HST referendum underway in B.C.

Voters are being asked to say yes to say no—and no to say yes—to B.C.’s harmonized sales tax in a referendum by mail that began this week.

On Tuesday, Premier Christy Clark sought to clarify the referendum question at a media event staged at Bill Zylmans’ East Richmond farm, in advance of ballots being mailed to Lower Mainland residents next week.

“It is confusing. There’s no question. For lots of second-language learners the term extinguish is a tough concept,” said Linda Reid, MLA for Richmond East. “For 10 per cent (the HST rate the Liberals have promised by mid-2014), you have to vote no. It’s a bit counter-intuitive.”

With labour disruption at Canada Post, voters may be considering the question later than expected. It asks voters if they want to extinguish the HST—meaning those who reject the tax must vote “Yes,” and those who want to keep it must vote “No.”

Reid called the HST “Canada’s tax” that will simplify the tax system for foreign investors by not having to deal with a different tax jurisdiction in each province and territory. The HST, she said, will simplify how people do business in B.C.

“This is something that the federal government wanted, which is why they’re providing transition dollars to transition the provinces to a single tax for Canada. That still makes sense for British Columbia because we’re a small trading economy. We would not survive without trade,” she said.

The provincial government has pledged to reduce the HST to 10 per cent by July 2014 and offer transition payments to offset consumer costs for parents and seniors earning less than $40,000 a year. Each child under 18 or low-income senior would receive one-time payments of $175 if the HST survives the referendum.

Businesses that have to charge customers an extra seven per cent tax on services—restaurants, consultants—and previously exempt items—bicycles, concert tickets—have struggled with the tax.

Balwant Sanghera, an East Richmond community activist and former NDP candidate is against the tax, and will be voting “yes” to extinguish the HST.

He said the Liberals approved the tax without informing the public. Under the HST, the province will lose its tax system autonomy, as any changes must be approved by Ottawa.

“It is a major tax shift from big corporations and businesses to ordinary British Columbians. I don’t think that is fair,” he said. “In the long run, this is not a good tax. I think it’s hitting the families very hard.”

Despite fears of the tax reducing business in pubs and restaurants, business has been brisk at Legends Pub on Buswell Street as the Vancouver Canucks made their deepest playoff run since 1994.

Owner Glenn Jensen said an established clientele after 20 years of business, and offering reasons for customers to come back, has helped his business despite customers facing an extra seven per cent charge on their meals.

“Business-wise I think it helps me out at the end of the day, not as much as I would like it to, but we’re established,” he said.

But Jensen also offered some caution: “We’ve had a pretty good run ever since the Olympics, but our quiet times are very very quiet now. So that’s an indication of people (wanting to save) money.”


HST referendum

•Referendum ballots are being mailed to registered voters

•The question: “Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)?

•Voters should mark ballots “Yes” if they wish to scrap the HST, and “No” if they wish to keep the HST

•Ballots must be received by Elections BC by July 22

•More information at the Elections BC Contact Centre: 1-800-661-8683


Casting a ballot

Why vote No?

•Government will reduce the HST to 10% from 12% by 2014, making the tax 2% lower than the PST-GST system

•A 10% HST will save families $120 per year compared to the PST-GST

•Children and seniors will get one-time cheques of $175

•Low-income earners and seniors to get annual HST rebate cheques of $230

•HST will create 24,000 new, better-paying jobs

•HST will avoid B.C. having to repay $1.6 billion in HST transfer payments to the federal government

•HST will avoid B.C. having to hire PST tax collectors, costing $35 million annually

–Source: Smart Tax Alliance (

Why vote Yes?

•Under the HST, many goods and services previously taxed at 5% will now be taxed at 12% (airline tickets, ballet lessons, campground fees, concert tickets, bicycles, school supplies, renovations, strata fees)

•Average family will pay $1,208 more in tax under the HST

•HST will drive the economy underground by those seeking to avoid the higher tax

•HST is unnecessarily complicated

•HST transfers $2 billion in tax from the corporate sector to the consumer

•Prices have not come down since the HST was introduced, despite claims from its proponents

–Source: Fight HST (

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