B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has answered critics who have claimed the Liberals could turn around on their promise to keep the HST at 10 per cent, once that level is achieved in 2014.
“Not while I’m finance minister,” he told Peace Arch News last week, when asked if there was a scenario in which the HST could rise after that point. “When I make a commitment to do something, I do it.”
Falcon added he doubted the HST would rise above the promised 10 per cent, even if he no longer held the portfolio.
“Not with our government,” the MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale said. “It’s important to recognize our government has a consistent record in reducing taxes… and we’re committed to reducing the HST.”
Falcon – also deputy premier – spoke just days ahead of a Fight HST town-hall meeting in White Rock, at which Bill Vander Zalm and Chris Delaney – architects of the public initiative that forced the HST referendum – vowed to keep up the fight against the unpopular tax.
At Sunday’s meeting, Vander Zalm told some 75 people at at Kent Street Activity Centre that numbers-oriented pro-HST arguments don’t answer fundamental questions posed by the way the tax was introduced without consulting the public.
“This is about more than a tax,” he said. “This is as much about democracy.”
The former premier said the struggle against the tax isn’t over.
“We’re not going to let it happen,” Vander Zalm said. “We’re going to keep fighting.”
But Falcon said Thursday that he was “cautiously encouraged” the government was getting its message across about the HST.
“The more information people get the more they support the government view,” Falcon said.
“It’s up to the public now,” he said, noting he was travelling to New York for meetings aimed at maintaining the province’s Triple-A credit rating.
Whether the rate could ultimately be raised after reaching 10 per cent is dependent on the government in power, he said.
“I can’t speak for the NDP,” Falcon added, noting Nova Scotia’s NDP government raised its HST rate two points earlier this year to a national high of 15 per cent.
B.C. NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley) had charged last week that Falcon was refusing to answer whether the Liberals’ promise to reduce the HST would be a permanent reduction.
He said it is a crucial point to consider when residents begin voting on the referendum June 24.
“As it stands now, the only thing (Premier) Christy Clark and the Liberals are saying is ‘trust us,’” Ralston said in a prepared statement. “That’s a pretty hard argument to make from a government that has repeatedly broken their word on fundamental issues…”
NDP Leader Adrian Dix noted the HST has imposed a seven per cent tax on items previously exempt from provincial sales tax.
But Falcon said this is a case of the NDP “increasingly reaching for bizarre arguments” to justify a return to the GST/PST system.
When the HST hits 10 per cent, he said, people will be paying 10 per cent on purchases that used to be taxed at 12 per cent, including furniture and stereo equipment and other big-ticket items that make up 80 per cent of consumer spending.
“That will far outweigh the increased additional cost you might pay on a haircut or a cup of coffee,” Falcon said.