Selling HST to the ‘me’ generation

VICTORIA – Even if all you care about is your own wallet, the harmonized sales tax just became an offer you shouldn’t refuse.

Premier Christy Clark promised a “bold” fix for the HST, and she delivered. For months I have been arguing that the only way to overcome the wave of rejection caused by the panicked introduction of the HST is to offer a rate cut. I expected one per cent.

Now if you vote to keep it, a second one-per-cent reduction will be largely financed by reversing some of the B.C. Liberals’ business tax cuts of recent years. It not only sweetens the deal for consumers, it’s great politics.

First, let’s look at it from a selfish, short-term perspective, the way some readers loudly remind me they view the world. If you vote next month to go back to the provincial sales tax, the 12-per-cent PST-GST on goods that you probably didn’t notice before will continue. If you have kids under 18 or are a senior living on less than $40,000 a year, you will be saying no to a $175-per-person bonus cheque.

If you only care about yourself, you won’t care about the loss of HST credits to the poorest people in B.C. You won’t care about the province repaying Ottawa’s transition fund, or rebuilding a B.C. sales tax department to force business to convert their billing systems again. You won’t care about the competitive advantage given to Ontario, unless it costs you your job.

When the B.C. government of the day has to cut services to pay for this disastrous reversal, you’ll denounce them for doing what you told them to do. You will get the government you deserve, which may include a PST extended to restaurant meals or haircuts, because the money has to come from somewhere.

When Clark’s HST “fix” was unveiled, it was the NDP’s turn to panic. They have painted themselves into a corner, and now face the prospect of arguing for a return to an archaic sales tax with a higher rate.

And once again, Bill Vander Zalm and Chris Delaney tour B.C. in their Fight HST conspiracy clown car, refueled by $250,000 of public funds to campaign in the referendum.

Their campaign of fear and ignorance is encountering heavy resistance at university and college campuses, however, as tax experts fact-check their claims on the spot.  (They’ve added “rallies” in an effort to keep fear alive.)

Delaney still raves about Europe being the cause of all this alleged human misery with their insidious Value Added Tax. Vander Zalm continues to mutter about a plot to establish world government through carbon taxes and the HST.

It would be nice if the NDP-Fight HST crowd were concerned about the wave of retiring baby boomers that is starting to wash across the country. But they’re not.

There are changes happening now in the B.C. economy that 1960s socialism and 1980s populism are not equipped to handle. The living standard of our children is going to be determined by how we deal with our aging, globalizing population, and this is one reason to understand a shift to consumption taxes.

Fourteen months ago I wrote that more U.S. states are joining Washington, Hawaii and others with sales taxes on services as well as goods. Robert Kleine, treasurer for Michigan, explained it this way:

“The basic thing is that we need to update our tax structure. We’ve got a 20th-century tax structure based on a different sort of economy. The tax base doesn’t grow as the economy grows.”

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and

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