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Victoria business leaders praise goodies in new B.C. budget, but want more

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce members question finance minister on new budget

For Greater Victoria business leaders, the 2024 budget is somewhat of a mixed bag, but overall they seem pleased with some of the long-sought items like expanded tax breaks for small businesses and first-time homebuyers.

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy was at a Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday (Feb. 23) to answer the business leaders’ budget questions. It’s tradition for the finance minister to address the Victoria chamber before other business groups.

The budget contains a record-breaking deficit of almost $8 billion, which elicited some critical comments from the audience about over-spending, even though some of the nuts and bolts of what money was being spent on was welcomed.

The province increasing the employers’ health tax exemption limit to businesses with payrolls up to $1 million, up from $500,000, was one of the major reasons chamber members, particularly small business owners, had to celebrate.

“That impacts a huge number of businesses in the region, so that’s a good thing,” said Bruce Williams, the chamber’s CEO. “It means that they will have more disposable income to spend on reinvestment in the company and hiring more people.”

The first audience member to ask the minister a question echoed this.

“Thank the government, thank yourself for something that we’ve been asking for since it got introduced in 2019,” said Max Furniture owner Al Hasham. “Finally, the government has heard us.”

Conroy took the opportunity in her remarks at the luncheon to also highlight the plans to redevelop the Belleville Terminal, something the chamber had long advocated for.

“Belleville is a huge thing, because without that upgrade, U.S. border services and security were gonna withdraw service, which means no more Clipper, no more Coho,” Williams said. “So yeah, we’re very happy with that.”

Chamber members asking questions and making comments at the luncheon veered beyond the budget — and the finance minister’s authority — covering a broad policy wish list. This included complaints about the federal government reducing international student visas, something several people said is a drag on the economy rather than a boost to the housing supply.

Conroy sought to focus her comments on budgetary efforts to ease pressure on the housing market, such as the new 20 per cent house flipping tax, the money being poured into B.C. Builds projects and the long-awaited $400 tax credit for low-income renters.

The house flipping tax, which still needs legislative approval and would go into effect in January of 2025, did not get much attention from chamber members, but was criticized by the chair of the Victoria Real Estate Board in separate remarks Friday.

“They look at the flippers, they’re the latest villain, but it’s really not a significant part of our market,” said Laurie Lidstone, chair of the Victoria Real Estate Board.

But for Lidstone the budget also has a few goodies, such as the expanded property transfer tax breaks for first time home-buyers and for new builds.

“When I look at the property transfer tax thresholds, I think this is fabulous,” she said. “Any money that they’re saving on the purchase will go towards boosting their down payment, which is excellent.”

Asked about the criticisms around the flipping tax after the luncheon, Conroy acknowledged it wouldn’t have a huge impact on the market, but said it was to“change the behaviour” around housing speculation.

“To let people know that if you’re buying a house just to flip it — you’re gonna have no intention of living there, no intention to do anything other than making money off of it — that you’re gonna be taxed on the profit,” she said.

READ MORE: Business leaders criticize, praise B.C.’s budget in talk with Premier Eby

About the Author: Mark Page

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