New Brunswickers would have been opposed to increasing the Harmonized Sales Tax to offset the province’s growing deficit, according to a new poll.


Finance Minister Blaine Higgs discussed raising the HST during his pre-budget meetings in January and February. (CBC)

Corporate Research Associates surveyed New Brunswick residents about the possibility of a referendum on using a hike in the HST or introducing highway tolls to lower the provincial deficit.

The poll, which was released on Tuesday, showed 66 per cent of respondents opposed increasing the HST compared to 29 per cent who would have endorsed an increase in the sales tax.

The public was more inclined to support highway tolls, however. The poll found opinion was evenly divided — 48 per cent supported and 48 per cent opposed — on highway tolls.

The province’s Taxpayer’s Protection Act requires a referendum on new taxes or the imposition of highway tolls, unless a political party campaigns in an election on that policy.

"The legislated requirement in New Brunswick for a referendum on new revenue generating measures such as toll highways or an increase in the HST leaves government in a precarious position to deal with the types of financial challenges the province finds itself in today," said Don Mills, the chairman and chief executive officer of Corporate Research Associates, in a statement.

"There appears to be only limited support for either of these revenue generating measures regardless of the fiscal challenges faced by the provincial government in New Brunswick."

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs had raised the possibility of a referendum on these revenue-raising options while he was touring the province during his pre-budget consultation meetings.

Instead, Higgs increased personal and corporate income taxes and projected a $479-million deficit in 2013-14.

CRA polled 401 New Brunswickers between Feb. 13 and March 8. The margin of error is 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

When asked to choose one method to cut the deficit, 46 per cent of respondents picked highway tolls, 34 per cent opted for an HST hike and nine per cent said both equally.

The Department of Finance estimates raising the HST by two percentage points would raise $270 million, while the introduction of highway tolls would raise $30 million in new revenue.

Higgs also raised  the possibility of a health levy, which could raise $115 million in revenue.

The New Brunswick Business Council had backed the idea of raising the HST and increasing corporate income taxes.