Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby wants to know whether or not advance information on a foreign-buyer tax was shared with a major player in the Vancouver real-estate industry.
The B.C. NDP housing critic was referring to condo marketer Bob Rennie, who had told the Globe and Mail he knew that an additional property transfer tax was coming ahead of the government’s announcement.
Rennie, who chairs the fundraising committee of the B.C. Liberal party headed by Premier Christy Clark, subsequently clarified in the same paper that he was only making an educated guess about a coming tax. He later issued a statement declaring he had no knowledge of the tax in advance.
Eby said that he has written Clark asking for an investigation.
“We’ve asked the premier to look into this assuming that she didn’t just tell him herself that this was happening,” Eby said in a news conference today (August 2).
He has raised a number of questions in his letter to the premier.
“Who told Mr. Rennie in advance of the public announcement?” Eby told reporters at his West Broadway office. “Why was he told, whether it was in relation to his capacity as chair of the fundraiser committee for the B.C. Liberal Party or a major donor? Why was he told?
“What possible benefit could there be in him having personal knowledge as someone uniquely positioned to profit from this information?” the NDP MLA continued. “And did he act on this information? Did he engage in real estate transactions based on this insider information? Or did he tell his clients about this information and encouraged them to act on it?”
Eby also said that Finance Minister Mike de Jong should resign if it is proven later that Rennie received advance information about the tax.
“Parliamentary tradition in the British system of government is that the finance minister is personally responsible for leaks of tax information or budget information that comes out before the official announcement,” he said. “And so the tradition is that the finance minister has to resign. And so these are very serious consequences if in fact information was leaked to Mr. Rennie. Certainly for the finance minister, because this information is so sensitive, and because people can profit from using this information.”
On July 25, de Jong announced that the government will be collecting an additional 15 percent tax on home purchases by foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver.
In a media release, de Jong stated that the tax “will help manage foreign demand while new homes are built to meet local needs”.
Based on finance ministry figures, foreigners accounted for 9.7 percent of house transactions in the region during a five-week period, from June 10 to July 14 this year.
In his news conference, Eby recalled that Rich Coleman, who is the minister responsible for housing, told reporters at the legislative assembly on July 27 that he [Coleman] had several conversations with Rennie about the tax.
According to Eby, it was assumed at that time that those conversations took place after de Jong had made the announcement on July 25.
“Now we’re not so sure,” Eby said.