Over the last few months, the NDP's new 30-Point Housing Affordability Plan has received its fair share of criticism. And while I can sympathize with some it, this latest chapter is out of control.
As you may recall, the so-called "school tax" has become a flashpoint over larger frustrations with the provincial government. And if you were to listen to the tax's critics, you might imagine the NDP is hell-bent on transforming B.C. into a communist haven.
There have been protests at City Hall, and signs on the lawns of homes on Vancouver's west side, decrying the tax, which would raise fees by 0.2 per cent on properties valued at more than $3 million and 0.4 per cent on homes assessed at more than $4 million.
According to municipal staff in West Vancouver, the home owner of a $3.5 million will have to pay an extra $1,000 annually, and the owner of $4-million home would will pay an additional $5,271.
Anger boiled over at a recent town hall in wealthy West Vancouver, where a group of millionaire homeowners packed into a performance venue and let loose in front of public officials, including Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.
As reported by the North Shore News, the tone of the event was ugly, with a series of successful people railing against a new provincial government they feel is hostile to their way of life.
"It's not going to affect me," said fund manager Matt Wood. "I know you want to get me because you don't like me, but your fake school tax doesn't hurt me at all. It just cost the B.C. hospitals and schools because I just cut out my charitable contributions."
Prominent West Vancouver realtor Allan Angell made headlines when he took aim at the government, blaming them for a real estate market in decline.
"The NDP should be shot," he said, an incendiary statement that reportedly won shouts of "hear, hear" and a round of applause from the crowd.
"We're losing money galore," Angell continued. "My house has dropped $1.5 million in five months."
In a letter to the North Shore News, Angell apologized for his "ill-chosen" words and clarified that they were in no way intended as a "call for violence."
"I apologize to anyone who was offended, as well as to those like NDP MLA Bowinn Ma, who may have felt I was inciting action against elected officials or others."
And then, in the following paragraph, he rehashed the well-worn arguments against the tax—that it's a tax that unfairly penalizes average people who bought at the right time (before the boom) and threatens to push them out of their homes.
"Many of my clients are seniors who are facing uncertainty," wrote Angell. "They worked hard, paid off their mortgages and were rewarded with increasing property value."
This could—almost—be a compelling argument.
Except for one inconvenient fact: Seniors can defer payment until the time they sell their home.
Moreover, I'm willing to wager that while many of Angell's clients are seniors living on "fixed incomes" many more aren't. Call me cynical, but once your house is in the $3.5-million range, it's hard to imagine an additional $2,000 a year is really going to break you.
There is, it seems, a sense of shrill entitlement among the most vocal critics of the school tax. It's as though they feel they earned the equity in their homes, rather than benefited from global forces beyond their control.
As explained in a recent editorial in The Vancouver Sun by UBC economists Joshua Gottlieb and David Green, the school tax is both efficient and fair.
"The school tax captures returns to pure luck," wrote Gottlieb and Green. "Owning land when demand increases is like holding a winning lottery ticket—it generates a return without doing anything productive."
In other words, real-estate investments don't generate jobs and economic activity. Government should therefore tax it, rather than business ventures that do. "Society as a whole benefits if the investor chooses productive capital, increasing economic output."
As a member of a generation that has watched Vancouver's real estate market sail out of reach, it's hard to feel for homeowners who have seen their equity grow by magnitudes and are now being forced to pay a little more. The tax, relative to the vast increase in equity, is minuscule, and people ought to suck it up. Or, at the least, discuss it with some dignity.