British Columbia

Former top B.C. political aide says foreign ownership should be put to a vote

Calls to address the astronomical spike in Vancouver-area housing prices have never been louder, and now a former chief of staff in the B.C. premier's office is chiming in.

'We should be able to have this debate in Canada without being labelled intolerant,' says Martyn Brown

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell chief of staff Martyn Brown says it's time to hold a referendum on foreign ownership. (Martyn Brown)

Calls to address the astronomical spike in Vancouver-area housing prices have never been louder, and now a former chief of staff in the B.C. premier's office is adding his voice to the debate.

Martyn Brown, former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's top aide, wants to put the question of how to control foreign ownership to a referendum. 

"We should be able to have a debate about whether it makes sense to restrict foreign ownership in the same way that many countries around the world have — including, by the way, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Denmark, Brunei and England," Brown told the CBC's The Early Edition.

How do other countries do it?

Brown says the first step would be to appoint an expert advisory panel to study how other countries restrict foreign ownership. 

"In Australia they have speculator taxes. That's one way of restricting ownership to people who pay income taxes in Canada," he said. "They also say that only new properties can be purchased by foreign nationals."

"Denmark restricts the total number of properties that are available in any one region — they assign quotas. That's another model."

Brown says the panel should then rank those options in order of priority and put them to a vote.

'Foreign nationals have a huge advantage'

Brown feels the restrictions are long overdue because of persisting global conditions that effectively penalize local buyers and favour those from overseas. 

"All foreign nationals have a huge advantage right now through the premium they enjoy on our Canadian dollar," he said. "Marketing efforts are targeted to them in their home countries, in some cases even before they're made available to Canadians and British Columbians," he said.

"I don't think we should allow that. It's frankly a failing of the free market."

'Unwanted demand'

"It's unwanted demand largely from foreign nationals who are using all sorts of different means to get their money — in many cases — illegally out of China and other countries," he said.

"[They] are buying properties in British Columbia, and in Vancouver particularly, that aren't being occupied, that are under-occupied, which means it's harder for us to keep pace with the supply demand."

Brown says anyone suggesting there's a racial element to his ideas is mistaken.

"We should be able to have this debate in Canada as a tolerant Canadian society without being labelled intolerant or racist," he said. 

"We need to suppress that portion of incremental demand on our precious housing stocks, on our precious private lands or properties."

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