Kelowna cherry grower Christine Dendy comes from a pioneer Kelowna family and has been in agriculture all her life.
Thursday she joined Kelowna grape grower Doug Sperling, Enderby dairy farmer Lorne Hunter and the president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, Joe Sardinha, in standing up for the HST and urging everyone to vote in favour of the existing tax system in the upcoming referendum.
With her accounting background, she says she’s been fighting the Provincial Sales Tax for nine years because it adds to the cost of all the capital expenditures required to keep her East Kelowna growing and packing operation going.
Waving her arm around the farmyard in front of her historic barn Friday, she pointed out just some of the equipment on which she had to pay PST on the purchase price—whereas with the Harmonized Sales Tax, she would have received refunds for the tax paid on those expenditures because they are not for personal use, but for agricultural use: to grow food.
Food is supposed to be tax exempt in B.C., yet under the PST farmers were charged PST on a lot of the costs to produce it, she said.
She explained that the upcoming vote on the HST is not actually on whether we should have to pay it on doughnuts, but on whether we favour that system of tax collection or the PST system.
The details of how much the tax is or what it is to be paid on can all be changed whenever politicians decide to make alterations.
The vote is on whether what Dendy says is a much simpler system should continue in place, or whether we want to go back to separate collection of both a PST and a federal tax.
“The question is whether we want to ditch this simpler system of collecting tax,” she said.
She says the PST was totally unfair because it was hidden and imbedded in the costs of goods and services at the retail level, so either prices had to be raised to include it or businesses had to absorb the cost.
The HST requires only one tax collection and audit bureaucracy to administer it instead of two and it’s a much simplified system for business, she notes. In addition, she noted it would be a huge job to go back to the PST; re-instating that bureaucracy and re-training everyone involved, from small business to government staff.
“It would be a huge job to go back and a big step backwards,” she said.
Sperling noted that his industry is a critical agricultural sector in the Okanagan; one with deep roots which is currently growing stronger and he said this is the biggest policy change to help farmers in a long time. “With the HST, we get our input taxes back, which helps local B.C. producers. There’s one simple, unified system of collecting.”
It’s estimated the HST saves agriculture in B.C. $20 million, mostly on capital costs.