Attorney General David Eby clearly doesn't want to be known as the worst housing minister in B.C. history
For many years, Attorney General David Eby was one of the leading hawks in the B.C. legislature when it came to blaming high housing prices on foreigners.
Back in 2016, for example, he cited an SFU report "conclusively showing that international speculators are the main factor driving the out-of-control real estate in Metro Vancouver".
"This report will come as no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention," Eby declared in question period. "To the finance minister, when will this government finally take action on the international money that is driving Metro Vancouver's real estate market?"
This week, Eby, as the minister responsible for housing, is singing from a different song sheet. Now, he's saying the real problem is a shortage of supply and that no tax policy will put a roof over someone's head.
It's been a remarkable about-face. It's also one that he hinted at last May when he told a nonprofit housing conference about the need for thousands of affordable rental units.
That came not long after Eby had expressed regret over his role in a 2015 study that focused on non-anglicized names of a small number of homebuyers on the West Side of Vancouver.
Eby is an adept political communicator. From 2015 to 2019, he went out of his way to encourage the public to think that if only the government would close loopholes and introduce new taxes, housing prices would come back down to Earth.
Well, guess what? The NDP government did these things and that didn't prevent home prices from continuing to rise sharply. They kept going up even during a pandemic when immigration plummeted and there was relatively little foreign buying of residential real estate, according to provincial government statistics.
There are a few within the NDP who always knew that the problem was a supply shortage. They kept their mouths shut as the hysteria over foreign buying reached a crescendo in the media.
Playing up the foreign ogre was good politics in a province where yellow-peril fears are part of the collective DNA. And Eby's constant nattering about links between the River Rock Casino, high housing prices, and the fentanyl crisis helped the NDP win the 2017 election.
When I suggested back in 2018 that Vancouver's high housing prices were attributable to the inelasticity of housing supply, among other factors, I was ripped by that same SFU researcher whose work Eby was citing in the legislature in 2016. Not only did Eby publicize that questionable study for political gain, but he also relentlessly plugged the work of journalists Sam Cooper and Kathy Tomlinson, whose articles repeatedly focused on people of Chinese ancestry.
Back in those days, Eby was screaming from the rafters about money-laundering, which wasn't going to do anything to put a roof over anyone's head. He was cheered on by a former U.S. hedge-fund manager who was short-selling Home Capital.
Thankfully, Eby has finally seen the light and recognizes that a shortage of homes is really what's keeping housing costs sky-high. It's domestic demand that's largely driven up prices, including from doctors, lawyers, and other high-income individuals buying second and third homes as investments or for their kids.
It's just too bad that about five or six years were wasted by the NDP focusing almost exclusively on demand-side measures but Eby's reversal is still better late than never.
If there's a famine, you don't keep food away from the people. The same principle should apply to a housing shortage.
That's the real lesson from this sordid tale.