With little more than a month until the Harmonized Sales Tax goes into effect in British Columbia and Ontario, resistance to the new tax appears to be growing.
In B.C., former premier Bill Vander Zalm is convinced that the tax is not a done deal and is traveling that province to get enough voters in each riding to force a referendum on the HST.
Vander Zalm’s work is getting noticed out east in Ontario, where the HST is also set to kick in on July 1. Christina Blizzard of Sun Media writes about his efforts here.
Ontario hasn’t exactly been quiet, however. Recently, a crowd of fitness club owners and interested parties rallied at Queen’s Park to protest the HST being applied to membership fees. You can read that story here.
They make a good point, too. The Ontario government has given an exemption to small meals under $4, which could include a doughnut and coffee, but hasn’t given any such break to health-based fees such as fitness club memberships, hockey registration, or for that matter, greens fees.
The message is clear, according to the fitness club owners. The government is rewarding those businesses that offer apple fritters, but punishing the ones that promote a healthy lifestyle. Golf courses could make the same case about their green fees and memberships.
Will the golf industry step to the plate in its resistance to the HST?
Despite being the game in which most Canadians participate, golf courses are already burdened with heavy taxes, fees and regulations despite the positive impact it has, according to the National Allied Golf Association’s economic impact study unveiled last year.
On July 1, someone who played the day before will suddenly have an extra eight per cent tacked on to that green free in Ontario and an additional seven per cent in British Columbia and there’s bound to be complaining in a game that is already criticized for being too expensive.
There are some obstacles in the way of a public protest by the golf industry. For one thing, it comes into effect at the height of the golf season, so the time it takes to organize such a rally and attend it would make it difficult.
Another question is who would organize it? The HST has the potential to affect everybody in the industry, so should it be the owners, Golf Canada, NAGA or the Canadian PGA? Who? It’s tough to get an organized movement together the way the industry is structured.
With the HST affecting two provinces as far apart as Ontario and B.C., any protest would also have to be done on a regional basis as opposed to nationally, but just a note to the prairie provinces – don’t think you’ve dodged a bullet with the HST.
If a public protest from golf did take place, how would it be taken considering golf’s image as a game for the elite? Would the opinion be that it’s just a bunch of rich guys looking for another tax break?
The other challenge is apathy. Is the golf industry just too passive and willing to accept anything that the government throws at us? Or do we send a message to public golfers, clients and members that we’re on their side and willing to speak up?
It’s likely a mixture of all of the above, but whether we do it discreetly when customers come into the shop or stage a noisy protest at the provincial legislature, procrastination in communicating golf’s message about the HST and the effect it will have on green fees is not an option.
Even if the HST is a done deal, it’s important for the industry to speak to its customers on this matter and hopefully, you’ve started that process now instead of waiting for July 1. Chances are customers have already braced themselves for the sting of the HST, but it’s prudent to make sure that it’s understood that this isn’t a case of the golf course jacking up its fees.
The time to start talking to the public is now.