McGuinty Liberals tout HST to party's MPPs
The Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty spent the day selling the HST to its own caucus of MPPs, even though the tax doesn't take effect for about 10 months.
"You know, it's not the kind of thing which I believe will lead Ontarians to lift me on their shoulders and parade me down the street to great acclaim," he told reporters in Toronto on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the premier said in London that "Not a lot of folks are raising it with me, but I think there are some concerns -- I think that's fair to say."
On July 1, 2010, the new tax will harmonize the 8 per cent Retail Sales Tax with the five per cent GST.
The government sees this as good for the competitiveness of Ontario businesses, but opposition parties and various interest groups have been pointing out the large and small ways it will hit consumers.
For example, everything from coffee to haircuts and condo fees will cost eight per cent more. The province also made the following exemptions:
- Diapers, children's clothing and footwear
- Child booster seats
- Feminine hygiene products
- New homes under $350,000
However, the critics usually don't mention the exemptions, nor the accompanying income tax cuts and adjustment payments the government has promised.
"What they'll see is there'll be a reduction on the first $36,000 of taxable income by one per cent. So in real terms, that's about $360," Revenue Minister John Wilkinson told reporters. "We also have targeted tax credits for seniors, for low-income people and particularly, middle-income people with a lot of children."
The adjustment payments are spaced to end a few months before the next provincial election, scheduled for October 2011.
The harmonized tax was a centrepiece of the spring provincial budget. It is a complex piece of legislation.
Some MPPs said they've already begun the work of trying to sell the tax to constituents.
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne (Don Valley West) said: "What I've been doing is on Saturday mornings, I've been meeting in coffee shops. We've been inviting people in particular neighbourhoods and have a bit of a longer conversation."
Liberal backbench MPP Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence) adopted the government's line of how the change is necessary to the province's economic future.
"Well, we've just had the worst economic meltdown in 80 years. We just can't stand there and do nothing. We've got to do something to protect ourselves," he said.
Both the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives have been relentlessly attacking the tax, with the Tories nicknaming it the "Dalton Sales Tax."
However, the federal Conservative government supports harmonization, with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty giving Ontario $4.3 billion to smooth the transition to the new regime.
Despite that, one backbench Ontario federal Tory MP has been trying to distance the federal government from the province's harmonization move.
Provincial Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the latest federal budget promoted harmonization.
"I'd ask those federal Conservatives why they voted for that, then speak against it," Duncan said. "They're trying to have it both ways."
Politicians must show leadership and explain why harmonization is essential to Ontario's economic recovery, he said.
"This is the most important thing we can do to create jobs," he said. "This is a fundamentally important program to the future of our province."
On Sept. 17, voters in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's will go to the polls in a byelection to choose a replacement for former cabinet minister Michael Bryant. The Liberals have held the riding for 10 years, with Bryant winning by 8,000 votes in the 2007 provincial election.
Sue-Ann Levy, the Tories' candidate, said this on Twitter, a social messaging service: "Just got back from talking to small business owners at Yonge and St. Clair. They are so angry about Dalton McGuinty's looming HST tax grab."
NDP candidate Julian Heller hasn't updated his website since winning the nomination, but he doesn't list the HST as one of his central issues.
Dr. Eric Hoskins, the Liberal candidate, issued a news release Thursday saying, "I am running to be the next Liberal MPP for St. Paul's because I know this government has the strongest vision for education, and I want to play a role in ensuring our kids have the tools they need to succeed."
He doesn't seem to mention the HST.
The HST isn't just an issue in Ontario. In British Columbia, Premier Gordon Campbell made it a centrepoint of its throne speech on Tuesday.
"The government is committed to work to make British Columbia more competitive, reduce barriers to the economy and protect core public services," said the throne speech read by Lieut.-Gov. Steven Point. "A harmonized sales tax fits all three of those broad objectives."
A No-HST Facebook group in B.C. has more than 100,000 members. NDP Leader Carole James has vowed to lead the fight against the HST.
However, the governing Liberals soundly defeated her party in the May provincial election in B.C.
Some B.C. business groups have spoken out in favour of the harmonized approach, saying it will improve business productivity and grow the economy.
The only provinces that have completely avoided harmonization so far are Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.
Quebec has partly harmonized and Alberta has no provincial sales tax.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss and files from The Canadian Press