The business community has got to do a better job of selling itself as a vital contributor to B.C.’s economic health and stability – and has a responsibility to advocate to government for sound fiscal policies in the wake of B.C.’s rejection of the HST.
That was the message delivered to members of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce by B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO John Winter at a lunch meeting Wednesday.
Winter, who repeatedly emphasized the potential political clout of chamber organizations locally and on the provincial level – the B.C. Chamber represents some 32,000 businesses province-wide, he noted – said it is all the more important to speak with a strong, unified voice in the current political climate.
Business has the power to affect policy decisions which could ultimately steer the province back toward a more competitive tax structure, and a more diverse and sustainable economy, he said.
The referendum decision to dump the HST and go back to the GST/PST tax structure, he added, made it “clear to us all that B.C. has returned to its historic level of craziness politically – with (former Socred premier) Bill Vander Zalm reinventing himself as an opponent of taxes, when he is the one who introduced the property transfer tax.”
Winter, whose past business background includes many years as a senior executive with Molson Breweries, added that while many had thought the “politics of division” was a thing of the past, the recent HST debate had seen the return of “language that creates terror and conflict.”
“The HST lost because business was seen by many as the bad guy,” he said. “And for too long the business community has been its own worst enemy in this process.”
It’s a myth, Winter said, that the introduction of the HST represented big business versus small business.
“Big business will not only employ people, but it will give out contracts, and those, in turn, will support the little businesses,” he said, adding that people “lost sight of the connectivity during the HST debate.
“We need to remove the politics and get to providing facts to the public so that they can make informed decisions,” he said.
“We should challenge the government and the opposition parties to discuss their economic plans and policies.”
Following the meeting, Winter told Peace Arch News he has no doubt the province will face a tough transitional period for the at least a year, before the old PST/GST structure is reinstated.
“There are going to be a lot of ‘told you sos,’” he said, citing forecasts that predict the B.C. will slow down from a 2.2 per cent growth rate to 1.2 per cent, or “practically a standstill.”
But he said he believes the will exists in the business community to push government for tax reform once the HST has been dismantled.
“I think this will happen the moment we get back to the old taxes,” he said.