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B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular
B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The B.C. government’s property tax break for most home owners was introduced to help them with the high cost of housing – in 1957.

More than 60 years later, with spiralling home values and rents pressing like never before, an expert panel has pointed out that the B.C. Home Owner Grant and Ottawa’s capital gains tax exemptions reward owners and shift the cost of tax breaks onto renters. That report was released quietly on the last day of B.C.’s legislature session, and the B.C. government was quick to distance itself from the idea of taking home owner benefits away, as the eligibility rises to homes valued at up to $1.6 million.

B.C. Liberal finance critic Mike Bernier raised the question in debate on Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget June 17.

“I haven’t had a chance to dig into this report, but what I can absolutely assure the member is that we are not interested in making any changes to the Home Owner Grant,” Robinson replied.

Robinson said another panel recommendation, to eliminate the capital gains tax exemption on sale of a principal residence, was also quickly rejected by the federal government. She said federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland had also responded immediately to the report, and “was very clear that the federal government had zero appetite to make any changes to the capital gains.”

Robinson noted that the panel was set up as a federal-provincial effort to look for ways to ease the housing crisis, before she and federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland were in their current jobs.

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The panel was chaired by former NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail, now chair of ICBC, and includes Jock Finlayson, vice president of the Business Council of B.C., Helmut Pastrick, chief economist of Central 1 Credit Union, Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association and Brian McCauley, CEO of real estate developer Concert Properties.

Its five “calls to action” for housing include creating a planning framework that encourages housing, reforming fees on property development, expanding the supply of community housing and “ensuring more equitable treatment of renters and homeowners” through the tax changes.

B.C. Liberal MLA Peter Milobar said he has been receiving questions from constituents about a change in grant administration that took effect this year, with the province taking over administration of the Home Owner Grant from municipalities.


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