Voters send HST to the sidelines

Out with the new, in with the old.

Out with the new, in with the old.

Close to 55 per cent of B.C. residents (54.73 per cent) voted to reject the harmonized sales tax (HST) in results released by Elections B.C. Friday.

“We are truly disappointed,” said Vernon-Monashee Liberal MLA Eric Foster on Friday. “We were hopeful that we were going to be successful but we’re not so we move forward.

“We gave the people of the province an opportunity to vote on it, they have, and we’ll go back to the old system.”

Elections B.C. results show nearly a 50-50 split among voters in the Vernon-Monashee riding.

There were 24,708 votes cast with 12,581, or 50.92 per cent, voting yes to defeat the HST. A total of 12,127 or 49.08 per cent voted no, a result Foster expected would be very close.

“Over the last year-and-a-half, two years, since the HST was introduced, I’d meet  with people, and the e-mails, and meetings and phone calls told me it was going to be really, really close,” he said.

“Someone asked me how I thought it would go in the riding last week, and I said, ‘Don’t bet $5 either way.’ I honestly believed that. I really thought it would be close.”

Results were closer, but in the opposite favour, in Shuswap MLA George Abbot’s riding, with only 72 votes separating nay from yea.

A total of 22,332 ballots were returned with 11,202 residents or 50.16 per cent voting no, or in favour of keeping the HST. There were 11,130 people or 49.84 per cent who voted yes.

“It was very, very close,” said Abbott, B.C.’s education minister. “There were several ridings that were very close to 50-50, and that reflected the balance of opinion in those ridings. There were  probably far fewer ridings where there was a great discrepancy between the yes and no vote.”

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has estimated that scrapping the HST will cost the province about $3 billion in the next few years.

The B.C. government will have to borrow to pay back the $1.6 billion transition fund from the federal government, with a payment schedule that will have to be negotiated with Ottawa.

“I’m disappointed by the result, but I respect the decision tendered by the electorate of B.C.,” said Abbott. “I’m pleased the decision has been made,  and I’m disappointed by the decision from an economic perspective, but I’m pleased we can move on now.”

The finance ministry also projected that the HST would bring in an additional $600 million in revenues in each of the next two years, based on economic growth and extending the seven-per-cent provincial portion of the sales tax to a variety of services covered by the federal goods and services tax.

Falcon said Friday the province will reinstate the combined 12 per cent PST and GST tax system following the referendum decision.

“We are looking for something moving forward that will put jobs and business certainty front and centre,” said Enderby Chamber of Commerce executive director Tate Bengston. “That will be the engine that powers the economy further into recovery.”

An action plan has been established to guide the transition process and help ensure an effective and orderly transition from the HST to the PST plus GST system in B.C.

The PST will be reinstated at seven per cent with all permanent PST exemptions. The province may make some common sense administrative improvements to streamline the PST.

The transition period is expected to take a minimum of 18 months. During this period, the provincial portion of the HST will remain in place at seven per cent.

“Anything that is done to increase business certainty at this time will be really key to our economic recovery,” added Bengston.

Eligible lower-income British Columbians will continue to receive the B.C. HST credit until the PST is re-implemented. The B.C. HST credit will then be replaced by the re-implemented PST credit.

A call to Chris Delaney, one of the main Fight HST organizers, was not returned as of press time Friday.

-with files from Black Press correspondent Tom Fletcher