IntegrityBC on new housing tax: ready, fire, aim

For months the government had been in denial over the issue: overblown, isolated to a few neighbourhoods it said.

It takes a certain skill set to try and fix a problem and possibly botch it up even more, but the B.C. government is certainly testing the idea as it flails about hoping to cool Vancouver’s red hot housing market.

For months the government had been in denial over the issue: overblown, isolated to a few neighbourhoods it said.

Since then its approach has gone from the market will correct itself, to a “bold action plan,” to legislating a retroactive 15 per cent tax on foreign ownership.

Along the way the government bought time by setting up a panel to investigate allegations of questionable practices in the real estate industry and retaining the Conference Board of Canada “to conduct a research study on housing affordability.”

It did seem impatient, though. In a few areas under review, the government acted first, final reports be damned.

It muddied the waters in early July by releasing 19-days of data on foreign home ownership transactions.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong was left flat-footed when asked why he didn’t wait a day or two to include transactions from June 30, when a significant number of home sales would have closed.

Despite cautions over the data, it didn’t stop the self-interested from embracing the numbers, “see, no problem.”

Then two weeks ago a new data set. There may be a problem after all.

The self-interested switched tack fast.

Suddenly five weeks of data was insufficient to form any real conclusions, even though the caveat-laden 19-day data set had been just fine.

It left more than a few pundits dizzy.

The only person who may not have been surprised by the twists and turns was Vision Vancouver and B.C. Liberal party bagman Bob Rennie.

Rennie holds the distinction for setting B.C.’s record for the most expensive political fundraising lunch at $25,000 a plate for Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson’s 2014 re-election campaign.

In a July interview with the Globe and Mail, Rennie claimed to have known about the impending tax three weeks before legislation was tabled.

A statement that didn’t go over so well with his developer buddies or government pals.

It was backtracked fast to an “educated guess.”

For someone who was quite vocal on the issue in June, the media saavy Rennie was uncharacteristically quiet in July, particularly given his educated guess and the means available to him to raise the alarm.

While most of the government’s effort has focused on home prices, it’s not all about flipping, buying and selling.

A lot of the debate surrounds what the government means by affordable?

Some of the one-bedroom units in Victoria’s “affordable rental-housing” project – the Azzurro – will go for $950 per month.

The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Metro Vancouver is $1,410. In Sudbury, Ontario the average is $953, a difference of $5,484 per year.

Why a comparison with Sudbury?

Out of 28 census metropolitan areas, Sudbury had a higher median family income in 2014 than Victoria, Vancouver and Abbotsford-Mission.

The difference with Vancouver was $11,410.

Many may be under the mistaken impression that the government is building far more affordable housing than it actually is, given the plethora of news releases that accompany each project.

There’s the announcement of a housing program, followed by expressions of interest sought, then the successful sought seeker selected release, project and price tag announced, project breaks ground, project opens and, for some, project celebrates one-year anniversary.

A problem 30-years in the making doesn’t get solved on the fly and that’s part of the problem with the government’s recent initiatives.

You don’t get the sense of a comprehensive housing policy, but a mishmash of knee-jerk reactions.

Case in point? The tax on foreign ownership.

Compliance with Canada’s obligations under NAFTA, Charter issues, scuttled home purchases have been raised as potential risks.

There are possible workarounds. One real estate agent has already advertised the 15 per cent equivalent to “We pay the GST” sales.

The biggest worry, however, may be its regional nature. The tax may simply push the problem down the road.

It seems Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s warning – following a Vancouver housing roundtable in June – fell on deaf ears: “There’s no question that concerted, thoughtful effort is going to be needed to address the situation but we have to be very wary of unintended consequences.”


Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC


Just Posted

Emergency crews responded to the scene of a suspicious fire at the southeast corner of the OK Café in Vanderhoof Friday, June 11. The historic building is 101-years-old. (BC RCMP photo)
OK Café in Vanderhoof alright after suspicious fire

Damage kept to a minimum by firefighters

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. Northern Health confirmed it has the lowest vaccination rates amongst the province’s five regional health authorities. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Vaccination rates in Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake, Fort St James well below provincial average

COVID-19 immunization clinics for youth 12+ coming up in Fort St. James

Steve McAdam (left) is studying substrate conditions in the Nechako River and how they impact sturgeon eggs. The work will help design habitat restoration measures, said McAdam. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Sturgeon egg studies to help inform future habitat restoration

“It’s an interesting, challenging issue,” says Steve McAdam

Saik’uz First Nation Coun. Jasmine Thomas and Chief Priscilla Mueller speak about the need for addiction treatment facility near Vanderhoof, March 2021. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Vanderhoof addiction treatment centre tries again with ministry support

Agriculture minister insists she is not interfering in land commission

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read