Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Province Divided

It would appear that all is not well in Canada's westernmost province. The implementation of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) looms on the horizon for July 2010 and the ground underfoot is shaky with protests and counter-protests.

Critics of the new tax claim that the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell organized strong support from within the business community to endorse the HST. The business community refutes any such instigation by the government. Business leaders in B.C. claim that, following Ontario's lead in adopting this new tax, they realized that the inherent benefits far outweigh the disadvantages and, thus, have supported the government's tax proposals. They see the new tax as a way to stimulate the province's productivity which, according to experts, has been "dismal" for the last two decades. While big business agrees that there will be short term problems with the HST, they feel that the tax will lead to long term economic improvement in investments, competitiveness, and consumer prices.

Consumers are slow to give their endorsement. That which is good for business means taking more from the consumer's pocket. The bottom line is that consumers will now pay more for many goods and services that will carry the HST tag but are currently exempt from PST or GST. This disgruntlement has given way to public protest about other government policies that have not found favour with the public.

As a result of the recession, the B.C. government has been forced to curtail some budgets and trim expenses on existing programs. Indeed, with the new budget looming, the public is awaiting the latest round of budget cuts. A prevailing opinion is that the HST was adopted in order to funnel more money into an ailing provincial budget at the public's expense. During the election campaign, Premier Campbell pledged a deficit ceiling of $495 million. As this summer approached, that pledge grew to a whopping $1 billion and the end of summer saw a projection of that estimate being tripled. With numbers like these being bantered about, neither side is quite sure about the true economic state of the province.

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