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British Columbia High-profile condo marketer calls for B.C. speculation tax

Real estate marketer Bob Rennie sits for a photograph on the top of a parking garage as cranes tower over condos under construction in Chinatown, in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday May 21, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

B.C. should impose a speculation tax on people who flip their properties within six months of purchase, says B.C.'s best-known condo marketer.

But Bob Rennie, speaking to a packed room of people from the region's development industry, said he's opposed to having restrictions put on foreign investment in real estate, because that would send a dangerous message to needed foreign investors in tech companies or liquefied natural gas that they might be next.

He also said he prefers a speculation tax over foreign-investment regulation because he hates "the racist undertone that is rampant out there" in local conversations about Vancouver's high housing prices.

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"The conversations aren't about foreign. We all know it. They are about China," said Mr. Rennie, who was one of Premier Christy Clark's biggest backers during her leadership and election campaigns.

Some of the projects he markets attract up to 60 per cent of buyers who are offshore investors, such as the Binning complex at UBC, he says. But others, such as many on Vancouver's east side, have almost none. "It is not foreigners. We are all foreigners. It is speculation we should be concerned about."

A speculation tax would be a "visible, measurable gesture" that is more neutral, he says, adding that money generated from that could be used to provide $5,000 to $15,000 grants to young, local residents trying to get into the market.

He suggested that the speculation tax should decline, becoming lower the longer the person owns the property, noting that at a certain point, the government gets part of the profit from speculation through its capital-gains tax.

Mr. Rennie's speech, which is always closely watched by both the development industry and its critics, was also larded with statistics about Vancouver buyers and the housing market.

According to special polling he had done, more visible-minority parents say they are helping or will help their children get into the housing market than the non-visible minority: 61 per cent to 42 per cent.

"So it's all of these Asian hipsters buying. We say they're offshore, but they're local."

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