PEI

Rising cost of living forcing Islanders to leave, say Greens

The P.E.I. Greens say the provincial government isn't doing enough to address rising living costs.

Opposition calling for measures to cool hot housing market

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says rising inflation does not bode well for a province which is already struggling with affordability issues. (Province of P.E.I.)

P.E.I.'s rising cost of living, and especially increasing housing costs, are forcing Islanders to leave the province, the Opposition Green Party said in the legislature Thursday.

New figures this week from Statistics Canada show P.E.I. continues to lead all provinces with an inflation rate of 6.3 per cent, almost two points higher than the national rate, which sits at 4.4 per cent.

If that rate were to continue, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker told the legislature the cost of living on P.E.I. would nearly double in a decade.

"We live in the province with the highest inflation rate and the lowest wages in the country and that's not a good combination," he said.

"When Islanders reach out to me and say that they are leaving Prince Edward Island because they cannot afford to live here anymore, what do you suggest I tell them?" he asked Premier Dennis King.

"I would try to tell those individuals who might say they need to leave that I wouldn't necessarily want to believe it's easier somewhere else, and if we work together here, we can make a better P.E.I.," the premier responded.

Rising shelter costs

Stats Can data shows the shelter component of the consumer price index on P.E.I. rose by 10.7 per cent from Sept. 2020 to Sept. 2021.

The Greens said rents are reaching levels seen in big metropolitan centres such as Toronto. 

They're calling for measures that could cool the hot housing market, including a tax on vacant properties and regulation of the short-term rental market.

But at least some of those calls have received a cool reception from the province's Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers in debate this week.

"We live in a free market economy, and the market dictates the housing prices of the day, not the government," said Trivers.

P.E.I.'s Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers says it's not for the provincial government to meddle with the market forces that determine housing costs. The Opposition Greens disagree. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

"It's very tempting to get out there and to interfere with the market, but to interfere with the market can cause detrimental effects on our economy."

The Greens argue the overheated housing market is already having a detrimental effect on Islanders who are being priced out, and say government does indeed play a role in determining the factors that impact housing prices.

"This is a real feel that we are growing towards a Martha's Vineyard type of place, existing solely for tourists to come play on our Island," said Green MLA Karla Bernard during question period, telling the story of an acquaintance she said had been forced to leave.

Calls to build more government-owned housing

Both the Greens and Liberals have been calling on the PC government to invest more money in social housing.

Both parties point to the fact that new government-owned housing units developed under the PCs has been in the dozens, while the province has provided hundreds of vouchers to defray the costs of rent with private landlords, while subsidizing the construction of hundreds more units with private developers.

"Since April 2019, only 42 government-owned units were opened compared [to] 260 private-developer units," according to a motion tabled Oct. 18 by Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly.

The motion also points out that of the 742 affordable housing units the province says it's introduced since 2019, 600 are in the form of mobile rental vouchers, "which don't add any new housing stock to P.E.I."

"Our population is growing. We need more housing," said McNeilly. "The cost of living is going up and we just we need the government to take the responsibility."

Something else the Greens want to see is the province join with municipalities in regulating short-term rentals on the Island.

The City of Charlottetown is finally set to move forward with regulations after years of discussions.

"I think there are actions underway in cities like Charlottetown to take units that were used for short-term rentals to put them back into longer-term rentals," the Premier said Thursday, "and hopefully that creates a little bit of space. I think that needs to be looked at in a broader scope."

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