British Columbia

NDP MLA pressured Belcarra mayor to cool speculation-tax protest, Opposition claims

Belcarra Mayor Neil Belenkie is once again pleading for the province to exempt the village from the B.C. speculation tax amid claims an NDP MLA threatened the community to keep quiet about its concerns.

Rick Glumac denies claim, saying he had 'cordial conversation' with mayor

The speculation tax was introduced by the province to cool B.C.'s hot housing market. It targets vacant secondary homes in certain regions to discourage land speculation and drive up the number of rentals. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Belcarra Mayor Neil Belenkie is once again pleading for the province to exempt the village from the B.C. speculation tax amid claims an NDP MLA threatened the community to keep quiet about its concerns.

In question period at the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson claimed the NDP's Rick Glumac said Belcarra's relationship with the government would become more "difficult" if the community continued to protest the tax.

Glumac denied he put any pressure on the community, saying he and Belenkie had a "cordial conversation" and that he arranged a meeting between Belenkie and Finance Minister Carole James.

The speculation tax was introduced by the province to cool B.C.'s hot housing market. It targets vacant secondary homes in certain regions to discourage land speculation and drive up the number of rentals.

But in Belcarra, which is part of Metro Vancouver, residents say the levy unfairly targets legacy households and cottages.

The sleepy village, with a population of about 600, is burrowed between regional parks and the ocean, marked by dead-end streets and few traffic lights.

Many community members say that because half of the municipality is water-access only, it's next to impossible to rent out their properties. Many of them are seniors, and say they'd be expected to pay thousands more under the new tax.

On Tuesday they took their case to the legislature, along with Belenkie.

"These are not the target of the speculation tax, these cottages, none of them are … In fact, they've been referred to me by the NDP team as 'collateral damage,'" said Belenkie.

$6K tax bill for basic cabin

Retired music teacher Charline Robson said she lives in a basement suite in Burnaby but faces a $6,000 speculation tax bill this year because the cabin she inherited is empty much of the year and not up for rent.

Robson, who said she already pays annual property taxes for the cabin of about $12,000, says the property is not insulated and does not have running water, sewer or street service.

"You can't rent this," she said. "You have to go through private property to get there. There's no parking. There's no proper water and certainly not any sewers."

She said the land value is assessed at about $1.3 million, but the cabin is valued at $15,000.

"This was passed on to me by my auntie about three years ago," said Robson. "She bought it in the early 1950s. During the last couple years, she said to me, 'I'm not sure I can hold onto it. I don't have the money.' "

Robson, who has children and grandchildren, said the family uses the cabin as a summer vacation getaway.

"We can't afford to go away," she said.

Other areas exempt

In March 2018 the B.C. government made a number of changes to the speculation tax.

The tax no longer apply to properties in the Gulf Islands, Parksville, Qualicum Beach or rural Fraser Valley. 

But because Belcarra is a part of Metro Vancouver, residents are still required to pay.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

With files from Tanya Fletcher, Jon Hernandez and the Canadian Press

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