(Black Press files) Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore, Social Development Minister Shane Simpson and Dawn Hemingway, head of the social work department at the University of Northern B.C., announce poverty reduction consultation tour at the B.C. legislature, May 27, 2018.

B.C. VIEWS: NDP government resumes taxing, spending to battle poverty

Legislature scandal, speculation tax distract from NDP agenda

Some brief updates for you today, starting with the Nanaimo by-election that was won comfortably by the NDP to retain its two-vote governing edge in the B.C. legislature.

I will spare you the horse-race commentary and backroom strategy that fill TV newscasts.

What matters now is that the minority government carries on with its agenda, preparing a budget for Feb. 19 that will feature the NDP’s long-awaited poverty reduction plan.

That budget requires the support of the three-member B.C. Greens, but it’s the only vote in the near future where Premier John Horgan puts his government on the line. And it means more spending and likely more intervention in the housing market.

Housing was the overwhelming response to the government’s poverty plan consultation last year. The NDP has moved ahead with renter protection measures, limiting annual rent increases to inflation and urgent repair costs only, and making it more difficult to push tenants out to upgrade buildings.

This is popular with people who demand “universal basic housing” and such Utopian socialist goals. One problem with this kind of regulation is that it deters construction of supply that meets the demand. Moving to a new or renovated home brings a lower-priced unit onto the market.

The NDP doesn’t talk much about unclogging local government barriers to building, preferring to spend more on taxpayer-subsidized housing while squeezing property owners to pay for it.

• This brings me back to the “speculation and empty homes tax,” for which 1.6 million urban B.C. property owners are now being notified of the requirement to register and state the status of their homes and secondary properties.

My thanks to Simon Fraser University public policy professor Josh Gordon for pointing out a major error in my column on this two weeks ago. He points out that it’s not just targeting empty homes, but those occupied by “satellite families” who pay little or no B.C. and Canadian income tax, but use subsidized health, school and transportation services.

Most don’t pay the 15 per cent Metro Vancouver foreign buyer tax because they are permanent residents or citizens, Gordon says. The speculation tax captures them, working as a backstop for an income tax system that assumes residents work and pay income taxes where they live.

In total, about 32,000 people are expected to end up paying the tax, starting this year. Those who own secondary properties occupied by relatives or others paying reduced rent will find their situation isn’t as simple as the finance ministry would like us to believe.

• Paying more taxes isn’t popular with anyone, especially when the ability of the province to prevent it from being wasted is shaken by events such as the B.C. legislature spending scandal.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is attempting to move past the finger-pointing with a 20-point plan to clean up that reputation, as police and auditors probe the secrecy and apparent abuses by top legislature management, revealed by Speaker Darryl Plecas.

No one should object to his call for clear salary caps and expense disclosure for the speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms, and an end to decades of “Commonwealth governance” trips to exotic locales.

“We’re going to get rid of those secret cabinets full of booze,” Wilkinson vowed last week. “No more trips to Africa, no more funny hats being bought in London. Get rid of all of that and get down to serving the people of British Columbia.”

I’ll drink to that.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media.

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