Back to the future with PST

BC businesses seem largely unprepared for the return to the old provincial sales tax once it takes over from the much-hated HST in April, say business groups who are hoping their members come out of the holiday season with resolve to deal with it sooner rather than later.

The BC government announced Wednesday businesses can now register to collect the old tax as the province switches back following the defeat of the HST in a province-wide referendum in 2011.

John Winter, president of the BC Chamber of Commerce, said making sure the 400,000 business owners in the province are informed of the coming change has been tough.

"We've got our work cut out for us," he said in an interview.

He said the chamber polled its members at the beginning of December and found 65 per cent of respondents were either unaware they were going to have to collect the provincial sales tax and the federal goods and services tax separately, or they were unprepared for it even though they were aware of it.

"There's a serious concern here, a bit of a disconnect that needs some more work," Winter said, noting the chamber and the government have been working together for months.

"The message is not getting out there and that's the big concern."

The government has posted its registration documents online and business owners can also print their registration to send by mail or fax, or they can deliver it in person.

The government said in a news release business outreach began in October and November to explain the timeline for the PST.

Chambers of commerce and business organizations have been offered seminars covering the principals of the PST and business owners who need help can book a one-on-one consultation with a ministry tax specialist.

The government said so far, over 800 requests have been received and 160 completed.

Online seminars are also being offered and there is a toll-free number to answer questions.

The government said more than 100,000 businesses will need to register to collect the PST and about 30,000 of them are new and have only existed under the HST.

The 12 per cent harmonized sales tax took over from the provincial sales tax in July 2010 to much anger. It was a combination of the five-per-cent federal GST and BC's seven-per-cent PST.

But it meant services such as haircuts and gym memberships were subject to a 12 per cent tax, whereas before they had been exempt from the PST. Restaurant meals and bicycles had also been exempted from the PST.

Anger over the tax helped force former premier Gordon Campbell from office and prompted a provincial referendum, which defeated the tax in 2011. The government announced it would return to the PST in April 2013 after a lengthy period of rebuilding the system to collect it.

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