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BC tourism still strong
Rob Gibson - Feb 22 - BC Biz

Image: Contributed

British Columbia continues to be a big draw for tourists and business people from around the world.

New numbers from Statistics Canada show a three per cent uptick in visitor arrivals in December 2017 over the same month last year.

In total, over 5.7 million overnight visitors came to the province last year – an increase of 3.3 per cent, or 181,700 visitors, over 2016.

The government attributes the growth, in part, to increased access to B.C. from several key international markets, such as Australia, Germany, Mexico, China and France.

Increased air traffic to Vancouver contributes to the vitality of the tourism industry.

Destination BC, the government’s tourism marketing agency, works with tourism stakeholders throughout B.C. to market British Columbia as a world-class tourist destination.

Increases for 2017 include:

  • Australia – up 20.4 per cent
  • Germany – up 15.4 per cent
  • Mexico – up 12.9 per cent
  • China – up 7.1 per cent
  • United States (excluding same-day visitors) – up 1.9 per cent
Pipeline polarizes Canada
Rob Gibson - Feb 22 - BC Biz

Image: Contributed

A new poll reveals Canadians are virtually split on the current dispute between B.C. and Alberta over pipelines and wine.

The Angus Reid Institute survey says 50 per cent of Canadians are in favour of the pipeline and 50 per cent are opposed, nationally.

Province by province is slightly different not surprisingly Albertans are gung-ho at 82 per cent support while in British Columbia only 42 per cent of those surveyed support the project.

The Kinder Morgan project would nearly triple capacity of the current pipeline system to 890,000 barrels a day.

The survey reveals that political affiliation is a key driver of opinion, with past Conservative Party of Canada voters overwhelmingly taking Alberta’s side. Past Liberal and New Democratic Party supporters are more divided.

When asked which province – B.C., which wants to delay the project for environmental reasons, or Alberta, which wants to avoid delays for economic reasons – is making the more compelling argument, Canadians are evenly split, with 50 per cent saying each province’s government is more persuasive.

The poll’s findings suggest the federal government will have its hands full trying to decide how to proceed on a project half the country disagrees with but already has its approval.

The margin of error in the poll is plus/minus 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Wine industry hits back
Chelsea Powrie - Feb 21 - BC Biz

Image: BC Wine Institute

The BC Wine Institute has officially fired back against Alberta’s wine boycott, challenging the constitutionality of the ban.

The Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission received written notice from the institute Wednesday, declaring action against the Feb. 6 ban on all B.C. wine imports to Alberta.

Miles Prosdan, president and CEO of the BC Wine Institute, said the issue highlights the importance of free trade between provinces.

“We believe it is unconstitutional to prohibit the import of Canadian goods into another province based solely on where they come from. All Canadians should be concerned, because if wine can be prohibited based on its province of origin, so can any product from any other province,” Prodan said.

There are 276 wineries and 923 grape growers in the B.C. wine industry, and they employ over 12,000 people.

In a press release Wednesday, the institute called for free interprovincial trade between provinces across Canada, claiming current standards allowed them to be “unfairly” targeted by provincial governments for political reasons.

This particular ban hits home for B.C. wineries, due to the importance of Alberta tourism on the industry. One million tourists visited B.C. wineries in 2015, according to an industry study, generating $452 million for the provincial economy.

“The B.C. wine industry has always had a strong and positive relationship with Albertans. Many visit our wineries each year and our wines have long been appreciated by consumers,” Prodan said.

“Our provinces share a long history of collaboration, strong economic ties, resilience, and pride for the products we grow. Because of the ban, that friendship is being tested.”

B.C. budget highlights
The Canadian Press - Feb 20 - BC Biz

Image: Government of British Columbia

Highlights of British Columbia’s 2018-19 budget presented Tuesday:

  • Effective Wednesday, a tax on foreign homebuyers increases by $5,000 to $20,000 and expands from Metro Vancouver to include homes in the Victoria-area, the Fraser Valley, the central Okanagan district in the province’s Interior, and the Nanaimo Regional District.
  • A new speculation tax will be introduced in the fall aimed at foreign and domestic homeowners who don’t pay taxes in B.C., affecting properties in Metro Vancouver, the Victoria area, Fraser Valley, Nanaimo Regional District, Kelowna and West Kelowna.
  • The property transfer tax on homes with a fair market value of more than $3 million increases to five per cent from three per cent.
  • More than $6 billion will be spent over the next 10 years to create 114,000 housing units for families, seniors, students and women and children escaping domestic violence.
  • Medical service plan premiums will be eliminated on Jan. 1, 2020, saving an individual up to $900 a year and families up to $1,800 annually.
  • Starting Jan. 1, 2019, employers with payrolls of more than $500,000 will pay a new employer health tax, which is forecast to raise $1.9 billion in revenue in 2019-20.
  • Beginning April 1, funding will be provided to licensed care providers to provide a $350 a month cut in the cost of a child care space.
  • A new affordable child care benefit will start in September providing up to $1,250 a month per child.
  • An additional $1 billion will be spent over the next three years to expand access to licensed child care, which the province says is part of its plan to create more than 22,000 new spaces.
  • Fares will be frozen on BC Ferries’ three major routes and fares will be cut by 15 per cent on small routes.
  • A forecast surplus of $219 million, with projections for surpluses to continue through the 2020-21 fiscal year.
  • The government estimates it will spend $53.6 billion in the next fiscal year, up from an updated forecast of $51.8 billion for 2017-18.
  • Economic growth for 2018 is forecast at 2.3 per cent, down from 3.4 per cent in 2017.
Okanagan Foreign buyers tax
The Canadian Press - Feb 20 - BC Biz

Image: Government of B.C.

B.C. moved to ease the housing crisis Tuesday with a new tax on property speculators and higher taxes on foreign homebuyers with a budget that plans to create 114,000 affordable housing units over the next decade.

Finance Minister Carole James said the tax measures are part of the government’s aim to improve housing affordability in markets where some seniors are forced to live in their vehicles and young professionals are refusing to take jobs in B.C. because they can’t find a place to live.

“We can’t fix the housing crisis overnight, but we can act,” said James. “A budget is more than revenue and expenses. A budget is about people. It’s about the kind of communities we want and the kind of future we want.”

Easing the financial pinch felt by families was a recurring theme in the first full budget brought in by the NDP since it came to power last summer.

“We live in a province rich in people, resources, natural beauty and opportunities,” James said in her budget speech. “Yet those opportunities have become further and further out of reach for many.”

The speculation tax will come in later this year, targeting foreign and domestic buyers who do not pay B.C. income tax in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Victoria-area, Nanaimo Regional District, Kelowna and West Kelowna.

The foreign buyers tax jumps from 15 to 20 per cent on Wednesday and will be expanded beyond Metro Vancouver to include much of southern Vancouver Island, the Central Okanagan and the Fraser Valley.

“Our goal is fairness,” said James. “This is a major step to end speculation in our marketplace. We’re asking those who benefited from high prices to give a little bit back.”

The government will also eliminate medical services premiums on Jan. 1, 2020, saving individuals up to $900 annually and families $1,800. It will be replaced with a new payroll tax on employers, although those with payrolls under $500,000 will be exempt.

James described the government’s plan to invest more than $1 billion in child care as historic for B.C. The money will help create more than 22,000 spaces and offer monthly benefits of $1,250 to 86,000 families.

James said despite a shortfall of more than $1 billion at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and the high cost of fighting last year’s wildfires, the budget is forecast to have a surplus of $219 million for 2018-19.

Economic growth is forecast at 2.3 per cent this year and the jobless rate of 5.1 per cent last year was the lowest in Canada.

“The budget is balanced in its approach and it’s fiscally balanced,” James said. “It makes a historic investment to take care of children. It takes bold steps to tackle the housing crisis.”

The government is allocating more than $6 billion over the next 10 years to create 114,000 housing units for families, seniors and students.

It is also promising to spend $1 billion over the next three years as part of a plan to create another 22,000 licensed child care spaces.

Despite the additional spending, the government is forecasting a surplus of $219 million for this fiscal year.

Details on new housing tax
The Canadian Press - Feb 20 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press

B.C. is raising its foreign buyers tax and expanding it to areas outside of Vancouver, while bringing in a new tax on speculators, as part of a sweeping plan to improve affordability in the province’s overheated housing market.

The New Democrat government unveiled a 30-point housing plan in its first full budget on Tuesday that also increases the property transfer tax and school tax on homes over $3 million, and invests $6 billion in building 114,000 affordable homes over the next decade.

“Our intent is to bring stability to housing prices with these changes and have revenues to invest in building affordable housing,” said Finance Minister Carole James.

“We recognize these are bold actions. But that’s what B.C.’s housing crisis demands.”

The previous Liberal government introduced a 15 per cent tax on homes purchased by foreigners in the Metro Vancouver area in 2016. Sales of detached homes slowed for several months but prices did not fall.

The minority NDP government will increase the tax to 20 per cent and expand it to the Fraser Valley, central Okanagan, the Nanaimo Regional District and the Victoria-area.

The changes to the foreign buyers tax take effect on Wednesday.

The speculation tax will be introduced this fall. The new annual property tax will target foreign and domestic homeowners who do not pay income tax in B.C, including those who leave homes vacant. So-called satellite families, or households with high foreign incomes that pay little provincial income tax, will also have to pay the tax.

Principal residences and long-term rentals will generally be exempt, meaning the majority of B.C. homeowners will not pay the tax, James said.

“This is a major important step to end speculation in our market,” she said. “This tax will penalize people who have been parking their capital in our housing market simply to speculate, driving up prices and removing rental stock.”

In 2018, the tax will be $5 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. In 2019, the tax rate will rise to $20 per $1,000 of assessed value. It will initially apply to Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Victoria-area, the Nanaimo Regional District, Kelowna and West Kelowna.

The government says it’s closing real estate loopholes that allow people to skirt tax laws. It’s building a database on pre-sale condo assignments that it will share with tax authorities in an effort to ensure people who sell and resell contract assignments are paying the appropriate taxes.

The plan also addresses supply through what the government says is the largest investment in housing affordability in B.C. history — more than $6 billion over 10 years to deliver 114,000 homes. That includes more than 14,000 rental units for middle-income people, students, and women and children fleeing violence; 1,750 units for Indigenous people and 2,500 homes for the homeless.

The plan includes help for renters, with commitments to increase a grant for elderly renters and a program that helps low-income families.

The government says it’s working with municipalities to develop new tools, such as rental-only zoning, and creating a new office through BC Housing to partner with non-profits and developers to build affordable homes.

Recent statistics from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver show the average price of a detached home was $1.6 million and the average price of an apartment was $665,400. Vacancy rates for renters are at one per cent or lower in most cities across B.C., including Victoria and Kelowna.

B.C. wine war – so what?
The Canadian Press - Feb 20 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press
Deron Bilous, Alberta economic development minister

Alberta’s economic development minister is shrugging off a legal challenge filed by British Columbia over Alberta’s ban on wine from that province.

On Monday, B.C. announced it is invoking dispute settlement of the wine ban under Canada’s free-trade agreement. The mechanism calls for four months of consultation and, if that doesn’t work, an arbitration panel takes over.

Deron Bilous says Alberta won’t participate in consultations unless B.C. reverses its decision to refuse additional oil from Alberta while it studies spill safety.

It’s a move Alberta says could effectively kill expansion of Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

Alberta faces a maximum fine of $5 million if it is found to have violated Canadian trade rules.

Bilous says that’s a pittance compared with the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs Canada is losing because of the lack of pipeline access.

Alberta’s crude oil sells at a sharp discount on the North American market due to pipeline bottlenecks and to a lack of access to a better price on overseas markets.

BC budget day is here
The Canadian Press - Feb 20 - BC Biz

Image: CTV

It’s budget day in B.C. and New Democrat Finance Minister Carole James says her financial plan will look much different than those put forward by the previous Liberal government.

James bucked tradition yesterday, opting to read a children’s book to three- and four-year-olds at a child-care centre instead of buying a new pair of shoes.

She says for 16 years the former Liberal government didn’t share the wealth, but that will change with this budget.

Last week, the government’s throne speech promised historic investments in both housing and child care, aimed at making life more affordable for B.C. residents.

James wouldn’t say if her budget will be balanced, but the government has already spent big money on election promises such as dropping tolls on two Metro Vancouver bridges, and financial difficulties at the publicly owned Insurance Corp. of B.C. could create financial pressure.

Late last year, James forecasted a reduced surplus of $190 million for the fiscal year, with 2.9 per cent economic growth.

Wine war trade challenge
Jon Manchester - Feb 19 - BC Biz

Image: BC Wine Institute

B.C. is challenging Alberta’s ban on its wines through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement.

Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston announced the move Monday.

The challenge will be made through the CFTA dispute settlement process.

“B.C.’s wine industry is an important contributor to our economy, creating good jobs and other economic benefits,” Ralston said in a press release. “We’re standing by our wine producers and the communities that rely on this important industry by launching a formal trade dispute, and we are confident we will be successful.”

It will be the first formal dispute to occur under the new CFTA.

“Alberta’s actions threaten the livelihood of the families that have worked so hard to build B.C.’s world-class wine industry,” Ralston said. “These actions are inconsistent with Alberta’s obligations under the CFTA, and we will protect our reputation and the interests of British Columbians.”

The province is also expanding opportunities for small and medium producers to get their products on B.C. liquor store shelves, and additional funding is being provided to market B.C. VQA wines to new international markets.

B.C appeals Trans Mountain
The Canadian Press - Feb 19 - BC Biz

Image: The Canadian Press
Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s Westeridge loading dock

British Columbia’s government is appealing a decision that allows Kinder Morgan Canada to bypass local regulations in constructing its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The National Energy Board ruled in December that the company is not required to comply with two sections of the City of Burnaby’s bylaws on land and tree clearances.

Kinder Morgan had argued the bylaws were unconstitutional because they hindered its ability to go ahead with the federally approved project.

The provincial government said in a statement Saturday that it has filed leave to appeal the board’s ruling with the Federal Court of Appeal.

“The province’s position is that the NEB erred by too broadly defining federal jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines,” the statement said.

Trans Mountain did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the appeal.

Kinder Morgan issued a statement in December saying that it was pleased with the board’s decision “as it reinforces our view this federally approved project is in the national interest.”

The City of Burnaby announced Friday that it, too, wants to appeal the decision, saying the company should be required to comply with all municipal bylaws.

The city also wants to appeal an energy board ruling that found Burnaby’s timeline for issuing permits represented an “unreasonable delay.”

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has previously expressed staunch opposition to the project and called the board’s ruling on the bylaw issue flawed.

He said the Trans Mountain expansion was going through the same application process as others, and that the energy board had chosen to exempt the project from the important requirement despite potential environmental, social and financial consequences.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman has also previously expressed dismay over the decision, saying he was “angry on behalf of British Columbians.”

B.C. is also locked in a dispute with Alberta and the federal government over Trans Mountain’s future after Premier John Horgan’s government announced it is looking at limiting shipments of diluted bitumen from the west coast, pending a review of spill-safety measures.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said such restrictions would be “unconstitutional” and would effectively kill the $7.4-billion project, which the province deems critical to getting a better price for its oil.

Notley has banned wine imports from B.C., ended talks of buying energy from the province and struck a committee to look at further retaliatory measures.

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