The HST Has Been a Con Job Since Day 1

By Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of labour
Special to The Province July 7, 2011 ~ Link to Province story

British Columbians are now voting on whether or not to scrap the HST.

If the HST survives the referendum, it will go down as one of the most successful con jobs in the history of the province.

A good con starts with a lie. The B.C. Liberals said point blank they would not bring in the HST. Then they got re-elected and immediately imposed the HST, assuming the con would work. After all, it was four years until the next election.

This particular con job involved British Columbians overlooking the fact that they would be picking up a $2-billion tax bill on just about everything that would let big business avoid paying $2 billion in taxes every year.

The plan was simple enough.

Like most con jobs, people were skeptical. Polls showed 80 per cent weren’t buying it. Even the popular former finance minister Carole Taylor saw the con for what it was and rejected it. “This particular tax takes the tax off of businesses — it takes $1.8 billion off of businesses — and puts it on consumers,” she said.

British Columbians turned their anger to action, creating a grassroots movement that did the impossible, forcing the first citizen referendum in B.C.

Clearly this con job was in serious trouble and a new strategy was needed.

Job one: change the con artist. Gordon Campbell, facing political oblivion, was run out of office and we all felt a little better.

Business lined up behind pro-HST leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon and all appeared on course until Christy Clark rocked the boat and won the leadership. It was almost the end of the HST.

Clark knew the tax was a dog and said so: “After almost a year, the public still hates the HST . . . and if it goes to a referendum, a real referendum, the HST will almost certainly fail.”

Her suggestion to kill it was simple enough. Do what the people wanted, vote down the HST in the legislature and save millions by cancelling the referendum.

She ruled out lowering the tax. “We aren’t going to be talking about trying to reduce it by a point or two before the referendum. I think people will see that as buying them with their own money,” Clark said in March. “We’re going to have a $1.6-billion bigger deficit or we’re going to have fewer heart operations, special-needs teachers, school facilities [and] hospital emergency rooms.”

British Columbians hoping Clark would bring real change had their hopes dashed when, bowing to business and cabinet pressure, Clark did a complete U-turn on the HST.

The HST would go to referendum, only sooner, and she did what she said she would not do — she lowered the HST to 10 per cent from 12.

The con job was on again. This time, business was ready.

More than 40 business groups under the umbrella of “smart taxes” are spending millions to tell us the HST is a great thing, lots of jobs, lower taxes, lower prices and prosperity for all. None of it is true.

The Clark Liberals piled on with another $5 million of taxpayer money to back up the business message. It is, by all accounts, a shameful turn of events.

Here’s what the con artists won’t tell you. Ordinary British Columbians will see taxes go up. A paltry 200 jobs a month might be created at cost of nearly $1 million per job.

Prices have not gone down, and the provincial budget will now be more than $1 billion short and government will have to cut jobs and services. As for the $2-billion tax cut for business, they get to keep it all.

British Columbians want fair taxes, they want good jobs and they want a province where health care, education and other important public services are funded. Let’s reject this cynical attempt to con us again and vote YES to scrap the HST and start a real conversation about creating good jobs, sharing tax responsibilities fairly and building a province of prosperity and opportunity for everyone.

Now that’s a job working people are up for, not another con job.

***

Jim Sinclair is president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

© Copyright (c) The Province

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