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Province to review port tax regime amid business concerns

The province may soon be changing tax laws the District of North Vancouver has warned are threatening industry.

The province may soon be changing tax laws the District of North Vancouver has warned are threatening industry.

The Ministry of Finance has alerted the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, all of the waterfront industrial businesses and the municipalities that host port properties that the Ports Competitiveness Initiative is now up for review.

The goal is “to make sure that it’s still meeting the needs of British Columbians,” according to North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma.

The previous government set up the initiative as a temporary measure in 2004 in hopes it would spur port export facilities to invest in infrastructure. It gave the province the power to cap municipal taxes and property assessments on certain properties.

“But it had set the maximum municipal tax rates and proscribed land values based on 2006, plus inflation. Well, we all know what’s been happening to property values in the time since,” Ma said. “What we ended up with is an extreme dichotomy between both the assessed land values and tax rates of capped versus uncapped properties.”

Ma said she was contacted by Allied Shipbuilding after their municipal taxes shot up from $181,000 in 2017 to $570,000 in 2019, thanks to rising property assessments. At the same time, capped businesses that include Fibreco, Western Stevedoring and Kinder Morgan have seen their tax bills go down as the burden of the industrial tax is shifted more and more onto the uncapped properties.

The DNV and the City of Prince Rupert have been particularly hard hit because of the large percentage of industrial land protected by the cap, Ma said.

But, Ma added, the province does not want to stifle trade through the port.

“I think that’s why this review is so important and why the finance ministry has a challenge ahead of them. The economic importance of our ports can’t be overstated and we need to support their success but at the same time, the current model is clearly impacting other businesses in the District of North Vancouver and the municipality has expressed it feels like its hands are tied and they can’t manage the situation under the current program,” she said. “Ultimately, any tax program needs to benefit the public as a whole and on balance.”

The port issued a statement in response to the ministry’s review.

“The port authority recognizes and appreciates the provincial government’s continued support for B.C.’s Pacific gateway. We support the principle of continuous improvement and the regular review of legislation, and look forward to providing input with a goal to ensure B.C.’s ports remain competitive,” it read.

The port stakeholders have until June 14 to tell the province they wish to be part of the review. There is no timeline attached to the review, Ma said.