Legislature debates new commercial property subclass

Transcript for Oct. 22, 2019 debate


Oral Questions

T. Stone: As our urban centres grow, the resulting plans for significant densification are placing huge pressure on small businesses, through dramatically increased property taxes based on the undeveloped airspace — literally, a tax on the unused air above their heads.

Last month a broad coalition of arts, culture, small business and local government representatives wrote to the Premier asking for immediate action to address these huge property tax increases. Their proposed solution is to implement a new commercial property subclass for the airspace above small businesses and other affected organizations. This broad coalition is calling on the government to take action now to give small businesses and these small organizations a fighting chance to survive.

My question to the Deputy Premier would be this: will she ensure that her government acts on this coalition's proposal in time for the 2020 tax year?

Hon. S. Robinson: Well, small businesses, non-profits and the arts and culture organizations are a vital part of our communities and our economy. When we took office a couple of years ago, we heard right away from them that they have been struggling significantly for a number of years. Years of an out-of-control real estate market have left these businesses and the arts and culture and the non-profit industry struggling. Years, because the previous government absolutely ignored — they ignored — an out-of-control real estate market, and they are suffering as a result of that.

When we took office, we heard them, and we set out to look at how the property assessment system works during rapidly increasing real estate markets or significant changes to community plans in zoning. We took action. We engaged with stakeholders, including the cities of Vancouver and other Metro Vancouver cities and other groups, to evaluate short-term and long-term strategies to improve affordability for these important local businesses.

Mr. Speaker: Kamloops–South Thompson on a supplemental.

T. Stone: The minister's struggles with that answer are only matched by the struggles of small businesses, who are being squeezed like never before under this current government.

The fact of the matter is….

Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

T. Stone: Well, the member for Vancouver–West End obviously has tremendous influence in his government caucus, because they haven't acted on it in two and a half years.

The fact of the matter is that under this government, in the last two and a half years, they've imposed or increased 19 new taxes, including the employer health tax. British Columbia's small businesses now have the largest payroll tax burden, second highest only to the province of Quebec. We've had 25,000 jobs lost, mostly in the private sector, in the last four months alone. Our retail sales are down. Export sales are down. This government needs to step up and throw a lifeline to small businesses in this province.

Now, I'll refer back to the letter of late September, just at the very first day of the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention — the letter that I referenced in my first question — that was sent to the Premier, to the government, from that broad coalition. Included in that coalition was the city of Vancouver. Here's what the mayor of Vancouver actually had to say in the letter: "The viability of independent small businesses and the arts, culture and non-profit sectors in Metro Vancouver is under threat" as a result of this "fast pace of change."

Even the Premier's own chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, seconded a motion when he was a Vancouver city councillor to address this issue. But the Premier, the NDP government, has done nothing.

My question, again, to the Deputy Premier would be this. Changes could be implemented now. In fact, they need to be implemented now. Will she throw that lifeline to small businesses and act in time for the 2020 tax year?

Hon. S. Robinson: I think it's really important to acknowledge that this is important for small businesses. It's an important issue. It's been coming for…. It's an issue. Folks who invest in small businesses work hard to put food on their table. They work hard to grow their businesses.

My father was a small business owner, and I remember what it was like when it was difficult at times. It's really hard on families, and it's hard on small businesses. We're committed to working together with the small business community, with arts and culture communities, which is why we brought together various leaders to talk about how to best proceed. It is complex work. It's incredibly important work.

But I also want to remind the member that he raised the issue at the UBCM, and the delegates were absolutely divided on the resolution calling for a new commercial subclass, because local governments, too, have a vested interest in making sure that it's the right tool to deliver the right outcome. It's absolutely important that we do that.

We are exploring a variety of tools to take a look at how to address interim measures to resolve a problem that had been building for years while the people on the other side were on this side, and they did nothing about it. We're working quickly to resolve a challenging issue while we undertake the important analysis that's absolutely needed in order to deliver a long-term solution.

Source: Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Fourth Session, 41st Parliament (2019), OFFICIAL REPORT OF DEBATES (HANSARD). Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Available at https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/Hansard/41st4th/20191022am-Hansard-n277.html (Accessed November 12, 2019).