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Of all the measures that B.C.’s NDP government has proposed to help address the province’s housing crisis, its so-called speculation tax has always been the one most vulnerable to legitimate criticism.

The tax, when brought in, would apply to those who own a home they don’t live in full time or rent out. Falling into this category are thousands of British Columbians – and taxpaying Canadians from elsewhere – who own vacation properties. The tax targets only those areas of the province deemed to be facing severe housing affordability and accommodation issues.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the measure has sparked a revolt among the municipalities that would be affected, a rebellion that was given voice this week at the annual gathering of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. “The speculation tax in its current form will bring down the government,” Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen predicted.

Mr. Jensen never really explained how that would occur, precisely. Even though Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver opposes aspects of the tax, there’s been no suggestion he is thinking of bringing down the government over it. And then there is the small practical matter that the enabling legislation would not have to survive a confidence vote.

Having said that, I’m not sure the NDP would be worried about going to the polls right now anyway, given the government’s performance to date. On some of the toughest files – the mess at Insurance Corp. of B.C., the mess at BC Hydro, the mess in B.C. casinos, the mess on the housing front – the government has been unafraid to get its hands dirty. Which is something the former Liberal government refused to do. When you’ve been in power for 16 years, you can develop an aversion to tough decisions that might be unpopular with voters.

For the most part, the New Democrats have got it right on the housing front. Raising the foreign buyer’s tax, closing loopholes that allow offshore investors to disguise their identity, taxing properties worth more than $3-million to raise money for other housing initiatives, have all been generally applauded. (Although, homeowners on Vancouver’s wealthy west side might not agree). I would, however, make the planned tax on vacant homes an exception.

When it comes to his opposition to the levy, Mr. Weaver has it about right. The tax really doesn’t address speculation (it’s misnamed for sure; vacancy tax would be more apt) and it would have unforeseen after-effects. Yes, it would perhaps catch some foreign investors sitting on investment properties, but it would mostly hit people who live in B.C. and pay taxes that support health care and education and the building of vital infrastructure.

Why should people who have worked hard, paid their dues, and saved to buy a weekend escape in the Okanagan get dinged for that? Mr. Weaver fully supports the part of the bill that targets satellite families and others who do not pay income tax or declare worldwide income in Canada. But a blanket tax that goes after British Columbians and others in this country who have a second home in the province? Why?

Mr. Weaver proposes letting municipalities impose a vacancy tax should they determine the lack of rental housing stock in the community is so dire that drastic action is needed. The City of Vancouver, for instance, has this authority and introduced just such a measure. However, a city such as Kelowna does not have the same dilemma. It relies heavily on people from Alberta buying recreational properties there. The tax that would affect such properties has already had a chilling effect on development. Some planned projects have been put on hold or cancelled.

This is what Mr. Weaver means by unintended consequences.

Finance Minister Carole James is so far remaining steadfast in her determination to move ahead with the tax. The government has worked revenue projections from it into its budget forecasts; $87-million in the current fiscal year and $200-million in each of the next two. Not insignificant contributions to the bottom line.

However, all governments have to be ready to adapt on the fly. The best ones, in fact, are not afraid to admit mistakes, step back and pivot to better alternatives – even ones they didn’t come up with themselves.

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