HST event draws scant interest from either side of debate

Chamber of Commerce president backs tax but urges exemptions

It wasnt the turnout the Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce president was hoping for at a recent event to support the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Just as many sign-wielding anti-HST protesters showed up for a press conference on Wednesday, July 13, at Seaforth Peace Park as did those in favour of keeping the controversial tax, although only a handful of people on either side of the issue made the effort to attend.

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I admit I was hoping a few more people might show up for this, said Julien Phipps.

Despite the poor attendance, the numbers nonetheless reflected public opinion about the tax, whose fate will soon be determined through a mail-in referendum conducted by Elections BC.

The provincial government announced in May that if the HST survives the vote, the rate will be reduced by two per cent from the current 12 by 2014. Since then, the percentage of voters who want to kill the tax has dropped eight points. A recent Ipsos Reid poll found that 44 per cent of B.C. voters would remove the HST and reinstate the PST and GST, a six-point lead over the 38 per cent who would vote to keep it.

Phipps wants people to back the tax.

Simply put, the HST is helping individuals and small businesses, said the 30-year-old head of the business association, whose membership includes the Courier. I hear that the vote is almost a split 50/50, but the general feedback that I hear is that those who are against it either dont know much about it and they just dont like taxing anyhow. There is a sense that if they vote yes to extinguish this tax, then well be done with it. They dont realize that the GST and PST will just come back at 12 [per cent].

Ron Zalko, whose fitness studio overlooks the park at the corner of First Avenue and Burrard Street, said his business would continue to suffer if the HST is kept.

We never used to pay PST, just the GST, so this is still an increase of five per cent for people who just want to exercise, said Zalko. People who want to exercise and live healthier lifestyles, they should not be taxed for it. Its not just businesses like mine, its yoga studios and health food stores and all the rest.

Phipps agreed that there is plenty of room for improvement with how the tax is structured.

There are talks about having certain exemptions in various different industry segments like the health industry and fitness businesses, he said. Those ones it really would make sense to have an exemption because of the long-term benefits they provide to society.

Voting in the referendum closes Aug. 5. A result is expected by early September.

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