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British Columbia Green Party backs vacant-home tax proposal in Vancouver

Pete Fry, an aspiring councillor for the Greens, raised the possibility of assessing a tax on luxury houses and condos.

Randal Kurt Photography

The idea of a tax on luxury or vacant homes in Vancouver, where affordable housing is becoming the top issue in November's civic election, has picked up more steam.

Days after left-leaning COPE floated a similar fee, the Green Party announced on Thursday such a policy will become part of its campaign platform.

"I think there's an appetite in the city to deal with that kind of issue," said Pete Fry, an aspiring councillor for the Greens. The party hopes to hold the balance of power at city hall for the next four years.

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Mr. Fry, the son of Liberal MP Hedy Fry, is running for the Greens for council, along with Adriane Carr. Ms. Carr squeaked out a victory three years ago, in part because supporters of other parties threw her one of their votes for the 10 spots on council.

Mr. Fry raised the possibility of assessing a tax on luxury houses and condos. Ms. Carr suggested the party would consider a special charge for housing that is left empty much of the year. COPE's mayoral candidate, Meena Wong, has also suggested that.

The two main parties, the Non-Partisan Association and Vision Vancouver, have been non-committal on the idea.

The Green Party, whose council slate also includes Cleta Brown, the daughter of a former NDP MLA, could become influential if neither Vision nor the Non-Partisan Association get a majority on the 11-member council.

Political analysts say that is possible, with the currently dominant Vision Vancouver taking serious hits from people upset about what seems like uncontrolled development, a lack of progress in reducing homelessness, and frustration over the sense they are not being listened to.

Because Vision and the NPA are running only eight candidates apiece for the 10 available council spots, many voters will have the option of choosing two candidates from other parties. Not many centre-right NPA voters would likely pick left-leaning COPE as their second choices, but the Greens could attract both NPA and Vision supporters.

Ms. Carr said the party will also press to get more low-cost housing from developers, using a model like that of Whistler, where builders are required to provide a percentage of affordable units in every project at cost.

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The party's platform, launched on Thursday, focused heavily on housing issues, along with promises to engage the public in a better way on city plans for growth and development.

Ms. Carr said residents in recent planning processes got to provide input only on where development should go, not how much of it should be built.

The Green platform also puts a heavy emphasis on changing approaches to environmental and traffic issues.

It includes some novel initiatives, such as a hotel tax on Airbnb rentals, encouraging truck deliveries and garbage pick-up to be done at night to reduce congestion, and shifting construction to non-workday hours to minimize road closings.

The platform launch came as energy for the civic election campaign was picking up in Vancouver after weeks of being overshadowed by the teachers strike.

Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus announced on Thursday the party will invest $400,000 to expand school food programs for poor students from 650 children to 1,300.

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NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe said Vision has had six years to make sure children were not going hungry and did nothing until now, two months after he announced he would make child nutrition a priority.

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