Taxes, LNG and housing figure in BC Chamber of Commerce’s new policy resolutions

The BC Chamber of Commerce's new policy resolutions include boosting the province's liquefied natural gas industry and adjusting the proposed Employer Health Tax

Credit: Darla Furlani Photography

BC Chamber of Commerce members vote on a policy resolution

Recommendations include boosting the province’s liquefied natural gas industry and adjusting the proposed Employer Health Tax

It took some doing—and some arguing—but the BC Chamber of Commerce passed 54 resolutions at its annual general meeting in Kamloops last weekend.

The AGM, hosted by the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce, drew more than 200 delegates from around the province. BCBusiness, a media partner of the Chamber, attended the three-day event, whose guest speakers included B.C. Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Carole James and Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s environment minister.

The business and economic resolutions covered everything from housing and liquefied natural gas to electoral reform and the provincial government’s proposed Employer Health Tax, which provoked much grumbling at the AGM.

Many of the resolutions passed “with passionate debate, and multiple amendments from the floor to make the final policies stronger and more impactful,” said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the BC Chamber. “This level of debate from our members across B.C. underscores how engaged our network is—and how dedicated they are to setting a strong and strategic advocacy agenda for the BC Chamber of Commerce.”

For the full list of policy resolutions, click here. Among those passed:

Improving apprenticeship completion rates
The BC Chamber recommends that the provincial government: 

“1. Discontinue certification of modular [the redesignation of trades into modularized subtrades] in training; and

2. Realign with the certification practices of the rest of Canada accompanied by using a clear framework for the review of trades with an effective compliance and enforcement policy, based on evidence-based analysis and input from industry.”

Engaging business and community on electoral reform
The BC Chamber recommends that the provincial government:

“1. Appoint a non-partisan panel on the likely outcomes of an alternative system prior to issuing a referendum, comparable to the previous Citizens’ Assembly, examining the implications of the proportional representation being considered, particularly, its implications on rural/urban divide, measures to avoid corruption and ‘backroom deals,’ and whether the system promotes greater loyalty to parties rather than the region the MLA represents;

2. Clearly define the system of proportional representation that is being considered, well in advance of any referendum; and

3. Confirm that no changes will be implemented unless there is a clear majority overall and the referendum is supported in each riding.”

Supporting a globally competitive liquefied natural gas industry in B.C.
The BC Chamber recommends that the provincial and federal governments:

“1. Ensure that proposed LNG projects can be reviewed and approved in a time frame that competes with other jurisdictions;

2. Examine B.C.’s fiscal structure for LNG projects in comparison to other LNG jurisdictions to ensure that B.C. LNG is competitive in the global market; and

3. Provide a context of certainty and stability of process including respect for past approval decisions, clarification of First Nations rights and strong enforcement to prevent obstructions by opposing parties.”

Pressing the pause button on B.C.’s proposed speculation tax
The BC Chamber recommends that the provincial government:

“1. Scrap the tax altogether, as ill-conceived, punitive, damaging to business and devised without an economic impact study;

2. Clarify through detailed economic data how housing will be made more accessible and affordable as a result of this type of taxation policy;

3. Postpone implementation of the proposed speculation tax in the cities of Nanaimo, Kelowna and West Kelowna until at least 2019, to allow for the completion of economic impact studies to determine if the new tax will actually achieve its desired outcome of making housing more affordable;

4. Work with the Union of BC Municipalities, local government officials and economic development agencies to examine the situation in the cities of Nanaimo, Kelowna and West Kelowna to better understand what is impacting housing attainability and more fully explore tax incentives or public policy changes to encourage development of non-market and rental housing;

5. Monitor supply-demand through 2018 to see if the significant amount of housing that is poised to come on the market in the cities targeted for this punitive tax improves the availability of attainable housing and rental stock; and

6. Establish clear parameters and key performance indicators that will be used as a tool to determine whether implementation of a speculation tax will take place so as to ensure it is a temporary measure that will be removed if local indicators/conditions improve.”

Progressive housing solutions to address workforce challenges
The BC Chamber recommends that the provincial government work with local governments to:

“1. Set density requirements for development;

2. Pre-zone for transit-oriented development during the planning process for new rapid transit investments;

3. Implement density bonus zoning wherever possible and appropriate to encourage diversity and density;

4. Prioritize and mandate the collection of information, in partnership with local levels of government to:
     a. Identify local market gaps in housing supply and diversity;
     b. Provide a means to compare timelines for development across regions; and

5. Meaningfully reduce development timelines through concurrent permitting for housing types that introduce affordable and diverse housing supply by speeding up the process of enabling supply in the market.”

Minimizing undue negative effects of the Employer Health Tax
The BC Chamber recommends that the provincial government adjust the Employer Health Tax by:

“1. Postponing the date of implementation of the Employer Health Tax to 2020 so it coincides with the removal of MSP premiums; or establish a process to allow businesses and non-profit organizations which pay MSP premiums on behalf of their employees to apply for an exemption or reduction in their employer health tax obligations;

2. Increasing the base payroll exemption threshold from $500,000 to at least $1 million to allow for more true small businesses and small non-profit organizations to be exempted from the tax;

3. Ensuring the Employer Health Tax rates are applied marginally, so that the amount of the base payroll exemption (at least $1 million is proposed) is exempt regardless of the total size of the overall payroll, and that as each threshold is passed the higher tax rate is applied only to the incremental amount above the cut-off; and

4. Indexing the payroll exemption thresholds to inflation by linking annual increases in the thresholds to the Consumer Price Index.”