Canadians have no constitutional right to own property. Yes, you might think you own your residence. But, pfft, you don’t. The state – from the federal government to the province, the municipality, the local conservation authority or power utility (among others) – can force you to alter, share, devalue or give up your property. And tax it, naturally.
Long ago, in a distance universe now past, I was a Member of Parliament when Quebec aspirations caused a rethink of the nation’s Charter of Rights. A dude named Joe Clark was in charge of the process, and I decided it was time Canadians gained some protection over their own land. So, being an energetic, iconoclastic little beaver, I formed a property rights coalition, mounted a conference in Ottawa, launched a petition, and lobbied the poop out of Joe and my colleagues. Finally, sick of me, the right to own property was included in the proposed set of Charter changes.
Yay! Finally. No more expropriations without due process. No local government changing zoning without compensation. No mercurial new taxes or capricious bylaws passed by left-wing city councils without recourse or input. Canadians would gain something Americans have had for 200 years – court remediation for the assets they’ve acquired when the state wishes to take them away, or materially affect their value.
Of course, the lefties howled. Social goals should trump private ones, they said. And they had a point. Societies need to protect rivers, birds, renters plus other endangered species, while building roads, dams and services for the good of all. I get it. But governments sometimes engage in theft. There should be a path to justice for everyone nailed by it.
Well, it all went to a national referendum in 1992. It was called the Charlottetown Accord, and also recommended Senators be elected, not appointed (the ‘Triple-E’ Senate) plus Quebec be deemed a distinct society. In a highly contested campaign, 54% voted against it – mostly because of the Quebec deal. (Ironically, Stephen Harper granted Quebeckers exactly this status – with no referendum – 15 years later.)
So why do I bring this up?
Because we’re once again tipping over the edge into tinpot dictatorship in many aspects of national life. Like in Vancouver, where the first empty-house law in history is about to be ratified. Simply put, it means if you own property and fail to live in it most of the time as your principal residence, where all your mail arrives and your dog sleeps, you’ll be massively taxed. Doesn’t matter if you’re a local, or already pay property tax, or bought the place and forked over land transfer tax, you’re about to face theft-by-lefties.
Starting in January, the tax is a massive 1% of the market value of your property, with a $10,000-per-day penalty (yes, ten grand every 24 hours) for non-compliance and a negative option, meaning if you don’t proactively file for an exemption, you’ll pay with an automatic tax. The social goal is to increase the number of units available for rent, but the unspoken impetus is pervasive anti-Chinese sentiment in YVR based on the unproven belief most of the 10,800 residences (largely condos) not occupied full-time are owned by foreign dudes.
Shame on us. Lament democracy.
Exempted will be people who leave their houses to vacation elsewhere for a few months, or are engaged in a proven reno, or just died, or live in condos where bylaws prevent units from being rented, or where owners use the place for business at least six months a year. Presumably, a corporate guy living in Victoria and working in Vancouver two days a week – who buys a condo because it’s cheaper than hotel living – would be nailed. And meanwhile homeowners will continue to be allowed to Airbnb their houses with city blessing instead of putting that space on the rental market. Suck. Blow.
Add in the 15% tax levied on foreign buyers – announced without consultation, notice or legal recourse – and no wonder Canadians start looking like commies to the rest of the world. To its credit, Vancouver is setting up an appeal process to the empty-house tax, since thousands of people will inevitably be caught up in its negative-option web. That office will cost taxpayers $5 million to set up, and another couple of mill a year to run. At least the bureaucrats will be happy.
Back in 1992, when my little crusade came close to success, I was scorned, flagellated and pummeled to a bloody political pulp by women’s groups, social justice warriors, environmentalists and dippers. Maybe I deserved it. Maybe taxing people twice because the state doesn’t like what you do with your own property is popular. Maybe most are happy to surrender control over their lives. Maybe, with risk-fearing Millennials craving a shared society, I’m nothing but a dino.
But some days you can almost understand what created Trump.