Friday, July 02, 2010

The business groups baffling attack on the anti-HST petitions

The legal attack on the HST petition by business groups is terrible for the Liberals.
In fact, when the release announcing the court action showed up in my inbox, I wondered if it was a hoax.
It wasn’t.
The groups - the Council of Forest Industries; Mining Association of B.C.; Independent Contractors and Businesses Association; Western Convenience Stores Association; Coast Forest Products Association; and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce — want the B.C. Supreme Court to rule the anti-HST petition invalid.
The work of hundreds of volunteers and the signatures of more than 700,000 people would then be junked.
Under the initiative process, proponents draft a bill to go before the legislature, in this case the HST Extinguishment Act.
The business group’s main argument is that the HST has now been imposed by federal legislation. The B.C. legislature can’t vote to undo a federal law, it says, and the courts should declare the petition not valid.
Maybe they’re right. The court will decide. (Although Elections B.C. approved the initiative after a legal review.)
But in waging an unnecessary fight to protect the harmonized sales tax, the business groups are doing more damage to the Liberals’ already battered chances of winning the next election.
The intent of the petition is clear — to tell the government to cancel the tax.
And that is within the province’s power. If the B.C. Liberal government accepted the voters’ wishes and asked the federal government to let the province out of the deal, the federal Conservatives would likely go along. They have seen the anger directed at the provincial Liberals; no minority government wants to turn its candidates into pariahs.
The legal challenge reinforces the impression that the Liberals are governing in the interests of business, not individuals and families.
And the timing seems certain to infuriate the people who supported the anti-HST initiative.
The business groups announced their challenge the day before Bill Vander Zalm and supporters delivered petitions with the names of more than 700,000 British Columbians to Elections B.C.
That’s 11 weeks after the petition information was made public. It’s three weeks after former attorney general Geoff Plant wrote an article in the Vancouver Sun questioning the petition’s legality.
The last-minute intervention will be seen as an attempt to sink the effort after the volunteers have done all the work.
It’s baffling. The government is not going to retreat on the HST anyway, barring a Liberal leadership change. The business groups’ effort seems unnecessary.
If they win, HST opponents will feel cheated. They will still expect the government to act on the petition, signed by about the number of people who voted Liberal in the last election.
And there is the issue of political donations. The Vancouver Sun noted that the Independent Contractors and Business Association has contributed $62,455 to the Liberals since 2005, the Coast Forest Products Association $61,700, the Council of Forest Industries has $24,615, the Mining Association of B.C. $13,180 and the Western Convenience Store Association gave $500.
But the $162,000 is a small part of the picture. Members of the forest industry council contributed another $957,000 to the Liberals in the same period; mining association member companies contributed $913,000.
Which is all perfectly legal; B.C. electoral laws set no limits on corporate, union or individual donations.
But again, some of those volunteers who spent days gathering petitions are likely to believe that the big donations earned the companies special benefits — including the HST's $1.9-billion tax cut for business, with the costs shifted onto individuals and families.
If the petition is tossed, the Liberals will be blamed. The recall campaigns will be energized.
And the growing perception that the Liberals aren’t listening will be reinforced.
The business groups have, oddly, increased the chances of an NDP government after 2013.
Footnote: How bad could this get? Here’s Rick Jeffrey of the Coast Forest Products Association in the Globe and Mail. “We are not challenging the 700,000 people who signed the petition – they have been led down the garden path by the petitioners, they didn’t really know what they were signing.”
Not just wrong, but hapless, witless dupes.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

An HST review worth a read

Now that you're paying the harmonized sales tax, I suggested heading over here for Sacha Peter's "spin-free discussion on HST." It's an excellent primer on the tax and its impact.

The case for raising the minimum wage to $10

Don Cayo sets out the argument here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Questions raised about why prosecutors didn't charge officers in Dziekanski's death

Why did the province's criminal justice branch decide against charges in Robert Dziekanski's death without gathering the needed facts?
In the aftermath of the Braidwood inquiry, the government appointed Richard Peck as a special prosecutor to review the decision not to lay charges.
This week, Peck recommended the file be re-opened. The government news release said Peck cited “factual material that was not available to the branch at the time, including but not limited to expert video analysis and expert opinions relating to the reasonableness of the escalation and de-escalation of force.”
Note that he is not referring to newly discovered evidence or information that was beyond the reach of the criminal justice branch when it decided against charges.
Which raises the obvious question: Why did prosecutors and senior lawyers in the Attorney General's Ministry make a decision on charges without those expert opinions?
It can't be lack of funds - the RCMP had enough money to send four officers to Poland to dig into Dziekanski's background.
And it wasn't time pressure. The decision not to lay charges came 14 months after Dziekanski died.
And the branch should have known of the public interest in the case and concern that the investigation of the four officer's actions was done by the Lower Mainland's integrated homicide investigation team, which includes the RCMP.
So why didn't the branch ask independent experts to review the video and the officer's actions?
At the time, a spokesman for the branch said the force used to subdue and restrain Dziekanski was "reasonable and necessary in all the circumstances." There was no substantial likelihood of conviction on any charges, he said.
Most people who watched the video would disagree. The Braidwood inquiry did.
And at the least, most people would believe the evidence should be put before a judge or jury for a decision.
The government needs to explain two things: Why did it disagree; and why did it not seek independent expert opinions, as Braidwood did, before deciding the officers should not face charges.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Business tries to sink HST initiative, at great cost to the Liberals

This is such a bad idea I wondered at first if it was a hoax e-mail.
The province's big business organizations have gone to court to argue that the anti-HST initiative petition should be declared invalid and tossed.
People who signed the petition were supporting a bill eliminating the HST. The business groups maintain that the federal government has responsibility for the tax and provincial legislation killing it would be unconstitutional.
The courts will sort out the arguments. But the last-minute effort to thwart the initiative is a disaster for the Liberals. The legal challenge reinforces the public perception that the tax benefits corporations, not individuals and families.
If it's successful, the more than 700,000 people who signed the petition will feel cheated. And the Liberals' chance of re-election in 2013 would shrink dramatically.
Surely the last thing the business community should want is an NDP government in three years.

Here's an example of how badly this could unfold, from Justine Hunter's article on the legal challenge in the Globe.
“We are not challenging the 700,000 people who signed the petition – they have been led down the garden path by the petitioners, they didn’t really know what they were signing,” said Rick Jeffrey, president of the Council of Forest Industries.
So it's not that the business groups disagree with the people who signed the petition; just that they think those 700,000 people are dupes too dim to know what they were signing.


Statement re launch of Judicial Review of HST initiative

Business Groups Seek Certainty on Validity of HST Extinguishment Act
Vancouver (June 29, 2010) - In a June 4, 2010 article in the Vancouver Sun, former BC Attorney General Geoff Plant questions the constitutional validity of the draft bill at the heart of the anti-HST initiative – the so-called “HST Extinguishment Act.”
Mr. Plant’s argument is rooted neither in the politics nor in the substantive merits of the HST itself. Rather, he focuses on whether or not the draft bill at the core of the anti-HST initiative can, constitutionally speaking, become law in British Columbia. If the draft legislation is unconstitutional, the B.C. legislature will be legally unable to enact the bill as drafted by its proponents, regardless of how many signatures the petition receives.
The vast majority of B.C. business organizations support the HST as an integral component of the province’s long-term economic prosperity. The tax will make B.C. businesses more competitive in Canada and around the world, and will encourage investment and job creation in the province. However, concerns about the constitutionality of the draft HST Extinguishment Act – such as those raised by Mr. Plant – give rise to uncertainty about the future of the province’s tax policy. This uncertainty has the potential to harm B.C. businesses and the economy at large.
Concerned about this uncertainty, a number of business associations have today filed for Judicial Review of the decision to approve the initiative petition and its draft bill in the first place. This process will enable a judge to make a simple determination as to whether the draft bill is constitutionally valid and therefore suitable for introduction to the Legislature. The petitioners are the Council of Forest Industries, the Mining Association of British Columbia, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the Western Convenience Stores Association, the Coast Forest Products Association, and the BC Chamber of Commerce.
We are hopeful that the Judicial Review we have requested can be completed expeditiously, providing British Columbians with certainty and confidence that considerable time and money will not be expended on a draft bill that is constitutionally unsound and therefore incapable of becoming law. The Judicial Review will provide clarity as to whether or not the petition can legally move forward.
Seeking judicial review at this juncture will avoid the considerable legal confusion that would result if the initiative process were to proceed unchecked on its current course. There should be no hesitation whatsoever in taking the necessary steps to ensure that British Columbians are presented with all the pertinent facts as they consider government policies that will profoundly impact the province’s future.
- 30 -
For further information, contact:
John Allan, President & CEO, Council of Forest Industries
Pierre Gratton, President & CEO, Mining Association of BC
Philip Hochstein, President, Independent Contractors & Businesses Assoc.
Wayne Hoskins, President, Western Convenience Stores Association
Rick Jeffery, President & CEO, Coast Forest Products Association
John Winter, President & CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce

Summits cost you $32 and delivered little

The big G8/G20 summits in Ontario look like a ripoff.
The three days of meetings cost Canada $1.1 billion. That's about $32 for every one of us; $128 for a family of four.
In return we got mostly bad publicity, thuggery, mass arrests, a sneak violation of citizens' rights and statements of good intentions from the world leaders.
It's useful for the presidents and prime ministers to gather and exchange ideas and concerns. Even better if they come up with agreements on a co-ordinated approach to problems.
But it's bizarre that the leaders had to bring 8,000 other people along to talk about the importance of reducing deficits.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the ugly scenes in Toronto - windows smashed, three police cars set on fire - justified security spending of almost $1 billion.
Among the thousands of protesters, a few hundred were violent. Their actions and locations were predictable. Yet the security measures were inadequate.
What about the results?
Look at a couple of issues. The leaders were trying to figure out how to deal with government deficits and debt.
Some wanted dramatic deficit reductions immediately; others feared that would slow - and maybe halt - the economic recovery. They agreed to cut their deficits in half from current levels by 2013 and stabilize their debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016.
Or more accurately, they agreed that would be a good idea, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Deficits are a problem. Like families, governments that borrow have to pay interest. Choices today mean fewer options for coming generations.
But government spending - like Canada's infrastructure fund - eased the impact of the recession by providing jobs. Cut spending too rapidly, and citizens are hurt and the economy suffers.
It was striking that all the coverage viewed this as a commitment by the governments to cut spending.
That's not what the agreement said. It talked about reducing deficits, which could also be accomplished by raising government revenues - collecting more in taxes or royalties.
The fact the current orthodoxy doesn't even acknowledge that approach as a possibility shows an alarming blindness to basic fiscal management.
Which leads to another summit non-commitment.
At a 2009 summit, the G20 agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. The subsidies are costly and encourage energy consumption that produces greenhouse gases.
In Toronto, the leaders agreed again to the "phase out over the medium term of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, taking into account vulnerable groups and their development needs."
Not exactly a rock-solid commitment.
Which is shame. According to the last year's summit, getting rid of the subsidies by 2020 would mean a 10-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
And it would reduce government deficits around the world by $560 billion a year - the amount spent on various subsidies supporting oil and gas and coal use.
Most of the subsidies go to keep gas cheap for consumers - drivers in Iran pay about 10 cents a litre, which costs the government about $100 billion in subsidies.
Producing nations and provinces also subsidize the industry. They offer grants or build roads or cut royalties to encourage the companies to develop oil and gas in their jurisdiction. They want the royalty revenue and the jobs.
The Pembina Institute, an Alberta energy policy organization, estimates federal government subsidies to the oil and gas industry at $2 billion. The B.C. government provided subsidies of $327 million.
The case for subsidies is based on the need to compete with other jurisdictions for energy industry investment. So if Alberta cuts royalties, B.C. does the same.
If Canada and other jurisdictions were serious about the commitment, the need to sell resources at a discount would be eased.
There was better progress on a plan to improve maternal health in the developing world, with G8 countries promising $5 billion over five years. But that's less than Harper hoped for and governments have failed to honour past commitments.
Footnote: An independent review of security would be useful. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association had 50 observers at the protest and reported police conduct "was, at times, disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive." Mass arrests of 900 people captured peaceful protesters and bystanders without stopping the vandalism and destruction.