Sunday, August 16, 2009

In the Trenches

Hi Everybody,

I've had busy summers before, but nothing compares to the past month.

Two weeks ago I was in the South Cariboo on my first tour as Agriculture Critic. I spent six days meeting with farmers, ranchers, and people involved in Agriculture and Food Security. I learned a lot and hope to have a few moments soon to share my reflections with you. This is the first of many tours I will be taking.

But, back on the home front, my office continues to receive dozens of emails about the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Two weeks ago I wrote that you may not have heard much about it well, that has changed! The media has also felt how much this issue has grabbed the public's attention.

There are still many details to be revealed about the HST plan.

In theory, the call for harmonization is a good idea: reducing paperwork and streamlining our tax system is necessary.

But it looks like the government is using that worthwhile objective as a smokescreen to bring in a new and unfair tax.

Together we can change the government's plans.

Here are the three top reasons why I strongly oppose the government's proposed HST:
1. The HST would drive up the cost of many goods and services, from rent to hydro bills, haircuts, movie tickets, restaurant meals, vitamins, bicycles, Energy Star appliances, and even funerals. The list goes on and on and the cost to you will be significant. For those on a fixed or low income, this additional burden may be devastating.

2. This measure is a painful blow to many BC businesses – the restaurant industry alone, for example, estimates that this new tax would cost their businesses $750 million per year, leading to job losses right when we can least afford it. Despite what you may have heard, most businesses won't get other tax breaks and will be unable to absorb such a tax hike. Our vital tourism industry is going to take it on the chin. It just doesn’t seem right.

3. In addition to the fact that the HST would make people’s lives harder and hurt businesses during the recession, the government doesn’t have the mandate to bring in this tax. If the government really thinks that the HST is the “best thing” for the economy, they should have put that choice before British Columbians. Instead, after running for government in the recent election, with promises that they had no plans to impose the HST, the government then betrayed the trust and insulted the intelligence of British Columbians by doing just the opposite. A mea culpa and an apology would be an appropriate way to clear the air and move forward.

There are many better ways to approach taxation reform.

Consult broadly and listen to new ideas for change! We need to push our tax system to DECREASE taxes on products and services that benefit us and INCREASE taxes on the opposite. This is the idea behind high taxes on tobacco.

This is a model we must give more weight to - a positive kind of solution. Let's have a debate - wouldn't this be a more balanced, healthy, approach to governing?

The government claims the HST will have a net positive impact on BC, but after reading letter after letter from businesses that will be negatively affected it is hard to imagine.

Just yesterday, foe example, I received a letter from the Massage Therapists’ Association of British Columbia. They are concerned about the HST. They explain that Registered Massage Therapists are in a unique situation within the health care profession as they are one of two groups who must charge GST on each patient visit. This means that the HST will increase the tax paid from 5% to 12%. They are worried that this will limit visits from their clients who will feel a financial burden.

This is the type of story that makes you really question the way this tax was introduced. Why wasn’t there any consultation?

Is the HST all bad? Not completely. It will help the owners of certain businesses, most definitely. But for the rest of us, this is going to hurt. For people running businesses with tiny margins, for people with a low or fixed income - this tax increase may be devastating.

The Minister of Finance points to a CD Howe study of the HST in the Maritimes as evidence of the benefits of HST. But that is misleading: when the Atlantic Provinces brought in the HST they dropped the total amount of the sales tax. And, even then, the HST actually increased the cost of vital commodities like housing and clothing.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to sign an anti-HST petition by clicking here. You also may want to join more than 90,000 people (!!!) opposed to the HST on a non-partisan facebook site - click here.

Please keep in touch. Stopping this tax will not be easy but it can be done.


ps. All Saanich South Consituents are invited to an open house for my Constituency Office this Friday, August 21, from 1 to 6 pm.