HST -- what's the right course of action?

Looking back at my blog, I'm kind of surprised that I never posted anything about the HST debacle in BC. It's overdue that I say something, given my last post about Mr. Campbell's unworthiness for the next job he seems to be heading towards.

I am of two very distinct minds about it as I e-mailed to a friend who asked my opinion...

My first response to harmonization was that when you say you're not considering it (though papers later come to light proving that you were), you don't just ram it through the legislature because of budget conditions or "competitiveness" concerns, not without a protracted public debate first. With that kind of a reversal better to run a referendum then and there. Or if you really believe it's so important, call an election over it. That's the honourable thing to do.

My next response was anger over surrendering made-in-BC policies, such as no sales tax on books, groceries, school supplies and kids' clothes: simple, common-sense, positive social policy that comes cheap at the price, even if some claims are fraudulent (and I know some families did routinely claim all stationary as school supplies).

So I signed the referendum initiative when it came by -- and I don't regret that because the process by which it was brought in was absolutely corrosive to an open government. Like the FastCat ferries. Like the BC Rail lease. Like lots of other things have been done here.

But in hind-sight, and with the experience of the FST to GST transition, I think I actually want the tax to stay. I certainly don't want the Zalm back in BC politics.

And it's never just what the consumer pays as tax that's the problem. What does it do, over all, to the market? I didn't buy the "prices will come down" rhetoric over the GST but it proved to be true for certain classes of goods (big ticket items that we don't notice at the grocery store every week) and promises to scrap it proved treacherous. Are we primarily consumers? or citizens? or neighbours?

Is the pre-HST system fundamentally fairer and less complex for those of our neighbours who run businesses? Maybe not? Well then, despite the feel good of spitefully turning over the tax because it costs us (admittedly more than a few pennies) more than it did, maybe the right thing, the neighbourly thing to do would be to keep the tax. This is about what's best for us, not just for me.

Whether we like it or not, bringing in the HST had consequences which will have further consequences if we try to unravel them. Businesses (especially small ones) have had to bear chaos-costs to bring in the HST but now it's here, and in the long run, it's probably an idea whose good will eventually become self-evidentially, even if it takes another 10 years. (probably less). Should we triple the chaos that the businesses (especially small ones) have to undergo, unrolling the tax now (x2) only to bring it in eventually anyways (x3)? I don't think that's a good idea, even at the x2 level, whether you the harmonization is a good idea or not.

Christy Clark's tweaks to the tax are pointless spin. In fact, I think the benefits from simplification of the tax are subverted by the exemptions that have been thrown as a sop in a possibly vain attempt to keep the HST.

All that said, though, I will be voting NO (if, in the presence of a postal strike, I can get a ballot) and hoping that if the referendum passes (to scrap the tax) the turnout will be so low that the government will be unable to take the result seriously.

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