A majority of Chilliwack residents bucked the B.C. trend and voted to keep the HST, but the Yes side won overall with 54.73 per cent.
Local Yes campaigners were jubilant on Friday.
“My first thought was one of relief, that not all elections could be bought,” Gwen O’Mahony said.
She, who along with Glen Thompson, and Clive Edward led the Fight HST Chilliwack campaign, is calling the results, “a wonderful showing of democracy.”
It was mainly the “corporate elite” who stood to gain from keeping what was also known as the Harmonized Sales Tax, she stressed.
Many people were outright angry with the way the tax was introduced by the BC Liberals, and with the No side ads, and voted accordingly.
The local Yes campaigners were “sitting on pins and needles” awaiting the results Friday, which were extremely close in both local ridings, she said.
In Chilliwack, 9949 people voted No (50.97%), while another 9572 said Yes to extinguishing the HST (49.03%). While in Chilliwack-Hope it was even closer with 9118 on the No side (50.35%) and 8991 voting Yes (49.65%).
“We had limited resources, but the No side’s budget was apparently unlimited as evidenced by the ads that ran during hockey games. That’s an expensive bloc of ads to purchase, and we still won,” O’Mahony said.
“The problem was it was a tax shift, one that moved the tax burden onto the shoulders of the working class.”
Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner called the anti-HST referendum results “a self-inflicted wound” in terms of its overall economic impacts.
He was “pleased to see the majority of Chilliwack and the eastern Fraser Valley” voted No.
“It shows they understood basic economics” and saw the efficiency of the HST over the old-fashioned, overlapping sales taxes, he said.
“But I guess the rest of the province didn’t see it that way, and so we’ll go back to the less efficient and more costly form of taxation, one that is certainly more costly to administer.”
Penner quoted finance minister Kevin Falcon who reportedly described the Yes win as “a manageable step back” for the province.
It’s going to mean less revenue in provincial coffers to pay for things “that people want, like health care, environmental protection, or more services in the courts,” the MLA warned.
“There will be less money to deal with and times are already tight, so it makes it less likely the teachers’ union will get anything close to what they’re asking for,” which he said totals about $2.2 million in additional costs.
The local agri-food sector and export manufacturers will likely be hit hardest locally to revert back to the old taxes, said Penner.
“It will make the effort to diversify and grow these sectors more difficult. But again the people have spoken, and we’ll have to live with the consequences to our economy.”
O’Mahony doesn’t think the fight is even over quite yet.
“I was willing to honour the results either way,” she said. “Now it’s up to the provincial government to honour the will of the electorate and return the HST to exactly the way it was before, with the exemptions.”
O’Mahony, who ran a federal election campaign for the New Democrats, said she was glad that B.C. voters “took their time and considered carefully” how to vote, despite the confusing information pumped out during the pre-referendum phase.
O’Mahony raised the question of whether the Clark government will eventually honour the previous tax exemptions in the wake of a Yes vote.
“If not, it would be mean-spirited and punitive response to this vote, and I certainly hope (Premier) Christy Clark is above that kind of politicking,” she said.
Chilliwack MLA John Les was “deeply disappointed” by the results, but not totally surprised by them.
“Anyone with a finger on the pulse knew this thing was not likely to be successful,” he said. “But I am having trouble shaking the disappointment I felt, not necessarily about the politics, or for the here and now, but for our kids and grandchildren.”
The HST would have grown the B.C. economy in the long-term with additional jobs and investment.
“Every economic analysis showed this to be the case, and now we are going to forego a substantial portion of that.”
The results were swayed by political considerations, not economic ones. Ridings that historically supported B.C. Liberals at the polls, did so again in the referendum, and those who typically voted NDP, voted to extinguish the HST.
“That is deeply unfortunate because at the end of the day this was an economic question,” Les said. “It got caught up in world of politics, grandstanding and misinformation.”
But there was also a message in the results.
“The government needs to understand as well that the rollout of the HST was not well done in the end, and that is part of the learning we have to do,” Les said.
What happens now?
“The express wishes of the people” have to be carried out, he said.
“We should be going back to the old way as soon as possible. We might as well do it as quickly as we can. Uncertainty is always a bad thing.”
What about the previous PST exemptions?
“From what I’m hearing, we will go back to the old PST as it was.”