Along with bringing its customary share of practical jokes, April 1 has the distinction this year of heralding a return to the provincial sales tax.
Goods and services for which consumers paid only the GST prior to July 2010 will revert to that same status.
That means seven per cent will be shaved off the price of services such as haircuts, theatre tickets or restaurant meals, as well as the cost of goods such as newspapers, magazines and bicycles.
"This is like bringing in a new tax," said Dave Longman, who heads the PST implementation program for the Ministry of Finance. "When we moved to the HST, by all intents and purposes, it was the PST with a few subtle changes."
This time the changes number several thousand in what amounts to the modernization of the old PST. Longman said he could think of no comparable precedent for the transition. Operators are either pre-occupied with running their businesses or they find the second tax switch in three years to be daunting, he said.
"It is concerning," he said. "If the majority leaves it until the last minute, they may not be able to get their information changed by April 1."
The ministry was fielding 300 to 400 phone calls a day from businesses, but that has roughly quadrupled since last week. They need to know what will be exempt, make the necessary adjustments to their collection and ensure they have the paperwork down.
"I think, in essence, a lot of (businesses) are still trying to make sense of what it means," said Peter Ranson, a tax policy specialist with KPMG in Kelowna who compared it with the GST implementation in the 1980s.
The second hitch may be that businesses are uncertain of the impact.
"The concern, of course, is if there's a mass rush at the end of the month, whether the system will be able to handle it," Ranson added.
Jennifer Burmeister, who led a transition workshop for the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce last week, said businesses are simply trying to get a handle on the switch.
"I think there's a lot of anxiety, the clock is ticking and April 1 is just around the corner," said Burmeister, a senior manager with KPMG's indirect tax team.
Get registered and get your accounting system ready, she advises.
"For many things, it will not change."
Procrastinators have technology on their side, though. Online registration at www2.gov.bc.ca is quick — 10 to 15 minutes if the registrant has a business number, Longman estimates.
The ministry expected the adjustment would take time and their would be wrinkles, just as there were when the HST was brought in.
"That was a little easier," Longman said. "With this one, there are more complications. We're getting out as much information as we can."
That includes seminars — more of which take place in Merritt on Wednesday and Clearwater on Thursday — webinars, publications, advertising mass mailings, online information and direct phone calls to more than 100,000 businesses. Longman will have all his staff on hand, ready for a flurry of last-minute enquiries.
And he expects that feedback from the public — if someone feels overcharged on the tax portion of their purchase, for example — will tell them to what extent business is properly prepared.
"It is not exactly the same (as the HST conversion) and that's what businesses need to be aware of," said Deb McLelland, executive director with the Kamloops chamber.
"I like it," said Jay Good, the main man at Jay's Good Eating on Victoria St. "I'm not a fan of the HST. I thought it was dumb. It kills the restaurant industry."
Many operators in the food and beverage sector share that view, having taken successive economic blows three years ago, not the least of which was the imposition of a new tax. Good watched a number of small operations in Vancouver close their doors.
He doesn't expect to see more customers lining up for the seven-per-cent savings next month, but business is looking up all the same: "Anything to help the economy."
For many businesses, such as the Ice Box Arena, it means simply returning to pre-2010 sales tax rates. The average team will be saving about $10 per hour of arena time, said manager Dawn Couture.
For an estimated 30,000 other B.C. business operators who started after the HST was introduced, it means learning and adopting a new set of rules.
Dylan Methot, who recently purchased Full Boar Bike Store, is one of those making the adjustment for the first time, but he's not sweating the changeover.
"It should be fairly simple," he said. He's confident of what is PST-free — bikes, safety gear such as helmets, and repairs —but waiting for additional information to confirm this from the Ministry of Finance for the details.
He doesn't expect buyers will flock to the opportunity to save seven per cent. That spring surge is tied to another tax-related date.
"I think the biggest incentive to buy a bike is tax-refund season. People come in and they're excited," he said.
* * *
Some commonly purchased goods and services on which consumers will be paying less tax when the HST reverts to the PST/GST on April 1. These are items on which customers currently pay 12 per cent HST and will then have to pay only the five per cent PST. If you're uncertain, visit www2.gov.bc.ca.
* Snack foods
* Restaurant meals
* Residential phone
* Books (paper and electronic)
* Most newspapers and magazines
* Veterinarian services
* Food-producing plants and trees
* Tailoring and dry-cleaning
* Cleaning services
* Home security monitoring
* Taxi fares
* Real estate commissions
* Over-the-counter drugs and medicines
* Vitamins and supplements
* Memberships (golf, gym, etc.)
* Admission fees for entertainment
* Hockey rink and hall rentals
* Accounting services
* Wedding planning
* Funeral services
Questions? Call 1-877-388-4440 or email CTBTaxQuestions@gov.bc.ca