Chilliwack MLA John Les was an early and ardent advocate of the harmonized sales tax, raising the topic in a meeting with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell soon after the 2009 election.
“I won’t take credit for originating the idea with him,” Les told Chilliwack Rotarians at a Thursday luncheon, but the MLA said he pointed out to Campbell in that meeting that without the HST, B.C. would soon find itself at a competitive disadvantage with Ontario, which had already introduced the new tax.
In his Thursday speech, Les admitted the B.C. Liberal government failed to introduce the HST properly to British Columbians, but he maintained the new tax will benefit the provincial economy, and improve productivity.
Although public anger over the HST eventually forced Campbell from office, Les said there are signs the public mood is turning, and the tax may pass the referendum now scheduled for June 24.
“But if the HST fails, then we will have some very unpleasant work to do,” he said.
First, the province will have to pay back $1.6 billion to the federal government for implementing the HST, and then it will have to find other ways to reduce the provincial deficit, which is “mortgaging the future of our kids,” he said.
But financial models show the HST will generate $900 million more in government revenues over the next three years, Les said, not because taxes are higher, but “just because the economy will grow larger.”
And with that larger economy, he explained, there will be “more revenue for government to pay for health care and education.”
“The HST is about our future economic growth,” he said. “It’s not about how much taxes are paid, it’s about (where) those taxes are levied … in the process.”
Les was named parliamentary secretary to the new Premier, Christy Clark, last month, and appointed to the treasury board and to the government’s planning and priorities committee.
But Les had high praise for the out-going Premier, saying Campbell had “left a tremendous legacy for this province” turning it from a “have-not” province in 2001 into a “national player again” in 2009.
“We have enormous potential here in the province of B.C.,” Les said, it’s location giving it access to the burgeoning markets of China, India and Korea.
He said if the B.C. Liberals are re-elected government in the next election, the party would continue its low taxation policies to spur long-term economic growth and reduce the deficit.
“But we’re not hell-bent to reduce taxes to the bare minimum and leave a whole bunch of social carnage,” he said.