Featured Image
Chrystia FreelandKevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Tell your MP and Senators to drop the carbon tax Send a message TODAY

(LifeSiteNews) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government has brought in its 2024 budget, which projects C$53 billion in new spending over the next 5 years. It includes a significant capital gains tax increase, which some are warning will drive away investment, and a plan for more government-controlled public housing.

The Trudeau government is wrestling with a problem that is afflicting most English-speaking economies: how to deal with the consequences of a 20-year house price bubble that has led to deep social divisions, especially between baby boomers and people under 40. 

House prices have tripled over the last 20 years on average, fuelled by the combination of aggressive bank lending and, until recently, falling interest rates. Neither is directly controlled by the federal government. There is no avenue to restrict how much banks lend and the Bank of Canada sets interest rates independently.

Accordingly, the Trudeau government is left to tinker at the edges. It will legislate an increase, from one half to two-thirds, in the share of capital gains subject to taxation for annual investment profits greater than C$250,000. The change will apply to individuals, companies and trusts.

Christina Freeland, Canada’s minister for finance, claimed improbably that only 0.13 percent of Canadians with an average income of $1.42 million are expected to pay more income tax on their capital gains in any given year. 

That is a dubious forecast. The average house price in Canada 20 years ago was C$241,000; it is now C$719,000. Any Canadians who bought an investment property (family homes are exempt) before about 2015 are likely to have a capital gain larger than C$250,000 should they sell. 

The government’s claim that the change will only affect a tiny proportion of Canada’s population is also belied by the government’s own forecast that the tax change will raise over C$20 billion over five years.

The extent to which the Canadian economy is distorted by a property bubble can be seen by comparing government debt with household debt. Canada’s government debt is fairly modest by current international standards: 67.8 percent of GDP in March 2023, down from 73 percent in the previous year. That is about half the U.S. government debt and half the average for G7 countries. 

Canada’s budget deficit is also cautious by Western standards. In 2023-24 it was C$40 billion, equivalent to 1.4 percent of GDP. The U.S. budget deficit is currently over 6 percent of GDP.

By contrast Canada’s household debt, inflated by large mortgages, is at over 130 percent of GDP, making borrowers vulnerable to rising interest rates. U.S. household debt is about 75 percent of GDP. Attracted by rising house prices and the advantages of negative gearing (deducting rental losses from a property investment from income tax), Canadians have seen property as their preferred investment option. 

Investors account for 30 percent of home buying in Canada, and about one in five properties is owned by an investor. Worse, the enthusiasm for property investment seems to be intensifying. According to one survey, 23 percent of Canadians who do not own a residential investment property say that they are likely to purchase one in the next five years, and 51 percent of current investors say that they are likely to purchase an additional residential investment property within the same time frame.

The problem with the bias towards property investment is that it is actually a punt on land values – and land is inherently unproductive. Business groups have criticized the government’s capital gains hike as a disincentive for investment and innovation, but the far bigger issue is investors’ focus on property, which is crowding out interest in other kinds of investments. 

That means the main source investment capital for businesses will tend to come from institutions, such as mutual funds, which typically have a global, rather than local, orientation.

Faced with forces largely out of its control, the Trudeau government is fiddling at the edges. It has announced the introduction of what it calls “Canada’s Housing Plan”, which is aimed at unlocking over 3.8 million homes by 2031. Two million are expected to be new homes, with the government contributing to more than half of them. This will be done by converting underused federal offices into homes, building homes on Canada Post properties, redeveloping National Defence lands, creating more loans for building apartments in Ottawa, and looking at taxing vacant land.  

The initiatives may have some effect on supply and demand, but the property price excesses are mainly a financial problem caused by unrestrained bank lending that has been fuelled by low interest rates. When a correction does occur, it will most likely be because of changed global financial conditions, not government policy or fiscal changes. 

There are other measures that could be taken to address the property bubble such as reducing, or removing, negative gearing or more heavily taxing capital gains only on property but not other types of investments. But these policies would no doubt would be politically unsalable, so the Trudeau government is instead making minor changes, probably hoping that the problem will fix itself.

Tell your MP and Senators to drop the carbon tax Send a message TODAY