New condos being built in Third Street in Sidney. (Steven Heywood/News Staff)

North Saanich added to list of places that want tax exemption

District seeks meeting with Province about alternatives

North Saanich is adding its name to the list of B.C. municipalities that want out of the NDP’s proposed speculation tax, as concerns from property owners, faced with paying more to keep their homes, continue.

Like their neighbours in Sidney, the District voted April 16 to ask B.C.’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson to grant North Saanich an exemption from the proposed tax, following a series of letters and presentations from home owners in the community — not the least of which came from a relation of a well-known family on the Saanich Peninsula.

RELATED: Rural cabins, cottages exempted form speculation tax.

David Allan, brother-in-law to Malcolm Winspear, said he flew in from Toronto to specifically address concerns he and the Winspears have about the tax. The Winspear family is prominent on the Saanich Peninsula, as the Mary Winspear Centre is named for a family member who spent summers in North Saanich in the early and mid-1900s, eventually moved to Sidney, and whose community involvement led to the area’s cultural hub being named in her honour.

Allan, whose own family is one of the Centre’s founding donors, said a tax targeting land speculation might be appropriate, but the one being proposed “sweeps up and punishes long-time landowners.”

“Our family’s soul is here on the Island. Does this sound like land speculation?”

The proposed tax, according to the Province, is designed to reduce property speculation, creating incentive for people holding onto vacant homes to add them to tight rental markets in parts of B.C.

Like Allan, other property owners pointed to long-term family ownership of homes in North Saanich, and that the tax could force some to sell their homes — in some cases, preventing them from retiring in the community.

RELATED: ‘Not well thought out:’ Arizona family slams B.C. speculation tax.

A group of people from Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona who own homes in North Saanich and Sidney have combined their voices and could look to lobby the Province to change or drop the speculation tax.

Spokesperson Drew Sexton said this group of 10 families have been long-term property owners on the Saanich Peninsula and spend anywhere from four to six months in B.C. They are afraid that the tax could cost them between $40,000 and $60,000 – depending on the value of their property – and some would have to sell their homes as a result.

“They really consider it their home,” he said from Phoenix. “They have relationships up there.”

Sexton noted there seems to already be a lot of pushback against the tax and credited Sidney and North Saanich for asking for exemptions. Neither Sidney nor the Capital Regional District were dropped from the tax when the Province updated the proposed tax back in March. Sexton suggested that while there may be a need for ways to curb vacancies and ease the rental market in B.C., there should be a way to differentiate between land speculators and long-term home owners.

RELATED: B.C. groups form coalition with ‘Scrap the Speculation Tax’ campaign.

North Saanich Councillor Geoff Orr noted there are 310 households in the District — or 6.3 per cent of its 4,900 homes overall – that could be affected by the tax. Of those, approximately 150, he said, are owned by non-Canadian residents. Orr estimated that the tax could cost homeowners a combined $2 million or more.

“We should send a strong message that we don’t support this tax,” he said.

Included in North Saanich’s letter to the minister, is a request for a meeting with Robinson or her staff, to discuss other options to the speculation tax. Those include changing it to a transactional speculation tax, rather than a vacant land tax, as well as additional consultation on the economic consequences, if the Province insists on its version of the tax.

Mayor Alice Finall said she sees the tax, as it stands, as punitive and unfair to people who clearly are not property speculators. She added, however, that affordable housing issues are complex and people have been asking the various levels of government to do something about it.

Finall said she’d like to see existing properties grandfathered, should the speculation tax proceed.

While some councillors differed on how to proceed, a motion to seek an exemption – and a meeting with the Minister – passed in a 4-3 vote.

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