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Stewart: Stick man vs. straw man at heart of HST debate

By now, hopefully, you’ve received the HST Voters’ Guide in the mail.

It contains the “No” position in favour of the HST, a statement from the “Yes” side opposing the HST, and rebuttals from either side.

There is also a summary of the independent panel report on the HST, which was mostly in support of the HST.

My last column about the HST referendum, “Stick Man Vs. Straw Man,” elicited some thoughtful feedback, some positive and some negative.

Unfortunately, it also elicited some less than thoughtful feedback. I was surprised by some of the more angry and personal emails.

The most frustrating aspect of the anti-HST argument often seems to be opposition to the HST—period, full stop. That’s where the argument ends.

But it’s disingenuous to simply oppose the HST and pretend that returning to the old PST/GST system will be painless—or worth the trouble.

Indeed, there are precious few who defend the old, inefficient PST/GST system as inherently better.

Much of the argument against the HST seems to be about the way it was introduced, which was far less than ideal.

Could we have done a better job introducing the HST? Unquestionably. Can the HST be improved? Yes.

And Premier Christy Clark has announced and committed the province to those improvements, including a reduction to 10 per cent, which the federal government has indicated it will commit to an order of Parliament.

The choice facing British Columbians isn’t between the HST and doing away with sales tax altogether, but between the 10 per cent HST and reverting back to the 12 per cent GST/PST system.

Tellingly, many of the HST’s most vocal opponents stop short of endorsing the old system, which they know was inefficient and not competitive.

Even FightHST—which has taken many positions best described as ridiculous—conceded as much.

In their April Truth Report, they said the PST “may not be the best tax.”

So why spend about $3 billion bringing it back? According to the same report, it could “begin the process of determining the best type of tax for British Columbia.”

That’s simply irresponsible. We’re talking about a lot of money to spend on “starting a process.”

If the PST/GST system “may not be the best tax,” why sink billions into pretending it is?

The referendum is between two choices—keeping the 10 per cent HST, or going back to the 12 per cent GST/PST system.

Despite what FightHST and others may claim, there is no third option. If we go back to the GST/PST system, we are likely stuck with it for the foreseeable future.

Can you make a sensible case that returning to the 12 per cent PST/GST system won’t cost much, or that it would be worth it?

I don’t think so.

 

 

Ben Stewart is the Liberal MLA for Westside-Kelowna

 

www.benstewartmla.bc.ca

 

 

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