B.C. Finance Minister Carole James presents her first budget, February 2017. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press/pool)

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James presents her first budget, February 2017. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press/pool)

James continues to defend housing speculation tax

Removed from vacation homes, it still targets mostly B.C. homeowners

Finance Minister Carole James continues to defend the remaining properties targeted by her government’s speculation tax on vacant homes, after revealing that the majority that will pay the tax are B.C. residents.

Introduced in the February budget as an extension of the empty home tax imposed by the City of Vancouver to target mainly foreign real estate investors, the area affected by the tax was whittled down to major urban centres after an outcry from people with vacation homes.

RELATED: Rural cottages exempted from speculation tax

It now captures about 32,000 properties, 20,000 of which are owned by B.C. residents, James confirmed in debate on her ministry’s budget this week. This prompted a renewed attack by opposition MLAs, who say it still isn’t a speculation tax but rather an asset tax on people with second homes.

James stressed that 99 per cent of B.C. residents won’t pay the tax, and it is needed to promote rentals.

“One per cent who have second or third or fourth homes that they own in the regions that we’ve targeted will pay the speculation tax, if they choose not to rent their place out,” James said Thursday. “We’re in a housing crisis.”

James rolled back the extent of the tax in March after protests from vacation homeowners, exempting the Gulf Islands, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, the Juan de Fuca region in Premier John Horgan’s constituency and rural areas of the Fraser Valley and Central Okanagan.

It currently applies to Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria and the municipalities of Nanaimo, Lantzville, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Kelowna and West Kelowna. It is to take effect based on 2018 assessed property values, at 0.5 per cent for B.C. residents and two per cent for foreign owners and “satellite families” who don’t pay income tax in B.C.

Albertans and other Canadians whose principal residence is outside B.C. will pay 0.5 per cent in 2018 and one per cent in 2019 and later.

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