Democracy has prevailed, now it’s time to move forward.
Sicamous Chamber of Commerce president John Schlosar appreciates the democratic process that saw 55 per cent of British Columbians vote to extinguish the 12 per cent harmonized sales tax in favour of returning to the two tax system of the seven per cent provincial sales tax (PST) and the give per cent federal goods and services tax (GST). But he says the turmoil over the HST has come at a tremendous cost to the province – the resignation of two provincial political party leaders, recall referendums, the HST referendum, and all the time, money and effort involved.
“People are still very confused about where we are. We’ve sort of lost our focus in a way, so that’s been a huge cost,” says Schlosar. “These things happen and we’ll survive it all… It’s not the end of the world.”
Like his counterparts with the B.C. chamber, Schlosar wishes to move forward, but with the hope that the provincial government, in the 18 month transitional phase back to the PST, will consult with the public and look at ways the in which the administratively cumbersome tax could be improved.
“Really, what it comes down to is, if we end up with a new shiny, more equitable and less inefficient PST, that would be good for all,” says Schlosar.
Regarding the referendum’s outcome, Schlosar said he was somewhat surprised, as late polls indicated British Columbians were changing their minds on the tax.
In MLA George Abbott’s Shuswap riding, a total of 22,332 ballots were returned with 11,202 residents or 50.16 per cent voting no, or in favour of keeping the HST. There were 11,130 people or 49.84 per cent who voted yes, a difference of only 72 votes.
In Liberal MLA Eric Foster’s Vernon-Monashee riding, there were 24,708 votes cast with 12,581, or 50.92 per cent, voting yes to defeat the HST. A total of 12,127 or 49.08 per cent voted no.
B.C. finance minister Kevin Falcon said Friday an action plan has been established to guide the transition process and help ensure an effective and orderly transition from the HST to the PST plus GST system in B.C.
The PST will be reinstated at seven per cent with all permanent PST exemptions. The province may make some administrative improvements to streamline the PST.
The transition period is expected to take a minimum of 18 months. During this period, the provincial portion of the HST will remain in place at seven per cent.
While Foster and Abbott both expressed disappointment with the result, NDP leader Adrian Dix called Friday’s result “A victory for democracy.”
“The people won over the arrogance of the Liberal government and its powerful friends. It is a victory for fairness,” said Dix. “For a decade, the Liberal Party has shifted the tax burden onto B.C. families. A return to the PST will be good for communities, good for families and good for small business. It will make life a little bit more affordable for working families. It will also ensure that British Columbia has control over its sales tax policy, now and in the future.”
Enderby and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tate Bengston said Friday the result leaves his membership with mixed feelings.
“The HST was really important to some, they’re sad and disappointed it’s going and uncertain what it will mean in terms of implications. Right now, there are a lot of unknowns and that’s a big concern,” said Bengston. “Other members that were not as favourable are happy to see it go, but uncertainty is a concern for them as well. Nobody knows what we’re looking at from here on out.”
The BC Fruit Growers’ Association is another group disappointed with Friday’s result, but has stated it will respect the wishes of the electorate.
Joe Sardinha, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA), threw his and the association’s support behind the HST because he said it was the best way of streamlining the tax system and improving the viability of B.C.’s farm families.
“Since food is not taxed, inputs to produce food should be exempted,” said Sardinha. “Growers would now like to see an efficient, simple and fair tax system in B.C. The BCFGA is requesting that government reinstate a provincial sales tax exemption for all farm inputs.”