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DARPAN 10 with Carole James BC’s Minister of Finance

Petrina D'Souza, 14 Mar, 2019
  • DARPAN 10 with Carole James BC’s Minister of Finance

"An entire generation of young people have been left without hope of ever owning a home. The speculation and vacancy tax is key to tackling the housing crisis to ensure that people can find a place to call home.”

 

 

How has your role as Finance Minister benefited the province’s economic sector? 

British Columbia is thriving and we’re working to ensure this economic success continues. We have the strongest economy in Canada, the lowest unemployment rate in the country and the highest wage growth in a decade. We’re strengthening our economy through investments in child care and affordable housing, making sure people can afford to live in the communities where there is work, and supporting parents to return to the work force by delivering affordable, quality, accessible child care. We’re also delivering on the largest infrastructure investment in B.C.’s history, building the roads, bridges, schools and hospitals people need, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs.

What is the most challenging part of creating a budget?

The greatest challenge in creating a budget is prioritizing the many needs after over a decade of neglect. These problems won’t be fixed overnight, but we’re taking decisive action to fix the problems left at ICBC and BC Hydro, while balancing the budget and investing in the schools and hospitals people need. We are working hard to ensure all British Columbians can live a good life and break free from the cycle of living paycheque to paycheque. That means putting money into people’s pockets by reducing taxes for middle-class British Columbians, eliminating tolls on bridges, eliminating interest on B.C. student loans and investing in families with the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit.

What was the main focus of the 2019 B.C. Budget?

Budget 2019 is about making life better for people who live and work in British Columbia. By introducing the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, the Province is returning thousands of dollars to middle-class families each and every year. Over a childhood, the benefit means up to $28,800 for families with a single child and this figure can easily surpass $40,000 for families with two children. And, by eliminating interest on all B.C. student loans, the Province is helping people access post-secondary education. It means that young people will be able to start their careers and their families off without the burden of ever increasing debt. What aspect of the budget do you think British Columbians will be most thankful about? The B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit will be life changing for hundreds of thousands of British Columbians. Between this new benefit and our decision to fully eliminate MSP premiums, we’re putting thousands of dollars back into people’s pockets. The net result is that a family of four making $80,000 will be paying up to 43% less a year in taxes than they did under the last government.

The speculation tax comes into action in 2019. Why was there a need for such a tax?

We have a housing crisis on our hands. The former government let speculators fuel the housing market and the results have been devastating for British Columbians. An entire generation of young people have been left without hope of ever owning a home. The speculation and vacancy tax is key to tackling the housing crisis to ensure that people can find a place to call home. We’re encouraged that prices are starting to moderate and vacancy rates are beginning to ease, resulting in more rental units for people.

There has been a negative response regarding the speculation tax, what kind of feedback have you heard on it?

For years, people have been asking government to tackle the housing crisis and tax speculators and empty home owners who are driving up the cost of housing. We’ve taken action to make housing more affordable for people who live and work in B.C. From day one, polls have shown that an overwhelming majority of British Columbians support our approach and support the Speculation and Vacancy Tax. It’s no surprise that speculators and empty home owners who were benefiting from skyrocketing prices want to keep the status quo. But our government is committed to tackling the crisis, and I continue to hear from people each and every day who support our approach.

The tax affects retired British Columbians who built homes with their hard-earned money and now are unable to enjoy their retirement at their own will. Also, they can’t afford to pay the tax with no ongoing income. What is your comment on it?

I’m happy to let you know that’s not true. All B.C. homeowners can claim an exemption for their principal residence – the home they live in. So we’re really talking about people with multiple vacant properties in urban areas – like Metro Vancouver – facing the greatest housing crisis. These aren’t retirees we’re talking about, but rather people who have sought to take advantage of our overheated housing market. We’re focused on making sure that people who live in B.C. can afford to own a home here.

Will the ministry be making any amendments on the speculation tax based on the feedback received?

The legislation includes an annual review process with the mayors of communities in the taxable areas – so that’s our chance to sit down and ensure an ongoing conversation. Our goal is to help moderate the housing market so that the people who live and work in B.C. can afford a place to call home. We’re happy to see that the Speculation and Vacancy Tax is doing just that with prices moderating for detached homes, townhouses, and condos, especially in Metro Vancouver.

Do you think the speculation tax will threaten or overshadow the work the NDP government has done so far?

Absolutely not. It was a core part of our platform, a product of the hard work of some of the best academics and other experts in the country and is part of why so many British Columbians voted for us. Our housing plan – including the Speculation and Vacancy Tax – is working. We’re seeing the overheated housing market moderate just like people want. And I’m cautiously optimistic that people are starting to feel relief. We have shown that putting people first is the responsible thing to do.

What do you think is the permanent solution for the existing real estate crisis?

Our government’s solution is to curb demand and increase supply. This crisis needs to be addressed from both sides or we won’t see true affordability in our province. That’s why in addition to the tax measures we’ve implemented, our plan includes building 114,000 affordable homes. In just this first year, 17,000 homes are built or underway. This crisis didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight either, but our government’s plan is working.

 

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