VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark says her government is concerned about high house prices in British Columbia and she’s promising better opportunities for buyers to get into the market.
Clark said Tuesday there is no single solution to soaring prices in some cities and it will take the combined efforts of the provincial and municipal governments to cool down the market.
Housing was highlighted as a key government focus in a throne speech that outlined the political agenda for the coming months in the legislature.
“What we’ve expressed is a real concern about housing affordability,” Clark said at a news conference after the speech.
“There are some things we can do and there are some things cities need to do, but we’re going to have to do it as partners.”
The new session of the legislature begins amid questions about the conduct of some real estate agents in Metro Vancouver taking advantage of the area’s hot market by allegedly reselling houses multiple times to increase final prices and their commissions.
“Your government will look into allegations of improper behaviour in the housing market, and where appropriate, government will take action,” said the speech, read in the house by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.
Clark said the government is prepared to act quickly to address the house flipping issue if rules are being broken.
She also committed the government to introducing measures that encourage an increase in the supply of housing and to work with municipalities to reduce local charges that are largely hidden but add to the costs of homes.
“The province can’t do this alone,” said Clark. “Local governments are just as concerned about this as I am, so I’m hopeful they’ll address their end of it.”
She suggested the government is prepared to offer municipal governments incentives to increase the supply of homes, but did not elaborate. Clark said municipalities control zoning and permitting issues.
The government stressed in the throne speech it will “protect the savings and equity that existing homeowners have painstakingly placed in their homes.”
Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan said the Liberals must do something about a housing market where people are flipping vacant homes rather than building houses for people to live.
Before the speech, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the government was considering increasing the thresholds on provincial property taxes in order to bring more first-time home buyers into the market. The throne speech did not specifically mention the property purchase tax.
The government also said it plans to offer farmers tax credits to donate their food to non-profit organizations, and it is promising legislation to modernize community care and assisted living.
Clark said the government will push ahead with its plan to develop an export industry for liquefied natural gas despite slow downs due to global conditions.
“This isn’t for quitters and it’s gotten hard, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to run the white flag up the pole,” she said. “It’s going to take a little bit longer, though, as long as oil stays at $30 a barrel.”
There are 20 prospective LNG projects underway in B.C., with accumulated investments of $20 billion, the government says.
Royal Dutch Shell recently deferred its final investment decision on a proposed LNG export facility at Kitimat until later this year.
The government is also waiting for progress reports for a $36-billion LNG export plant near Prince Rupert that is backed by Malaysian state energy giant Petronas.
Horgan said Clark’s LNG promises of jobs and riches for the province appear to be falling flat.
“The premier said three years ago she was going to create 100,000 jobs with an LNG industry,” he said. “Today, she said she hopes to save 13,000 jobs if an LNG plant takes place. I think we’ve had a little bit of a significant downturn in expectations.”
Highlights of the British Columbia government’s throne speech presented Tuesday:
— The province is promising to help people who want to become homeowners by looking for ways to increase the housing supply.
— The government is staying the course on a 2013 Liberal campaign promise to develop liquefied natural gas, despite acknowledging that an unforeseen drop in global commodity prices will affect its initial timeline.
— The province’s operating debt will be paid down and a prosperity fund created to leave an endowment for future generations.
— Increase financial support for the Agricultural Land Reserve and a tax credit will be extended to farmers who donate food to non-profit groups.
— Work to renew the softwood lumber agreement with the United States and offer support for Canada on signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trade deal.
— Introduce legislation in the coming weeks to modernize community care and assisted living, and negotiating a settlement with B.C. nurses.