On Wednesday morning, MLAs were waiting to hear the premier’s “big” announcement on the Harmonized Sales Tax. She had hinted at a “bold move” that will “put families first” to make the HST (some call it the Hated Sales Tax) more palatable for the summer referendum. When you’re told something big is going to happen, you expect, well, BIG. That’s not what happened. So you can imagine how deflating it was to see what she’s putting forward.
If you decide that you want the HST, the BC Liberals will decrease the provincial side of it to 10 per cent by 2014. That is three years and another election away. It reminds me of the sales job Stephen Harper conducted during the federal election on income tax cuts. “Maybe sometime in the future, we may see this if this happens. Maybe,” is something that just doesn’t jive. Interestingly, it sounds like the Minister of Finance knows it too, as he warns that each percentage point reduction will cost B.C. coffers $850 million which will result in cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. In other words, if the BC Liberals cut the HST, you can expect cuts in health care, education and other important programs. Sheesh!
Most importantly though, if this “Maybe sometime in the future, we may see this if this happens. Maybe,” reduction in the HST happens, it still doesn’t change the facts that make the HST the wrong tax at the wrong time. First, you’ll still be paying more for bikes, haircuts, vitamins, alternative medicine, school supplies, energy-saving appliances, etc. Corporations will no longer get the tax cut planned for January 2012, but they will still be paying less. They promise to reinvest the money they aren’t spending in taxes, but that’s not very plausible since it hasn’t been the case in other jurisdictions. After Wednesday’s announcement, you are still paying more under the HST and they are paying less. Period.
Another let down is the indefinite postponement of the reduction in small business taxes that was slated for April 2012. This is something the NDP wanted to see because we know that small businesses are the backbone in our economy, and we want to encourage small businesses to prosper. Many of them, like our many restaurants, are struggling with the HST. Now a promise that would have helped has been broken.
Try as we might, we just can’t pin the BC Liberals down to a single honest statement on the HST. Ministers contradict each other; they say big news and we find it is “maybe” news. The BC Liberals claim they are neutral on the HST, but they are spending $7 million of your tax dollars to sell you on it. They said they wouldn’t institute the HST before the 2009 election, then months later they did.
Now it’s up to you. This referendum was achieved by the people of this province. We have a historical chance to defy the odds, have our voices heard and vote this regressive tax out. Corporate and BC Liberal government advertising will be fierce and plentiful, but the decision resides with us and our communities.
We can stop the HST by marking our ballots “yes” in the referendum. The BC Liberals’ dishonesty is frustrating, but our communities are uplifting. Together we will demand fair taxation, we will demand the truth, and we will get it. Now, that’s what’s big.
Michelle Mungall is the MLA for Nelson-Creston. Her column appears in the Star once a month