Jim Flaherty tried pawning himself off as a prudent manager of Canadian banks and diligent tamer of the housing bubble. But in reality, he was trying to undo damage the Harper Government caused in the first place.
US banking-deregulation catastrophe
While in opposition, Harper demanded the Liberal government get in on the red-hot action of America's financial sector by importing US banking deregulation.
Thankfully, the Liberals did not. In 2008, financial-market meltdowns crippled the US and many other countries, requiring massive bailouts.
Harper's banking deregulation
In 2006, when Harper came to power, he implemented his own deregulation scheme by loosening rules governing mortgages and the CMHC (federal mortgage insurance agency.)
According to the Globe and Mail these measures acted
like rocket fuel for the real estate market in a low-rate environment. They triggered a rapid expansion of risk-free mortgage credit, and, arguably, drove the rapid runup in house prices in the past decade.
Here's a summary of Harper's actions:
Maximum mortgage periods raised from 25 years to 40.
Minimum down payment reduced from 5% to 0.
CMHC insurance provided for 40-year no-money-down mortgages.
CMHC insurance cap raised from $250,000 to unlimited.
Banks allowed to offload risk by buying insurance on homes with more than 20% down-payment (which the owners, themselves, don't require.)
CHMC train wreck
The CMHC was originally created to help first-time home buyers. Under Harper's “steady hand,” banks were permitted to offload risk from inflated house prices onto taxpayers:
Under Harper, the CMHC's total liabilities more than doubled.
From 2007 to 2012 (where data is available,) home-owner insurance increased a modest 32%.
But the amount of bulk insurance banks bought — on homes that didn't require it because owners paid a large down payment — increased a whopping 123%!
As the Financial Post points out, the Harper Government
has been creating a housing bubble in Canada with taxpayer money, which is why residential real estate prices rise in defiance of high unemployment and recession.
Before stepping down, Jim Flaherty said the CMHC should be privatized. That's rich coming from him. Under his watch, the CMHC nationalized over $150-billion of private-sector risk.
Canadians have yet to discover the true cost of this moral hazard. But we should know that Harper has involved us in a contemptible bet: heads, banks win; tails, taxpayers lose.