As an organization that represents thousands of farmers and ranchers from across the province, the BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) is clearly and unequivocally in favour of retaining the HST, and not going back to the archaic dual tax system of the GST plus PST.
It would appear from the statements coming from both the FightHST group and, more recently, from the B.C. NDP, that both groups do not appreciate that B.C. farm businesses have benefited from the implementation of the HST. Of particular concern is the ongoing messaging that the HST is somehow a massive tax shift from “big business” to families and small businesses. Do B.C. farm families who run small businesses not count in this equation? They certainly do benefit from the HST, and would like desperately to keep it in place.
The reason we say “desperately” is because the sector is hurting. This reality is reflected in Statistics Canada numbers, which show that B.C. agriculture has been in negative net farm income territory for five consecutive years. While the overall annual benefit of the HST, an estimated $15-$20 million to agriculture’s bottom line, makes up only a portion of the loss in farm income, it is the first substantively beneficial policy change for B.C. agriculture that has been made by any provincial government in many years.
B.C. farmers are so positive about the HST system because the old PST system was, quite simply, broken. It was broken under your Social Credit government, Mr. Vander Zalm, and it remained broken through the years of both the NDP government and the first nine years of Liberal government. This is why the BCAC had been in ongoing discussions with successive provincial governments advocating an overhaul of the PST system, and why year after year after year agriculture tried to get items added (usually unsuccessfully) to an outdated PST “farm exemption list”. While it was the stated intent of government to exempt agriculture and food production from the tax, it would only agree to add items that could not be used for anything but farming. A prefabricated gate was PST exempt, but the building materials to construct a gate were not – go figure.
Given agriculture’s rapidly changing technology, the process for adding items was overly bureaucratic and slow – in other words broken.
The implementation of the HST simplified and fixed the broken PST system – and it has put B.C. farm families in a better position to compete with lower priced imported products, which benefits all British Columbians.
Chair, BC Agriculture Council