B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was in Kelowna Tuesday to speak at a sold-out luncheon hosted by the chamber of commerce, UDI and Canadian Home Builders’ Association. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

B.C. Liberal leader vows to scrap speculation tax

During a stop in Kelowna, Andrew Wilkinson calls the tax ‘clearly arbitrary’ and ‘wrong’

The leader of the B.C. Liberals says if his party forms the next provincial government, it will scrap the speculation tax.

Andrew Wilkinson was unequivocal when asked at a luncheon Tuesday in Kelowna what his party would do about the controversial property tax if the Liberals form the next B.C. government.

“This (tax) is clearly arbitrary,” said Wilkinson. “This is wrong and we’re going to get rid of it.”

The tax, on second properties owned by British Columbians who don’t rent out them out and on properties owned by out-of-province residents who choose to leave them vacant, is set to come into effect only in Kelowna, West Kelowna, the Lower Mainland, Greater Victoria and the Nanaimo area this spring.

Wilkinson, speaking at luncheon jointly hosted by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, the local chapter of the Urban Development Institute and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, accused the current NDP government of targeting those who own secondary property in B.C. and out-of-province owners as “enemies.”

“This tax has nothing to do with speculation and everything to do with taxing assets,” he said.

The tax has been heavily criticized by former West Kelowna mayor and now city councillor Doug Findlater along with the rest of his council colleagues and Kelowna’s former and current city council.

They have collectively called for the tax plan to be scrapped, believing it will not address property speculation or increase the availability and affordability of housing in the select jurisdictions where it will be applied.

In fact, they claim it has already adversely affected development and other aspects of the economies for West Kelowna and Kelowna, and have led to development projects being cancelled.

Other than making few tweaks, the province has turned a deaf ear to those protests.

Wilkinson, who showed up more than an hour late for the luncheon due to a delayed flight from Vancouver, started his short address by paraphrasing the late former U.S president Ronald Reagan, who famously asked Americans when he was running for office the first time if they felt better off than they did four years earlier.

In Wilkinson’s case, it was asking the luncheon audience if they felt better off than they did 18 months ago when the NDP came to power in B.C. with the support of the three B.C. Green Party MLAs in the B.C. Legislature.

With an upcoming by-election in Nanaimo slated for later this month, a Liberal win could prompt Wilkinson’s party to try and oust the NDP and force another provincial election.

But Wilkinson said winning in Nanaimo, a traditional hotbed of support for the NDP, will be difficult.

He urged Okanagan residents to contact any friends in Nanaimo and urge them to vote for the Liberal candidate.

The NDP’s speculation tax and the upcoming by-election were not the only issues on Wilkinson’s mind during his visit to Kelowna.

He said housing needs to be addressed, particularly the rights of landlords so rental housing is available for people, and tax policies need to be addressed to help the economy and investment.

B.C.’s carbon tax, introduced by the Liberal under former premier Gordon Campbell in 2007, also needs to return to being revenue neutral, he said.

Wilkinson claimed that under the NDP, the carbon tax has become a “cash grab” for the government, something it was never intended to be.

Fielding questions from the audience, Wilkinson called the NDP government’s recent rule changes involving recall the “sleaziest” thing the NDP has done.

He said while banning foreign involvement and money in recall efforts was “alright,” capping the limit that can be spent on recall campaigns at $5,000 and allowing only one recall bid to proceed at a time and only one during any given session of the legislature “an insult” to British Columbians.

But while he criticized the NDP’s effort to change the recall system, he conceded that under the system before the changes there were 26 recall efforts and all were unsuccessful.

To recall an MLA in B.C., those leading the effort must sign up 40 per cent of eligible voters in the riding of the MLA they want to oust within a 60-day period.

While the audience waited for Wilkinson to arrive, Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart and Penticton MLA Dan Ashton pinch-hit for him, fielding questions.

Ashton said he felt his party “lost its way” when it came to social issues while in government and that needs to change.

But he said while the NDP capitalized on that, since it took power it has simply “thrown money” at people and has not provided any accountability for the money it has spent.

Stewart pointed to 19 new tax increases he said have either have or will come into effectthis year under the NDP, predicting British Columbians will be be taxed even more when the next provincial budget comes down in February.

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