June 20, 2010

Anti-HST Drive to Pass Threshold

(The following article is from the June 1-15, 2010 issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to: People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)

By Kimball Cariou

After just six weeks of petitioning, the British Columbia Fight HST campaign to force a referendum on the "Harmonised Sales Tax" was on the verge of success. By May 16, organizers reported that 500,000 signatures had been collected. The final total could easily surpass the 600,000 mark, an astonishing one-sixth of the province's adult population.

Adopted in the early '90s under the Harcourt NDP government, B.C.'s citizen initiative legislation was crafted to make a successful petition drive nearly impossible. The rules require the signature of a minimum of 10% of voters in every riding across the province. By mid-May, that target had been reached in 72 of 85 ridings, with 51 actually exceeding 15%. The remaining 13 ridings, mainly in Vancouver and Burnaby, were expected to reach their targets soon. The Fight HST campaign aims to hit the 15% level in every riding by mid-June, to avoid any possibility of falling short when signatures are counted by Elections BC.

The Campbell Liberals will then have to choose between conducting a province-wide referendum, or using their majority to vote down the proposal to repeal the HST. They could also try to challenge the petition in court. So far, the Liberals have chosen to keep arguing (with little success) that the HST is needed to improve the BC economy.

Each option has negative consequences for the Liberals. Backing down on implementation, which will start on July 1, would anger the big business forces which are the only supporters of the HST. But defying public opinion would drive down support for the Liberals even further, boosting the NDP's fortunes and opening the door for a new right-wing party to enter the scene. There are growing rumbles within Liberal ranks about replacing Gordon Campbell, but the premier's iron-fisted control has made it impossible for any credible anti-HST alternative leader to emerge within his party.

Many British Columbians are increasingly angered at the flood of distortions and outright lies from the Campbell regime. For example, the Liberals keep trying to hint that the HST would bring in revenue for education and health care, which were hit with traumatic budget cutbacks. But most voters understand that the HST will simply transfer an estimated $1.9 billion annually from the pockets of consumers to the business sector.

More voices are now being raised to question Campbell's tax cuts, the real source of the provincial budget woes. The Liberals cut corporate income tax rates from 16.5 per cent in 2001 to 10.5 per cent today, with another reduction to 10 per cent by 2011. They have also eliminated capital taxes and cut property taxes, especially for big companies.

These cuts have so far cost the provincial treasury at least $10 billion, without increasing investment or job creation. Investment in B.C. has risen on average just 0.26 per cent per year since 2001. The forest industry, one of the biggest HST boosters, had already wiped out 23,700 jobs by 2008.

If the Liberals reject a referendum, the growing wave of public anger may lead to recall campaigns against Liberal MLAs. That process would take at least 18 months, but it could drive the Liberals out of office well before the next election set for May 2013. Unfortunately, the NDP shows no sign of willingness to reverse Campbell's tax cuts for the corporations and higher income tax brackets. That could leave most voters - except those in ridings where Communist candidates are on the ballot - without a progressive alternative if and when the Liberals are dumped.

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