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B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

B.C. Premier John Horgan started the spring legislature session under fire for his government’s speculation tax on apartments that haven’t been built yet, and the latest grant program for businesses affected by the sudden return of COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining.

Opposition MLAs confronted the NDP government with live examples of businesses hit with new speculation tax bills of up to $6.500 on the unbuilt space above their urban businesses that are closed due to COVID-19 or struggling to stay open. What has become known as the “air tax” is primarily municipal property tax that reflects the current zoning rather than an existing building, and now the province’s speculation and vacancy tax is being applied on top of that.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson told the legislature Monday her ministry is intervening for a handful of cases where property owners are passing on speculation tax to their commercial tenants, but the tax is appropriate for owners who have zoned their property for higher-rise residential.

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“Those people who take the air parcel and rezone it for residential, they are speculating,” Robinson told reporters April 13. “And what that does is of course it triggers the speculation and vacancy tax, if they do not redevelop that land, that air that is now technically in many ways land for homes.

“If the landlord is in the redevelopment process then there is an exemption for them, and they do not have to pass it along. But let’s be really clear. There are about 190 properties in the entire province that are doing the split assessment, and they have by choice decided to reclassify the air parcel above them from commercial to residential. And you do that when you’re planning to redevelop, or it may be the case you’re choosing to reduce your tax burden because the residential portion is taxed at a lower rate, which is, I think, problematic as well.”

B.C. Liberal MLAs questioned Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon on his latest effort to provide coronavirus aid to businesses, this one to compensate them up to $10,000 for losses when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry imposed an infection “circuit breaker” that shut indoor service at restaurants and pubs for three weeks starting March 30. The short notice left many establishments stocked up for weekend business, then forced to close or restricted to patio service. It also shuttered fitness centres, breweries and wineries, which are eligible to apply for grants in a program that opened on Tuesday

Kahlon refused to comment on examples of businesses qualifying for only $2,000 or more depending on the number of employees, or that the money came from a previous COVID-19 business relief fund that went unspent because not enough businesses could qualify.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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