CHBA’s Day on the Hill an exercise in federal advocacy

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By Nicole Storeshaw, Director of Government Relations, CHBA

On May 9, member leaders and HBA staff from across the country spread out in small groups over Ottawa’s parliamentary precinct, partaking in more than 45 meetings with Members of Parliament and government officials. CHBA’s Day on the Hill is the capstone event that complements the extensive year-round consultations that CHBA has with Ministers and MPs, and the public service, strengthening CHBA’s relationship with key government officials and reinforcing the coast-to-coast presence of the association.

Briefing day

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) has a reputation among MPs of having delegates that are well informed and organized, and this feedback was reiterated from MP offices this year. This reputation goes a long way in not only securing a meeting in the first place, but in setting the stage so that the MP is truly engaged in the discussion about the issues at hand.
A big part of the preparation takes place during a mandatory briefing day prior to the event for everyone attending meetings. Delegates are given best practices and strategic approaches for the meetings. They also spend a lot of time going over CHBA’s federal policy recommendations, supported by a policy infoguide that CHBA produces for these meetings, called Unlocking the Door to Homeownership: Recommendations on the Federal Role. While not every policy recommendation can be explored in depth during a 30-minute meeting with an MP, after the briefing day members are armed with enough understanding of each recommendation to speak comfortably about them.

Delegates finish the day by breaking into their groups and planning the flow of their meetings. They review how to answer challenging or skeptical questions, and how to find common ground to make that all-important connection. Having boots-on-the-ground members bring their perspective to the issues affecting residential construction and renovation is an extremely valuable facet of getting our message heard in Ottawa.

2023 federal policy recommendations

Housing affordability is always at the centre of CHBA’s policy recommendations for the federal government, and Canada’s housing supply shortage – and its link to higher home prices – was a key part of the conversation this year. In the 2022 Federal Budget, the government stated that we need to double the numbers of homes built over the next 10 years to make up Canada’s shortage of 3.5 million homes. Including the 2.3 million homes that we would normally build, that makes 5.8 million homes that need to be built in the coming decade. But starts are slowing due to rising interest rates crippling new housing sales. In addition to interest rates, there are many policy barriers, such as mortgage rules, the stress test and GST, holding back buyers and preventing the necessary construction of new homes and home renovation. CHBA’s recommendations are focused on addressing such policy barriers.

There is no magic bullet solution – what is required is a comprehensive approach. Therefore, during their meetings with MPs, members and HBA staff presented a seven-point pathway to building 3.5 million additional homes. Seven points is more than we would normally put forward, but given the housing crisis that is top of mind for politicians, MPs were thoroughly engaged in the discussions, and a lot of ground was covered as a result in the meetings. The seven points were:

1. Continue federal leadership, but with a holistic approach by ensuring the government’s own economic policies don’t run counter to efforts to increase housing supply.

2. Remove barriers to homeownership for first-time buyers, including lowering interest rates as soon as possible, lowering the overall stress test and having it further ratchet down for longer-term mortgages, not making changes through the OSFI B20 consultation that would make it even harder to buy a home, bringing back 30-year amortization periods, introducing a renovation tax credit, and considering the key issue of housing supply in all monetary and regulatory policy.

3. Lower government-imposed costs that add to affordability challenges, like increasing the GST/HST New Housing Rebate thresholds, fixing taxation on purpose-built rentals, and assisting municipalities in lowering their government-imposed costs.

4. Remove barriers within the home building process through the continued roll-out of the Housing Accelerator Fund and by fixing the Underused Housing Tax.

5. Address labour shortages by updating the immigration system to proactively attract skilled workers in residential constructions and by encouraging more Canadians to consider a career in the skilled trades and supporting the apprenticeship system.

6. Support increased productivity by prioritizing and supporting investment in modular and other factory-built technologies and supporting CHBA efforts for its sector transition strategy.

7. Avoid adding costs through codes and regulations, ensuring affordability is a core code objective and that we prioritize innovation before regulation. In tandem, invest in innovation and R&D for lower- or neutral-cost solutions, and recognize that to address climate change in the sector, it’s critical to retrofit existing housing. To do so, the EnerGuide Rating System (ERS) label should be required on all houses at the time of resale, and the ERS should be expanded and promoted so that it becomes the backbone of all renovation incentives.

 

Continuing the conversation

CHBA hosted a reception in the evening to carry on the conversation in a more relaxed setting. Evening receptions also provide an opportunity to connect with those who weren’t able to schedule a meeting during the day.

Two prominent Ministers spoke at the reception. The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, met with CHBA leadership during the day and then also addressed all the delegates at the reception in the evening. He spoke about the important work that members do to house Canadians from coast to coast, and that the government recognizes the need for more housing supply in Canada. The Minister pointed to the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund, which is providing incentive funding to local governments encouraging initiatives aimed at increasing housing supply – an initiative that aligns well with CHBA’s recommendations that we need to remove policy barriers to getting more supply online.

The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, also spoke to the crowd. He explained Canada’s need to keep growing its population through immigration, and the positive impact bringing more people into the country has had in small towns and cities, including in his region of Atlantic Canada. He recognized that we need more homes to house these newcomers who usually desire to own a home as soon as possible when they land. But having the labour force to build those homes is currently a challenge, one that he said the federal government is aiming to help solve through a new federal immigration pathways program that targets the skilled trades needed for construction as a prioritized skillset when evaluating immigrants and refugees to get those people here faster.

Digital advocacy – trending nationally

To support CHBA’s Day on the Hill and reception, as well as further awareness about CHBA’s policy recommendations around housing affordability, a digital awareness campaign took place in tandem with the event. Starting on the Monday, CHBA social media ads were delivered through a campaign targeting the parliamentary precinct to best reach government decision makers. In addition, ads appeared in The Hill Times, iPolitics, and National Newswatch – the three most popular online news sources for federal political news. CHBA also had an op-ed in The Hill Times authored by CEO Kevin Lee that spoke to the importance of housing affordability and the current barriers (and solutions) to building more homes in Canada. CHBA members and Executive Officers who attended meetings on Tuesday harnessed the power of Twitter to thank MPs and share the messaging, resulting in #CHBAontheHill trending nationally on Twitter on May 9. And to keep up the momentum, in addition to the ads targeted to the parliamentary precinct, CHBA continued to share its social media recommendations on its social media pages throughout the week so that members and HBA staff could keep sharing as well.

Next steps

CHBA has followed up with the MPs and government officials that members met with to thank them for the meetings and to provide additional information or answer any questions that came out of the meetings. As part of ongoing government relations activities, CHBA will continue its dialogue with relevant policy-makers throughout the year, bolstered by insights that members collected during the meetings to find common ground on issues to help further CHBA’s recommendations to government for a healthy future for the industry and housing in Canada.

Members who are interested in keeping current with housing and CHBA action and policy recommendations are encouraged to sign up to receive CHBA’s Industry Highlights, a media scan on housing issues and developments with CHBA commentary, published Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.