With the ballots stalled in the mail the political rhetoric over the future of the HST is heating up as the NDP Opposition leader Adrian Dix appeared in Williams Lake Monday alongside a few local opponents of the tax.
Dix is currently on a provincial tour promoting the death of the HST.
Using the backdrop of Karen’s Place Restaurant, he outlined his party’s grievances with the tax including a laundry list of promises the government made about the tax that turned out, he says, to be less than factual including that it was revenue neutral, that the money raised would fund health care, and that it would generate 100,000 jobs and lower prices.
Dix’s primary focus was on the impact of the HST on families and small business.
“The HST shifts costs onto working families and costs businesses like this too,” he said.
“This (the referendum) is our chance to send a message to government that being misleading is not acceptable; that vote buying is not acceptable and that shifting taxes to working people is not acceptable.”
Dix took care to remind the small group of anti-HST crusaders that they must vote yes in order to vote against the tax.
Audrey MacLise, seniors’ advocate, spoke of the impact of the tax on seniors. She reminded seniors that the one-time rebate of $175 promised by the government should the HST pass was just that.
“It may look good to seniors, the $175 rebate, but that won’t nearly cover the cost of the HST as it stands,” she said.
The owners of Alley Katz and Karen’s Place also spoke out against the HST saying that while it provides some opportunities for rebates in their respective businesses beyond what was offered under the former PST/GST system, that allowed rebates on GST only, and that it doesn’t make up for the loss of revenue that has been created by less traffic.
Ray Brown, co-owner of Karen’s Place, said not only do customers come to the restaurant less frequently now but they buy fewer items.
A consequence of this is the restaurant has cut its operating hours and staff, from 13 to nine.
The restaurant has further decreased the cost of some of its menu items in order to accommodate the HST on customers’ final bills.
Roy Duhamel, owner of Alley Katz, spoke of similar challenges he says were created in part by the HST.
“If we could find a buyer for our business we’d get out right now,” he said. “It’s not worth being in business anymore.”
Duhamel’s establishment has gone from 10 waiters to three. He’s raised prices in order to cover his costs. But despite the challenges Duhamel will not vote to extinguish the HST, as he says he’s a proponent of a limited tax structure.
Contacted later, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett reiterated her support for the HST and for the government’s move to decrease it to 10 per cent by 2014.
Barnett agreed the HST has hurt the restaurant industry but noted that it’s not only the tax but the economy that’s played a role in the industry’s troubles.
“I feel bad about it,” said Barnett of the plight of some businesses, “But I do look at the bigger picture.”
Barnett described the “bigger picture” as the costs associated with the $1.6 billion from the federal government and the cost of re-establishing a provincial bureaucracy to administer and track the PST. Under the HST that office is defunct.
“If the HST is gone and he (Dix) becomes government how is he going to find dollars and cents to offset the loss to keep the services that we need in place? I want to know what Mr. Dix and the NDP’s solution is should the HST fail.”
Barnett suggested it would be better to pay 10 per cent HST rather than the 12 per cent PST/GST despite the fact that the HST applies to more items than the PST/GST.