HST pros, cons debated at public forum

Nanaimo residents get a chance to grasp the complexities of the harmonized sales tax with an HST public forum at Vancouver Island University.

The June 9 forum, the last of 11 taking place around the province prior to the June 13-July 22 mail-in referendum on the HST, takes place from 7:30-9 p.m. in the Malaspina Theatre, Bldg. 310, Rm. 218.

The public can attend the sessions or watch on the Internet at www.hstpublicforums.ca, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HSTForums, and Twitter at @HSTForums using the hashtag #HSTForums.

Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm and Chris Delaney of Fight HST Society and Kevin Milligan of the Smart Tax Alliance will present their views of the tax during the debate and 45-minute question-and-answer period.

Woody Hayes, a chartered accountant with Hayes Stewart Little and Company, and spokesman for the Smart Tax Alliance, said the forum is an opportunity for the public to get a clear sense of what they are  making a decision on.

“There’s so much bad feeling about the HST that people are anxious to have their say and make it clear that they  were pretty irritated in the way is was brought in,” he said. “Having said that, most of the world has gone to the value-added tax and it would be somewhat tragic to have to go back to the old GST/PST regiment where you’ve kind of got the worst of both worlds.”

Hayes said the alliance hopes to present the message at the forum that the HST gives businesses a competitive opportunity to grow and the cost of returning to the provincial sales tax is going to be expensive.

“The HST has taken a bad rap and we want people to be aware when they’re making a decision they’re clear on what they are voting for,” he said. “It’s time for clarity of thought and not rash decisions.”

Delaney said  there’s not a lot of confusion about the HST because it has been in place in B.C. for close to a year.

“In the past when the HST has been brought in – whether it’s Canada or other places in the world – they’ve sold the people on the merits, or  lack thereof, through theories and sales pitches and once they get it, it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said. “Here, we have a unique situation where we’ve experienced it for a year and now we get to decide whether we like it.”

He said the confusion comes from government and big business trying to keep the tax and spinning numbers and theories that people find confusing.

“That isn’t to say they’re not always correct, but numbers, facts and figures just confuse people,” he said. “From our standpoint, we’re there to clarify for people the truth about the tax and how it’s been experienced every where else.”

Meanwhile, the provincial government announced Wednesday  a two-per cent reduction in the HST to 10 per cent from 12 per cent by 2014.

If the HST survives the referendum, the first one-per cent cut would take effect July 1, 2012.

Delaney said the fact B.C. Premier Christy Clark is already trying to “fix” the HST proves their point that the tax is not working.

“It’s a Band-Aid going on a hemorrhage,” he said. “No one is wanting to fix anything.”

Hayes from a business perspective the cuts are neutral.

“With a value-added tax, that competitive advantage stays. It doesn’t matter what the rate is,” he said. “But as a consumer, I’m quite pleased to be paying a little bit less.”

For more information on the HST forums, please go to www.hstpublicforums.ca.