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What is government doing to clamp down on questionable real estate, tax & immigration schemes?

Today on the first day of debates after the opening of the 3rd session of the 41st parliament I rose in Question Period to ask what the government was doing to clamp down on questionable immigration, tax and real estate schemes.

I made reference to a recent BC Supreme Court judgement (Fu v. Zhu, 2018), that was the focus of a story written by Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun describing “A shocking B.C. Supreme Court case that pitted two rich families from China against each other provides grim revelations about the kind of migration, tax, and real-estate scams regularly occurring in Metro Vancouver and beyond.

Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange.


Video of the Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: Happy Valentine’s Day to the House here today.

The recent Fu v. Zhu B.C. Supreme Court case concerning the case of multi-million dollar homes in Vancouver outlined questionable immigration, tax and real estate schemes occurring right here under our noses.

The judgment states that one of the parties “was sophisticated in lying, including scheming to deceive Canadian immigration authorities.” Another claimed just $97.11 in worldwide income, despite owning multi-million-dollar properties and one of China’s largest manufacturing and distribution companies.

That the parties had no problem outlining so many questionable activities before our courts shows little regard these individuals had for our laws. This government committed to crack down on fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in our markets, and the Civil Forfeiture Act allows properties to be seized that are linked to unlawful activities.

My question to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General is this: why aren’t we using civil forfeiture or a similar tool in cases like this one?


Answer


Hon. C. James: Thank you to the member, the Leader of the Third Party, for the question. Just on the very specific issue of civil forfeiture, I want to make it clear that the government doesn’t direct civil forfeiture procedures. Under the act, the civil forfeiture office has no independent investigative or seizure powers. It’s really up to the police, who make the determination around investigation, around priorities, and then they refer the assets that are seized under criminal law as they deem appropriate.

On the bigger question, on the bigger issue that the member raised — the issue of fraud, around speculation, the issue of the use of loopholes to avoid taxes — we are very concerned as a government about that direction. That’s why we took action, in our first update in September, to close loopholes, to act on gathering and sharing information that’s needed for enforcement — first steps. As you heard from the throne speech yesterday, there will be more to come in the budget. Stay tuned.


Supplementary Question


Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.

A. Weaver: Even if we can’t use civil forfeiture in cases like this, there’s an urgent need to address this problem. The current Attorney General has called B.C. “a jurisdiction where the rules do not apply to white-collar crime, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, where even if the rules do apply, enforcement is absent.” In opposition, the now government spoke strongly about this challenge and the urgent need for action.

My question, again, is to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General or perhaps the Minister of Finance. If government isn’t going to use civil forfeiture as a tool for enforcement in cases like this, what immediate steps are you taking to ensure that the rules, in fact, do apply to tax evasion and fraud and that we have adequate enforcement to deal with those who break these rules?


Answer


Hon. C. James: To the member, six more days until the budget heads out. You will see some very specific actions contained in the budget. They were talked about a little bit in the throne speech. But there will be a comprehensive plan. It will include action to be able to deal with the approach around speculation, to deal with the evasion of taxes. Those are critical pieces. We have a table right now with the federal government that we are bringing those issues to because this is an issue that doesn’t simply impact British Columbia. It, in fact, impacts across Canada. So we need to make sure that the enforcement happens here in our province and also happens across the country. So we were working on those pieces, and you’ll see more details in the budget.

Seeking bold action: BC Green caucus release housing priorities for Budget 2018

Over the last few months my caucus colleagues, legislative staff and I undertook extensive research and consultation as we developed our housing policy priorities for input into the Budget 2018 consultation process. Today we released the results of our analysis during a press conference at the Creekside Community Centre in Vancouver. Entitled Seeking Bold Action: Housing Priorities for Budget 2018, our policies place an emphasis on curbing speculation and the role of global capital in our housing market.

The affordability crisis is devastating communities across our province. In particular, despite significant evidence of the role of speculation in driving up prices, successive governments have failed to act on the demand side.

In February the NDP Government will table their first full budget. They have a critical opportunity in front of them to take real action on housing affordability and protect the future for people of all ages and demographics in our cities.

Developing constructive solutions to the affordability crisis has been our top priority and we have already communicated our suggestions directly to government.

Below I reproduce my opening remarks at the press conference along with a copy of our press release.


Opening remarks


Today, I’m pleased to release a document outlining our priorities for action from this government on housing affordability.

In February the NDP Government will table their first full budget. They have a critical opportunity in front of them to take real action on housing affordability.

British Columbians have waited for action on this file from government for far too long.

People have watched as years of government inaction have allowed house prices to spiral out of control, as neighbourhoods empty and people are forced to make huge sacrifices to live in our cities.

This must not be allowed to continue. We need bold action now to tackle this crisis and make our cities vibrant, welcoming, and affordable.

Houses are not commodities – like gold or potash – which can be bought, sold, and traded exclusively for profit.

Homes are where people live, and they are the centre of our communities.

Yet our province is turning into a playground for the wealthy and our real estate a bank account for the wealthy.

Our cities have become a place for speculators to park their capital and reap huge returns, while ordinary British Columbians struggle to find a suitable place to live.

The skyrocketing price of real estate is precluding young people and families from buying homes in our cities.

Sky-high rents and near 0% vacancy levels in several communities are forcing renters to contend with huge competition, and to live in cramped and unaffordable accommodation.

As a result, young people are finding it increasingly difficult to see a future for themselves in our cities.

Small businesses in our cities are struggling to make rent, pay their property taxes and attract workers.

I’ve heard from many industries, especially our growing tech sector, that are struggling to attract and retain talent, because people can’t afford to live in our cities.

This is becoming a threat to our economy and must be fixed.

in January, an Insights West Survey found that 50% of British Columbians said that housing, homelessness and poverty was the #1 issue in BC. That’s up from 36% in August, and 14% in 2015.

Yesterday, a poll released by Angus Reid found that half of British Columbians want to see the housing market cooled. Just 14%, and just 1 in 5 existing homeowners, want to see prices continue to climb.

As part of our agreement with the NDP, we have the opportunity to share our priorities with them through budget consultations.

In this document, we summarize our input into the consultations and outline our priorities on housing affordability.

First and foremost, we want to see government take strong steps to curb speculation and restrict the impact of global capital on our housing market.

There is a great deal of evidence that foreign money is having a significant impact on our housing market, driving up prices well beyond what local incomes can afford.

Moreover, both global and domestic speculators are treating our houses as commodities to be bought, sold and traded exclusively for profit. They are reaping huge gains and pricing out people with average incomes who live and work in our cities.

But despite this, the provincial government has been hesitant to take action on global demand or on speculation. We think this needs to change with this budget.

When businesses can’t hire employees, when students are forced to shell out $800 a month to live in a tiny room, when our young people can’t see a future for themselves here, we need to realize that we are in an emergency.

Let’s take action to ensure that our houses are for homes first.

We believe that a crucial action government should take is to restrict the foreign purchasing of property in BC.

People who don’t live, work, and pay taxes here should be prohibited from purchasing existing property here. We can follow the lead of a number of other jurisdictions around the world, like New Zealand, that have done exactly this.

We also want to see government implement a speculators tax that targets absentee owners who own property in BC but do not pay adequate income taxes here. If the NDP does not pursue restrictions on foreign ownership, it is critically important that they include a speculator’s tax like this in this budget.

Government should levy a tax on flipping, to discourage the rapid flipping of property for profit, which drives up prices and adds no value to communities.

This government needs to take steps to protect the ALR from the impacts of speculation, including restricting the foreign ownership of ALR land and working with local governments to limit house sizes.

And we want to see loopholes closed that allow people to avoid paying taxes, including the bare trust loophole and ensuring that the foreign buyers tax applies to purchases of ALR land, partnerships, and pre-sales.

Our second priority is ensuring that we free up existing supply and ensure that new supply meets the needs of average British Columbians, not wealthy speculators.

A key part of achieving this goal is working with and empowering local governments to tackle the crisis, with the support of the province.

The province should work with local governments to regulate and restrict short-term rentals, to to encourage property owners to return units to the long-term rental supply.

The province should give all local governments the ability to tax empty homes, like they’ve done for the City of Vancouver, to discourage absentee ownership and raise revenues at the municipal level for housing initiatives.

And, the province should help local governments rethink zoning to increase the right kind of supply.

We also want to ensure that government deals with the impacts of the crisis on British Columbians in a responsible way, that does not put further inflationary effects on the market.

The irresponsible and risky BC HOME partnership should be repealed, and assistance to renters should be means-tested, streamlined and effective, to ensure help is going to those who need it most.

Finally, it is critical that government improve data collection and transparency, disseminate to support decision-making and to crack down on tax evasion and fraud.

To summarize

The scale of this crisis requires bold, decisive action if we are to make our cities livable and affordable.

Our cities should be places where people can afford to live where they work:

  • where young people feel optimistic about their future;
  • where small businesses thrive;
  • And where neighbourhoods are vibrant and full of life.

This is the kind of society we should be building, and we will continue to pressure government to ensure that they deliver.

Thank you.


Media Release


Weaver releases B.C. Green Caucus housing policy priorities in Vancouver
For Immediate Release
January 31, 2018

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, released a summary of his Caucus’ housing policy priorities today in Vancouver. The Party’s Confidence and Supply Agreement with the B.C. NDP commits both parties to collaborate to make housing more affordable by increasing supply and dealing with the role of speculation and fraud. The policy document released today is a summary of the B.C. Green Caucus’ recommendations to government for the upcoming provincial budget.

“The affordability crisis is devastating communities across our province,” said Weaver. “In particular, despite significant evidence of the role of speculation in driving up prices, government has failed to act on the demand side. Our policies place an emphasis on curbing speculation and the role of global capital in our housing market.

“British Columbians have awaited action for far too long. It is time to move past rhetoric and get to work delivering solutions. We are putting forth realistic, evidence-based policies so that our consultations in this minority government are more transparent, and so that we can keep the pressure on government to take action.”

The measures the B.C. Green Caucus is urging government to implement include:

1. Curb speculation and the impact of global capital

  • Restrict foreign purchasing of property
  • Implement a speculators tax
  • Implement a tax on flipping
  • Close the bare trust loophole
  • Close loopholes in the foreign buyers tax
  • Implement ALR restrictions

2. Increase the supply of affordable housing

  • Work with local governments to regulate and restrict short term rentals
  • Give local governments the ability to tax empty homes
  • Help local governments rethink zoning

3. Enhance financial stability for home-buyers and renters

  • Eliminate the BC HOME partnership
  • Instead of a universal “renters’ rebate”, provide means-tested support for renters

4. Improve transparency and data

  • Collect more data on buyers and sellers of real estate
  • Close loopholes enabling some investors to hide their identities
  • Disseminate data more freely and regularly

“Everyday we are hearing stories from all corners of the province about the impact of this crisis, from young people forced to move out of province, to businesses who are struggling to pay rent and attract workers due to the cost of living,” added Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for housing and municipal affairs.

“This is not healthy for our economy and it is not healthy for our communities. Our communities should be places where people from all walks of life can thrive. We will continue to push for bold action on this file so that we can ensure all of B.C.’s communities are vibrant, healthy and affordable.”

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Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

Balancing the rights of tenants and landlords

Yesterday in the Legislature I had a very productive exchange with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing during committee stage of Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017. As noted in my second reading speech, I felt it was important to highlight some potential unforeseen consequences of passing this important piece of legislation. In particular, I focused on the issue of short, fixed-term leases that are sometimes used by landlords to protect not only landlords from bad renters but also other tenants (in the same building or suite) as well.

More details are developed in the exchange reproduced in video and text below. I appreciated the thoughtful responses from the Minister.


Video of Exchange



Text of Exchange


A. Weaver: I thank the member opposite for raising this issue at this particular section. I was going to raise a similar issue at a subsequent section, as it does come in at numerous places.

I want to start by commending government for actually addressing an issue that clearly is an important issue and for providing additional resources to the rental tenancy process, because it is a very burdensome process.

I do want to bring forward the concerns that were just expressed. It is an issue that I raised at second reading too. The problem is that, I suspect,  there are a lot of unforeseen consequences that might arise if this is not thought through in its entirety.

I give an example, and the member opposite, the member for Vancouver–False Creek, highlighted a number. One is, let’s suppose hypothetically, that you have a rental agreement with a number of renters, and these renters are living in the same quarters. The problem is that when you sign an agreement, you’re actually protecting other renters as well as the landlord. By signing a short-term agreement, you might have multiple people with tenancy agreements sharing rooms in a basement suite, and in fact, what’s critical is that you ensure that there’s a relationship not only between the landlord and the tenant but between the tenants themselves.

Now, we understand that there is a process to go through this by appealing, etc. But it is so burdensome, it is so impossible…. I mean, those who have had to try to remove a tenant, even with damage or not paying rent, can issue all the eviction notices they want, but the reality is that it’s very, very difficult to evict a bad tenant as it stands.

The beauty of a short term…. When I’m talking a short term — I think the member for Vancouver–False Creek and I have discussed this — we’re talking three months, four months. What we’re thinking here is that you’re giving a short-term contract — this would be all done in a regulatory fashion, obviously — which would allow for renewal but no increase in rent attached to the unit.

What this does is…. The advocacy groups were trying to attach rental increases to a unit. That, obviously, is not going to work, for a variety of reasons. However, you could take what they’re suggesting for a short-term lease of three months, say, and say that the rent cannot increase if the tenancy is a fixed-term lease for three months. Then, in fact, the rent increase is attached to the unit.

I’m wondering if the minister might consider this, as she discusses with civil servants, as a means and ways of protecting not only landlords from bad renters but other tenants as well. By having — pick a number; say, three months…. You will allow three-month fixed-term leases, but there can be no rent increase if a lease is terminated after three months. The rent must remain fixed at the previous value. This would allow landlords and other tenants to be protected in the case of an inappropriate relationship or a tenant who’s created some issues.

Hon. S. Robinson: Part what I’m hearing, actually, makes things more unstable for renters in terms of this idea that unless they’re on their best behaviour and no one complains about them, then they don’t know for three months whether or not they actually will have a place to live after 90 days. That creates more instability and, I think, more terror for the more than 1½ million renters in British Columbia.

There are provisions in the act that allow a landlord, should there be a problem tenant…. Even if it is with other tenants in the building or in the basement suite or whatever the arrangement is, there is an opportunity to have that tenant removed. That currently does exist in the act.

A. Weaver: With respect, again, I reiterate that every landlord in the province of British Columbia understands that there’s a process, but heaven forbid you actually have to enter into this process, because the process is very prejudicial, in my view and in many people’s view, against the landlord.

You could have tenants who are not paying rent for months. Try to get a tenant out if they haven’t paid rent for three months. You can get the sheriffs involved. It’s very, very difficult, even with the existing rules, because of the lack of teeth to those rules in a manner that actually allows the landlord to evict those bad tenants.

So I appreciate, again, the potential for uncertainty. But the reality is, I would argue, there wouldn’t be uncertainty because right now landlords are using such clauses for short-term reasons, and they’re using them for precisely the reasons articulated by the member for Vancouver–False Creek. It’s just to test rental situations.

The single most important thing for a landlord is to ensure that they get a tenant who will be there for a long term. Every landlord wants to get the tenant who will never move out, because when they get such a tenant, they’re not painting the walls again, they’re not replacing this. They’ve got a stable tenant.

We’re talking about a few landlords and a few tenants in all regards here, but we’re focused entirely on the tenants who’ve been abused, frankly, by those few landlords who’ve created the need for this regulation. But I worry that if we’re not thinking about those few bad tenants as well and about protecting landlords, we could create troubles down the road.

I’m not going to belabour this, because we’re going back and forth. But I urge the minister, with her staff, to seriously reflect upon the comments made by the member for Vancouver–False Creek as well as these comments, as you move forward, to ensure that good landlords are protected — not just by having to go through this abyss of a process to get rid of bad tenants — and supported as well.

There is a danger here. In having a long conversation with the various associations and one particular association involved with landlords, there’s a lot of concern in the province of British Columbia about this from landlords, good landlords — forget the bad landlords; from good landlords — and that’s why I urge caution.

Hon. S. Robinson: I take the member’s concerns quite seriously, and our government does. That’s why we have increased funding to the residential tenancy branch significantly, with an additional $7 million over the next few years. And we are developing a compliance unit that will deal with challenging tenants and challenging landlords to make sure that is addressed, because we have heard that landlords need some teeth for the act. So we’re also making sure that we’re strengthening the administrative penalties.

We’ve heard that feedback, and we’re strengthening the act. We’re strengthening the ability of the residency tenancy branch to do its job as it’s supposed to. We’re also simplifying the process for accessing the residential tenancy branch and getting the help that it needs, and we’re going to be monitoring it closely. I have asked for feedback to make sure that it is doing what it’s supposed to do.

At the end of the day, this is about managing relationships. We know that a landlord-tenant agreement is a relationship, and we want it to work. I think they do work most of the time. When things do go sideways, it’s important to have an outside body that can either help manage that relationship or help dissolve the relationship.

The act has in it times in which you can dissolve that relationship. Making sure that we have a robust residential tenancy branch that has the capacity to do its job is very, very important, and we’re going to be monitoring it closely.

A. Weaver: I just wanted to thank the minister for her thoughtful response to the questions.

Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act

Today in the Legislature we initiated second reading debate of Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017. The bill makes a number of changes to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and the Residential Tenancy Act designed to:

  1. restrict the ability for landlords to use of a vacate clause with fixed term leases, except in specific circumstances that will be provided for by regulation;
  2. limit rent increases between fixed-term tenancy agreements with the same tenant to the maximum annual allowable amount;
  3. enable the residential tenancy branch to take stronger action to enforce tenancy laws with repeat violators.

Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech.


Text of Speech


A. Weaver: I rise to take my place in the debates at second reading on Bill 16, Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act.

As we’ve heard, this bill has three main goals. It makes amendments to the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act and the Residential Tenancy Act. The bill makes the following changes. First, it restricts the ability for landlords to use a vacate clause with fixed-term leases except in special circumstances that will be provided for by regulation. Two, it limits rent increases between fixed-term tenancies with the same tenant to the maximum annual allowable amount. Three, it enables the residential tenancy branch to take stronger actions to enforce laws and repeat violators, and also it streamlines the dispute resolution process for the return of security and pet deposits.

I rise to speak to this bill as someone who historically has both been a renter and a landlord — a landlord since 1986 in one form or another. I rise to say that I approach this bill very cautiously.

I recognize that there is a crisis facing affordability in Metro Vancouver and in metro Victoria, where vacancy rates are below half a percent or 0.6 percent.

And I recognize that there are a number of bad apples out there — I come back to the Leader of the Opposition’s term “bad apples” — who have created a crisis, in terms of fixed-term leases being used as a means of avoiding the law, the law which limits rent increases for people who are there.

Now, I approach this also from the sides of those who are landlords to recognize that the fixed-term lease often is one of the only means to actually get a tenant out of a property if the tenant is actually not responsibly taking care of that property.

I understand that there is the rental tenancy agency and the agreement. I’m concerned that without an injection of substantial funds — something I’ll explore in the committee stage, and I understand these will be forthcoming —the intent will be lost of this one tool that landlords have to ensure that they can evict a tenant in a timely fashion without having to drag through the RTA process.

Because we do know that there are some cases where we have irresponsible landlords, but we also have irresponsible renters. So I respect the need for this legislation in a basically zero-vacancy market.

We have a crisis on our hands. We need to deal with that crisis to ensure that renters, the most vulnerable in the society, are not being taken advantage of by those exploiting it. But at the same time, in the longer term, I think we need to look very carefully at how we actually move the whole Residential Tenancy Act forward to ensure that we protect good landlords.

I come to my own personal circumstance as somebody who has been a landlord for many, many years and, also, from a family of people who worked in the restaurant business, who did not have a pension. They had no pension other than by the fact that they squirrelled their savings into real estate to ensure that their pension would be the rent from this real estate in their retirement.

Now again, the single most important thing a landlord can do is get a good tenant who lives in the same place for a long time. A good tenant is more valuable than $100 a month, because you know a good tenant is one that will take care of the property and is one you do not price out of the market.

One of the means and ways that landlords use this fixed-term clause is you’ll sign a one-year agreement but not automatically go to the month-to-month, because automatically going to the month-to-month will start to invoke the RTA process.

And you view it both for protection of the landlord and the renter. This one-year period is a period to see whether the relationship…. In a tenant or renter case, for most small business landlords — not the multinationals or the big property owners but the small business ones who are really trying to get the best tenant — this is a good check to ensure that you’re a match.

In my personal case, I viewed it as a way to give back. We, for years and years, have given below-market rent in a house or two houses because we could give someone a leg-up. We could give them a chance, and we’d know that they’d be there and they’d take care of the property for a long, long time.

I mean, some members here would think it kind of odd if I said that we rented a four-bedroom house for a $1,000 a month. That is what we did here, because it covered our costs, it gave people a break, and it allowed us to protect ourselves for the future and our children in this escalating real estate market.

With that said, we can look to those bad apples. Those bad apples have taken this and made it into a crisis, and I have no sympathy for that.

People taking advantage of other people because of a difficult time in affordability is wrong at a fundamental level, which is why ultimately I support this bill, with the caveat that I’ll explore at committee stage some of the attempts that government will take to actually ensure that the rental tenancy office is resourced properly, so that delays are not there for the sake of delays, that people can get responses for concerns in a timely fashion, that landlords and renters are protected. Because ultimately, I think the collective view here is we want to make this system better.

As we know, there’s a small minority of these landlords who’ve been engaged in this business. And again, for those out there, other landlords, we really need to turn to those irresponsible landlords and say: “You know what? This is your fault.” Government has responded, as it must respond, to a crisis that was created by irresponsible landlords taking advantage of a system. For that, again, I come back to the reason why ultimately I think this is an important bill to support.

In terms of the enforcement laws, this too is important. The amendments that are being proposed will allow the branch to more strongly enforce the tenancy laws. Again, this is important because they will be able to compel the production of documents as part of penalty investigations, publish penalty decisions, refuse to accept an application for dispute resolution if an administrative penalty is owed and pursue prosecution where penalties have been levied but there is still no compliance.

This largely protects the renter, but there are clauses in here that do also protect the landlord with respect to administrative penalties if they have not been paid as well. Again, this is a good component of the legislation, which I’m very pleased to support.

Finally, when it comes to streamlining pet and damage deposits, again, this legislation…. I understand the need for doing it, but ultimately it comes back to the fact that those few bad apples out there have required such legislation be put in place.

The overwhelming majority of landlords take the return of pet and damage deposits very seriously. They follow due process. They ensure that they’re not retained for inappropriate means. To be blunt, the process, if the renter knows — going through the rental tenancy branch and the whole adjudication process — is very, very cumbersome, and nobody wants to do that. So the majority of landlords have been following process appropriately. But again, those bad apples have made this necessary.

I come to the compelling arguments put forward by the member for Vancouver–West End, who is in an area of Metro Vancouver with a very low vacancy rate, very high rental accommodations — frankly, a whole bunch of vacant places as well — and I hear his concerns. I hear his concerns, and I support the amendments, as we’ve seen fit to ensure that the retention of security deposits is not done inappropriately.

In conclusion, I support the intent of this bill to end the abuse of the current act by a small number of landlords who skirt rent controls and evict people from their homes if they won’t agree to large rent increases. I look forward to discussing the bill in committee stage and, in particular, exploring the means and ways the tenancy branch will actually be funded and the means and ways that will allow disputes to be dealt with in a timely fashion, and I look forward to listening to others in this second reading debate.


Video of Speech


It’s time to clamp down on offshore purchase of BC real estate

Today in the legislature I rose in Question Period to ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing when the government will step in to clamp down offshore purchases of BC real estate. I’ve been raising the issue of housing affordability week after week in the legislature and I continue to be very troubled by the lack of action on this file.

Yesterday the government released very disturbing data that indicated a growing crisis in terms of offshore buying. Fully 5 percent of the homes in the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver, 10 percent in Burnaby and 11 percent in Richmond were purchased by foreign buyers in September alone.

Below I reproduce the video and text of my question period exchange.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: Yesterday the government released property transfer tax data that clearly demonstrates the rising impact that foreign speculators are having on our housing market.

Fully 5 percent of the homes in the capital regional district and Metro Vancouver, 10 percent in Burnaby — that’s a doubling in a year — and 11 percent in Richmond were purchased by foreign buyers in September alone.

And that’s not counting all the transactions that were able to avoid paying property transfer tax and foreign buyers tax through creative measures.

Across every single community in Metro Vancouver, the percentage of transactions involving a foreign natural is going up. These transactions have now an outsized impact on the entire market, contributing beyond their relative share to the price increases we’re seeing in our province.

It’s essential that this government take action on the use of foreign money in our real estate sector, and this action must start now.

To the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing: When will British Columbia start implementing policies that will ensure that our limited housing stock is used first as homes for British Columbia, not as a bank to account for foreign capital.


Answer


Hon. C. James: I am proud to work with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

This is a tax issue, and I’m proud that we’re actually doing work in the Ministry of Finance on tax issues to come up with a comprehensive strategy that will address affordability in our province.

I appreciate the member’s question because what’s clear from the figures is that the previous government’s piecemeal approach did not work. You’re continuing to see foreign investment increase. We need to address the issues.

So right now, within my ministry, we’re actively examining all of the existing and new ideas for housing tax measures, including a speculation tax, including the foreign buyers tax.

We’re rejecting the piecemeal approach, because we know we have to address housing affordability in a long-term strategy. That’s what we’re focused on, and that’s what we’re going to do.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

If I may, before you continue, member, remind all members that we have visitors in the gallery. I’m thinking it’s difficult for them to hear, and I’m especially reminded we have a wonderful group of young school students in the gallery.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: That was timely, because that wonderful group are actually grade 5 students from Glenlyon Norfolk, a school in my riding. So welcome here, in during question period.

I appreciate the Minister of Finance rising in response to my question. But my question was to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing about what is being done today, not what is going to be done hypothetically in February.

Look, the reality of the situation is this: the previous government brought us back in summer to implement on a timely, urgent fashion a foreign buyers tax. This was done despite the budget cycle, which was not occurring for another six months.

So I don’t buy the minister’s argument. We’ve heard the government talk about speculation taxes. Yet, there’s been no action. We’ve heard them talk about vacancy taxes. No action. We’ve heard them talk about Airbnb. No action.

To be blunt, the government is acting like deer caught in headlights. This is the single biggest issue facing our province, and we are told week in and week out: “Wait and see.”

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

A. Weaver: I’ve got some cheerleaders on the opposite side today. It’s good.

 

The former Housing critic made it clear that tackling foreign speculation was the most important step that could be taken. There are plenty of actions that could be taken now to close loopholes. Sure, we’re tracking and collecting data and working with our federal partners. All could be done outside of the budget process.

My question to the Municipal Affairs and Housing is: why has the government been silent on the foreign demand issues since taking over government?


Answer


Hon. C. James: Thanks to the member. In fact, you can check off a couple of those pieces. The work we’re doing with the federal government is already done. We included information-sharing in September. Those are exactly conversations that are going on. That’s a piece that’s happening now.

You can also check off, Member, the issue of closing the fixed-term loophole to be able to protect tenants from unfair landlords who were looking at year leases.

You can also check off investing in the residential tenancy branch to protect tenants and support good landlords.

And I would remind the member, as well, that in fact, the information that came forward on the foreign buyers data showed very clearly that one measure simply doesn’t work. A comprehensive approach is needed. That is what we are looking at now to end speculation of the real estate market. I look forward to the member’s ideas so we can put a plan together long term that is going to address affordability.