Friday, May 4, 2018

B.C. rules out changes to tax on high-value homes amid escalating backlash

The B.C. government is ruling out any change to a tax on high-value homes that has prompted protests in the Vancouver region.

Sage Aaron, director of communications for Premier John Horgan, said in an interview on Thursday that legislation enacting the tax has been passed, and the government is committed to following through with a policy that she called “the right thing to do.”

The NDP government’s recent budget included an increase to the school tax, which is paid through property taxes, on homes worth more than $3-million. The tax increase, which was not part of the New Democrats’ campaign platform last year, was among a series of housing measures that also targeted foreign buyers and empty homes.

Despite its name, the school tax does not directly fund schools; instead, it is added to general revenues. The NDP is looking to the tax to raise funds for various parts of its governing agenda.

Opposition to the school-tax increase has been escalating, particularly in the Vancouver riding of Attorney-General David Eby, which has many homes valued above $3-million. Critics have said the tax is unfair to homeowners, particularly seniors, who plan to use their real-estate assets in retirement.

Earlier this week, Mr. Eby cancelled a town-hall meeting on the school tax, citing security concerns. On Thursday, Mr. Horgan was asked about the prospect of a tax revolt in B.C., given the housing tax and various other taxes enacted by the NDP since the party came to office last summer.

“I am quite OK with people expressing concerns around issues that you mentioned,” Mr. Horgan told a news conference in the Victoria region.

The school-tax increase is aimed at “high-valued” residential properties, including detached homes, condos, townhouse units and most vacant land.

In introducing the tax, Finance Minister Carole James said: “Soaring house prices have benefited many people. We think it is fair to ask those who have benefited from those high prices to give a bit more back.”

The additional 0.2-per-cent tax applies to the portion of a residential property’s assessed value that exceeds $3-million, but does not exceed $4-million. An additional tax rate of 0.4 per cent applies to the portion of the assessed value over $4-million.

The government has defended the tax, noting that some homeowners have the option of deferring their property taxes, including the school tax, until they sell their homes.

Earlier this spring, the BC NDP overhauled another planned housing tax after a sharp backlash.

Many expressed concerns that the tax on homes left empty, as initially proposed, would unfairly target people with vacation homes.

The NDP government, which had acknowledged the tax could have “unintended consequences,” outlined changes designed to ensure most British Columbians would be spared from paying the tax, which had been set at 2 per cent of a property’s value. Many Canadians who live outside the province will also be exempt.

The government also reduced the number of regions where the tax applies, limiting it primarily to urban centres and exempting rural areas where lakeside cabins and vacation homes are common.

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