Can rising real estate prices lead to rise of alt-right in Canada?

The ingredients are present for a politician to ride the crest of wave of nationalism and populism

The world is undoubtedly shocked that Trump has become the President Elect of most powerful country in the world. Canadians are doubly worried as US is just next door to them. They are certain that a person like Trump cannot become the leader of the Canadian federation. Nobody expected BREXIT to happen. It happened. Nobody expected that an outsider like Trump could win the election. He did it in a “beautiful” way. So when someone tells me that this can never happen in Canada, my only reply is “Never say never”.

Twitter, blog sites, mainstream newspapers are busy churning analysis after analysis on why nobody could foresee it_ this seething anger amongst the populace that voted for Brexit and Trump. Why were they so unhappy when the urban centres both in US and UK are seeing a revival, wages are steady or rising (as reported in the various reports), and though house prices are high but educated millennials prefer the flexibility and mobility by becoming “Generation Rent” as it enables them to easily relocate to cities where there are jobs. Though the op-eds and long form article explaining the shocking result continue to grace the newspapers, most of them have zeroed in to the cause as that part of the population that has been left behind. It is wrong to stereotype entire segment of the population but in broad strokes they are the people of decaying rural and urban areas, people whose wages have gone down due to manufacturing slump or offshoring , retiring baby boomer parents whose kids had moved out but now have come back to live with them the so called “baby boomerangs” as their aren’t enough jobs for them, and those who wanted to get on the housing ladder but could not do so as the house prices have gone up steeply on account of influx of money seeking investment avenues be it of local investor, foreign investor or newly arrived immigrants. When people voted for BREXIT or Trump, they didn’t vote for their as it is clear the both in case of BREXIT and US elections, winning politicians’ policies were non-existent. What they voted was for rejection of status quo. It is unfortunate that the only way for them to stick the middle finger to the man was by voting for those who represented xenophobia, racism, sexism etc. Can it happen in Canada? Canadians think “Not a chance”. I wouldn’t be so sure.

Rising urban real estate prices in GTA

Lets start with Murtaza Haider’s piece. Though he uses this opportunity to take a swipe at public transit (he is on a crusade against Toronto public transit schemes) but he rightfully hints towards rising public frustration in his The Rise of Canada’s Uncreative Class

The dominant urban discourse is self-centered and dismissive of others whose economic and demographic realities have pushed them out of the unaffordable urban housing markets. The elites have willingly become ignorant of what transpires in remote small towns like Thunder Bay whose survival is linked to the consumers and commuters in large towns.

My take away from the above paragraph is that rising housing prices in Ontario especially GTA can turn the population towards “alt-right”.

You can ignore the rest of his article the whole point of which is to stick it to the Toronto public transit proponents by supporting the Bombardier rolling stock order in one paragraph and then going against LRT in another paragraph.

Tax evading immigrants in Vancouver

Few days ago Vancouver Sun published an opinion piece which brought attention to flawed immigration policies that have resulted in increasing real estate prices and hurting the long term residents.

Two of the government departments that have let down city dwellers, basically by not doing their jobs, are Immigration Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency.

Although other government departments have also sat on their hands while Metro Vancouver prices have skyrocketed, I’ll focus here on the ways Canada’s immigration and taxation departments have not fulfilled their mandates. And doubts remain they’ll do so in the future.

This is not just my contention. It’s the view of many scholars, including Andy Yan, David Ley, Josh Gordon, Elizabeth Murphy and Tom Davidoff; immigration lawyers such as Samuel Hyman and Richard Kurland; housing activists like Justin Fung and Evelina Xia and some opposition politicians and some journalists.

These observers have recognized, one way or another, that those responsible for immigration and taxation have been encouraging their staff to look the other way while subterfuge has contributed to housing prices becoming ridiculous.

He further goes on to state

CRA officials had admitted, in internal documents, they were not willing to devote auditors to catching these “highly sophisticated” tax-avoiding schemes by Metro Vancouver mansion owners and others.

‘They were scared,” the source said, “of being labelled racist.’”

Again the article is very detailed and nuanced but what BREXIT and Trump have shown us that campaigning is about sound bites. And both of these events have shown as that being Politically Incorrect is the new black. Though the article makes it clear that it is talking about non-resident and tax evading investors, campaign messages can twist the message to blame all immigrants.

Left behind and ignored Albertans

As with the slum in manufacturing, rust belt voters felt that the rest of country doesn’t care about them, here Canada’s oil belt dwellers expressing similar sentiments:

And while house prices are rising and jobs are being created in Ontario and BC, the central provinces are feeling the pain and like the rust belt in US, they think that the rest of the country doesn’t care about them.

“Alberta has always been the strong province that has helped the other provinces,” Diaz said.

“You would hope people would think the same way: ‘OK, now it’s our turn to help Alberta.’ But the mentality out there is: ‘Well, you guys have made all this money. You’re in oil and gas. What goes around comes around.’ And I’ve heard that from people. I’ve heard that from people I know.”

And she’s far from alone in that sentiment.

In a countrywide survey of Canadians’ attitudes conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with CBC, Albertans stood out in their responses to questions about national belonging.

More so than people in virtually any other province, Albertans said they feel disrespected, ripped off and generally mistreated by the rest of Canada.

Too many immigrants

Already people have started questioning the current immigration policy of the Canada and if it is the former chief statistician of Canada that is raising an alarm, people take notice.

But does evidence on the performance of economic immigrants to Canada confirm this hope, and the potential theoretical result, that more immigrants have meant better living standards?

The simple answer is no.

Rising real estate prices and rise of nationalists in New Zealand

You would think that drawing a link from rising real estate prices to anti-immigration rhetoric and nationalism is a stretch. The relationship wasn’t as evident in case of BREXIT but it is very obvious in case of New Zealand where rising real estate prices led to rise of New Zealand First party.

In New Zealand, fears over Asian immigration and investment in the economy are causing a backlash. The Labour Party have stoked up concerns about Chinese investment pushing up house prices.

Winston Peters’ anti-immigration message continues to resonate with voters. Part of this is because immigration and foreign investment have been sold as necessary to bring economic growth and essential skills.

For us living and working comfortably in Toronto or GTA, any talk about populist and nationalist politicians capturing a significant portion of electorate may seem unthinkable but as is obvious from above articles, it is not as far fetched as it appears. Both UKIP and Trump had been written off even before they started their campaign. Though below may be an act by a lone wolf charged up by Trump’s win south of the border, but if the federal and provincial governments don’t play an active role in increasing affordability and reducing inequality, I can foresee populism, nationalism, xenophobia also making its presence felt in Canada.

One more saw just now on twitter

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