Victoria’s civic tax grab a threat to local land-use authority

The province is about to impinge on the civic tax base, land-use authority and democracy by using development fees to fund transit and by making increased density zoning a requirement of transit funding. The City of Vancouver and regional mayors are also complicit, in desperation to get their pet megaprojects approved.

Municipalities get only 7% of the tax base; provincial and federal levels of government get 93%. Yet the province still wants more.

The municipal tax base is mainly property taxes. Additional development fees such as development cost levies and community amenity charges help fund civic infrastructure, parks, community centres, libraries and daycare.

The province is considering a tax grab of both property taxes and development fees to pay for provincial responsibilities such as transit.

To ensure this scheme bears fruit, the province is looking at making transit funding dependent on increased density rezoning throughout neighbourhoods where transit stations land. This is what TransLink refers to as the “Hong Kong model.”

The current housing affordability crisis is being blamed on a lack of housing supply, even though the facts do not support this myth.

In the city of Vancouver, there is already ample zoned capacity to meet regional growth to 2041. This has been confirmed by the city’s 2014 consultant report and recently reconfirmed at a public meeting by the city’s new head planner, Gil Kelley.

The city is also approving a record number of new development permits according to a recent city information bulletin that says it is leading the region on permit approvals.

Although we do not have to create more zoning supply in Vancouver to meet regional growth, there may be other reasons to adjust zoning. However, there is no rush and the city can achieve this through proper local area planning without provincial interference.

Darlene Marzari is a former Vancouver councillor and provincial minister of municipal affairs from 1993 to 1996 who established the Livable Region Strategic Plan during her mandate. When asked to comment on this potential provincial move on transit funding, she said, “This would be a travesty. It would clearly be a cash grab of the civic tax base. I am livid about any potential incursion of provincial authority into civic jurisdiction.”

Marzari added, “The housing supply issue is a Trojan Horse being used to deliver a scheme that would make city land-use authority irrelevant, while stripping cities of their tax base. This undermines the civic public hearing process and therefore effectively amounts to selling zoning. It amounts to the slow death of civic democracy.”

Coun. Adriane Carr recently brought forward a motion for Vancouver to write to the province in opposition. Council voted to oppose provincial intrusion into land-use authority such as making transit funding conditional on increased density. However, the Vision Vancouver majority unfortunately voted to direct staff to work on a regional development levy to fund transit.

After being stonewalled by the province for any new provincial or regional funding source for transit, it looks like the mayors are willing to sell out their civic tax base if that is the only way they will get their pet megaprojects built. This is not a sustainable model. Development can’t pay for everything. 

The BC Liberals seem to be pushing a tax grab of civic resources in the lead-up to the provincial election next spring. Ironically, this may prove to be a failed strategy because it certainly is not a vote-getter. 

Elizabeth Murphy ( is a private-sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department and for BC Housing.