City’s NDP MLAs applaud end of HST

Tax policy failed on its complexity, says Liberal MLA

Greater Victoria’s NDP MLAs are celebrating the foreseeable end of the HST.

Four of the five local electoral districts saw strong opposition to keeping the harmonized tax, including in Esquimalt-Royal Roads and Victoria-Swan Lake, where nearly 58 per cent of voters wanted to scrap the tax.

“It’s a very clear message from the public, to go back to the PST and GST. It’s a good day for democracy,” said NDP MLA Carole James, whose Victoria-Beacon Hill electoral district saw 55.76 per cent of the vote go to extinguishing the tax.

“I want to hear the premier call the legislature back this fall. … I think, if anything, this vote says to the Liberals, ‘It’s time to get back to work.’ I want to see legislation introduced that will bring back the GST and PST in a smooth process in a way that works for small businesses and families.”

James said she was “extremely pleased” to see such a strong, definitive result province-wide, where 54.73 per cent of the 1.6 million votes were to axe the tax.

The other two local electoral districts – Saanich South and Oak Bay-Gordon Head – saw much tighter numbers.

In Saanich South, 52.52 per cent of the vote went toward getting rid of the HST, while in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, the only Liberal-held seat in Greater Victoria, 51.40 per cent voted to keep the harmonized tax.

Liberal MLA Ida Chong, a former accountant, said she believes the tax failed partly because explaining tax policy to the public is “complicated and … hard to understand.

“I think small businesses, as they go back to the old style, they’ll be asking, ‘Is this the right decision, after all?’” she said. “But that’s no longer important. The decision has been made.”

Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, says the numbers are perhaps indicative of the old political adage that “time will heal all; people will get used to the tax.” The numbers, however, didn’t shift enough to favour the Liberal government.

“This will be seen as a victory for those who were outraged at the way this was brought in and dumped on them, and how this was planned and announced,” he said.

“There could’ve been many other ways the government campaigned or marketed this tax besides the (TV ads featuring) little stick men and the promise of a far-off two-per-cent tax cut.”

Premier Christy Clark, in a press conference Friday, stressed the way the HST was implemented – suddenly and without public consultation – could’ve been its downfall.

“I think that if the HST had been introduced in a different way it may have ultimately been met with a different reception from British Columbians,” she said. “It’s fair to say that’s the one hypothetical you can be certain about.”

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has estimated that scrapping the HST will cost the province about $3 billion. The government will have to borrow to pay back the $1.6 billion transition fund from the federal government, with a payment schedule that will have to be negotiated.

The province has said the PST/GST will return as B.C.’s tax system by March 31, 2013.

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