Are Chinese, and other foreign investors, buying up Canada’s real estate?

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – Jeff Goodall

by Mihael Willman
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, how do you envision the future of Canada? As a proud independent nation, or the appendage of a foreign power?

Do you see Canada as a place where second and third, or even eighth generation Canadians can get good jobs to support their families and, if they so wish, be able to afford to buy a nice home in a major city, such as Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton? As a land of opportunity to all citizens, old and new alike?
Or is your vision of a future Canada as a land for sale to the highest, foreign bidder, one where any foreigner with a million dollars or more to spare can outbid Canadians when buying homes?
Recent reports in the Toronto news have shown how foreign buyers are pushing house prices beyond the reach of most Canadians. At first it was a modest bungalow that sold for $421,800 over asking price. A couple from the Peoples’ Republic of China (communist China for the uninitiated) paid nearly $1.2 million for this bungalow, purchasing it for their daughter who is studying in Canada. A few weeks later, another bungalow in the same general area of North York sold for $2.53 million, an increase of $900,000 since its previous sale in 2010. No mention of who bought this property, though its extra-large lot could mean developers are speculating they can build several multi-million dollar homes on the lot.
Throughout Toronto, modest houses are rising in price, though not as drastically as these examples. Meanwhile, other Chinese parents from the PRC are busy buying condos in downtown Toronto for their offspring, foreign students studying at our universities and colleges. And you want to open the door to even more Chinese communist foreign students!

In the 1980s, at a time when condominium buildings were actually constructed before the units were sold, it was said that any real estate agent fortunate enough to get the project could sell the entire building in a few days to Hong Kong investors, seeking a safe haven before the island was returned to China. Today, the majority of new condo projects are sold out before even one shovel is put into the ground. And the majority of the buyers are foreign investors, many of whom buy several condo apartments at a time!

A look at Vancouver’s real estate market shows a number of areas where houses average $2 million or more. It was quite a number of years ago that concerns were being raised that escalating housing costs were pricing ordinary Canadians and especially young, first-time buyers, out of the Vancouver real-estate market. Many of the early buyers were Hong Kong investors, in search of a safe haven. Today, the majority of the investors in Vancouver are from mainland China.

Since that time, the buying frenzy has moved across Canada. What is worse, however, is that Canadian real estate companies are actually going to China to offer Canadian properties to Chinese investors! No concern as to where the money may be coming from, or who they are selling to, just as long as they can make greater profits, more than if they sold to Canadian citizens.

According to the real estate industry in Toronto, most of the foreign investors buying Canadian properties have been from the Peoples Republic of China, Iran and South Korea. What is of particular concern is the fact that the first two countries could actually be classified as our political enemies, with political systems that are clearly undemocratic. And yet we allow citizens of these two countries to buy property in Canada! Is there not something wrong with this picture?

Interest now is growing among wealthy Greeks, Italians and Spaniards, seeking to escape the economic uncertainty in their respective countries, as well as wealthy Indian investors. Who else will be lining up to buy up our real estate?

Is this the future you want for Canada, Stephen Harper? One in which foreigners will own all the property and Canadian citizens will be nothing more than renters? Are we to have more Chinese students flood into Canada, not only taking up space in Canadian universities, but buying up houses as a possible stepping stone to future landed immigrant status?

Canada has already been used as a safe haven by Russian mobsters, Chinese drug dealers, Tunisian dictator family members, pro-government Iranians who have fallen out of favor with their leader and many, many more criminal types, with millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains. Some of these individuals have obtained landed immigrant status while continuing to live in their respective countries. Others, it appears, have even managed to obtain Canadian citizenship though they may have failed to meet the required residency requirements. For them Canadian citizenship is an insurance policy to be used if the political scene in their respective countries should change and they are faced with possible criminal charges. With Canadian citizenship papers in hand they can head off to Canada, their safe harbor, and their expensive real estate holdings.

In their efforts to obtain investment properties (with a possible eye to future immigration?), foreign investors are driving up property values in most Canadian cities and will continue to do so as long as this goes on unchecked. Maybe it is time we followed the example of Singapore and forbade foreigners from owning Canadian real estate. Or have we passed the point of no return, where this is no longer possible?

What kind of country would you like to leave to your children and future grandchildren, Stephen Harper? The country you grew up in, or a Canada where foreigners will own the greater part of the country, while Canadians will become little more than second-class, property-less, citizens?