Friday, May 21, 2010

Why did Liberal MLAs march into HST debacle?

What if just one or two Liberal MLAs had decided it was a mistake to bring in the HST without seeking the public's views?
And spoken up, maybe rallied some other backbenchers to ask questions?
These are responsible people, accomplished and respected in their communities. They ran on the Liberal platform. And a new tax, shifting $1.9 billion in taxes from businesses to individuals and families, wasn't part of the platform. The Liberals had always rejected the HST as bad for B.C. and promised, in writing, that it wasn't in their plans.
But within days of the election, the big guys in the Liberal government were looking at the tax.
At some point, Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen must have let the Liberal MLAs in on the secret.
What if a few of them had raised concerns? They could have said the tax seemed like a good idea, but the public needed to be persuaded. They could have told the premier that they felt a need to talk to people back in their communities and see what they thought.
But either no one did, or, if they tried, they were ignored.
As a result, the Liberal government is in deep trouble.
MLAs were keen to come to Victoria and represent their communities a year ago - 18 of them elected for the first time. Now they're wildly unpopular, defending a decision they had no part in making. (While Campbell travels to Europe and Asia.)
In many ridings, the public is overwhelmingly against the HST. But Liberal MLAs are forced to tell the voters the party knows best and they are just too dim to get it.
A case can be made for the HST, especially since Ontario adopted the tax.
The average person will pay more in tax. The theory is that businesses will pass some of their tax savings on to consumers as lower prices.
And that, given a chance to pay less in taxes, companies will expand their operations in the province. If they need more employees, there will be new jobs and higher pay as companies compete for good workers.
Which could be true. But it would also have been true over the last five years; the Liberals always said it wasn't and rejected the tax.
Sometimes governments just brazen their way through these things. Broken claims of balanced budgets and betrayed promises not to sell B.C. Rail or expand gambling leap to mind.
But that doesn't seem to be working this time. I didn't think the initiative drive against the tax would be successful. The legislation, as Campbell said in opposition, seemed intended to make sure any efforts would fail. The law required people seeking to force a change in government policy to get signatures from 10 per cent of eligible voters in every riding.
There have been six initiative efforts. The best obtained 98,000 signatures, less than half the required amount.
The anti-HST petition has more than 500,000 signatures. Organizers say they have reached the required threshold in 72 of 85 ridings, with more than six weeks to go.
The Liberals can press ahead with the tax even if the HST initiative is successful. (The process requires a separate column.)
But their popularity will sink even lower.
And the HST opponents have pledged to launch recall campaigns against some MLAs if they don't heed the public will. They start with a formidable organization and large volunteer base.
Based on the petition numbers, at least some of those would likely succeed. Seven successful campaigns, followed by NDP victories in the resulting byelections, could topple the Liberal government.
Liberal MLAs are in a tough spot. They are getting clear direction from local voters - don't introduce the HST. And they are defying the public's wishes. (At least so far.)
The government could have been spared a pile of trouble if one or two MLAs had urged a different course on the HST - and if Campbell had listened.
Footnote: A Mustel Group poll this week showed the NDP with a decisive lead. It had 44 per cent, compared with 32 per cent for the Liberals, 13 per cent for the Greens and seven per cent for the Conservatives. Campbell's approval rating plunged to 28 per cent.


olive ridley said...
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Anonymous said...

And Mustel always under-represents the NDP by 4-5 points. Last election they had the NDP at 38 when they finished at 42.5.

Their sample is a lot rougher statistically speaking than say Angus Reid's, accounting for the larger skew they tend to show.

RossK said...


In your header you asked 'why'....

And in your column you mentioned the $1.9 billion tax shift shift from business to the the citizenry.

However, what you didn't mention was the Feds' $1.6 billion inducement that some might argue made it possible for Mess'rs Hansen and Campbell to argue that their deficit was not ballooning into the size of the Hindenberg just after the last election.

I would argue that that is at least part of the 'why'.


Norm Farrell said...

Colin Hansen, re-elected May 12, met with Premier Campbell and Finance Ministry staff on May 14. Hansen claims that HST was not discussed. However, On May 15, BC's head of tax policy met with the feds to discuss HST.

I can only presume that Cabinet and the Liberal Caucus met on May 13 to consider and approve the new tax strategy. If not, exactly when did this happen? Or, did the Cabinet and Caucus have any input at all?

Dawn Steele said...

Great to see democracy in action! And a timely reminder to all our elected reps that good spin and voter apathy will only go so far.

Kim said...

We knew it had the legs to succeed. It was only every single reporter and pundit from CanWest media that did not have their collective fingers on the pulse of public opinion to predict the outcome.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, we didn't need to rely on the media to help us win! We did it by plain, old-fashioned hard work and determination!