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No stance yet from Whistler on HST

Organizations work to understand implications of new tax to business

Whistler's leaders have yet to officially weigh in on B.C.'s harmonized sales tax as discontent begins to grow throughout the province.

Province-wide protests and a rally at the B.C. legislature, organized by former premier Bill Vander Zalm, are in the works as opposition mounts to the government's plans to merge the GST and PST into a single 12 per cent tax.

That move will up the cost of some services, which previously were exempt from PST such as food in restaurants, activities and airplane tickets.

And that could have an impact on the resort's business.

Whistler Blackcomb deferred comment on the issue to the Canada West Ski Areas Association and Tourism Whistler.

"It's definitely not something that we are taking lightly," said Arlene Schieven, Tourism Whistler's vice president of marketing.

She said they are working with their tourism industry partners to highlight to government the challenges the tourism industry will face with an added tax on services.

"It is definitely a big issue within the tourism industry," she added.

The Canada West Ski Areas Association was not available for comment this week.

Local café owner Chris Quinlan knows it's going to have a negative effect on his business.

"The potential impact on our business is huge," said Quinlan, who owns Quinny's Café.

Right now his customers pay GST and PST on liquor but only GST on the cost of food. Under the HST that food bill could see an additional 7 per cent tax.

"It's ridiculous to charge 12 per cent tax on food," said Quinlan. "It'll drive customers away from restaurants."

Quinlan is president of the Whistler Restaurant Association and a municipal councillor.

Both organizations have yet to meet to discuss the issue but Quinlan said it is a priority for the restaurant association's next board meeting and he plans to bring the discussion forward at the Aug. 18 council meeting.

"We have to understand it completely first," he said.

Lisa Landry, the municipality's general manager of economic viability, said it's still early days in terms of understanding the implications of the HST.

Her main concern is maintaining the funding that comes from the tax on hotel rooms: Whistler like a handful of other B.C. resorts gets 6 per cent of the 10 per cent tax charged specifically on hotel rooms. Rooms are also charged 5 per cent GST.

But under one HST, the tax on hotel rooms could change.

"That's our biggest concern," said Landry.

The hotel tax revenue is a crucial piece of Whistler's funding model, bringing in more than $11 million in 2008.

Landry has contacted the provincial government and has been assured that they are working to ensure there are no adverse effects on that 6 per cent hotel tax, called the Resort Municipality Transfer Tax.

Though the B.C. Chamber of Commerce has stated its support of the HST, the Whistler Chamber has yet to take a stance.

"The feedback (from members) has been quite limited," explained Whistler Chamber President Fiona Famulak.

She will be recommending to the board at next Tuesday's meeting that the chamber canvass its 840 business members for reaction and the possible implications the new sales tax could have on their business.

Meanwhile, according to The Province newspaper, there is a "No B.C. HST" Facebook page set up with 20,000 members opposed to the harmonized tax.

The NDP also has an online petition with 5,500 signatures and party leader Carole James will be touring the province canvassing businesses and consumers.

The province plans to eliminate the PST and bring in the HST on July 1, 2010. There will be some exemptions to the HST including children's clothing, car seats and diapers.