TORONTO — As party leaders close out their first week of campaigning, Nanos Research’s Nik Nanos says it shouldn’t be surprising that affordable housing has become a top issue in the 2021 federal election.
Nanos said on the latest episode of Trend Line that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a hot housing market, driving up the prices not only for those looking to purchase a home, but also those trying to rent, creating a housing crisis across Canada.
“The reality is housing affordability affects renters because it affects the price of rent. It also affects homeowners, because it affects the cost of being able to get into the market,” Nanos said.
According to recent polling done by Nanos, 15 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they are worried about whether they will be able to pay for their housing in the next 30 days.
“That might not sound like a big number… but that’s 4.9 million Canadians who are worried,” Nanos said.
Polling from Nanos also reports that about 78 per cent of Canadians would “look kindly on any party that had a concrete action plan” to deal with affordable housing and homelessness.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party would build 500,000 homes in an effort to make housing, including rental prices, affordable for Canadians, while also implementing a 20 per cent foreign homebuyers’ tax.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole has promised to build a million homes in three years and raise barriers to foreign investors, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised municipal leaders federal backing and resources beyond the Liberals’ 10-year, multibillion-dollar national housing strategy launched in 2018-19.
Nanos noted that the parties have recognized affordable housing as an important issue, especially for millennial voters that leaders are working to win over.
“Millennials are increasingly important part of the electorate and numerically a big part of the electorate, even though they don’t vote as much as their elder or older Canadian compatriots, so to speak,” Nanos said.
However, he acknowledged that the issue does “cut across all generations,” and will likely have an impact in key battleground ridings where housing prices have become unaffordable, including in Vancouver and Toronto.
STANCE ON ABORTION
Housing wasn’t the only issue at the forefront of the federal election campaign this week. Nanos said access to abortion was also in the spotlight, and is an issue that has dogged every Conservative leader in previous elections.
“The ‘a’ word usually comes up every single election at the beginning. Liberals are usually the ones that… put it on the table,” Nanos said. “It’s like the standard Liberal trap — it’s kind of like the machine of the war room.”
Nanos noted that former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was “very good” at responding to the issue.
“He just basically batted it out of the park and said, ‘This isn’t about abortion, that’s been decided’,” Nanos said.
Former Conservative leader Andrew Sheer took a different approach when pressed on abortion.
Scheer stated he was personally against abortion, but that a government led by him would not ban the practice. Because of this, opposition leaders criticized him throughout the 2019 federal election campaign for not clearly communicating his position.
“Andrew Scheer waffled a bit on this, and as a result, he didn’t look very good, and it took him a couple days to actually fully respond and that became an issue,” Nanos explained.
However, Nanos says O’Toole has not been caught in the “same abortion quagmire as Andrew Scheer.”
“He’s come out firmly in favour of pro-choice, and so… from the perspective I think of average Canadians, this decision has been decided,” Nanos said.
O’Toole said on Thursday that he can both be pro-choice and fight to protect the rights of health-care professionals who refuse to perform a medical procedure for moral or religious reasons.
There is currently no federal law on abortion that regulates the service and indicates physicians’ rights or outlines their obligations to refer patients to a colleague if they won’t provide a service; that’s for the provinces to decide.
Trudeau has since criticized O’Toole’s stance, while Singh accused the Conservatives of missing the mark on this issue.
Despite this, Nanos said O’Toole’s “definitive statement” on being pro-choice shows voters that “there’s no need to talk about abortion” any further, and has the Conservatives focusing on the next issue in the campaign.
As the campaign continues, Nanos said each party leader works to portray a certain image of themselves to help sway Canadian voters.
For Singh, that image is one of being your “best friend,” according to Nanos.
“[He’s] someone that would be good to hang out with, someone that you would trust,” Nanos said. “Very approachable, very open, very positive, wanting to make positive change, and quite likeable.”
Nanos noted that this has been Singh’s brand since he started in politics and is a “good strategy” as it’s how former NDP leader Jack Layton made his breakthrough in the 2011 federal election, leading the NDP to the most successful result in the party’s history.
“It’s a positive, compelling brand and it’s a good brand to build a base,” Nanos said.
When it comes to Green Leader Annamie Paul, Nanos said she is “portraying herself as an authentic leader who is passionate about change.”
“I was quite struck by the fact that she talked about, not just the environmental crisis, but she talked about social justice, and she talked about the economy,” he said.
Nanos said Paul’s branding is more comparable to that of the European Green Party in France and Germany as opposed to a “rabid environmentalist Green Party.”
“When I listened to her, it was clear that from an intellectual point of view, she was part of a broader Green international movement that’s focused on the environment, social justice, and a Green recovery,” Nanos said.
He added that this positions her “quite well” among millennial voters who have these issues top of mind.
While Nanos says Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet may be the “champion of Quebec,” he said the province is a “key battleground” between the Bloc and the Liberals. However, Nanos said he also wouldn’t be surprised if Singh and O’Toole made some headway in Quebec this election.
Nanos said O’Toole has positioned his party as the only one with a viable strategy to transition Canada out of economic havoc, with the party having already released its platform expanding on the pre-election promises it unveiled in the spring.
The document features a glossy, magazine-like cover showing O’Toole in a casual T-shirt with a headline that reads “The man with a plan.”
Nanos noted that Canadians haven’t seen previous Conservative leaders in such a manner before.
“He’s breaking ground, he’s trying to show that he’s relevant,” Nanos said.
O’Toole, who is actually younger than Trudeau, is trying to show voters that he’s “not your father’s Conservative leader,” according to Nanos.
Nanos said his “man with a plan” slogan also refers to the leader’s background in the Canadian Armed Forces.
“For anyone that has a loved one that’s in the Canadian Armed Forces, they know that it’s about planning. It’s about being focused, it’s about being disciplined, it’s about being ready for the future,” Nanos said.
Nanos said O’Toole is playing to both sides with his image, showing he can be modern while also being “mission orientated.”
When it comes to Trudeau, Nanos says his image is the “most developed” out of the party leaders and is one that is based on legacy developed from when his father, Pierre Trudeau, was in politics.
“He’s built on his father’s legacy as a progressive modern thinking person, but for Justin Trudeau, basically it’s about his vision for equity, diversity, inclusion, his vision on Indigenous reconciliation, his vision on the environment,” Nanos explained.
He said Trudeau is trying to portray himself not only as the person who has led Canada for the last number of years, but as “the leader of a broader progressive movement.”
“[He’s] not like his father’s party leader; he is the leader of a movement and that’s how he tries to connect with voters,” Nanos said.
The election edition of Trend Line publishes in the morning every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the campaign.