EDITORIAL: Speculation tax exemption slams door on Saanich’s most vulnerable

EDITORIAL: Speculation tax exemption slams door on Saanich’s most vulnerable

The community may be in the grips of a housing crisis. But that’s not enough to shake us from holding tight to the status quo. At least that seems to be the view of Saanich council, who voted Monday night to ask the province to allow the municipality to opt out of the speculation tax.

A sharply divided council voted 5-4 to seek an exemption to the tax that will levy a 0.5 per cent charge against B.C. residents who own a second home that isn’t rented out for at least six months of the year. Property owners from outside B.C. will see the tax rise to one per cent next year, while non-Canadian residents will be charged two per cent beginning in 2019.

Coun. Wergeland, who brought the motion forward, said increasing the supply of housing – not a speculation tax – will help solve the housing situation.

Of course, Weregeland is correct that an increased housing supply is the ultimate solution to the crisis that is seeing too many Saanich residents unable to find a suitable place to call home. But that argument implies that government has no role to play in the shelter needs of its citizens, meekly surrendering control to external market forces.

It is the same argument that has been used countless times by governments around the world who did not want to make the tough decisions needed to address issues such as climate change, gun control or social service funding.

Coun. Dean Murdock said he would be “embarrassed” to meet with provincial staff after making a “knee-jerk” decision shaped by provincial politics and rhetoric.

Yes, a speculation tax will deal a financial blow to those who own multiple properties. But what about the devastating blows that have been dealt to this region’s homeless population or families struggling to make ends meet. Who is fighting to spare them further financial pain?

The speculation tax offers an incentive for property owners to place homes on the rental market, or alternatively, provide funds through a tax that can help increase the supply of affordable housing.

It’s a small step to address a monumental issue, but one that we must take if we want to meet the needs of the community’s most vulnerable.