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

Just Posted

‘It affects everybody:’ Trudeau’s brownface photos worry Wet’suwet’en chief

Skeena-Bulkley Valley Liberal candidate declines to comment on prime minister’s indiscretion

Upper Skeena Recreation Centre evacuated after ammonia leak detected

The leak was related to refrigerators responsible for ice maintenance of the skating rink

B.C. offers early retirement, training fund for forest workers

Communities eligible for $100,000 for permanent closures

WATCH: Jessica Patrick’s cousin Jacquie Bowes speaks at the Jessica Patrick Memorial March

The march commemorated the one-year anniversary of the 18-year-old’s unsolved death

VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

Liberal leader says he never spoke about the racist photo because he was embarrassed

Legislature gifts, clothing, travel need better control, B.C. auditor says

Audit follows suspensions of managers by Speaker Darryl Plecas

‘Unacceptable’: What politicians have to say about Trudeau in blackface

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: ‘When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker-punch’

‘He’s trying to kill me’: Victoria police commandeer boats to reach screaming woman

No charges laid and civilians to be awarded honours after incident on Gorge Waterway

VIDEO: B.C. man accused of assaulting sex worker loses temper in interrogation

Defence lawyer says statements made by accused Curtis Sagmoen should be deemed inadmissible

John Horgan promises action after fatal mid-Island bus crash

Premier cites students, local Indigneous community as reason to repair the road

Teens charged in stabbing death of B.C. man in strip mall parking lot

Two youths, aged 15 and 16, charged in Aug. 16 killing of South Surrey’s Paul Prestbakmo

Forestry watchdog warned B.C. government about Bamfield Road in 2008

Ombusman’s specific concerns re-surface in wake of bus crash that killed two students

Photos surface of Conservative candidate at B.C. event with people in blackface

The controversial “Black Peter” character has been a feature at Sinterklaas celebrations

Most Read