While I believe the HST has real potential it is too ham-strung to be as helpful as it could be to B.C. Both the federal and provincial governments need to be more flexible if they wish to promote our continued involvement with the HST.
Here is the best way to make it work for most British Columbian's:
Shift the Carbon Tax by ending the PST exemption on carbon fuels AND end the current "carbon tax", moving the carbon tax on to fossil fuels through the ending of the 7% subsidy/exemption. Then move that now-available 7% exemption in the HST program to cover all energy-saving products and services, as the PST was once exempted. This will double the benefits of the new carbon tax by taxing carbon emissions AND promoting products and services that actually reduce carbon emissions, plus improve energy efficiency, plus improve health (cycling, for example), and far more. Done correctly health care costs will stop escalating as quickly, saving the government more money to do other things.
Results? It is likely that there will be more revenues generated from the revised carbon tax. Dedicate some of these revenues in ways to reduce costs to citizens. In last evening's call several people raised the issue of rising food prices, blaming these on the HST (HST has very little impact on food, in fact). Many people are very sensitive to price increases due to the fact that many staples are rising, from food to fuel. The government could greatly alleviate this problem.
What are the most expensive items for the average family? Transportation, housing, and food, in that order.
1. Transportation: By having the vision to move people out of their private automobile and into public transit, car pooling, car sharing (like having family cars in neighbourhoods), walking and cycling (which means adding many more trails), costs could drop for transportation (for those who elect to). Make commuter rail more accessible, including here on Vancouver Island. This will also reduce highway construction costs for the province, reduce the number of accidents and air pollution (read: lowered health care costs), and help us to feel safer and have a greater sense of belonging. Win-win for all.
2. Housing: reduce energy wastage (see below).
3. Food: encourage more local growing of food through assisting farmers, farmers markets, food-oriented non-profits, and community garden plots. Perhaps offer tax incentives to those who grow food on their land.
By taking this step of lowering costs then the HST can be made far more palatable, and then the province can continue to benefit from it.
If the government wants to further reduce carbon emissions end the 7% rebate on home heating oil, natural gas and electricity, and then offer even more generous subsidies through the LiveSmart program to improve the efficiencies of furnaces, install heat pumps (in the coastal areas), improve insulation levels, windows, etc. Then, add more to the BC Hydro PowerSmart program and Fortis Power for low income earners to include such items as mini-split heat pumps, updated furnaces, and replacement of single-pane windows, and make the program available to those who heat with fossil fuels (not only those who heat with electricity). Make Fortis gas and the heating oil companies participate by subsidizing the program for all homeowners. The extra 7% cost to homeowners and renters on fossil fuels could easily be made up through improved energy efficiencies or switching to cleaner electricity -for those who elect to do so. Despite adding the HST these people could see their energy costs drop by 20 - 40%! Would this make the HST easier to swallow? Absolutely!
I am tired of listening to people whine, as though they were only 5 years old. By taking charge of our lives (being responsible for ourselves) we could be much happier. By assisting those who wish to take action and save ourselves money the province could show true vision and leadership, just as the Socreds did with by building hydroelectric dams.
Conclusion: by shifting the way taxes are levied and subsidies are offered the province can get at the real root to the resistance to accept the HST: higher costs. By doing it in the above ways the province can actually lower costs, reduce carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, reduce health care costs, and we can benefit from the HST.
If you wish to add your voice to these ideas, do sent them to: