It came as news to the mayors of West Kelowna and Kelowna Friday, but B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s finally ready to meet with both of them later this month.
Horgan, who was criticized publicly by West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater recently for ignoring repeated requests to meet to discuss the province’s planned speculation tax, told Kelowna radio station AM1150 host Phil Johnson Friday on air he will meet with both Findlater and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran later this month when he is in the Okanagan.
Both mayors have been trying to get a meeting with Horgan to discuss the controversial tax for months but have been unsuccesful. The tax would be an additional levy imposed on owners of secondary property in five areas of B.C.— the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley the Victoria and Nanaimo areas on Vancouver Island and only Kelowna and West Kelowna in the Interior.
“I didn’t know, but that’s good news,” said Basran when told about Horgan’s comments Friday.
Findlater, reached at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual convention in Halifax, said he was also happy to hear Horgan is finally ready to meet.
The West Kelowna mayor thought he had a meeting with Horgan lined up after “crashing” an event the premier was at in the south Okanagan earlier this year, and getting the Horgan’s’s agreement to meet. But Findlater said all subsequent attempts to set a date and time for that meeting were ignored by the premier’s office.
That prompted newly elected Kelowna West Liberal MLA Ben Stuart to raise the issue in the B.C. Legislature, asking Horgan why he “stood up” the West Kelowna mayor. Horgan responded saying he would meet with Findlater “in due time.”
It’s not the first time Horgan has put off put off dealing with an issue in West Kelowna. Last year, shortly after former Liberal premier Christy Clark quit as Kelowna-West MLA, Horgan said he would deal with the issue of calling a byelection as soon as the legislature resumed sitting. But he put off the call for five months, just shy of the maximum amount of time he had to call the vote.
As for the speculation tax, both Findlater and Basran—as well as their respective councils and many groups and individuals in both cities—maintain it will hurt local development and economic growth.
Some development has already been affected, with the developer of a planned 1,000-unit housing project in West Kelowna shelving his plans citing the impact of the impending tax, which has yet to come into effect. In Kelowna, the prospect of the tax has thrown into doubt another high-profile project, 36-storey Westcorp hotel planned for the foot of Queensway downtown. The tower is slated to contain a small number of condominiums, as well as the hotel.
On Friday, Horgan said he has heard the complaints about the tax but offered no indication his government is planning to scrap it, change it or exclude Kelowna and West Kelowna.
West Kelowna officials met with Finance Minister Carole James to talk about the tax earlier this year but felt their concerns fell on deaf ears. So council authorized a meeting with the premier, as well as a Freedom of Information request to find out what criteria was used to include West Kelowna as one of the municipalities where the tax will be applicable. Neither Vernon nor Penticton are included.
The city is also writing a letter to Horgan expressing its concerns about the tax.
The tax will charge British Columbians who own secondary property in B.C. a 0.5 per cent levy if the property is not a long-term rental. Out of province Canadians with property in B.C. will be charged one per cent and foreigners will be charged two per cent.
The government says the tax will encourage owners to make their properties available for rent and that will help ease the tight rental markets in the cities where the tax will be implemented.
But Kelowna and West Kelowna say the tax—which they characterize as more of a vacant property tax than one aimed at stopping speculation—is hurting their financial bottom lines by adversely affecting development from which they receive revenue used to pay municipal infrastructure.
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