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Another $5 Million for HST Ad Campaign

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon asks to be judged on 'neutral' information campaign.

Andrew MacLeod 13 May

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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HST in B.C. ad campaign protagonist 'Stickman' says: Decide for yourself.

Announcing a $5 million advertising campaign, B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said it's important to provide basic, neutral information about the Harmonized Sales Tax ahead of the province-wide vote.

NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston questioned whether a minister who has consistently supported the tax can do that. A look at the government's HST website shows he may have reason to worry.

"This is not going to be a persuasion campaign," said Falcon, who unveiled televison and print ads for reporters in his legislature office. "It is going to be an information campaign. It is going to ensure British Columbians get basic facts."

Asked if the information would explain the strengths and weaknesses of both options, Falcon said, "Yes, it's going to show what the pros and cons are, but mostly it's going to show what's covered and what isn't covered."

People can judge for themselves whether the government has succeeded in putting together something neutral, he said. "If we tried to turn this into a sales job, the public reaction would boomerang and we'd get nowhere," he said. "I think we'll be judged on what kind of information campaign we run."

Something 'wrong' with PST

The television ads themselves appear neutral. They feature a stick person confused by the debate over whether the province should keep the HST or return to a system with a Provincial Sales Tax and a federal Goods and Services Tax.

"Decide for yourself," the ad tells viewers, providing an address for the HST in B.C. website.

The website has a variety of information, including the independent panel's "It's your decision" report. The panel included former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning, former B.C. auditor general George Morfitt, Coast Capital Savings CEO Tracy Redies, and Simon Fraser University professor John Richards.

It also includes information the government has been using for some time, some of which appears to support keeping the HST, and some which contradicts the panel's report.

Take for instance the series of frequently asked questions the website includes:

Taken together, the questions suggest there was something wrong with the PST, the HST is different, it was important for B.C. to adopt a value added tax like the HST, and the HST will create jobs. While Falcon would likely argue that it's true there was something wrong with the PST and it was important to adopt the HST, that position is not neutral.

Family budget gaps

Another page of the website looks at how the HST affects your family budget.

It quotes the independent panel's report: "Most households will see an increase in how much they are paying in sales taxes under the HST. The Independent Panel on the HST estimates that families will be paying, on average, an additional $350 in sales tax annually under the HST."

Scrolling down, it includes a graphic with four case studies showing how the HST affects different types of families who have different incomes. None of them will pay an additional amount as high as the $350 the panel identified as the average.

According to the panel's report, the 15 per cent of families who earn more than $100,000 a year will pay 40 per cent of the HST.

While that might explain some of the discrepancy, the report also provides figures for what the net increase, after rebates, should be for families in various income brackets. It defines "family" as one or more B.C. taxpayers, by the way.

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