FILE PHOTO The provincial government hasn’t effectively communicated the hows and whys of the speculation tax, says columnist.

OPINION: Poorly implemented speculation tax could have been a political win for NDP

Important questions remain unanswered, says columnist

When the B.C. government first announced the speculation tax last February, it was touted as a measure designed to address the ongoing housing crisis in British Columbia and tax out-of-province speculators.

The speculation tax, the province said, would apply to properties in Metro Vancouver, Nanaimo and Capital Regional Districts, Kelowna, West Kelowna and the Fraser Valley.

A month later, following plenty of opposition, the NDP had a change of heart, deciding the tax no longer applied to parts of the Fraser Valley along with the Gulf Islands, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Juan de Fuca – Premier John Horgan’s riding – and parts of the RDN. Part of the NDP’s rationale behind the decision was that individuals with family-owned cottages were being unfairly punished.

Yet the City of Nanaimo, Lantzville and others remained very much a part of the speculation tax. The only explanation given by the government was “this tax only applies in urban housing markets hardest hit by the crisis.”

It wasn’t long afterward that the provincial government, despite indicating the speculation tax would mainly apply to out-province individuals, revealed that about 20,000 of the 32,000 homes eligible to be taxed are owned by British Columbians and not foreigners or Canadians from other provinces.

In the following months, questions remained around specifics of the speculation tax. It also became increasingly apparent that many of the affected municipalities, including Nanaimo and Lantzville, were upset with the province.

“This legislation was introduced in the budget with very, very little detail and now here we are as a community trying to struggle with how it may affect our economy, affect homeowners, affect owners of properties in our community,” said then-Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay.

Then, just last week, the province announced that one million people living in areas where the speculation tax applies, including Nanaimo, would be required to apply for exemptions from the tax. Those who don’t will pay the tax even if they shouldn’t.

Unbelievable. Nearly a year after the NDP introduced the tax as part of their 2018 budget, the public is just being told this now.

And that’s the problem. From the moment the tax was announced, this government has repeatedly failed to effectively communicate this decision.

Governments failing to communicate is nothing new, but the speculation tax was unveiled as part of the NDP’s 30-point affordable housing plan. It should have been an easy political win for the NDP, given people’s anxiety around foreign-ownership and real estate speculation.

Instead, the NDP spent months waffling, making major policy decisions on the fly and angering municipalities across the province.

How come Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Ladysmith are all exempt from the tax while Lantzville is included? Why did it take months for the province to announce that more than a million people are now suddenly required to fill out a form to be exempted?

Last summer, I asked Premier Horgan, who happened to be in town for an event, why Nanaimo and Lantzville were not exempt from the tax. His response was to talk to Finance Minister Carole James because “she put the plan together.”

At the end of the day, my issue with the speculation tax isn’t so much about the tax itself but how it has been implemented.

It could have been better, a lot better.



nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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