The most important document to study will be the "hard-to-read" Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreement between British Columbia and the Government of Canada signed in November 2009 (called the CITCA by tax geeks). The second most important document to read is the amendment letter to the CITCA signed in March 2010. A review of the original Memorandum of Understanding may also be helpful. There will be other relevant documents that will be made public voluntarily and through access to information requests to the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia. These documents will need to be reviewed carefully to determine the best plan to move forward.
What exactly will happen will happen in response to a "Yes" vote is yet to be determined. What we know is that many will not like the plan. The elimination of the Harmonized Sales Tax ("HST") in British Columbia will not happened immediately on August 26, 2011 if the "Yes" (anti-HST) vote is the successful side. People celebrating at bars and restaurants will see HST on their bills after the announcement.
Businesses will need time to adjust. This would be fair to the businesses who are, in reality, the tax collectors from the public. The businesses will need to know what to do and the mechanisms to collect another tax (even if it is the British Columbia social services tax) will have to be put in place. Businesses throughout Canada and not just British Columbia will need to adjust their record-keeping systems. As with HST implementation, a change will involve a lot more work than just changing a tax rate in the computer.
Businesses inside and outside British Columbia will also need to register to collect the replacement tax. The government will need to launch a new education campaign to communicate the obligations on businesses. Also with the "To Do List', the government will need its own "To Do List", which will include setting a time line, passing legislation, education of the public (and duck as the tomatoes are thrown), hire people in the Consumer Taxation Branch, train the new employees, prepare policies and bulletins, talk with the Federal Government about repayment, enforcement and other process matters, etc.
If the "Yes" vote wins, GST registrants in British Columbia will still be required to charge, collect and remit HST when they sell to an HST province. They will still be obligated under the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and regulations thereto to file a GST/HST returns in the future. The HST Place of Supply Rules will still apply to certain transactions. So, HST will not be elimniated fully under any change plan.
The rules relating to claiming refunds, rebates and credits under the HST tax system will need to be clarified for B.C. businesses. There is a possibility that there may be a deadline set for amounts a business or consumer is entitled to receive from the Government of Canada.
If the HST is going to be eliminated, businesses who are registered for GST/HST purposes and entitled to claim input tax credits will take the opportunity to purchase goods and services before the change. Those businesses that will have to pay unrecoverable provincial sales tax after the change may decide to undertake the expenditures at a time when they can recover HST by way of an input tax credit. Businesses will take prudent steps to save money while the change occurs.
Consumers, on the other hand, may delay purchases until after the change occurs when they are purchasing an exempt good, real property, intangible property or services that are not subject to provincial sales tax. This will most negatively affect the real estate market and the service sector. There will be transition rules for the change that will need to be developed and communicated.
Consumers outside the province of British Columbia may delay purchases of goods from British Columbia until after the change (or at least after the date of the announcement of the plan for the replacement tax). The place of supply rules may change and give rise to opportunities to save sales tax.
In the meantime, the Government of British Columbia will undoubtedly talk about repayment of the monies received from the Government of Canada to implement the HST. There will be talk of new taxes that were not in place in British Columbia before July 1, 2010. As sure as night follows day, if the "yes" vote is the majority, the blame game will start.
We will continue to watch and report on this developing story - if it develops into a story. Nothing much will happen if the "No" vote is the majority.