Tax a ‘barrier’ to newcomers

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Immigrants arriving in Northwestern Ontario to resettle and find employment through the federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) are facing a provincial tax barrier that could hinder them from purchasing a home.

The 25 per cent non-resident speculation tax applies to foreign nationals who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada upon their purchase or acquisition of residential property located anywhere in Ontario. The province-wide tax was expanded to 20 per cent in March and increased again to 25 per cent in October.

Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, says the tax was put in place to discourage non-residents from buying property to be used for rentals.

“There was so much out-of-country buying of property in the GTA, for example, and that was driving up the price of housing in the GTA, but now they’ve spread this across the whole province,” Robinson said. “There’s an unintended consequence for folks in our community that are arriving here to work on the northern immigration pilot. They are not considered residents.”

She explained that if someone comes to Thunder Bay to work for a business, as an applicant through the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot, until they have their full permanent residency, they will face the 25 per cent tax on top of the total value of the property if they wanted to buy a house.

“It’s a huge barrier to someone who’s just arriving in a northern community trying to set up,” she said, using immigrating Ukrainians and international students that are graduating from college or university and planning to stay and work in Thunder Bay as examples.

The Rural Northern Immigration Pilot is delivered to Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins. The pilot enables eligible employers to offer full-time permanent job opportunities to skilled foreign workers who can help reduce labour shortages in the community.

“It is specific to these five northern communities and is not something that is available in Oakville or Burlington. It is a rural northern immigration pilot that is in operation in our five communities, and (the exemption for this tax) is something that the government kind of missed when they were putting this together,” she said.

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce has joined with the Ontario and the four northern Chambers of Commerce to appeal to the province to put in an exemption for those in the RNIP program.

She said participants in the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program, refugees and spouses of Canadian citizens can apply for an exemption to this “exorbitant” tax, yet there is no exemption offered to skilled foreign workers settling in the North.

“We want to make sure that that exemption is applied to those folks because otherwise, it’ll be a barrier to the success of attracting these new arrivals to our communities and really helping them get their roots.”

Thunder Bay has recruited more than 400 skilled workers plus their family members through the RNIP program since its inception.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal