BC Liberal govt’s announcement about ‘modernizing’ B.C. taxi industry

British Columbia plans to introduce a series of improvements to help the taxi industry modernize and remain competitive in anticipation of ride-sharing services coming to British Columbia by the holiday season at the end of 2017, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone and Community, Sport and Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender announced today.

“Over the past year, we’ve had some very important conversations with taxi companies and drivers who told us that we need to ensure fairness so they are able to compete effectively with ride sharing providers. This is why we’ve worked so hard to develop these measures, which reflects what I heard through extensive consultations and will allow ride sharing companies to operate, but also allows the taxi industry to be competitive,” said Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender while talking to the ethnic media at Grandtej Banquet hall in Surrey today.

In recognition of the important and long-standing role of the taxi industry in providing passenger transportation services in the province, the government intends to introduce a number of improvements that will ensure a level playing field in B.C. These include:

  • New app-based technology: The Province will invest up to $1 million to help the taxi industry develop an app with the capability of shared dispatch to allow the taxi sector provincewide to better compete with new entrants to the market, and allow the public to hail and pay for a taxi with a smartphone in the same way that they would for a ride-sharing service.
  • Crash prevention technology: ICBC will invest up to $3.5 million in the taxi sector to install crash avoidance technology in all B.C. taxis. This technology will improve passenger safety and help avoid crashes. An ICBC pilot showed that this technology led to a 61% reduction in at-fault, rear-end crashes and a 24% reduction in all crashes.
  • Insurance products: ICBC has been collaborating with the taxi industry to streamline the claims process, and is committed to working with the industry to improve their insurance to make it more flexible and cost effective, which could save taxi drivers significantly. Depending on the number of kilometres they drive, these savings could be in the range of 25%.
  • Reduced red tape: The Province will work with municipal governments and the taxi industry to remove red tape and overlap within the system, which will save drivers money.
  • Exclusive rights to street hailing for taxis: Taxis will retain exclusive rights to be hired by phone, at a taxi stand or flagged down at the curb.
  • Pick-up/drop-off anytime, anywhere: Ride-sharing companies typically operate across municipal boundaries. To ensure a level playing field for the taxi industry, the Province will work with municipalities and other stakeholders to allow all drivers, including taxis, the same access to provide services wherever and whenever a passenger needs a ride.
  • Open up taxi supply: The Province will work with municipalities to address the current shortage of taxis and vehicles for hire, which will provide more choice, accessibility and opportunity for both consumers and drivers.
  • In addition to these improvements, the Province will require the same safety standards for both taxis and ride-sharing providers in order to protect the public and drivers. As part of this, Class 4 licenses will be phased out for taxi drivers, and taxi and ride-sharing companies will be responsible for maintaining records that prove:
    • All drivers have an unrestricted driver’s licence (no graduated licences) and are at least 19 years of age.
    • All drivers have passed a criminal record check for past convictions of violent or sexual offenses as well as other offenses.
    • All drivers have passed a safe driving record check.
    • Vehicles have passed regular mechanical inspections.
    • Finally, the Province will make sure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect consumers through fair and transparent pricing.

      These proposed improvements are the result of extensive feedback and consultation with stakeholders throughout the province, including the taxi and limousine industry, local governments, business associations, accessibility groups, and transportation network companies. Participants told the province they wanted:

      • A fair system that welcomes new companies while ensuring that existing local operators remain competitive and continue to earn a living wage;
      • A regulated system that protects passengers, drivers and their vehicles; and
      • A modernized system that reduces red tape, unnecessary duplication and provides both consumers and drivers with more choice, opportunity and flexibility.

      Beginning this summer, government will seek additional input from taxi drivers, the ride-sharing and taxi industries, police, airports, municipalities, ICBC and RoadSafetyBC as the Province finalizes its plan in time for the 2017 holiday season.

B.C. to bring in 15 per cent real estate tax on foreign buyers in Vancouver to rein in high home prices

The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — Foreign nationals who buy real estate in Metro Vancouver would pay an additional property transfer tax of 15 per cent under legislation introduced Monday by the British Columbia government.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled the tax as part of legislation aimed at addressing low vacancy rates and high real estate prices in southern B.C.
“For example, the additional tax on the purchase of a home selling for $2 million to a foreign national will amount to an additional $300,000,” de Jong told members of the legislature.
The additional tax will take effect Aug. 2 and apply to foreign buyers registering the purchase of residential homes in Metro Vancouver, excluding treaty lands in the Tsawwassen First Nation.
All B.C. residents currently pay a one per cent tax on the first $200,000 of their purchase, two per cent on the remaining value up to $2 million and three per cent on the portion above that.
“The amendments include anti-avoidance rules designed to capture transactions that are structured specifically to avoid the additional tax,” de Jong said.
The money from the additional tax would be used to fund housing, rental and support programs, the minister said.
De Jong said recent government housing data indicate foreign nationals spent more than $1 billion on B.C. property between June 10 and July 14, with 86 per cent on purchases in the Lower Mainland area.
After the bill was introduced, Premier Christy Clark said her government is focused on increasing the housing supply, protecting buyers and sellers and boosting the rental market.
“Today we are taking measures to ensure home ownership remains within reach of the middle class,” she said.
The legislation would also enable the City of Vancouver to amend its community charter in order to levy a vacancy tax.
In May, de Jong said he wasn’t in favour of a tax on foreign investment, saying he worried it would send the wrong message to Asia-Pacific investors.

Does the B.C. gov’t care more about casino cash than casino crime?

BY MICHAEL SMYTH, THE PROVINCE

B.C. government says 105 people with suspected ties to organized crime have been banned from casinos.

More than 100 people have been banned from B.C. casinos over suspected links to organized crime, according to the B.C. Lottery Corp.

It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that this number has been publicly confirmed and comes as the government is suing a Salmon Arm manin an alleged casino money-laundering case.

The government announced a crackdown on rampant money laundering in casinos five years ago, but now the government says money laundering is still happening.

It makes you wonder if the problem is even bigger than the government is willing to admit.

According to the government’s lawsuit, B.C. casinos paid out more than $2 million last year to Michael Mancini.

The government says Mancini was using the casinos to launder drug money. Mancini denies it and says he’s just a lucky guy who won a lot of slot-machine jackpots.

The police stumbled on to the case when they stopped Mancini for suspected drunk driving and found cash, casino cheques and crack cocaine in his car.

Solicitor General Mike Morris said Monday traffic cops make big busts all the time.

“Our traffic police, right across this province, are our front-line resources that uncover all kinds of criminal activity,” Morris said. “We need them out there to continue doing that.”

Fair enough, but how many more suspected money-laundering rackets would have been busted if the government hadn’t scrapped a specialized police unit seven years ago?

The government shut down the Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team in 2009. The specialized unit had a budget of just $1 million — a number that dwarfs the amount the government spends trying to lure gamblers into its casinos.

“Keep in mind the savings here,” NDP critic David Eby told the legislature. “One dollar saved in policing for every $30 the B.C. Lottery Corp. spends on advertising.”

But now the government is hinting that a renewed police crackdown on casino money laundering is coming.

“We are now in the process of finalizing a co-ordinated approach to this question,” said Finance Minister Mike de Jong, adding that a new anti-money-laundering strategy is being developed with the RCMP.

De Jong refused to say how much money will be spent on this new effort, or if the budget will match the one spent on the integrated police team the government shut down.

Whatever the amount, it won’t be enough to retroactively catch criminals who have been haunting B.C. casinos for years.

According to the B.C. Lottery Corp., 105 people have been banned from B.C. casinos over suspected ties to organized crime. With the amount of dirty money sloshing around out there, the number seems low.

The government, though, is making a killing on casino profits, making it reasonable to wonder whether the government cares more about casino cash than casino crime.

B.C. budget offers help to buyers of new homes

Finance Minister Mike De Jong’s budget outlined $47.5 billion in spending for the 2016/17 fiscal year, starting April 1, with a projected $264 million surplus. It’s the fourth consecutive surplus budget for the Liberal government

B.C. budget offers help to buyers of new homes

A truss is lowered into place at a new home construction site on Burke Mountain in Coquitlam.

Photograph by: Jason Payne Jason Payne , PNG

VICTORIA — Premier Christy Clark responded to intense public pressure to fix Metro Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis Tuesday with a budget that offered a tax break on new homes and the promise to start collecting data on foreign buyers.

But real estate, business and academic experts say the modest changes will do little to spur new construction, slow price hikes or help most buyers get into the market.

The changes will see buyers save up to $13,000 from B.C.’s property transfer tax if they purchase a newly built home, condo or townhouse valued under $750,000, as long as they are Canadian residents who live in the home for at least a year. The tax break starts today.

It’s designed to boost the supply of new home construction and give people a helping hand to enter the market, said Finance Minister Mike de Jong. But it won’t cool the market enough for those who say they can’t afford to live in the Lower Mainland.

“If by cool you mean actually reduce the value of people’s major asset, their home, clearly we were not interested in taking that step,” said de Jong.

The tax break will be offset by a one-per-cent increase to the property transfer tax, to three per cent, on luxury homes that sell for more than $2 million.

Critics say the budget amounts to half-measures from a government that’s stuck between not wanting to intervene directly in the housing market and needing to look responsive to public frustration.

“It’s an attempt to try to be seen to be doing something; but lets face it, it’s not going to change affordability in Metro Vancouver very much at all,” said Jim Brander, a professor at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business.

“It is possible to do things — there are big steps that could be taken,” Brander said, pointing as an example to moves in other countries to disallow foreign ownership and perhaps cause losses on people’s real estate investments.

“That would have a big impact, but that’s a huge step that Christy Clark has said, of course, she doesn’t want to take.”

Instead, Brander said, the government is giving a small measure of tax relief to some buyers.

“Relative to the cost of housing, what’s that going to do? Not much.”

Opposition NDP leader John Horgan said the government has made only “cosmetic changes around the edges” on housing and ignored a recent suggestion from university professors to create a B.C. Housing Affordability Fund built upon a 1.5-per-cent real estate surcharge on foreign owners.

There will be years of lag before new homes are built, even though the tax break is an overall good idea, said Cameron Muir, chief economist for the B.C. Real Estate Association.

“It will probably be effective to some extent but I don’t think you’re going to see a dramatic change,” added Ken Peacock, B.C. Business Council’s chief economist. It would be “very difficult” for government to change the housing market prices, he said.

The affordability measures were “helpful but modest,” said Jon Stovell, president at Reliance Properties and the incoming chair of the board at the Urban Development Institute.

“They’re certainly going in the right direction,” Stovell said, noting that about 80 per cent of non-single-family housing sold in the region is under the $750,000 price.

But Stovell said the new luxury tax rate for homes over $2 million was “a little bit disappointing” because the charge could end up being paid by developers purchasing land for new condos or townhomes and then passing on those costs to buyers of individual units.

Even as government sought to cool the housing market, it is enjoying a financial windfall from the property transfer tax it charges on sales. Revenue from that tax has jumped more than 40 per cent above last year’s expectations and is on track to bring in $1.5 billion in the current fiscal year — surpassing the revenue earned by the carbon tax.

Though some analysts continue to blame wealthy foreign buyers as one of the main drivers of rising home prices, the finance minister said he’s yet to see concrete data on how foreign ownership is impacting B.C.’s housing market. De Jong said he’d implement new rules that anyone buying real estate in the province will need to disclose their citizenship or country of residence, but wouldn’t speculate on whether that lays the groundwork for a future tax on foreign ownership or vacant homes.

“Before we were prepared to take a step of that significance we felt obligated to ensure we have better information,” he said.

De Jong said the province would also step up the sharing of information with the federal government, which is also trying to get a handle on foreign real estate investment and the avoidance of taxes.

The housing file was just one example of how Tuesday’s budget was mainly an attempt by the premier to do “political damage control” on high-profile files that she wants to clear off her plate in the run-up to next year’s election, said University of Victoria professor Michael Prince.

That includes $217 million over three years in additional funding for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which has been rocked by several deaths and suicides involving children in care.

“This is an investment in trying to address some of those crises, and I suspect some of them will continue to flare up,” he said.

Next year’s budget, which will land three months before the May provincial election, will likely contain more sweeping and substantive changes to issues like housing affordability and rising Medical Services Plan premiums, said Prince.

Government exempted children from MSP rates in Tuesday’s budget, but once again raised rates for adults, adding hundreds of dollars a year to the costs of many families. A promised overhaul to what the premier has called an “antiquated” and unfair MSP system failed to materialize.

Her government did increase the disability income assistance rate for the first time in nine years, boosting the monthly rate by $77 to $983, effective Sept. 1. But those already receiving bus passes or transit assistance will get a lesser increase. The province’s overall welfare rate did not change, continuing a trend from the premier to target financial relief for certain groups without increasing overall assistance rates for the larger population.

The $47.5-billion 2016/17 budget estimated a projected $264-million surplus in the fiscal year starting April 1.

Education funding remained mostly frozen, while health care spending is set to increase by almost three per cent to $19.6 billion — or 41 per cent of total government spending.

 

Cherries Jubilee! B.C. celebrates record year for cherry exports

British Columbia’s cherry exports  business has had a remarkable increase in 2015, says minister of  Agriculture.

“Today, I am pleased to report in 2015, B.C. cherry exports have increased dramatically from the previous year to 13,600 metric tonnes (56% increase) to a value of $91.7 million (70% increase), says British Columbia’s Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, in his statement regarding 2015 export statistics.

“The data also includes a significant rise in sour cherry exports from $2.7 million in 2014 to $11.2 million in 2015,says  Minister Norm Letnick.  “Focusing on high-value B.C. products like late-season cherries is key to growing the B.C. government’s agrifood sector to a $15-billion-a-year industry by 2020.

“In 2014, I was honoured to lead the B.C. delegation with B.C. cherry industry representatives on a federal trade mission to China that led to full, unimpeded access for fresh cherries into China. As a direct result of our efforts, the export value of fresh, sweet cherries to China has more than doubled from 2014 to 2015, rising from $9.9 million to $24 million.

“We are going to build on this momentum. Thanks to the close working relationship with our provincial cherry industry, we look forward to exploring new opportunities with Pacific Rim countries that recently signed the Trans Pacific Partnership.

“British Columbians have always known about this tasty, sweet fruit from the Okanagan. The secret is out. Together we want to share B.C. cherries with the world.”