Book publishers and retailers in Newfoundland and Labrador are reacting against the provincial government’s plans to introduce a 10 per cent provincial book tax.
The tax would be a first in Canada, part of a budget crammed with tax hikes and deficit-lowering cuts, which prompted journalist and novelist Russell Wagnersky to suggest people leave the province while they still can. A tax on books was proposed in 2012 in Prince Edward Island and in 2015 in Nova Scotia, but those plans were abandoned due to public outcry.
Reactions of Newfoundland publishers have been swift.
“Recent protests in Atlantic Canada against just such a proposed measure seem to have gone unheeded, or fallen on deaf ears, or worse, went unnoticed,” says Beth Follett, publisher of St. John’s–based Pedlar Press. “To place such an obstacle between books and Newfoundland and Labrador readers is, I think, at best, ignorant, at worst, unconscionable.”
“It’s going to erode our book market,” says Donna Francis, editor and manager at Creative Book Publishing. “With all the cuts and taxes in this budget, every single household has less disposable income. Being the only province that taxes books, how is that going to appear in those lovely Newfoundland tourism ads?”
Flanker Press publisher Garry Cranford is concerned the impetus for a book tax seems contrary to government programs wanting to improve literacy. Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the lowest rates of adult literacy in the country, “and being the only province with a tax on books makes for a very uneven playing field in the national market,” he says.
Matt Howse, who runs Broken Books, an independent retailer in downtown St. John’s, sees the tax as providing another reason for people to shop online. “It’s drawn up by people who need money but haven’t thought about how the book business works. Anyone can go to Amazon and save an average of $2 on local books – why wouldn’t they?”
The provincial budget is still awaiting approval. If passed, the tax will be applied on Jan. 1, 2017. But regional associations, publishers, and retailers aren’t waiting to discuss how to best oppose it, with a meeting planned for April 21.
“Last year in Nova Scotia we had a petition and a social-media campaign by publishers, booksellers, students, and librarians,” says Carolyn Guy of the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association, who will be attending meeting. “There were many voices of literary people. You could see the light go on over the heads [of the Nova Scotia government].”