April 29, 2016
Canadian province delivers “blow to literacy” with library closures and a new tax on books
by Kait Howard
Massive library closures and a new tax on books in Newfoundland and Labrador have sparked criticism that the Canadian province’s government cares little to nothing about literacy. Last week, CBC News’ Geoff Barlett reported that the provincial government’s 2016 budget “outlines a new 10 per cent tax on book sales in Newfoundland and Labrador, which would be added to the current five per cent federal GST.” And on Wednesday, CBC reported that the province is introducing “sweeping changes” to its library system, which will result in the closure of more than half of all libraries.
The book tax and library closures come amidst a whole slew of maneuvers meant to bolster the province’s ailing financial situation. As Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Cathy Bennett told the legislature, the province is operating “with the biggest deficit and highest net debt ever recorded” in its history. The downturn was driven partly by an oil-price collapse that, according to Maclean’s magazine’s Charlie Gillis, has cost the province $880 million of its annual revenue.
While the library closures—which Education Minister Dale Kirby says will only affect libraries that already have “limited service” and “low levels of usage” —should help the government reinvestment in remaining libraries, the closures nevertheless mean job losses for 64 people and reduced access to services throughout the province.
Meanwhile, Lindsey Bird, also at CBC, described how publishers, writers, and literary advocates are protesting the new book tax. Not only will it hurt the local industry, but, Boulder Publications owner Gavin Will pointed out, the tax will deliver a “blow to literacy” in a province with the highest rates of illiteracy in Canada, after the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
With tax hikes planned on everything from gasoline and tobacco to individual and corporate income, the book tax isn’t the only burden the province’s people are being ask to bear. But it may be the one that most poignantly indicates the dire straits it’s in.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.