Vancouver arts groups grapple with HST referendum
As the public is being asked to weigh in on the future of the HST, some in the arts and nonprofit sectors say they are worried about a backlash from the province should the tax be repealed.
“I’ve heard there’s a bit of concern that, if that [HST] revenue is no longer coming into the province, what further cuts will they make? And what won’t get funded?” said Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, referring to cuts to gaming grants and to the B.C. Arts Council budget.
Premier Christy Clark has not yet appointed the head of her promised review of community gaming grants, which B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming president Susan Marsden believes is a stalling tactic until after the HST referendum. “I think that if the HST fails in their [the provincial government’s] eyes—in other words, if they don’t get what they want—they’ll feel they’re in a financial crisis and then they might even use that to sort of put us on the back burner,” she said.
When it comes to the HST debate, opinions are mixed. Howard Jang, executive director of the Arts Club Theatre Company, said he plans to vote in favour of keeping the tax.
“Certainly, we were concerned as to what the impacts could be in terms of ticket sales and so forth [when the HST was introduced],” he said. “What we’ve learned to date is that that hasn’t been a significant reason for anyone to say ”˜I’m going to buy’ or ”˜I’m not going to buy.’”¦ On the business side of it, we actually come out ahead because we’re able to get a significant rebate on the entire tax, not just the GST anymore.”
Heather Redfern, executive director of the Cultch, said she will be voting to repeal the tax. “Our tickets weren’t subject to PST, but they are subject to HST, so the tax on tickets went from five percent to 12 percent,” she noted. “That definitely has an impact—it makes people think you have really expensive ticket prices when actually you don’t. We tend to advertise them as an inclusive price, because that’s what people prefer.”
Redfern said the Cultch was recently informed its $40,000 gaming grant would be cut in half this year, and its bingo revenue, which is being phased out, was reduced by $10,000 this year. “It has meant for us, anyway, we need to earn more at the box office, so our prices are going up. Between the HST and funding cuts, gaming funding cuts and funding cuts to the B.C. Arts Council, they [the provincial government] are taking more and they’re giving less.”
Redfern said she is not concerned about the possibility of an HST repeal triggering deeper cuts to arts funding. “The point is that they increased taxes and they already cut funding,” she said. “You know, pretty soon there’s not much left to lose here.”