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B.C. prepares for HST decision

Former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning, now chancellor of the University of Calgary, is chairing a panel to compare B.C.
Former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning, now chancellor of the University of Calgary, is chairing a panel to compare B.C.'s old and new sales taxes before a referendum that could be held as early as June.
— image credit: Black Press

Jim Dinning admits that it's ironic for a former Alberta finance minister to be asked to weigh the merits of B.C.'s two choices for sales taxes.

But now out of politics and serving as chancellor of the University of Calgary, Dinning is chairing an independent review panel to compare the harmonized sales tax with B.C.'s former provincial sales tax before a referendum on the HST later this year.

Also named to the panel are former B.C. auditor-general George Morfitt, Simon Fraser University professor John Richards and Tracie Redies, CEO of Coast Capital Savings.

Their report is due April 1, and will make no recommendation on either the HST or the PST, Dinning told Black Press.

"Polling showed that people don't feel they have all the facts they need, and they're looking for an independent source rather than just the government information source," he said.

The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation is making a recommendation to voters: keep the HST and demand a lower rate to reflect the broader base of the new sales tax.

Gregory Thomas, the CTF's communications director for B.C., says voting "no" in the referendum would kill off the "63-year-old relic" of the PST. He argues that the federal government reduced the Goods and Services Tax from seven to five per cent, and B.C. could do the same.

"Here in B.C. the government could have introduced the HST at a lower rate," Thomas said. "Instead they chose to create an expensive and confusing rat's maze of exemptions, credits and loopholes for special interests, and pay for it by charging ordinary taxpayers an exorbitant seven-per-cent HST rate."

Thomas noted that if the HST rate were lowered, credits paid to a million low-income B.C. residents would also come down.

For special interests, he cited home builders, who benefit from HST credits and also successfully lobbied the province to raise the exemption for new home construction to $525,000. Resale housing is not subject to HST.

The B.C. government also launched a new website at www.hstinbc.ca to offer videos and answers to frequently asked questions about the change from PST to GST.

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