Nova Scotia

Most Nova Scotians oppose HST hike: poll

The majority of Nova Scotians oppose an increase in the harmonized sales tax as a measure to deal with the projected $525.2 million deficit, according to a poll commissioned by CBC News.

The majority of Nova Scotians oppose an increase in the harmonized sales tax as a measure to deal with the projected $525.2 million provincial deficit, a poll commissioned by CBC News suggests.

An increase in the HST was opposed by 74 per cent of those polled, while 25 per cent said they would support such a move.

When asked how to tackle the budget deficit, the Corporate Research Associates poll taken last month showed 60 per cent of Nova Scotians support a wage freeze for all government employees, compared with 35 per cent who were against the idea.

Don Mills, president and CEO of Corporate Research Associates, said the results are telling given the number of Nova Scotians who depend on the government for a pay cheque.

"Even with that large percentage — one out of four people in the workforce working for the public sector — there is still overwhelming support for a freeze on wages and salaries," he said.

When asked about a possible wage reduction for government employees, the numbers were reversed: 37 per cent of those polled supported the idea, while 58 per cent were opposed.

Tax hike considered

Jared Wolf, who owns the Allegro Grill and Deli in Sydney, is part of a majority of people in the province who said they have no patience for a tax hike. He said Nova Scotia's taxes are "already fairly detrimental to attracting new business and put a fairly high burden on existing business."

Wolf said the recession forced him to make sacrifices at his restaurant, including laying off several employees at the end of last year.

"Before you can — particularly in Nova Scotia — raise tax rates which are already amongst the highest in the country … you've got to rationalize your expenditures first and they haven't really done that," he said.

Finance Minister Graham Steele has said the large deficit means the province is actively considering raising the HST by two percentage points. The government has not yet made a decision about what to do.

A two per cent increase in HST would yield an additional $350 million a year.

Steele is in the midst of a province-wide tour to consult taxpayers on what combination of tax hikes and program cuts would be least painful in dealing with the deficit.

Service reduction opposed

The tax increase was one of several recommendations made in November by a panel of economic experts on how Nova Scotia should deal with its financial situation.

The majority of Nova Scotians polled also said a reduction in government services is not the place to find the money to bring down the deficit. The idea was opposed by 65 per cent of those polled, while it was supported by 27 per cent. Eight per cent of those polled said they didn't know or had no answer.

There was strong opposition to an increase in personal income tax, with 73 per cent against the idea. In contrast, 70 per cent of those polled said they would support a surtax on those earning more than $100,000 per year.

The Halifax-based polling firm sampled 400 Nova Scotians between Feb. 11 and Feb. 24. The margin of error for the entire poll is 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.