B.C. Finance Minister Carole James delivers her first full budget, Feb. 20, 2018. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Carole James hints at changes to B.C. empty home tax

Out-of-province vacation homeowners aren’t speculators, some B.C. residents are

Two days after introducing Canada’s first “speculation tax” on empty homes, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James was emphatic. People who don’t pay income tax in B.C. but own a vacation home in high-demand areas of the province that isn’t available for long-term rental will pay the new tax.

Now, after hearing from people whose primary residence is in Alberta or another province with a vacation home in B.C., James is hinting that changes will be made.

“We’re targeting people who are speculating in the market, who are not contributing to the tax system in British Columbia,” James told reporters at the legislature Wednesday. “People who are using our housing market as a stock market.”

As originally announced in the B.C. budget Feb. 20, the speculation tax would be charged to out-of-province residents who inherited a family summer or ski cabin, if it is in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Nanaimo or Capital Regional District, or the municipalities of Kelowna and West Kelowna.

It is to begin this fall at 0.5 per cent of property value, rising to two per cent later.

As announced in February, it would not be charged to someone who pays income tax in B.C. and owns multiple homes as investments, even if they are not offered for long-term rent and sit empty. James said Wednesday that is also being reconsidered.

“Remember, the tax notices don’t go out until late in the fall, so we have the time,” James said. “We wanted to introduce it as part of the February budget because people want to know what we’re moving on with affordable housing. The speculation tax was key to that.”

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said the NDP government is “making up tax policy on the fly,” having second thoughts about applying the employer health tax to hospital and school payrolls, and considering exemptions for the speculation tax on secondary homes.

“What the NDP have done is called a speculation tax what is really an asset tax,” Wilkinson said. “What they want to do is slowly chip away at people’s equity in their homes. They’re saying for now it’s secondary homes, but not sure if its applying to foreigners only, not sure if it’s applying to Albertans.”

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