Strategic Thoughts

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September 20, 2009

No HST Campaign Kickoff

Bill Vander Zalm at age 75 proved that he can still give a barn burner of a speech and excite a crowd. Speaking to thousands of people at the plaza outside the new convention centre, he spoke about how the HST helps big business and hurts everyone else. Carole James gave one of the best speeches I've ever heard her deliver, emphasizing the importance of working across political lines and convincing 8 Liberal MLAs to reject the HST.

Some pundits and columnists have criticized James for working with Vander Zalm, but it shows that James is willing to take risks and do what is necessary to be effective on an issue rather than strictly partisan. If the HST protests were seen as strictly NDP events, it could result in some Liberals accepting the tax for partisan reasons. By keeping the protest nonpartisan, there might be a chance the tax can be stopped, just like the privatization of the Coquahalla highway was stopped.

Some say that the HST will be a done deal, impossible to stop after it moves from a memorandum of agreement to a formal contract between the province and the Harper government. The memorandum calls for the parties to "use their best efforts" to sign a formal agreement by September 30th; however, both governments need to introduce and pass enabling legislation. That could be difficult for Harper's minority government, and challenging for the political careers of some BC Liberals who must have been as surprised as the rest of British Columbians when Campbell and Hansen pulled the HST out of their hat just two months after the election.

The last speaker at the Vancouver rally was pundit and columnist Bill Tieleman, organizer of the No HST Facebook group that attracted 122,700 members in less than two months. Tieleman spoke about organizing an initiative against the tax. He acknowledged that the mechanics of getting a referendum allows the government to stay, or even refuse to hold it, but he pointed to the political reality that any government who refused to act on a formal petition signed by 10% of the population in each of BC's 85 constituencies would be committing political suicide. I sat on the legislative committee that came up with the legislation that will be applied to stop the HST; I know that the committee which drafted the legislation understood that referendums would rarely be necessary because no government could withstand the political pressure of a successful signature campaign.

Organizing the signature campaign will take money, hundreds of canvassers and excellent organization. The job would be made much easier if every restaurant and coffee shop in the province had the signature forms available for their patrons. Their industry association is engaging in behind the scene talks to lessen the impact of the tax on their members, but there is nothing the Campbell government can do to significantly mitigate what amounts to a 7% increase in the cost of eating out. Lower liquor prices, for example, are irrelevant to coffee shops and fast food outlets. Even if a few restaurateurs are convinced to keep quiet, many will be tempted to participate if Tieleman, Vander Zalm and James can organize a campaign that looks like it can succeed in gathering the necessary signatures. Cashiers and servers in restaurants and coffee shops across the province could be designated "registered canvassers" under BC's Recall and Initiative Act!

 
 

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