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Influencers, promises, and populism: Prime minister woos renters in South Vancouver


The prime minister chose a South Vancouver community centre to woo Millennials and renters with an announcement Wednesday that was big on populist rhetoric but apparently light on impact.

Justin Trudeau, his finance minister, and other Liberal members of parliament from the Vancouver area were on hand at the Sunset Community Centre to outline plans that include a federal Renters’ Bill of Rights, which would require landlords to disclose their properties' rental price history to prospective tenants.

Officials also promised millions of dollars for legal aid in a Tenant Protection Fund, and said they would urge banks and landlords to count on-tie rent payments towards credit scores.

“It's about changing the rules of the game that meets people where they are and responds to their hopes and dreams for the future,” Trudeau said, referencing Gen Z and Millennial Canadians who’ve found themselves priced out of a skyrocketing housing market.

He made the remarks at a podium with the theme printed in bold letters: "Fairness for every generation."

And while social media comments in the wake of the announcement included positive reaction to the moves, experts were quick to point out the measures won’t have much impact aside from signalling to younger adults that the federal government recognizes they’re struggling and frustrated.

“There is nothing in here that's going to tackle the widening gap across generations in the country, that's going to help restore class mobility. There’s nothing that's really going to make housing more affordable,” said Rob Gillezeau, an associate professor of economic policy at the University of Toronto. “It’s political virtue signalling.”

Local influencers invited

Polling has shown that voters in their 20s and 30s who’d helped put Trudeau in the prime minister’s office are feeling disaffected with the Liberals, so Wednesday’s subtext was a need for the party to re-connect with that demographic.

It appears it’s to that end that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office reached out to local influencers to attend the event and post about it on their social media channels.

Vancouver lifestyle, fashion and restaurant influencer Eleni Chountalos was surprised and delighted to be invited to the event Tuesday evening.

“I was very flattered,” she said in an interview with CTV News at the community centre. “I love being informed and this is very cool.”

Chountalos, who has a strong following on Instagram, posed for photos with Freeland and said the experience had left her more interested in following politics going forward.

Feds adopt BC NDP policies

The bill of rights includes protections against renovictions and other measures that B.C.’s provincial government has already enacted.

“I think it's positive because in the end we all want the same thing, which is more access to housing, better protections for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, who was interested to see what would come of the move toward broadening criteria for credit scores.

Gillezeau is one of many economists who have praised the moves Kahlon and his government have made to address the housing crisis, and gave them full marks for setting an example for the federal government.

“If other provinces were doing what B.C.'s doing it would make a big difference," he said. "It's not going to fix things (immediately), but it would fix things over time."

Freeland claimed they would work to reduce red tape, re-zone areas, and “turbo charge” housing construction across the country, but many of the references she made are under provincial or municipal jurisdiction, which the federal government has little influence over. Kahlon suggested that if the Liberals want to reward communities – or entire provinces – making headway on housing, they should cut a cheque.

“We need investments in affordable housing,” he said. “We will not solve the housing crisis without directly investing in affordable housing -- housing that the market cannot deliver.”

With overlapping jurisdictions, CTV News asked Kahlon who he felt was responsible for fixing the complex housing problem with demand continuing to far outstrip supply.

“The public doesn’t care who is responsible,” he replied. “They don't care if it's federal government or provincial or local government, they just want us to address the housing crisis and they want us to work together.” Top Stories

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