Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Can the Premier buy his way back to popularity?

On a night when baseball's World Series made its 2010 debut, Premier Gordon Campbell stepped up to the political plate to take a few swings of his own.

While in the batters box on Wednesday, the Premier  hit a few foul balls, had a few swings and a miss and delivered one or two solid grounders, though by the end of his session he never really delivered the home run that many suggested he needed to bring to the nights political address.

As the Liberals head into the middle innings of their latest mandate, the Premier having recently changed the lineup card on Team Campbell, set about on Wednesday to try and change the direction of his squads current slump.

In the end, the man with the lowest public opinion results in the country, seemingly has decided that the way back to the good graces of the people of the province will come by providing for the lowest of income taxes in the land.

A move that while no doubt welcomed by those in the under 72,000 dollar a year club (the benchmark for the announced 15 percent income tax cut) , after all everyone would rather have more money in their pocket, but one has to wonder if the voters in the long run will indeed be willing to be bribed by their own money.

The main carrot for voters was the tax announcement which will see residents who make under $50,000 a year, receive $348  back in 2011, while someone earning $72,000 will have  $614 more dollars this time next year than they have today.

Small business, a mainstay of Liberal support over the years will also benefit from a revised taxation plan by the Liberals, with the Premier's announcement tonight that by 2012 small business owners will pay zero provincial income tax up to 500,000 dollars.

Wednesday nights televised address to the province was a strange mix, some folksy remembrances by the Premier of his own family experiences growing up, mixed with the kind of charts and graphs that might have been better used before the flashpoint of discontent that become the HST roll out backlash.

For good measure he threw in some fond memories of the recent Olympic games as his template for how British Columbians can work together, a segment of his speech that seemed a tad desperate in its tone and content.

In fact, while much of the Premier's scripted remarks were clearly designed to put a more everyman kind of face on the Premier, it was the tax cut and the HST mea culpa of sorts that seems to have been the anchor of the address.

If the Liberals had perhaps provided the same kind of explanation of the tax prior to its introduction, then maybe, though unlikely, the reaction to the tax wouldn't have been quite so dramatic in its anger (as reflected in the Premier's standing of 9 percent approval in recent polling results).

The telling point of the nights address was when the Premier said that the HST was introduced without consultation with the province's residents owing to time constraints, a suggestion that Province political columnist Michael Smyth charitably describes as bull scat.

Over at the Vancouver Sun, Vaughn Palmer offered up the thought that the address took us from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Indeed, the fact that the Liberals brought in the HST after winning an election without word one of the tax introduction being mentioned, is the proverbial noose around the Premiers neck on the issue and no amount of deflection is going to change that imagery.

The HST may have many merits, as the Premier tried to  explain during his address (in past postings on Podunk we have suggested that if properly explained the HST would not have been nearly as controversial as the way that the Liberals introduced),  but the simple fact is that the way that it was handled was atrocious and in fact in the mind of many, it was introduced under a false pretense.

In effect, British Columbians were the recipients of a tax without the benefit of having been given full disclosure on its impacts and  were denied the option of voting yea or nay, in favour or against, those representatives that would introduce it.

Such instances as history has shown in the past haven't always gone verily well for the governing body, whether it be a King or a Premier.

By clawing back the tax rates to the lowest in the country, one can only be left with the thought that there must be enough revenue being generated by the HST to allow for such a generous return of the public's own money to the average household in the province.

Not mentioned in the speech but also announced on Wednesday, was the creation of an HST Special Information Office, which will provide information on the tax leading up to the referendum on the tax set for next September.

It's a strange world where the residents of a province that don't particularly like a tax, will have to fund the very office that will try and sell the merits of it to them.

It gives one cause to realize that at times, there's a reason that much of Canada seems to think that BC and its politics has such an Alice in Wonderland feel to it.

When he wasn't talking about the HST or his devotion to making sure that British Columbians' have the choice of how to spend their own money through his tax cuts, the Premier spoke on such issues as health care and education.

Education will see a greater emphasis put on the Strong start program, a re-dedication to the five year old kindergarten program and a commitment to all parents that every child that leaves Grade four will meet the standards of Grade four achievement.

Health care statistics were highlighted as a something that would surprise British Columbians, with the Premier showing his graphs that show the government has spent billions of dollars on health care over the last few years, with at least 2 billion more to be spent over the next three years.

The Premier also outlined how the Province now spends 46 cents of every dollar up from 38 cents back in 2001 when they came to power, with an increase on the way to 49 cents of every dollar within three years time.

Considering many of the challenges that health care faces across the province, we might be excused if we wonder how much value we receive for that comprehensive accounting.

Again, with tax cuts of 15 percent for those under 72,000 dollars one wonders how those two portfolios, as well as many others may be affected.

We suspect that the revenue provisions of the HST most likely will make the tax cuts more easily attainable, but without a more fully explained financial brief it's akin to shuffling some cash under some shells it seems. In the end somebody we imagine is going to come up short and we imagine that it won't be the government.

That however is probably more of a problem for the Finance Minister to sort out when the budget comes around this spring, his punishment perhaps for being the point man on the HST roll out.

By the end of his twenty some minute address, much like the baseball game on the other channel was defined by errors on the field, the speech seemed to highlight rather than fix, the errors made in the past.

The bulk of the speech has already been posted to both the Government of BC website as well as on the You Tube portal, divided up into different segments or themes if you will,  those different talking points from the Premier can be viewed below.

Introduction to the address
Why the HST
 Benefits of the HST 
Supporting Families
Reducing Income taxes
Investing in Health care
Investing in Education
Working Together

It was the arrogance and duplicity of the Liberals in their less than stellar handling of the HST initiative that got them into this mess, a pond of political quicksand from which the Premier tried to extricate himself and his party from on Wednesday.

So it will more than likely take a few days to truly see if the Premier's bonus plan for residents will win favour beyond small business owners and the ever faithful.

If not, expect the Liberal base to start making some rumblings for a move to bull pen shortly, anxious to bring a relief pitcher in to try and salvage some of the last innings of this Liberal mandate.

Vancouver Sun--  Campbell uses rare television address to roll out major tax cut
Victoria Times Colonist-- Premier pledges major tax cut
Vancouver Province-- Income tax cut and education promises made in Campbell speech
Globe and Mail-- Campbell pledges 15% income-tax cut to fend off HST criticisms
The Tyee-- Premier Campbell uses TV appearance to promise income tax cut
CBC-- B. C.'s Campbell cuts income taxes 15%
Georgia Straight-- Addressing the province, Gordon Campbell makes his case for the HST

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