Finance ministers to talk housing, pensions and economy at annual meeting

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and her provincial and territorial counterparts say housing, pensions and economic growth will be hot topics as they gather in Toronto for their annual meeting.

“I am sure that we will be discussing housing, which is the central priority for so many Canadians today,” she said in opening remarks delivered before a room of ministers at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy on Friday. 

“That includes how we can work together to build more homes faster and how we can work together to do things like cracking down on short term rentals.”

The meeting comes as Canada continues to struggle with high inflation and elevated interest rates weighing on the economy and on many managing mortgage payments or trying to get into the housing market.

On Thursday, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported the actual national average price of a home sold in November was $646,134, up two per cent from the same month last year.

Simultaneously all levels of government are facing mounting pressure to address the housing crisis by finding ways to get more homes built, faster.

However, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Friday the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts in November came in at 212,624 units, down from 272,264 in October.

Housing would not be the lone topic of conversation, Freeland indicated.

“We’ll also be discussing pensions and the importance of working together to ensure every Canadian can have a safe, secure and dignified retirement,” she said.

The ministers held a special meeting last month to discuss Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s push to quit the Canada Pension Plan for an Alberta-only version.

Smith began her push to exit CPP in September, when she released a Lifeworks report estimating Alberta is entitled to $334 billion, or 53 per cent, of the Canada Pension Plan, if it starts its own pension program.

Other economists, including those with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, believe Alberta’s share is closer to its percentage of the CPP membership, at about 15 per cent.

Freeland has asked the chief actuary to calculate what Alberta would be owed.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said as he headed into Friday’s meeting that he expected Freeland to ask the ministers for feedback on a potential CPP exit from Alberta.

Bethlenfalvy previously asked for a meeting with the ministers and Freeland on the topic. 

“I think it’s important that Canadians have stability and the safety of a pension plan knowing that you don’t have to worry about it,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll have very thoughtful, deliberate discussions on behalf of all Canadians including Albertans who have lots of concerns.”

But Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer downplayed the need to take care of the issue immediately.

“That’s a very long process and it’s not what is pressing and urgent today,” she told reporters as she headed into the meeting.

Also on hand for the meeting was Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem.

He said he planned to provide the ministers with an update on the country’s economic outlook but would also talk about monetary policy and productivity. He refused to share a preview of his remarks with media.

Freeland’s speech indicated she was due to raise some of the same topics as Macklem.

“I hope that we’ll also have a chance to talk about how we can work together to grow the economy, whether by breaking down barriers to internal trade, improving foreign credential recognition and labour mobility across the country to help labour shortages,” she said.

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