Ontario’s finance minister said there was a lot to like in the federal government’s fiscal update on Tuesday, such as continued investments to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the absence of any measures aimed at tackling Canada’s housing affordability crisis was a significant “missed opportunity.” 

“We see in this province, and across the country – clearly -- home prices and rental costs are going up – so what are some of the things we can do today to make life more affordable for those trying to find housing,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario's finance minister, in an interview Wednesday morning. 

Despite the rampant surge in home prices in cities and urban regions across the country, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her prepared remarks that any housing announcements would be made in the upcoming spring budget. 

Prior to the federal fiscal update, a senior Ontario government source told BNN Bloomberg that the province was prepared to expand the scope of its Non-Resident Speculation Tax that’s been in place since 2017 if the feds didn’t use the fiscal update to make good on a campaign promise to halt all non-resident home purchases in Canada for a two-year period. 

The source said the province was looking to hike the tax to 20 per cent or more, from the current 15 per cent, and expand the tax from the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which consists of municipalities generally within a two-hour drive from Toronto, to the entire province. 

Bethlenfalvy confirmed those changes are indeed on the table, and added the province is also looking at ways to increase much-needed housing supply. 

“We’re one of the slowest jurisdictions in North America to approve new developments, so I think we can get to the answer of ‘yes or no’ much quicker. Working on the supply side of the equation – there’s many good ideas, there’s many experts on this and that’s why we’re bringing them all together,” he said. 

“But we’re going beyond that – in my fall economic statement, I announced the intent to create a housing task force and [Ontario Premier Doug Ford] has called in all the municipalities for a summit to tackle some of the short-term issues like supply in this province, but also the long-term implications of not enough supply.”

Even though the province is taking the matter into its own hands, Bethlenfalvy said Ontario would continue to work with the feds to address the issue.

“We’ve had an imbalance of demand and supply for a number of years,” he said. 

“There’s been a chronic lack of building in Ontario. We see many people moving to this province from outside of Canada and inside of Canada. That’s not going away anytime soon. It’s a great place to raise a family. So the supply part of the equation is huge. It’s just simple math.”