With the highest amount of total valid votes cast in B.C., a majority of Comox Valley voters — like the rest of the province — rejected the controversial Harmonized Sales Tax, although by a margin of fewer than 2,000 votes.
Results of the mail-in referendum were released Friday by Elections BC, with 1.6-million British Columbians casting ballots, and 54.73 per cent of valid votes voted Yes to extinguish the HST while 45.27 per cent provincewide voted No.
“Wow. Oh wow,” said Comox Valley HST recall organizer Kathryn Askew Friday upon hearing the total statistics for the area. “This is just wonderful. We should never underestimate the power of a small group of people.”
Within the Comox Valley, 14,759 Yes votes compared to 12,853 No were cast, totaling 27,612 valid votes.
Askew said she believes the high amount of ballots cast in the Valley can be credited to the voting public.
“We have more registered voters than any other constituency in B.C. We often have a swing in the Comox Valley — I’m thinking it’s our natural curiosity that people get involved because it’s never simple; it’s never straightforward,” she noted.
“Maybe we have a better educated voter.”
Askew believes voters who were sitting on the fence about whether to vote for or against extinguishing the HST in favour of reinstating the PST and GST were offended by government advertisements.
“They spent out money (on the ads) and they led people to believe (the HST) is a 10-per-cent tax,” she said.
Despite the switchover to the PST/GST system which, according to Finance Minister Kevin Falcon will take 18 months, Askew admitted she sees both perspectives when it comes to advantages and disadvantages of the tax.
“It really depends on your perspective. For businesses or the manufacturing industry, I understand that these people aren’t wrong (in wanting to keep the HST). But my perspective is from one of a pensioner, a retired teacher, and ordinary Joe with a limited income,” she added.
Jeff Lucas, owner/manager of the Old House Restaurant, admitted he wasn’t completely surprised by the results.
“This tells me people are upset … it gives us an opportunity to relook how taxation happens,” he said. “With 1.6 million people casting ballots (that) tells me people got motivation to action.”
He does admit that reinstating the PST/HST is a “double-edged sword.”
“From the restaurant perspective, I’m happy that our customers will have the extra seven per cent removed from their bill; any time we can offer our guests a discount, it’s a good thing. “However, from a provincial, national and global perspective, I’m a little disappointed, because I think that the HST value-added tax system had a lot of merits to it,” he noted.
Lucas added the restaurant/service industry has been hit hard by a perfect storm: the impact of the HST taxation along with the changes in the penalties to B.C.’s drinking and driving legislation, and hopes the change to a system where dining will only have GST applied will be the change restaurants have been hoping for.
Despite their disappointment with the results, the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce said in a press release Friday they view the change to the PST/GST system as a chance to explore provincial fiscal policy to ensure economic competitiveness.
“We view this as an opportunity for the province to interact with all interested parties to develop a tax model that will benefit everyone,” said chair Bob Scales.
Comox Valley MLA Don McRae also admitted he was not surprised by the results.
“People don’t like tax. I wish we could have done a better job with it. It was an uphill struggle, but with 1.6 million people voting, it’s not a small minority. You have to respect the result,” he said.
He notes that the PST/GST system is “not the most efficient” and that as a result of the vote, two points emerged.
“We know that people don’t like taxes but they like services. I’m hoping that services don’t suffer,” he added.
Falcon said Friday during a press conference B.C. will fulfill its obligation to pay back the federal government the $1.6 billion it was given to implement the HST. Falcon will meet with federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in September.