B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver announce rate reduction for Canadian citizens paying new property tax on homes empty six months of the year or more. (Black Press files)

B.C. VIEWS: Fact-checking the NDP’s speculation tax on empty homes

Negative-option billing is still legal for governments

When the B.C. NDP government quietly announced its registration system for the new “speculation and vacancy tax” last week, it took a minute for me to realize that every homeowner in affected urban areas is required to register, every year.

If they don’t, they will be billed on their property taxes, not at the lower rate for Canadians, but at the full two per cent of 2018 assessed value. That’s the rate reserved for foreign buyers and “satellite families,” those Asian high rollers who are supposed to be driving our housing prices through the roof with their dirty money.

I called it “negative-option billing,” a term that jogged memories. Readers started asking me, isn’t that illegal?

It is indeed, but only for businesses. A federal law was passed in 1999 after an outcry over a cable company’s move to charge customers for a new service unless they contacted the company to decline it.

In this case, 1.6 million residential property owners in designated B.C. urban areas are to receive a letter, starting this week, instructing them to fill out a form declaring they are not real estate speculators. If you have a house or suite that isn’t occupied by a relative or rented out at least six months of the year, you get dinged, annually.

Premier John Horgan shrugged off the complicated form and negative-option billing, comparing it to the homeowner grant introduced by W.A.C. Bennett in 1957.

Horgan made a couple of obviously false statements. The B.C. Liberals didn’t raise concerns in the legislature, he said. Okay, so the tax revolt led by mayors of Kelowna and Horgan’s home town of Langford, and the fall legislature session with objections from the B.C. Greens as well as the B.C. Liberals, never happened?

RELATED: Mayor says Langford threatened over speculation tax

RELATED: Opposition battles ‘fake’ speculation tax in legislature

How about Finance Minister Carole James’ two humiliating retreats on this tax, the first on its overreach into rural vacation properties, and the second on applying the foreigner rate to Albertans and Ontarians? Did those un-happen too?

“The biggest challenge for B.C. Liberals is we’re trying to do something about speculation in the housing market, and they did nothing,” Horgan said.

It was Aug. 1, 2016 when the former government revealed its foreign buyer tax, applying only to non-Canadian purchasers in Metro Vancouver’s then-soaring real estate market. At 15 per cent of value, it actually worked. Foreign purchases went from 10 per cent of the Metro market to less than two per cent in two months.

The foreign buyer tax is still in effect, and the statistics B.C. began to collect showed how few foreign-buyers there were. In Greater Victoria, it was about 3.5 per cent.

Now the NDP version extends beyond Metro Vancouver to Victoria, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Nanaimo, Lantzville, Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Mission.

A fact-challenged government ad started running last week too. The speculation tax “makes sure everyone who uses services like hospitals, schools and transit pays their fair share,” the ad states. So, how many empty apartments go to hospital and school, or ride transit?

James merely stretches the truth. After caving in to B.C. Green Party leader’s final demand last fall to charge all Canadian owners the same rate, James lowered her estimate of what the tax will bring in to about $185 million a year.

But when asked how many vacant homes are expected to shift into the rental market to avoid the tax, Horgan, James and finance officials admit they don’t know.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturespeculation tax

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

$750K for Metlakatla erosion control

New funding for community shoreline

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

Chinese New Year celebrates 2020 year of the rat

Lions woken in rare traditional Chinese New Year ceremony

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Stop checks, searches of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposers unlawful: Watchdog

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs file complaint

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Okanagan man swims across Columbia River to evade Trail police

RCMP Cpl. Devon Reid says the incident began the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20

‘Hilariously bad’: RCMP looking for couple with forged, paper Alberta licence plate

Mounties said the car crashed when it lost a wheel but the duo ran away as police arrived

UPDATE: Two missing scout leaders found near Sooke after swollen creek traps troop

Third leader and scouts located, prior to search for two leaders who’d gone for help

Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sex crimes in landmark #MeToo trial

The cases against the Hollywood mogul started the #MeToo movement

Most Read