2011-06-25

HST -- what's the right course of action?

Looking back at my blog, I'm kind of surprised that I never posted anything about the HST debacle in BC. It's overdue that I say something, given my last post about Mr. Campbell's unworthiness for the next job he seems to be heading towards.

I am of two very distinct minds about it as I e-mailed to a friend who asked my opinion...

My first response to harmonization was that when you say you're not considering it (though papers later come to light proving that you were), you don't just ram it through the legislature because of budget conditions or "competitiveness" concerns, not without a protracted public debate first. With that kind of a reversal better to run a referendum then and there. Or if you really believe it's so important, call an election over it. That's the honourable thing to do.

My next response was anger over surrendering made-in-BC policies, such as no sales tax on books, groceries, school supplies and kids' clothes: simple, common-sense, positive social policy that comes cheap at the price, even if some claims are fraudulent (and I know some families did routinely claim all stationary as school supplies).

So I signed the referendum initiative when it came by -- and I don't regret that because the process by which it was brought in was absolutely corrosive to an open government. Like the FastCat ferries. Like the BC Rail lease. Like lots of other things have been done here.

But in hind-sight, and with the experience of the FST to GST transition, I think I actually want the tax to stay. I certainly don't want the Zalm back in BC politics.

And it's never just what the consumer pays as tax that's the problem. What does it do, over all, to the market? I didn't buy the "prices will come down" rhetoric over the GST but it proved to be true for certain classes of goods (big ticket items that we don't notice at the grocery store every week) and promises to scrap it proved treacherous. Are we primarily consumers? or citizens? or neighbours?

Is the pre-HST system fundamentally fairer and less complex for those of our neighbours who run businesses? Maybe not? Well then, despite the feel good of spitefully turning over the tax because it costs us (admittedly more than a few pennies) more than it did, maybe the right thing, the neighbourly thing to do would be to keep the tax. This is about what's best for us, not just for me.

Whether we like it or not, bringing in the HST had consequences which will have further consequences if we try to unravel them. Businesses (especially small ones) have had to bear chaos-costs to bring in the HST but now it's here, and in the long run, it's probably an idea whose good will eventually become self-evidentially, even if it takes another 10 years. (probably less). Should we triple the chaos that the businesses (especially small ones) have to undergo, unrolling the tax now (x2) only to bring it in eventually anyways (x3)? I don't think that's a good idea, even at the x2 level, whether you the harmonization is a good idea or not.

Christy Clark's tweaks to the tax are pointless spin. In fact, I think the benefits from simplification of the tax are subverted by the exemptions that have been thrown as a sop in a possibly vain attempt to keep the HST.

All that said, though, I will be voting NO (if, in the presence of a postal strike, I can get a ballot) and hoping that if the referendum passes (to scrap the tax) the turnout will be so low that the government will be unable to take the result seriously.

2011-06-24

Gordon Campbell: Rewarding Bad Behaviour

Regarding Gordon Campbell Set to Become Canada's High Commissioner to the UK

Congratulations, Mr. Campbell, you have received your reward for loyal service to the Federal Government over service to your own electors. I hope you enjoy Britain. I have every time I've visited.

Can we BCers contact our Conservative MPs, perhaps, and ask that this appointment be rescinded? I mean to.

On the face of it, Campbell has simply joined the list of former premiers appointed by the Conservatives to sinecures, regardless of what party they were from, an action which seems noble enough. To British Columbian voters, it is offensive and undeserved. Mr Campbell, in complete disregard of his own campaign promises used his majority in the Legislature to bring a sweeping change to BC's taxation system just because it seemed expedient at the time for a short-term budget shortfall. Then there is his DUI episode in Hawai'i (the mug-shot which the CBC has conveniently lost is here) for which his apologies ring hollow. Then there is the lease on bargain-basement terms of the BC Rail assets to CN (which resulted almost right aways in an ecological disaster and a fatal accident). And then there was the ham-handed way he fulfilled a campaign promise about the PacifiCat ferries (most of the blame there going to another ex-Premier with better intentions than cleverness) which probably saw them sell for more loss than necessary. The most honourable thing I can think of that Mr. Campbell did was to try to bring treaty settlements to First Nations in BC but even the way that has been done has appeared somewhat clumsy to me, as disputed territories were awarded in some cases to whichever group got to the table first. This man deserves no post-elective reward for his "services" to the people of this province.

So what does it look to me like he is being rewarded for? The federal government has always wanted to impose HST on all provinces that had their own provincial sales tax and without considering the dishonourable way in which it was accomplished, the federal government has rewarded Mr. Campbell for performing its will. Western alienation will continue to have a hearing in this province until Ottawa heeds the advice Paul Newman's character gave to Robert Redford's in The Sting: "You can't play your friends like marks." Until the provinces are treated as friends and partners and not potential victims, until the political processes within them is respected by Ottawa -- not to the detriment of the central authority but still, valuing the integrity of their processes above any particular result, in honour of the over-all sovereignty of the nation -- politics in this country will be at constant risk of subversion to the wills of idiots, charlatans, fear-mongers or worse. Why? Because provincial politics will always be at risk of harm from the machinations of federal politics and the people who graduate from provincial to national politics will be more likely to be rogues and stooges than mature and capable practitioners. In Qu├ębec, this may very well continue to manifest itself as continued separatism while the rest of us aren't blind to the inherent risks that poses, nor do we possess the same obvious fundamental differences.

Hence, I call upon my MP, the Hon. James Moore, to speak up to his Prime Minister and request that he rescind this sinecure appointment to a dishonoured politician from my province. He doesn't deserve the honour and his appointment to it is mischievous. Conferring it does no honour to my province.

2011-06-07

Canadian Budget, party subsidy, a letter to my MP

It seems a small matter but in the middle of the recent budget was a measure which I opposed to my MP and today, when it has been introduced as part of their plans for the budget, I wrote to him, James Moore, about it, with carbon copies going to the Prime Minister, the Finance critics for the Liberals (Scott Brison) and NDP (Peggy Nash) and the leader of the Green Party (Elizabeth May).

Congratulations, James, on your overwhelming victory in our riding.

As I said on the phone to you during the recent election campaign, I oppose ending the per-party subsidy from my taxes. Given that my choice for MP does not ever get to parliament, that subsidy is the only outlet that my federal vote currently has, so taking this away from me is muting my political voice, mine and those of anyone who doesn't believe the large political parties serve their interest. Your party has the power to do it, the votes to do it, perhaps it even seems properly frugal. But you are taking away part of my political voice and that is very unneighbourly, very un-Canadian of you.

In a time when declining interest of the young ought to be the gravest long-term threat to our form of government, anything which pushes those at the margins of its processes out beyond the distance of audibility is something that should not be done.

Please step back from this first sign of the neo-Thatcherism I was fearing would result from your election victory this spring.

If diversity in the Canadian parliament matters to you, perhaps you would consider writing something similar to your MP, especially if Conservative, cc-ing a similar group.