Premier Clark goes on the offensive with home-loan ad blitz

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

Mike Smyth
The Province

The B.C. government launches an ad campaign in support of its first-time homebuyers loan program. Would the NDP scrap the program if they win the May election?

You can’t turn on a TV set these days without getting blitzed by the onslaught of taxpayer-financed commercials touting Premier Christy Clark’s interest-free loans for first-time homebuyers.

The ads are receiving heavy rotation after the government nearly doubled its advertising spending late in the year — pumping it up to $15 million from the $8.5 million originally budgeted last spring.

The government calls the ads “public information” designed to give people crucial details about the loan program announced by Clark on Dec. 15.

But if you think these ads aren’t timed to a political cycle leading to next May’s provincial election, you should give your head a shake.

Clark calls the loan program her personal highlight of 2016 and she said it will play a key role in her re-election drive in the new year.

“I think it will be a big issue in the election,” Clark told me in a year-end interview.

“Putting $37,500 into people’s hands with a zero-interest, zero-payment loan for five years so they can get that down payment together for that first home — I think that makes a huge difference.”

The program, which begins accepting applications next month, has been criticized by economists who say it could actually drive up home prices in an overheated market.

And the opposition New Democrats also slammed the program, calling it irresponsible for the government to encourage people to take on additional debt they might not be able to afford.

But Clark doesn’t care what economists think. She cares what voters think. The Liberals see this one as a winner.

And Clark is clearly delighted the NDP came out against the loan program, arguing qualified applicants must first secure a pre-approved mortgage from an accredited lender.

“We’re talking about people who have been approved for a mortgage by a bank in a country with some of the toughest banking rules in the world,” Clark said.

“So the bank thinks they’re worth the risk but the NDP thinks, in all of their paternalistic wisdom, that people can’t handle another loan up to $37,500 amortized over 25 years?

“It’s just so typical. What the NDP are trying to say is they think they can spend your money better than you can. I think citizens can spend their own money way better than government can.”

You can already hear Clark warming up her campaign-trail soundbites on this one as the taxpayer-financed commercials plant the program squarely in the minds of voters.

But NDP leader John Horgan says he will remind those voters that Clark’s Liberals spent the first half of this year arguing against government intervention in an inflated housing market that saw prices soar far beyond what most non-millionaires can afford.

“They just denied there was a problem until they couldn’t ignore it any longer and then they came up with their shock-and-awe approach,” Horgan said, noting the loan program was preceded by last summer’s dramatic 15-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers.

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