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Provincial government provides additional speculation tax exemptions

Belcarra property owner Charline Robson and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson standing beside a picture of Robson's summer cabin.
Belcarra property owner Charline Robson and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson standing beside a picture of Robson's summer cabin. Richard Zussman/Global News

After nearly a year of pushing from owners in Belcarra, water-only access properties are now exempt from the province’s speculation tax.

The provincial government is estimating around 50 property owners will no longer have to pay the tax and if they already paid for last year they will receive a refund.

“When we put in the place in tax we said we were going to have an opportunity to meet with the mayors, listen to people as the tax was implemented and look at any improvements that were needed,” Finance Minister Carole James said.

“With any new tax there will be recommendations and ideas. My commitment from the beginning is I was listening to British Columbians.”

READ MORE: Belcarra residents looking at class action lawsuit against B.C. government over speculation tax

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The speculation tax’s second year will also see the tax rate for foreign owners and satellite families rise to two per cent. More than 99 per cent of British Columbians are exempt.

The province also included an exemption for military families who in some cases could now rent or sell homes before being deployed.

“When we introduced the speculation and vacancy tax, our province was at the peak of a real estate crisis and moderation in the market was long overdue,” James said.

“Based on the data from the first year, we see the tax is working as it was designed to — capturing speculators, foreign owners and people who own vacant homes, while exempting more than 99.8 per cent of British Columbians.”

Click to play video 'Village of Belcarra asks for speculation tax exemption' Village of Belcarra asks for speculation tax exemption
Village of Belcarra asks for speculation tax exemption – Mar 5, 2019

There has been significant frustration from property owners in Belcarra who use their properties as summer homes and don’t have any road access. Residents have been sending emails and letters to the government and complained about not receiving prompt responses.

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A group of these owners made a trip to the B.C. legislature earlier this year.

“The government missed the ‘boat’ on this one and it took a very long time for them to do what was right and exempt us. It always did seem unfair that Lions Bay, Bowen Island and Whistler were excluded and yet we, whose only option to get to our cabin is by boat, had to pay the tax,” property owner Trudy Harwood said.

“With some of these cabins having no potable water, some with no heat, a commute by boat in limited daylight through snow, ice, rain, fog and wind is not a viable option in the winter. What renter in their right mind would even consider a six month rental with those conditions?

“I am very happy and relieved that this government has finally listened to us.”

In its first fiscal year, the tax is forecast to raise $115 million in revenue to help fund affordable housing projects where the tax is applied. The province’s data shows 90 per cent of the revenue came from foreign owners, satellite families and Canadians living outside of B.C.

READ MORE: ‘We aren’t speculators’: Belcarra property owners ask B.C. government for speculation tax exemption

But Belcarra mayor Neil Belenkie says some satellite families, like those who move down south to work in the film and television industry, are unfairly taxed.

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The province says those workers who don’t pay tax in British Columbia will get a bill

“There are a number of frustrations, because it’s not just speculators who are paying. And many B.C. residents continue to pay,” Belenkie said.

“One great example is the film industry. People who are required to travel more than six months of the year, but are B.C. residents and B.C. homeowners as their primary residence are being taxed as speculators.”