Opinion

The HST's Strange Friends

Why aren't Canadian Taxpayers Federation and chambers of commerce fighting the tax small business hates?

By Bill Tieleman 27 Apr 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"It's a true value-added tax. It's a tax shift to the consumer." -- Jon Garson, vice-president, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, on the HST

With the overwhelming majority of B.C taxpayers fighting the proposed Harmonized Sales Tax, you would think a group called the Canadian Taxpayers Federation would be leading the charge.

But you would be dead wrong. They could care less.

And with thousands of restaurants, realtors, developers, accountants, and other businesses facing an extra seven per cent imposed on the goods and services they provide, you might presume chambers of commerce are trying to stop the B.C. government's HST.

Wrong again. They love it.

Who really is the 'voice of business'?

Amazingly, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce actually strongly supports the HST, with its president John Winter one of the only HST cheerleaders in the province.

"The HST has our support... This is the Voice of Business speaking," Winter said last year.

But wait a minute -- is Winter truly the Voice for B.C. chambers?

Because at the local level, some chamber members -- especially restaurant owners, realtors and developers -- have to be asking why the heck they pay good money for Winter to go around supporting a tax they believe will harm their businesses and the economy.

Nearly 80 per cent of North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce members surveyed said they are opposed to the HST on their businesses, with 68 per cent saying it will have a negative impact on their businesses.

And a Kelowna Chamber of Commerce member survey found that 64 per cent believe the HST will have a negative impact on the economy while less than ten per cent think it will be positive.

And as businesses like A&W Restaurants and Serious Coffee in southern Vancouver Island open their doors to help volunteers gather signatures for the Fight HST citizens' initiative petition led by former premier Bill Vander Zalm, it sounds like the chamber isn't speaking for its members.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation lies down

Then there’s the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's B.C. branch, which is not opposing the HST despite their slogan, which says they are a “citizen's advocacy group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government."

Really? Not from what I can see.

When it comes to the HST: "Simply saying NO is not realistic," says the Federation's website. "The provincial and federal government have entered into an agreement including a $1.6-billion carrot to the province that is not likely to be reversed."

And B.C. director Maureen Bader says: "The HST is not going away. It doesn't matter how many petitions there are, or how outraged people are -- and they are really outraged about it -- the government is not going to back down."

Talk about giving up on taxpayers desperately who actually want to stop the HST!

When the HST was first announced last July, Bader even praised the idea.

"In theory, it's a good thing. In the short term it's bad for families, but over the long run it should help with economic growth and increase incentives to work and invest in the province," Bader said. Ouch!

Petitions filling up fast

These days the Federation is more concerned with getting a municipal vote for businesses and criticizing MLA pensions than opposing a new $2 billion a year tax that would hit all consumers and devastate small businesses. They do say taxpayers are "rightly" outraged by the HST but that’s about it.

And despite 145,000 people having signed the Fight HST Initiative petition, and before the planned July 1 imposition date, the Federation has its own campaign online -- to get the HST not stopped but simply lowered after implemented!

Forget about the Federation even posting links to Fight HST or the NO BC HST Facebook page for its members who actually do want to stop this tax -- they're nowhere to be seen. But you can find a link to the B.C. government website!

A Taxpayers Federation that won’t fight a terrible new tax and a Chamber of Commerce that won’t represent small business -- no wonder British Columbians are furious at more than just the HST.

Lower Mainland residents can sign the Fight HST petition from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday May 1 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  [Tyee]

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