Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Vaughn Palmer: Seniors beef about NDP speculation tax cash cow, frustrating help line

“These are not speculators, these are seniors. ... These are people who are looking for answers from this minister. What is this government doing, taxing these seniors on these cabins, which cannot be rented under any circumstances?”

VICTORIA — Meet the speculators, four unsuspecting British Columbians targeted by the half-baked mess that is the NDP’s speculation and vacancy tax.
Walter Belcher, 93, is a retired civil engineer who owns a modest family cabin, designed and built by himself on land he purchased near Belcarra almost 50 years ago.
He doesn’t use it much any more but his children, grand children and great grand children do.
Though the place is neither vacant, nor rentable, nor being held for speculative purposes, he’s facing a speculation tax bill of $4,000.
Charline Robson is a retired music teacher and the niece of Barbara Howard, the first black female athlete to compete for Canada on the world stage and an inductee into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
When the aunt died two years ago, she left her niece a cabin in Belcarra as a family legacy. Though the place is small, bereft of services and with no easy access to the outside world, the land is premium priced. Robson is facing a spec tax bill on the order of $6,000.
Nancy Strain, 71, is a retired legal secretary and owner of a cabin in Belcarra that was built by her father almost 60 years ago. It is small, not insulated and in no plausible condition for rental. Nevertheless her place is being speculation taxed to the tune of $6,000, a tab senior citizen Strain cannot afford on a $22,000 a year pension.
Sy Rodgers, 67, is a retired salesman. He and his wife own a lot in Belcarra that is deemed water-access only and without potable water and or sewer connection.
They face a $2,700 bill under the speculation tax and he reports that about two dozen of his neighbours, in similar situations, are being taxed as well.
The four of them, Rodgers, Strain, Robson and Melcher, were presented to the legislature during question period Tuesday as case studies in the arbitrary, grossly unfair application of the spec tax.
Opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson set the tone by quoting something Finance Minister Carole James said last year: “People in smaller communities, those with cottages, will not pay this tax.”
But there, sitting in the public gallery and looking down  on the government benches, were exhibits A, B, C and D in the NDP’s failure to exempt cottages in smaller communities such as Belcarra.
“These are not speculators, these are seniors,” said Wilkinson who was having a good day after several bad ones over his ill-advised comments on the wacky fun of rental living.
“These are people on fixed incomes. These are people who are looking for answers from this minister. What is this government doing, taxing these seniors on these cabins, which cannot be rented under any circumstances?”
In reply, James took refuge in her inability, as finance minister, to address the specific tax cases.
Generalizing, she noted that the government had established a $400,000 exemption for people with cabins and summer places.
But with the second part of her answer, she put her finger on the reason why that threshold doesn’t offer much relief for the folks from Belcarra: “The property values in Belcarra jumped in 2016 to 2017, just in one year alone, by a 47 per cent increase.”
Case in point, the Robson property. The cabin is worth $15,000, if that. The land is assessed at more than $1 million.
The NDP’s fallback position on the speculation tax is that owners of secondary properties can avoid paying by renting out their places for part of the year.


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