B.C. Liberals candidate Tony Harris, B.C. NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson and B.C. Green Party candidate Michele Ney. (JOHN LEHMANN photo and photos submitted)

Nanaimo candidate asks opponents to align with him against speculation tax

BC Liberal Tony Harris focuses on controversial tax as a wedge issue in crucial byelection

A day after Nanaimo byelection candidates debated the speculation tax, one of the candidates asked the others to join him in opposing the tax collection methods.

Tony Harris drafted a letter Tuesday and asked NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson and Green Party candidate Michele Ney to support his request to Premier John Horgan to reconsider the “negative-option billing” approach to collecting the speculation and vacancy tax.

“The government’s chosen approach to collecting payments is poorly conceived and poses serious risks to homeowners in Nanaimo and other affected regions,” Harris wrote in a letter he shared on social media.

The B.C. government has sent forms to 1.6 million British Columbians asking that they self-exempt themselves if the tax doesn’t apply to them.

Harris, at the Forum for Millennial Leadership debate the night before at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, said he felt the government should have used assessment data to take a more targeted approach to speculation tax collection.

He said he “categorically” objects to the speculation and vacancy tax, adding that “it’s a regressive tax and then the implementation was botched … More importantly, it doesn’t properly address the solution of supply when we have this pressure of population growth.”

Sheila Malcolmson, NDP candidate, said the B.C. speculation tax is modelled after one that “is working” in Vancouver.

“It’s a tool that’s worked in other places. It is something that 99 per cent of British Columbians will not pay…” Malcolmson said. “What we’re trying to do is make it affordable, make it possible for people to live here.”

She said the Liberals and Green Party didn’t protest speculation tax collection methods in the legislature, and said if the system doesn’t work, she would “advocate for a better way to do the paperwork” should she be elected MLA.

She suggested housing affordability became an “emergency” under the watch of the B.C. Liberals; Harris replied that “what you won’t get from me is a bunch of laying blame onto what caused what, but what we haven’t seen is our local MLA working aggressively with our local civic politicians to solve the supply issue through zoning solutions and that’s really where I believe the answers lie.”

Ney said the Greens were not supportive of how the NDP rolled out the tax. She said the speculation tax is “somewhat palatable” but not a policy the Green Party would have ever created.

“What I would like to see, as well as the Greens, is to pass this policy on to the municipalities so that they can distribute the levies, decide what exemptions are needed that are specific to the needs of their community, and allow them to be collecting the revenue from this tax and invest it in housing to address the issues and needs of that community,” she said.

During the discussion, moderator Richard Zussman asked Harris about removing a line from his bio on his company website that stated he enjoys real estate speculation.

Harris said after developing his Legasea project at Departure Bay, which he said has no foreign buyers or speculators, he doesn’t own another home or properties he’s looking to develop.

“I’ve always enjoyed speculating about how real estate will evolve in our community,” Harris said. “Nanaimo’s a dynamic town, it’s not your typical grid situation with ALR that you’re just going to expand into … So I had written something on my website a number of years ago that said I enjoy speculating about real estate. Now it’s a really dirty word. I thought it was insensitive to have it on the website; I removed it. At the end of the day, I’m not a speculator.”

RELATED: Nanaimo byelection candidates outline their priorities

RELATED: Nanaimo candidate, premier address spec tax at B.C. NDP event

OPINION: Poorly implemented speculation tax could have been a political win for NDP



editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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