Os­borne kills book tax

Prov­ince an­nounces com­pre­hen­sive tax re­view


The book tax will be elim­i­nated on Jan. 1 of next year, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Os­borne an­nounced Tues­day af­ter­noon at Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing.

The news con­fer­ence Os­borne called was os­ten­si­bly about an­nounc­ing a com­mit­tee, which will do a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the tax sys­tem, and de­liver rec­om­men­da­tions to gov­ern­ment next fall.

But the thing that drew more at­ten­tion was Os­borne’s an­nounce­ment that the gov­ern­ment will give no­tice to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to elim­i­nate the 10 per­cent­age point pro­vin­cial por­tion of the HST on book sales.

The book tax has been widely de­rided since it was in­tro­duced in 2015, when then-fi­nance min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett raised taxes on just about every­thing. Crit­ics said that tax­ing books was re­gres­sive, and an ad­di­tional bar­rier to read­ers in a prov­ince with a less-than-stel­lar lit­er­acy rate.

“I never liked the book tax,” Os­borne said. “When I first be­came min­is­ter of fi­nance and pres­i­dent of trea­sury board, I im­me­di­ately in­di­cated that I

wanted a dif­fer­ent ap­proach as we move for­ward — a bal­anced ap­proach. I spoke with the premier about the book tax; he didn’t like the book tax.”

Os­borne stopped short of re­pu­di­at­ing Ben­nett’s ap­proach as fi­nance min­is­ter, but in less than a month, this is not the first big step he’s taken to strike a markedly dif­fer­ent tone from his pre­de­ces­sor.

Os­borne in­di­cated that the com­pre­hen­sive tax re­view would look at a lot of the other un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions that Ben­nett made.

He said that he doesn’t like the tem­po­rary “deficit re­duc­tion levy,” an­other cre­ation of the 2015 bud­get, and he openly mused about in­sti­tut­ing some sort of junk food tax in the prov­ince.

“I don’t want to put ideas in the com­mit­tee’s head, be­cause it is an in­de­pen­dent com­mit­tee, but maybe there’s taxes that could be elim­i­nated,” he said. “You know, peo­ple talked about a su­gar tax on soda pop or a fast food tax, are those things that are even pos­si­ble?”

The com­mit­tee study­ing the tax sys­tem is chaired by Steve Jer­rett, along with Peter Wood­ward, Brian Bon­nell, Carol Fur­long and Mar­ion Pardy

Jer­rett said that the group hasn’t yet had a chance to sit down and draw up a plan of at­tack for the project.

“It’s a daunt­ing task. This is not a sim­ple project, but the the min­is­ter is cor­rect in say­ing long-term fis­cal sit­u­a­tion in this prov­ince has to be para­mount,” he said. “If we want to main­tain rea­son­able lev­els of ser­vices, the prov­ince has to be in a strong long-term fis­cal sit­u­a­tion.”

The prov­ince is still wrestling with a deficit of around $778 mil­lion, and stub­bornly low oil prices.

The end goal of the re­view, Os­borne said is a sim­pler and fairer tax sys­tem.

“The tax sys­tem should be sim­ple of the public to un­der­stand and easy for gov­ern­ment to ad­min­is­ter,” he said.

“We need to pro­tect our econ­omy, and we need to en­sure that this is a place where peo­ple want to live.”


Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Os­borne speaks to re­porters in St. John’s Tues­day.

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