BC Liberals will have tough time making speculation tax an election issue

The numbers showing the reach of the housing speculation tax are out and they are underwhelming.

Just 2,410 B.C. residents are paying the tax.

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That’s it. A mere 2,410 people. That is less than 0.1 per cent of eligible voters in this province.

Overall, just 12,029 people are being hit by the tax. Most are foreign nationals, while about 13 per cent are Canadians from other provinces.

Given these measly numbers, it is hard to see how the BC Liberals will be able to turn the speculation tax into some kind of election issue come the next campaign.

It is also difficult to draw a line connecting the tax to lowering housing prices. While the benchmark price of a house in Metro Vancouver has dropped to below $1 million, other factors have likely contributed to that drop much more than this tax.

Even Finance Minister Carole James is quick to attribute the modest decline in housing prices to a number of measures, including the overall economy, new mortgage rules and interest rates.

James has also established a registry for bare land trusts requiring public disclosure of ownership and increased the foreign buyers’ tax.

Given the speculation tax’s rather minor presence, is it really fair to single out those 2,410 British Columbians to pay a tax on what is likely, in many cases, a family vacation home that sits empty during the winter months?

The finance ministry news release that contained the statistics stated the aim of the tax is, first of all, to be “targeting foreign and domestic speculators who own homes in British Columbia but do not pay tax here.”

speculation tax form
BC Government graphic

So far, the BC NDP government has yet to prove those 2,410 British Columbians paying the speculation are actual speculators, although we can be fairly sure they pay taxes in this province.

James is set to meet in September with the mayors of the geographical regions captured by the tax to see if changes are required. Will the mayors be able to press for at least some B.C. residents – given there are so few of them affected – to be granted an exemption from the tax?

If it can be shown they are truly “speculators’ then fine, hit them with the tax. But if the case cannot be made for that label, an exemption should be considered.

The tax has generated about $115 million in revenue for the government, and it appears that British Columbian owners of second homes contributed about $20 million of that amount. Two-thirds of the money appears to come from foreign nationals.

Again, that $20 million is a drop in the government’s budget bucket, but it is likely a major household expense for those 2,410 folks.

The government’s numbers speak for themselves. Perhaps a re-think is in order.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.





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