Helping No One, Hurting Many

Helping No One, Hurting Many

When you’re governing the province ranked last in Canada in literacy (and second last in Canada when territories are included), the thing to do is further discourage people from reading, right?

Well, maybe not, but the government of Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t seem to care.

It was announced last year, but took effect on January 1: readers in Newfoundland and Labrador are now being hit with a 10% tax on book purchases.

Now, I’m not against taxes — not in the least. Taxes are good, for the most part, even if we don’t like paying them. And the Newfoundland and Labrador government had a revenue problem they were addressing by adding and increasing taxes in a number of areas. But decisions on taxes should make sense, and things that are tax exempt should make sense. It made good sense for books to be exempt from the province’s HST, as they are in every other province in the country. (Nova Scotia and PEI toyed with the idea of taxing books, but came to their senses when they thought it through — something Newfoundland and Labrador failed to do.)

Literacy is, as it always has been, important, and the benefits are undeniable. The disadvantages cause by illiteracy are also undeniable. I don’t need to outline any of these advantages and disadvantages here, though I’d be happy to do so if challenged. I don’t think I’ll be challenged, though.

When you artificially increase the price of books by a whopping 10%, you discourage reading. When you discourage reading, you encourage illiteracy. I don’t think I’m revealing anything that isn’t blatantly obvious here.

So it’s unlikely the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is unaware of the impact of their decision.

They just don’t care.

Because, you see, they need money.

Sadly, they appear to be math-challenged. Books are not, as it turns out, big-money items. And since school purchases are excluded from the tax, we’re talking primarily about bookstore and online sales here. The amount of revenue the government will bring in is negligible. No one will benefit from this tax. People will only suffer. That’s why I oppose it: it helps no one, but it hurts many.

Who does it hurt? Clearly, book buyers. But also booksellers — and there aren’t a lot of those in Newfoundland and Labrador compared to other provinces, so the existing booksellers should be cherished.

The province’s publishers will be hurt; they, like many publishers across the country, thrive on regional authors and regional stories. Their sales will be affected.

What about authors? This is a huge blow to the province’s authors. Their sales will be affected, but so will their opportunities to get published.

How so? Well, the bulk of any author’s sales are usually sales in the area in which they live. A Nova Scotia author will sell a lot of books in Nova Scotia; a BC author will sell a lot of books in BC; a Saskatchewan author will sell a ton of books in Saskatchewan.

When publishers are deciding whether to sign an author, we look at sales history. If an author’s sales in their own region plummet — which is a distinct possibility for those affected by this tax — that will be reflected in the numbers that all publishers in Canada have access to. (Fun publishing fact: thanks to Booknet Canada, I can look up the sales of any book sold in Canada. We do this every time we’re deciding whether to publish a book.)

Now, there is a silver lining: while Newfoundland and Labrador has a low literacy rate, those who are book readers are great at supporting regional authors. They’re among the best in Canada. So I hope the book buyers will be unfazed by their government’s attack on their wallets.

But they shouldn’t have to bear this load. This tax was poorly thought out, if it was thought out at all. It’s mean-spirited, unproductive idiocy.

Barry Jowett
Head Caveperson

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