Soft drinks are exempted from provincial sales tax along with other grocery store items. (Wikimedia Commons)

Yes, we could use a soft drink tax

NDP rejects useful tax advice because it’s not popular

The B.C. NDP government has snubbed its own hand-picked tax advisors, refusing their suggestions on how to replace the billions in revenue from Medical Services Plan premiums.

The fate of the expert panel’s advice was set in February, before their report was even complete. Finance Minister Carole James pre-empted it by announcing that MSP was going to be phased out starting with a 50 per cent cut in January 2019 and elimination the next year. It will be replaced with a payroll tax called the “employers health tax” that will hammer large-scale farmers and other businesses with substantial payroll costs.

The payroll tax lands on schools, hospitals and municipalities too, so your property taxes are likely going up. With raises being negotiated by public sector unions, who continue to get their MSP premiums covered, you’ll be paying.

The tax panel soldiered on and produced a final report in March, which was finally released and quietly rejected by the finance ministry two months later. Don’t feel too badly for these experts, however.

The panel, chaired by UVic economics professor Lindsay Tedds and including former finance minister Paul Ramsey and UBC law professor David Duff, billed just under $100,000 for their work.

The real scandal here isn’t the wasted money. It’s the experts’ suggestions that were tossed aside, apparently because they are seen as too politically risky.

You may have heard about one of them, extending provincial sales tax to soft drinks. They wanted sales tax on every retail bottled drink except plain milk and water, including diet drinks.

The bulk of this is sugar-laden soft drinks, iced tea and coffee, fruit juice concoctions and so on. They are a main source of the overdose of sugar self-administered by far too many of us, with consequences of obesity and diabetes. This would be a “health tax” that actually improves health, instead of this ill-considered payroll tax that the NDP government rushed into instead.

Soft drinks were exempted from B.C.’s seven-per-cent sales tax along with most other grocery items. This mistake could be corrected now, but politicians’ fear of sales tax increases is just too strong.

So you can imagine the reaction to another panel recommendation, to convert the PST into a “value added tax.” This is what the harmonized sales tax tried to do. It makes sales tax more fair to businesses that try to compete and create employment. But HST, for which I was a lonely voice in favour when it was imposed in B.C., remains a four-letter word.

With the U.S. steeply reducing business taxes, it would be great to have an adult discussion about tax reform and competitiveness, but we can’t.

Another proposal was to scrap or modify the home owner’s grant, introduced by Premier W.A.C. Bennett in 1957. Bennett sold it as relief from rising property taxes, which will rise more because of the “health” payroll tax on hospitals and the rest. But the HOG is now a sacred cow.

“The home owners grant is a regressive and unfair element of the tax system that could be significantly improved by making it income-tested and extending it to renters, which is an outstanding commitment of government,” the panel said in its report.

The finance ministry gave out a terse “background” statement on the report’s suggestions.

“It will be no surprise that a return to the HST is not on the table, and we are not considering a tax on sugary drinks or changes to the home owners grant at this time.”

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress

Just Posted

Surrey woman’s ‘tell-all’ book aims to help those struggling with domestic violence

Second book details abusive marriage, how people failed her

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner bids farewell in tearful State of City Address

Outgoing mayor announces Director of Housing, looks back at Surrey’s evolution, and pokes fun at her ‘media missteps’

ZYTARUK: Hepner, to her credit, rose to the occasion

She could have used her last address to make political digs, pitches and slights. She did not.

Supportive housing opponent says 110-year-old document should prevent development

Proposed site for Cloverdale project is on land gifted to city by Joseph Shannon in 1908

VIDEO: Story surrounding new playground at Surrey hospital a real ‘tear-jerker’

Dad began planning after his son had surgery in Surrey and he saw too many sad faces

Fresh-faced Flames fend off Canucks 4-1

Vancouver drops second straight NHL exhibition contest

VIDEO: B.C. deer struggles with life-preserver caught in antlers

Campbell River resident captures entangled deer on camera

Scheer pushes Trudeau to re-start Energy East pipeline talks

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer questioned the Prime Minister over Trans Mountain project

Mistaken identity: Missing dog claimed in Moose Jaw belongs to another family

Brennen Duncan was reunited with a white Kuvasz that was found in Saskatchewan

Abandoned kitten safe and sound thanks to B.C. homeless man

‘Jay’ found little black-and-white kitten in a carrier next to a dumpster by a Chilliwack pet store

Police chief defends controversial marijuana seizure

Advocates said cannabis was part of an opioid-substitution program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Trans Mountain completes Burrard Inlet spill exercise

Training required, some work continues on pipeline expansion

Supporters of B.C. man accused of murdering Belgian tourist pack courtoom

Family and friends of Sean McKenzie, 27, filled the gallery for brief court appearance in Chilliwack

Most Read