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Hated Sales Tax becoming a hard sell

It may have been that I've been away on holiday for three weeks. But even in the few days I've been back, I haven't detected much to reflect Finance Minister Colin Hansen's assessment that British Columbians are being pleasantly surprised by the HST.

It may have been that I've been away on holiday for three weeks. But even in the few days I've been back, I haven't detected much to reflect Finance Minister Colin Hansen's assessment that British Columbians are being pleasantly surprised by the HST.

"I think people had expected it to be a much bigger impact on their wallet than it was," Hansen said.

Hansen's appraisal, reported by Rob Shaw of the Victoria Times Colonist, accompanied an announcement that demonstrated that whatever lessons the government has learned about public relations from its disastrous introduction of the hated tax, it's still a long way from earning a passing grade.

Hansen has been persuaded not to send out 1.6 million, 12-page colour pamphlets plugging the merits of the HST. That belated decision came after the money was already spent and the pamphlets printed.

"There was a sense that sending out the mailer could exacerbate some of the concerns out there," Hansen explained.

I'm not sure what it is about the pamphlet that is seen as being so incendiary.

The government turned down my request for a look at one. Apparently it has two parts. The part extolling the virtues of the HST is already on their website, with arguments familiar to anyone who has been listening to the government's vain attempts to persuade us that the new tax is in our best interest.

The second part deals with the wider economy, no doubt explaining what a great job the government has been doing. I'm told the government is saving the pamphlets for now in the hope they can be salvaged as part of the budget consultation that will be undertaken in the fall.

If not, the whole run will be off to the shredders.

I'm not sure whether to be appalled at the waste or thankful that we won't be subjected to another piece of junk mail.

Even without the HST angle, I doubt I'm the only taxpayer who hates seeing my mandatory contributions used to persuade me that the province is in good hands.

Still, it's distressing to see that while our seasoned finance minister is the frontman, spending his summer wandering through the hinterland and defending the hated tax wherever he can find an audience, the overall strategy, if I can use that word, still seems to be in the hands of some circus clowns that wandered in off the street.

To recap: Just over a year a go, they dropped the surprise announcement that the HST was the best thing we could do for our economy. This, shortly after an election where it was never mentioned as even a possibility.

That message slowly morphed into something closer to the truth, which was, "hey, we needed the money. Ottawa was offering $1.6 billion and we had a big hole to fill in our budget, and besides, it's good for the economy. Really it is." Then with the February budget came the ridiculous suggestion that the HST would be dedicated to health care.

After catcalls all around, that ill-fitting facade was quietly dropped.

A phenomenally successful petition campaign was launched to axe the tax. The government didn't bother to register as an opponent, so it wasn't allowed to distribute the pamphlets while signatures were being counted and now that it's legal, the strategists have decided it contains information British Columbians shouldn't have just yet.

There is a theme here.

Decisions about how to sell the HST have been made consistently on what seems to be the assumption that taxpayers are not very bright.

As a result, an Angus Reid poll this month placed the Liberals an astonishing 23 points behind the New Democrats.

Not very bright, indeed.

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