NDP School Tax

Stephen Wiseman: Something courageous happened at City Hall

By on 01/03/2019

The Province, December 27, 2018

Vancouver’s city council voted to oppose the provincial government’s school tax surcharge affecting homes assessed at over $3 million.

The passing of this motion, brought forward by councillor Rebecca Bligh, is positive news for all British Columbians. Why? Because it rejects a ham-fisted NDP effort to encroach on Vancouver’s ability to fund its own budget. It also pushes back against a cynical new tax most British Columbians believe will soon be expanded to progressively lower-assessed property thresholds, according to a recent Research Co. poll.

UBC professor Paul Kershaw, supported by his colleague Tom Davidoff and other “experts” advising the government, are aggressively pushing for a $1-million threshold — capturing almost every single-family home in Vancouver!

Recent sale prices for a detached family home in Vancouver — definitely not mansions — have been real head-scratchers for all of us, and not something anyone believes contributes positively to our city.

The school surcharge impacts about 22,000 homes in Vancouver — entire neighbourhoods supporting local businesses, schools, and families. Those affected already pay the highest rates of property tax, as they should, and like other British Columbians, they have worked hard, sacrificed, and often borrowed substantial sums of money to remain living where they do.

They care deeply about maintaining vibrant communities for engaged citizens, and clearly understand that affordability is one key aspect of everyone’s goals.

The reality is that the new school surcharge is not needed or relevant for these goals. Already, detached West Side homes are selling for less than they have done for three years — and higher-end prices are predicted to keep dropping in Vancouver and elsewhere for many complex reasons.

Surely, the focus should be firmly on renters and those who have been unfairly shut out of the housing market all together until now.

The NDP has tried to make a political statement by targeting these families with the new school surcharge — the intent clearly arcs toward division, not inclusion. Making Vancouver less affordable for one family does not make it more affordable for another. The City of Vancouver understood and recognized this with its decision on Dec. 12.

Provincial government talking points call the school surcharge “modest” and “fair.” In reality, it doubles and quadruples the provincial property tax rates to the two assessment thresholds, respectively.

In 2019, families impacted will see steep hikes — a 33 per cent average total property tax increase in Vancouver. And that’s before the proposed 6.3 per cent combined basic property tax and utility fee hike from the city. Can anyone argue that this is truly modest and fair?

“Just defer,” says NDP Finance Minister Carole James.

But that’s not an option unless you are over 55 or don’t have small children. Or if your mortgage is coming due, or if you need to obtain or increase a home equity line of credit or a reverse mortgage. Or if the idea of owing James half a million dollars or more after 20 years — literally and legally a government lien on your home — is not a comfortable proposition when there is absolutely no guarantee or indication what your house will be worth by then.

Stephen Wiseman is a working doctor and a long-term homeowner in Point Grey.