Bill Quixote

For­mer B.C. premier needs to col­lect 300,000 sig­na­tures to stop HST

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST -

BILL Van­der Zalm, the for­mer So­cial Credit premier of Bri­tish Columbia, is lead­ing a grass­roots move­ment against the dreaded har­mo­nized sales tax.

His task is daunt­ing. A ci­ti­zen’s ini­tia­tive like this has never suc­ceeded be­fore. In or­der for his en­deav­our to suc­ceed, he must ob­tain sig­na­tures from 10 per cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers in each of the 85 rid­ings in B.C. on his pe­ti­tion. That’s about 300,000 sig­na­tures. And it has to hap­pen in 90 days, start­ing April 6. He is us­ing the re­call and ini­tia­tive leg­is­la­tion that he helped draft 20 years ago, and which the NDP fi­nally brought into law in 1995.

Against all odds, I be­lieve he will achieve his ob­jec­tive.

Some back­ground: Shortly af­ter last year’s elec­tion, cit­i­zens were told that B.C. must have an HST, to take ef­fect July 1, 2010. There had been nary a whis­per of this ap­palling idea dur­ing the cam­paign. In fact, var­i­ous groups were told that there were no plans to in­tro­duce such a tax.

Af­ter the elec­tion, HST was quickly passed into law by the B.C. Lib­eral ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment. We now face a 12 per cent sales tax on many goods and ser­vices that were only taxed at five per cent be­fore. The ad­di­tional seven per cent tax will be added onto everyday items from hair­cuts to restau­rant meals to funer­als to new homes to plumbers and lawyers ... the list goes on and on.

The of­fi­cial rea­son, given over and over again by Premier Gor­don Camp­bell, is that “Bri­tish Columbia MUST do this in or­der to ‘re­main com­pet­i­tive’ with On­tario.”

A sim­i­lar HST is to come into ef­fect in On­tario this July. I won­der if the of­fi­cial rea­son in On­tario is the same — only rev­ers­ing “B.C.” and “On­tario” in the ex­pla­na­tion?

I also won­der which gov­ern­ment depart­ment wor­ries about stay­ing com­pet­i­tive with, say, Al­berta or Ore­gon, nei­ther of which has sales taxes?

The HST is a scam. It rep­re­sents a wind­fall profit for a des­per­ate pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. It will levy an ad­di­tional seven tax points on at least 20 per cent of goods and ser­vices that were not pre­vi­ously sub­ject to pro­vin­cial sales tax.

Con­sump­tion taxes, while cur­rently in vogue among the lib­eral elite, are fun­da­men­tally un­fair. In­come tax is the only fair way to levy taxes on peo­ple, be­cause it is the only tax that’s based on peo­ple’s abil­ity to pay.

Con­sump­tion taxes are re­gres­sive. Poor peo­ple pay at ex­actly the same rate as rich peo­ple. While the very poor might get a re­bate of a few dol­lars once a quar­ter (if they have an ad­dress), it is a pit­tance com­pared to what they have paid.

In­come taxes are pro­gres­sive. Those with higher in­comes pay at a higher rate than those with low in­comes. In Canada, the top 10 per cent of in­come earn­ers con­trib­ute more than 50 per cent of gov­ern­ment rev­enues.

Fur­ther, un­like in­come taxes, con­sump­tion taxes are op­tional. Some peo­ple think that sales taxes will nail “the rich,” but the rich are not stupid. That’s why they’re rich. They grav­i­tate to lower tax regimes like wa­ter seeks its own level. It’s ba­sic eco­nomics 101. It’s also le­gal, un­like in­come tax eva­sion.

Even mid­dle class Bri­tish Columbians reg­u­larly hop across the bor­der to Belling­ham to shop be­cause their taxes are lower than our taxes. Al­berta and Ore­gon are only a few hours away, and they have no sales taxes. Only the least ad­van­taged are stuck pay­ing the higher tax.

Van­der Zalm pre­dicts that HST will give a big boost to the un­der­ground econ­omy, as peo­ple scram­ble to avoid pay­ing more for ser­vices that used be un­taxed.

Con­sump­tion taxes also dis­cour­age con­sump­tion! A strong econ­omy needs peo­ple to spend money and buy stuff. The HST is a ter­ri­ble idea, es­pe­cially given the cur­rent frag­ile eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion we find our­selves in.

If Van­der Zalm’s pe­ti­tion is suc­cess­ful, an all­party com­mit­tee of the leg­is­la­ture would have four months to de­cide whether to scrap the leg­is­la­tion or hold a non-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum, which some say the gov­ern­ment would sim­ply ig­nore.

To flaunt the will of the cit­i­zens would be done at their peril though. Maybe our gov­ern­ment will come to its senses be­fore July 1. I doubt it, though. The HST was in­tro­duced un­der false pre­tenses and it is be­ing rammed down cit­i­zens’ throats by a gov­ern­ment that counts on vot­ers hav­ing short mem­o­ries. As a voter, I get miffed when peo­ple don’t tell the truth, es­pe­cially dur­ing elec­tions. Need­less to say, I will be sign­ing Van­der Zalm’s pe­ti­tion.

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