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$30 million from empty homes tax
The Canadian Press - 2:30 pm - BC Biz

Image: Thinkstock

The city of Vancouver’s new empty homes tax is expected to bring in $30 million in revenue in its first year.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said $17 million has already been collected from owners of almost 8,500 properties that were determined to be vacant or under utilized for at least six months of the year.

“For those who didn’t rent their empty property and chose to pay the empty homes tax, I just want to say thank you for contributing to Vancouver’s affordable housing funding and making sure we can invest more in affordable housing,” Robertson said at a news conference Monday. “For those who did rent their empty homes, thank you very much for adding to the rental housing supply here in Vancouver. It’s desperately needed.”

The tax is the first of its kind in Canada, requiring homeowners who do not live in or rent out their properties to pay a one per cent levy based on the assessed value of the home.

Robertson said the tax was intended to address the city’s near-zero vacancy rate.

The most recent figure from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation puts the city’s rental vacancy rate at 0.8 per cent, up slightly from the previous year, the mayor said.

It’s unclear yet if the tax has increased the availability of rental accommodation, Robertson said, adding that the city is developing better data collection methods to monitor the impact of initiates like the tax more closely.

The city previously said about 60 per cent of properties affected by the tax are condominiums.

The tax on the properties where owners said their home was empty ranged from $1,500 to $250,000, Robertson said, noting the highest tax bill came from a $25-million home.

The funds will support the city’s affordable housing initiatives and residents can provide feedback on exactly where the money should be spent.

Robertson said increasing capacity at homeless shelters or adding to the city’s rent bank, which provides one-time interest-free loans to low-income residents in a financial crisis, are among the possible initiatives that could benefit.

The median tax due is just under $10,000 and Robertson said anyone who doesn’t pay up will face fines and have the bill added to their property taxes next year.

“Those who are not playing ball here and who are skirting the system, we will get you,” the mayor said.

Nearly 99 per cent of homeowners completed an empty homes tax declaration.

The tax cost the city $7.5 million to implement and annual operating costs for the first and subsequent years are pegged at $2.5 million.

Audits are underway and the city said just under 1,000 complaints or disputes have been filed that need to be addressed in the coming months.

Robertson said it will be up to city council to decide whether the tax is having the desired effect, and that will likely take a few years of data to determine.

“I would say at this point it looks like some signs of success,” he said.

B.C.’s wine identity?
Rob Gibson - 8:13 am - BC Biz

BC Wine Region: A Territory Exploring Its Identity – Teaser

A new video takes a stab at answering the question “what is British Columbia’s wine industry’s core identity?”

You can find out this weekend at the Okanagan Wine and Orchard Museum, located in the Laurel Packinghouse, on 1304 Ellis St.

The University of British Columbia and Kedge Business School, in collaboration with The Innovation School and The Glasgow School of Art, have launched a video documenting their work with entrepreneurs from across the province to discover and define the identity of the B.C. wine region.

The video was filmed by Stefan Matis, Plia Film Productions, Kelowna and features segments from a series of workshops that took place across the province last fall.

“Identity is not the same as marketing. Identity is far richer: it’s culture, it’s social values, it’s relationships across people, it’s relationships between people and the land. Marketing, when done well in a successful wine region, is based upon that,” says Dr. Roger Sugden, who’s with the Faculty of Management and Regional Socio-Economic Development Institute of Canada.

The academic team is confident that the stronger the region’s identity, the easier it will be for it to remain competitive and compete on the world stage.

“Every year, more and more regions are telling the consumer they are making the greatest wine, and in order to express that correctly you have to know who you are,” says Dr. Jacques-Olivier Pesme of the Kedge Business School at the Bordeaux Wine and Spirits Academy.

The Wine Regions of British Columbia include:

  • Vancouver Island;
  • The Gulf Islands;
  • Fraser Valley;
  • Okanagan Valley;
  • Similkameen Valley;
  • Emerging Regions.
Still no spill compensation
The Canadian Press - Apr 20 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press

Despite “polluter pay” laws in Canada, local governments and agencies are still waiting to recover costs incurred during two significant fuel spills off British Columbia’s coast.

The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Aquarium are collectively waiting on nearly $700,000 in losses related to a 2015 leak of bunker fuel, while the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bellla continues negotiating over $200,000 in repayments for its response to a tugboat that ran aground in 2016.

Transport Canada, which oversees spill response, said in a statement that under the current regime, ship owners are strictly liable for spills — up to a limit based on the size of the vessel — and all vessels must have insurance for oil pollution damages.

The government also maintains a Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund to compensate Canadians, including businesses and local governments, when costs are beyond what a ship owner covers or when the source is unknown.

In the days following the 2,700-litre fuel leak in Vancouver’s English Bay, Transport Canada claimed the bulk carrier ship the MV Marathassa was the source.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement that the Canadian Coast Guard spent more than $2.4 million in its response to the leak.

That money was repaid by the federal pollution fund after the government and vessel owner “were unable to come to an agreement in a timely manner,” the statement said.

The City of Vancouver said it spent $500,000 on staff salaries, equipment costs and third-party groups to help in the cleanup.

Spokesman Jag Sandhu said the city asked for compensation from the ship’s owner but has since filed a claim with the federal pollution fund.

Peter Ross, a scientist with the Vancouver Aquarium, said roughly $180,000 was spent on environmental testing when little information was being released immediately after the fuel spill.

The aquarium draws water from English Bay, Ross said, and staff were concerned that the fuel posed a risk to its wildlife.

“We basically acknowledged it was going to be expensive but it was really an exceptional circumstance where we couldn’t really worry about the money at that point, we had to know whether our collection was at risk,” he said.

Ross said the tests found fuel reached beaches in Porty Moody, roughly 12 kilometres away, and mussels collected in English Bay had taken up oil.

Ross said the aquarium was negotiating compensation with the owners of the Marathassa and had been offered about 20 cents for every dollar spent, which he called unacceptable.

“These are not damages we’re inventing out of emotional trauma or anything, these are damages associated with direct costs, direct financial outlay and liability associated with the incident,” he said.

Lawyer Peter Swanson, who is representing the vessel, declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations, which he said are confidential.

Alassia NewShips Management Inc., the operator of the Marathassa, also declined to comment.

The Marathassa is facing 10 environment-related charges in B.C. provincial court, including allegations it violated the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environment Protection Act. Hearings are scheduled through to May.

Alassia faces similar charges, but a B.C. Court of Appeal decision earlier this year determined the Greek company has not been properly served a summons, preventing allegations from going ahead.

In Bella Bella, a community of 1,600 people along B.C.’s central coast, the Heiltsuk Nation said it’s still working to recover $150,000 paid out in its response to the spill of 107,000 litres of diesel and 2,240 litres of lubricants from the Nathan E. Stewart in Oct. 2016.

Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett said $100,000 went to resources such as offices, boats and staff while $50,000 went to monitoring and testing at the site.

Slett said the nation was communicating with vessel owners Kirby Offshore Marine, based in Houston, but nothing had been settled.

Kirby did not respond to requests for comment.

Slett said the community continues to feel the effects of the spill, its commercial clam fishery remains closed and they are concerned about other affected species.

“We’re doing some testing with the purpose of understanding the health of the resources and the ecosystem and the safety of consuming the resources,” she said, adding the ocean is considered the nation’s “breadbasket.”

Slett said the Heiltsuk is gathering materials for a possible legal claim against the company.

“We didn’t expect it would take this long and we didn’t expect that there would be issues with them paying for their own costs for a spill they were responsible for in Heiltsuk territory,” she said.

Vancouver lawyer Christopher Giaschi, who specializes in maritime and transportation law, said the two cases appear to be exceptional and the legal framework is effective, with most claims involving small spills resolved within a year.

Transport Canada said in a statement the new Oceans Protection Plan will strengthen the current system by allowing unlimited compensation from the federal pollution fund, amending the tax paid by industry to increase the fund when depleted, and speed up access to that money for responders and communities that need it.

But Ross said the aquarium’s experience has been “demoralizing” and he hopes the incident is not reflective of the shipping industry.

“What does it say about any tanker coming in and out of Vancouver?” he said. “What does it say when we have a 3,000-litre spill and the responsible party fights tooth and nail and then ends up offering one quarter of what the damages are? I don’t know. It’s absolutely beyond me.”

Booze ruling’s trade war impact
The Canadian Press - Apr 19 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling on bringing beer from Quebec into New Brunswick has implications for the trade war between Alberta and B.C. over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Experts say the court seems to be addressing the issue in its decision when it notes that while some trade barriers can be allowed in some circumstances, those designed to punish another province or to protect a local industry would not be permissible.

Howard Anglin, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, says the decision protects provincial liquor monopolies by finding that New Brunswick did have the right to fine Gerard Comeau for buying alcohol in Quebec and transporting it over the border.

But the part of its decision that talks about punitive trade barriers could likely be interpreted to apply to the Alberta’s recent threat to restrict oil and fuel shipments to B.C. and its previous short-lived ban on buying B.C. wine, both designed to pressure B.C. into dropping its opposition to the pipeline.

Shea Coulson, a lawyer who represented five B.C. wineries as interveners in the Supreme Court case, says he thinks the language in the decision suggests the court was thinking about the Trans Mountain dispute.

He says the ruling implies that Alberta’s moves to punish B.C. would likely be found to be unconstitutional.

“I think the judgment goes directly to those sorts of issues,” he said. “And they’re probably unconstitutional. That’s my view.”

No cross-border liquor changes
Okanagan Edge Staff - Apr 19 - BC Biz

Image: CNW Group
Five small B.C. wineries were among interveners in the Supreme Court of Canada case.

The British Columbia Wine Institute and its members say they’re disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on a landmark case dealing with provincial beer and liquor monopolies.

The case, Her Majesty the Queen v. Gerard Comeau, is the result of Comeau’s 2012 arrest after bringing alcohol over the border from Quebec to New Brunswick.

Comeau contested the fine he received for his offence, arguing Sec. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, mandates that all Canadian goods be admitted freely across the country. In December, the country’s highest court heard the case, which had the potential to significantly shake up the country’s liquor industries.

Five Okanagan wineries intervened in the case—along with more than 80 other parties—and argued legal barriers to inter-provincial shipping of Canadian wine have negatively impacted consumer choice and threatening the local wine industry.

This morning, the Supreme Court ruled New Brunswick’s ability to control liquor supplies “would be undermined if non-corporation liquor could flow freely across borders and out of the garages of bootleggers and home brewers,” and upheld the law.

Miles Prodan, the president of the British Columbia Wine Institute, says he’s disappointed with the ruling.

“We’d hoped that the court would have ruled in favour so we’re disappointed but what it tells us is that we are going to have to continue our work with individual provinces and we’ll continue doing that,” he said.

The ruling leaves B.C. on the outside as Canadians increasingly call for direct-to-consumer wine sales across the country.

“The solution is not going to be court imposed it’s going to be our industry working with the other provinces. Consumers clearly have said that they want the right to buy Canadian wine so we have the public on our side, unfortunately, the Supreme Court has decided otherwise,” Prodan added.

He explained that removing the restrictions would have opened the door to allowing consumers to order wine for direct delivery to their home from any Canadian winery, located in any province. He said nine out of ten Canadians believe that kind of direct-to-consumer shipping should be permitted.

“It’s democracy and the rule of law. Hopefully, we’ll be able to deliver B.C. wine to the rest of the country someday soon,” Prodan said.

-With files from Rob Gibson

Trans Mountain ‘untenable’?
The Canadian Press - Apr 19 - BC Biz

Image: Kinder Morgan

The CEO of Kinder Morgan says events in recent days have reinforced his concerns about the viability of the Trans Mountain expansion project.

“It’s become clear this particular investment may be untenable for a private party to undertake. The events of the last 10 days have confirmed those views,” Steve Kean said on a conference call Wednesday.

The political wrangling around the project has significantly escalated since Kinder Morgan halted work earlier this month, saying British Columbia’s obstruction efforts have created too much uncertainty for the company and setting a May 31 deadline to find a resolution.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has responded by pushing to restrict oil shipments to B.C. and promising financial backing for the project, while B.C. Premier John Horgan has stood firm in his opposition. Saskatchewan has also said it will look to restrict oil shipments to B.C.

“We’ve pointed out there are significant differences between governments, and those differences are outside of our ability to resolve,” Kean said on the call.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew back to Ottawa on Sunday to meet with both premiers to try and solve the impasse, but the meeting ended with no clear resolution.

Trudeau said after the meeting that the federal government was prepared to financially back the pipeline, and he had directed Finance Minister Bill Morneau to sit down with the company to discuss the matter.

Kean confirmed on the call that discussions have begun, but said he was not going to make any details public until a definite agreement has been reached or the discussions have ended.

He said the company also continues to meet with stakeholders ahead of the May 31 deadline, and is looking for a way forward for the project.

Kean said investment questions around the Trans Mountain pipeline shouldn’t be taken as a wider comment on investing in Canada.

“We have invested in Canada and British Columbia, as well as Alberta, and we expect to continue investing,” he said.

Booze in grocery stores?
The Canadian Press - Apr 18 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press

The City of Vancouver is moving to allow the sale of liquor in grocery stores.

Councillors voted Tuesday to approve zoning bylaw amendments that will permit grocery stores to sell liquor.

The city says in a news release that qualified grocery outlets will be allowed to sell liquor in a store-within-a-store model, requiring a separate area and cashier for liquor sales.

Approval of the bylaw amendments is the next step to implementing Vancouver’s liquor policy recommendations, which were passed by council almost a year ago.

Specific policies will be presented to council next month and the city says, if approved, grocery stores wishing to sell liquor could apply for a permit by May 14.

Kaye Krishna, Vancouver’s general manager of development, buildings and licensing, says the proposed changes follow extensive consultations about upgrades to the city’s liquor policies.

“These amendments not only balance the public’s request, but also bring our liquor bylaws in line with provincial regulations,” says Krishna.

Can B.C. restrict pipeline?
The Canadian Press - Apr 18 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press

Environment Minister George Heyman says B.C. will take its Trans Mountain pipeline reference case to court by April 30.

Heyman says the government will file its legal action over the issue of jurisdiction in the pipeline dispute in B.C.’s Court of Appeal, the highest court available for such an action. At issue is whether the province has the right to restrict diluted bitumen shipments to the coast on environmental grounds.

He says the details of action and the question or questions it will ask the court to determine are still being worked out by the New Democrat government.

Heyman says if B.C. loses in court, the government will continue to exercise its constitutional jurisdiction to protect the province’s environment and economy from the impacts of an oil products spill.

The pipeline project has been the subject of growing friction in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau summoning the premiers of Alberta and B.C. to Ottawa for talks and Alberta introducing legislation designed to restrict fuel shipments to B.C.

Kinder Morgan, the U.S.-based pipeline builder, announced earlier this month that it was pulling back on spending for the $7.4 billion expansion project and gave Trudeau’s government until May 31 to give a clear signal it will proceed.

Sask. wades into oil fight
The Canadian Press - Apr 17 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

Premier Scott Moe says Saskatchewan will join Alberta in a fight with B.C. over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion by introducing its own legislation on oil exports.

Premier Scott Moe has announced on Twitter that his government will bring in a bill in the coming days that could result in less oil moving to British Columbia.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s government introduced legislation on Monday that would give the province power to unilaterally reduce exports of oil and natural gas.

Moe says in his tweet that if fuel tanks start running dry on the West Coast, Saskatchewan won’t be stepping in to fill them up.

Alberta and B.C. have been at odds over the Trans Mountain project, which was federally approved in 2016 but has been hamstrung by court challenges and permit delays in B.C.

Alberta says the expansion is critical to reduce bottlenecks that cost Canada $40 million a day in lost revenue, but B.C. says it remains concerned about potential oil spills on its waterways and coastline.

Alberta is bluffing: Eby
The Canadian Press - Apr 17 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press
Trans Mountain pipeline protest in Burnaby earlier this month.

British Columbia’s attorney general is calling Alberta’s proposed fuel restriction law a “bluff” that will result in an immediate lawsuit from his province and likely lawsuits from oil companies.

David Eby says their experts have looked at the Alberta legislation tabled yesterday and conclude it’s unconstitutional and against the law.

He says he believes the legislation was intended to never be adopted, but if Premier Rachel Notley’s government does pass the law, then B.C. will immediately apply for an injunction.

Eby adds that he expects oil companies with contracts in B.C. will also be lining up at courthouses to challenge the Alberta law.

The proposed legislation and B.C.’s response are the latest moves in an escalating dispute over the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that runs from Edmonton to Burnaby.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his province will join Alberta in the fight over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion by introducing its own legislation on oil exports.

Eby also says B.C. is expecting to announce shortly that the government has filed a reference case to the courts to determine who has jurisdiction over the pipeline in the province.

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