Haliburton-Kawartha-Lakes-Brock federal candidates argued about housing and the mortgage stress test during a debate Oct. 9.

The all-candidates debate at the Pinestone Resort was the only one in Haliburton. A crowd of more than 200 people watched and applauded as all five of the riding’s candidates fielded questions, including People’s Party of Canada’s Gene Balfour, NDP’s Barbara Doyle, Liberal Judi Forbes, Green Elizabeth Fraser and Conservative incumbent Jamie Schmale.

Housing was a focal point of the debate. Candidates were asked how they would address the “negative impacts of the mortgage stress test,” which Liberals implemented in 2018 to ensure homebuyers could manage their mortgage if interest rates rose.

Forbes said it was meant to cool the housing market. But she said she would like to see the test made easier.

“We could actually afford to reduce that percentage a slight amount,” Forbes said. “It would be something I would take forward to the government.”

Fraser said the Green Party would work to eliminate the test. She added her party would also expand the range of homes available to people, such as co-ops.

“While we would work to eliminating the stress test, there are other steps we could take. To help people move into places to call their own,” Fraser said.

Schmale said his party would get rid of the test and bring back 30-year mortgages. He added governments could work together to make home building easier.

“There are things we can do, also working with municipalities and provinces, to ensure land is freed up quicker and they are able to make decisions locally to provide the supply to meet the demand,” Schmale said.

Balfour said the federal government should not get into the way of how people manage their property.

“To step in and try to manage the banks, how they deploy their property, doesn’t really support the Canadian way of living,” Balfour said.

Doyle did comment on the stress test directly but said workers need better wages to afford homes.

“We can no longer allow business as usual where workers are productive as ever but wages are stagnant,” Doyle said, adding mention of the NDP plan to build 500,000 new affordable homes in 10 years.

Affordability in focus

Candidates were also asked what other measures their parties would consider to make homes more affordable, such as with the first-time home buyer’s tax credit.

Fraser said the Green Party’s goal is not to get more people to buy houses but to ensure more people have secure housing. That includes building 25,000 new units and rehabilitating 15,000 in the next year, as well as a fund to help those who cannot afford rent.

“Haliburton has the highest living wage in the area, just over $19 and too often, people are spending a disproportionate amount of their wages on rent,” Fraser said. 

Schmale said the Conservatives want to increase the first-time home buyer’s incentive and help expand housing responsibly.

“We do realize there are people moving from the city in most cases coming up here to retire, putting a lot of pressure on housing prices,” Schmale said. “This is something we need to work together on. It’s not just a federal issue.”

Balfour said national strategies often fail to address local nuances with a “one size fits all” approach. He said reducing government and the regulatory burden would improve affordability.

“Reduce the operating costs of our government, so the taxes come down, also the complexity comes down,” Balfour said.

Doyle said her party would double the first-time home-buyers tax credit. She also highlighted the need to help youth consider home ownership by cancelling student debt.

“Youth are discouraged about their prospects of ever buying their own home,” Doyle said. “Our young people will come into the job market with less debt and a better ability to look at home ownership as a real prospect, instead of just a dream.”

Forbes highlighted her party implementing the first national housing strategy, a $40-billion plan to remove 530,000 families from housing need over 10 years.

“Everyone, no matter where they live, deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” Forbes said. “A re-elected Liberal government will continue to roll out this strategy.”

A full video stream of the event is available at facebook.com/canoefm.  The debate was hosted by the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, CARP Haliburton Highlands Chapter 54 and the Lakelands Association of Realtors.

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