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BC leaders square off in business-focused forum

BC party leaders talk taxes, economy, Liberals pledge to ax small business tax
BC party leaders

The leaders of B.C.'s three main parties talked taxes, job creation, housing affordability and economic recovery in a virtual leadership forum hosted Thursday by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT).

The one election promise most likely to be cheered by businesses came from BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, who said a Liberal government would completely eliminate the 2% small business income tax.

In a survey of members released Thursday, some GVBOT members say they don’t expect to survive the pandemic.

“Businesses have been telling us that they are concerned about revenue,” said GVBOT president Bridgitte Anderson.

Their main concern is competitiveness, and Anderson said the layering on of taxes over the years is challenging B.C.'s competitive position.

Wilkinson reiterated some main planks his party released recently: a one-year elimination of the PST, the completion of the George Massey Tunnel replacement and opening ICBC to private competition.

Wilkinson said replacement of the tunnel could start immediately "because the environmental assessment has already been done."

Wilkinson also said a Liberal government would permanently eliminate the 2% small business income tax and scrap the NDP's real estate speculation tax. 

"We need to reduce your costs, period, so that you can reinvest in your business, hire more people, get more inventory in and get life moving again," he said.

He also talked about bridge financing for hospitality sector businesses.

On housing, Wilkinson said the Horgan government's speculation and vacancy tax was a "failure" and that housing costs have actually gone up since it was introduced. The Liberals would scrap it and replace it with "a real speculation tax."

"Our idea of a speculation tax is to put a capital gains tax on anybody who takes a paper contract for a presale and flips it for a higher price," Wilkinson said.

NDP Leader John Horgan insisted his government's speculation and vacancy tax was "wildly popular."

"Less than 1% of British Columbians are affected by it," he said. "And it's enabled 11,000 vacant condominiums to now be on the rental market. So that's increasing stock in the marketplace without building another unit."

The NDP released a platform this week that is heavily focused on social issues like housing, health, care, and pandemic recovery spending.

Horgan also announced a new, one-time recovery benefit that will see all B.C. families receive $1,000 and individuals $500– a promise blasted as an election bribe, since British Columbians will only receive the money if they re-elect John Horgan’s NDP.

Horgan said Thursday that support for people and businesses will be needed for some time to come. He also said borders will have to remain closed longer than expected, due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic is not going away at the end of October,” Horgan said. “We will be deep in the pandemic for the foreseeable future.”

Asked about the PST, which the Liberals have planned to eliminate for one year, Horgan said: “We looked at the PST and felt the most … tangible focus was to waive the PST on machinery and equipment."

The NDP also brought in tax credits for employers who expand their workforce.

The NDP has committed to creating 7,000 new jobs in long-term care facilities that Horgan said will likely be filled by some workers displaced in the hospitality sector.

Neither the Liberals or Greens have released platforms yet, but have announced major planks.

The Liberals pledged to eliminate the 7% PST on almost everything for one year, with the tax to be reintroduced a year later at 3% -- a move welcomed by the business community.

That would cost the province billions in tax revenue and add to its already massive deficit, which ballooned from emergency spending related to the pandemic.

The Liberals also announced Thursday that a Liberal government would eliminate the 2% small business income tax and offer a loan guarantee for tourism and hospitality businesses.

The Green Party, meanwhile, this week announced a plan to support the tourism and small business sector, hit hardest by the pandemic.

The pledge includes $300 million for a six-month rent subsidy for small businesses, covering 25% of rent. The Greens also pledged to “retool” a provincial tourism grant.

Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. Thanks to her party's cooperation with the NDP, progress has been made on afforable child care she said, but added more needs to be done.

She committed to universal early childhood education. Furstenau said one of the most efficient things that could be done on child care is move early childhood education into the public school system.

Fursteanu said 43% of renters pay more than 30% of their income on rent. She said the Green Party would offer a grant targeted at those renters.

"We are proposing a means-tested renters grant targeted at low and moderate income earners who pay more than a third of their income in rent," Furstenau said.

Furstenau said B.C. is too dependent on resource industries and said the Greens would offer a transition program to help workers in traditional resource industries transition out of those jobs.

As for housing, Furstenau more housing stock is needed, but that it needs to be built sustainably and with energy conservation in mind.


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