The HST Does Not Matter

Never mind the HST. We need to talk about an unsustainable fossil fueled economy, health care, poverty, transportation infrastructure, the role of cities, foreign policy, and the military.

By Ted Mitchell
Published December 06, 2009

I'm really getting tired of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) being discussed as if it were actually relevant.

It started with the juvenile behaviour of Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak trying to get some political traction. First it was walking out of the legislature, then Bill Murdoch and Randy Hillier camping out and refusing to leave after being suspended for refusing to retract calling Premier Dalton McGuinty a liar.

If Hudak and friends were to have any credibility on this, and not just seizing a populist opportunity to fight tax, they would note that the HST was not McGuinty's idea. (Knuckle-dragging taxpayer: Tax? Bad! Must vote Conservative...)

Without petitioning federal HST cheerleader Jim Flaherty to stop the HST as voraciously as he lunges for McGuinty's jugular, Mr. Hudak is simply playing politics and has no policy leg to stand on.

Tempest in an HST-Pot

Let's see: you can have 13 on one hand, or 5+8 on the other. Hmmm. Let's go with 5+8, it sounds like it's much less.

Okay, so there are a few things on which you are going to pay more tax. But if they don't get it from you this way, it's got to come from somewhere else, probably income or property tax, or business tax which might send the employment rate south. At least with sales tax, if you don't like it you have the choice not to pay it. Don't buy so much crap.

There's a HST calculator up where you can punch in your own numbers. Apparently the HST will end up costing my family $600 over ten years. Compared to our total tax bill, that's a tiny fraction of a percent, so trivial it doesn't warrant discussion.

Now I'm no fan of the provincial liberals, who are increasingly contemptuous of public input and accountability, most egregiously demonstrated by the e-health scandal and the more local issue of Hamilton Health Services railroading through the closure of McMaster hospital without debate.

But the HST is so not-an-issue. It just sidetracks real issues and threatens to be the deciding platform, God forbid, in both upcoming provincial and federal elections!

Federal Issue

Now the HST virus has infected Ottawa, and predictably, NDP leader Jack Layton is all in a populist huff.

Federal Conservatives sensibly support the HST, but of course they lowered the GST, so no policy consistency there.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff seems to have no nose for public taste at all, and through a whipped vote supported the HST. Suicidal!

Talk About Real Issues

People, wake up. We do need to talk about an unsustainable fossil fueled economy, health care, poverty, transportation infrastructure, the role of cities, foreign policy, and the military. And lots of other issues.

But the HST so does not matter.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.


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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 01:33:09

Hey Ted, Not everyone lives in an academic bubble. As a small business owner, I will be forced to reduce my prices by 8% just to keep my clients happy. You make it sound like not many services will be affected. While you're crying about global warming and poverty, I'm working 80+ hours a week just to get by. Get a life.

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By Bovine feces (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 03:22:14

anonymous, that's a load of crap.

First off, unless this business you allegedly own is in some particularly narrow corner of the economy, the vast majority of these products that you, ahem, sell are already subject to 5+8 taxation. Yes, there are a few random products out there that are subject to PST-only that will have to move to both. Fine. After someone rings them in they'll come up 8% higher.

But seriously, your "clients" are going to demand you cut prices at your alleged store by 8% to compensate? You won't be able to "keep them happy" otherwise? What a load. Every store in Ontario is subject to this. Everyone knows that the increased final number on the receipt will be because of money going to the government, not you.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 09:15:34

The people have to not been able to have their say about this at all. Those who live on fixed inocmes such as pensions, Ontario Wroks ODSP, OAS and CPP will be struggling more.

They will have to make more hard choices between rent, food, heat, hydro.

Yes there are many other problems and issues but you have failed to think about those who are already struggling in which this tax will cause more hardship.

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By madmatt (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 10:19:37

I also run a small business, and I would much rather fill in ONE sales tax remittance form. This is a consumption tax, which is the type of tax system we need to move towards: stop buying so much crap and save your cash. Personally I'd like to have the Federal government tax income and the Provincial tax consumption, say 15% income and 10% sales. This avoids duplication and simplifies the process for the tax payer. Also, having certain items exempt from one part of the tax just makes the process unnecessarily complex. Funeral services should be the only exemption. God knows we've paid our fair share by then.

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By Inhocmark (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 10:55:11

The HST is a little short term pain for long term gain. It's good sound policy that goes beyond party lines (unless you're the provincial Tories) and once the initial shock wears off the economy will see the savings.

Add to that the income tax reduction and the cash back from the provincial government, this should be a 'well d'uh, that makes sense' issue.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 11:02:36

Inhocmark: Is this this tax going to benefit those who struggle or will it be more of the same deception as the Ontario Child Benefit?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2009 at 11:12:11

My only concern is with choices of exemptions. Basic needs should be exempted. Fast food under $3 is not a basic need. Some current PST exemptions won't be carried through.. Perhaps it's time to look at the exemptions and adjust them to truly reflect basic needs of living humans!

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By Inhocmark (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 11:19:26

Well the Liberals do not have much wiggle room on this one. The cash benefit was been well advertised and spelled out, but it is the never know how badly they can screw something up.

Ultimately, eliminating or repurposing duplicate bureaucracy, saving businesses money and making Ontario a cheaper place to invest and start up a business sounds like part of what I would like the government to be doing in tough economic times. The fact that they've also promised (granted not delivered) items that will help ease the impact on those who struggle shows that the government was also aware of the initial optics of the move.

Once this is put through and businesses start seeing savings then it will be up to them if they're going to take at least some of their savings and pass them onto the consumer. At the end of the day a solid government policy can only deliver so far, then it is up to those who have benefitted from the policy to pass it down. If they do not, then our ire needs to be directed towards them.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 11:41:42

Well, it seems that more people will be in the unemployment which just cause eveyone else more pain in the long run. But you people keep on believeing the crapola coming from our leaders.

Less people working, less money to spend, how is that going to help business?

Social costs go up as more and more people who cannot find work will be accessing welfare and in the food banks lines. How many more people will be living in the streets, as their rent and utility costs go up of which their income does not cover these increases.

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By Inhocmark (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 11:53:24

That's pretty fractured logic.

We're talking about workers that are duplicating work at this point. Those are resources the government are paying out that are giving us no benefit.

How is that helping solve any issue? If we can not find practical and reasonable ways to save money, how do you expect the government to pay for all these programs you hold so dear? You just have to look at how bad the infrastructure in Quebec is decaying because they figure they can have their cake and eat it too.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 12:12:35

Well, your logic is fractured as well. We are talking about families, who will not have work and will be left with what? There is not enough jobs for those have lost work already

Do you honestly think that this tax grab is gong to help those who struggle or go toward any programs to lift those from poverty?

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By madmatt (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 14:05:59

grassroots; how do you figure this to be a tax grab? It is a consumption tax. If you don't like paying it, don't buy anything. I know, what about the poor who need to buy bread and milk? Well you know what? EVERYONE needs bread and milk; another 8 cents per dollar isn't going to turn a $4.00 bag of milk into a luxury item. Besides, how do you think all your needed social programs are going to be funded? Having said that, I also agree with you that the current assistance amounts are far too low and unrealistic (yes, I've been there myself). The way to get people off the system is education and support to allow people to get that education. Illiteracy is the biggest problem by far.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 18:48:05

Bovine feces,

Are you really that narrow minded? PST has never been charged for most services. Maybe you haven't noticed, but Ontario is turning into a serviced-based economy, since unions destoyed our labour industry. Yes, an extra 8% will hurt my clients, who are mostly on fixed incomes. Implementing new taxes during a recession is suicide. I thought we were going in the right direction, after the Federal Conservatives cut the GST 2% to 5%. If the Provincial Liberals hadn't pissed billions of our tax dollars away on giving contracts to their friends, e-health and other non-essential programs.

Merry Christmas.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 20:07:29

Most basic grocery items, child care services, diapers, etc. are going to be exempted from the HST, so it shouldn't unduly impact those whose purchases are primarily essential ones.

The HST does matter, but mostly to members of the middle class.

Consider that it will now cost about $1500 more to buy a home because of an increase in tax on legal fees, real estate commissions, appraisals, etc.

If you're buying a home worth more than $400,000, you'll pay 13% on any amount above that threshold.

It will also cost as much as $500 more per year to maintain a home because utilities and other services will now be subject to the increased rate.

Most of the advantages associated with the HST will accrue to businesses only.

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By No HST (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2009 at 02:19:16

You can also be sure any benefit many businesses do aquire, this will not be passed on to the consumer yet any increase in price from suppliers will directly be dumped on the buyer.

Before we let the government "simplify" and increase the amount of tax they expect, I think the government needs to show it is responsible, something I do not think it can do. After all do you lend more money to somone if they just take it and throw it away? We have too many successive examples of corruption, oversight and misspent tax money from all levels of government just to allow them to dig even deeper. Instead of rolling over yet again, people need to take both Federal and Provincial Governments to task to prove their ability to handle the money and not just shore up leaks in their clumsy and careless spending.

Instead, we need to stem all the jobs being bled by both the economy and the multitude of big company's laying off and using the economy to try to make due with less and work their employees harder instead. More workers more taxes. We cannot cut jobs for "restructuring" or "improving efficiency" and expect people to afford more tax. And this tax idea attacks the poorest along with the rich as it is dependant on purchases instead of income. Kind of an equal opportunity rip off only some could afford it, many cannot, and the majority will have to tighten even further to make ends meet.

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By Dwayne Brown (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2009 at 13:15:35

I am all for buying less "crap". Unfortunately, our economy has not only promoted the production and sale of un-needed "crap" (a lot of it coming from China and non-Canadian sources!!), but it's also being sustained by those products. So in spending less, does that not imply that at some point we'll need to raise taxes once again to make up the shortfall? Why not have an HST that just fluctuates, without limit, up and down depending on how much or how little of the "crap" that people buy. We could then rid our culture of "crap" and end up paying 30%+ sales tax. Gee, that sounds like a plan! Of course, we'll have to redefine the current roster of products available on the market as essential and non-esential "crap". Perhaps if all levels of government actually made an effort to protect, promote and engage citizens from all socioeconomic backgrounds by creating jobs, building stronger communities, and focusing on leaving no-one behind, rather than protecting the power structures that have been mindlessly guarded and propped up through thick and thin just to keep them in their cozy, oak-panelled 19th century enclaves, we wouldn't be debating this issue at all. What a dysfuntional, mismanaged mess! And at the end of the day, it's all just talk! No one is going to do anything about HST or any other tax including municipal infrastructure levys because "we need to do our part". One way or the other, talk does not trump action. Citizen inaction is just what our governments are relying on.

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By Andrew (registered) | Posted December 12, 2009 at 02:31:40

Fossil fueled economy - well right now the best way to heat our homes is natural gas. Good luck changing that! Remember, Canada is cold 2/3's of the year. Unless wind and hydro electric power becomes 1/8th the cost of natural gas - come up with another goal.

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By Andrew (registered) | Posted December 12, 2009 at 02:33:30


Fossil fueled economy - well right now the best way to heat our homes is natural gas. Good luck changing that! Remember, Canada is cold 2/3's of the year. Unless wind and hydro electric power becomes 1/8th the cost of current electric rates - come up with another goal.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted December 12, 2009 at 13:52:25

Natural gas is good......for now. But we're going to start having NG shortages in a few years as North American production declines. There's lots in Asia but you can't just pour it into a tanker and ship it here. It needs special ships, special docks....and there are hardly any today, and good luck getting a coastal town to agree to build one once they find out how explosive they are.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 12, 2009 at 19:02:41

Actually, you won't need any natural gas with smart house construction, except for cooking.

Look for an upcoming article on Dave Braden.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 11:38:47

Hey Ted

How about I make a tally of how much of my income goes to the HST and you can reimburse me? As you say "The HST does not matter".

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 12:12:02

Hey Capitalist did you oppose the HST when the Conservatives were calling for it, or did you only start to oppose it when the Liberals started calling for it? Just asking.

Also, maybe you didn't see this report on the HST:

Ontario's controversial harmonized sales tax is "virtually revenue neutral" and not the cash grab critics say it is, argues a new report to be released Monday.

The report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says low- and modest-income families will come out slightly ahead under the Liberals' HST package, which includes increased property and sales tax credits and income tax cuts, while households with incomes above $100,000 will come out just slightly behind.

"No group is significantly worse off or better off as a result of the province's HST plan," said Ernie Lightman, a University of Toronto economist and professor of social work who co-authored Not a Tax Grab After All: A Second Look at Ontario's HST.

Even the researchers admit they were "surprised" to find a vast majority of Ontarians will either be slightly better off or unaffected by the tax changes.

PS love the comment editing!

[Comment edited by nobrainer on 2009-12-14 11:12:26]

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 13:17:46


I do not support any tax increase by either the conservatives, lieberal, NDP, or Green.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is a left wing organization. That says it all.

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By Mussolini (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 13:27:32

I agree with Capitalist. This "Doctor" Ted Mitchell is a flake.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 13:36:09

Awww, Capitalist has a sock puppet. How cute.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 13:41:21

So somebody agrees with me and they are a "sock puppet"? Is this what you have to add to the debate?

By the way, I am a bit uneasy about someone named "Mussolini" agreeing with me.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 15:25:38

It does matter

As a business owner, I provide business services and consulting most of what I sell is only subject to the GST. I collect GST and pay GST on stuff to run my business. I also get to subtract the GST i paid from the GST I collected, then remit the balance $.

You and most people are only looking at this from a retail purchase point of view.

As a business owner the GST is a good tax... much more efficient then the provincial RST. Now they'll be combined by the province, I won't be able to subtract any HST collected. And my prices just went up at least 8%. Or my revenue just went down 8%

Tim Hudak is very correct to be making a big deal out of this.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 15:33:17

HST also just made border regions much less competitive. US shoppers can get back their GST on purchases. That'll be gone. So Niagara Falls tourism industry prices just went up 5% or they take a 5% loss.

My business also just got 13% less competitive from providing business services to the US. A US client was only subject to GST and that was rebated.

Everyone needs to fully understand the harm HST is going to cause.

The other point, that is not mentioned. Is that businesses paid directly to Ottawa or Queens Park. Now we'll all pay Queens Park and they'll be the tax collector for Ottawa.

Queens Park and Ottawa have been fighting over equalization payments forever... now that Queens Park will be holding the former GST bag o money, they'll be able to use it as ransom in Ottawa over the equalization money. You don't pay us, we won't pay you.... You'll see that is coming too.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 16:16:51

GST is more efficient when it comes to calculating, collecting and submitting. and not trying to go through the morass of exemption forms and chronic RST audits, monthly billing and late penalites. GST lets me do it once a year and gives me 6 months. RST wants it done every month, or at a minimum every 3 months it depends on sales and gives you 20 days. So GST efficient rating = once a year.. RST efficiency = 4 - 12 x a year. Filling out one tax form is BS... that's the spin.

My other points are still relevant. Don't make this a political issue. Hudak vs McQuinty or whatever. Just look at the tax. Just the tax. I don't care who's bringing it in, supporting it, or against it. It sucks regardless for the same reasons.

Border economies will suffer. US shoppers can't get back the GST spent. on hotels or retail. Tourism is already being killed by high dollar and passport issues. This is another nail.

Ontario business to business services will be less competitive. Like I mentioned, a US client basically can hire me and not pay tax for consulting. I'll charge GST, they'll pay me fee + GST, I'll submit the GST but they claim a full GST rebate. Now what, they'll see my normal fee + 13%??? Of which none of it is rebated. They'll freak and maybe decide to not use Canadian bases services anymore. Even if our dollar drops to mid 70s, I still lost my competitive price advantage.

I'm still predicting it will cause a war between Ottawa and QP. In the Maritimes it doesn't because they get Ontario income tax money in the form of equalization funding. Which I do support equalization!!. so don't change the subject. I like all my fellow Canadian citizens to enjoy equal public services regardless of where they live in the country.

Please pay attention to the details of the tax. From all perspectives and not through Party glasses.

[Comment edited by TreyS on 2009-12-15 15:17:59]

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 16:33:17

And the cost of doing business just went up 5% minimum across the board for all...

If I buy a box of paper clips, I pay $ + 8% RST + 5% GST. I claim the GST paid against GST collected. So the box of paper clips in the end costs $ + 8%

Now with HST

If i buy a box of paper clips, i pay $ + 13% HST. No rebate. In the end the box of paper clips now costs 5% more.

Take business rent for example...

$500 + 5% GST = $525, but the GST paid is rebated off GST collected through sales. In the end the rent washes out $500 / month

with HST $500 + 13% HST = $565. No rebate. Monthly rent just went up 13%

How is that not going to be passed onto retail consumers?

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 16, 2009 at 11:14:05

The globe weighed in on this today:

Re TreyS comments, this refreshingly contains content. To clarify though, are your competitors not subject to the same thing?

And don't all countries with a VAT offer rebates to foreigners if you apply for it?

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 16, 2009 at 13:35:49

Yes my competitors' cost of doing business will go up too. But my competitors still thrive all within the same industry. What if this hurst entire industry sectors? ie shrinks that industry pie altogether. It doesn't matter then if my competitor's costs went up the same as mine, because our pie is smaller, because our entire industry is more expensive from everything from rent to paper clips.

In business, if my competitors are doing well, generally everyone in the industry is doing well. Eg. if Walmart is doing well, so is Sears and Canadian Tire. If the marketing services industry is hit, so is everyone... myself and my competitors. To call us competitors is not like we hate each other, when our industry suffers we all stand together. Just like GM, Ford and Chrysler do when they have to. We're competitors but we're colleagues all making a living in the same industry.

When I re-sell printing or media to my clients, I'm exempt from the RST because I'm reselling it, I only pay 5% GST. RST is only charged once... to the end user. Now I will be charged 13% HST from a printer instead of 5%. If I add more value-added services along the way to the end product, like translation, web coding, etc services that were only subject to the GST and now will be subject to HST and you can see how this increases the cost of the final product.

RST was not taxed on business services, only products. Ontario has a huge Financial Services sector. Toronto competes with other world financial cities, London, NYC, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Frankfurt. Business, financial, banking, legal, and accounting services just got 8% more expensive to global clients.

And we don't just compete locally and internationally, we compete provincially. Big services companies will have an office in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Guess which of those cities got more expensive to do business with? I don't know... will that mean Pricewaterhouse, RBC, Deloite, Cossette, Publicis etc move more of their business to the Quebec and Alberta offices?

I'm not convinced it's better, but I'm hopeful. So far it seems like it matters to me.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 16, 2009 at 13:48:44

It generally doesn't matter to most people... because they'll be paying the same amount of tax when they buy a hair dryer from Walmart.

But for people that need to hire lawyers and accountants and pay office rent.... it matters.

I have a client across the border and I will be discounting my invoices by 8%. I will charge the HST and a give them a discount just to keep them happy. I'm eating that $ for dinner.

The VAT component is confusing because this is administered by Ontario, not Ottawa. How will it apply to doing business locally, provincially or internationally? I don't know? That'll be for my accountant to figure out.... who will also be charging me 8% more to figure that out.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted December 16, 2009 at 14:06:52

To clarify though, are your competitors not subject to the same thing?

To sum this question up.....

Yes they are.... so long as they are based in Ontario. I compete with India now. India is becoming the China of business services.

If I operated a local barber shop then it would be a level playing field.

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By Angela Browne (anonymous) | Posted December 28, 2009 at 22:33:29

I agree with Trey.

Even with the GST, I don't gain a lot, but I must charge it to my clients.

Of the total GST I collect, I pay some of it out to others: my commercial landlord, my office supplies, technology, accountants, etc. and I can reduce the amount of GST I collected by the amount I paid to others and pay the balance to the government. I still PAY, either way.

As for this reducing prices, tell that to my commercial landlord, my insurers, my licensing/regulatory body, my professional associations, my taxi fares, etc. and see if they will cut THEIR fees to me by 8% ... good luck!

On top of this, some of my client won't come back because they are on fixed incomes and cannot afford to pay for anything, my services included.

How this HELPS business remains to be seen.

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By Sith (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2010 at 15:15:41

The $4 tax bit has been around for 10 years...and is out of line. Nobody should eat that garbage and taxes should not be promoting fat people's intake.

But hey, if you like being fleshy and all means...I'll look better next to you.

Moving on, the HST is fine for me as I'm cutting consumption to make up for it.

1. Cable tv: gone...for a savings of 700+ a year (for a middle tier package.)

2. Internet:...GONE...found lots of empty non-protected connections in my condo I can use freely.

3. Travel in Canada: GONE...out of spite I've moved to out of country vacations and out of country flight companies. I even book out using out of country! Besides Canada cannot compete with warm weather and cheap drinks of banana republics.

4. Cell Phone package: Reduced, and only kept because it's only communications device.

Total saved...approximately $1900 a year!

So Canadian Business, hope you like your consumption tax. I will consume just as much, but all of it out of country and non-taxed!

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By mw (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2010 at 08:56:25

I just happened to come across the article by Ted Mitchell and am infuriated by something he said. How can he claim that things like home heating, electricity, automobile gas, etc.,things that are not now charged with PST, are things we have a choice whether to purchase or not? Are they not basics? We could try to cut down somewhat, but with these things there is a limit in our climate. THESE ARE NOT LUXURY ITEMS AND SHOULD HAVE BEEN EXEMPTED. And you don't really think that these one-time "bribes" & "credits" will help in the long run, after the HST remains forever? Didn't other provinces who brought in the HST at least lower the rates, rates which would last longer than these short term "bribes"?

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By You're doing it wrong. (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2010 at 17:20:08

"Apparently the HST will end up costing my family $600 over ten years."

Buddy, that number is way off... I tried to get your number on the calculator. Even putting in an income of $10,000 with no kids, car or house its still 974.36 per year. $8,843.60 OVER TEN YEARS.... How did you come up with this nonsense of $60 per year?!

Get your facts straight, before you wax poetic then look like a fool.

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