Nfld. & Labrador

Publishers, writers rally against N.L. book tax

Members of the literary community in the province protested Monday morning over the province's decision to impose a 10 per cent tax on books.

Budget 2016 to make N.L. only province in Canada that taxes books

Authors Lisa Moore and Bernice Morgan were among the protesters who rallied Monday against the new tax on books. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Publishers, writers and literacy advocates gathered Monday to protest the Liberal government's Budget 2016 decision to add a sales tax to books, making Newfoundland and Labrador the only province in Canada to do so.

"Books are not luxury items. Stories are not commodities," the group wrote in a letter sent Monday to the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

The tax change will add 10 per cent to the cost of a book. Books in all other provinces are only subject to 5 per cent GST.

"This kind of tax is hurting artists, it's hurting students, and it's hurting women who buy most fiction," said writer and Memorial University professor Lisa Moore, one of the protesters who rallied at Broken Books in St. John's to voice their concerns.

"So you are looking at a very vulnerable demographic when you bring in this tax and I would really like to believe that this government is flexible enough listen and to change those decisions they have made in this budget that just don't make sense."

Writers, publishers and book lovers met at Broken Books in St. John's to protest a tax they say will hurt literacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Loss to literacy

"It sends a message that reading, the culture, are not particularly important, that the bottom line is what really counts here," Gavin Will, owner of Boulder Publications in Portugal Cove-St.Philip's, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"They're hurting a local industry for one thing. Publishers, writers and retailers — all of us will be placed in an uncompetitive position compared to other jurisdictions, companies throughout Canada," said Will.

Will said the biggest problem with the tax is its blow to literacy.

According to 2012 figures from Statistics Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest literacy rates of any province. Only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have lower numbers.

Will said the tax will add to that problem, pointing to evidence that books are very price-sensitive, "which means that as the price goes up, people buy less of it."

"Unlike bread for example. it's not a necessity," he said, adding that when Latvia began taxing book sales in 2008, it led to a 35 per cent immediate decrease in sales.

Will said the province has estimated it will make $2.1 million annually from its book tax, a figure he thinks won't come to fruition.

"Fewer books are going to be purchased, and they're not going to make anything close to $2.1 million."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show.