Conservative MP Dan Albas, the party’s small business critic, speaks to a crowd of Penticton chamber of commerce members about housing issues at a recent event in Penticton. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Penticton chamber takes aim at speculation tax

Tax not effective in Penticton, but chamber says it could affect Okanagan economy as a whole

Penticton’s chamber of commerce has come out swinging against the speculation tax introduced by the provincial government in February’s budget.

The Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce joined the “Scrap the Speculation Tax” campaign, which is demanding Premier John Horgan and the provincial government reverse their decision to implement a speculation tax on B.C. and Canadian residents.

The chamber said it believes the tax will have “adverse effects on jobs, housing affordability and business in general,” though Horgan told reporters in Penticton earlier this month there are currently no plans to bring the tax to the city.

Related: Horgan has ‘no expectation’ of speculation tax in Penticton

“While in an area not directly affected by the tax, there is the real risk that damage will be done to the economy of the Okanagan as a whole,” the chamber said in a statement.

“The PWCCC stands with the Kelowna Chamber and all of the other members of the coalition on behalf of our members, the business owners and visitors to the beautiful Okanagan to urge the B.C. government to not proceed with the ‘speculation tax.’”

Instead, the chamber is calling for the province to take on four particular issues. That includes going after “the real speculators” — those who buy property with the expectation that they will be able to sell it at a profit down the line —and to support the local tourism industry.

Related: Speculation tax could affect up to one in five Penticton homeowners

They are also calling for the government to develop policy that would reduce the cost of creating housing units and to conduct “full and open consultation” and an economic study on the impact of the tax.

“We have joined this effort on behalf of our members, the increasing number of business owners and the visitors to the beautiful Okanagan who believe that this punitive tax will significantly affect the local economy by unreasonably restricting individuals’ plans to maintain property in the Okanagan generally,” chamber president Cary Schneiderat said.

“We need to stand together with our members and neighbouring Kelowna Chamber (and others) to encourage the BC government to rethink this hasty and possibly damaging policy.”

Related: Regulations drive early South Okanagan housing spike, could mean decline

The Scrap the Speculation Tax campaign is also encouraging people to write in to their MLA to express frustration and concern.

While many groups like chambers of commerce and municipalities, as well as local MLA Dan Ashton, have come out swinging against the tax, they may face difficulties getting the bulk of the population behind them.

Prior to changes made by the provincial government that reduced the tax rate for B.C. residents and Canadians, a poll from Insights West showed 81 per cent support for the taxes, with 54 per cent saying it was a “very good idea.”

The tax only affects those in five major centres in B.C. — Nanaimo and Capital regional districts, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District, West Kelowna and Kelowna.

Related: Fears of economic downturn cool Penticton developers’ ambitions

Changes after the initial announcement noted that it would only go after properties worth over $400,000, and would not affect rural cabins or cottages.

It also reduced the Canadian rate to one per cent, the B.C. resident rate to 0.5 per cent and the international rate at two per cent.

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