HST Debate in legislature

via Hansard transciption: http://www.leg.bc.ca/hansard/index.htm

On Monday, April 12, 2010, Diane stood in the House and spoke out against Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. The government has introduced this Act in order to eliminate the seven per cent Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and the Hotel Room Tax and introduce the measures necessary to impose the twelve per cent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

A copy of Diane’s speech is attached below.

Regards,

Laura Gullickson

Constituency Assistant to

Diane Thorne, MLA

Coquitlam-Maillardville

Deputy Opposition Critic for Education, Early Learning and Literacy

Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate
and Transition Act

(continued)

[1605]

D. Thorne: Before I begin my notes, I would like to assure the last speaker, the member across the way, that it isn’t just the people across the way — in other words, the official opposition — that are espousing opinions to which he was referring in his speech. It’s people right across the province of British Columbia. In fact, I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure it’s the big majority of people across the province of British Columbia. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

One of the lessons that I learned very quickly as a politician is to listen to the people that elected me. They know what matters in their own lives, and they know when enough is enough. I believe, as they do, that we’ve reached the tipping point with this harmonized sales tax, masquerading in this House as the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The people in this province are not stupid. They know this is a tax grab. As the old saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, don’t step in what the duck leaves behind. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I’m proud that my constituents and those from other areas of the province, many writing in a second language, trust the system and write to express their unhappiness with this disgusting tax grab. I hope they stay politically active and continue to fight. Together seniors, students, young families, small business owners, comfortably off or struggling, can make this government wake up and pay attention. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Perhaps I should rephrase that. We may not be able to make this government realize the error of its ways, but I have to believe that individual MLAs on the other side of the House are finding it very hard to justify the HST in their own individual ridings. The figure I keep hearing is that this HST has a resounding 2 percent to, at the very most, approximately 10 percent support across the province of British Columbia. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So these individual MLAs in the government, who campaigned along with their party less than a year ago on a platform that promised not to implement the HST, must be doing some pretty fancy footwork as they continue to switch gears in their ridings. How exactly do you support a bill that is the opposite of what you promised in an election campaign? I don’t know, but I’m certainly interested in finding out how they’re doing that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

My constituents understand breaking a promise. They don’t need pontificating politicians and fancy press releases. They just want the truth, and the truth is that this government made a written commitment during the election not to go forward with the HST, and yet here we are today. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

My Coquitlam-Maillardville constituency office has received literally dozens of letters on the proposed implementation of the HST. Many of these letters begin with the words: “I’ve never written to a politician before, but….” Then they go on to outline very real concerns about what this tax will mean in their own lives. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Today I want to share some of the comments that I personally have received in my office. Let’s start with the response from the business community. This is from Sandra.  [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“At a time when taxes should be cut to spur economic growth, I simply cannot believe that this is even being considered. This will have a direct impact on just about everyone’s wallet and will also have an effect on the tourism, restaurant and housing industries, to name just a few.

“This tax will hurt all B.C. residents, but most especially single parents, the working poor and those who are trying to start over by starting their own small businesses due to a job loss. I fall into this latter category, and a tax grab is not the way to fund the British Columbia government.”

This letter is from Mark. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“I have been very happy with the actions that the federal government has taken to alleviate the impact of the recession, such as the renovation tax credit for homes. But now that we have emerged from the recession, the provincial government is taking action that will hurt businesses like mine.

“We should be giving people incentives to spend money to help the economy start running smoothly again, but instead we are giving them reasons not to spend money. I get the idea that the B.C. Liberals think that this is probably their last term.”

I’d just like to add that these aren’t my words. This is from Mark, one of my constituents. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“So they don’t care how they look in bringing in the HST, but they shouldn’t bring us down with them.” This is from Ken. “If the HST is to make B.C. companies more competitive against more than 130 countries, why don’t the Liberals harmonize the tax at, say, 9 percent? Then B.C. companies would be worldbeaters.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From another Ken: “It’s not fair to use a new sales tax to pay for tax cuts for selected industries and businesses. The HST will shift hundreds of millions of dollars of costs to restaurant customers, putting the jobs of people in one of B.C.’s largest industries in jeopardy.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

This letter is from Ed: “Tourists won’t come here anymore, and so many small businesses will fail.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From Carolyn: “Premier Gordon Campbell said about the HST that this is the single.…” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Deputy Speaker: Member. Remember, please — no names. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Thorne: I’m sorry, Madam Speaker. I withdraw. I was just reading the letter. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it said that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“The Premier said about the HST that this is the single biggest thing we can do to improve B.C.’s economy. I believe this is completely false, because B.C. has been one of Canada’s best survivors of the recession, and Canada has been one of the world’s best survivors. So overall, B.C. is doing pretty good in comparison.

“Also the Bank of Canada announced that the recession in our country is essentially over, so there is no need for the HST to ‘help’ improve the economy. It is doing fine on its own. It has recovered from far worse than this without introducing ridiculous taxes that hurt everyone.

“Finally, could you please explain to me how charging everyone more for everything is going to help anyone? I’m an intelligent person with a business degree, but I can’t see how reducing purchasing power will do anything but harm the economy and make a lot of people very upset.”

The next letter is from David. David says: “This will harm the restaurant, home renovation and real estate sector.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From Georgina:

“A lot of people in businesses are suffering right now, and I don’t see much of an improvement in the next while. I’m sure they are not able to handle more tax. In this time of recession, when all forms of government have their hands out for more money, what are we supposed to do to find more money? Our wages certainly aren’t increasing. We are making less and having to pay out more.

“They are trying to make us believe that the tax is a godsend that will improve the economy, create jobs, improve productivity and boost new business investment. Yeah, right. Who is going to want to come here when we slap a 12 percent tax on everything? It is ludicrous, and it is embarrassing.”

Now, let’s hear from some of our students and young people. From Jenna: [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“I’m an arts student attending Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and I rely on the British Columbia student loan program. Now, there have been cutbacks on the current program, and even with a part-time job I’m only just barely about to cover the shortfall. Now I’m told that the cost of supplies will increase by 7 percent. That’s a very significant figure.

“Many people believe that we, the younger generation, do not contribute to society or the political system, but that is because of our mistrust in the political system, a system that doesn’t work for us. Things like the HST not only hurt us financially, but it hurts our whole trust in the political system.”

From Marie: “The HST will cause a lot of hardship for everyone except big corporations. For example, university students who pay hundreds of dollars each semester for textbooks will have to pay 12 percent HST instead of 5 percent GST.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Here is one parent’s perspective. From Laurie: [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“I am in a position where I can afford the HST, but my children in their 20s cannot. They are beginning their independent lives and looking at paying off student loans and attempting to buy a condo, never mind a house, at this stage. They’re paying off car loans, etc. Young people these days seem to be shouldering more debt than their parents ever had to. Adding on HST makes a big impact on their lives.

“For example, just take a look at the impact of the HST on the cost of a wedding. This is something that a lot of baby boomer families are planning. Every aspect of a wedding will be affected by the HST because services are involved. This will probably add another thousand dollars to the cost of an average wedding — banquet and beverages, hall, photographer, bride’s dress.”

This tax grab will be particularly hard on our seniors. Let’s hear from some of them. From Dave: [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“My wife and I are semi-retired, living in Coquitlam. With the recent downturn in the economy, we’re finding it more difficult to make ends meet. Like so many others, we have cut back on our spending and our charitable donations because we have to. We lead a simple life. That is what our financial situation allows.

“At a time when consumer spending is needed to bring the economy out of a recession, a new tax is the last thing we need. I would think a tax reduction would be more appropriate right now. See U.S. President Barack Obama for a leadership example. I have voted Liberal in the past, but if they proceed with this idea, they will not receive another vote from me.”

From Winnifred:

“Seniors living in retirement enjoy a lifestyle different from the one they lived while at work. In retirement, to be active often means paying a fee, a membership, an admission, a subscription or for costs of travel, etc. We have calculated that the impact of this will be more costly for seniors than anyone has reported. Consider a retired couple receiving a total retirement income of $41,400 after taxes each year, healthy enough to enjoy some comfort in retirement.

Look at just a few of the items that will cost more without getting more: cable TV; golf fees; gym memberships; hydro; haircuts; heating fuel; Internet; income tax preparation” — I repeat, Madam Speaker, that these are not my words; this is from Winnifred — “heating fuel; legal fees; hockey, football and baseball game tickets; magazine subscriptions; movie tickets; newspaper subscriptions; curling fees; telephone; live theatre tickets; vacation travel; vitamins; the veterinarian; ferry fees; chiropractic and massage therapists; and a Tim Hortons coffee.”

From Dave:

“My wife and I are retired. The pensions we have allow us to just survive, and that is the situation we live with and accept, as this is our lot in life. I wish our pensions would go up as much as, if not more than, the HST. I am still angry that the Premier, since his first election to be Premier, has raised his salary by at least 53 percent, and the rest of the politicians got a 30 percent increase. The 40 years that we worked we never once got a double-digit pay raise. I truly care very much about how all British Columbians live and survive, though not at someone else’s expense.”

From Carol: “Think about the single mothers and the seniors of this province. It just cost me $30 in parking to take my 88-year-old mother to emergency. For some seniors, this could mean the difference between food or medication. You need a reality check on the average income of the people of British Columbia.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

In a letter to the Minister of Finance last July the B.C. Care Providers Association raised concerns about the negative financial impact the HST may have on many seniors care providers in B.C. The letter continues: [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“We are concerned that the HST will exacerbate existing inequities in the seniors care system because of the differing rebates that various providers receive. Health authorities will receive an 83 percent rebate; non-profit providers, a 50 percent rebate; and private providers are not eligible for any rebates.

“The impact of the HST will be especially critical for those providers that contract out services, such as housekeeping, laundry, maintenance and care staff. Rather than a GST tax of 5 percent, the provision of these staffing services will now be subject to 12 percent HST. Contracting out of services was one of the major vehicles for providers to reduce costs and manage within funding levels. The net impact on these providers will be wage and benefits costs that will increase by 7 percent.”

[1620]

Again and again, my constituents and other British Columbians write about their fears for the future. From Carolyn: “The worst part is that it will be applied to food, and I do not believe that people should be taxed more for the necessities of life. My grocery bill is already huge because I have so many allergies that I have to eat specialty foods, which are more expensive. This will make my grocery bill climb.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From Carol: “These are tough times for many people, and this will make it more difficult.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I’m reading all of these letters — in case people on the other side are getting bored with it — because I believe it’s better for me to speak the words of my constituents rather than how I feel about it. I think the people in the opposition…. Sorry — just projecting ahead, Madam Speaker. I think the people on the government side know how I and the opposition feel about the HST. But these are the words of my constituents. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I’m pretty sure that they’re getting the same kinds of letters. If they’re not…. It’s unimaginable to me that they’re not getting them, that if we talked to the people running their offices, the people running their offices would say: “No, no, we’re not getting letters opposed to the HST.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I’ve heard members of the government read petitions they’ve had about the HST from their ridings, so I’m pretty sure they’re getting these same letters. They may not have read them. They have to listen to me today, so that’s why I’m reading these letters, because these are the people of British Columbia. This is how they feel. This isn’t how I feel. Well, it may well be how I feel. That’s not important, Madam Speaker. What’s important is that these are the people that vote. These are the people that pay the taxes, and what they think counts. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

This is from Carol. Carol says: [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“To implement this tax is a disaster for the working-class people of British Columbia. It is already bad enough that the world has messed up so many of our small investments. Now you are implementing a tax that is going to impact our family budgets even more. Parents of children are going to be hit very hard. You want our youth to stay off the streets? This is definitely not going to help. If you really want to educate young people, then let’s put a tax on books — really.”

From Ellen: “We have the highest rate of child poverty in Canada. That is something to be proud of. Let’s now make it even worse.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

More on the subject of poverty from Brian: [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

“I am already sliding down and feeling like the middle class is vanishing. All the taxes taken from us seem to have been channelled into the poor to make everyone a bit poorer, creating a rich and a poor class. This tax grab will further my slide down to become one of the truly poor in the province, and I really don’t want to become dependent on the government or, even worse, become a homeless panhandler, something that 20 years ago wasn’t even in my wildest dreams and now looks like an ever-increasing possibility in my life.”

Words to be remembered. This is just an ordinary guy, Brian, looking at a picture of the future that he never, ever thought he’d have to look at. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From Jenna: “This tax hurts many people, like my disabled mother who cannot qualify for disability because she exhibits too much independence. Now the very little money she does have will be further taxed when she buys the things she needs.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Here are some additional comments from ordinary British Columbians. From David: “Please fight hard.” He sent this to me. “Please fight hard against the HST. This tax is unfair to the people of B.C.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From Barb: “This is another ripoff by a government that’s done nothing but take and take, not to mention lying to the people of this province. Putting money in our pockets is something this government just doesn’t do.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

From Don:

“The government must be told in no uncertain terms that they do not have a mandate to harmonize the GST and the PST in this province, and should they continue on this course of action, they will be reduced to insignificant numbers come the next election. Many of us are still angry over the carbon tax, which again is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The Premier can no more have an effect on global warming than he could empty Lafarge Lake” — which is a little lake in my riding — “with a teaspoon.”

Actually, it’s not in my riding. Oh, this letter might be from the member opposite’s riding, in Coquitlam–Burke Mountain. That’s where Lafarge Lake is. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Bob says: “One word — no.” That’s what Bob says. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

[1625]

Finally, from Jenna again: “Industries, the planet, students, and people of all sizes and shapes will be hurt by this tax. Please do your part to make B.C. HST-free.” I couldn’t agree more with that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Ordinary Canadian consumers and many businesses have been expressing their opposition to this tax since it was first announced. The bottom line for individuals and families is that they will pay more. Costs will go up, but wages will remain the same. It transfers approximately $1.9 billion in taxes paid by big business onto the backs of consumers. B.C. already has the highest child poverty rate in Canada, as one of my letters just said. I suggest we try moving in the opposite direction. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Why don’t we look at some of the groups that are opposed to the HST? The Restaurant and Foodservices Association of B.C and Canada calls this “a 7 percent meal tax.” They say that it will cost the industry $750 million each year in lost sales, or nearly $50,000 per restaurant in British Columbia. Wow. This translates into jobs as about 7 percent of B.C.’s workforce is in the food service industry. When restaurant meals become more expensive, we’ll all be looking for layoffs. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. says: “The HST will cost up to 10,000 tourism-related jobs. It seems like a counterproductive act to invite the world to see our magnificent province during the winter Olympics, then force cuts in tourism jobs. It will also lower tourism industry revenue by up to $545 million per year.” [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I’ll remind Madam Speaker that these are not my words. Those are the words of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C., whom I would think would be one of the stakeholders friendly with the government, so surely they know that this is what they’re saying — that it will “lower tourism industry revenue by up to $545 million per year and reduce government tax revenues for all three levels of government by up to $157 million.” Pretty catastrophic, I would say. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Now we have the B.C. Association of School Business Officials, who initially said: “The HST will cost B.C. schools approximately $40 million per year. That’s $24 million in increased operating costs and $14.7 million for capital facility costs.” While I am pleased that schools will now receive a rebate of 87 percent of the provincial portion of the HST, they will still be paying much more at a time when school boards are already struggling with higher MSP premiums and cuts to facility grants, parent advisory councils and school sports. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The B.C. Care Providers Association, who I referred to earlier in my notes, says: “The HST will transfer millions from seniors care back to the Ministry of Finance. An average 100-bed facility would see its costs increase by over $60,000, especially for vital services like employee development, housekeeping, laundry, resident outings, travel, building maintenance, contract services, vocational therapists, refuse removal, pest control, landscape and snow removal.” All very, very important things to the B.C. Care Providers Association. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. says that the HST will cost non-profit social service agencies. They want the rebate level increased from 57 percent to at least 75 percent so that this tax will be fiscally neutral for them. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The B.C. Real Estate Association says that it will increase the cost of new homes and professional services such as appraisals, inspections and realtor commissions. Even with rebates, the HST will cost B.C. Housing and the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation — even with rebates — between $1.7 million and $6.6 million per year. Even with rebates — that’s important. Very important words there. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The Rental Owners and Managers Society of B.C. — many, many groups here with their comments, very important groups; many, many people are members of these groups — says that the HST will increase costs to operate rental buildings by up to 3 percent or $300 per rental every single year. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

[1630]

Guess who’s going to pay that ultimately — the tenants, of course. We already suffer from a lack of affordable rental housing and have thousands of families on the waiting lists for subsidized housing, which hardly exists. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Municipal governments are opposed, even though they have had a small rebate. But the HST will increase costs for everything, from their perspective, from recreation programs to cemeteries. Richmond, for example, estimates that it will increase the city budget by up to a million dollars a year. As a former city councillor, I know how hard municipalities work to keep the budget in control and avoid unnecessary tax hikes. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

According to budget documents, harmonizing the PST and the GST will mean that B.C. consumers will be taxed per year — I’m going to read some of the increases now — at least $55 million more for school supplies, $82 million more for basic telephone and cable service, some portion of $63 million more for magazines and newspapers, at least $8 million more for bicycles, $5 million more for hybrid electric passenger vehicles, $23 million more for energy-efficient appliances and building materials, and at least $11 million more for conventional fuel-efficient vehicles. Some portion of…. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Excuse me. I’m getting carried away, Madam Speaker. These figures are so big. I’m not used to such large amounts of money escaping from the pockets of consumers, so I get a little carried away. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

They will be paying some portion of $991 million for food because while basic groceries will still be exempt, restaurant meals and prepared foods will not be exempt. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We should also consider what the HST will do to children’s sports. Sports associations will be paying an additional 7 percent for field and facility rentals. That cost will be passed on to children and their parents through higher fees. Families will be paying more for safety equipment like helmets. I can safely say that some families with more than one child wanting to participate in a sport will find that the costs and higher fees make it impossible. Do we really want healthier children? It certainly doesn’t look that way. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I believe we’ve reached the tipping point on the HST where there is such vast opposition that this government is going to have to look at a way of back-pedalling and saving face. I for one and I’m sure all the members sitting on this side and, of course, up to 90 percent of the residents of British Columbia…. None of us can wait and see what this government comes up with. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

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