boissonnault, went viral after Poilievre repeatedly asked by how much house prices have increased in Ottawa — a simple, direct question which the minister refused to answer 13 times.  

Now Poilievre has demanded Canada’s parliament be recalled early from summer recess to deal with the housing crisis. “Open up the House so Canadians can get a home”, he declared. The Conservatives’ solutions range from reducing the red tape around development to requiring big cities to increase their housing stock by 15% annually — or lose federal funding. The key point is that Poilievre has grasped a truth that has so far escaped Rishi Sunak — that, handled correctly, housebuilding can be a vote-winner rather than an electoral albatross. 

A cynic might suggest that the British PM has never had to contend with unaffordable house prices. In reality, though, Sunak simply doesn’t see housing as a priority for his government — instead viewing large-scale developments as a potential turn-off to home-owning, older voters in blue wall seats. Recent announcements from Housing Secretary Michael Gove, such as scrapping “nutrient neutrality” rules which often hold up building, are welcome but insufficient.  

Equally, Labour should take a leaf out of Poilievre’s book and use dissatisfaction with the Government’s track record on housing to his advantage. If Keir Starmer can turn housing into a major issue at the next election, then it could be a vote-winner for his party. The lesson from Canada is that the Yimby vote is up for grabs. Will either Sunak or Starmer try to seize it?


James Hanson is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist, as heard on Times Radio.

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Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

A vote winner would be a combined policy of:
1.Limit immigration to 150k per annum for the next 5 years
2.Build 300k homes per year for the next 5 years

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

We’ve had “policies” before, till they’ve been coming out of our ears.
The problem is, the people asking for our votes to implement those policies had nothing between their ears to stop the policies from escaping.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Something a a little stronger is needed, I think. Limit immigration to net zero for 10 years and build 500k+ homes per annum

Last edited 10 months ago by Marcus Leach
Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
10 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

;Yes Marcus, much better (though I’d prefer net minus)

j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Trouble is the second can’t be done quickly without at least some of the first. C’est la Vie.
How many additional construction worker apprenticeships will you be introducing to wean us off foreign labour? And then timescale to pull all this off? 3years, 5?
It is the case some rebalancing in our national training strategy really needed. The problem is many grumble like mad and don’t recognise that necessity and timescale. Wasted 14yrs haven’t we.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“Wasted 14yrs haven’t we.” (?)
..YES!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

A good start would be to put all so-called refugees under canvass while saving housing stock for Brits in dire need.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Indeed. Don’t understand why we don’t set up a “tent city” in a remote spot somewhere in the Pennines, with a barbed wire fence round it to stop them annoying the locals.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

Prison barges on SCAPA FLOW.
Environmentally friendly and will not ‘annoy the locals’. In other words PERFECT.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Oh dear, oh dear. Let’s find a scapegoat for policy ineptitude.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

No, only three scapegoats, Cameron, May and Johnson.
“What a parcel of rogues in a nation”, to quote from Mr Robbie Burns.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

I don’t trust Poilievre at all. He’s a career politician who seems to have a good knack for following popular opinion. He supported the truckers and used it to win the party leadership. I’ll give him that. The timing was perfect though. Covid fatigue was starting to become a thing.

Housing is a municipal responsibility in Canada, and municipalties are 100% under the jurisdiction of provinces. I don’t see how he is reducing any red tape because the feds don’t regulate housing. I’m not sure how he can require municipalities to increase housing stock because they don’t get any funding from the feds. I suppose he could withhold funding to the provinces if they don’t do X or Y, but I’m not sure it would be constitutional. The feds do have a mortgage guarantee program, but this only helps when people actually get a house.

I remain skeptical of Poilievre. One of the big issues right now are schools not telling parents when their child has changed gender pronouns. Three provinces are in the process of requiring schools to inform parents and public opinion is clearly against the trans activists. Poilievre was very silent on this, saying education is not a federal matter – kinda like housing. He’s been a little more vocal recently, but opinion polls show overwhelming support for parental involvement.

Is Poilievre simply following the opinion polls? If so, it’s a crappy way to lead people.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I started reading your comment here JV because I think you may be Canadian (apols if not) and have some further useful insight in how Canada is really grappling with the Housing prob – even if on some other things we are more often in polite disagreement. But somehow you drifted it onto pronouns! I wasn’t sure if this was satire.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Fair comment. It was more of a rant against Poilievre.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green”

No, but they DO now sadly.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago

“Young people are voting centre-right, with Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party (CPC) enjoying a seven-point lead among 18-29 year-olds, rising to 19 points among 30-44 year-olds.”
The writer needs to be reminded that nobody has voted for Polievre yet and that polls are not elections. Trudeau and his liberals are seeing a pretty standard dip in popularity given their time in government but I doubt that when the moment comes Canadians will put their trust in a weasel like Polievre.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago

Until the housing shortage has gone – we just need to routinely limit immigration in any given year to 50% of the houses built in the previous year.
The actual figures to be confirmed in Parliament each January 


Last edited 10 months ago by Ian Barton
Michel Starenky
Michel Starenky
10 months ago

The solution is to vote Bernier of the Peoples Party of Canada. A very interesting fellow.with interesting policies.

j watson
j watson
10 months ago

Let’s face it, the Tories are trapped between needing to build more homes for the Young who can’t get on the ladder and the NIMBY’s who overpopulate their membership. What a dilemma for Party that’s always promulgated the benefits of a property owning democracy.
So they pull contortions every which way to try and square it, occasionally not unhappy if some look to scapegoat legal immigrants or asylum seekers to absolve them of a massive 14yr Policy failure.