As of January 1st Newfoundland and Labrador is both the province with the lowest literacy rate in Canada and the only province in the country to tax books.
The unpopular tax has been making headlines since its implementation for unfairly burdening local businesses, students, and low-income families as well as senior women readers, who make up the largest demographic of book buyers.
Most recently, the tax was condemned in the press by the International Publisher’s Association, the organization says the tax will have damaging effects on retailers and literacy rates.
Megan Coles is one of Newfoundland’s most talented authors, her short story collection Eating Habits of The Chronically Lonesome won the BMO Winterset Award, the ReLit Award, and the Margaret & John Savage First Book Award. She is the Executive Director of Riddle Fence, a Newfoundland-based journal of arts and culture.
Coles stated her opinion on the book tax saying that it blatantly discourages literacy. She believes the tax will have far greater negative impacts than any revenue it could possibly generate for the province.
“The tax threatens to apply further pressure to already marginalized citizens; women, children, students, low income families, immigrants, and pensioners. Without access to books, these individuals are not afforded the opportunity to cultivate their own voice, which limits the stories we are able to tell, homogenizing our narrative.” Coles says.
Matthew Howse, owner of the local brick and mortar bookstore Broken Books, says that many online retailers are still not collecting the book tax on orders shipped to Newfoundland and Labrador, giving online retailers a significant advantage over local businesses.
“The government does not have a system in place that allows it to police the book tax nation-wide. Customers effectively get a 10% incentive to buy online instead of locally, and that’s just ridiculous. Imagine a government policy that actively hurts the local economy. It’s shameful,” says Howse.
Students, who typically have to buy hundreds of dollars worth of textbooks each semester are already feeling the impact of the new tax.
“This has been a really hard year financially anyways, and on top of that, adding this tax absolutely killed us. I am a bachelor of commerce student and in order to succeed in my courses it’s crucial that I have access to the books assigned by my professors. However, I have not been able to buy any of the books because of the ridiculous prices that the publishers demand. On top of that, the tax has been the final nail in the coffin,” says Indranil Mallick, an international student at Memorial University.
The Liberal government’s book tax, combined with cuts to K-12 education, post-secondary education, and the threat of library closures is an attack on literacy that our province simply can’t afford.
“… Had I not had books growing up, you would not have asked me my opinion, had I not had books, I would not have been able to even communicate it. Reading raises people out of poverty. Ignoring this is ignoring their humanity and right to a dignified life. I am not okay with that.” Coles says.