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Is a cap on international students coming amid housing crunch? Minister says it's an option

Canada's Housing Minister Sean Fraser says that a cap on the number of international students permitted to study in this country is one of, but not the only, solution the federal government is discussing when it comes to addressing housing affordability and rental availability.

On Monday, Fraser was asked whether the federal government was willing to put a cap on international students as a way to address the current crunch, and he said it was "one of the options that we ought to consider."

Expanding on this in an interview with CTV News' Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos on Tuesday at the federal cabinet retreat in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the minister said a decision has not yet been taken on a cap, but the rapidly increasing number of international students does need to be examined as part of the bigger housing crisis picture.

  • Housing affordability in Canada a 'crisis' and 'opportunity,' Fraser says

"There's conversations I've had on a range of different options with [Immigration] Minister Miller. There's some work that we were looking at how to better partner with institutions… but I don't think we should be afraid to talk openly about the different options that we ought to consider," Fraser said.

"I think Canadians who are struggling to see themselves in the housing market, see a future for themselves in our community, they deserve to know that we're looking under every stone for the solutions that exist, both on the supply and demand side of the equation."

Fraser told Kapelos that he thinks housing has become a national crisis for some—including students who have to live more than an hour away from where they study—while others have clearly profited off the skyrocketing cost of housing.

"What we've seen is certain private colleges in particular, who I think are abusing the program… who are not providing housing options near where their places of study exist, if they're providing them at all," Fraser said.

"The international student program is extraordinary. It serves Canada's interests, it contributes tens of billions of dollars to our GDP, and it provides a pipeline of young and talented people who will be Canadian one day, but… the people who come need to be better supported."

  • Cape Breton community seeks help for struggling international students

The minister was clear that multiple levels of jurisdiction have roles to play in resolving the specific international student issue. In some cases, Canadian schools are recruiting and enrolling more students than there is room available. Fraser said institutions need to be able to provide adequate supports such as a place to live.

That said, Fraser said the federal government does need to "manage the growth" more effectively because of the "unique localized impact" in some of the communities where these students come to study.

"The jurisdictional challenge relates to the fact that provinces get to select designated learning institutes—which schools can benefit from the program—that's not a decision that the federal government can take unilaterally," Fraser said.

Outside of Parliament Hill on Monday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre held a housing-focused press conference, continuing his critique of the Liberals' handling of the file. He was asked whether he would support rolling back immigration levels to ease the strain on housing, but didn't directly answer the question.

"I think Justin Trudeau would love Canadians to blame immigrants for the housing prices that he has doubled, but immigrants are just following the rules that he put in place. So how can we blame them and not him?" he said.

Fraser, who recently accused Poilievre of proposing housing policy initiatives that the Liberals have campaigned and acted on already, said he's viewing the current situation as both a challenge and an opportunity, and has vowed to present Canadians with a fulsome plan in the months ahead.

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