COLUMN: More rigourous vetting of tax exemptions should be on the table

In his column, Thom argues in support of a more vigorous system for vetting tax exemptions.

There are few things more difficult than examining your own prejudices, but I found myself doing just that recently after chatting with Coun. Greg Brown about permissive tax exemptions.

These are generally granted on lands and improvements used by not-for-profit organizations, recreation clubs, places of worship, private schools, hospitals and senior care facilities that demonstrably contribute to the “spiritual, educational, social, cultural and physical well-being of the community,” according to the Town’s policy.

In essence, they amount to a public subsidy of entities that are deemed to serve the greater good.

The buildings and footprints of places of worship, private schools, hospitals and senior facilities are exempt by statute, but exemptions for other lands and improvements are subject to the discretion of council.

LAST WEEK: By the numbers, community matters

Senior government institutions are also exempt, but the feds and province pay a grant-in-lieu of taxes to the municipality on their properties.

Other organizations have to apply every three years and, basically, prove their charitable or not-for-profit status and their worth to the community in the furtherance of the public interest.

Council recently rubber-stamped all but two of 43 applications for the next three-year cycle (2020-2022) of exemptions totalling approximately $317,000.

In light of the infrastructure crunch facing municipalities everywhere, it is high time we started to have a serious public conversation about these exemptions.

I have always subscribed to a firmly-held position that churches should be universally taxed.

I used to be able to make a cogent and detailed argument for that position, but it has been a long time so I set out to do my due diligence and research it again. In doing so, I recognized it was a position that was, shall we say, uncharitable and borne as much from prejudice as anything else.


Would that we could shine so brightly

No-fee, expedited pardons are not enough

What continues to bother me, however, is that the exemption is mandated. This stems from age-old assumptions that the advancement of religion is inherently a good thing for society in general and that places of worship are inherently a benefit to communities specifically.

I am not convinced either of those assumptions are valid and think, at the very least, they should be carefully re-examined.

I am willing to be convinced, however, that churches are worthy of their exemptions, but we should not just assume they are. The churches should have to play by the same rules as everybody else.

Smithers council can’t do anything about the statutory part, except lobby senior levels of government to change the law, which they should.

They can, however, if warranted, deny the permissive part of the exemption, which is something we ought to be looking at seriously in the future and not just accepting the status quo.

Other jurisdictions have already taken the step of using a more rigorous approach to evaluating churches’ eligibility for exemptions beyond the portions of their properties that are actually used for public worship.

There are five municipalities in B.C., including the City of Vancouver, that do not automatically extend permissive tax exemptions to religious organizations according to B.C. Humanist Association data. The District of Saanich is currently considering instituting a “public benefits test.”

In 2018, Nova Scotia’s property tax assessment department inspected 40 churches that have fee-based daycares and stripped almost half of their tax exemptions.

The City of Montreal has been doing it since 2015.

I am not saying we should strip the local churches of their exemptions, but it should be open to public discussion.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wet’suwet’en herreditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs optimistic ahead of talks

Discussions with provincial and federal governments expected to start later today

‘The project is proceeding’: Horgan not backing down from support of Coastal GasLink

B.C. premier speaks as talks scheduled with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

RCMP cease patrols on Morice West Service Road

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

Clothing, jewelry, purses: RCMP ask court about disposal of evidence in Robert Pickton case

Pickton was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of six women

Ryan nets hat trick in return as Senators beat Canucks 5-2

Ottawa winger received assistance for admitted alcohol problem

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

MPs to examine privacy implications of facial-recognition technology used by RCMP

The MPs will look at how the technology affects the privacy, security and safety of children

Dates back to 2009: Calgary police lay charges in fraud involving semi-trucks

Three people from Calgary are facing charges that include fraud over $5,000

BREAKING: Kelowna RCMP to further investigate 12 sexual assault cases, create sexual assault unit

Recommendations come five months after it was revealed 40% of sexual assaults were deemed ‘unfounded’

Explicit Greta sticker linked to Alberta company draws outrage

The sticker includes the logo of Red Deer-based X-Site Energy Services

Share Now, formerly Car2Go, leaves Canada with valuable data in changing market: expert

Vancouver was its largest market in North America, with more than 300,000 customers

Most Read