rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Christy's HST 'fix': Politics trumps good policy

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

This is no way to make tax policy. Last Wednesday's proposed reforms to the HST provide yet more evidence that what we really need is a Fair Tax Commission -- a full public engagement exercise in which the entire tax regime is on the table, and people can deliberate on how we want to raise the revenues we need.

There are elements of the latest reform package I like (which I'll get to below), but overall the government's proposed "bold fix" is a classic case of politics trumping good policy.

What's my beef with the "fix"?

In promising to lower the HST by two percentage points (from 10% to 12% over the next three years), and in sending families cheques this year of $175 per child under 18 regardless of household income, the government is proposing to spend a great deal of money on people who don't need it.

True, a two percentage point reduction in the HST will benefit everyone, but the biggest dollar savings would go to the wealthiest households (as they spend the most on goods and services). Likewise, wealthy families with children under 18 will get cheques this year that they will hardly notice in their household budgets (even though, collectively, these cheques will cost the public treasury a lot), while low and modest income people without children get nothing. This is not a wise use of public funds -- it makes much more sense to target money to the individuals and households who really need the help. (Ironically, this is what the government is proposing to do for seniors -- offering additional rebates only to low and modest income seniors -- but for political reasons they've chosen a different approach for everyone else.)

The government is proposing to partially pay for this change by increasing the corporate income tax from 10% to 12% (meaning, returning the corporate tax rate to its 2008 level). Now I'm all for that. But Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has made a point of emphasizing he sees this change as "temporary."

But here's the bigger problem: Cutting the HST by two percentage points is very expensive -- about $1.7 billion in lost revenue per year once fully implemented. In contrast, increasing the corporate income tax rate to 12% will only recoup about $400 million. That would leave a hole in the budget of about $1.3 billion. So this "fix" would mean the HST is no longer revenue neutral, but revenue negative, and would have to be paid for in either increased debt or (more likely) cuts to public services and programs. (The government is also proposing to delay further reductions in the small business tax rate, which would save about another $300 million, but again, the Minister has emphasized that this delay is temporary.)

In short, Premier Clark has more or less done the same thing Premier Campbell tried just before announcing his resignation; namely, seeking to win the public over with a promise of more tax cuts, the budget consequences (and money for public services) be damned.

A much better (and cheaper) fix, as I recently wrote here, would have been to keep the HST, expand the low-income HST credit, and fully pay for this expansion with increases in corporate income taxes. But again, what we really need is a full Fair Tax Commission, in which we deliberate over the role of a value-added sales tax within the overall tax system (which would serve us so much better than a referendum on such a narrow question).

That said, embedded in the government's proposed "fix" are some positive developments that need to be recognized.

The campaigners against the HST should take some satisfaction from the fact that they made the government say "uncle." The government was forced to admit that the HST shifted too much onto consumers and too much off corporations.

More importantly, the government has now acknowledged that we can increase corporate income taxes and the sky will not fall. It is no small irony that when Adrian Dix proposed during the NDP leadership race that corporate income taxes be returned to their 2008 level, he was accused by government representatives and media pundits of being a "class warrior." Yet now Christy Clark has proposed doing just that (and even gone a step further with a proposed delay to planned reductions in the small business tax rate).

And another rather delicious irony: those corporate income taxes reductions since 2008 were part of the carbon tax's revenue recycling regime. Meaning, if the government did actually increase the corporate income tax, they would have to amend their carbon tax legislation, which requires that the tax be revenue neutral. Again, I'm all for that. The CCPA has long said that making the carbon tax revenue neutral (and giving big tax cuts to business) made little sense, and that the carbon tax income should be partially used to fund other climate initiatives. So nice to know the new Premier is now ready to break with revenue neutrality there.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.