Opinion: Which party will really make life more affordable for families?

Sep 16 2021, 6:25 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Paul Kershaw, Founder of Generation Squeeze and Associate Professor in the UBC School of Population & Public Health.

Affordability has become a key theme in this federal election. All parties are talking about the challenges Canadians face in affording a home, and affording important services like childcare. It’s gratifying to see these issues front and centre… but also challenging to sift through all of the competing promises to assess the strengths of what each party is offering.

Generation Squeeze has analyzed commitments in the Conservative, Green, Liberal and NDP platforms on affordability and compared them to well-established evidence about the actions we need to take to make life more affordable. Here’s what you need to know about how the parties measure up. 

No party does enough to secure affordable homes for all

All parties acknowledge that Canada is in a housing crisis, and have included actions to address this crisis in their platforms. But while they have all crossed the starting line… none goes the full distance to restore affordability for all. As a result, there is reason to remain concerned that a very large gap between housing costs and local earnings will persist – for renters and aspiring owners. 

Generation Squeeze’s comprehensive analysis of housing actions in election platforms finds that the Liberals propose the broadest set of measures, addressing about two-thirds of the actions that evidence confirms are needed to address the gap between housing prices and earnings. The NDP and Green platforms include measures that address one-third of needed actions, and the Conservative platform one-quarter.

All parties highlight the specific needs of younger Canadians, who have been squeezed out of a housing system that values securing wealth for home owners and investors over creating affordable homes. But none speaks to the issue that is central to fixing this broken system – namely, that we need home prices to stall, to give earnings a chance to catch up.

Three party convergence on historic childcare investments

This is an historic election for childcare. Canada is finally poised to join other developed nations with universal and affordable childcare, thanks to the commitments of the Liberal, NDP, and Green parties to create a $10-a-day childcare system. The Liberal party allocated the funding required for $10-a-day childcare in its 2021 Budget – and the NDP and Greens affirm they will uphold this level of investment. This is the real deal, and it will ensure that childcare does not cost another mortgage- or rent-sized payment in the years ahead.

The Conservatives are the outliers on childcare. They recommend converting the existing Childcare Expense Deduction into a Tax Credit, which families with childcare expenses could claim to cover a portion of their out-of-pocket costs. There are two big weaknesses with this approach. 

First, it would invest less than 10% of what the other parties are promising – and therefore would deliver substantially less money to families struggling to cover childcare costs. Second, a tax credit can not help advance the goal of building a childcare system that delivers high-quality care, with pay equity wages for early childhood educators. So while the Conservative platform does include promising language on childcare, the concrete actions being proposed – and the limited budget allocation that backs them up – will amount to little more than a “status quo” approach. 

You can find more information on the childcare commitments made by all parties in Gen Squeeze’s comprehensive analysis of party promises on family affordability.

Silence on other family affordability issues

While three of four parties get strong marks for childcare, all the platforms are relatively silent about improving work-life balance more generally. Even though evidence confirms that there are other key policy issues that contribute to unaffordability for families to be addressed.

For example, none of the parties gives much attention to parental leave, despite the fact that low benefit levels impose a significant financial squeeze on many families when they take time to care for a newborn. There is also insufficient discussion when it comes to improving work-life balance more generally. The large gap between housing costs and local earnings means that both parents have to work in many households, to cover basic living costs. This challenge is magnified for lone parents. We need our political leaders to create space to explore how we can better spread out time spent in paid work across our working lives, so that we can achieve greater balance each week or year we are in the labour market. 

Vote informed!

You can get more non-partisan, evidence-based information on all party commitments on affordability this election in the Gen Squeeze Voter’s Guide. This guide does not tell Canadians who to vote for, but it does equip voters with information on the overall strength of the promises parties make, relative to academic evidence about what is required to solve big problems squeezing younger generations.

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