After many months of speculation about what was going to be contained in the bill enabling the speculation and vacancy tax that was proposed by the BC NDP government it was finally tabled and I stood and spoke at second reading.
I rise to take my place in the debate on the speculation and vacancy tax tabled by this government. This has been and continues to be a contentious tax. It divides people. It has polarized and driven wedges.
Narrative of division
We often talk about the housing situation, the devastating housing situation this government has inherited. But actually, in addition to this crisis, one of the biggest problems that we have inherited is the narrative. It’s a narrative about division and winners and losers, a narrative that has a tendency to pit different classifications of people against one another. Homeowners and renters. The stratified upper and middle and lower class. Boomers, Gen Xers, millennials. Hard-working earners and lazy people, apparently.
Although they haven’t been mentioned in this debate — they’ve been left out — if there are hard-working earners, then there must be the lazy people, or people that have just been born in the wrong generation, perhaps. British Columbians and people from elsewhere — elsewhere in Canada and elsewhere in the world. People who may be able to afford a second home after working hard all their lives, who now feel they’re being wrongly treated as speculators. People who work hard and live and pay taxes in British Columbia. People who are working hard just to get by.
A vast majority of British Columbians work very hard, and we should acknowledge them. We should thank them for their contribution to our province. There’s people who are having trouble finding anywhere affordable to live, for themselves and their families, near to where they work. This is a problem that we find on the Saanich Peninsula, a workforce housing issue.
Needs of our communities
I think we need to do as much as we can to resist this type of division as we work to find a solution for the housing crisis that continues to grip much of British Columbia, all of British Columbia. This type of language elevates and isolates personal interests, treating them as if they’re separate from the needs and the interests of the communities that we represent.
The quality of our communities, the strength of our communities is based on the security of us as individuals. A person’s home is at the centre of our ability to feel secure in our community. Communities have become unaffordable, particularly for young people and for young families. They, too, are people who work hard, and they’re struggling to find a secure place to live. Those are just people that apparently were born in the wrong generation.
When we talk about the effects of the housing crisis and the effects of taxes like this one, we are really talking about the effects on our friends, our neighbours, our family members — people we love, people we care deeply about. That’s what has been so difficult for me about this entire debate. Unfortunately, the kind of dialogue that I’ve too often seen in this debate doesn’t help the nuanced and sober conversation that is needed about finding the right path forward.
I recognize that people are going to be impacted by this tax. I’ve been answering the emails. I understand, and I have heard the stories. I am not going to stand in this place and skirt around that. I am going to look directly at the issues that are going to impact the people in my riding and in communities across the province.
Impact of doing nothing
I think it’s important to point out the impacts of not doing anything, as I have pointed out — the very real impacts that are happening to our people today because of inaction. There are impacts there, as well, that are easily ignored, easily forgotten, easily painted over.
Some of these impacts will be mitigated by the exemptions written into this legislation because of the work of our caucus and the government, and others still by amendments that we’ll be introducing in the next stage of the debate, which I’ll touch on later. Even despite these changes, people will still face impacts, and people are still being impacted by the situation as it stands right now in deeply, deeply troubling ways.
I know that in particular, there are many people choosing to retire on the Saanich Peninsula. These people have bought a home there. They’re staying part-time and planning to move here full-time later on. They will be faced with paying this tax unless they are willing and able to rent their homes for at least half the year.
I also have to recognize that I have a responsibility for the entire community, and not supporting housing action like this also has those real impacts. They have the impacts on the people that are struggling really badly right now to find a home — to find a home for their children, to find a home close to where they work.
As legislators, we have a responsibility for advocating for the whole communities that we represent and for debating and passing laws according to how they affect British Columbians in our ridings, at home and right across the province. We must always seek to find a balance.
My riding is impacted by this proposed legislation in many different ways. When this legislation was originally proposed back in February, it was going to impact my entire riding, including the southern Gulf Islands. I heard a lot of concern from Gulf Islanders about the impact this tax would have on their local economy, so I was happy when the government announced this spring that the tax would no longer apply to the Gulf Islands or other areas with similar challenges, like Parksville-Qualicum or Cultus Lake.
There’s no doubt that we are facing a housing crisis on the southern Gulf Islands. It is one of the issues that keeps me up at night. It is one of the issues, one of the reasons why I’ve gotten to know the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing so well, as we talk about the challenges on the southern Gulf Islands.
I believe that on balance, a tax like this doesn’t make sense for the areas such as the Gulf Islands, especially considering the fact they’ve got the complicating factor of the Islands Trust Act. We continue to have serious housing challenges on the Gulf Islands that need to be addressed, and I’m committed to working with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on that.
Nuances in the housing crisis
The diversity of concerns in my riding shows how we need to have a nuanced approach to the housing crisis. We cannot have a divisive debate, a divided debate on this. Over the past number of months, we’ve worked hard as a caucus to find a path forward that reduces the impacts of the tax that we feel are most problematic while maintaining elements we think are critical to dealing with the housing crisis that everybody in the last election….
It didn’t matter what door I knocked on in my riding; the number one issue was the housing crisis. Whether it was up on the mountains or in the valleys in my riding, every single person where I knocked on…. Okay, maybe there were a few that weren’t. A vast majority of the doors that I knocked on, when I opened it up, housing was the number one issue they wanted me to address, and it has been the main issue that we have addressed over the months since that election. Some of these are most problematic, such as providing provisions for satellite families and foreign owners.
My colleague from Oak Bay–Gordon Head has done a considerable amount of work on this over the past many months, raising concerns and personal stories that have been coming into our offices directly with the government. I am pleased with the level of commitment that we’ve seen from government to find solutions on these issues.
We’ve been raising three key concerns in particular over the past number of months. The first is the need for local government to have a more significant role in determining what happens in their community. I’ve always been an advocate for that around the council table and now as an MLA. The second is the fact that Canadians should not be paying higher rates than British Columbians. The third is the need to limit the unfair impacts on Canadian homeowners who are not speculators.
Common sense changes to the tax
In many cases, this government has listened and has made common sense changes in the legislation that will ensure that people will not face significant hardships in this tax if they need to own a second home for a variety of reasons. This legislation, for example, ensures that people who own a second home because they need to be in a city for medical treatment, couples who own two homes because they work in different places or an individual who leaves their home vacant because they need to receive medical or residential care will not be paying this tax.
The legislation also has common sense provisions that ensure, for example, that developers do not need to pay on vacant land through the development process. We need to be incentivizing supply and not disincentivizing it through taxes that accumulate year after year as they go through, in some cases, the processes that take way too long. If a homeowner has a secondary suite that they rent out, they can continue to use their home whenever they choose to without needing to worry about the tax.
We’ll be going through this bill in more detail at committee stage to ensure we have a full understanding of the details and the exemptions available and how different people will be impacted in their different situations. But we didn’t feel that the legislation, as it was initially drafted, went far enough to deal with the concerns we’ve been hearing, so we’ve been working hard with the government over the past few days.
Amending the Bill
Earlier today we announced an agreement that further deals with some of our key issues on this tax. At the next stage of debate, we’ll be introducing three amendments to this legislation.
First, we’ll be requiring an annual meeting between the mayors of the affected regions and the Finance Minister to go through the impacts of the tax on their communities and have a discussion with the minister about what path forward makes sense for them.
This annual review of the tax with mayors will give communities a clear channel for making a case based on evidence for how the tax should apply to their community and whether they should be excluded. It also allows for communities that experience change in affordability metrics to have a clear avenue to bring those to the minister’s attention.
Second, we’ll be ensuring that all revenues from the tax will go back to the housing initiatives within the regions they came from. This is critical to ensure that the communities are seeing the benefits of this tax, that it’s not simply going into provincial revenues. This tax cannot be about revenues for the provincial government. It must always be about remedying the crises in our communities.
Third, we’ll be introducing an amendment that equalizes rates for Canadians and British Columbians, bringing the rate down for Canadians to 0.5 percent. We have heard from many, many people who say they feel saddened and discriminated against by the idea that they should pay a higher rate than British Columbians just because they are from a different province. I think it’s an important amendment that ensures we’re not treating fellow Canadians differently by making them pay a higher rate than British Columbians. I think this is how government should work.
We are able to compromise and find a path forward that limits the impacts of this tax on Canadians who are not speculating, while ensuring that we are still taking meaningful action on the housing crisis that exists — the housing crisis that people in my riding, no matter where they were, agreed and encouraged me to take action on, should I have the honour of representing them in this place.
50,000 different opinions
It’s an honour that’s not easy, I’ll say, an honour that has many, many challenges to it. All our members here know the challenges of representing 50,000 different opinions in this place with a single vote. It’s an issue, and it’s a challenge that I take seriously. Both of our parties, the governing party and the Third Party, agree that taking meaningful action on housing affordability is what British Columbians expect of us. I think our agreement on these amendments finds an appropriate balance.
I campaigned for many months leading up to the 2017 election. I heard from people in every part of my riding that this needs to be addressed, and that’s what we’re doing. Over the months ahead, I’ll monitor the impacts of this tax closely, and I’ll continue to seek out and be led by the experiences of my constituents and the communities that I represent.