Waters: Panel ‘discussion’ on speculation tax lacked alternate point of view

Meeting organized by three local MLAs presented only an anti-tax view

It was billed as a panel discussion on B.C.’s new speculation tax and employer health tax.

But, as one young woman who got up to speak in favour of the speculation tax said—and was shouted down by the crowd for saying it—the meeting seemed more like a political rally.

On Sunday, the Central Okanagan’s three MLAs— Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country), Steve Thomson (Kelowna-Mission) and Ben Stewart (Kelowna West) held the gathering in Kelowna and invited the public to hear two local accountants try to explain—as best they could—the two new taxes based on the small amount of information available so far.

The MLAs also invited a representative of the development industry—members of which have spoken out loudly in opposition to the speculation tax—and the leader of their own party, who was not about to let an opportunity to verbally bash a political opponent slip by. No one who supports the tax was asked to sit on the panel.

So once the explanations were out of the way, the meeting devolved into 90-minutes of axe the tax rhetoric, with more than a smattering of partisan politics thrown in for good measure.

That seemed to suit most of the 300-strong audience just fine as several people got up to express their anger, disappointment, fear and concern about the speculation tax’s direct and indirect impacts on their personal finances and, in some cases, their livelihoods.

One woman even questioned the legitimacy of the current NDP government in B.C. saying it was “not elected.” She had to have the concept of a minority government supported by another political party explained to her.

Putting aside the merits—and the demerits—of the speculation tax for a moment, the panel was not what one would call balanced or impartial. The two accountants may have just been there to present the facts, but the two other panelists, local developer Renee Wasylyk and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson were clear in their opposition.

That, in and of itself, was fine. Wilkinson and Wasylyk are not alone, especially in Kelowna and West Kelowna. But with no counter argument there was way more fury than light.

The only people who challenged the anti-tax view were the aforementioned woman who represented the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition and another young woman who said she was a data analyst with Interior Health and would love to own a home in Kelowna but cannot afford to do so, despite having a well-paying job.

Neither was afforded much of an opportunity to make their case for the tax as they were shouted down by the crowd while Stewart, who was moderating, stood silently by and let crowd have its say uncontested.

While it’s clear the province misjudged some of the public reaction to the speculation tax but also the impact of the tax’s “unintended consequences” on the local economies of both Kelowna and West Kelowna.

On Monday, Finance Minister Carole James announced a number of tweaks, including exempting cottages and vacation homes and any residence worth less than $400,000. But those changes do not go far enough, said West Kelowna’s Mayor Doug Findlater, who wants his city excluded from the tax.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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