The announcement that the Newfoundland & Labrador Government will be implementing a 10% provincial book tax, making us set to become the first province in Canada to tax books on July 1, has been met by criticism from authors, publishers, retailers, libraries, educators and other supporters of literacy. On June 20, the Atlantic Provinces Library Association (APLA), added its voice, sending a letter to the Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador urging him to reconsider.
This is the second time I write to you in a matter of weeks. The first letter was prompted by the announcement of the phased closure of 54 public libraries in Newfoundland & Labrador, a decision that we dare to hope is being revisited. I am now writing, at the request of the APLA Membership, with regards to the new 10% tax on books to be imposed beginning July 1, 2016.
The decision on the part of your government to tax reading can only be viewed as a misguided policy formulated in a desperate attempt to balance a budget. That the new tax on books, which will make reading material unaffordable for many residents of your province, is to be followed by the closure of more than half of the province’s public libraries is a very real threat to the future economic health of the province. In a world that requires more highly-educated and skilled workers than ever before, placing the tools of learning out of reach is a recipe for disaster. And contrary to popular opinion, everything is not freely available online, nor do all people have access to computers and the Internet.
Everyone will be affected by the imposition of this tax – the writers, the publishers, the booksellers, and the readers (including students). The Newfoundland book industry will suffer as fewer Newfoundland books are published and sold and therefore fewer read. Education and literacy will also suffer as all reading materials become more expensive.
Newfoundland has the singular distinction of producing more fine writers per capita than any other province in Canada. Wayne Johnston, Kathleen Winter, Michael Crummey, Lisa Moore, Joan Clark, Anne Hart, Rex Murphy, Gwynne Dyer, and Donna Morrissey, to name a few, are known across the country. They bring positive attention to Newfoundland & Labrador in the same measure as they themselves are treasured by reading and thinking Canadians everywhere. They tell the stories of a unique land and people, such that they make Canadians from all parts of the country want to visit St. John’s and Ferryland, Cooney Arm and Ragged Rock, Gander and Corner Brook, and everything in between. They are your best ambassadors. Everything should be done to ensure the sustainability and continued dynamism of the book industry in the province such that your stories will continue to be told and widely-disseminated.
Rick Mercer, with his usual panache, said it best when in a rant, he pointed to taxation as a tool of government to curb undesirable behaviours, using taxes on cigarettes and smoking as an example. The message is clear: the unintended consequence of taxing books is to curb reading, which, unlike smoking, is a very desirable behaviour that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Mercer went on to say that “…when you are increasing taxes on books, you are accepting the fact that fewer books will be sold. And so it is an attack on literacy, there’s no other way to look at it.”
I have no doubt reiterated arguments that you have heard already about the negative impacts of a tax on books, but that makes them no less true. On behalf of the approximately 400 library workers and library supporters who make up the Atlantic Provinces Library Association, I entreat you to reconsider your decision.
Suzanne van den Hoogen
APLA President 2016-17
cc: Members of the House of Assembly