IN THE LEDGE – ‘Why I’ve been walking around with both hands in my pockets’

Excerpt from a speech by Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar in the Legislature during debate on the B.C. budget, Feb. 22, 2018:

P. Milobar: … Now, over the last couple of days since the budget has been introduced, I’ve been walking around Victoria, back and forth from the accommodations that I’m staying at, and a couple of people have noticed that I’m walking around with both hands in my pockets.

The simple answer to that is I want to make sure that at least I know when the government is reaching into my pocket to take money out of my pocket, because in this budget, that’s very clearly what they’re doing — but not in an upfront, very blatant way. No. They’re characterizing a $5½ billion taxation budget as affordable.

They’ve tabled a budget that has probably the single largest increase in taxation as affordable. Their marketing strategy is to tell you that in the seven months since they’ve taken office, adding a cumulative $8 billion in taxation is affordable. I would suggest to you that it’s not.

MLA Peter Milobar.

There are a few examples I want to touch on in the budget document. It’s very troubling. I likened it in an earlier conversation to watching a live-action game of three-card monte happening in front of our eyes, where there are very real-world consequences.

As we’ve heard in question period, the members opposite seem to think it’s quite funny when we ask questions about possible layoffs and job reductions and decrease in hours worked and people still having the ability to have a viable business and be able to provide for their families and make sure that the workers within their companies have good-paying, family-supporting jobs. It seems to get met with laughter, as if it’s not serious or that there are not real-world ramifications.

The ideology piece is one thing. But when you ask questions about what’s really happening on the ground, and when you’re conveying back to a government what your own constituents are raising to you as concerns, one would hope that the government, regardless of political stripe, would take those concerns seriously and not, essentially, laugh back in the faces of our own constituents as we’re voicing those concerns in this House. But that’s what we’ve been seeing over the past couple of days.

We will continue to advocate for our constituents to the government. We hope that some day the government will actually take those concerns seriously and not just turn everything into a laughing matter.

Now, I would point out, within housing…. It’s a small piece of it, but again, it comes down to marketing. It’s so small one wonders why it even got any mention of any significance whatsoever in the budget document let alone in the speech by the minister.

However, the hotel tax…. The vaunted hotel tax that is going to save affordable housing options for people in municipalities and give municipalities this wonderful tool to be able to provide housing for all. Well, here’s a little background.

I have a unique perspective on this because not only am I a former mayor who is very familiar with the municipal side of the municipal hotel tax act; I’m a former hotelier, whose family was actually one of the leading people that brought the hotel tax into fruition in Kamloops. In fact, our family fought against the first implementation of it because it needed to be adjusted to better reflect industry. Once that adjustment was made, we fully supported and got on board to make sure it was implemented.

I think I can offer a bit of a unique perspective — that it seems the government is totally unaware of — when it comes to this tax. First off, this tax only exists if the majority of hoteliers, representing the majority of value as well as the majority of rooms in a municipality, agree to allow the tax to exist. Now, the reason that clause is in there is because, as the current legislation stands, it’s supposed to be used for tourism marketing. It’s supposed to be used for things to help with tourism in the area.

So the government’s grand scheme to try to funnel more money into housing with local governments is to change those rules so that that tax that’s been collected by hoteliers can now be used to provide housing in communities.

Now, that’s an laudable goal. However, here’s the other kicker to that piece. It gets renewed every five years. Guess what. If the hoteliers suddenly say, “We don’t want to keep collecting this tax on behalf of government so that it can go pay for housing and not provide any marketing support to us whatsoever” — there’s no more tax to provide housing. That’s the first problem.

The second problem is, even if they agree to do that, you then have no more marketing dollars left for the tourism industry within that area. Now, I can tell you in every jurisdiction where this tax has been implemented — and this tax has been successfully rolled out in terms of leveraging advertising opportunities, partnering with the regional tourism marketing boards and partnering with the provincial marketing boards — there’s been a spike in tourism activity. That’s not accidental. That’s what happens when you market properly.

If you take those marketing dollars away, you are going to impact the livelihood of thousands of people that work in the tourism industry. But as we have seen with Family Day discussions, this government doesn’t seem to want to support the tourism industry. We are not sure what industry they want to support.

Apparently, they don’t want to support resource industries. Now they are taking an all-out assault on the tourism industry in various different forms and creating these internal conflicts within municipalities and tourism marketing boards, somehow turning a tourist marketing dollar into affordable housing units managed by a municipality.

Municipalities don’t have the taxing authority and the ability for transfers of wealth like a provincial government does, which is why, for the most part, they don’t provide day in, day out housing options. They try to scramble…. They try to come up with land assemblies so government can build on those and still hold on to the land value. But they don’t have the operational dollars to provide day-in, day-out housing options.

This government seems to think that by taking some marketing dollars and removing them from marketing — hurting our economy and the tourism sector — and putting it over to housing to let municipalities start taking over housing options is a good idea. I call that a blatant download to municipalities and property taxpayers, and it certainly isn’t going to make life more affordable for people that are property taxpayers.

The last point on this I would point out is we also have to consider the order and magnitude of dollars. In Kamloops’s case, it’s approximately $1 million a year that they collect on this tax. A million dollars. That’s a far cry from trying to build a proper, affordable housing continuum within a municipality.

In Salmon Arm’s case, they just started this. The heart of tourism country in the Shuswap. They collect $180,000 a year, it’s projected, on this tax, yet somehow this tax is being held up as some magical thing that’s going to help solve affordable housing without damaging tourism and without creating a lot of conflict within municipalities.

Source: BC Hansard transcript.

About Mel Rothenburger (8126 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on IN THE LEDGE – ‘Why I’ve been walking around with both hands in my pockets’

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