Populist HST ‘fix’ coming soon

Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark’s shifting position on the harmonized sales tax finally appears to have come to rest.

Her government is preparing to “fix the HST,” and the terms of that fix will be made available before people mark their ballots in a mail-in vote in June, Clark told reporters at the legislature last week.

There has been a flurry of activity on the HST in recent days, and a few things are becoming clear. Clark and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon are preparing to do what I’ve been saying for months the government must do – make a solemn vow to cut the HST rate to 11 per cent as soon as they can.

And in keeping with Clark’s fondness for populist, headline-hunting gestures, the government will also likely rebate the HST on bicycles and bicycle helmets, and possibly fitness club memberships as well.

A couple of other “family-first” exemptions may also be gleaned from the town halls, online surveys and polling that are currently going on.

A well-known polling firm was in the field last week, asking not only about people’s impressions of their new premier and opposition leader, but also their view towards a reduction in the HST rate. Win or lose the mail-in referendum on the tax in June or July, the B.C. Liberals are getting ready for a fall general election.

Falcon estimates that cutting one point from the HST would cost the provincial treasury $850 million. Given that revenue from the HST is running well ahead of the finance ministry’s estimates, that figure could be low.

The government’s independent panel issued its report last week, and it confirms that the HST is bringing in more revenue than expected. Going back to the PST would not only trigger huge costs of paying back federal transition funds and reconstructing a provincial sales tax office, it would cost the B.C. government more than $500 million in net revenue in the first year, and more after that.

Here’s one reason why HST revenue is higher than originally projected. Contrary to the apocalyptic predictions of some in the restaurant industry, the panel compiled Statistics Canada figures and found that B.C. restaurant sales rose by three per cent in the first seven months of the HST. That’s exactly the same increase as the rest of the country, despite the supposedly crushing effect of the tax and B.C.’s new impaired driving regulations.

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell has pitched in as a host for the telephone town hall program that continued this week. These giant conference calls were to be staged Tuesday evening in the Okanagan, Fraser Valley and northern and central Vancouver Island. The program wraps up Thursday evening with calls to Richmond, South Delta, the North Shore, Victoria and Vancouver.

Bell said his call for the Interior and North Coast had more than 30,000 people on the line. Some were still upset about the HST, while others had misconceptions about what costs it does and doesn’t increase, he said. And lifting the tax from bicycles was a popular choice.

I continue to get e-mails from people who are misinformed about the HST. One reader said he is paying it on heating oil. I suggested he check his bill again, and there it was, a rebate for the seven-per-cent provincial portion. The GST applied before and it continues to apply now.

These telephone town halls have gone a long way towards putting the discussion on a factual basis. Voters may yet be persuaded to keep the HST.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca, www.twitter.com/tomfletcherbc

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Williams Lake RCMP are asking the public for assistance locating Marion Louise Billy. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake RCMP seek woman wanted for theft, weapon possession

RCMP released the information Thursday, May 6

Audrey McKinnon was officially named the NDP nominee for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon confirmed as Cariboo Prince-George federal NDP nominee

The nomination comes during speculation the federal government

Gibraltar Mine general manager and community sports coach Ben Pierce moved to Williams Lake in 2008 for a career, and has fallen in love with the area while raising his family in the Cariboo. (Photo submitted)
OUR HOMETOWN: Mine manager on solid ground

Juggling academics, sports and a family was a challenge, but Pierce said he and Liselle made it work

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read