For a government that prides itself on holding the line on taxes and cutting red tape, the BC Liberals have sure blundered on their new off road vehicle (ORV) tax and licensing scheme.

Late last year, the government began forcing people – mainly rural British Columbians – to register their off road vehicles – including snowmobiles, ATVs and dirt bikes.

A $48 licence fee is just the start. To get the paperwork in order, one has to do a vehicle identification number search and pay a notary public to sign off on it. Then the owner often has to pay back taxes on the ORV – a 12% Provincial Sales Tax on the purchase price of their machine, even if they bought it five years ago. They also have to buy a liability insurance policy for every vehicle.

For some people, that adds up to thousands of dollars. “When a person has a family, and they have two or three machines, plus their wife’s machine and their machine; holy cow. For somebody who has a fleet of vehicles – that’s crazy money,” Oliver’s Jeff Muller told the Oliver Chronicle.

The Chronicle highlighted the Ondruses, a family of six, who expected a big bill. “When we purchase these bikes we purchased them knowing we didn’t have to pay taxes on them. Now all of a sudden I have to pay taxes on 15 bikes and snow machines for my family,” said dad Nathan. “That’s going to be thousands of dollars.”

If they don’t do it, riders face fines ranging from $238 to $5,000.

Government likes to tout the notion that ORV groups support the new licensing rules, but even those supporters think charging PST on old ORVs goes too far. “That’s the thing I don’t like about this. It doesn’t matter how many times you buy or sell it, you still have to pay the tax on it,” Grizzly Valley ATV club president Tim Croston told the Tumbler Ridge Newslast fall.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) include a scathing letter from the licence-supporting BC Off-road Motorcycle Association (BCORMA).

“We could not, in our worst nightmare, have envisioned what this has morphed into,” wrote BCORMA president Ken McClelland.

“What could and should have been a pretty straightforward exercise has become, in our view, ridiculously complicated and entirely ineffective.”

McClelland also noted that his group had been promised that the money from ORV licencing would go to fund off road trails, but is in fact disappearing into general revenue.

Who could have foreseen such a bureaucratic headache when this tax was first proposed? Well, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation did, directly bucking a number of groups who were all-too-eager to climb on board with ORV taxes and regulation.

There is an important lesson here for all taxpayers. Open the door to government for a new tax and they’ll barge right in; allow an opportunity for more bureaucracy and they’ll take happily take it. Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Or, as President Ronald Reagan put it: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

ORV licensing may be here to stay, but the BC government can make things better by waiving the requirement for people to pay PST on items they’ve owned for years. And they should carry through on their promise to allocate all of the money collected to trail maintenance and development and things that benefit the people paying the tax and licence fee.

Jordan Bateman
Canadian Taxpayers Association