OPINION: Is HST good for Ontario? NO

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on December 4th 2009, to view the article on their website, please click here

Nobody likes new taxes. Some see the longer-term economic benefit from harmonizing sales taxes. Some can afford the extra consumer taxes. Others cannot.

But everybody hates politicians playing games instead of negotiating fundamental changes to protect those who can least afford more taxes. For good reason: “No taxation without representation” was a rallying cry for American colonists resisting British taxes. One of the most important rights we have as citizens is not to have a tax imposed on us without our consent. And after-the-fact “enabling” legislation does not count; no government ran on imposing harmonization.

Suppose the federal Conservatives, or the B.C. Liberals, or the Ontario Liberals, actually ran an election on the premise that in order to improve the investment climate for business, there had to be a new consumer tax burden. Would they be in government today? Would the Ontario Liberals have their overwhelming majority to push the legislation through Queen’s Park?

The answer is a resounding “No,” according to CARP’s polling of its members. More than 5,700 people polled made their views perfectly clear: Enough would have changed their votes to make a difference in the outcome.

In the recent B.C. election, the Liberals won by a modest margin over the NDP (46 per cent to 42 per cent). On the election trail, Premier Gordon Campbell said he was not considering following Ontario’s lead on HST — a promise he should have kept. In our poll, 17 per cent of the B.C. Liberal supporters said they would change their vote if HST passed, ensuring defeat.

In Ontario, the ruling Liberals prevailed over the Conservatives — weighed down with the religious schools issue — by a wide margin (42 per cent to 32 per cent). HST was only a glint in the eye of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in 2007.

Thirty-five per cent of the Ontario Liberal supporters said they would deny the Liberals their vote over the HST. John Tory would be premier today. This is not Monday morning quarterbacking. Older voters are a bellwether group; 70 per cent vote regularly. They are often party loyalists but on issues that particularly resonate with them, they will exercise their franchise assertively.

Interestingly, they do not see this as a federal issue although it was the federal government (also without electoral mandate) offering billions to any province prepared to line up behind harmonization. In fact, the Bloc Québécois is said to be supporting full harmonization to make sure Quebec collects its share. So all the bobbing and weaving in Ottawa was pointless. And infuriating. Older Canadians have watched their retirement dreams vanish along with their savings in this market crisis. So, it should come as no surprise that they are spitting mad about paying more for essentials such as heating and gas and worrying about how to make ends meet until the tax credits and business largesse come through. Meanwhile, the politicians are playing cat and mouse to see who can be forced to upset the electorate the most, while not letting us get our hands on them.