The Liberal government’s recent budget focused almost entirely on southern Canada with little for the housing crisis in northern Canada, says Julia Christensen, Project Director for the At Home in the North housing research node.
In an April 17 interview on CBC’s “The Trailbreaker with Hilary Bird” podcast, Christensen applauded the budget’s creative incentives for increasing housing supply, particularly rental housing.
“But the main takeaway from this budget for the North is that there’s a clear southern urban focus … so I don’t see a lot in the budget that’s really recognizing the unique context of northern Canada,” said Christensen, who grew up in Yellowknife and is an Associate Professor at Queen’s University, specializing in the study of northern housing.
Christensen said the budget was southern focused in the sense that it’s promoting higher density housing, rental housing and mortgage incentives. Outside of Yellowknife, she said, there is virtually no high-density housing, most of the land is publicly owned and mortgages are almost impossible to get.
Christensen also noted “some concerning conflation between immigration and housing accessibility.
“The federal government is really promoting rural and northern immigration and, at the same time, sort of talking in the budget about how they want to pull back on the number of temporary work permits that are granted in the coming years because they see a relationship between rising immigration and housing and accessibility. Immigration is really important. It’s really important to Yellowknife; it’s really important to the North.”
She said there needs to be a better look at how to provide the housing needed for immigration.
Christensen also said there was no recognition in the budget of the impact climate change is having on northern housing, noting that thawing permafrost is complicating both the construction of housing, and the supply of construction materials.
“It will potentially continue to shorten the housing construction season across the North — that includes Yellowknife — road accessibility for the delivery of materials, storing modular housing and other housing materials,” she said.
Asked why northern housing wasn’t a budget priority, Christensen said it was because the solutions were complicated and difficult to boil down into a “flashy headline.”
“We need a long-term strategy to address northern housing need. That means that we can’t continue to place a Band-Aid on the northern housing crisis through one-off budget announcements that come every few years.
“There’s a lot of a lot of work that needs to be done to really promote housing as a local industry, as a northern industry,” she said, adding that there are “foundational, important questions that need to be answered around Indigenous self-government and self-determination.”
“That needs to be solved and worked through before a budget approach like this is really going to work in the North.“