Q&A: Tim Hudak, the former Tory leader who now represents Ontario’s realtors, on Toronto’s housing market

Q&A: Tim Hudak, the former Tory leader who now represents Ontario’s realtors, on Toronto’s housing market

In your new job as CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, you represent 70,000 realtors and advise the government on market policy. So are you the guy to blame for my inability to afford a house?
I’m on your side. I bought my first home in my 30s, as did most of my friends. I want to ensure young people have the same opportunity I did.

To what do you attribute the current market insanity?
A surplus of buyers, mortgage rates at record lows and a strong job market. We also have the Bank of Mom and Dad helping to finance homes for their kids. The problem is on the supply side.

You say we need to boost supply, but Ontario’s finance minister has argued that cooling demand is the key.
Sure, but the challenge is cooling the GTA without harming Canadian markets that are already cool. The government could increase interest rates, but that makes all of us poorer.

So how does one increase supply?
Stop trying to make the entire GTA look like Yonge and Bloor. Intensify construction along rail lines but not in low-density areas. Moderate the land transfer tax, which causes people to renovate instead of sell.

But the land transfer tax is important to the city’s coffers. Isn’t it just the price one pays to live in Toronto?
No. It’s like crack, and municipalities can get addicted. But residents aren’t getting sufficient services in return.

Where do you stand on a foreign buyers’ tax in Toronto?
Foreign buyers are a convenient scapegoat, but the data shows they comprise less than five per cent of the market. And a tax could dissuade, say, a pediatric surgeon from moving here to work, so we have to be careful.

Forgive me, but why should we trust the realtors’ lobby, which has a vested interest in keeping the market piping hot?
Well, the real problem is not enough homes for sale. Prices have gone up, sure, but when 20 people bid on a house, 19 realtors aren’t getting paid.

Is this the new normal? Downtown Toronto as Manhattan, where only the one per cent can live?
I don’t think we’re Manhattan quite yet—we’re not an island, after all. But we have created our own island, so to speak, with provincial and municipal red tape, which restrict supply.

Given that a lot of housing data is available online, aren’t agents becoming obsolete?
Definitely not. Using a realtor is more important now than ever. My wife and I hired one to help us purchase our new home in Lawrence Park, and we were successful. Coincidentally, moving day was my first day at the new job. I called in sick.

You made your name at Queen’s Park as a rural voice in the big city. How’s the transition to full-time Toronto life going?
It’s going well. My wife bought a semi in the same neighbourhood in 2000, so it’s familiar territory for her. Our house is just down the street from a little Italian restaurant called Gamberoni, which was the site of our first date. We love it here.

Kathleen Wynne lives in Lawrence Park. Has that relationship thawed at all?
It was always quite warm. In a campaign, things get nasty, but you always keep the door open. She gave me an hour and a half for a presentation recently, which is a long time for someone from an industry association.

What lessons did you learn from your time at Queen’s Park?
I learned that politics is like wrestling. You put on a show for the cameras and then go have a beer or coffee and a good conversation.

During the campaign, you were widely perceived as robotic. Why do you think you came across that way?
Like Public Enemy said, “Don’t believe the hype.” It’s challenging to be yourself with the cameras bearing down. Some do it very well. Others, not so much. I remember one photographer told me to smile with my eyes, not my mouth. I didn’t understand that.

That’s called a “smize,” and it was invented by Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model.
Ah! If only I had watched America’s Next Top Model!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.