VICTORIA — New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix attacked the government Tuesday for the length of time it is taking to return the provincial sales tax to British Columbia.
“The slowness in making the transition back to the PST is hurting the economy and costing jobs,” Dix said during question period.
“It took 11 months ... to bring the HST in. Yet the government continues to maintain that it takes 19 months to take it out. When is the premier going to order her minister of finance to make returning to the PST a priority?”
The question set off a political war of words, with Finance Minister Kevin Falcon calling Dix “chief of staff to one of the worst governments in the history of the province.”
The government has said it plans to get rid of the tax by March 2013, close to 18 months after it was defeated in a referendum.
It has said the time is necessary in order to work with the federal government on phasing out the HST, and to work with businesses to restart the PST.
But the government has not yet told businesses exactly how and when this transition will take place, and on Monday, NDP housing critic Shane Simpson pushed the government for those details.
Simpson said the lack of transition rules means businesses such as home builders have no idea what taxes will apply at what points during the transition period, leading in some cases to deals being stalled.
“The industry is looking for certainty and clear rules on the transition back to the PST,” Simpson said during Monday’s question period.
“The Urban Development Institute, the Canadian Home Builders Association and the B.C. Real Estate Association have all said it’s hurting their industries, with the UDI telling us they’re putting 2,000 units on hold with the 8,000 jobs that won’t happen because this government can’t come up with a set of clear rules.”
Falcon responded that it could take months before those rules are ready to be released.
He told reporters the province is working as quickly as possible, but the rules are complex and need to be drafted by the federal government.
“I absolutely understand [the business community’s] concern about getting those transitional rules drafted as quickly as we can, and we are moving heaven and earth to do that with the federal government as quickly as we can, but we also have to sort out the significant policy issues that are associated with them,” he said.
“What I can tell you is the federal government is very cooperative and really trying hard, as are our own team to get this done as quickly as we responsibly can.
“I don’t want to speculate on whether that’s going to be weeks or months, just because it is a very very complex issue that’s associated with setting that date.”
Commenting Monday, a frustrated Falcon called the PST “a stupid, inefficient tax,” and said the transition back has been more difficult than he expected.
“The issues associated with it are much more complex than I honestly could have ever imagined,” Falcon said.
“The transitional rules especially. As a finance minister, I thought that it would be relatively straightforward, and I’m learning, to my surprise and dismay, that it is not.”
NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said Falcon should have moved earlier on planning for the transition.
“I think that speaks to incompetence on his part. Surely, the result of the referendum was not a sure thing in the sense that his side wasn’t bound to prevail and the fact the referendum might go down surely was an option,” said Ralston.
“The idea that we’re now somehow waiting for transitional rules, three or four months out, with no clear sign as to when that will happen – when major industries such as the home- building industry are affected – is just unacceptable.”