The way that Brad Peister, general manager of Innerkip Highlands near Woodstock, Ont., sees it, his paper and online petition against the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in that province serves two purposes.
The first is to voice concern about a tax that blends the GST and PST together on a wider variety of products and services that, at one time, were exempt from charging the provincial sales tax, including golf.
In Ontario, as it stands, a golf course such as Innerkip Highlands, will have to charge an extra eight per cent, beginning next July when a similar situation goes into effect in British Columbia.
With eastern provinces already charging HST, Manitoba is rumoured to be the next province that will implement the blended tax.
Innerkip Highlands began its fight against the HST about three months ago. “We also created an on-site petition, simply a paper document,” said Peister. “We posted a notice on the wall with a petition underneath it. I know at least 500 people have signed it at Innerkip alone.”
Other golf courses joined the battle, as well. When Mark Seabrook, general manager of the Canadian Golf and Country Club in Ashton, Ont., saw the Innerkip Highlands online petition, he joined the cause.
“I was looking over their website and they had already done that, so I just phoned and said, `Hey, you guys mind if I copy it?’ and they said, `Absolutely, no problem,’” said Seabrook.
“It’s simply like adding eight per cent on to the cost of golf,” said Peister. “If I thought I could go up eight per cent on my rates and not have a negative impact on the number of rounds, don’t you think I would have done it?
“It seems an unfair mandatory increase for a business that is already struggling. How is it they can do it so easily and we can’t?” he asked.
“What do we do? We try to fight it and let people know that it’s not just a simple switch in the methodology that (government’s) collecting and then (consumers) are going to get a rebate and it’s really not going to cost them anything,” he said
“It’s going to cost people a lot of money and that’s all we’re trying to do from a golf standpoint is prove that it is going to cost them more money to do what they normally do,” said Peister.
Seabrook adds that the timing for such a tax is bad with the economy just beginning to turn around after the recession of the past year and people still out of work.
“I understand the concept. The economy has broken the back of the government and they need more taxes. I just think the timing sucks,” said Seabrook.
Peister isn’t as kind, calling the HST a repressive tax at any time. “It wouldn’t matter if it was five years ago, or five years from now,” he said.
“We know, as a business, it’s going to cost us rounds and, therefore, money. We’re going to have to eat a lot of it. We just can’t add eight per cent to the cost of golf and expect no negative implications,” said Peister.
That brings us to the second purpose for the petitions, which is communicating to golfers that the extra money they’re paying for more products including golf doesn’t hit like a sledgehammer when it comes into effect in January.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to be perceived July 1 next year when all of a sudden, everybody gets (charged) eight per cent extra,” said Seabrook.
It’s time to start letting people know about it now, adds Peister.
“By simply stating now, to tell the people that it’s coming and it’s not us, it’s the government, and you can try and fight it, but if we collectively lose the fight, at least they’re prepared for it and braced for it rather than wondering why we bumped the prices eight per cent next July,” said Peister.
It would seem that the golf courses fighting the good fight are longshots at best in their quest to have the tax eliminated, altered or delayed, but Peister is holding out hope.
“There is a glimmer of hope that that might happen. There are enough businesses and sectors that are against this that maybe there will be some exemptions, much like there were in the existing PST and we would hope that golf would be exempted,” he said.
“Do we expect to get a lot of sympathy? No, there is no sympathy for golf owners and there’s no sympathy for golfers. The balance of the public, the 80 per cent who don’t play, have no sympathy for those who can afford to play,” he said.
“What’s the likelihood? I don’t know, but I think there’s a glimmer of hope.”