Political polls are a time-honoured way of taking the temperature of public opinion, however oftentimes the results can be taken with a grain of salt.
Glaring examples include Christy Clark and the then-BC Liberal Party overcoming a near comedic polling deficit against Adrian Dix and the NDP in 2013, or Hillary Clinton coming up short against Donald Trump in spite of favourable polling results ahead of the 2016 U.S presidential election.
So when an Abacus Data poll released last week show the federal Conservative ahead of the Liberals by a dozen percentage points, how should the results be interpreted?
“If you ask me to interpret the polling, I don’t know if I have to interpret the polls as much as I can tell you what I’m hearing, not just from my own constituency but from others as well,” said John Brassard, a Conservative Party MP who toured through Cranbrook last week.
“People are hurting right now.”
Brassard, elected out the Barrie—Innisfil riding in Ontario, came through the region last week as part of a listening tour, making stops at the Cranbrook Farmers’ Market and a local ranch celebrating 100 years of operation, while also holding a media availability with Kootenay-Columbia parliamentary colleague Rob Morrison.
Particularly noteworthy in that Abacus polling data is the voting intention of younger folks, as those in the 18-49 age bracket, which skews at a higher percentage towards the Conservative Party.
Nationally, the housing and affordability crisis has dominated the federal discourse above any other issue, as high rents and high interest rates coupled with inflationary pressures at the gas pumps and grocery stores are straining household budgets.
Brassard also touched on themes of a generation of people “losing hope” as they obtain a post-secondary education and work in a well-paying career field, yet still struggle with the high cost of living.
“Many young people will say, ‘I’ve done everything. I’ve gone to university, I’ve got an education, I’m making good money, but I can’t afford rent and I can’t afford a house,’” Brassard said.
Compounding the issue in an era of higher interest rates, the challenge isn’t just getting into the housing market, it’s grappling with higher payments, either on variable or fixed rate renewal terms, as rates steadily climbed since record lows before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bank of Canada has hiked rates 10 times since March last year amid efforts to tame inflationary pressure.
Brassard said banks are going to have a role, potentially with increased amortization periods as homeowners needing to renew their mortgage look to reign in costly payments.
However, interest rates and government spending are inextricably linked, he added.
“From a fiscal policy standpoint, the best thing the government can do right now is to control spending,” Brassard said.
Beyond the lens of affordability, the housing crisis can also be framed through a deficit in housing stock.
Though released in 2020, Cranbrook’s Housing Needs Report identified housing gaps and estimated an additional 430 new housing units are needed by 2030, running the gamut from single family residential to high density, social and transitional options.
Nationally, a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report last year outlined the scope of the crisis, which concluded that 22 million housing units are going to be required by 2030 to help restore housing affordability.
The Conservative Party has campaigned on “removing gatekeepers” while promising to incentivize municipalities that get development projects shovel-ready.
But there’s complex factors in play as local mayors, city councillors and municipal governments, which have direct control over zoning and land-use planning, are also accountable to their own constituents.
What if a neighbourhood doesn’t want a particular housing development at a proposed location? Under the Conservative plan, would municipal officials plow ahead with a project over resident objections for fear of potentially losing out on federal housing funding?
As a former Barrie city councillor in Ontario, Brassard says he understands the development challenges at the local level.
“There’s a certain level of persuasiveness that’s going to be required to work with municipalities on this because the need is so great,” Brassard said. “It’s almost like to deal with this, we have to take a war time footing.”
Brassard, first elected to Parliament in 2015, currently serves as Chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Past opposition roles include Deputy Opposition Whip and shadow critic for veterans affairs and urban affairs.