B.C. voters choose to scrap the HST

The HST has been rejected by residents of both the Cariboo Chilcotin and Cariboo North ridings and the province.

The HST has been rejected by residents of both the Cariboo Chilcotin and Cariboo North ridings and the province.

The tax that was implemented despite much public opposition in 2010 under former premier Gordon Campbell will officially be turfed.

Locally, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin riding, 57 per cent voted yes to the PST/GST system (6,361 people) while 43 per cent voted to keep the HST (4,818 people).

In the Cariboo North riding, 59 per cent voted yes to the PST/GST system (7,131 people) while 41 per cent voted to keep the HST (4,964 people).

Provincially the outcome was a little closer with 55 per cent wanting to ditch the HST and 45 per cent voting to keep it. Overall, 60 ridings rejected the tax and 25 approved of it.

For Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett, who faced a recall campaign earlier this year over her handling of the tax,  it’s a relief to have the decision made.

“I’m happy it’s over,” she said.

Barnett said she didn’t know what to think in terms of projecting which side would prevail.

“There was a lot of information out there. Some people said you were lying and other people said, my information is correct. It was a very confusing process for a lot of people and a lot of people voted out of anger. They are still upset over the way the HST was presented to the public and I don’t blame them,” she said, adding she has some concern going forward over the impact the tax’s defeat could have on the competitiveness of British Columbia business and industry.

The government has since announced that the PST will be reinstated at seven per cent with all permanent PST exemptions; the transition is expected to take 18 months — a timeline which is consistent with the report of the independent panel on the HST. Barnett believes there remains the expectation that B.C. pays back the $1.6 billion contributed by the federal government to cover transition costs.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson says with the vote out of the way now is the time for the province to engage in public debate about taxation revenue in general, rather than the more narrow perametres recently suggested by Premier Christy Clark of public consultation on PST/GST.

“My preference is that we have a broader consultation on taxation and revenue generation and public services,” Simpson says. “Because that is the real issue we’re confronted with. I don’t think we have enough revenue to continue to meet the high expectations people continue to have for health care, education, roads, etc … . I think the public is ready for that discussion.”

Otherwise Simpson suggested British Columbia could end up like Greece, Portugal and Ireland that have recently found themselves in serious financial difficulty.

“Those were jurisdictions that never had that debate and one day they wake up to find their government is bankrupt.”

Fight HST local spokesperson Eric Freeston was surprised the vote wasn’t closer but was elated with the tax’s defeat.

“It’s been a long journey for me. I’m glad it’s over now,” he said.

Freeston expressed disappointment regarding the expected 18-month transition period but added that he was not surprised.

He did not characterize the vote as a referendum on the governing Liberal party but said it nevertheless sent a message.

“To say this was a referendum against the government, I’m not so certain about.  But it is a strong message to not just this government but any political party that comes forward that the people have found their voice.

“It’s a victory for the people and I hope that the one lesson that’s learned out of all of this is it’s not a bad thing to be engaged in the political process.”

Eligible lower-income residents will continue to receive the B.C. HST credit until the PST is re-implemented. The B.C. HST credit will then be replaced by the re-implemented PST credit.

A representative from the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce was not available to comment on this story by press time.