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Liberal leader Gordon Campbell celebrates his win as Premier of British Columbia in Vancouver, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. He resigned early in November, 2010 (JONATHAN HAYWARD)
Liberal leader Gordon Campbell celebrates his win as Premier of British Columbia in Vancouver, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. He resigned early in November, 2010 (JONATHAN HAYWARD)

Comment: Tony Wilson

Dear readers: I've done the math, and HST wins Add to ...

My last column on HST generated, at last count, 210 comments (most of them in strong disagreement) and a number of e-mails, some questioning my parentage, my politics and my sanity. Others congratulated me for a great article, but they advised me to seek a bodyguard for my protection.

In this column I’ll address five of my favourite comments.

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Every writer has biases. Here are mine: I’m not a thug or a propagandist for the B.C. or Ontario Liberals. Over my lifetime I have voted for the federal Liberals, the federal PC party, the Socreds, the B.C. Liberals, the Ontario NDP, the Ontario Tories, the Rhinoceros party and, once or twice, “none of the above.” I couldn’t care less which party brought in the HST. If it’s a good tax that keeps businesses employing Canadians and it helps pay for our spiralling health care and education costs, I’m for it.

I agree the B.C. Liberals did a pathetic job of introducing the tax. It should have been an election issue or debated in the legislature. Said one reader: “It’s not so much the tax, it is lying about the tax that sticks in everyone's throat.” Said another: “The issue is about how the tax was brought in, that the government lied about it.”

The optics of announcing the new tax a week or two after winning the election, and without campaigning on it, are not good. Someone should lose their job over how this was done, and if the polls have anything to say about it, someone will.

Now that I’ve dealt with 180 of the comments, let’s turn to the ones about the tax itself. Lets assume, at least in B.C., that it was debated in the legislature and not brought in by the current premier or the current party. Like Joe Friday said, lets just look at the facts:

1. “It’s not fair to the poor and the unemployed. Lawyers and economists can afford this tax. A lot of the rest of us can't.” Actually, if you do the math, low income British Columbians are actually better off under the HST system than under the old PST regime. Lets run some numbers to prove it. Under the PST system, British Columbians whose annual income was $15,000 or less, received a $75 PST credit (not cash) when they filed their annual income tax return. And this $75 PST credit declined by 2 per cent of gross individual income above $15,000 a year, meaning you received no credit once your taxable income reached $18,750.

There’s a similar credit with HST. But under HST, more low-income earners will receive more money. First, the income threshold at which the credit starts to be “phased out” is higher for the B.C. HST credit ($20,000 for single individuals, and higher still for families with dependents).

Second, the credit is $230 a year, not $75 a year as it was with the former PST credit. In other words, the HST credit is more than three times that of the current PST credit. And the HST credit is indexed to inflation. The PST credit wasn’t.

Third, this $230 HST credit is paid in cold hard cash, in advance, every quarter to qualifying individuals. This means qualifying individuals began receiving $57.50 every quarter starting July, 2010. They then receive an additional payment of $57.50 in October, January, and April. Compare this with the $75 PST credit that is only creditable once a year, and was applied against any income tax owing by the individual. So if there’s no HST after Sept. 14, 2011, I guess there’s no more $230 a year in cash to low-income earners, is there?

What would you rather have? A $75 tax credit, or $230 cash in your jeans?

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