Today in Question Period I took the opportunity to see if I could get more details from the Minister of Finance on the BC NDP’s so-called “Speculation Tax”.
Last week I was very critical of the way the BC NDP introduced this tax. Ironically it doesn’t even address speculation in the real estate sector.
I remain unconvinced that the BC NDP know what outcome they are trying to achieve with their tax measure. It’s clear to me from the Minister’s responses to my questions (reproduced in video and text below) that they don’t understand the difference between a vacancy tax and a speculation tax. In fact, under the Vancouver Charter, that city have already imposed a vacancy tax.
A better way forward would be to enable all local governments (not just Vancouver) to introduce vacancy taxes if they felt it was in their community’s interest. At the same time, a speculation tax could be applied exclusively to properties owned by offshore individuals and entities, the bare trust loophole could be closed and a flipping tax could be applied when the same property is sold multiple times in a short time period.
Fortunately there is still time to fix what the BC NDP have proposed.
A. Weaver: There’s no doubt that we need to take bold action to address the drivers in our housing crisis. A fundamental component of this is clamping down on speculation. But the government’s botched speculation tax doesn’t in fact target speculation.
A speculator is someone who buys a property solely to flip it. A speculator is someone who parks offshore money in our real estate, hoping to protect themselves from the turmoil in global markets. A speculator is someone who uses bare trusts to avoid paying property transfer taxes, thereby allowing multiple sales and resales with no change in title.
A speculator is not someone who pays taxes here and owns a vacation cottage. These folk are not trying to capitalize on our out-of-control housing market.
My question to the Minister of Finance is this. The minister has said that her aim is to make sure she gets speculators out of the market. Does the minister consider British Columbians with vacation homes to be speculators? Or will she ensure that they are fully exempt from this tax? If so, how will she do it?
Hon. C. James: Thank you to the member, the Leader of the Third Party. I appreciate the question, and I appreciate his support for a speculation tax.
We were left, in this province, with a crisis when it comes to the housing market, because the other side ignored the issues and the crisis that people were facing around affordability. We’ve seen rents skyrocket. We’ve seen families who can’t afford to live in the community that they work in. So our goal is to ensure that British Columbians can afford to work and live in their own province.
We’re including measures in the speculation tax that will protect British Columbians. We are looking at getting people out of the market who are using our housing market as a stock market. The specifics will come. We’re continuing to listen to the issues that people raise, including the member at the end. We will make sure that housing is affordable for British Columbians. That’s our aim, and that’s what the speculation tax will do.
A. Weaver: The government has had years to consult with British Columbians. Instead, it brings in a poorly thought out tax measure whose interpretation seems to change every time the minister or Premier is in a press scrum.
As far as I can understand from the tax information sheet still on the government’s website, British Columbians with second homes have to pay the tax, and then they get a non-refundable tax credit after the fact. Low or moderate-income British Columbians will, in many cases, not even be able to use the tax credit. But if you’re very wealthy, you get the full benefit of the credit. That doesn’t make any sense. It penalizes people with moderate and low incomes and further entrenches the idea that home ownership is reserved only for the wealthiest.
Hon. Speaker, my question, through you to the Minister of Finance, is this: will the minister reconsider this tax credit model to ensure that British Columbians with vacation homes are actually protected from the effects of this speculation tax?
Hon. C. James: I would say to the member, once again, that we introduced the speculation tax as part of our 30-point plan to address affordable housing in British Columbia. I said in the budget lockup and on budget day that the details would be coming. We are listening to British Columbians, including the member and other people who have put forward ideas. We have been working on those issues since we introduced the speculation tax.
The specific concerns that the member raises are issues that are already on the table, which we are reviewing and looking at as we implement the tax. As I’ve said all along, details will come. The aim is to make sure that we get speculators out of the market.
I would say to the member that if you are an individual who owns four empty houses and you’re leaving them vacant in Vancouver, you are speculating in the housing market. We will be addressing that, and we will be addressing affordable housing for British Columbians.
In the legislature today, second reading of Bill 8 – 2018: Supply Act (No. 1), 2018 was up for debate.
The Supply Act is the bill that allows government to spend money. It is typical for the Supply Act to have two parts. The first, which was debated today, provides government the power to spend money for the next two months (April and May, 2018). The second, which will be debated once budget estimates have concluded, will allow government to spend for the rest of the fiscal year (to March 31, 2019).
There is a long history of all parties in the legislature supporting Supply Acts (both the BC Liberals and BC Greens continued the tradition with this Act). The reason is obvious. If they are not supported, government cannot spend money. All services stop and government shuts down. While this occurs periodically in the United States, it is not common in Canada.
Nevertheless, I took the second reading opportunity to outline how concerned my BC Green Caucus and I are with the lack of vision and legislative agenda these past 8 months. We are also profoundly troubled with the fact that the government has badly botched two recent tax measures which have created uncertainty and chaos in market.
I spent a fair amount of time specifically highlighting the “Speculation Tax” which is actually not a speculation tax. Rather, it is a “paper wealth tax” that has been poorly thought out, doesn’t deal with speculation, and hurts British Columbians. The BC NDP have badly botched this measure and its interpretation by the Minister has been changing on a near daily basis.
The BC Greens understand the importance of tempering exuberance in the out of control housing market and have specifically called for a New Zealand-style ban on foreign purchases as per our call for bold action. We also outlined numerous other measures that could be implemented including the importance of closing the Bare Trust loophole as was done in Ontario.
The Speculation Tax and Employer Health Tax both need the introduction of legislation prior to them taking effect. Such legislation is expected in the fall. Fortunately we have time to pressure government to fix the problems embedded in their poorly thought out approach to deal with speculation.
As evident in the speech reproduced in video and text below, I specifically ask the Minister of Finance to stop making up tax policy on the fly, in press conferences. Continuing to do so creates nothing but uncertainty and chaos in the market chaos. British Columbians deserve better.
A. Weaver: I rise to speak to the Supply Act. I thank the member for Prince George–Valemount for her comments and the minister for her introduction of the bill.
This bill, as the member for Prince George–Valemount pointed out, is, essentially, following tradition, where, after the budget is announced and estimates are brought forward, a portion of the budget getting us through this legislative period is requested up front to ensure that people get paid, in essence — that government can operate, that capital projects can go forward.
In this Supply Act, we’re approving 2/12, or 1/6 — quite remarkably, not to do fractional division, 2/12 is 1/6 — of the total amount of the main estimates, as well as one-third — you could have said 4/12, if you wanted, as opposed to one-third — of the capital budget. I won’t be proposing amendment on that, although I think it is sloppy mathematics.
On a slightly different note, I do have a number of concerns, serious concerns, with respect to the Supply Act because the Supply Act is making assumptions with respect to the implications of the budget. And, of course, the budget, which we’ve discussed, has got some assumptions in it.
You know, I and my colleagues are frustrated here in the B.C. Green caucus. We’re frustrated because on July 18 of 2017, this government was sworn in. We are now nearly eight months since government was sworn in, and we’re still questioning what legislation is going to be brought forward. In the 19 days of debate — we’re in our fourth week now, of debate here — here we are, and what’s being brought forward?
We’re getting the Supply Act to debate — fine. Fully four of the eight bills that the government has introduced, including this Supply Act, are really housekeeping bills or bills that every government has to bring in. We have the bill, of course, to ensure the supremacy of the parliament. I won’t talk to that, obviously, because that’s a different debate. We have the Budget Measures Implementation Act. Of course, I’m not going to speak to that bill, either. It’s another debate.
And we have the now famous Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, which we’re all waiting with bated breath to debate as we define things like Pacific daylight-saving time. These are what the government’s agenda is. This is troubling.
Let’s go back to 1972 — July 24, 1972, when an election was called. On August 30, 1972, a new NDP government was formed. In the first session of that 30th parliament in the fall, they sat for nine days, and they passed 13 bills. In the second session, they passed 93 bills in 61 days — 93 bills.
This government has had 16 years in opposition to come up with an agenda, and now we’re being asked to approve a supply act when we don’t actually know what that agenda is. We’re 19 days in, and we’ve seen precisely four non-traditional bills to debate, one of which is the supply act.
You know, we’re troubled about a number of the assumptions in this bill that are leading to the supply act. We have seen government talk about an employers health tax. We’ve seen government talk about a speculative tax. We’re not sure what they mean when they’re talking about it.
I had thought, after conversations and reading the media, that a speculation tax wasn’t going to apply to British Columbians. Silly me for actually listening to the Premier and the Finance Minister say that in media scrums. But then I see an interpretive bulletin that actually says that what’s going to happen, leading to estimates that we have to approve here, is that in fact, if you’re a B.C. resident, you’re getting a tax credit. That’s what the interpretive bulletin says: you’re going to get a tax credit.
You tell that to the constituents of mine or other colleagues across who aren’t earning any income but happen to own a family cottage on a lake that happens to be in the boundary of Nanaimo regional district or on one of the Gulf Islands — that now that person is going to be charged $12,000 a year as a speculation tax. They’ll get a tax credit, sure, but they’ve got no income on which to apply that tax credit. How’s that a speculative tax?
This government clearly believes that this real estate market is a market from which they can sap revenue. We’ve asked: what is the outcome? What are the outcomes you’re looking for your measures? That has yet to be defined.
We see projected budget increases, and then stabilization of revenue, coming from things like this so-called speculation tax. If it was a speculation tax, you would hope it’d go to zero. It’s being applied, in our sense, as a paper wealth tax. We feel that what’s happening here is that policy and finance and tax measures are being made up in press scrums.
The market needs certainty. What are your outcomes? We have got a supply bill that’s made budget estimates assuming income from a speculation tax whose implementation has literally changed three times since the budget was announced.
Is it going to apply to Gulf Islands? Is it going to apply to the city of Kelowna? The city of Kelowna, where the rental accommodation right now is critically dependent on owners renting their houses to students for eight months of the year and using those houses in the summer for either vacation rentals or to live in themselves. This is critical for the Kelowna economy, yet we call that a speculation. No, they’re playing a critical role to rental properties there.
We understand that Vancouver’s out of control. We understand that the Vancouver market’s completely out of control, and we understand that it was far too long to deal with it. But the revenues here, we’re uncertain of. We’re frustrated, because we don’t know what the agenda of the government is, we don’t know the direction that they’re going in the housing market, and all they’ve done is signal to the market that it’s going to be chaotic times ahead because we haven’t articulated what this critical new measure is to broader society. That’s not how tax measures are going to be brought in.
We proposed, of course, dealing with the problem, which was the foreign capital that’s flowing into this province. This would have given certainty here, because we would have assumed that, when you start to tax that foreign capital or you actually eliminate the source, you know those revenues are going to go to zero.
But this government, in the supply bill, is actually counting on those revenues and basically taxing the grandmother in Oak Bay who happens to have a house from 150 years of family on Saltspring Island that they want to leave to their children.
How many MLAs here have properties on the Gulf Islands? How many government MLAs have properties on the Gulf Islands? Well, one just has to look through the disclosure. I can tell you it’s a number of them. Are they getting a surprise, knowing that they’re going to pay $12,000 a year, if it’s worth 600 bucks? So $12,000 a year, but they’ll get a tax credit. They get a healthy salary here. Okay, that’s fine. But most of them don’t.
We’re very worried down here. We’re worried that the government is actually falling into the trap that they have branded on themselves over many years, which is one of not being able to be fiscally responsible with the money, the hard-earned taxpayers’ money, in our economy. That is troubling. It’s very troubling.
You know, obviously, we support the supply bill. Obviously, we must have a continuation of the government operating and all the schools and hospitals around this province. Obviously we must support this bill. But we want government to stand back and reflect upon what it’s been doing.
It has had 16 years — or the dreaded 17 years, depending on where you count; 16 or 17 years — to develop a legislative agenda. We are now 19 days into this session, and we’ve had nothing.
We stuck our necks out. We recognized that British Columbians wanted a change. We recognized that they wanted to have people put first. We recognized that they wanted a child care plan, which we see in the Supply Act. We recognized they wanted real measures done in the housing market. We recognized that they wanted bold action in the housing market. What have we got? A tepid response that, frankly, is botched up from its first introductions through the present day we are here.
I’m worried, because let me say that the measures that are being brought forward are not dealing with the problem there. If you want to tax speculation, tax speculation. But we’re not actually taxing speculation here. You could still here: buy a townhouse; take possession; flip that townhouse four times; pay zero property transfer tax because you bought it in a bare trust.
Government has known about this for months and years and railed on the B.C. Liberals to close that bare trust loophole. Have they done it? No. Why? Because they have to collect more data. How much more do we need to study these issues? How much more studying do we need? Clearly, too much, in that case, but what about the employer health benefit? Well, we don’t need to study that, even though we have a MSP tax panel to actually do just that.
We decide, as reflected in this Supply Act, that we know what the answer is. We struck a panel of distinguished academics who put their careers and credibility on the line to write a report on which government is going to base decisions, and government determines the way it’s going to deal with before their interim report is there. And it had to, because you don’t make budgetary decisions two days after an interim report is done.
What does that say that government is actually doing? Is it listening to the experts? Only on what it wants to listen to. Only on what it wants to delay, what it wants to kick down the road.
It’s not listening on the employer health premium — again, a piece of tax policy that, as far as we can tell, was introduced, realized it was done inappropriately. Now we’ve got the MSP panel coming in with their final report clearly articulating that they don’t approve or recommend the direction government has taken. How’s government going to respond? They’ve boxed themselves into a corner. They’re going to respond in a way that going to hurt schools and hospitals all across this province.
Now, they’ll say: “Okay, we’re going to cut it for the average person.” Yes, they will. They’ll cut it for the average person. And I get that there are unions out there — I was one of those negotiators — who’ve negotiated MSPs as part of a collective agreement, and it was costed against the settlement. I understand that. But what you do then…. I mean, there are also unions right now going back to their employer, saying: “You’re not going to have to pay that. Give us the money back.” Now the employer is getting doubly hit, because they’re going to get a health care tax. Not only are they going to get a tax, they’re going to get an increased tax.
I don’t understand the logic of this government not thinking this through and not recognizing that there are models out there and that you don’t hit the economy with a baseball bat. You recognize that there are problems. You send a signal to market, and you do so slowly, and you don’t make policy up in each individual press scrum.
I will quote one of the legislative reporters here who accurately assessed some emails, which my constituency office was sending out, suggesting that in fact the speculation tax wasn’t going to apply to British Columbians — because we heard, in press conferences, this government say just that.
They said just that — that it’s not going to apply to British Columbians. But in fact, it does. It’s applying, through a tax credit, not only in the problem area of Vancouver but in downtown Kelowna, which will absolutely devastate their economy, and in Parksville. The member for Parksville-Qualicum talked about a development that likely won’t go ahead. Parksville is a community that caters to — guess what — snowbirds, people from the prairies who are trying to escape the cold winters and come to Parksville for four or six months a year to live. Sometimes they rent out their home in the summer, for summer vacations. It’s a community whose entire economy is based on tourism — snowbirds and others.
What about if we go to Cultus Lake? I had a passionate plea from a citizen from Langley who said they just bought a house. They’ve been saving their life for a place in Cultus Lake. They’ve entered into a contract, and now they have to move from the contract and get out of it, out of fear that the speculation tax will apply to them. They’re afraid that they’re going to be sued, because government hasn’t given the market certainty as to the direction it wants to go. This is unacceptable.
We’re debating the Supply Act, where the government is asking: “So give us 2/12.” It should be 1/6. That’s actually a beautiful demonstration, Hon. Speaker, of what I’m saying. Get the numbers right. British Columbians deserve that. They deserve a signal. They deserve a real estate sector that actually deals with the problem — not Whac-a-Mole, where you put a foreign buyers’ tax in Victoria, and one in Nanaimo regional district. Guess what. You go to Cowichan Valley regional district.
There’s no difference between Cowichan Valley, CVRD, GVRD and Nanaimo. There are just a few arbitrary roads in between. So we Whac-a-Mole down here; we Whac-a-Mole up there. When you Whac-a-Mole in Nanaimo regional district, you’re going into the rural communities of Coombs and Errington regions. They’re not actually communities that have any housing problem. You’re going into these rural communities and Whac-a-Moling there. Meanwhile, you’re leaving Cowichan Valley open — pristine farmland that is being bought up and turned into mansions. But you’re not dealing with that.
The CEO of the Royal Bank has identified what the problem is. We know what that problem is. CIBC has identified the problem, by clamping down on foreign mortgages. This government is actually not viewing what the problem is. Instead, they’re viewing this tax, to generate revenue in the Supply Act that we’re debating, solely as a form of income to fund its other expenditures. That is reckless, and we deserve better. We deserve government to declare its agenda. We’ve given them a full eight months now, and we are waiting. We continue to wait to know what direction: what are they going to introduce? You promised a bunch of things. I sat here for years and watched private member’s bill after private member’s bill being introduced.
I come back to Dave Barrett. Ironically and sadly, we celebrated his life last week. In his first session in the spring, his government passed 93 bills, many of which are around today — one bill every three days over the short term. Here we are, government saying: “Trust us. We have an agenda. Give us some money now. We’ll kick it down the can, and we’ll vote again later. But we’re not really going to tell what you that agenda is, even though we’ve had so much time to do so. What we’re going to do is make up tax policy, on the fly in press scrums, creating chaos in the market.”
We deserve better. So while I stand in support of this Supply Act, because we must pay the government, I could say we have very serious issues with the budget implementation.
A. Weaver: Well, people are joking: “Well, you have to support the Supply Act.” We have to. If we don’t support the Supply Act, basically, nobody gets paid, whether it be in schools or hospitals. The government shuts down. I mean, they do that in the U.S. all the time, and it seems to be okay, but we don’t want to do that here. We don’t want to do that here in Canada.
With that said, I say that now we have very serious issues with the way government is implementing the speculators tax and very serious issues with how the government is implementing the employers health tax. We have nothing now before us in legislation. We’re told it’s coming in the fall. Government has months to fix it. I expect them to fix it, because frankly, right now it’s unacceptable. Frankly, right now we need to have certainty.
I plead on government to stop making up tax policy on the fly, in press conferences. Give us certainty, so we know what’s going on, and stop scaring people across the province. They’re contacting me. They’re contacting our colleagues across…. They’re contacting members here. We deserve better.
In November of last year, the BC Government released a very misleading press release entitled Province delivers on commitment to freeze BC Hydro rates. The release stated:
The British Columbia government is delivering on its promise to freeze BC Hydro rates, putting an end to the years of spiralling electricity costs that have made life less affordable for B.C. homeowners and renters, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall announced today.
You would be forgiven if you thought that this announcement meant that BC Hydro rates were not going to go up this year. You were probably very upset if Fortis was your electricity provided. But it turned out that all the BC NDP had done was instruct BC Hydro to ask the independent British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) to consider overturning its already approved 3% rate increase for 2018.
As I noted back in the fall, it was entirely uncertain whether the BCUC would agree to do this given the autonomy of the organization, the very legitimate concerns about the fiscal sustainability of BC Hydro, the ability for intervenors to provide further information and so forth. I suggested that the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources owed British Columbians a formal correction to the press release. She refused.
Well as expected, today the British Columbia Utilities Commission rejected BC Hydro’s request for a rate freeze.
The BC NDP responded with a hastily issued press release expressing disappointment. They further noted (with scant details) that:
“BC Hydro residential customers who find themselves in an emergency – such as loss of employment, unanticipated medical expenses or pending eviction for example – will be eligible for a grant toward their outstanding BC Hydro bill. The grant is up to $600 and does not need to be repaid.”
I reproduce our media release below.
Weaver responds to BCUC hydro rate freeze rejection
For immediate release
March 1, 2018
VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, responded to the BCUC decision to reject the government’s proposed rate freeze, as well as the government’s proposal to provide a lifeline rate program to low-income British Columbians.
“I am glad that the government is respecting BCUC’s independence,” said Weaver.
“If governments had always done this, British Columbians would not be facing the travesty of the Site C boondoggle. BCUC makes its decisions based on evidence and in what is the best interests of ratepayers. Respect for proper process is essential for public trust in government and for the integrity of our democracy.
“While it’s encouraging to see the government adopting a more evidence-based, progressive approach to support British Columbians facing income insecurity, this demonstrates the need to move past ad-hoc, boutique supports and seriously consider a basic income. As the world and our province faces challenges such as automation and the gig economy, we must proactively respond with innovative ideas. Basic income is widely lauded by economists and will help ensure that nobody falls so far behind that they can’t pick themselves back up again. When British Columbians are truly income secure, they will be able to take risks such as starting small businesses, which will help build a truly thriving, 21st century economy.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | firstname.lastname@example.org
We remain disappointed with the answers that we received and we continue to be underwhelmed by the BC Government’s plan to deal with our out of control housing market.
Their tepid response to our call for bold action is simply not enough. What’s more, they have yet to tell British Columbians what they mean by stabilizing the market.
Is the plan to stabilize prices at present levels? Is the plan to stabilize the rate of growth in prices? Or, is the plan to create a tempered market correction?
In this short video I demonstrate the three possible responses and urge government to do better.
In what can only be described as another frustrating experience during Question Period, my colleague, Adam Olsen, was once more stymied as he sought to explore government’s serious lack of clarity about what they are trying to achieve with their housing plan.
In his initial question Adam attempted to get a straight answer to my question from yesterday. In response to the rhetoric he was given, he continued to probe for a direct answer.
Below I reproduce the text of Adam’s exchange along with the press release we issued shortly after Question Period. We believe that the government should be forthright with what goals it has with its plan to curb speculation in our housing market.
Is the plan to stabilize prices at present levels? Is the plan to stabilize the rate of growth in prices? Or, is the plan to create a tempered market correction?
B.C. Greens press government to articulate outcome of housing policies
For immediate release
February 22, 2018
VICTORIA, B.C. – The B.C. Green caucus is seeking clarity on what the government is actually trying to achieve through its housing policy measures. Despite media coverage this week, Ministers James and Robinson failed to give a clear response in Question Period.
“Government needs to be clear about what they are trying to achieve with these policies,” said Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party.
“The government has spoken about ‘moderating’ and ‘stabilizing’ the market without providing a clear definition or any indication of whether they want to reduce house prices or maintain them at their current point.
“People need to be able to afford to live where they work in order for us to have a healthy economy. The ultimate goal of these measures should be for local incomes to more closely align with house prices. The ratio of house prices to incomes needs to be 3:1 to be considered affordable, with 5:1 being considered severely unaffordable. In the City of Vancouver the ratio is at 37:1.
“This crisis is reverberating throughout our economy. We have long heard from our tech sector – which should be driving the future economic growth of this province – that they are struggling to attract talent due to the astronomical cost of living in our cities. If we fail to take action we risk massive opportunities to diversify our economy.”
Weaver asked Minister Robinson to articulate an outcome in Question Period on Wednesday. After not receiving a clear answer, Adam Olsen, B.C. Green spokesperson for housing, put the question to the Finance Minister, and again failed to receive a clear response.
“The government delayed taking action on the housing market in the Fall, instead promising a comprehensive housing platform in this budget,” Olsen added. “British Columbians have waited for action from their government for a long time – it’s essential that the government is now upfront about what they are trying to achieve with their housing plan.
“We are in a housing crisis. Vancouver is one of the top four cities in the world most at risk of a housing bubble. Responsibly deflating the bubble is the right thing to do for our economy and for our communities.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | email@example.com