Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sour notes from Gordon Campbell’s Harmonized songbook

The Campbell Liberals are finding that not everyone is on the same page of the song book when it comes to the lure of federal lucre in return for Harmony on the tax front.

The decision to introduce a harmonized tax regimen with the GST for next July is proving to be a bit of a summer time hot potato for the Premier and his Finance Minister, as both NDP opposition members and disgruntled sectors of the Liberals finely cobbled coalition find some common ground on the anticipated tax consolidation.

With any number of previously untouched sectors suddenly expected to pony up some tax monies next year, the backlash against the plan is starting to smoulder across the province.

And while you would expect the taxation plan to come under fire from NDP leader Carole James or local MLA Gary Coons, what is a bit of a surprise is a voice from BC’s right wing past rising up in opposition to the Campbell plan.

None other than former Social Credit Premier Bill Vander Zalm has returned from his political exile to offer up his thoughts on the taxation juggernaut about to be released on unsuspecting British Columbians.

No doubt finding that the Campbell plan is decidedly Not Fantastic, the Zalm has weighed in with a personal mission to organize a rally and petition drive determined to force a referendum over the taxation without consultation aspects of the Campbell forces.

Some sharp eyed observers of the provincial media have been quick to point out that Mr. Vander Zalm, now a property developer, may stand to lose some pocket change himself if the value of his new homes should pass beyond the proposed HST threshold of 400,000 dollars and more. A concern that our former Premier, gardener and now house builder says is not relevant as his properties are so far price points below the magic 400 thousand mark.

Yet, for those seeking to build a coalition against the HST the prospect of Mr. Vander Zalm becoming the Moses with the anti tax stone tablets may be a tad disconcerting. You can almost hear them collectively heaving a sigh and mumbling "oh no, he's back and wants to lead!".
The rather public past events involving financial matters and the ex Premier will of course forever follow his return to political debate, and no doubt the quest to stem the rush to HST won’t be receptive to a Vander Zalm sideshow getting in the way.

Another surprise intervention was that of the Mayor and City council of Prince Rupert (unanimous sans councillor Gordon Payne and an absent Councillor Kinney, weighing in with their own opposition to the HST) making their plans to introduce a motion against the plan at the upcoming UBCM gathering in the fall.
And while local residents may welcome their interjection to the debate, there should be a wee bit of bemusement from locals at the prospect of a council that shows no hesitation to increase the local tax load each year, should suddenly find the anti tax religion on the provincial front.

While the end of summer debate continues to increase in volume, one possible reason for the Liberals sudden attachment to an increased tax load may very well be the declining fortunes of the British Columbia economic picture.

During the recent election campaign it now seems rather suspect as to whether the Liberals were particularly transparent in their declarations regarding the economy and the future troubled skies that were on the way.

Now with a deficit suddenly skyrocketing with no return to balanced books anticipated until 2013-14 and the almost mantra like dedication to service cuts, the injection of that reported 1.6 billion of federal money as a transition to Harmonious tax collection may be too hard to resist.

The Liberals with a four year term in place to ride out an economic storm, may be thinking that much like the GST debate of decades ago, in four years time any anger over the HST will have dissipated and a continuation of their carefully crafted centre right coalition will still have resonance come the next election.

Four years is a long time to carry on a tax fight, other issues come up and with a government that has shown how to manipulate the finances in the past, we suspect that any short term pain over the introduction of HST would have been soothed with some form of economic redistribution just in time for our next election. Whether Mr. Campbell will still be in the position of chief listener and policy developer by that time however will most likely be very much up for debate.

There clearly is anger outside of the doors of the Liberal caucus room in Victoria, but whether it has staying power over the long term is one of those key moments in political calculation. Every known tactician in politics through the ages, has stressed that if you have an uncomfortable political position to implement, do it as early in your mandate as possible, no doubt in the wish that time heals all wounds.

No doubt as we get closer to the introduction of the HST (and we suspect that the Liberals will stay their course, financially they may have no other choice) the Campbell crew will tweak the anticipated impact all in the guise of having listened to British Columbians.

But in the end, a government in dire need of financial deposits is not going to be able to walk away from the transfer of federal monies upon introduction and more importantly from the increased revenue stream that the HST will provide Mr. Campbell and his ministers from previously untapped sources.

As we drift through our final days of summer and prepare for the fall ahead, there is no shortage of late summer reading material on the suddenly hot topic of the day, below we provide a few select items from a variety of sources on the ongoing debate.

A primer of sorts for British Columbians, as we all prepare to watch what surely will be a most fascinating and raucous session of the Legislature.

Globe and Mail-- A question of credibility: the harmonized sales tax in B.C.
Globe and Mail-- What does HST mean for me?
Vancouver Sun-- B.C. Liberals face fiscal storm
Vancouver Sun-- B.C. finance minister: The HST will make us more competitive
Vancouver Sun-- The HST will provide benefits to B.C. for years to come
Vancouver Sun-- Crafty Campbell knew the dangers of HST
Vancouver Sun-- Harmonized tax badly needed and likely revenue-neutral
Vancouver Sun-- A blueprint on how to sell the HST to the public
Vancouver Sun-- HST tax grab may spell beginning of the end of B.C. Liberal government
Vancouver Sun-- Liberals are getting away with the HST because they can
The Province-- Tax strikes a harmonious chord
The Province-- The bright side of HST
The Province-- HST pact between B.C., Canada has Sept. 30 deadline for deal
The Province-- Summer of surprises leaves voters stunned
Victoria Times Colonist-- Fudge-it budget, Round 2
Nanaimo Daily News-- HST will end the dreams Premier Campbell once had for B.C.
National Post-- The amazing shameless government of British Columbia
The Tyee-- One Way We Can Say 'No!' to the HST
The Tyee-- Biggest Tax Shift in BC History: Why Did Campbell Do It?
The Tyee-- BC Liberals Need to Look for a New Leader 4-year deficit for B.C.: finance minister Anti-HST campaign growing: B.C. NDP Christy Clark calls Campbell 'sneaky' on HST
Locally the rhetoric flies and the opinions exchange on the local community portal hackingthemainframe, where some interesting opinions and debate is flowing.

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