The on-again, off-again meeting for Vancouver-Point Grey residents to give their MLA an earful over the NDP government’s new property surtax is on again.
But it has spawned another controversy.
David Eby, who is also the Attorney General, cancelled a May 1 town hall at St. James Community Hall. BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson had encouraged anyone to attend who was upset with paying 0.2% more on the value of a property over $3 million or another 0.4% over the $4 million threshold.
Eby feared volunteer ushers would be overwhelmed by a crowd beyond the venue’s regulated capacity, so he vowed to reschedule the event at a bigger site. Opponents protested anyway, later that day at Trimble Park.
Last week, Eby announced a June 4 meeting at the larger Hellenic Community Centre on Arbutus. But those who had tickets to the cancelled May 1 event weren’t given the courtesy of first chance to sign-up for tickets for the new meeting. Instead they’re stuck on a waiting list and Eby is accused of populating the June 4 meeting in his favour. Eby said constituents on his office’s general email list were notified of the new event and it was promoted on social media.
“I know that the anti-school tax people distributed it to their list too, in the first 12 hours of the sign-up I noticed, staff noticed, there were a lot of people from the anti-school tax group signing up,” Eby said in an interview.
Those on the waiting list can get in front of Eby sooner, by attending the May 27 West Point Grey Residents Association (WPGRA) forum on the tax at Jericho Hill School.
“There’s not one, but, in fact two events where people can come and attend. One event is being run entirely by a third party so I’m not sure how we would restrict that to NDP supporters,” Eby said.
A March 27 WPGRA letter to Eby and Premier John Horgan said the additional school tax contravenes the NDP’s stated goal to make life more affordable for British Columbians. The residents complained that a property’s assessed value has no relationship to the owner’s ability to pay. Deferral isn’t a solution, they contend, because that is only delaying debt.
The association also issued a subtle warning to Eby and Horgan: cancel the tax or risk defeat. “The Vancouver-Point Grey riding would be substantially affected and it would undermine Mr. Eby’s seat and the government’s slim majority.”
The tax has proven so unpopular that ex-NDP premier Mike Harcourt told theBreaker that Horgan should rethink it. Pressure from Westsiders in 1993 caused Harcourt’s administration to cancel a similar tax. Harcourt said the Westside already pays a disproportionate amount of school tax and the new surtax would hit longtime residents who are seniors especially hard.
Coincidentally, one of Horgan’s cabinet members, Minister of State for Trade George Chow, is subject to a hefty tax increase, because he has a $5.085 million house in the Vancouver-Fairview riding.
If anything, Eby is now more of a lightning rod than he was on May 1. Lower Mainlanders upset with the NDP government see Eby, not finance minister Carole James, as the de facto deputy premier. The BC Liberals are using the property tax controversy as the first step in a campaign to regain the riding once held by former premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark. BC Liberal director of operations Kavi Bal has been involved in project management, advice, media messaging and training of surtax opponents.
BC Liberals still haven’t forgotten about Eby’s role as dragonslayer. He dealt the party its only blow on the night of the 2013 election when Clark lost her own seat. She then sought an easy riding in Kelowna, but never fulfilled a promise to get a residence there. Instead she became known as the “Duchess of Dunbar” for moving to a house owned by a party supporter in Dunbar. She was eventually embarrassed into eschewing charter jet flights to the Okanagan for photo ops.
Eby has the most-difficult tasks in the Horgan government, and is ruffling feathers among those who enjoyed the Clark Clique’s laissez faire approach. He is trying to bring back a sense of law and order after it took a backseat under predecessor Suzanne Anton, who turned a blind eye to money laundering in casinos and the real estate market. Eby is charged with rescuing ICBC, which could mean substantially less business for lawyers, of which Vancouver-Point Grey has many. He is also the minister overseeing the upcoming referendum on proportional representation.
Even those within the NDP tent, upset with Horgan’s decision to green light Site C, have found their way to Eby’s door.
“People will travel from across the province to come to events held by the attorney general to talk to me about issues they are concerned about, maybe their own case, maybe a government policy, and how do we balance that with being open and available to constituents?” Eby said.
“This new [June 4] event will be an experiment in trying to ensure that continued openness and availability to constituents, and also recognizing there will be protesters, everybody from trial lawyers to people concerned about Site C to people concerned about the school tax and I need to be available to my constituents about the work the government is doing around improving access to housing and dealing with homelessness and dealing with the housing crisis. It’s a work in progress and we’re trying to figure out a way to preserve the best parts of the openness we’ve enjoyed, while recognizing that the attorney general’s office I hold now attracts a whole different level of scrutiny and attention.”
Attention that can only become more intense, as the next scheduled provincial election in 2021 approaches.
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