VICTORIA – The harmonized sales tax and the referendum on its fate are still widely misunderstood, but support for returning to the old provincial sales tax is declining.
That’s the main finding of a poll released Thursday by Angus Reid Public Opinion. An online survey of 805 B.C. residents found 44 per cent intend to vote “no” in the mail-in referendum that gets underway this month.
A year ago, just before the HST took effect, the pollster found 82 per cent wanted to scrap it. The latest survey shows a substantial increase in support for the HST since the B.C. government offered to cut the rate by two points to 10 per cent over the next three years.
The poll also reflects confusion about the referendum question, which will ask voters if they want to “extinguish” the HST and return to the federal GST and the former PST at a combined rate of 12 per cent. One out of three respondents incorrectly believed that a “no” vote would get rid of the HST.
Opposition to the HST was stronger among women, younger people and rural residents. Women were 64 per cent opposed and people aged 18 to 34 were 62 per cent opposed. Residents of Metro Vancouver were evenly divided, while opponents were a clear majority in the Interior, the North and Vancouver Island.
One in four respondents said they have put off purchases such as a new car or television, goods that are taxed the same under GST-PST and HST.
The political battle over the HST continues as voters begin receiving their ballot packages in the mail. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon now estimates that killing the HST will cost B.C. $3 billion, including $1.2 billion in lost revenue and the cost to borrow and repay Ottawa’s $1.6 billion transition fund.
NDP leader Adrian Dix has begun a tour to urge people to restore the PST and GST at 12 per cent, arguing that the B.C. Liberal government can’t be trusted to lower the HST rate.
The poll asked people about the credibility of various sources. A majority said they trust small business owners and academics, while 40 per cent trust Premier Christy Clark and 35 per cent are inclined to believe Dix.
The highest ranked personality was former premier and Fight HST leader Bill Vander Zalm at 47 per cent.