Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


May 4, 2011

Debate on Bill 4 (the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) Initiative Vote and Referendum Act).

 S. Simpson: We're here debating Bill 4. Bill 4 is the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) Initiative Vote and Referendum Act.

Hon. Speaker, the reason for this bill is to make changes, as has been noted by previous speakers, to what had originally been intended under the Recall and Initiative Act to have a vote on September 24 in regard to the HST, to make a determination about British Columbia's views on the HST and about its future.

The decision has been made by the government, by the Premier to move that up slightly and to change the enabling legislation from the Recall and Initiative Act to the Referendum Act and in doing that commence this action in mid-June resulting in sometime in August us getting a result from this vote.

The other important aspect of this, I think, as has been pointed out, is that we are moving from what was going to be a more conventional ballot, much like an election. That's what the Premier told us we were doing. That's what originally had been intended, but that's now been changed to a mail ballot, and we'll get to see what the circumstances of that are with that mail ballot. But it clearly is a different circumstance from what we had originally anticipated would occur.

Now, I think it's important that as we move forward that people be reminded as to why it is that we're in this situation at all — that we're in fact having this vote at all. I think it's important. Why did we have a September 24 date at all? What created the circumstances that required that? What's created the circumstances that now have us moving back to a mail ballot in June?

Well, just in case people need to be reminded, prior to the last election, of course, the government told us on numerous occasions that they were opposed to the HST and a harmonized sales tax and were supportive of the PST-GST combination as it was.

We were told that continually. We, of course, know that almost immediately following the 2009 election, the government announced its intention to introduce a harmonized sales tax. They brought that forward. They rushed it through.

It would have proceeded if it wasn't for people at the grass roots, for the official opposition, for many business people and community interests, particularly small business people, who stood up and said: "This is wrong. The way you've done this is wrong. It shouldn't proceed." And of course, for many consumers, at the point they realized that essentially what this was, a $1.9 billion tax shift from large business to consumers, they said that was wrong too.

From a government that continually talks about tax cuts, here they are putting $2 billion of additional taxes on consumers. That's quite a tax cut — $2 billion of additional taxes on the backs of consumers. And of course, we know that the community at the grass-roots level rose up. People came together across the political spectrum and succeeded with the initiative that forced, in fact, the decision to move forward with the September 24 vote that now has, with this legislation, been moved to be a mail ballot under the Referendum Act to proceed in June.

So what is the state of this? What is the situation? Now, as this moves forward, of course, as we always know with these situations, the devil is always in the details. The details around this really reflect on the question about what are the circumstances that are going to be in play as this moves forward. As some of my colleagues have said, the government has announced about $1.7 million of spending that we know about that will be put forward.

That spending will include $250,000 for a yes side and $250,000 for a no side. It also includes about a half-million dollars for educational institutions to do some work around this. We don't know what that means. We don't know who's going to be involved in that, how they balance the academia of that. But that's good. Educational institutions — hopefully, they'll do a good job in terms of hosting some forums. That's not a bad way to spend some money to have a discussion around this.

Then there's $700 million for the government to educate us. This is a government that hardly has a balanced view of this tax on consumers and small business, on working families and small business — a $1.9 billion tax on working families and small business. This is a government that hardly has a balanced view of this, so it will be pretty interesting to see how this $700,000 gets spent.

Of course, on top of that, hon. Speaker, we're not sure whether that's all the spending. The Finance Minister has been questioned in question period about whether there will be additional spending in relation to this. The Finance Minister hasn't quite given us an answer to those questions yet, but we might try again to see if we can get that answer again before we're done here on the second of June. We might try, because the Finance Minister doesn't seem to want to tell us what his plans really are as to how he's going to spend money on this.

That's what's happening with that piece. But that may not be the most concerning piece of this. The no limits — the lack of any limit on third-party spending — may be the biggest concern of all.

The reality is this. If you say to me as the business community, "I'm about prepared to give you $1.9 billion a year in tax breaks in perpetuity every year," then does it seem like it might be a good idea for me to drop a few million dollars to convince the people of British Columbia somehow that them paying this tax rather than the corporations paying it is a good idea? Just might be a good business investment for big business to do that.

Now, I don't have any problem with business deciding that they're going to look after their interest. My concern comes when this government decides to be blatantly unfair and to bias this vote by in fact encouraging that and creating a circumstance that encourages business to do exactly that. I expect business to look after their interests, but I expect the government to look after British Columbians' interest, and you're not doing that.

That's the problem we have. We have a government that's saying to business: "We don't have the courage as a government to stand up and do what we want to do, so you do it for us because you're the beneficiary. You're the big beneficiary, and we're not sure how to explain to British Columbians that a $2 billion tax increase is good for them, so you go explain it to them. Then we'll all be good. And we'll collect your campaign donation before the next election, thank you very much." We see all of these issues weave together.

Today, of course, we're going to deal with this bill. We're going to pass this bill. But the story isn't this piece of legislation. The story is everything that has come and brought us to this time and this place.

It is the duplicity of the government in regard to the issue of the HST around the election and what they said the day before and what they said the day after. It is the performance of the government in trying to convince British Columbians that increasing their taxes by $2 billion without one cent of additional funding for services is good for them. It's about them paying off their friends who are the beneficiaries of that without producing one single piece of credible evidence that it actually creates jobs and investment.

That's the situation we're in, but we will move forward. I will say to the government that you might want it load up the money on the corporate side to fight this and to try to promote this tax. You might want to use the government money that you can slide into advertising and other manipulation to fight this, to promote this tax. The reality is this. The people of British Columbia know what this is all about. They know this tax is bad for the province. It's bad for the people of British Columbia, and it's bad for this province in its entirety.

That's what British Columbians know, and they're not going to buy a sell job from the B.C. Liberals to change that. So do whatever you choose to do. Manipulate it however you choose to manipulate it. At the end of the day, come August, we will see this tax defeated in British Columbia, and there will be fairness for British Columbians again when you stop the tax breaks, unfair tax breaks, at the expense of citizens. That's what we're facing.

I look forward to the defeat of this tax come August, when we see that. I look forward to the justifications of the smiling Minister of Finance when he comes to try to defend this tax over the next coming weeks. The reality is this; it's a bad tax. It's on the backs of British Columbians. It doesn't do anything for British Columbians. They know that. Everybody in this province knows that. They'll defeat the tax. It will be a good day for British Columbia.

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