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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark waves to the Liberal membership following her address at the BC Liberals Convention in Penticton, B.C. on Saturday May 14, 2011.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark waves to the Liberal membership following her address at the BC Liberals Convention in Penticton, B.C. on Saturday May 14, 2011.

Start: Tony Wilson

HST critics: Do the math, back off Add to ...

Good grief. Where are the business leaders and elder statesmen and stateswomen of the province when you need them? Why aren’t retired politicians like Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Ujjal Dosanjh and Stockwell Day – all of them smart people – not stepping into the debate for the good of the province and commenting on Mr. Vander Zalm’s assertions (or, at the very least, helping him with his arithmetic)?

British Columbians may not like the tax very much, but they may be starting to realize that staying with the HST is a better alternative than the cuts to social services and the income-tax increases that residents will have to bear to repay the federal government the $1.6 billion it will owe for HST transition costs. Mr. Vander Zalm and his supporters are ignoring this very large elephant nonchalantly sitting in the back of the room.

It’s a massive elephant. It’s a massive debt obligation. It’s a massive problem.

As much as he might want to wish it away, to pretend it doesn’t exist, or to expect the federal government to settle for a song, there is no political reason why a newly elected majority government in Ottawa will feel motivated to do so when it must also look to protect the other taxpayers of Canada, who paid for B.C.’s transition to HST. If I lived in Ontario or Nova Scotia, I’d be outraged if a deal was struck by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to forgive and forget BC’s $1.6 billion HST debt.

Mr. Harper knows this. It’s not going to happen.

Regardless of what political party is in power if we return to PST in B.C., provincial income-tax rates and government user fees will rise, education and health budgets will be cut, and a host of social-service budgets will be affected to pay for this shortfall. And unfortunately, B.C.’s economic growth may be stymied for a decade.

The economy won’t expand by $2.5 billion, it won’t have produced $1.2 billion more in exports of goods and services, and the province won’t get those 24,000 better paying jobs by 2020 that have been predicted by Mr. Dinning’s independent panel mandated to review the HST in B.C. We may look a little more like Greece or Portugal when all the investment dollars and jobs that otherwise would have come to B.C. flow to Ontario and Alberta instead.

Again, what part of this is Mr. Vander Zalm not getting? Or is he so happy to be back in the limelight again that he'll say anything to get on TV and in front of a crowd? Even if it’s blatantly wrong or misleading?

The HST referendum will begin in B.C. in just over two weeks. It’s time to scrutinize the FightHST message as much as the messengers, who’ve been getting a free ride on the anti-Campbell sentiment in the province for the past year.

We need to be a bit more like CBS reporter Katie Couric asking U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin some really tough questions.

How about these ones for starters?

  1. Where would the money come from to repay the federal government the $1.6 billion in HST transition costs if the tax is defeated?
  2. Why is a 12-per-cent tax rate better than a 10-per-cent tax rate when I will save $120 a year with a 10-per-cent HST?
  3. As a pensioner, what will happen to my HST rebate cheque of $230 a year if PST is reinstated?
  4. Why is the HST a threat to provincial sovereignty when we already count on the federal government to collect provincial income tax?
  5. How is HST more complicated for small business when there is only one tax form to complete, not two?
  6. What do you tell small-business people like Peter Oates of Carmelo’s restaurant in West Vancouver when he says he likes HST because it’s simpler and he gets more input tax credits?
  7. Why do you say the HST is a windfall to “big business” when “big business” always had exemptions from paying PST on forestry equipment, mining equipment, and production machinery and equipment used by manufacturers?
  8. Where did Mr. Dinning’s independent panel report on HST go wrong when it said B.C.’s economy will, by 2020, expand by $2.5 billion, will generate $1.2 billion more in exports of goods and services, and will have 24,000 better paying jobs under HST?

And my personal favourite?

9. Can you see Russia from your house?

Special to The Globe and Mail

Tony Wilson is a franchise and intellectual property lawyer at Boughton in Vancouver, and he is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. His newest book, Manage Your Online Reputation, was published in November.

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