Expect B.C.'s negative-option speculation tax to be revised before Nanaimo by-election

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      When Finance Minister Carole James was leading the B.C. NDP, one of her closest advisers and strongest supporters was the then party president, Moe Sihota.

      So it's worth noting that on CBC Radio One's Early Edition program this morning, Sihota said that he expects James to "take a second look" at the implementation of the speculation tax.

      Sihota, a former NDP cabinet minister, also called it a "clumsy" rollout.

      In addition, he suggested that a "competent" minister like James would likely be asking staff to review this issue.

      This comes as the B.C. Liberals are making hay in the Nanaimo by-election by calling it a "negative-option" tax.

      That's because homeowners will be ordered to pay unless they take proactive steps to avoid it.

      The NDP may need to win the by-election to stay in power with the backing of the B.C. Greens on budget bills and confidence motions.

      That's because the NDP has 40 members and the Greens have three members in the 87-seat legislature. The B.C. Liberals have 42 members.

      The house speaker, Darryl Plecas, is an independent after being elected as a B.C. Liberal in 2017. The speaker can vote to break a tie. 

      If NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson defeats B.C. Liberal Tony Harris in Nanaimo, the NDP and B.C. Greens will have 44 seats—a clear majority.

      Given the stakes in the by-election, Premier John Horgan will want to diminish the likelihood that the speculation tax will become a voting issue.

      The only way the NDP can truly get this tax out of the news cycle is by ending the negative billing option.

      And Sihota's comments on the radio this morning are likely designed to help soften the public for the looming about-face.

      The by-election is scheduled on January 30, with advance voting taking place starting Tuesday (January 22).

      The speculation tax is actually not a fee imposed on the flipping of properties. Rather, it's being charged on those who own empty homes, which makes it a vacancy tax.

      Those who don't fill out forms by March 31, 2019, declaring that their properties are occupied will be dinged with the levy. 

      This year, the fee is 0.5 percent for Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are not members of a "satellite family". Satellite families and foreign owners will pay two percent.

      The "satellite" designation applies to families who earn 50 percent or more of their income from foreign sources.

      Beginning today, "declaration letters" are being sent to homeowners across the province. Anyone with questions can phone (toll-free) 1-833-554-2323. Those outside North America can call 1-604-660-2421,

      Information is also available via email at spectaxinfo@gov.bc.ca.