Ski association lobbies province for HST exemption 

Tourism minister explains rationale for combining tax

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If the province does not grant tourism operators an exemption, Spencer said the next step is to look at ways to ease the transition to the HST.

He suggested modifying the amount of tax that tourism operators pay, or perhaps phasing it over two or three years so as not to impact customers in one fell swoop.

Stephen Regan, president and CEO of the Council of Tourism Associations (COTA), is also lobbing on behalf of the industry for exemptions or phasing of the tax.

He said he doesn't know if the added tax will affect tourism in the province.

"The point is, nobody really knows how the consumer is going to respond," he said.

"We'd like to think through this with government."

He is also looking at the bigger picture. Changes to the tax structure affect the way tourism marketing associations are funded.

"This is very dynamic, complex modeling and nobody knows the specific answers."

Krueger acknowledged the HST will have a different effect on tourism and restaurant operators than many other small businesses. But he said B.C. did not want to be left behind in what he sees as a nation-wide move to adopt HST. Ontario, he said, was the tipping point. It will harmonize its taxes at the same time as B.C.

Krueger said the move is also in part a response to small businesses in B.C. who complained time and again when he was small business minister about the onerous and sometimes confusing PST system in the province.

"The effect on many businesses in Whistler will be a positive one because their administrative overburden is greatly reduced," said Krueger. "We're doing what most small businesses in B.C. wanted."

And if the impact of the Olympics pans out the way the province hopes, the tourism industry will be on the right track for years to come.

"I think that Whistler is going to find itself hair-straight-back busy and doing great, not just through the Olympics but for decades to follow because we're going to capitalize on this opportunity," said Krueger.

"So I think that the implementation of the HST, when people look at it years down the road, and not that many years down the road in the not so distant future, is going to be seen by most people as a streamlining move that was really good for all concerned."

COTA is planning to meet with Finance Minister Colin Hansen in early October to discuss the issue.

Regan said: "The burden is falling on us to make a case so compelling that it wins."

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