Mayor's speculation tax is a set-up
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s call on Friday for the provincial government to impose a tax on housing speculation has all the look of a not-very-elaborate set-up. It's a sop thrown to a furious public, and nobody's buying.
After all, the mayor just repeated a proposal made hours earlier by condo sales magnate and master ventriloquist, Bob Rennie. Rennie is one of Robertson’s most powerful financial backers and and stalwart supporter of Premier Christy Clark. Respect.
The unexpected arrival of Rennie's bouncing new proposal suggests both the Vancouver and B.C. governments are getting jumpy about the clamouring masses now openly demanding government action on the global capital flooding into Metro Vancouver’s residential real estate.
In the midst of a white-hot housing market, almost 25,000 have signed an online petition calling for restrictions on foreign buying. A major demonstration is planned for Sunday, organized by a group using the hashtag #Donthave1million.
Clark herself poured on the gasoline last week. "By moving foreign owners out of the market, housing prices will drop," she said, neatly summarizing the problem. But with unwavering loyalty to her base on the leafy boulevards of Shaughnessy, the premier cheerily proclaimed, "That’s good for first-time home buyers but not for anybody who is depending on the equity in their home to finance some other projects.”
However, she added brightly, the government remains “open to new ideas.”
Cue Bob Rennie.
And note how swiftly the Vancouver mayor adopted Rennie's proposal, in the complete absence of any substantiation by independent experts. After years of claiming we lack sufficient data for a major policy response to the affordability crisis, Robertson reversed himself overnight.
Where's the evidence that our real problem is investor flipping rather than the influx of global capital? Nonexistent. The provincial government doesn’t track foreign buying in real estate transactions, and it’s not going to.
On May 7, Housing Minister Rich Coleman declared that B.C. won't gather data that might tell us what's going on in our own market. Unlike such socialist sissies as Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and London that do track foreign buying, B.C.’s government knows the value of wilful blindness.
The provincial government doesn’t want data about global capital, and doesn't want the public to have it either.
And where is Mayor Gregor Robertson on this ludicrous provincial obstinacy? Where was he when Premier Christy Clark pitted west-side homeowners against the working poor and struggling middle class gasping for relief? Nowhere in sight.
Robertson's speculation tax proposal isn't meant to solve a housing problem, but rather the political problem of an increasingly livid public.
Repeating Bob Rennie's policy ideas will only make things worse. According to a recent Insights West poll, 73 per cent of Vancouverites think developers and lobbyists have too much influence at city hall.
Turning developer talking points into government policy is a phony cure. Gregor Robertson must demand data and real answers from the province and the feds.
As the South China Morning Post’s Ian Young recently tweeted, affordable housing is Vancouver's most pressing social justice issue.
It's long past time that Mayor Robertson made it his.