File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Jason Kenney speaks to the media at his first convention as leader of the United Conservative Party in Red Deer.

UCP leader promises to fight ‘stress test’ changes to help home buyers

CALGARY — Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s government has failed to fight back against Ottawa’s stricter rules on mortgages and he would push for changes to make it easier to buy a home.

“If you elect a United Conservative government, we are going to go to bat for (those) … who are being pushed away from home ownership because of the prejudicial, regional, unfair stress test imposed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.,” Kenney said Wednesday in a speech to Calgary real estate agents.

“The current NDP government has been absolutely silent about this. We will not be.”

The stress tests are meant as a stopgap to make sure that anyone taking out home loans has the finances to weather increases in interest rates. Critics say the rules unfairly hinder home-buying and depress the market.

The market in Calgary remains soft. The Calgary Real Estate Board estimates home prices, still stinging from low oil prices, higher interest rates and lagging investor confidence, will drop by an average of 2.3 per cent this year.

Notley said the stress tests are something her government could explore, but added the stopgap exist for a reason.

“You have to definitely look at what the circumstances are, but we also need to be careful that we don’t find ourselves in a position where people are taking on debt that they can’t manage,” she said while in Calgary for a transportation announcement.

“We know that Albertans actually have quite a high level of debt relative to the rest of the country. We also have the highest incomes relative to the rest of the country, but you know you need to be careful about that.”

During his speech, Kenney highlighted housing changes as part of his larger plan to galvanize the Alberta economy by reducing regulations.

He reiterated that if he were to win the spring election, he would create a ministry to reduce by one-third the number of regulations and other procedural hurdles.

“That minister will work across every department, consulting with every industry … to identify unnecessary dead-weight regulations that are holding back investment and job creation.”

Kenney also reiterated his government would proceed with “a reduction in the tax rate for employers,” but he has not been more specific.

It was a day of duelling announcements.

Notley, alongside Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, announced her government had officially signed a deal to finance the first segment of a major expansion of the city’s rapid-transit network. The deal locks in $3 billion in funding.

The provincial contribution comes from Alberta’s carbon tax — a tax Kenney has promised he would repeal as the first order of a UCP government.

Notley said a similar fate could await the transit project if Kenney were premier and the carbon tax money were gone. She said he could then be faced with not being able to or not wanting to find funds elsewhere to honour a pledge to rein in public spending.

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