Speculation tax doesn’t go far enough, Burnaby councillor says

By Drew Penner

Burnaby councillor Nick Volkow is newly single. His life changed forever when his wife passed away a year-and-a-half ago.

In recent days he’s been pondering the next steps in his own life. But the 22-year Council veteran has also been growing increasingly alarmed at the state of affairs, not just for people in his suburb, but all along the Pacific.

“The housing market here is completely off the hook,” he said. “The sense of community is being lost in all our cities.”

After the provincial government tried to put a damper on skyrocketing house values and rampant home flipping through new real estate taxes, ThinkPol wanted to look beyond the edges of the City of Vancouver, to hear reaction from elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

When we got the chance to speak with Volkow, we heard a man with deep community knowledge attempting to raise the alarm about forces that are eroding the things he loves most about his hometown[1]https://www.burnaby.ca/Our-City-Hall/Mayor—Council/Council-Profiles/Councillor-Nick-Volkow.html.

“Along the whole West Coast basically what’s happening is people are coming in from off shore,” he said, referring to the flight of capital from China and elsewhere from investors seeking to diversify their assets as a hedge against a slowing economy. “The Chinese government is freaked out about it.”

Though its existence dates back to 1892, Burnaby didn’t achieve city status until it turned 100[2]https://www.burnaby.ca/About-Burnaby/About/History.html.

It’s a place where still close to half (43%) say they’re Christian, while more than a third of the population is Chinese. Its own growth had jumped into the double digits in the late aughts, before slowing somewhat. It’s put some of the opportunities Volkow experienced over his lifetime into jeopardy for the next generation.

“Young people cannot get into the market,” he said. “There’s no easier way to say it.”

He fears a San Francisco-style housing crunch worsening, and knows just how tempting it can be to sell a home in this market before the bubble bursts.

“What’s causing this in the Lower Mainland is offshore money, foreign investment money, mainly coming form mainland China,” he said. “They launder the money through the casinos and purchase properties at completely stratospheric rates.”

When speaking about the housing market he echoes concerns you hear often in other industrial sectors, where many analysts say Canada gets a raw deal for materials, since we ship products elsewhere to be refined or manufactured into consumer goods.

“People in Canada say we’re selling the country out,” he said, referring to our housing supply. “We’re giving it away for nothing.”

I ask him if he’s ever been accused of being racist, considering he’s not shy when it comes to blaming Greater Vancouver’s ills on folks from China trying to live the Canadian dream.

“They tried to shut me up by using that argument a few years ago,” he said. “They threw out the Race Card.”

He says he’s never had a problem with anyone of another race, describing his interactions with lower-class immigrants who he remembers living down by the river. He says the need for a crackdown is a legitimate one.

“The man and women in the street have seen this stuff going on for years long before any of the regulatory agencies that should be looking out for our interests,” he said. “The Race Card being thrown at me has never ever shut me up.”

Offshore investors may bristle at the thought of taxes like the provincial NDP’s speculation levy introduced in the February budget. But Volkow doesn’t. Actually, he believes they could have been even more strict, considering the magnitude of the affordability crisis.

“The speculation tax has put a little damper on it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s high enough personally.”

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.burnaby.ca/Our-City-Hall/Mayor—Council/Council-Profiles/Councillor-Nick-Volkow.html
2. https://www.burnaby.ca/About-Burnaby/About/History.html