British Columbia’s controversial property tax that largely targets out-of-province owners is under new attack from a group that is crowdfunding to finance a campaign against the levy, which could include a class-action lawsuit.
As of Sunday, Canadians Against the B.C. Speculation Tax had raised $13,861 dollars toward the goal of assembling $300,000 to finance their lobbying campaign and possible legal action.
Amid recent questions about the NDP government’s management of e-mails, the group released a letter from their lawyer in which he warns against tampering with documents relevant to legal action.
“In light of the proposed class action, and the recent news that several of Premier John Horgan’s top staff improperly deleted all of their sent e-mails for months, we write at this time to put you on notice to preserve, and not destroy any documents related to the proposed class action,” said the letter from Shayne Strukoff to the attorney-general’s ministry.
In the letter, dated May. 17, Mr. Strukoff said the tax may violate charter rights. He said the financial burden the tax puts on homeowners would make it difficult for Canadians living outside of B.C. to move to the province.
At issue is what the government describes as a speculation tax, which is primarily aimed at out-of-province residents. The NDP government announced on March 26 that it decided to scale back the impact of the tax, which has been described by industry experts as largely a vacancy tax on people who pay little or no B.C. income tax.
The tax is 0.5 per cent for B.C. residents, 1 per cent for Canadian owners and 2 per cent for non-Canadian owners, applicable in Metro Vancouver, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Abbotsford, Nanaimo-Lantzville, Chilliwack, Mission and the Capital Regional District, with the Gulf Islands region not included.
At this point, the group is raising money to campaign against the tax, pushing the government to back off. However, group spokesman Ryan Callioux said it is prepared to go to court, if necessary.
“The focus right now is to communicate and educate,” said Mr. Callioux, an Edmonton lawyer with a second family home on Vancouver Island in the Victoria area.
Mr. Callioux dismissed the tax as punitive and retroactive, and aimed at “ordinary families” who have worked to have second properties.
“I am in contact with a lot of people affected by this and they are not extraordinary wealthy people or not people who can afford what the speculation tax is going to do to them.”
To cover the cost of their Victoria-area home, Mr. Callioux said his family rents it out, short term, for part of the year to help offset the mortgage, and has also invested in the property with furniture. They purchased it in 2016.
“We can’t just sell the property, and even if we did so we would be doing so at a great loss because what happens to all that furniture we put in there? What happens to the investment we have made? A lot of people in our position are feeling like they have been villainized by this tax.”
Blake MacKenzie, another member of the group based in British Columbia, said he is hoping the group gets a fair hearing from Premier John Horgan, although the NDP government has been firm in upholding the tax.
Mr. MacKenzie, who does not own a vacation home in B.C. but rather runs a vacation-rental management company on Vancouver Island, said, at this point, lawyers for the group are collecting data, conducting legal research and preserving records in case of legal action.
“They will take whatever steps are necessary to defend the rights of property owners in British Columbia,” he said.