Apologies in advance for a very Warning – a proudly Canada-centric post today. First, a bit of background – we Canadians pay two kinds of sales tax. The goods and services tax (5%) which is consistent across Canada, in addition to provincial sales taxes that varies from location to location (with the exception of Alberta, which has no provincial sales tax at all). If I understand it correctly, neither the PST nor GST applies to all purchases (for example basic groceries are exempt from both, while in Ontario gym fees are exempt only from the PST). Ontario and British Columbia are currently combining the PST and GST into a “Harmonized” sales tax (HST), which is meant to lower the cost of manufacturing, thereby reducing prices. It gets a little complicated, but for those who are curious Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne nicely explains the logic behind harmonization here, and the Globe and Mail has a similar piece here.
One of the consequences of this new HST is that some products which were exempt from provincial sales tax will not be exempt to the new tax – including certain fitness-related items in both provinces. For example the tax on gym and athletic club memberships will increase in both provinces (by 7% in BC, and 8% in Ontario). Sport lessons for kids will also increase (although there may be some exceptions in Ontario for those offered by municipalities and not-for-profits). Children’s sports equipment, including bikes and safety helmets in BC, and athletic footwear in Ontario, will also be subject to increased tax rates (for more details, visit the Globe and Mail).
As someone who is promoting physical activity, you can see why this would be a major concern. Basic “necessities” including coffee and other prepared foods under $4 are exempt from the new tax – it’s not difficult to argue that athletic equipment and sport programs which increase physical activity levels do far more for the public good than any cup of coffee, especially with respect to children. And it’s not as if we Canadians are averse to using tax policy to make physical activity more affordable – we already have the federal (and quite small) Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, as well as tax credits and rebates for varying age-groups being offered by individual provinces. Since both provinces have policies and programs directed at increasing physical activity, it seems that preventing the increase of unnecessary financial barriers is one simple place to start.
If you feel strongly about this issue, I’d encourage you to write to your provincial representative – you can find your representative in Ontario by clicking here, and in BC by clicking here. My friend Emily has taken the time to write a small letter, which I have included below. I’ve left both Ontario & BC info in the letter, so be sure to edit it where appropriate.
It might not reduce the financial barriers to physical activity in Ontario and BC, but at least it might prevent them from getting any worse!
[Insert MPP Office Address]
RE: HST is a barrier to
sport and physical activity participation for Ontarians/British Columbians
Dear [MPP/MLA's name],
As you are aware, the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) for Ontario/British Columbia residents begins on July 1st, 2010. I am dissatisfied that the HST will be applied to sport and recreation opportunities for Ontario/British Columbia residents. As responsibility for recreation, education and municipal affairs lies at the provincial/territorial level, I am writing you today to express my concern that applying the HST to sport and recreation opportunities for Ontarians/British Columbians will effectively create yet another barrier to physical activity participation.
There is compelling
evidence demonstrating that physical inactivity and its related health
complications (e.g. cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes)
are leading causes of death. In fact, the World Health Organization
estimates that physical inactivity alone is the cause of 1.9 million
deaths globally. Increasing the tax on physical activity programs in Ontario/British Columbia will create
an additional barrier to participation, and represents a backwards step
for this province. At a time when the capacity of our health care system is
already being tested, it seems counter-intuitive to create additional
barriers to participation in the types of programs that promote health
and wellness through physical activity.
Furthermore, children from low-income
are less likely to engage in organized sport and recreation activities
due to registration and equipment costs, which will be compounded by
the new increased tax on registration fees. Equitable access for
all children should be a priority. Applying
the HST to physical activity opportunities for adults
(for example, gym and athletic memberships) will further limit
for adults and families.
a basic human right, and it is the responsibility of the Ontario/British Columbia
to ensure that all Ontarians/British Columbians have equitable access to the physical
opportunities that promote and sustain healthy active lifestyles.
that you, as my elected Member of Provincial Parliament/Legislative Assembly, propose an HST exemption for physical activities,
such as sport and recreation opportunities for all Ontario residents.
[Your name here]