The vast majority of people in British Columbia are opposed to the imposition of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Even the most diehard government supporters would have a hard time disputing that.
Why is there such strong opposition? Part of the reason is that many people feel that there are already too many taxes. And part of the reason is that people recognize that, essentially, the HST is transferring a tax burden from the economic elite onto the backs of the general population.
But there is something else that is eating away at the credibility of the government in regards to the HST. And that is the method by which it was brought in. It is here that the government is weakest, its arguments most feeble and illogical.
Prior to and during the provincial election in May of 2009, the Campbell government made no bones about it – BC Liberals were steadfastly against the HST. And the Liberals won the election.
Just a couple of months later, BC voters woke up one day to hear this same Liberal government announce that, surprise, surprise, it would, indeed, be bringing in the dreaded HST. All of this was done in such a tawdry, slipshod way - arrogance breeds its own clumsy style – as if the government knew that it would, once again, get away with, not just breaking, but smashing to smithereens another election promise.
Just like it got away with the controversial sale of BC Rail after promising – again, before an election – that it wouldn’t sell the railway. But history has its own cunning. Like that hornet’s nest under the pile of lumber in the backyard, the BC Rail scandal won’t disappear no matter how much water is squirted on it. In early May, the trial of the political aides charged with breach of trust is scheduled to begin, and who knows which government leader or minister could get stung by a soggy, wayward hornet.
And so it goes with the HST. The initiative campaign to repeal the HST, launched by former premier Bill Vander Zalm, gathers more momentum every day and has an excellent chance of succeeding. People all over the province are flocking to sign the anti-HST petition. They don’t like the tax, but they also don’t like the way that it was brought in.
Indeed, the government’s “modus operandi” in imposing the tax is just one symptom of a much larger problem. People do not have control over the political process. Instead, the establishment political parties, in the service of a tiny but powerful economic elite, dominate it.
To even call them “parties” is to give them too much justice, as they operate very much like corporate election machines, dominated, not even by their own membership, but by paid communication experts, “consultants”, “insiders” and “backroom boys”. Indeed, the membership passes resolutions at “conventions”, only to have the party brass flush them down the toilet after the convention is over. In the parliament and legislatures, these same establishment parties work together like cartels to keep the people in a passive position and out of the process, as well as to commandeer public funds to finance their election campaigns, research projects, junkets, and other pursuits.
It is a strange fact of modern life that such creatures, which resemble feudal monopolies in organization, dominate the political affairs of the province and the country at the expense of the people. In effect, it is democracy of the parties, by the parties, and for the parties. For the global multinationals and financiers it is most convenient – one stop shopping, so to speak. For the people, it is something of a different character – an elected dictatorship and voter serfdom.
Which brings us to the Recall and Initiative Act of British Columbia. The doors and walls that the establishment political parties have erected around the parliament and legislatures are made up of the thickest oak reinforced with steel plate. Back in 1991, because of pressure from smaller parties and from ordinary citizens, the political parties in the provincial legislature were forced to open up the door just a crack and have voters decide whether the province should adopt a Recall and Initiative Act. The response was overwhelming – over 80% of the voters said yes.
Of course, no sooner was the legislation brought in than the government of that time, the NDP, proceeded to make it as difficult and unwieldy as possible for voters to utilize this new mechanism. Later, when the opposition Liberals came to power, they refused to reform or improve the legislation.
However, they couldn’t get rid of the Act without being exposed as anti-democratic. It is that tiny “crack” in the door that voters are flocking to in their opposition to the HST.
But what a different world it would be if the whole door itself was blasted down, if people, not parties - and definitely not the economic elite - had control over the political process. What a difference there would be in political and economic priorities, in law, in health care, in forest policy, in taxation, and countless other spheres.
The establishment political parties and the economic elite do not want us to get even a glimpse of such a world, and thus they constantly try to reinforce the door and install more bars and locks on it, the better to keep the people out. But British Columbians are making it clear that they want to open the door up even wider. And therein lies the struggle ahead.Peter Ewart is a writer from Prince George and a regular contributor to www.opinion250.com