Tory party backs government's plan on housing crisis

Grassroots members of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party voted overwhelmingly Saturday to back the government's approach to battling the province's housing crisis.

Grassroots members of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party voted overwhelmingly Saturday to back the government's approach to battling the province's housing crisis.

In the party's annual general meeting, delegates rejected a motion to adopt the resolutions of an all-party legislature committee that had urged Premier Ed Stelmach's Tory government to adopt rent controls.

"Rent controls and all other sorts of initiatives are sort of like a drug. They're very addictive and they're difficult to get off of once you start down that road," delegate Jon Lord, a former Tory legislature member, told delegates prior to the vote.

"Rent controls give a little bit of short-term gain, but create huge problems down the road."

Rent controls have become a hot button and, at times, a divisive issue for the governing Tories as they grapple with a roaring oil-and-gas economy that brought 100,000 newcomers to the province in the past year alone.

Housing has become hard to find, with prices soaring out of reach for most first-time buyers. Those looking to rent face near-zero vacancy rates, while tenants are seeing rents doubled or even tripled in certain cases. Others have faced eviction as landlords convert apartments to more lucrative condos.

Housing Minister Ray Danyluk, who sat in on the resolution session, said the Tories still consider housing controls a "dead issue" because they would discourage investment at a time when the province is keen to have the private sector help build more affordable housing.

The government introduced new rules in the legislature this past week to limit rent hikes to one a year and to mandate that landlords give tenants a year's notice if they want to convert apartments to condos.

They have also committed $285 million to help municipalities construct more affordable housing and to deliver short-term aid for renters and newcomers in crisis.

Danyluk said the province is urging municipalities to ease the shortage immediately by changing zoning laws to allow for more secondary suites, also called basement suites, in homes.

Party members want to explore nuclear power
Delegates also voted to explore using nuclear power plants to assist oilsands development.

Delegate Bill Dearborn of Medicine Hat said the oilsands need a nuclear option as a bulwark against any future federal raids on Alberta's resource-based economy.

"We're familiar with these Liberal governments in Ottawa that have imposed unfair taxes on the oil and gas industry in the past," he said.

But delegate Don Dabbs said he participated in an earlier provincial study on nuclear power and that nuclear is not the way to go to generate steam power for the oilsands.

"A reactor to generate steam is not the principal purpose of a nuclear reactor. It's for electrical energy. It's a very expensive source of steam."

Energy Alberta Corp. recently announced it would file a regulatory application to build a twin-reactor plant in northern Alberta.

Also Saturday, delegates voted to urge the government bring in new legislation to govern financing and financial disclosure in the leadership campaigns of all political parties.

Stelmach said he would honour that.

"We will take that to caucus and start working toward drafting the legislation," he told reporters.

The recent Tory leadership campaign that saw Stelmach replace Ralph Klein came under fire because there were no rules governing how much money the candidates could raise and no rules compelling them to say where they got it from.

With files from Canadian Press