Independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson won’t say publicly whether or not he’ll support the HST in this June’s referendum.
“The only role I will take in the referendum is making sure my constituents are getting the best available information to make an informed decision,” was all Simpson would say.
However, last week in the legislature Simpson supported a motion to reduce the HST to 10 per cent over two years if the tax is passed in the upcoming public vote.
The motion further allowed for a two per cent corporate tax increase and a move not to reduce small business tax to zero as had been planned; in addition, it called for the provision of one-time transition cheques of $175 per child issued to families with children under 18 years of age and to low and modest income seniors.
“I looked at this and said, ‘If B.C.ers kept the HST would this be a reasonable step to take to redress some of the issues with the HST? My conclusion is, ‘Yes’,” he said.
However, Eric Freeston, the regional organizer for the Citizens Initiative that is fighting the HST, said under the Referendum Act those promises are inducements and are therefore illegal.
“That’s a bribe,” he said. “There’s no getting around that.”
The Referendum Act legislation Freeston refers to reads: an individual or organization must not pay, give, lend or procure inducement … to induce an individual to vote or refrain from voting for or against a specific response to the referendum question.
But Simpson discounted that argument saying that the Liberal government should simply be more honest about its intent and agree that, by making changes, it is attempting to influence a positive outcome.
He further added that if forwarding policy in this manner is illegal then plenty of governments would have been found guilty.
In either publicly supporting or outright panning the HST, Simpson believes both the Liberals and the NDP have “distorted” the debate and attempted to influence public opinion; that has not been helped by individual MLAs who have come out on the issue on one side or the other.
“We are supposed to actually allow other organizations to inform and make sure the information is out there and let the electorate vote. Then, we’re supposed to act in accordance with that vote,” he said of the process.
Simpson believes that outside the HST, a larger discussion needs to occur around appropriate methods of taxation and the public’s willingness of what they’ll pay for government services.
“Why don’t we go out and say to British Columbians, ‘You keep hammering at us for better health care, seniors care, schools etc. and at the same time whenever we talk about taxes you all get your knickers in a knot and come after us and say don’t tax us to do it.’ There’s an honest conversation waiting to happen between what the public’s expectation of public service and government is, and what they’re willing to pay for it.”
In his riding Simpson is aware that constituents are split on the HST depending on their interests and says there are others across the province whose primary concern is punishing the Liberal party.
He reminded voters in making their decision they should be cognizant that if the HST is rejected the federal government will ask for the $1.6 billion it gave to the province to implement the tax back.
“People need to understand that. There is disinformation out there that somehow you can strike a deal with the federal government and they’ll forgive you. I don’t think so.”
Simpson said if the federal government did that with B.C. there would be nine other provinces and two territories seeking similar compensation in the form of transfer payments from the feds.
Last week’s motion is not binding on the government.