Skip to main content
norman spector

A couple of weeks ago, a Globe and Mail editorialist in Toronto weighed in on the harmonized sales tax as follows:

"It is striking to compare the relative passivity with which the HST was accepted in Ontario this year to the outrage on display in B.C. The fact that Mr. Campbell campaigned against the HST during the 2009 election, and then changed his mind shortly thereafter, is likely a major factor in this difference."

In fact, Mr. Campbell said absolutely nothing about the HST during the election campaign. Neither did NDP leader Carole James. Both - for different reasons - would not have welcomed questions about the sales tax. And reporters covering the campaign obliged them by not asking any.

On the other hand, the BC Restaurant Association did pop the question - in a written survey: "Will your party oppose harmonizing GST with PST in British Columbia?" To which the BC Liberal Party responded: "a harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform, but we are committed to improving the tax system."

That question and answer were not publicized by the association; nor were they reported by the media, which were focussed on Mr. Campbell's carbon tax during much of the campaign. In fact, it appears that only one question was asked about the sales tax: by a local reporter in Kamloops, of the finance minister, after news of Ottawa's agreement with Ontario was reported in the Globe and Mail.

As documents released on Wednesday reveal, the Globe report also twigged officials in the B.C. finance ministry; they well understood the competitive pressures on British Columbia that would flow from the Ontario decision, and they began to pepper their federal counterparts with questions about an agreement of their own.

The Globe report also spurred a columnist at the Vancouver Sun (Don Cayo), as well as an economics professor at Simon Fraser (Jonathan Kesselman), to weigh in with opinion pieces in support of sales tax harmonization. And it put the fire under communications officials in the finance ministry, who prepared their minister for an expected flurry of questions about the sales tax. The minister's attention was on the election campaign, but, as it turned out, there was no flurry of questions on the issue in the spring of 2009. And, in the absence of any media controversy, there were no questions about sales tax harmonization asked of Premier Campbell by his political opponents during the leaders debate.