Reaction in the lakecity to the official cancellation of the HST tax in B.C. this week has been mixed.
Changing from HST back to PST and GST was a challenging process for some small businesses in Williams Lake, including Wise Owl Toys.
Owner Sandy Fehr spent 16 hours over Easter weekend changing their point-of-sale program to accommodate the tax shift — something she said they have had to do twice in three years.
She added that they’re a small business with a less complex point-of-sale program that couldn’t be changed by pushing a single button.
“I expect that the HST will come back,” Fehr said. “I don’t think that people were upset with the tax itself — it was the way it was implemented.
“People felt that the government was running over them. If they don’t bring it back after the election, I’m sure our taxes will go up. I hope I’m wrong.”
Downtown Business Improvement Association Executive Director Judy O’Neil noted she has spent hours touching base with downtown businesses and said that everyone’s talking about the tax change.
“Some are happy and others say it’s no different — just more paperwork,” O’Neil said. “Responses are all over the place. I heard one shopper say that everywhere he’s been, stuff is cheaper, like coffee and stamps.
“Another customer said: ‘In three more years they can apply to get it back — maybe next time they’ll get it right.’”
Laketown Furnishings owner Bob Sunner said that getting rid of the HST is a step back: a regressive, counter-productive measure.
He said that although his store system is so basic that it wasn’t a big programming effort, it was just one more unnecessary task.
“The HST, in my opinion, was a simpler form of taxation,” Sunner said. “For people who are forced, without any compensation to collect taxes simplicity means less work and less expense.
“I don’t think the strategy of the HST was a bad one; I think it benefitted British Columbians, especially when I heard that by switching over we’d actually received a lot of money from the federal government to entice us to do so. But I think the implementation went awry,” Sunner continued. “I am very opposed to the switch back to the HST.”
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA candidate Charlie Wyse is happy the HST is gone.
“Today we’re celebrating the fact that B.C. said: ‘You don’t have the right to make this tax transfer,’” Wyse said.
He explained that in the last campaign both the NDP and the Liberals said the HST wasn’t going to happen, but added that within three months in office the Liberals announced that the tax would be implemented.
“It took three months to put it into place, and once the successful referendum took place to reverse that decision, it took them 19 months to get rid of it,” Wyse said.
He added that 9,300 local adults signed the petition to cancel the HST; 57 per cent of them were on the B.C. voter’s list.
“This was the largest tax transfer in B.C.’s history from large corporations to consumers,” Wyse said. “The local petition involved close to 300 local volunteers from all political parties.
“It really was a citizens’ initiative to challenge the government, which was blatantly misleading people during the campaign. B.C. is one of the few provinces with legislation that requires 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the 85 ridings in order to get a referendum.
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says she is concerned about the economic impact of removing the tax.
“With the HST gone, you’ll save money on some things and on some things you’ll pay more,” Barnett said. “It was a tax delivered by Gordon Campbell in a way that angered people, and so the petition against it was signed.”
Barnett said hardest hit by the loss of the HST will be mining, forestry, agriculture and small business.
“When you hurt business you hurt jobs,” she said. “I’m concerned about the economic future of this province.”