Several tourism communities in the Okanagan Valley and on Vancouver Island will be subject to the provincial speculation and vacancy tax as it expands to 13 municipalities.
Finance Minister Katrine Conroy Wednesday (Nov. 21) announced the expansion of the tax to Vernon, Coldstream, Lake Country, Peachland and Summerland effective Jan. 1, 2025. Kelowna is already subject to the tax and the changes mean that all major communities in the Okanagan minus Osoyoos and Oliver will be affected.
The tax is also coming to the Shuswap community of Salmon Arm and Kamloops, both of which also have significant stakes in tourism.
Conroy said owners of recreational properties in those communities will have just over a year to decide what to do with them. They can rent out their properties out for at six months, rent them out permanently or sell them, she added. When asked Osoyoos and Oliver were not included, Conroy said a number of factors went into choosing communities, including the number of empty homes.
The provincial government introduced the speculation and vacancy tax in 2018 as an annual tax paid by some owners of residential properties in certain parts of B.C. It aims to discourage housing speculation and people from leaving homes vacant.
The tax currently sits at two per cent of the property’s assessed for people who do not pay the majority of their taxes in Canada or 0.5 per cent for Canadian citizens or permanent residents who pay the majority of their taxes in Canada. Monies raised through the tax support affordable housing and 99 per cent of homes in B.C. are exempt.
According to the provincial government, the tax has raised more than $313 million for affordable housing in regional districts where it applies since 2018. Citing an independent review, the tax has created more than 20,000 homes in Metro Vancouver alone, according to government.
Wednesday’s announced expansion means that 59 municipalities will eventually be subject to the tax.
Conroy said she informed mayors of the newly added communities Tuesday, explaining the tight timing with the need to keep changes in tax policy secret until their actual announcement.
She said the majority of communities welcomed their inclusion. That included Lake Country located north of Kelowna and south of Vernon and Coldstream. Conroy said that community had the highest number of vacant homes among the 13 announced communities.
Lake Country Mayor Blair Ireland was one of those welcoming the change.
“The expansion of the speculation and vacancy tax does not come as a surprise to us in Lake Country,” he said. “It has always made sense to align major policy throughout communities of the Central Okanagan and, as such, we are now in line with the City of Kelowna. This decision provides a cohesive message to all Central Okanagan builders and buyers and less confusion for taxpayers.”
The tax is also coming to several communities on Vancouver Island, including the tourism-oriented communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach, along with Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland.
The inclusion of Parksville and Qualicum Beach in the latest expansion of the tax means a case of back to the future. The provincial government had first announced those communities during the initial rollout of the tax in 2018, but loud opposition from several voices including then BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver led to their eventual exclusion.
When confronted with this history, Conroy said times have changed. “Communities are asking for it,” Conroy said.
Parksville Mayor Doug O’Brian said Parksville did not ask to be included in the province’s recent expansion of the speculation and vacancy tax.
The Ministry Wednesday evening acknowledged that Parksville and Qualicum Beach did not make formal requests for inclusion, adding that Conroy spoke to each of the mayor when notifying them of the announcement.
Penticton Wednesday also issued a press release quoting Mayor Julius Bloomfield critical of its inclusion.
“Council has just learned that the province intends to implement a speculation tax in Penticton to take effect in a year and it is extremely disappointing that this action has been taken with zero consultation,” he said.
Bloomfield said Penticton shares the province’s goals of addressing affordable housing, but questioned the province’s lack of recognition of Penticton’s unique needs.
“That this unilateral decision to expand the speculation tax to our community has come at the same time we’re still trying to understand the consequences of the changes to the short-term regulations is especially concerning, “Bloomfield said. “We are very worried about the unintended consequences for our local economy by these actions.”