[CHARLOTTETOWN, PE] — An angry crowd of Islanders staged a vehement protest against the HST in Charlottetown Thursday, calling for a plebiscite to be held on whether the controversial tax should be implemented in P.E.I.
About 225 people, bused in from across the province, marched down University Avenue to Province House and rallied at the legislature for close to two hours against the HST.
Speaker after speaker called the harmonized sales tax a ‘regressive tax’ and rejected the Ghiz government’s constant assertion that it will not hurt low and middle income Islanders.
“It’s a taxation that attacks the less fortunate, which are the majority in this province because most of the people in this province are living below the poverty line and they are the ones who will be negatively affected,” said Shelley Ward, president of the Union of Public Sector Employees.
The group called a motion, asking for a plebiscite to be held due to the negative impacts they believe the HST will cause.
“We, Islanders against HST, call upon the Lieutenant-governor-in-council to order a plebiscite and allow the electors to express opinion on the HST prior to the unilateral implementation of the harmonized sales tax,” said Cindy Baird, one of the organizers of the protest. Baird has also created a Facebook group and a website, both called Islanders Against HST.
The crowd cheered in support of the motion and passed it unanimously.
But when they asked Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, who was present for the whole rally, to accept the motion, he made it clear their motion would not change government’s plans.
“I will certainly take your motion, but I will tell you that HST is coming to Prince Edward Island,” he said.
When Sheridan tried to address the crowd, a number of people turned their backs to him, shouting insults and retorts to his points.
When he tried to explain the budget deficit must be reduced and that the HST will help with this, he was drowned out by people shouting, “Why don’t you let us decide?”
“It is a difficult item to get your head around,” Sheridan began, but was drowned out again, this time by gasps and screams of indignation at this statement.
Other speakers talked about negative impacts they believe the HST will have on individuals, businesses and the community.
Edith Ling from the National Farmer’s Union said despite what government has said, farmers do not support the adoption of this new tax.
“Farmers in P.E.I. are already exempt from provincial sales tax on almost all input costs and we receive a GST rebate… if the government wants to help tourism operators in the same way, they could easily have issued them a sales tax exemption on their business costs,” Ling said.
Edgar Parker of North Carleton pointed to the increased costs that will be incurred by businesses with the HST when their electricity bills increase. He said he believes they will pass those added costs onto Island consumers.
“I’m not against the Liberals. This is not a political message for me… I’m against increased taxes,” Parker said.
Roger Gordon spoke at length about big-ticket items, such as electricity, gasoline and adult clothing, which will cost more with the HST.
He said thinking of all the repercussions of these increased costs on Islanders and the community has made him feel very upset and frustrated.
“I feel like that character (from the movie Network) who managed to get everybody to open their windows and say, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.’ Now I want you to shout that with me,” Gordon said.
And they did.
The HST was announced in the provincial government’s budget this past spring. The 14 per cent tax will replace the current Goods and Services Tax and Provincial Sales Tax.
P.E.I. is currently the only maritime province that does not have HST.