OK, British Columbians, you voted to bring back the provincial sales tax, and the change happens April 1. But are you ready for it? The answer seems to be “No.”
Over the past 18 months, the provincial government has been rewriting the rules and rearranging the people so that the harmonized sales tax will go away and the PST will return. It has been a mammoth job, accompanied by lots of news coverage, as well as government websites, seminars for businesses and public-service advertising.
Despite the long timeline and the hoopla, the numbers and the anecdotes suggest that both businesses and consumers are unprepared for the switch.
By the end of last week, only about 47,000 businesses in the province had registered to collect the PST, out of more than 100,000 that must do so. Perhaps they are horrified by the 150-page guide that explains what businesses need to know.
It could be even more frightening for the estimated 30,000 businesses in B.C. that were created since the HST was introduced; they have never operated under the PST.
Consumers are rolling along, assuming that businesses will have it all figured out by the time they stagger to the cash register with their armload of purchases on April 1. How will we know if the shop owner got it right? We won’t, unless we take some time to learn the ins and outs of the new/old tax.
Many of those who voted gleefully to kill the hated HST seem to think that prices will drop in every aisle and we’ll return to some consumer Nirvana. It’s not that simple. It helps to cast your mind back to four years ago — we’re essentially going back to the tax system we had then.
The guide for consumers, called What’s Taxable and What’s Not, is nine pages long. It’s a list of products and services in various categories; it spells out the old tax, the HST and the new tax.
On most goods, the 12 per cent HST is being replaced by five per cent GST plus seven per cent PST, which leaves shoppers where they were before. However, a few things, including bikes, are now PST-free.
Things like physiotherapy, legal aid and most financial services won’t change because they weren’t taxed under the old system, the new system or the new/old system.
Some services will be cheaper because they were subject to HST, but now are only taxed with five per cent GST. For instance, those who are tying the knot will be able to save a few bucks because there is no PST on wedding planning services. Funeral services will also be taxed less, although coffins are subject to PST if purchased separately.
The devil is sometimes in the footnotes. The section on tobacco explains that the tax goes from 12 per cent HST to five per cent GST and no PST. But before you rush out to stock up on your favourite brand, read the footnote, which remarks that the tobacco tax will be “adjusted” so the total tax you pay remains the same.
If you’re wondering about how particular goods or services are affected, check the list on the web at www.gov.bc.ca/pst.
Voters’ responsibility didn’t end when they cast a ballot on the HST referendum. Now we all have to make sure we are informed.
If you run a business, stop delaying and register for the PST. Meanwhile, the rest of us need to sit down with the guidebook and educate ourselves.
April 1 is coming fast.