The First Conservative Ontario Budget in 15 years

This week, the new Ford PC government released its first budget. The document outlines a new vision for the province and sets of the government’s fiscal strategy for the next few years. Contrary to the views of many, the budget did not implement massive cuts. Healthcare and education spending will be increasingly modestly, spending for most other areas will either rise extremely modestly and will be effectively frozen over the next few years. When adjusted for inflation, most departments and Ministries will see their budgets cut.

 

The province’s headline announcement is transit related. Premier Ford wants to see a number of new public transit lines built, including a 3-stop Scarborough subway, a subway to Richmond Hill, a downtown relief line from the Science Centre to Queen St .East westward to Ontario Place, a transit line along Sheppard Ave. East, and a subway across central Etobicoke. The province is setting aside over $11 billion to the construction of these lines and expects the federal government and the regional municipalities involved to foot the rest of the project $28 billion cost of these projects. If completed, these lines will have enormous implications for densification, land values, traffic, and economic growth. But massive public transit plans have been announced by provincial governments of all political stripes repeatedly over the last 40 years, and few projects have actually been completed.

There were few mentions of housing, housing affordability, or real estate; these announcements are likely to come later given recent reviews of the industry. There will be a new child tax credit for parents which is quite substantive. Overall, the budget is transit focused and seeks to maintain spending at levels where they are presently.

Bully Bids and Bans

Ontario’s powerful realtors and their respective lobbying vehicle, the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) have asked Doug Ford’s provincial government to outlaw the practice of ‘bully offers.’

A bully bid is an offer submitted by a prospective buyer ahead of a seller’s established offer time. These bids are largely designed to aggressively pre-empt purchasing activity from other potential buyers and to place pressure on the seller to accept. This aggressive bid is submitted before the designated offer day. Sellers accept the bully bid if they believe that it will exceed what they will get conventionally. 

The practice can occasionally result in one buyer out-muscling potential counterparts and entices a seller to close a deal quickly without reviewing and considering other potential bids. The move is seen as unfair and limiting to realtors, who have little room to bid up prices if only one bid is submitted and ultimately accepted. Realtors also feel banning bully bids would enhance fairness in the market and allow all prospective buyers, or at the very least a greater number of them than present, will be allowed to participate in bids. OREA submitted 28 recommendations on reforms to their profession to the government which is currently reviewing the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act; the landmark legislation governing real estate professionals.

OREA is headed by Tim Hudak, the former Leader of the now governing PC Party of Ontario. The organization is heavily staffed with politically minded employees and is close with the present administration and enjoyed reasonable ties with the former Liberal Government. Several PC lawmakers and government staffers are former realtors and the government is keen to develop and maintain strong ties with realtors, developers, and the construction industry. These groups have heavily bankrolled the PC Party in the past. 

 

On Real Estate Predictions for Spring 2019

It’s hard to predict real estate trends and long term changes. Experts, economists, and real estate watchers will all have their views. Southern Ontario and GTA residents are generally positive about the long term fundamentals.

 

They believe that immigration, a stable economy, and a sound financial system will all facilitate long term growth and general real estate stability. This positivity comes from the fact that since the early 1990s, the real estate market has been on a positive upswing. Only two brief periods saw prices and demand ease, in the early 2000s with the popping of the dot-com bubble, and in 08-09, with the Great Recession.

 

Overall, given the data we now have and the trends we’re aware of, there is little that suggests there will be drastic changes to the real estate market. Expectations suggest that the price growth we saw in the last few years are unlikely to return. Interest rates will remain stable. While the BOC will want to raise rates when necessary, there is the dual pressure of not overwhelming consumers with higher borrowing costs and managing economic expectations.

 

Demand will continue to be strong. Experts are predicting stable or increased demand for luxurious apartment and detached home units as international money shifts out of Australia, the UK, and New Zealand in favour of Canada and the U.S. Condo prices and demand are likely going to trend higher, as detached home prices are still too high for first time buyers. As for prices and sales, both are expected to trend upwards in the Spring. A 30 year fixed rate mortgage is trending at 4.375%.

 

 

Mixed Real Estate Conditions and a Potential BOC Rate Cut

 

The Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board released rough real estate stats earlier this week. Reports showed that year-over-year Feb. residential home sales fell over 30%. This represents the worst Feb. sales total since 1985, over 40% below the last decade’s average.

Detached homes lasted roughly 55 days on the market before sale, while townhouses averaged 39 days and apartments and condos at 40. Prices also fell by over 6% year-over-year, while at the same time, inventories are piling up. Total listings rose by over 48% year-over-year to almost 11,600.

In Toronto, prices rose by 1.6% while listings fell 6.2%, sales fell by 2.4%. Canada’s banks are also feeling the heat of an inconsistent real estate market. Credit losses rose by double digits at the big 5. The same credit losses were seen in the Australian banking and real estate markets as well and in other countries dependent on real estate.

Economic stats have dipped into such negative territory so quickly that news is spreading of the possibility that the BOC may cut rates soon. Tembo has consistently made the point that the BOC will stick to an aggressive and consistent rate hike trajectory until economic conditions change. While most experts believe that rates will stay put, the potential for a cut will grow if economic conditions continue to worsen. As we previously reported, the economic recently contracted by a very narrow margin.

On an additional note, the City of Toronto will convene on Thursday, March 7th to pass its 2019 budget. The budget outlines a massive drop in land transfer tax revenues because of stalling real estate conditions. The City has become addicted to the previously perpetually rising land transfer tax which financed large increases in city spending. That era has come to a close.

SNC Lavalin Scandal Could Change Canada’s Government

The Federal government is reeling from the pressure of a scandal that has shaken elite circles across the country. Extensive media coverage in the last several days has widely revealed the scandal to the public – we are of course talking about the Jody Wilson Raybould and SNC Lavalin. 

In essence, former Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson Raybould refused to provide a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC Lavalin – a Quebec based engineering giant. SNC Lavalin had previously bribed the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya for construction contracts. Despite tremendous pressure from the Prime Minister himself, high ranking public servants, and other leading political figures, Jody Wilson Raybould refused to yield. 
SNC Lavalin employs thousands in Quebec and Montreal, the home province and home city of Justin Trudeau. It is a well connected and storied company, with deep political connections. The Liberal Party of Canada has long had deep ties with large Montreal firms and the city’s old money aristocracy. As for Mrs. Wilson-Raybould, she revealed the extent of her principled core values and followed in the footsteps of her father – who fought political battles with Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Mrs. Wilson-Raybould and her father are well known and respected Indigenous Canadians. 
The now fully unveiled scandal has led to a media frenzy, a sharp drop in opinion polls and support for the government, and Ottawa’s dirtiest laundry now out in plain sight for the public. Media commentators were all ubiquitous and sharp in their criticism of the Prime Minister – many of whom suggested that he should resign or that the government’s reputation is now seriously compromised. The scandal also led to the shock resignation of Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts, the second most powerful man in Ottawa and one of Trudeau’s closest personal friends.
While this year’s federal election is still 7 months away, an eternity in politics, the SNC Lavalin scandal continues to unfold. The instability could fuel more political drama and both opposition parties will look to take advantage. 

On Toronto’s Move For More Affordable Housing

With sky-high real estate prices, extremely limited supply, and a vacancy rate incomparable to its international competitors, Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis. Housing, transit, and affordability were the key issues for politicians in last year’s Mayoral and Council elections. 

John Tory

Toronto Mayor Pushes Housing Now Plan

Incumbent Mayor John Tory made tackling the housing supply issue a key commitment if re-elected, and many City Councillors emulated that promise. A week ago, the Mayor successfully persuaded his Council colleagues to endorse his Housing Now Plan and to vote it through. The plan is an aggressive measure being heavily pushed through by the Mayor and senior City bureaucrats. 

The Housing Now plan calls on the City to facilitate the transfer of surplus land to private sector partners so as to develop it into housing. A certain amount of the finished units are to be set aside as affordable units with controlled rent. This is geared to benefit low income families. Toronto has a massive list of individuals and families waiting for affordable housing. In total, the plan is expected to result in 10,000 new units of real estate.

As Toronto has a weak Mayor system, its Mayor does not have executive powers and serves more as a glorified City Councillor acting as the Chair of Council. Unlike many of his American and international counterparts, he has no veto over votes, and cannot directly replace the departmental heads of the City’s large civil service. 

Officials have been eager to push the plan through given its importance, and this effort has been largely supported by City Councillors. The Housing Now plan was opposed by many of the city’s more left-wing politicians, who believed it did not go far enough and that its targets and limitations were not ambitious enough.

All levels of government will continue to increase their intervention in the real estate market so as to spur more development for an increasingly impatient pool of prospective buyers.

 

Proposed Ontario Bill 66 Gets Squashed

In last week’s blog, we outlined proposed Ontario Bill 66, which had a provision in it which would have given municipalities the power to approve commercial and industrial development in protected green spaces. This would have opened the Greenbelt to potential industrial and commercial development – if local municipalities were to approve, and with subsequent Ministerial approval.

Ontario Green Belt
However, after a wide swathe of negative media coverage, strong opposition to the bill from municipal governments across the province, and angst from important stakeholders, the Ontario government changed its mind. After the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (a group friendly to the governing PC party) voiced its nervousness to the Bill and its ‘unworkability’, it was becoming increasingly clear that opposition went across ideological lines. 
Late last week, the Ontario Government stated it would pull the key Schedule 10 provision of Bill 66 (the bylaw giving municipalities power to bypass the Greenbelt Act) from the law. With this move, the government effectively defanged the bill of its most contentious component and showed a novel capacity to change its mind. The announcement came from Housing and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, one of the government’s most experienced figures.
With these changes, residents of Ontario can have peace of mind that their protected green spaces will not be chopped up. The government will now likely unveil new measures to spur development and increase the housing supply in the province. Tembo will keep its eye on the provincial government very focused, as many structural changes and policy announcements will be unveiled in the coming months given the concocting of a provincial budget in April. 

What Does Ontario’s Proposed Bill 66 Mean For Its Residents?

In early December of last year, the Ford Government introduced a proposed law titled the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. The bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that alters several existing laws and introduces new ones – referred to as an omnibus bill.

 

Bill 66 is receiving increased attention lately given some of its controversial provisions.

Open For Business Zoning

The Bill introduces a new type of zoning, called OFB ZBL (Open for Business Zoning By-laws). This new zoning type is designed to not have to conform to legal standards set out in a number of major provincial environmental and planning laws, such as the Greenbelt Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. The provincial government argues that this provision will provide municipalities with the capacity to quickly approve major industrial and commercial projects to create jobs and tax revenue. 

Critics Fear Environmental Impact And Out Of Control Development If Bill 66 Is Passed

Critics, on the other hand, say that the proposed by-law provisions would create the potential for massive environmental degradation and the transformation of protected green spaces into industrial and commercial areas. Water, soil, and air contamination could increase, and municipalities could embark upon aggressively competitive squabbles with each other to attract revenue generating projects.
Some City bureaucrats around the province claim that Bill 66 will upend traditional provincial planning arrangements and lead to out of control development. Tembo is keeping a close eye on the provincial government’s stated move to spur development and construction. Bill 66 has the capacity to alter land values by introducing industrial projects to areas that are designation for safer development. This could have drastic consequences. 

On 2018’s Final Real Estate Stats

For Tembo’s final blog of 2018, we want to leave you with some interesting GTA statistics. All of our predictions for 2019 were outlined in our final newsletter – many of which are beginning to look on point given big falls in the markets marking the end of 2018.

fireworks

Stress Tests Have Kicked In 

Some 100,000 Canadians have been locked out of the housing market because of federally imposed stress tests. Already stringently cautious banks were made even more particular in approving mortgages because of the impact of the federal government’s stress tests. These tests force families with lower than ideal deposits for home purchases to buy insurance to cover their investment and reduce risks.

Pensions Are Pumping Up Real Estate Holdings

Trusteed pension funds have boosted their holdings in real estate by 2.5% to almost $190 billion as 2018 closed. Despite seeming like a small percentage change, this represents billions in added investment. In our last blog and newsletter, we highlighted the importance of real estate to the nation’s wealth, and this stat shows the reliance on real estate to the nation’s trusteed pension funds. All sectors of the economy are all in on real estate, and expect dividends and returns from a continuously healthy real estate market. 

Global Markets Are Falling Fast

stock market crash

The DOW underwent its worst day of Christmas trading in history, dropping over 600 points (3%). The Fed’s decision to increase rates last week was to blame. In addition Wall Street was spooked by news that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made calls to the CEOs of America’s biggest banks without authorization from the President to check on their liquidity. This was viewed by many as an act of panic. The contagion quickly spread around the world, with some international headlines using the term ‘panic selling’, for the first time since 2007.

Toronto Home Prices Up In November

Prices for detached homes rose 3.5% to mark the end of 2018, even as listings and sales dropped slightly. We end 2018 with the average price of a detached home in Toronto now hitting some 788K. While listings declined slightly in November and early December, they were still 12% than in 2017. Home prices are still significantly lower from their summer 2017 record highs. 

October Was A Good Month For GTA Real Estate

Positive numbers marked the overall situation for GTA real estate. Both the detached and semi-detached home and condo markets saw positive figures. Condo prices rose 7.5% and semi-detached home prices were up 6.6%. The average selling price for a home rose past the $700K range where it has languished for roughly to hit $810K, This was the first significant increase in prices in over 3 months. 

The positive sale price increases highlight a recovery that is steadily building momentum. Analysts saw the figures as proof that the perennial forces of supply and demand were returning to their general positions in the GTA market. The supply of homes continues to be a significant factor impacting the market – with recent inventory showing a tightening of listings. The slowdown the market saw exacerbated this issue because many prospective sellers are waiting for prices to increase again before listing their homes.
The condo market continues to show its heft. Impressive price figures and demand has not been shaken by government intervention. Higher interest rates in the medium to long term may damage the health of the condo market but it continues to be seen as a haven for young professionals trying to get into the market affordably. The recovery continues. 

The Fed eases off on its tightening

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell did not signal another rate hike in its most recent announcement this week. The Board was unanimous in its support for the not raising rates. With the U.S. economy absorbing large stimulus through tax cuts, increased government spending, and still very low rates, economic activity and job growth is on the rise. This has strengthened the Fed’s longstanding argument that rates have to be increased.
Caption: U.S. President Donal Trump shaking hands with Fed Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell at the White House
The big opponent to higher rates has been Donald Trump. Irritated at the propensity for these rate increases to dampen economic growth, the President has vocally attacked the Federal Reserve. He has argued that all of its actions have been ‘wrong.’ It’s a possibility that the Fed’s decision to hold off on rate increases could have been prompted by this language and a desire to placate the President, especially given the U.S. mid-term elections.
The results of these mid-terms has been mixed for the President. On the one hand, his party gained Senate seats and tightened up its control of the U.S.’s upper house. On the other hand, the Democrats won back control of the House, albeit not with the momentum many in the media had predicted. Many key gubernatorial races were also won by Republicans, particularly in the key states of Ohio and Florida. The next two years will be tumultuous and difficult, and the partisan divisions in America will only increase.