Housing set to dominate political discussion heading into 2017 B.C election

The BC.. government has made shadow flipping the first step in its housing policy. The province is expected to follow with legislation to track foreign ownership and a possible speculation tax.

Premier Christy Clark hoping housing affordability policies enough to get re-elected

B.C. Premier Christy Clark promised to crack down on the real estate practice of 'shadow flipping,' on March 18, 2016 as part of her government's strategy to deal with housing affordability. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It was the perfect backdrop for an election-style announcement. The shiny high-rise towers of Coal Harbour provided the ideal setting for an announcement on changes aimed at curbing Metro Vancouver's out-of-control housing market.

Premier Christy Clark's 'first step' to address housing was focused on closing the so-called 'shadow flipping' loophole

"The shady practice that we have seen around Vancouver we all know has been driven by greed. Pure naked greed. The way we end that shady practice, the greedy people, is to take the profit out. That is how we think we are going to be able to make a difference," Clark said.

The announcement was big on ideas — Clark made it clear she wants to punish realtors who engage in shadow flipping and return any additional profits to the original seller — but there was no explanation of how enforcement would work.

The Liberals aren't alone in their focus on housing this spring. NDP Leader John Horgan introduced two bills in the legislature on Thursday.

The Housing Affordability Fund and Speculator Fee Act would allow for a two per cent tax on the assessed value of a property, and the money collected would go directly into funding affordability initiatives in the region where the tax was collected. The NDP also called for an end to shadow flipping, a day before the Liberals did.

"What remains to be addressed is the speculation that is going on that is costing families in the Lower Mainland more than they can afford," said Horgan. "The premier could have done this a year ago. I am just curious on her timing. Does it have anything to do with the fact the NDP is leading on this issue and they are coming from behind."

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan presented two housing bills to the provincial legislature this week. (CBC)

Futile effort?

Polling from both parties indicates that housing has become the most important issue heading into the 2017 election. Half the province's seats are in the Lower Mainland.

The Liberals hold 23 of the 41 seats up for grabs, the NDP, 17, and one is currently occupied by Independent Vicki Huntington. That means policy changes that impact housing could have a very substantial impact on the electoral map.

But Hamish Telford, a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley, isn't optimistic that politicians can control what he calls a "market-driven phenomenon."

"You have to be careful to not raise expectations and not be able to deliver. The Liberals are being very careful around all this," said Telford.

"The parties are looking at different party bases. The Liberal base is a little older and has equity built up in homes and they don't want that eroded. The NDP is courting younger voters that are trying to enter the housing market. I don't know what policy any party can offer that would be very helpful."

Public Pressure Mounting

But clearly politicians believe they still need to be seen as trying something. Earlier this week, NDP housing critic David Eby hosted a forum on housing affordability that drew a crowd of around 700 people. 

The B.C. Liberals may seem to be playing catchup, but that is by design. The government will spend the next 14 months announcing policy ideas around housing, event by event.

The first step was announcing during the unveiling of the budget that the government was going to track foreign ownership, a story to which the media and public paid very close attention.  Now, the Liberals are opening the door to a lot more change.

"We are going to work with the city of Vancouver and other cities on issues in respect with vacancy and speculation and supply," says Clark. "All of those issues are on the table. Nothing is off the table for discussion."

Change of Heart

It is the first time Clark has been this willing to discuss all facets of the red-hot housing market.

There was initial reluctance to discuss a speculation tax, but that cautious approach seems to be gone.

A big part of the change in tone is that voters in British Columbia are set to go to the polls in 14 months. It seems like the next provincial election is still a long way away, but this is the time where parties test out policies.

It's already clear that if the premier is going to keep her party in power, the voters will have to be convinced their policies at least seem to be doing enough to cool the housing market.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.