Information provided last week by Finance Minister Graham Steele about the shopping habits of Cumberland County residents really won't come as much of a surprise to most retailers in this community. People here are more interested in what the province is going to do to help soften the blow of what's anticipated to be a increased number of people heading to stores in New Brunswick after July 1.
Following a day of meetings with business and municipal leaders from Cumberland County, Steele said a survey conducted for his department indicates increasing the HST alone will not impact cross-border shopping habits. While the survey suggests the number of people crossing to make small purchases may increase, he really cannot see what the fuss is all about when it comes to those larger items such as big screen televisions and furniture.
The minister is correct when says the proximity of Moncton impacts shopping habits in Cumberland County more than anything else. It was a factor during the Sunday shopping debate and it's a factor again as we attempt to gauge just how much of an impact higher taxes on this side of the border is going to have on retailers here.
As much as we can't blame the minister for geography, he still has a responsibility to find ways to minimize the impact higher taxes could have on shopping habits. Big box chain stores in Moncton offer more selection than many stores in Amherst and once the sales tax increases by two per cent it's almost a certainty that people will hop in their vehicles and drive the 45 minutes to make those larger purchases.
The minister does deserve credit for his commitment to additional surveys in six months and again in a year while establishing a working group to look for long-term solutions is a solid initiative.
What will be even more reassuring to retailers here is if the government promises to act should future surveys show more shoppers crossing the border to shop. What government is saying now isn't something that's going to give retailers on this side of the border reason to breath any easier.