Debating Tax Fairness for Realtors

This is the third time I’ve introduced the bill in the Legislature, so we’re hoping to score a hat trick here this afternoon and have some success with our colleagues from the third party and from the government side as well.

I want to start by thanking the member for Kitchener–Waterloo, who is a co-sponsor of this bill, and also the member from Eglinton–Lawrence, who again is a co-sponsor of this bill. This bill has support from members of all three caucuses here, and we look forward to its expeditious passage later today.

As you have already, I would like to recognize Tim Hudak, the former member from Niagara West–Glanbrook in his new rule with the Ontario Real Estate Association. He has a view from the penthouse here this afternoon and not from the floor. He’s done some great work already with the Ontario Real Estate Association.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with this Ontario Real Estate Association for quite a few years now. Actually, I’ve been here for almost seven and one of the first groups I met with, after being elected, were my local realtors and we were very successful once in passing a bill that made life a bit easier for realtors, and I’ll talk a little bit about that during my discussion here this afternoon.

Madam Speaker, I spend a lot of time in hockey rinks. As you know, I have two young girls who play rep hockey, so I travel not just in my local Quinte region but all across the provinces, and the one thing that I notice, especially here in Ontario, as I head into a rink, is that I see the names of realtors everywhere. The names of realtors are on the hockey boards at the arenas in Cobourg, Courtice, Peterborough, Windsor and Stoney Creek. They’re on the backs of jerseys of hockey players as well, sponsoring individual players.

A lot of the people I meet at hockey rinks are real estate agents as well. They have kids who are playing hockey and some of them, as hockey moms especially, can be kind of boisterous. The hockey dads can be as well. But the one thing I would say about this group of people is that real estate agents are enormous supporters of their communities. I know what people are saying when they see them on the sides of arena boards, and they see them on the backs of jerseys, “Well, that’s advertising,” and that’s not anything new. It is extremely important that they advertise, but we hear stories in this place every day about how hard it is to keep arenas and community centres open because of the rising cost of electricity and other items. Yes, it’s advertising, but it certainly is going to keep our buildings open and our municipalities—especially the small municipalities that are helping to keep the light on for the next period.

I was just in Madoc last week for an all-Ontario hockey centre series. Congratulations to the Centre Hastings Grizzlies, but I saw the names of Steve Bancroft and many others along the walls and sidelines up in Madoc.

It’s also advertising on a jersey as well, but how many times when September rolls around every year do you read a news story about how expensive minor hockey is getting, and without those ads and without that revenue, it would just get eaten up in bigger and bigger registration fees.

Now I know I’m supposed to be on my feet talking about the fairness issue, and I am going to talk about that, but I wanted to highlight some of my own motivations. I’m spoiled in my riding in every community in it. Real estate agents are core members of volunteer efforts, philanthropic efforts, civic efforts to make sure the community they live in is a better place to live. A few are here today, either in the gallery or in the overflow room that we’ve set up on the fourth floor. I’d like to acknowledge just a few of them. I apologize because I am going to miss some, but my friends Val Miles is here from Bancroft. Dana Yonemitsu is here as well, also from North Hastings. I don’t think a month goes by where I don’t get an email from Dana or Val because they’re involved in some new charity endeavour in North Hastings. Edie Haslauer, Natasha Huizinga, Lisa Comerford, Shannon Warr-Hunter, Al Russell—I just saw him downstairs—Ken Arseneau, Cathy Polan and they’re all here from the Quinte and District Real Estate Association.

I’ve also got dozens of friends from across Belleville, Prince Edward county, Quinte West and literally right across Ontario, who are here today and others who couldn’t be here today. This bill is an acknowledgement of their efforts in their communities as well.

In six other provinces real estate agents are able to personally incorporate. There exists no viable reason that I’m aware of that it’s taken this long for Ontario time to catch up. Personally, this is, as I said, my third time introducing this bill since 2014. There may have been some concern about the cost previously, but recent studies have shown that it’s entirely likely that this change is revenue-neutral and actually could potentially have a positive impact of over $9 million to the province’s GDP. Similar studies also show the potential creation of between 33 and 89 jobs across the province. Those are very modest numbers, but every one of these jobs matters, especially in small rural communities..

As the former small business and red tape critic, there’s another aspect of this bill that I’d like to highlight, and that’s how we lined up the legislative framework for Ontario’s personal incorporation regime with British Columbia’s. I can vividly remember having people come into my office in my former role and tell me that one of the biggest problems with regulations across Canada was how rarely you could get two provinces, particularly two big provinces on the same side. As a result, you started to multiply the regulatory burden.

Having 10 different provincial regulatory frameworks barely made sense before the digital age. It makes no sense now. Capital is more mobile than ever. Consumers are able to complete transactions electronically; something that the member from Ottawa Centre and I worked on a couple years ago, and worked with real estate agents anywhere in the country, separated from the telephone tether or the fax machine. With Mr. Naqvi, we worked together on the e-signature bill, which allows real estate transactions to be done over iPads and the latest technology. Transactions that took days or weeks can now be done in hours.

It’s also important to note the number of professions that we already allow to personally incorporate: lawyers, health care professionals, accountants, mortgage brokers and financial advisors. Drawing the line there where we currently have it doesn’t only seem unfair; it also seems a little bit random. I want to return to the people who inspired me to bring this bill forward.

I want to go back again, if I could, to the hockey rink, one of my favourite places to be. I don’t spend enough time at the hockey rink anymore. I used to love coaching hockey. I’ve brought this bill forward twice before, but there are always other issues that I wanted to use for my ballot date as well. There are significant issues in my riding that I wanted to bring forward.

Today came about, actually—last spring I was at a Wellington Dukes game. That’s a local junior hockey time in Prince Edward county. A couple of the realtors who were in the crowd at the Dukes game came to me and they said, “Hey, what’s happening with your personal real estate corporation bill? When are you going debate this bill again? We really, really want this to happen.” It seemed as if the next event that I went to, there were more realtors there who were saying, “Hey, whatever happened with your personal real estate incorporation bill? When are you going to introduce that again? Are we going to be able to incorporate like six other provinces can?”

They really want this bill passed, and I understand why. They wanted this bill to finally get back on the floor of the Legislature and hopefully make it to committee and become law. Hopefully, Madam Speaker, today is that day. We’ve talked about fairness. We’ve talked about the great people in my riding who have asked me to bring up this bill. But, I want to address where the money is going to go with a couple statistics that were dug up in preparation for debate here this afternoon.

As I mentioned earlier, our real estate agents in our communities are at all of the community events that I go to. You can’t go to an event where there’s not a real estate agent there either organizing the event, attending the event, or selling tickets to people on their Rolodex to make sure there are great crowds at these events.

Real estate agents really do care about their community. Here are a couple of stats for you: 67% of all agents and brokers make donations to charity every year—that’s pretty large number—and 45% volunteer in a community group or organization every year. That means they’re giving of their time. Almost half of them are giving a lot of their time to volunteer on these committees. Those numbers are pretty good as well.

The rate of volunteerism and donations for those agents under the age of 35 actually well exceeds millennial numbers across the country. In those small communities that I was talking earlier, the numbers go from 67% and 45% to 73% and 55%. Quite often we hear that our young people aren’t as engaged as they could be and they’re not volunteering their time and we’re worried about losing our volunteers, but those numbers are pretty staggering from the real estate sector. I think it just goes to show the commitment that our local real estate agents have to our communities.

There are a lot of communities in this province. I’ve talked about just a couple them: Bancroft, Wellington and Picton, where the Rotary, the Kiwanis Club and the hospice foundation might not exist without the help of local real estate agents.

Another example of this at the provincial level is the Realtors Care Foundation. Since its original inception, the foundation has granted more than $15 million on behalf of the Ontario realtors to shelter-based organizations across the province. The foundation is funded primarily through donations, directly from member dues, called the Every Realtor Campaign. Member boards donated $1 per member per month from 2012 to 2015. Realtors across Canada have raised over $91 million for the Realtors Care Foundation—pretty phenomenal.

The reason I keep bringing this up is because I wanted to handle the question of where the money is going. It’s a question that we’re so often seized with in this House, meaning the money that will be coming back to the community. I think we can assess where the money is going to go by where the money has gone. The reason real estate agents invest in their communities is to build their business, but the best ones—and I’m grateful to count some among my very, very good friends—see their community as their business as well. Giving realtors the same right to personally incorporate that we have given other professions, and the same right that they have in other provinces, seems to me to be the right thing to do—and not just the right thing to do; it seems like the fair thing to do, and that’s why we’re here this afternoon.

I’d like to thank all of those people who came from Quinte and Bancroft to make the trek here to the Legislature today I hope that we’ll have good new news for you at the end of the debate.

I look forward to the comments, especially from my co-sponsors, the member from Kitchener–Waterloo and the member from Eglinton–Lawrence, and all members who will be speaking to this bill here this afternoon.

I hope we can come together and make sure that we can get some real fairness for realtors in Ontario.

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