Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The HST debacle wouldn't happen in a functioning democracy

It would be useful if the HST debacle convinced all parties to question giving their leaders so much power.
Some Liberals are now publicly saying Premier Gordon Campbell has to go quickly. A mandatory leadership vote, now underway at meetings of Liberal riding associations, might add to the pressure.
Campbell has said he might try to lead the Liberals into the next election in 2013.
But his time is over, thanks mainly to the HST and the way it was introduced. And the Liberal party's future is bleak.
I wonder it this could have been avoided if so much power wasn't concentrated in the premier's office.
The first step toward the HST came when the Liberals tabled a pre-election budget forecasting a $495-million deficit.
It was never credible. And it was a huge leap from past conservative budgets.
But Campbell, through the election campaign, insisted the deficit would not rise above that projection. (Although Finance Ministry officials warned him during the campaign that the budget was unravelling.)
There is a lot of experience and knowledge shared among the 48 Liberal MLAs. Given a chance, some of them might have suggested it would be a mistake to campaign on dubious deficit projection. They might have raised good questions about revenue forecasts.
It doesn't work that way.
After the election, Campbell accepted reality. But he maintains he was still shocked and sent Finance Ministry officials to find ways to reduce the growing deficit.
And they came up with signing for the HST and getting $1.6 billion from Ottawa as an incentive.
Great, Campbell said.
Sure, the party had said it would not introduce a harmonized sales tax during the election campaign. It had reports suggesting long-term benefits, but warning of job and wage losses for more than five years.
And the ministry briefing noted that the tax could be controversial. The HST shifts $1.9 billion in taxes from businesses to individuals and families. That's the equivalent of a 28-per-cent across the board personal income tax increase.
Again, if Campbell had submitted the new tax idea to the other 47 Liberal MLAs for discussion, perhaps some concerns would be raised. They might suggest their constituents wouldn't be so keen on the tax. That perhaps it would be best to do some consultations and analysis before plunging ahead.
That, as Hansen said during the election campaign, "it's clearly a controversial move and one that we would certainly want to get a lot of input on."
But the MLAs never had the chance to raise those concerns. Campbell told the caucus the government was imposing the HST on July 21 - less than 48 hours before the public was told.
The MLAs, representing voters across the province, weren't asked what they thought or given time to consider how the new tax would affect the ridings.
They were told the decision had been made and their job was to defend it. Trust in the wisdom and experience of your leaders.
Good luck, little campers.
And so the Liberal MLAs marched out into an angry public backlash and the threat of recall to defend a tax policy they had absolutely role in introducing.
Leave aside the HST for the moment.
There is something wrong when any major, controversial policy can be imposed without a meaningful discussion involving those elected to represent the public.
No taxation without representation, the British colonists complained in the 18th century, before the American Revolution. No taxes or levies unless they were approved by elected representatives of the people who would pay.
Some 250 years later, British Columbians might have the same complaint. The HST was not really imposed with the consent of those elected to represent the people.
The premier decided. The Liberal MLAs voted as instructed. The New Democrats MLAs all voted no.
Such a waste of peoples' talents and judgment. Such a waste of a democratic system that could offer so much more.
Footnote: Liberal MLAs are apparently happy with Campbell's leadership. But others in the party are suggesting the premier should announce he's stepping down before the Liberal convention in Pentiction Nov. 19-20, in part to avoid getting bad news from a leadership confidence vote being held by constituency associations at pre-convention meetings. (The party's constitution requires the vote.)


Anonymous said...

PW wrote: The first step toward the HST came when the Liberals tabled a pre-election budget forecasting a $495-million deficit.
It was never credible.

I don't recall any of the corporate media challenging the BC Liberals on their deficit projection in any meaningful way.

Even now the corporate media is giving the BC Liberals a free ride on that blown budget. ie: How many FOIs have been filed looking for prebudget documents?

DPL said...

Gordo has kept his MLA's on a tight lease but hopefully, if for no reason beyond self preservation, a few might leave the right wing party

Anonymous said...

Initiative vote

13 - (2) On the recommendation of the minister after consultation with the chief electoral officer, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations respecting the conducting of an initiative vote under this Act.

The BC Liberals are free to make any regulations they see fit - including asking multiple questions.


Let us say - for the sake of this discussion - that the BC Liberals send the legislative initiative off for a vote (recognizing - as The Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer does - "that the government has a near-perfect record of making the wrong decision at every turn in its dealings on the HST").

Saturday September 24, 2011 is the appointed day for the initiative vote and "at least 90 days before general voting day for an initiative vote, the chief electoral officer must publish notice of the vote" - so that brings it back to about June 25, 2011 for notice to be issued.

No application for the issuance of a recall petition may be made during the 18 months following general voting day and that takes us up to Saturday November 12, 2010. The recall process itself allows for the chief electoral officer to take up to 7 days (to November 19, 2011) to issue the petition and then the fun begins and the petitioners have 60 days (to January 18, 2011) to fill their sheets. Then the chief electoral officer must determine within 42 days (to March 01, 2011) whether or not the petitions are valid.

Presuming again - for the sake of this discussion - that the petitions are valid, the Constitution Act: s.35 Issue of warrant for by-election kicks in and a by-election must be called within 90 days (taking us to about May31, 2011) - a scant few weeks before the Initiative Vote.

BC voters could go to the polls twice within 4 weeks at a cost of $30 million per X

But only if the BC Liberals continue their "near-perfect record of making the wrong decision at every turn in its dealings on the HST"