An upcoming West Kelowna town hall meeting, organized by the Greater Westside Board of Trade is set to take place at the Holiday Inn this Wednesday beginning at 6:30pm. Its focus will be on the speculation tax legislation introduced by the provincial government earlier this year. The meeting will occur a few days after Premier Horgan sits down and discusses concerns about the tax with both West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran this Monday at an undisclosed location.
You may remember back in April when the Urban Development Institute, the business association for the development industry, spearheaded a phoney grassroots campaign called Scrap the Speculation Tax. At the time, we uncovered that the “concerned and hardworking British Columbians” behind this online website campaign were in fact, the notorious spin doctors, Hill + Knowlton (yes the same PR company that spun the Kuwait baby-killing justification for the first Gulf War, Big Tobacco, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill among many, many other slimy shams) who’ve been retained to do the bidding for the interests of Big Development and other free enterprise-at-all-costs organizations in BC. Well, the Greater Westside Board of Trade is one of these groups, and the UDI’s Okanagan (Kelowna) Chapter Chair, Kevin Edgecombe, is a guest panellist for Wednesday’s Town Hall.
I imagine this may resemble one of the many “town hall” meetings that have taken place to discuss the speculation tax and other housing-related taxes in Kelowna, and the wealthier parts of Vancouver, only to devolve into highly politicized rhetoric-fuelled rallies against the NDP/Green government, so be warned that these assemblies may not exactly represent the issues beyond a certain segment of the public’s interest. You can revisit the recent Kelowna public hall on the speculation tax by reading about one resident’s rather unwelcoming experience in a Letter to the Editor, or some Lower Mainlanders’ town halls’ recent hijacking of the facts to suit a very partisan agenda (and some rather uncivil discourse too).
Their mantra is that owning empty second homes in a market where vacancy is next to 0%, and where home prices have been classified internationally as unaffordable, is a right and they should not be taxed or incentivized by the government to sell or rent them out. Or, in Vancouver, that taxing homes worth over 3 million – so valued largely due to blind luck – is somehow unfair even though the beneficiaries of this school tax could grow up unable to own a home, and certainly won’t enjoy the pensions these homeowners do. Understand that they will not focus on the bigger issue at play – the housing crisis, the financialization of overheated markets, and overall generational economic inequality.
Certainly West Kelowna is not West Van, and their issues if we are to take Findlater’s points, are more related to creating an attractive atmosphere for developers. They need the money they charge developers to build there, they claim, because they are playing “catch-up” as a young municipality. Even if this means attracting foreign investors to park their money in empty condos built with plans that do nothing to stimulate local business and integrate into most of the existing services. I’m thinking that all the recent proposals for luxury rental condos by the lake, cut off for the most part from much of West Kelowna, just might keep them in perpetual catch-up if they need to use those charges to defray the costs of building amenities for housing so removed from the city itself, housing that won’t bring in much economic activity in the long term beyond golfing, dining and wine-touring (much of which is outside its borders) a few months of the year.
The UDI’s Edgecombe in fact will argue these part-time activities and the attendant low-paying seasonal jobs they create are exactly what must be protected from the speculation tax, stating that it “will affect the people at the restaurants, the people at the hair cutting salons, and the wine shops and golf courses” (Global News). God forbid we actually aim for more full time residents and employers.
Expect Edgecombe to also likely bring up the recent PR stunt by Mayor Findlater and Kelowna West’s Liberal MLA, Ben Stewart when they went in front of cameras to read an email submitted by developer, Steve Henderson of Staburn Group explaining that they are stopping all work on their Goat’s Peak development in West Kelowna until there is an actual party change in the provincial government (not just the removal of West Kelowna from the speculation tax). Apparently Henderson had no time to appear in front of cameras himself to explain away this very curious decision, but I guess he and Ben Stewart are no longer spinning the “we’re for construction jobs” line if they’d so easily use workers as pawns in some kind of political blackmail (no construction jobs for West Kelowna until the Liberals are back in power ???).
You might also hear from the local real estate voices who are vocally opposed to propositions that would make houses more affordable here and believe the speculation tax is creating a horrible chill that will scare off property investors. And in fact they have the gall to say that it is actually hurting local housing by decreasing surplus. This line goes something like this: out-of-province second home owners are being forced to sell, and now, the people buying these homes are actually living in them and taking perfectly good rentals off the market – sad!
“I have had four of my properties, Alberta owners who heard about the news and then turned around and decided to sell their properties. They really haven’t been sold to new landlords. They have been sold to owners who are buying and staying there. Four rental units disappeared from the surplus.”
– Remax Management Solutions Cal Warren to Global News
The noblesse oblige from Alberta feel their short-term rentals (that pay off their investments) are better for Kelownians than residents purchasing to live here full time I guess.
Here’s hoping the local real estate perspective starts to put a little more faith in a healthier housing market, made up of more local owners, one not susceptible to the boom and busts of the sunset oil trade or the caprices of the outside investment class, but rather one that contributes to and lives reciprocally with the local job market. We’re going to need it if we want to attract, or keep, hardworking graduates, workers, families, creators and entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile this Wednesday’s town hall will be very predictable.