If you’re still wondering why it took the government so long to get rid of the harmonized sales tax, you can wonder no more.
The draft version of the legislation required to finish the job of going back to the combined provincial sales tax and goods and service tax was released this week.
The complicated technical language that permeates the 186-page bill hints at what the Finance Ministry has been up to since the people voted down the HST.
B.C. isn’t simply going back to the old tax, it’s inventing an entirely new tax that works much the same as the old tax.
People rejected the HST for all the now-familiar reasons. That vote also explicitly endorsed the old provincial sales tax, which will be applied separately and differently from the GST, as before.
So they voted for a cumbersome, clumsy tax system, and that’s exactly what they’re going to get. Writing a new law that captures all the complexity of how businesses apply and collect the seven per cent provincial sales tax doesn’t just happen overnight.
And if you think drafting it took a long time, wait until you try to comprehend it.
It takes 26 pages just to define terms. It takes two pages just to define the word “use.”
A “user,” you might be interested to know, is a person who uses tangible personal property for the person’s own use, for the use of another person at the expense of the first person, for the use of a principal for whom the first person is acting as an agent, or for the use of another person at the expense of a principal for whom the person using the property acts as an agent.
A “boat,” by the way, is “a vessel or other craft that is designed for transporting or drawing on water persons or things, regardless of the method of propulsion or lack of method of propulsion.”
If you were to “buy” a “boat,” here’s the law on the matter. “The total value of the consideration that is payable by the purchaser for any property that, at or before the time that title to boat covered by the sale passes under the sale, or is intended to be, attached to, stored in or used in connection with the operation of the boat, whether or not shown separately on any record of the sale or billed separately.”
If you think you’ll need a computer to figure this out, be careful how you use the software.
If a person buys software that is tax-exempt because it’s for a particular purpose and subsequently uses the software “for a purpose other than the particular purpose,” the person must pay tax to the government. It’s due before the last day of the month after the month in which the person first uses the software for the purpose other than the particular purpose.
The draft bill is a consolidation of the Provincial Sales Tax Act that was introduced in May, with refinements developed since then. Even though it’s still remarkably complicated, it’s considered an improvement on the old system, which former finance minister Kevin Falcon said was “sometimes totally incomprehensible, even to tax professionals.”
A completely separate milestone on the road back to the provincial sales tax is the regulations. That will be an equally hefty package of rules that flow from the draft law. Tax lawyers are getting agitated about the delivery date for the regulations, since they detail the nuts and bolts of how the new-old system will actually work.
With 11 weeks before B.C. reverts, the regulations still aren’t available. They were promised on or before the day the bill is introduced, next month.
As for the people who actually have to collect the tax — the business operators of B.C. — they are slow out of the gate when it comes to preparing. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce surveyed members and found most were unprepared or even unaware of the need to get ready for the change.
About 100,000 businesses have to register under the tax system that takes effect April 1. The Finance Ministry opened the process for registration on Jan. 3 and as of Friday had 6,347 applicants.
The HST generated drama right from Day 1, in the summer of 2009. It looks as if it will continue right to the bitter end.
© Copyright 2013