Camped out

Many parents will be spending more money to send their children to summer camp thanks to the government's new harmonized sales tax, Public Eye has exclusively learned. And camp leaders worry families without deep pockets won't be able to afford the increase. In the past, the fees for camps run by charitable and religious groups have been exempt from the seven percent provincial sales tax. But Nancy Adams, the Girl Guides of Canada's British Columbia treasurer, said when the harmonized sales tax comes into effect in July 2010, that exemption will end.

According to Ms. Adams, some families might be able to handle the resulting extra cost. "But for some it's a challenge for them to even get their girls to camp."

Fellowship of Christian Camps representative Paul Bailey, who runs Prince George's Ness Lake Bible Camp agreed.

"Parents are already choosing not to send their kids because they perceive the camp costs to be high. To tack another seven percent on would put camp out of the reach of many more families."

That couldn't come at a worse time for Camp Squeah, a Mennonite Church camp near Hope, where the weekly fees are usually around $300.

Executive director Rob Tiessen said his camp, like many others, has "experienced a hit this summer" because of the economic downturn, with 20 percent fewer campers than the 600 who showed up in 2008.

"You throw [the tax] on top of that, the future does not look too bright" - especially when the cost of running a camp is rising because of increasing infrastructure and food prices.

And the harmonized sales tax, said Mr. Bailey, will make it harder for camps to "incrementally raise their fees" to handle those costs.

Ms. Adams said the harmonized sales tax is the second financial hit charity and religious-run camps have taken in recent years.

In December 2006, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld an earlier Tax Court of Canada ruling that fees for such camps aren't exempt from the goods and service tax - or the harmonized sales tax in provinces where there is one.

Adams said she hopes the federal government will take a second look at the issue. But Mr. Bailey isn't confident that will happen. Nor does he think the provincial government is going to step-in - although it should.

"When I look at the cost of kids that run amok and kids that get into trouble and who lack the social skills and lack the ability to act as part of a community, I think camping is the greatest investment the government can possibly back - whether it's a religious camp or a secular camp. The things we teach at camp are incredibly valuable."

3 Comments

Mr. Bailey said, "I think camping is the greatest investment the government can possibly back - whether it's a religious camp or a secular camp. The things we teach at camp are incredibly valuable." I agree. Let government invest in ALL the kids who would benefit from this experience -- especially those whose parents don't have the $300 per week it costs.

Sean, working parents can claim child-care tax credits for summer camp costs or the new federal tax credit for enrolling kids in programs that promote physical activity. I'm assuming they will also be able to claim the HST portion. Of course, you have to be in a high enough tax bracket to benefit (and the higher your marginal tax rate, the greater the benefit), so it's yet another way the HST will unfairly penalize those who can least afford the extra costs.

However, I'm sure we'll see a token rebate program that offers a measly refund to those living in direst poverty, leaving the working poor, the growing ranks on EI & the growing number of families struggling to remain in the middle class out in the cold again.

Recall too, that this comes after the Campbell govt's cancellation of summer camp subsidies, which left a lot of needy kids stuck in the sweltering city this summer, entertaining themselves with video games & TV.

The HST will have a serious impact on our economy as a whole. It could not come at a worse time but the Liberal government has created so much debt over their tenure that has to be paid back some how. This governments fiscal mismanagement will cost us all dearly for years to come. Expect more critical services to be slashed and burned as the bills for the Olympic Games start rolling in.

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