Government Relations Report

Summer 2010 CSANews Issue 75  |  Posted date : Jul 20, 2010.Back to list

The new British Columbia 12 per cent harmonized sales tax is scheduled to come into effect on July 1. More than 700,000 British Columbians have signed a petition to stop the HST, which many feel is a tax shift from businesses to the consumer and which will have a very severe impact, particularly on those living on fixed incomes. Proponents of the tax point out that it exempts all business imports, such as machines, raw materials and supplies.

With these costs reduced, the argument is that business will then automatically pass the savings on to the consumer in the form of lower prices. In some cases, this may well be true; in others, it will not be. The point is that there is no guarantee regarding cost savings for consumers. What is guaranteed is that residents of British Columbia will soon be paying higher tax on many items that were previously exempt from provincial sales tax.

There is a tremendous amount of anger over this tax in British Columbia. Aside from the increased costs, the fact that Premier Gordon Campbell categorically ruled out bringing in the HST during the 2009 provincial election campaign - and then did exactly that - hasn't helped his case.

If HST opponents manage to sign up 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding by July 5, and it looks as if they will, a proposed bill would then be sent to a legislative committee for further study. The committee would have 90 days to decide whether to put this to a vote in the British Columbia legislature in 2011, or put it to a provincewide referendum in September 2011. My guess is that the government will use its majority in the legislature to ram this through, regardless of the public outcry. The HST is also scheduled to take effect in Ontario on July 1; there, the rate will be 13 per cent.

One of the questions that members of your board of directors are constantly asked is why the provincial and territorial governments are not honouring the portability principle of the Canada Health Act. Under the portability criterion of the act (section 11), insured Canadian residents who are temporarily absent from their home province and outside of Canada must continue to be covered for insured health services during their absence. When the insured health services are provided outside of Canada, payment is to be made on the basis of the amount that would have been paid by the province for similar services rendered within the province. So why are the vast majority of the provinces trying to get away with not obeying the law? The short answer is, because they can.

Over the years, both Liberal and Conservative federal governments have shown an unwillingness to enforce the standard that is set out in the act. Court cases brought by travellers seeking to protect their entitlements under the act have been told by the courts that it is up to the federal government to decide whether the act has been contravened, and whether to impose a subsequent financial penalty.

Now, to be fair, the provinces shouldn't need to have a gun to their heads in order to do the right thing and obey the law. Snowbirds are simply asking provincial governments to reimburse emergency in-patient and outpatient services required by travellers at the same rate per day as that paid for similar services within the province.

We are not asking the provincial governments to pay the high costs of U.S. hospital stays, and our proposed changes will not cost provincial governments any more money than if the emergency had occurred while the patient was in the province.

Part of our strategy to move these issues down the field involves the political staff who work for our elected representatives. In the last 15 years, the influence that members of a political staff have has grown tremendously. In some cases, these operatives can play as significant a role in shaping government policy as do the ministers for whom they work.

Due to the important role which these people play in the political process, it is important to establish strong ties with those staff members who are responsible for the political files that matter to our members. Successful advocacy groups live on the edge of the political life in Ottawa and around our provincial/territorial legislatures. A good lobbyist will drift in and out of Ottawa and the provincial/territorial equivalents, gathering information and passing information on about the concerns of their association. Successful lobbyists need to become unofficial parts of the political establishment.

With that in mind, we are embarking on a plan that will see us increase our contacts with political staff from coast to coast. Enhancing these contacts with both government and opposition staff will increase our visibility and help us get our issues in front of as many government decision-makers as we possibly can.
Whether this new-found influence by un-elected officials is right or wrong is not the issue; the fact is that this is the new reality and effective advocacy groups need to adjust their strategies accordingly.

Recognizing the importance of this new reality, our insurance provider, Medipac International has generously made a $30,000 contribution to our Special Action Fund to help get this initiative off the ground.

In no way will we neglect our relationships with our elected officials... our goal is to enhance those relationships by talking to the people who advise them on a daily basis - their political staff. On behalf of the Canadian Snowbird Association, I would like to thank Medipac for their generous donation. Our work on this begins now.

Have a great summer!