Small businesses in Abbotsford rallied earlier this week to bring attention to the upcoming provincial referendum on the harmonized sales tax, with each side trying to convince people to see things their way.
Local agriculture businessmen held a press conference Wednesday morning at Bakerview EcoDairy to talk about how the HST has helped their businesses and to urge British Columbians to vote no (to keep the HST) in the referendum.
The B.C. New Democrats, meanwhile, sent two MLAs to Abbotsford Thursday morning to support local business owners who will vote yes to extinguish the HST.
NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston joined Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains and local business owners at Everbloom Garden Centre in Abbotsford to talk about the impact of the HST to small businesses.
“Our biggest concern is that people won’t have extra money to spend,” said Armin Basra, a paving contractor.
The HST has added an additional seven per cent sales tax to some service jobs, such as renovation and construction.
But Garnet Etsell, chair of the B.C. Agriculture Council, said the PST/GST was an inefficient and expensive system that blocked growth for farmers, warning if the HST is repealed “it would hurt our businesses to the tune of $15-20 million a year in B.C.”
An estimated 11,000 jobs in Abbotsford are supported by agriculture.
Marcus Janzen, a greenhouse vegetable grower, said the HST is critical in providing lower costs in an export-driven market.
However, Sukhi Dahmi, owner of Everbloom Garden Centre in Abbotsford, said business has been down 25 per cent since the implementation of the HST and that affects the purchasing power of consumers.
A local realtor, Sundeep Sidhu, said it’s already difficult enough to negotiate commission with people who are spending $500,000 on an average-priced home in Abbotsford. An additional seven per cent on a $10,000 commission translates to $700 more in sales tax.
“That makes a big difference when you’re negotiating commission with people,” he said.
Bill Vanderkooi, president of the Bakerview EcoDairy, said he wouldn’t speak out publicly in support of the HST if he didn’t think it was the right tax policy for farmers and agriculture.
“It upsets me to no end that the guys supporting the 12 per cent are doing it to punish the (B.C.) Liberal government,” said Jack Davidson, president of the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association. “And it’s not about that.”
The HST is currently set at 12 per cent, but if it survives the referendum vote, Premier Christy Clark has promised to lower it to 11 per cent in 2012 and then to 10 per cent in 2014.
But Bains pointed to the broken B.C. Liberal election campaign promise in 2009 not to implement the HST as a sign the government can’t be trusted.
He said even if the HST survives the referendum and is cut to 10 per cent the revenue shortfall would have to be made up with cuts to health care and education or raising taxes elsewhere.
Ralston added that he wasn’t concerned about the $1.6 billion B.C. might have to repay Ottawa if the HST is repealed, saying the province would negotiate.
British Columbians are supposed to receive referendum packages in the mail over the next two weeks and must return them by Friday, July 22 before 4:30 p.m., although that deadline may change pending ongoing labour problems with Canada Post.