"The HST will have a devastating impact on most tourism-related products and services." That's what British Columbia's Council of Tourism Associations predicted two years ago. But, in a telling example of how the industry lobby's position on the harmonized sales tax has since shifted, one of the council's most prominent members is now helping bankroll the fight to keep the HST.
In an interview, Tourism Vancouver chair James Terry confirmed his association's board of directors voted "within the last month" to join the Smart Tax Alliance. The alliance was recently designated as the official No side in the current referendum on whether to return to a provincial sales tax.
Mr. Terry said most of his members either feel "neutral" toward HST or are in favour of it. He explained most of the negative reaction to harmonization was based on how tourism businesses thought they'd be affected by the tax - not how they were actually affected by it.
Indeed, according to a confidential briefing document prepared by the tourism associations' council, "anecdotal feedback from our members suggests that the negative impacts of HST on the broader tourism industry are not as bad as initially forecast."
As such, "the prevalent view within COTA is that the HST, with a few strategic mitigation allowances for our industry, is better than going back to the PST."
Mr. Terry confirmed Tourism Vancouver's decision to join the Smart Tax Alliance means his association is chipping in money toward the pro-HST campaign. But he declined to say how much money was involved.
As for whether that decision was influenced by some board members being employed by businesses that are financial contributors to the Liberals, Mr. Terry said, "Absolutely not. In my role as chair, I have to completely take off any company hats and everybody on the board has to do the same thing."
Mr. Terry is the executive vice-president of the Rocky Mountaineer passenger rail service, which is owned by Peter Armstrong. Between 2005 and 2010, according to Elections British Columbia filings, Mr. Armstrong and his corporate interests have contributed $265,486 to the Liberals.
Also serving on the 15-member board of directors are Nicholas Gandossi, general manager of the Opus Hotel, and Dennis Skulsky, president of the BC Lions Football Club Inc.
Opus owner John Dec. Evans and his corporate interests have donated $84,861 to the Liberals, while the football club has contributed $41,760.