No means yes to B.C. government

Do you want to keep the Harmonized Sales Tax? Yes. Then say No.

Do you want to keep the Harmonized Sales Tax?

Yes.

Then say No.

No means Yes?

In B.C. it does.

Where are Abbot and Costello when we need them? British Columbians are confused about their pending Yes and No HST referendum votes.

In a new Ipsos Reid poll, 55 per cent say the wording of the HST question is confusing. Of the other 45 per cent who figured they understood the question, 10 per cent placed their ‘X’ in the wrong box.

It gets worse. Before being told the actual referendum question, respondents were asked for their top-of-mind understanding of what a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ vote means. More than 20 per cent incorrectly said a ‘Yes’ vote means keeping the HST and a ‘No’ vote means killing it.

Given the fact that the ballots are in the mail, this is not encouraging news.

How did we get in this pickle? It starts with the massive wave of righteous indignation that grew out of former premier Gordon Campbell’s betrayal of his 2009 election promise not to tinker with the PST/GST.

In April 2010, Elections BC gave Bill Vander Zalm’s anti-HST army approval to begin collecting signatures. The petition was submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer in June. Of the 713,883 signatures gathered, 557,383 were valid and the threshold achieved.

In September 2010, a committee of the Legislature referred the initiative results along with a draft HST Extinguishment Act to the Chief Electoral Officer enabling him to conduct a vote under the Recall and Initiative Act. Because the exercise was framed as an initiative to eliminate the tax, the referendum question had to be crafted to reflect the negation. And, so we got this:

“Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)?” Yes or No.

Think of it this way: if you do not want to return to the old PST/GST system, mark ‘No.’ If you hate the HST and want be rid of it mark ‘Yes.’

Two other elements of this battle are confusing.

The government is framing the decision as returning to a 12 per cent PST/GST or endorsing a new HST regime of only 10 per cent. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon is trumpeting this tax break like it’s happening now when it won’t be a reality for two long years.

The Opposition isn’t helping either. NDP leader Adrian Dix — between a rock and a hard place arguing for an antiquated 12 per cent PST/GST — can only urge us not to trust Falcon’s HST “fixes” including cheques for families with kids and corporate tax increases along with the staged reduction to 10 per cent.

Given the fact that Campbell’s tax betrayal ended his mandate and almost ruined his governing party, Dix’s conspiracy theory is utterly stupid and disingenuous.

The other thing the NDP does not want to discuss is how they would fiscally manage the retreat to the PST/GST if elected next fall or next spring. Besides putting the bankers in chains, how are they going to repay Ottawa’s $1.6 billion HST transition grant? How will they afford to rehire 300 tax collectors? How will they managed the loss of confidence in the business sector?

Perhaps they don’t really expect to get elected. M

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