Third-generation landowner wants exemption from speculation tax

The third-generation owner of a waterfront property in North Saanich is urging the province to create an exemption under its speculation and vacancy tax for long-term owners such as himself.

His property — considered the family homestead — is not being held for speculation, said retired businessman Malcolm Winspear of Dallas, Texas.

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The intention was always to keep it in the family, said Winspear, who has a son and a daughter. But he is now weighing whether to hold onto the site, purchased by his grandfather, philanthropist Francis Winspear, decades ago.

Malcolm Winspear said it makes sense to grant an exemption from the tax in cases such as his, based on length of owner­ship. The speculation and vacancy tax is two per cent of the assessed value of a property.

This year, Winspear, who holds dual Canadian and U.S. citizenship, and his wife, Jill, were each charged half the total amount of the speculation tax, which totalled close to $40,000, for their Ardmore Drive property.

“I’m afraid that it is becoming — now with this tax — so expensive that I may not be able to keep it,” Winspear said.

He anticipates rising property values will see the annual speculation tax reach $50,000.

Within 10 years, it could add up to $500,000 or $1 million over two decades, Winspear said.

The speculation tax does not include other property taxes levied on property or the cost of upkeep. “It’s become a hugely expensive property,” he said. “It’s really a case of: Is it appropriate to charge that kind of money on a property that’s a vacation home?”

B.C.’s speculation and vacancy tax was announced in the 2018 budget, aimed at reducing the number of empty homes and helping to tackle the a shortage of affordable housing. It was intended to encourage owners of vacant homes to offer them for rent or sell them.

The tax — which applies to Greater Victoria, Nanaimo, Lantzville, Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Kelowna and West Kelowna — attracted immediate criticism from affected property owners.

B.C.’s Finance Ministry figures that 12,000 people pay the tax. The province collected $115 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year. Since then, the tax rate on foreign owners and satellite families increased to two per cent from 0.5 per cent.

Renting is not an option for Winspear because the family wants to continue having access throughout the year. Other exemptions to the tax can include major home renovations, divorce, hospitalization and extended absence.

Typically, the Winspears are at their Ardmore property three or four months in a year, staying from a week to a month or so at at time, and hosting other family members. They have been in North Saanich for the past few months.

The 1940s house is about 2,000 square feet and is like a vacation cottage, used for family get-togethers and recreation for decades. It is nothing like mansions built on other Ardmore properties, where assessments are high, Winspear said.

“If I’m third-generation owner of a property, why am I being charged with a speculation tax that is intended for vacant properties or foreign owners who don’t use them?” he said.

The Winspear family and its foundation have donated millions of dollars to initiatives such as the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney, the Bessie Brooks Winspear Music and Media Commons at the University of Victoria, and, in Edmonton, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music.

Francis Winspear was born in England and moved with his family to Alberta as a boy, founding a successful accounting firm as an adult. He died in 1997. Mary Winspear was his sister and Bessie was his wife.

It would be difficult to part with the property, Malcolm Winspear said. “I am very deeply attached to it.”

Winspear has moved a lot during his career. “This is the only place that’s really been constant my entire life. I call this home. I just don’t live here enough to avoid paying this tax.”

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