BC Liberal leader Christy Clark is downplaying a New York Times report that questions the benefits of a little-known provincial tax rebate program to attract international banks and investment firms to Vancouver.
Clark is defending the AdvantageBC program, telling The Vancouver Sun, “We want to re-establish British Columbia as a location for head offices around the world, and I think reaching out to Asia and getting those head offices here is a good way to do that.”
LISTEN: AdvantageBC CEO defends tax break program
Speaking with CKNW’s Jon McComb, former BC Liberal Finance Minister and current Advantage BC CEO Colin Hansen said the program has been a boon to B.C.’s financial sector which is now ranked 18th in the world, up from 33rd in 2008.
“Thirty years ago, Vancouver was not a financial centre in any way shape or form, and the intent was to build that. Because if you don’t have the foundation of international financial services, you’re not going to be able to attract international companies to come and locate here.”
Hansen says the tax rebates being offered aren’t a loss to B.C. because they’re revenue that never would have been earned by the province if companies had chosen to locate somewhere else.
As for the mere 300 jobs The New York Times reports the $140-million in tax refunds has generated, Hansen says that was never the goal of the program.
“When it was created 30 years ago, was not created with a view to creating the most number of jobs. It was about how to build that foundation and access to international financial services that global companies rely on.”
The Times article goes on to say there are 82 companies in the program that may be entitled to a refund of up to 100% of their corporate income taxes, but unlike other provinces or American states with similar programs, the Finance Ministry here refuses to identify those companies.
Hansen downplayed that apparent lack of transparency, saying the names of all companies in the program are available on its website, and that privacy rules prohibit the government from giving up information about any specific taxpayer, whether it be a person or a company.
He says regulating any criminal activity by companies is a federal responsibility.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, BC NDP leader John Horgan says he’d scuttle the program if elected.
“I’m going to remove it if it’s not providing any value to British Columbia and it doesn’t appear that it is. If the government won’t tell you who they’re giving the money to, it strikes me that that program’s not worth keeping and we’re going to remove it.”
British Columbia votes May 9.
With files from Gord Macdonald and Jeremy Lye