The proposed $7.5-billion package of transportation upgrades would include major new projects to extend rapid transit west along Broadway in Vancouver and along three routes in Surrey.

Small business group opposes transit sales tax

CFIB members want transportation upgrades, just not higher PST in Metro Vancouver to fund them

An association representing small businesses says it will fight a proposed 0.5 per cent sales tax in Metro Vancouver for transit improvements after a survey found a large majority of its members are against it.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said 80 per cent of 260 Metro-based respondents indicated they would vote No in the mail-in referendum, 17 per cent would vote Yes and three per cent were unsure.

CFIB B.C. vice-president Richard Truscott called it a clear mandate.

“We will respect that consensus and advocate against adding a half point to the sales tax in the Metro Vancouver region,” he said. “But let me be clear, a vote against this tax is not a vote against transportation improvements.”

He said CFIB members want upgrades and believe they are definitely needed but were divided on how to fund them, if not by the so-called Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax.

Sixty per cent of those surveyed believed new funding isn’t needed and improvements can be made with existing revenue, which Metro mayors and successive B.C. transportation ministers deny is possible.

Nearly a third said new funding is necessary but they were split on what mechanism to use – 49 per cent of those respondents agreed with the proposed regional sales tax, 41 per cent backed road pricing, 37 per cent would raise fares and 33 per cent supported the introduction of an annual vehicle levy.

Truscott said the main concerns of business owners are the extra administrative time and cost that would come from the 0.5 per cent added sales tax and potential lost sales.

The CFIB is the first major business organization to come out against the proposed tax.

Many others are in support and are key members of the Yes campaign, including the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Vancouver Board of Trade and the Surrey Board of Trade.

Other groups, including the Retail Council of Canada, praised the province’s decision this month that the extra 0.5 per cent tax will be harmonized with the seven per cent PST and not added as a separate line item to receipts.

“That clarifies and helps a little bit, but it certainly gives the impression they’re making this up as they go along,” Truscott said, adding even a harmonized transit tax will still add red tape and paperwork.

He said there’s “a lot of doubt and cynicism” as to whether more new money is really needed for TransLink.

“We think there’s plenty of money in the system, what’s needed is priorization of money already being spent.”

Retail Council of Canada spokesman Greg Wilson said retailers still question how the tax would be implemented.

They wonder whether the tax would be charged on items sold in Metro Vancouver but delivered outside the region, or bought outside the region and delivered back into Metro – questions the province has yet to answer.

Wilson said some business sectors – particularly banks, financial services and professionals – will largely escape the new 0.5 per cent tax on their transactions, while more pain will be felt by retailers, car dealers, restaurants and hotels.

The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, which doesn’t like the extra tax on alcohol, is adopting a “very reluctant and conditional Yes” position in the referendum, president Ian Tostenson said.