Stage set for HST referendum

Delivery of three million voting packages for the HST referendum could be disrupted by postal workers' rotating strikes across the country.

VICTORIA – The federal government has changed regulations to allow a two-point rate reduction for B.C.’s harmonized sales tax, and Canada Post has started delivering ballots to all regions outside the Lower Mainland.

Delivery of three million voting packages for the HST referendum could be disrupted by postal workers’ rotating strikes across the country. HST ballots are scheduled to be sent Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley starting June 20.

Voters who don’t receive a package in the mail by Friday, June 24 may call Elections BC toll free at 1-800-661-8683 to register or update their address. The deadline to request a voting package is midnight Friday, July 8.

B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said a change to federal tax regulations commits the province to lower the HST rate if a majority of voters choose to stay with the HST. At B.C.’s request, the federal cabinet order lowers the provincial portion of HST to six per cent on July 1, 2012 and to five per cent on July 1, 2014.

The B.C. government has also offered transition payments to offset consumer costs for parents and seniors earning less than $40,000 a year. Each child under 18 or low-income senior would receive $175, but only if the HST survives the referendum.

“We are confident British Columbians will agree that a 10 per cent tax rate is better for B.C. families than the old 12 per cent PST and GST system and will vote ‘no’ in the referendum,” Falcon said.

Businesses that have to charge customers an extra seven per cent tax on services and previously exempt items such as bicycles have struggled with the tax.

Stephen Regan, president of the Tourism Association of B.C., said the industry can accept the HST once it is reduced to 11 per cent next year and 10 per cent in 2014.

The HST adds seven per cent to event tickets and an array of labour services not previously covered by provincial sales tax.

“Part of our challenge was that the impacts of the new harmonized tax were different for different parts of tourism both by business type and by location,” Regan said. “Hotel prices went down, the cost of restaurant meals went up, and businesses closer to Alberta, which does not have a provincial sales tax, were particularly sensitive to HST.”

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