A helping hand for homebuyers provides a helping hand at the polls

There are times governments might want to protect people from themselves. Election campaigns are not seemingly such times.

Which helps justify the politics, much more so than the policy, in the provincial offer to newbie homebuyers – an opportunity at the expense of taxpayers and the benefit of the housing market to dig their fingernails into the side of the cliff they must climb to stay put in their communities.

There is nothing new about the issue BC Liberals confronted. When I ran for office in 2014, the most frequent familial concern I heard was that children were not going to be able to stay in the city. What kind of city is it, I was asked, when buying a home means you likely have to leave where you were raised?

Crisp point, but talk about a crackling government response, for it is true that just about every economist and housing expert has decried Christy Clark’s commitment to provide five-year interest-free matching down payment loans of up to $37,500 on properties of less than $750,000 (read: Vancouver condos).

To them, Clark is basically saying: experts, schmexperts.

And in this political context she would be right. I would wager that for every Christmas dinner gathering of finger-wagging and tut-tutting about the fiscal irresponsibility and market impact of the Clark manoeuvre, there were a dozen families seriously discussing if this was the time – perhaps the last real window – to get the kids into a home in the same city.

You can argue many things about the Clark government, but the leader herself has unparalleled antennae.

Her rare focus: the capacity to avoid distraction on what isn’t politically advantageous and the zeal to pursue what is. Which is why her government makes enemies as it accumulates loyalties.

What we are witnessing with her response to housing concerns is not, as detractors would wish, a last desperate gasp but a new phase of flexing political muscle – not quite one of indifference to consequences or adversaries, but an assurance to seize opportunities even if there might be collateral difficulties.

In this case, there can be little doubt of the downside: debt on some who ought not to carry it, debt on the province that ought to be burying it and an unnecessary boost for elements of the housing market that need more dousing than rousing. The cynics say it’s a gesture to her developer donors, but it’s vastly more a gesture to her anxious base and its malleable offspring.

And as a pure political move – that is, an effort to gain support with a single stroke – it is handsome as hell.

It is a concession that we cannot turn back the clock on how market forces and earlier government indifference made our region vulnerable to predatory investment, so we need to write cheques to allay a symptom for a few in the absence of a cure for the many.

It is also a thrown bone with some meat on it to the susceptible voter who wants a vector into the crazy game created by market forces and government indifference. To them, it’s the closest thing to turning back the clock.

As for the notion that governments need to keep people from self-harm – the way the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. is trying, for instance – the Clark government is saying we are grown-ups, and the high-wire act is our decision to take, not theirs to dissuade.

There is this little May 9 date looming, and campaigns are not for vague concepts, and cold, hardly vague cash can be explained tidily in those new government commercials you and I are now watching and financing.

Nor is this the last such feat to expect. Clark knows she stays premier if she scrounges the uncommitted. This serves such purpose.

As an economic act, it is more unhelpful than not, but politics is hardly ever about economics.

And if you’re going to get all fact-based now and cite the importance of logical, empirical, cerebral policy to muster public support, might I offer two words about the emotionally changed political game defying the rational chorus of complaint about Clark’s gifted home loan.



Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.