Return of the Provincial Sales Tax

One year after a referendum that saw B.C. voters roundly dump the HST bureaucrats in Victoria are gearing up for the transition

Submitted by Shachi Kurl

To many small and medium-sized business owners, it can feel as painful as a root canal, as complicated as the math required to land the Curiosity Rover on Mars and as unwelcome as the flatulent cousin who crashed on your couch last New Year’s Eve.

It – is the Provincial Sales Tax … and it – is coming back.

One year after a referendum that saw B.C. voters roundly dump the HST (while rightly dumping on the ham-fisted way the B.C. government introduced the harmonized tax) bureaucrats in Victoria are busily beavering away, creating a to-do list as they gear up for the transition on April 1, 2013.

It will be a time of mixed emotions for business operators. In July, 2010, many were not sorry to see the backside of the PST. It was a tax with such a dizzying array of rules and regulations, a business owner often had to figure out whether or not to charge tax based on the color or cut of the item sold – or based on who the product was being sold to. Example: pencils sold to architects were taxable. To artists? Not so much. Why? I’m sure a tax specialist could tell you, but I can’t.

Many others saw their businesses hit when the haircuts, travel agent fees, funerals and movie tickets, previously provincial tax exempt, were now seeing an extra seven per cent added to the retail price. And all absorbed the anger, uncertainty and frustration expressed by customers dealing with a tax they hadn’t asked for, and didn’t entirely understand.

Whatever their feelings – all B.C. business owners will have to make sure they’re prepared for the change.

Here is some early important stuff to know. Print it out, tack it to something. And be sure to look at it before midnight on March 31, 2013.

·         Depending on how long you’ve been in business, you’re going to have to register, or re-register for the PST. Registration begins Jan. 2, 2013. That gives you to three months to get it done.

·         Look for detailed instruction letters from the Ministry of Finance sometime in December, that is, if government is able to meet its own timelines.

·         You can register online. You can also register by phone or fax or through the mail.

·         You can also file and remit PST online once it’s all up and running.

·         Those walk-in Service BC centers will also be a point of information, delivery and contact during the registration process.

Government swears up and down this will be a smooth transition, and you, the business owner, will have access to all the information and help you’ll need to welcome back PST. Unfortunately, the tax, and all its niggly rules, will come back in largely the way it went out.

Somewhere in B.C., a pencil salesman quietly weeps. But you won’t. Because you’ll be prepared.

– Shachi Kurl is BC and Yukon director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. CFIB is a non-partisan, non-profit business association that represents 109,000 independent business owners across the country, with 10,000 in B.C.

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