Stick figures puzzled about the harmonized sales tax are the main characters in a $5 million ad campaign unveiled by Finance Minister Kevin Falcon Thursday.
The television, radio, print and online ads begin appearing in mid-May and continue until early July, when ballots are mailed out to every household in the province in a referendum to decide the fate of the HST.
The ads don’t present arguments for or against the HST, but urge people to go to the government’s dedicated website and look at its information about what is and isn’t affected by harmonizing the federal and provincial sales taxes.
Falcon said his travels around the province and participation in telephone town hall sessions on the HST have repeatedly shown that many people misunderstand the effect of the HST, and they want impartial information about it.
“This is not going to be a persuasion campaign,” Falcon said. “It is going to be an information campaign, and it is going to ensure that British Columbians get basic facts.”
NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said the government is stacking the deck in favour of the HST with its spending. In addition to the $5 million ad campaign, it has spent $200,000 to stage the telephone town halls, while the FightHST organization is receiving only $250,000 to publicize its argument for getting rid of the HST.
In the legislature Thursday, NDP critics demanded assurances from Falcon that the government will go back to the old provincial sales tax with the same exemptions that existed before harmonization with the federal goods and services tax on July 2010. Those exemptions included bicycles, energy-efficient appliances and new homes, as well as a hybrid vehicles.
Falcon has refused to comment on possible changes to the PST, if more than 50 per cent of voters say they want the HST eliminated, until after the referendum results are known.
Falcon and Premier Christy Clark have also indicated they will offer changes to the HST based on public input gathered in the lead-up to the referendum.