‘We’ll sell you two kinds of red herring,
Dark brown, and ball-bearing.
But yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today.’
— 1922 Broadway song
Are you going to vote Yes in order to say no to the HST? Or No to say yes?
Let’s be clear — and the ballot is in the mail — yes means no and no means yes in this referendum.
One of the more significant challenges facing the Fight HST side of the vote is confusion over wording of the ballot, which is: “Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)? (Yes/No).”
The question itself is clear enough, but voting Yes against something is counter-intuitive. It’s a little like the old Frank Silver/Irving Cohn song, “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”
Mind you, it cuts both ways. HST supporters might be equally confused.
An Angus Reid survey released last weekend says close to 20 per cent believe that if the Yes side wins, the HST will stay in place, at 10 per cent. A third think if No wins, it will stay at 12 per cent.
Among Christy Clark, Adrian Dix and Bill Vander Zalm, Vander Zalm is the most trusted.
Over all, though, a lot more people support the HST than they did a year ago — 44 per cent now compared to only 18 per cent.
The Reid survey report believes confusion over the meaning of the referendum question “could definitely affect the final outcome.”
The anti-HST group is fighting with lawn signs that say, “Yes — extinguish the HST,” while the pro side is using a mass media campaign with a “Vote No to higher taxes” message. It’s a reference to the Liberals’ promise to reduce the tax over time if it survives the referendum, but leaves the impression it’s all about saving consumers money.
I received my HST Referendum Voters Guide in the mailbox a few days ago. In it, the government claims the HST is “better for jobs and the economy.” And a pro-HST statement says the tax will create 24,400 jobs over what the PST/GST would create.
It goes on to say the HST “protects” seniors and low-income families via a rebate.
The anti-HST Yes side, though, declares that ditching the tax and reverting to the GST/PST “will save British Columbians hundreds to thousands of dollars a year.”
It points out that under the HST consumers pay more on restaurant food, cable TV, phone service, haircuts and so on. It “kills jobs and hurts the economy.”
Besides which, it’s bad for democracy.
Who does one believe? The Smart Tax Alliance, a coalition primarily of businesses, concluded on Friday that the latest employment numbers prove the HST is working — B.C. gained 5,200 jobs in May. “The HST is helping B.C. recover from the recession and build a stronger economy.”
But then, there was the original claim from economist Jack Mintz that the HST would create 113,000 jobs, an estimate that has since been significantly downsized.
There’s no evidence, of course, that the HST is responsible for new jobs at all, whichever numbers you use, but most businesses support the tax.
Consumers were, in turn, supposed to benefit through lower prices passed on by those whose products we buy. What I’d like to see, before I mail in my vote, is some evidence that this has actually happened.