Why your vote does count

While they say the only poll that matters is on election day, when voters get to decide their next government, polls at least give an indication of who is most likely to form the government.

The Progressive Conservatives were well out front with a week to go when this column was written. But, time will tell!

Some of the pledges and policies put forth by the four provincial parties can benefit homeowners, if they are ever implemented.

Let’s start with the PCs. Nothing automatically jumps out as targeting homeowners, though, in fairness, if they can improve the province’s performance in job creation, lower taxes and make Manitoba a more attractive province in which to invest, it stands to reason homeownership should benefit.

The partnership theme to work more closely with business and other Western provinces would pay dividends towards a better alignment with other provinces that make homeownership a possibility for first-time buyers. Why?

Recent national surveys from banks and real estate firms show that the majority of young Canadians 18 to 34 remain determined to make homeownership a reality. So, if we are going to stem the outmigration of our young people to other provinces and attract others to move to Manitoba, making homeownership attainable should be part of the provincial government’s strategy after April 19.

A real disadvantage at present is Manitoba’s high land transfer tax rate, which stands out like a sore thumb when compared to other provinces. Manitoba has failed to index this tax, which was introduced in 1987 when house prices were far lower. In addition, the highest tax rate of 1.5 per cent was increased to two per cent in 2004 for any home sale valued over $200,000.

With the average price of a home this March reaching $300,000 in the WinnipegREALTORS® market region, this means home buyers have to shell out $2,000 just to cover the $100,000 taxed at two per cent. In Ontario, where they share the same high two per cent tax rate as Manitoba, it does not kick in until the sale price is above $400,000. Alberta does not have a land transfer tax, whereas Saskatchewan is far lower (e.g. 0.3 per cent, or $900).

Both B.C. and Ontario have well-established first-time home buyer exemptions. They realized years ago how tough it is for first-time buyers to save up for a down payment and come up with all the necessary upfront closing costs, such as a land transfer tax.

To the Manitoba Liberal Party’s credit, they have put forward a first-time home buyers’ exemption as part of their election platform, which was announced well in advance of the writ coming down.  It goes without saying that an exemption will enable more Manitobans to attain homeownership. Another benefit resulting from this move would be to free up affordable rental units.

A direction of late with the current government has been a primary focus on supporting rental housing rather than homeownership. Encouraging and building more rental housing is important, but homeownership also needs to be part of a comprehensive affordable housing plan. In short, the entire housing continuum has to be addressed if you are going to help Manitobans meet their shelter needs.

Just this week, the Manitoba Liberals announced a promise to have condo owners pay lower property taxes by lowering the rate of portioning for condos. However, the pushback on this one will come from

single-family homeowners, who will have to make up the difference in what savings are passed on to condo owners.

The NDP, like the PCs, have not put forward anything directly to help homeowners, however, there strategic investments in Winnipeg (e.g. fast tracking an inner ring road) that are clearly a benefit for homeowners trying to get to work. There is also some income tax relief promised for low- and middle-income families.

A family of four making $60,000 per year will get an extra $260, or 10 per cent, per year on their income taxes.

And certainly, as the current governing party, they should be commended for achieving the lowest unemployment rate in Canada at six per cent. Keeping

Manitobans employed does create the right conditions for them to achieve homeownership.

While there is no new promises on school tax relief, the NDP is touting its prior commitment to increase the seniors’ school property tax rebate from $470 to $2,300 for 2016.

Last, but not least, is the Manitoba Green Party. In what has been a long held position by Realtors, regarding the need for the provincial government to get education taxes off property taxes and fund it as they do all other core  services, the Green Party of Manitoba has pledged to eliminate the education property tax.

 “The current system for funding education creates severe inequities, both for students and for property taxpayers,” said Green Party Leader James Beddome. “Greens would bring greater fairness to both the tax system and the education system by funding education from personal and corporate tax revenues.”

Beddome wants to see an end to an inequitable tax system in which school divisions have different revenue-raising capacity based on their property tax base, so that students can’t be shortchanged in the education services they receive.

Be sure to get out and vote on April 19. Your vote matters!