For those affected most by the HST—i.e. small businesses owners in the food and service industries and consumers— many remain weary even with the announcement of the tax’s official rejection last month.
Kathy Drover owns the Reading Room Bookstore and Cafe in Evergreen Centre. She has a unique perspective on the Harmonized Sales Tax because the cafe portion of her business, selling specialty coffee, sandwiches and other snacks, was affected negatively by the HST because she had to charge customers an extra seven per cent. The price of books, however, remained the same.
“(The HST) was a detriment. People could see it on their receipts, they know they’re paying it, they know the prices all went up and they stopped eating out as much,” she said. “It never made any difference to the book store because books have always been exempt.”
So with the province returning to the dual-system of GST and PST, shouldn’t Drover be relieved? Somewhat—”as a business owner I was happy,” she said, but was worried about the inevitable payback to Ottawa.
As part of implementing the HST in 2010, the federal government loaned $1.6 billion dollars to B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said she has been in discussions with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on how to pay it back.
“I have some personal concerns over the cost to the province, plus the cost of changing it back, federal(ly) and provincial(ly),” Drover said.
Gwen Fisher is another local business owner who was hit hard last summer. She runs Pure Elements Spa on Goodmere Road, and shared worries about B.C. owing a large sum of money.
“I’m happy for my consumers but I’m scared—we all know we have to pay something back.”
Her clientele also dropped off significantly in the months that followed the controversial tax.
“All of a sudden some of our services were increased by 16 to 24 dollars,” said Fisher. People still went to get their hair cut, but some stopped indulging in things like hair colouring. It wasn’t until recently she said that people started to adjust to the new prices.
“We started to see people come back that were doing home colours, realizing a paint job in the bathroom was far more money than (having us do their hair).
She said if a referendum had taken place a year ago, she would have voted against the HST. But she is skeptical that it will now be a simple transition back to the original system.
“Better the devil system we knew then now the one we don’t,” she said.
Business owners aside, even some consumers—like local resident Jenn Powell—have reservations.
“I’m kind of disappointed,” she said. “Because it’s going to cost a lot of money to reinstate the GST and PST. And I figure personal taxes will probably go up to cover the cost.”
Powell said she didn’t even really notice much of a financial difference when eating out, and that her qualms laid elsewhere.
“I was p***ed off about the way they did it but not so much the actual tax itself. I voted to keep it.”