Northern residents got a chance to ask their questions about the HST directly to the government last Wednesday.
The Minister of Jobs and Innovation, Pat Bell, answered questions put to him by the over 23,000 participants who called in from as close by as Haida Gwaii to as far away as Kamloops.
This question and answer period with a provincial minister was part of a series of telephone town all meetings that the Liberal government has been holding over the past two weeks. According to Minister Bell, the point of these calls was not to try to convince people that they should vote to keep the HST in the referendum this fall.
“The intention of tonight’s town hall is not to sell you on the HST but to hear from you on what we need to improve the HST,” Bell told participants.
If the goal wasn’t to persuade voters to keep the HST, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was.
Bell mentioned more than once that the if the HST is repealed the province will be required to pay back the $1.6-billion that the federal government gave BC to help the transition to the HST and that it would also cost $3.5-million to reinstate the departments that managed and collected the PST. That, plus the lost revenue from switching back from the HST, would cause the government to lose $500-million a year in revenues.
“You really have three choices: you can either increase taxes, you can increase the deficit or you can reduce services. As a cabinet minister I don’t find any of those solutions particularly attractive,” said Bell.
Participants did have some ideas to make the HST better and Bell came across as more than willing to hear them. One caller suggested that energy efficient home renovations should be made exempt from the HST. Another suggested that prescription drugs should be exempt and someone else said that gym memberships should be too.
Some participants used their time to talk directly to Bell to criticize the Liberal party for the way it brought in the HST, often accusing the Campbell government of outright lying. Bell admits the rolling of the HST “could have been handled better,” but attempted to deflect criticism by pointing out that the Liberal government has a brand new leader who had no involvement with those decisions.
“We’re focused on the future, we think we have a very bright future in the province and we’re confronted with a very difficult issue; and that is, what do we do with the HST? I think that there is no more democratic process in society than going to the public and saying, ‘you make the decision’,” says Bell.