Perhaps the biggest irony of the referendum defeat of the HST in B.C. is that the "working poor" of this province will still not be able to afford to dine out once the former PST exemption is restored to restaurant tabs. Yet B.C.'s agricultural industry, which provides nutritious, locally-grown food to the public free of any taxes, will be forced once again to hand over $15- to $20 million a year in PST to the provincial treasury.
"A return to the PST/GST means that B.C.'s food producers will be at a disadvantage in both local and export markets," says Garnet Etsell, the chair of the B.C. Agriculture Council (BCAC) and a Mount Lehman poultry farmer.
"Agriculture will face higher input costs that are no longer balanced out with investment tax credits made available under the HST. B.C. farmers will pay more to produce food that is tax-free for consumers – an unsustainable pattern that would add to the significant financial pressures many B.C. farmers and ranchers are currently facing," says Etsell.
Etsell cited examples of this tax disadvantage, "primarily on the capital expenditure side. Under the HST if you built a new barn you would get that back, and under the PST you would pay seven percent on the materials and you would not get that back."
In the case of smaller farm operations Etsell said smaller farm tractors were PST assessed while larger tractors were not.
"Any vehicles — trucks, tractors — farmers could claim the HST back but not the PST," said Etsell.
The old PST administration "was also a very awkward process. The tax exempt list did not keep up with improvements in technology. It was not a timely process, we'd get one crack a year at adding things to the 'shopping list,'" said Etsell.
"B.C. is the only province in the country where agriculture showed net revenue losses in the past number of years. Many of our farmers are already hurting."
Following the announcement of the defeat of the HST last week, Premier Christy Clark's office issued a statement pledging a return to the former PST exempt list that existed prior to the implementation of the HST.
Etsell says that the BCAC, "will be having a chat with the government about this.
"Simply reintroducing the old PST system is a poor option for B.C. agriculture. In an effort to improve industry competitiveness, the BCAC will also be looking to government to change other tax policies such as the Carbon Tax, which has had a crippling effect on several agriculture sectors," said Etsell.
"Food should be tax-free."