Comment: Goodbye Victoria, speculation tax is forcing us to leave

A commentary by a retired person with a home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who formerly had a part-time home in Victoria’s James Bay neighbourhood.

My wife and I purchased a Victoria vacation condo 14 years ago upon retirement. Because we only use it two to three months each year it is suddenly subject to the new speculation and vacancy tax and we must now leave. We have enjoyed our time here immensely.

The Empress, Royal B.C. Museum, Butchart Gardens, harbour activity, water taxis, Langham Court Theatre productions, many restaurants, wonderful neighbours and the observations of Jack Knox in the Times Colonist are among the many attractions that we will miss.

We are being forced to leave because B.C. Finance Minister Carole James has decreed that we are foreign “speculators” who don’t deserve to be here. It feels like she has withdrawn the Canadian welcome invitation extended to us 14 years ago.

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She has justified this pivot by making various statements such as, “it is fair for people to pay a little bit more for the services they benefit from.”

As a U.S. citizen, the real-estate tax on our condo will rise from $3,000 a year to $15,000 a year due to the speculation tax. A little bit more?! (A British Columbian’s net tax for using our condo just as we do would only increase by $1,000.)

James has also said “we wanted to get rid of speculators” and some people are treating B.C. housing like the stock market. Really? Would that she had actually targeted “speculators.” Many commentators have pointed out the fallacy of her claim. Unfortunately, the punitive and discriminatory tax scheme that she authored seems designed to flush out long-term owners and users like us, rather than actual short-term “speculators.” Interestingly, a B.C. speculator can avoid this tax entirely by focusing on the most affordable properties, i.e. those worth $400,000 or less. I guess speculation isn’t bad after all if a British Columbian does it and only ties up the most affordable housing in town.

The finance minister says that she wants to “turn empty houses into good housing for people” and owners should rent out their homes. We used our fully furnished condo several times each year, so it was certainly not “empty” or “vacant.” We cannot offer long-term rentals because our visits are often scheduled at the last minute and can occur at any time throughout the year. Additionally, with all of our personal items on site, James is effectively ordering us to take in a renter as a roommate.

And what would James say to British Columbians who own vacation condos in, say, Phoenix or Honolulu if those jurisdictions retaliate and single out B.C. owners for their own discriminatory speculation tax? After all, many cities have a housing and homeless problem these days. Politicians do have a habit of conscripting outsiders who can’t vote to pay for local problems. Anyone who has rented a car at an airport has experienced this first hand when they review the multiple tax add-ons listed in the final bill.

James also said, “there are individuals who couldn’t even dream of having one home never mind an additional home they leave vacant.” I guess no one deserves a vacation home now, unless they turn it into a rental business. And there’s that word “vacant” again. We purchased our condo to use, and use it we did. We did not leave it abandoned and empty like a stock certificate in a safe deposit box.

Yes, I understand that many people will have little sympathy for owners of a vacation home like ourselves. We feel very fortunate to have had a Victoria condo for 14 years. But no more. We sold it to a Victoria gentleman who is downsizing. He will not have to pay an additional $12,000 a year in taxes, even if he uses it part time like we did.

His previous large home won’t add to the available affordable home inventory in Victoria either, so in our case James’s stated objective is not met. She has accomplished her actual objective of erecting an “outsiders not welcome” sign, as evidenced by our departure.

Goodbye Victoria, it seems we hardly knew ye.

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