A year after a referendum ballot put a boot to the HST, 25 per cent of small business owners who voted to repeal the tax now say they would vote to retain it.
The apparent change of heart is expressed in a business-based survey released Friday.
Conducted by Sage North America, a provider of business management software and services, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of small business owners who voted to keep the HST system wouldn't change their minds. Those who voted for change seem to be having second thoughts, though.
Among their concerns with repealing the tax, those who would change their vote cited the prospect of additional paperwork (70 per cent) and a negative impact on the economy (62 per cent). Many are concerned about the personal time investment required to make the switch (56 per cent).
Overall, 55 per cent of small business owners expect a net loss from the switch back to the PST next year. Only 17 per cent feel their business will gain from the switch.
The Aug. 26, 2011, referendum result locally wasn't all that decisive. Roughly half of Kamloops voted to keep the HST while the other half wanted it scrapped. Across B.C., 55 per cent voted for abolishment.
Rocky McAfee, owner of Rocky's Tattoo Parlour, has no second thoughts about his vote. McAfee led the anti-HST campaign in Kamloops-South Thompson and remains an ardent opponent of the harmonized tax.
"I won't be one of those 25 per cent," he said. "I'm obviously one of the guys who still feel strongly after all this time. My remittance now is more than double what I used to send them."
Many of his customers are still unaware that they're paying tax of 12 per cent, not five per cent, for their tattoos.
A target date of March 31, 2013, has been set for a return to the provincial sales tax. McAfee is sceptical of that as well.
"Every day I get up and I've still got to pay HST, I think, when is this going to end?"
Karen Rees, co-owner of The Golden Buddha, a Victoria Street gift shop, is among the majority of small business owners who voted to retain the HST and would do the same today.
"I wish it wouldn't have come in in the first place," she said, recalling how it was poorly explained. But once the HST was in place, it made sense to stay with it, she felt.
"It's going to cost us more to get out of it, and they're just going to hide the taxes somewhere else."
Over at Casey's Caffeine, owner Brent Arnason still bristles over the HST. He's not among the 25 per cent who'd switch.
"How many of them are restaurants? I would venture to say none," Arnason said.
The restaurant sector was particularly hard hit by the impact of the new tax.
"Restaurants are the fourth largest private sector employer in the province. Twenty years ago, we didn't compete with grocery stores. Now we do. All of a sudden, that sandwich costs seven cents more. So they've now completely destroyed a level playing field."
Like McAfee, he was an ardent Liberal supporter before the tax. Not anymore. It is a tax grab, taxing 250 additional items that were never taxed before, he said.
Restaurants could have been exempted but that would have eliminated a major tax-revenue stream, he said. Instead, he had to lay off an employee.
"We've never got the business back."
The survey was conducted with 1,034 small business owners, presidents, CEOs, partners or general managers between late July and early August. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 per cent 19 times out of 20.