Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


May 31, 2011

Remarks on Motion 11 — Government changes to HST

S. Simpson: I am pleased to join the debate here around Motion 11, which is the motion that will enable the latest scheme of the government as they desperately try to work their way out of this HST mess that they put themselves in.

When we talk about this, I think it's important that we take a moment to realize how we got here. How did we end up in this situation that we're in today?

Well, the first thing you have to understand is that this is a government, the B.C. Liberals, that for years and years opposed the HST. Carole Taylor, one of the predecessors of the current Finance Minister, was absolutely clear in her opposition to the HST — where it cost us economic sovereignty, where it just didn't make sense for British Columbia. The government maintained this position right through the 2009 election. They maintained this position to the point of responding to questions from the restaurant industry in writing where they essentially said that they would not introduce the HST.

That was the position they took. They took that position right up to the election. Of course, the other position they took heading up to the election was a $495 million deficit, maximum. British Columbia was going to do better than everybody else in tough economic times. That was going to be the deficit. Of course, what we saw immediately after the election was that this government had to acknowledge that we were looking at a debt that was billions higher than that.

The government, all of a sudden, had made this big mistake — the biggest mistake in the history of not just this province but maybe the biggest mistake in the history of financial reporting anywhere in this country. It could very well be. It certainly was a huge, huge error, but they quickly wanted to dismiss that.

What did the Premier of the day do? The Premier said: "I'm embarrassed because I look like a fool, and my government looks like fools. We either look like fools, or we look like people that misled folks. Let's figure out how to drive that number down, and we will do anything to drive that number down."

What did they do? The federal government, who quite rightly wants the HST adopted across this country so that they can have greater control of tax policy in the country, said, "We've got a billion six for you" — $1.6 billion. "You take the HST; we give you the money."

Well, there was no thought. It was: "We get a billion six; we're taking the billion six." That made the number a little bit more palatable for the Premier. Didn't matter what this policy meant for the province. It didn't matter that this was a shift of almost $2 billion, a $1.9 billion tax shift onto consumers, onto working families, onto small business from the corporate sector. But this government was prepared to fold up and do that immediately.

Hon. Speaker, again to remind you: before the election, no HST. Within almost minutes after the election, we're negotiating the deal on the HST. British Columbians across this province were outraged. They were outraged not just for the tax, but as the government side has acknowledged, they were outraged that they had been so dramatically misled by the B.C. Liberals.

We saw a level of public outrage that we have simply never seen, probably in the history of this province. It was outrage at the process. It was outrage at the tax shift. That was reflected in more than 700,000 people signing that initiative — a remarkable accomplishment. Whatever you think of it, 700,000-plus people signed that initiative because they were outraged with the conduct of the B.C. Liberal government.

What have we seen since then? Well, we've seen the story from the government change on almost a daily basis. The numbers change on almost a daily basis from the government. One day it's going to be revenue-neutral. The next day it's making major money for the province. One day it's going to create 113,000 jobs. The next day it's going to create jobs that are within the margin of error, 2,400 jobs a year — within, probably, the margin of error of job creation in the province — over ten years. So it's within the margin of error.

Maybe the Finance Minister might want to learn a little about economics now that he's got this file, because he hasn't demonstrated any capacity in economics, any capacity at all.

Interjection.

S. Simpson: Yeah, well, we've seen the performance so far.

Economic growth, they talk about. There is no evidence of economic growth other than the bought-and-paid-for studies. The reality is this: this is a massive tax shift. It's a massive tax shift onto working families and small business.

The member for Chilliwack talked about this government's ability to manage. He didn't talk about the debt in this province, the debt that's reached record levels under the B.C. Liberals, $47-plus billion.

Next year, in the year coming up, a 13 percent increase in that debt. We'll go over $53 billion to almost $53½ billion, and for the next couple of years an over 21 percent increase in debt. That's the reality of where this government is going. What it is, is the reality that it's a government that's desperate to get out of this HST mess and will sacrifice anything to do it. It really doesn't matter.

Now what do we have? We have the government bringing forward this motion. They moved the referendum to June. Fair enough. But what do they do? They move it to the Referendum Act. What's the reality of moving it to the Referendum Act?

Well, the reality is we now have the most remarkable attempt on the part of this government to buy this vote. First of all, we have this motion that's going to attempt to buy this vote, and what is this motion all about? What did the Premier say about this?

In March the Premier said: "We aren't going to be talking about trying to reduce it by a point or two before the referendum. I mean, I think people will see that as buying them with their own money." Nothing could be more truthful than the Premier's comments in March. Of course, her view has now changed, but that was the view.

What else do we know? Not only have they attempted to buy it, but we have this unbelievable expenditure of $7 million to purchase it. How does that work? Well, we have almost $5½ million of straight-up government money to promote the HST. So $5 million from the government — we've seen the stick man ads as they've moved from the first ad on to become a crass promotion of the HST — plus $250,000 to the no side and the $200,000 for the telephone town halls.

Now, to be fair, there is other money being spent, so that's almost $5½ million. And $1.2 million was spent, a half a million on public dialogues by the universities and $700,000 on a voters guide. That might have made sense to spend that money. Then, of course, there's $250,000 for the yes side. So almost $5½ million on the no side and a quarter million dollars, $250,000, on the yes side. That's the reality of the spending to try to buy this referendum.

[1950]

The reality of this particular motion, as well, that we just have no clarity on, no clarity at all, is what the effect will be on government services. We're going to face a cut that, depending on how you look at it, is somewhere between $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion of government revenue cut out of this by cutting the 2 percent. We're going to see that cut.

We've seen that the government has said they're going to balance the budget at the same time. We've seen no explanation by the government of which programs they expect to cut in government in order to try to make that happen. There's no explanation of what they're going to do. They've talked about, obviously, this position around the corporate tax increase, but they're very clear that's a temporary matter, and it will be temporary in nature.

The reality of this is that we have a government here that has brought in this particular scheme to try to buy this HST vote in June. It can't be seen as anything else. That's what it is.

The reality, though, is this. We're hearing this day in and day out in the media. We're reading it in the newspapers. Even after the government introduced this scheme the other day, we are hearing that this government is not believable.

People don't buy it. They don't believe the government will carry through. They don't believe that it's anything but a crass attempt to buy their vote. These are people who are very angry at this government for the way they introduced this initiative in the first place, the way they misled the people of British Columbia in the first place.

Now they're being asked to buy it again, to believe the government again, and the reality is that they're not prepared to do that. We have a government that is not believable. We have a government that simply does not have a coherent policy around taxes here but is careening from position to position when it comes to this HST in a desperate attempt to get this tax through. And it really is a desperate effort to make this tax work.

We have a situation where we need to engage British Columbians, I believe, in a much more thoughtful discussion about tax policy, and we need to move that discussion forward over the next period of time. But that's not going to occur, because we're going to have to deal with this matter.

The reality is that the people of British Columbia have not accepted this position of this government. They don't believe this government. They haven't bought this latest sales job. I believe they are going to oppose this tax in significant numbers, and when they oppose the tax, we will then get back to a discussion of how the tax policy works in this province, and we will move forward, back to that discussion.

I will be voting against this, as will the members of the opposition. The people of British Columbia, I believe, will vote against this initiative when they get the chance, come later in June.

We will move forward. We will move forward in a progressive way in this province. We will move forward in a way that's fair for working families and for small businesses. We will move forward in a way that's fair for consumers, we will move forward in a way that ensures the key government services that people expect from government are funded, and we will move forward in a way that ensures we have an economy that speaks to the interests of everyday British Columbians.

I look forward to the rest of this debate and to the vote, come June, when we get to defeat the HST once and for all.

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