Vic­to­ria coun­cil asks B.C. for for­eign spec­u­la­tors tax

Times Colonist - - The Capital - BILL CLEVERLEY Times Colonist bclev­er­ley@times­colonist.com

Vic­to­ria coun­cil is call­ing on the prov­ince to im­me­di­ately im­pose a 15 per cent non-res­i­dent buy­ers tax here to cool what has be­come one of the three hottest real es­tate mar­kets in the coun­try.

The re­quest comes af­ter what some coun­cil­lors see as the suc­cess of the same for­eign buy­ers tax im­posed last fall in Van­cou­ver and as On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne an­nounced a 15 per cent for­eign buy­ers levy in the Toronto area.

“We all know that we have a hous­ing cri­sis and that the cost of home own­er­ship and rent is get­ting higher and higher and the dream of home own­er­ship is get­ting fur­ther and fur­ther away for many of our res­i­dents,” said Coun. Jeremy Love­day, who spon­sored the res­o­lu­tion with Coun. Ben Isitt.

“This is ask­ing for ac­tion to be taken so that our res­i­dents can af­ford homes here.”

Isitt said there’s in­creased ur­gency to bring the tax to the Vic­to­ria, given the other two hot ar­eas, Greater Van­cou­ver and Greater Toronto, will have the tax.

This week, Bank of Mon­treal chief econ­o­mist Doug Porter said there is no ques­tion the Van­cou­ver tax is af­fect­ing the Vic­to­ria real es­tate mar­ket. Porter noted in a Fi­nan­cial Post ar­ti­cle that Vic­to­ria is the only city out­side of On­tario with a dou­ble-digit per­cent­age av­er­age price gain in the past year, with the home price in­dex up 20 per cent year over year.

But sev­eral coun­cil­lors wor­ried the non-res­i­dent levy will be viewed in the same light as the head tax im­posed on Chi­nese im­mi­grants by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment be­tween 1885 and 1923.

“I re­ally think we may end up be­ing seen to be on the wrong side of his­tory on this one,” Coun. Ge­off Young said, adding that the head tax was a pop­u­lar mea­sure in its day. “It [the head tax] wasn’t pri­mar­ily im­ple­mented for racial pur­poses, I don’t think. It was be­cause peo­ple felt that new im­mi­grants were pre­sent­ing com­pe­ti­tion for jobs. It was an eco­nomic im­pulse,” Young said.

Real es­tate agent Tony Joe, who in Jan­uary wrote to Vic­to­ria op­pos­ing the tax, said it sim­ply is not needed here. “The tax was in [place in] Van­cou­ver in Au­gust and it did not cause a spike in for­eign in­ter­est over here in Vic­to­ria.

“The re­al­ity is that the peo­ple that were do­ing the spec­u­la­tion or land bank­ing in Van­cou­ver were only look­ing in Van­cou­ver,” Joe said, adding that Van­cou­ver and Toronto are global cities while Vic­to­ria is not.

The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple buying prop­er­ties in Vic­to­ria are not hold­ing them va­cant but are mov­ing here, he said. He said the tax is not un­like the head tax. “Why call it a for­eign tax. Why don’t we just call it a Chi­nese tax?” he said.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the non-res­i­dent tax should not be seen as anti-im­mi­grant or racist but rather as a “spec­u­la­tive tax.”

The B.C. gov­ern­ment an­nounced in Jan­uary that the tax does not ap­ply to peo­ple with work per­mits, Helps noted. “This does not ap­ply to peo­ple who are be­com­ing res­i­dents of Bri­tish Columbia — who are be­com­ing res­i­dents of our com­mu­ni­ties.”

Young said the idea that a tax can be lim­ited to spec­u­la­tors is a faint hope. “Ba­si­cally, any­body who buys a prop­erty is spec­u­lat­ing.”

Coun. Mar­i­anne Alto said she agreed with the in­tent of the tax and ef­forts to try to solve “an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­treme cri­sis.” But, she said: “I have to say that the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of foreigners in this case makes me very un­com­fort­able.”

Coun. Margaret Lu­cas said she doesn’t be­lieve “there’s a lot of ev­i­dence yet to tell us that this has been the so­lu­tion.”

Last week, Cap­i­tal Re­gional Dis­trict di­rec­tors post­poned a de­ci­sion on whether to ask for the tax to be im­posed un­til their mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils weigh in. Sev­eral di­rec­tors ar­gued that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties such as Lang­ford, Sooke and Metchosin aren’t fac­ing the same af­ford­abil­ity is­sues and es­ca­la­tion in hous­ing prices that Vic­to­ria has.

Vic­to­ria’s res­o­lu­tion, passed Thurs­day, asks the prov­ince to im­me­di­ately im­pose the 15 per cent tax to curb spec­u­la­tive prop­erty pur­chases by non-res­i­dents in ei­ther the en­tire cap­i­tal re­gion or in just the city of Vic­to­ria, whichever is more ex­pe­di­ent.

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