B.C.’s HST: Sudden Death

Are some people taking the “rush to beat the HST” to ?extreme new levels?

The July 1 arrival of B.C.’s HST also means the debut of the controversial funeral tax.

Are some people taking the “rush to beat the HST” to 
extreme new levels?

You can’t take it with you. But the government can certainly take it away from you. Grumblers who promise to curse the taxman with their dying breath will be pleased to learn that, in this province, death is not the end. You no longer have to be breathing to contribute revenue to the provincial coffins – er, coffers. The July 1 arrival of the harmonized sales tax (HST) also means the debut of the controversial funeral tax. Starting this summer, getting away from it all is going to cost a little more.

The HST has been about as popular as a terminal illness, generally. But along with the tax on new 
homes and restaurant meals, the application of the HST to funeral services has been particularly aggravating to many. 

The effects of the new tax on home building have been easy to see, with builders hiring extra workers and putting on double shifts in order to finish and sell houses before the dreaded surcharge takes effect. The effect of the tax on the funeral business will likely be harder to uncover. Has there been a rush to beat the deadline? A true picture might require a certain amount of police investigation. Have there been scenes reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with relatives being carried into funeral homes still attesting to their robust health while thrifty family members assure the undertaker that death is expected “any minute”? Any special promotions being offered for early-bird victims? 

Certainly the new death tax sets up a scenario comparable to airplane seat envy, where a pleasant trip is spoiled by the knowledge that the traveller sitting next to you paid far less for a ticket. I’m sure Heaven would still be lovely, but wouldn’t it be galling to know that the smug bastard one cloud over got there cheaper? On the other hand, the HST on funerals will probably seem perfectly fitting to many B.C. Buddhists. Among some, the traditional practice is to burn paper money and paper goods for the dead to use in the afterlife. Burning some real money on a funeral will probably seem like a natural variation.

Then too, the new tax may provide a net benefit to the health of British Columbians overall. Again, the homes situation provides an interesting point of comparison. It’s widely expected that new-home sales will plummet after the tax takes effect July 1, with a rush of buyers getting their house shopping in before the HST arrives. Surely a corresponding plunge in the provincial death rate can also be expected. Not much point in kicking off after you’ve missed the deadline.

Besides, funerals aren’t meant to be fun. Almost everyone cries. What’s one more little source of grief? Adding the HST will ensure that even those ungrateful offspring who secretly aren’t all that unhappy about recent events will look suitably glum, knowing that yet another little portion of the inheritance is being siphoned away. The funeral tax will be just the thing to stop nasty Uncle Bob from whistling and telling inappropriate jokes during the ceremony.

If any more illustrations of the tax’s many advantages are needed, consider the miracles it has already wrought. The HST has accomplished an honest-to-goodness resurrection, bringing Bill Vander Zalm back from the political grave. No one would ever have expected such a thing was possible.

Recent polls have suggested that the tax could have the opposite effect on Premier Gordon Campbell’s government. It’s far too early to tell whether the anger will last, but if the HST truly does prove to be the death of the BC Liberals, they will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the interment ceremony will mean a modest little boost for provincial revenues. They’re sure to leave a legacy to B.C. And a little bit of yours too.



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