Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s speaking tour took him to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, telling business leaders they can “unashamedly” advocate for a harmonized sales tax with a lower rate.
Business people reminded Falcon that not all of them support the HST, and asked why the rate reduction from 12 to 10 per cent can’t take place right away. Falcon replied that the loss of that much revenue has to be phased in over three years, as the federal government did when it lowered the goods and services tax.
Reducing it faster would risk downgrading the province’s triple-A credit rating, Falcon said, so the B.C. government chose to offer $200 million worth of transition payments to families with children and seniors with income less than $40,000 a year instead.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Falcon said he believes about 20 per cent of people are still undecided about the HST. Referendum ballots have been distributed to parts of the province, but most remained hung up by a labour dispute at Canada Post.
He denied that his ministry is using its advertising campaign to persuade people to vote “no” in the referendum and keep the HST, saying the ads are all factual information.
“We support HST, we think it is the right public tax policy,” Falcon said. “But I think that information campaign is about saying to the public, get informed.”
Premier Christy Clark met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Thursday, but she said afterwards she did not discuss the possible repayment of a $1.6 billion federal transition payment if voters reject the HST.
There will be no negotiations until the province knows the fate of the HST, which won’t be until August, Clark said.