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P.E.I. building houses at record pace, says premier, but more were built in the '70s

'I continue to stand behind the numbers,' Premier Dennis King said in the legislature Thursday. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)
'I continue to stand behind the numbers,' Premier Dennis King said in the legislature Thursday. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)

Premier Dennis King rose in the P.E.I. Legislature twice this week to praise the province's home-building efforts, but he overstated the case.

On Wednesday, Green MLA Peter Bevan-Baker used question period to accuse the government of waiting too long to respond to the housing crisis, suggesting the government could have acted five years ago.

In defending the province's home-building record, King made reference to the number of housing starts in P.E.I. over the last five years.

"It sounds to me like the former leader of the Third Party is ragging the puck, Madam Speaker, to use the hockey analogy, and really talking around a bunch of things that aren't exactly accurate," the premier said.

"We have built more housing starts in this province in the last five years than any time in our history."

The issue came up again on Thursday, under questioning from Opposition Leader Hal Perry, who pointed out that the busiest year on record for housing starts in P.E.I. was 1973. The premier stuck to his previous statement.

"I continue to stand behind the numbers which are facts and true that there's never been a five-year period in the history of P.E.I. that's seen the explosion of new housing that we have here," King said.

3rd best 5-year period

Looking back at records published by Statistics Canada going back to 1948, CBC News found the most recent five-year period, from 2019-23, did not have more housing starts than any other five-year period.

It was the third most.

The Statistics Canada report, using numbers provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, lists 6,461 housing starts from the first quarter of 2019 to the last quarter of 2023, which are the most recent numbers available.

The most active five-year period was 1971 to 1975, with 6,745 starts. The second most was the five-year period immediately prior, from 1970 to 1974, with 6,682 starts.

As with today, the 1970s boom was prompted by a boost in the province's population. From 1963 to 1970, population growth on the Island was largely flat, never passing one per cent, but it leapt up 2.4 per cent in 1971, and passed one per cent in three of the next four years.

While that seemed like rapid growth at the time, it was a shadow of what has happened in recent years.

Population growth on P.E.I. has been higher than 1.5 per cent in each of the last eight years. In the last two years it has been more than three per cent, peaking at 3.9 per cent in 2023.

These growth rates, on top of a higher base population, have made the need for housing much greater now than it was in the 1970s. The premier acknowledged this in the legislature on Wednesday.

"We know it's not enough, but we keep on going. We keep on rolling because that's what we have to do," said King.

While the province was building 6,745 new homes from 1971 to 1975, the population grew by 5,135. By comparison, the population grew by 17,995 from 2019 to 2023, with 6,461 homes started.

The province's new housing strategy calls for an average of 2,000 new homes a year to be built over the next years, a mark it has never come close to. It has only reached that number in a single year once: in 1973.