Vancouver's most prominent condo marketer says he is willing to step down as chief fundraiser for the BC Liberals – nine months before next spring's provincial election – if asked to by the ruling party.
Bob Rennie's relationship with the Liberals has come under increasing scrutiny in the debate over the Vancouver region's housing affordability crisis, notably after he told The Globe and Mail he knew there would be a tax on foreign buyers weeks before the policy was announced.
On Tuesday, Mr. Rennie insisted no one in government alerted him to the coming tax, and he was simply making an educated guess after the province recalled the legislature to debate housing measures, including Vancouver's plan to tax vacant homes.
Premier Christy Clark's press secretary also denied Mr. Rennie received advance warning.
When Ms. Clark's government supported Vancouver's long-requested tax, "that, to me, was not addressing the problem," Mr. Rennie told The Globe on Tuesday in a telephone interview from Italy.
"I'm a pretty astute guy on strategy and real estate, and I made the assumption that something [else] was coming."
Last week, Mr. Rennie told The Globe: "Three weeks ago, I knew there was going to be a tax on foreign ownership. I didn't know it would be 15 per cent. I thought it would be 5 to 8 per cent."
Those comments prompted an uproar online at the idea of a person who is a heavyweight in the Liberal Party and a leader in the real estate industry having prior knowledge of a tax change, which the province has said only a handful of ministers and a small group of staff in the finance ministry knew about.
The NDP's housing critic, David Eby, quickly called for Ms. Clark to start a formal government investigation into what Mr. Rennie knew and when.
Mr. Rennie, often called "the condo king" of Metro Vancouver, said he would step down from his role as chair of party fundraising if the party asks him to do so.
"I understand all the optics on this, I understand it all, and there's no way I want to bring a perception of anything wrong to the BC Liberals," Mr. Rennie said.
A spokesperson for the party issued an e-mailed statement Tuesday afternoon saying Mr. Rennie has made it clear to the party that he had no prior knowledge of the tax.
Mr. Rennie noted he had already announced that he was planning to step down from his role after next May's election.
Mr. Rennie said he could provide records to show that none of his company's contracts closed early or benefited from any kind of alleged insider knowledge.
He added that he never talks to Liberal politicians privately about real-estate matters and makes all his views known through public forums or the media.
He said he has long voiced his opposition to taxing foreign citizens in favour of targeting speculators – of all nationalities – who flip properties quickly, which heats up the market.
"I don't speak to them about this because it's my core competency," he said.
"What I want from the government is jobs. That is why I support [the Premier]."
The provincial Liberals have drawn criticism for refusing to outlaw expensive private fundraisers, which helped them raise nearly $10-million last year – more than twice the rival New Democrats.
The Premier, whose salary is $195,000, has also been criticized for receiving a $50,000 annual top-up from her party.
The Liberals have rejected calls to end this bonus, or to ban corporate or union donations, as Ontario's Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne agreed to do after The Globe and Mail revealed small, private fundraisers in that province.
Half of the BC Liberal Party's donations last year came from corporate donors, with many prominent real-estate developers and their companies giving large sums of money to the party.
Mr. Rennie has donated, through his company, a total of more than $260,000 to the BC Liberals over the past decade, according to Elections BC data.
Many in the construction and real-estate industries were livid at the government last week for not consulting them before instituting the new 15-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers in Metro Vancouver.
Mr. Rennie said many developers called him up after his comments were reported in Tuesday's Globe and Mail to tell him how angry they were at the idea that he may have had advance knowledge.
He said he believes his industry will help hesitant foreign buyers by initially covering the extra tax, later splitting it with them before finally putting all the cost on their international customers, similar to how it dealt with the GST change years ago.
Meanwhile, a record 9,000 property titles changed hands last Friday, the last business day before the new tax came into force, according to data from the Land Title and Survey Authority of B.C.
That was considerably more than the previous record for sales within a day – 8,400 – on June 30 of this year.
Another 300-odd transactions were recorded over the long weekend.
The title office kept its online service open to accommodate the rush of foreign buyers trying to avoid the new tax, which will add $300,000 to the purchase of a $2-million house.
With a report from Frances Bula
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Bob Rennie donated $73,500 to the BC Liberals in 2015. In fact, through his company, Mr. Rennie donated $23,500 in 2015.