Jolene de Vries says people in Saskatchewan shouldn’t be deterred from doing something that improves their health, especially from the government.
The province announced in its latest budget that it’s expanding the provincial sales tax (PST) base to include gym, golf and curling memberships — along with most art, culture and sport events. That means people will have to pay six per cent more to become a member of certain fitness clubs.
De Vries, who runs Anytime Fitness gyms in Esterhazy and Yorkton with her husband, joined other gym owners from Moose Jaw and Regina at the legislature on Thursday to share their concerns with the province. They were invited by the Opposition.
“As a fitness industry, right now, the government basically calls us entertainment. We’re not entertainment, we are part of health care, and that needs to change,” de Vries told reporters after question period.
“For every dollar spent on fitness and nutrition as a preventative measure in the province, it saves $6 in the health-care industry, so we do believe that that PST should not be an extra burden on our members or on the community.”
Now is not the time to discourage people from doing something healthy, de Vries says, noting that gyms help people manage health challenges including diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension.
Plus, she says, gyms can help improve mental health, something that many people have struggled with during the pandemic.
“We have letters and testimony from our members that say we’re the one thing that helps them not commit suicide,” she said.
“We don’t do a good enough job as an industry advertising how we help people save their life and improve their quality of life, and that is really what 97 per cent of our business does.”
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer says the PST expansion will generate about $21 million annually, and that it targets events and services already taxed under the federal goods and services tax (GST).
‘Still trying to build our businesses back up’
De Vries says the tax is also coming at a time when gyms are still trying to recover from losses they experienced during the pandemic.
“We’re still trying to build our businesses back up,” she said. “We’ve had 40 per cent of our industry shut over the last three years across Canada and we’re continuing to suffer.”
She says rising costs of basic items including food and gas are already leading to fewer people going to the gym, something an additional tax won’t help.
“We’re in a rural area, so they’re having to drive further to the gym, so we’re seeing reductions in our membership base just because people have to drive further,” she said.
“We’ve seen governments drive people away from gyms over the last little bit, and we want to be part of the solution.”