View Royal man keeps up long fight against HST
Finding a patch of soft earth, Brad Slade spikes his blue anti-harmonized sales tax sign into the side of the road. Looking at it’s message, he never thought he’d be a “yes” man.
Slade was a key anti-HST organizer in Greater Victoria during last year’s provincewide campaign that triggered the HST referendum, and is still working at keeping the controversial tax in the public eye.
In past weeks, the View Royal resident has been dotting the highways and byways of the Capital Region with “yes to extinguishing the HST” signs, a project he started after seeing pro-HST ads on TV during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Getting permission from the Ministry of Transportation to line the Trans-Canada and Pat Bay highways with signs was no easy task. Slade discovered rules for referendum messaging was an unknown quantity. MOT managers were left scratching their heads for weeks.
Slade, 47, kept pressing the transportation minister’s office for an answer. “Eventually they told me they’d treat it like election signage,” he said. “Needless to say I was jumping for joy.”
The sign request has set precedent for the rest of the province. After mulling the issues, Victoria, View Royal, Metchosin, Sooke, Esquimalt and Saanich also gave the OK for Slade to post referendum signs on municipal roadways.
A few municipalities have said “no,” but Slade figures the majority of people driving or busing around the Capital Region will get the Fight HST message. He’s personally spiked hundreds of signs into roadsides, and said he’s received a lot more honks of support than middle fingers of derision.
“This is such a passionate issue across the province and there is a lot of money being spent by one side,” he said. “But no one bothered to ask MOT about putting up signs.
“I’m just thrilled to encourage people to exercise their democratic rights with the referendum. We want to make sure people vote one way or the other.”
These days, Slade’s dining room is stacked high with blue “yes” signs as a distribution point for a few diehard volunteers. Judith Rayburn is spreading the message through Victoria and is still steamed about how the tax was introduced.
“It’s the fact that this government lied to us. (Former premier) Gordon Campbell told us he would not bring in this tax,” she said. “It’s about shifting taxes from business to everyday people like myself. I have to squeeze every penny these days and its only getting worse.”
Some HST supporters think voter anger against the 12 per cent tax – legislated to be 10 per cent by 2014 – is misplaced and fanned by misinformation. Mike Jagger, speaking for the pro-HST Smart Tax Alliance, said merging the GST and PST makes sense for businesses and consumers.
Jagger, the owner of an security and alarm company, said the PST was a notoriously complicated tax riddled with loopholes and built on a series of arbitrary exemptions. He acknowledged that some consumers might ultimately pay more under the HST, but noted there are rebate cheques for lower income people.
“Consumers pay one way or the other, but the PST had a lot of hidden taxes passed on in prices. HST is more transparent and fair,” Jagger said. “We don’t have an option of not paying tax, but the HST is simply a better tax system.”
Jagger credits the HST with being able to reinvest in his business, including hiring more employees, which he expects will be a common theme for many businesses in B.C.
The Fight HST side argues the HST is simply shifting part of the tax burden from businesses to consumers, and therefore has the support of many large and medium sized companies.
“There are winners and losers with taxes, and definitely some businesses are winners,” Slade said. “I don’t want to be subsidizing a new company car or computer.
“They are just getting more and more money from you, and making it more and more unaffordable to be here. If I have less money in my wallet, I won’t have as much to spend. That is the real driver of the economy.”
The independent panel that studied the ramifications of the B.C. HST expects families to pay an average of $350 more per year, and about 17 per cent of goods and services are taxed higher under HST. Rent, most groceries and fuel are the same, for instance, but items such as home repair, restaurant meals and professional services cost more.
The panel report noted that under PST, business tended to pass on an “invisible” seven per cent on consumer goods to offset tax paid by the business when it purchased those goods as wholesale. The HST should help push prices down, the report said.
The panel also expects the HST to ramp up economic growth, wages and employment over time, and that moving back to PST-GST will have negative consequences. At the same time, the HST will have an impact on consumers’ bottom line –- after rebates and tax credits, B.C. residents will pay $1.33 billion more in sales tax and businesses will pay about $730 million less in tax in 2011-12.
“Our consensus is the HST will be a net benefit to the economy. But you shouldn’t expect dramatic results overnight,” the panel report concluded.
In the trenches, Fight HST and Smart Tax Alliance accuse each other of cherry-picking facts and spreading propaganda. Slade and Jagger agree that there seems to be little middle ground.
“The HST is polarizing,” Jagger said. “Unfortunately it is more of a political issue than is should be. We are voting on a tax. This isn’t a general election.”
Slade said after countless volunteer hours of fighting to quash the HST, he thinks Fight HST is close to victory. “I believe yes, we will win. It’s been two years of hard work. We’re so close we can taste it.”
The mail-in provincial referendum on the HST is underway.
For more information on Fight HST, see www.fighthst.com. For more on the Smart Tax Alliance, see hstjobs.ca. For more on the referendum and the independent panel report, see www.hstinbc.ca.