Thanks for the HST, BC Liberals!

No, I’m not actually endorsing this crazy tax grab, but it comes at a perfect time for me to illustrate the points raised in my last post, which resulted in a heated debate with the young Sith Lord, “Silas.”

This move by the BC Liberals manages to sum up All That is Wrong with our system in one fell swoop. I’m not an economist, and I’m not going to weigh in the theory behind the HST, although it certainly is a huge tax increase for average folks at a time when many are struggling to feed and house their families.

I’m more interested in the system that allows these things to happen. Over and over and over.

This move by the provinicial government could very well land itself in the history books, under the heading “Why the People finally Stopped Voting Altogether.”

It contains nearly all the elements that cause people to loathe politicians and to stop voting:

1. Lies, lies, lies. The Libs had to at least be considering implementing the HST prior to the last election, yet they acted as though they had never even heard of it until they day before they decided it would be so.

2. Complete and utter indifference to the will of the people. There hasn’t been this much unified opposition to an idea since New Coke.  Yet Premier Campbell and his crew continue to pat us on the metaphorical head and tell us how good it will be for us.

3.Devious, conniving chicanery. A few classic tricks played on this one. First is the ol’ do something people don’t want immediately after the election and hope they forget about it before the next one trick. Unfortunately it often works. Since the people can’t do anything about it when it happens, they can only bang their heads for so long.

Second is the lesser known but still popular announce a decision that you know will be abhorred in the middle of summer, when many people are away from their TVs and radios trick. Didn’t seem to work this time.

4. Big fat pay raises. Unfortunately this one hasn’t happened yet, but there must be a connection. One can assume that once the new taxes start rolling in a raise of some kind will be in order.

5. Pandering to the rich/conspiracy theory. Seems like the only ones to benefit from this new tax are Big Business folks. Many big business folks support the Libs at election time. Coincidence?

Well there you go. No accounability=arrogance=HST .



Filed under Canadian politics

18 responses to “Thanks for the HST, BC Liberals!

  1. Slam This

    There’s plenty of accountability: BC just elected these people. Many voters, evidently, seem to enjoy this stuff. Those who sit on the sidelines are only more complicit. “Who do you love to hate the most?” We want our politics easy. We want our politics black and white. Debate, issues, ideas have all disappeared at these higher levels in favour of slogans and sound-bites (and even those are pretty lame). Neither party really ran a campaign of substance and we consented to this, demanded nothing more than more of the same.

    Animosity towards “politicians” only gives political elites more power. The less people who participate, the easier it is for the elites to dominate, and therefore voter apathy is an advantageous strategy.

    And so, enthusiastic promoters of voter apathy and cynicism have fans over in Victoria. They love this stuff, and only manipulate it to their own advantage. One of today’s most influential cabinet ministers first made a name for himself through a supposedly-grassroots “recall” campaign!:

    And now who is leading the fight against the HST? Remember this guy?

    But anyway, ranting and complaining aside, do you have any ideas on how to improve the system? We’ve heard the one about lowering MLA salaries but I’m still not clear on the intended impact.

    • Jason Scott

      Thanks for the comment. Interesting theories and, yes, it’s funny that the “Zalm” is “hopping mad” about a tax increase.

      So…how is there plenty of accountability? Yes many BCers just voted for a party that campaigned on a platform of no new taxes, in particular no HST, and this is what they got.

      I don’t see the connection to accountability. The government lied to the people, implemented a new tax almost no one supports, and there’s nothing the people paying their salaries can do about it. You have a different definition of accountability than I do, Slam.

      And how can you blame voters for a political party doing something they PROMISED not to do?

      I agree that “debate, issues, ideas have all disappeared at these higher levels in favour of slogans and sound-bites” but, again, I don’t see how that’s the fault of voters. They’re not allowed in the debate.

      Parties don’t run substantive campaigns, I agree. Pretty standard stuff these days. But we didn’t consent to it or not consent to it. Just as we can’t demand more. That’s the point: under our system we can’t consent or not consent to things, we can’t demand or not demand anything. We can vote a couple of times a decade. Period.

      That’s just the way our system is. Whether or not you feel people should embrace it, it’s just not happening. As long as elected politicians are under no obligation to represent, listen to, or be honest to The People, voter “apathy” will continue to grow.

      I could certainly go on (and I will) but, I’ll dedicate a new post to that one.

      And yes, of course I have ideas on fixing the system.

      I don’t know about “lowering MLAs salaries.” That’s not something I’ve suggested. I’m not against politicians getting paid fairly. I’m against politicians (and I am one) deciding what they should get paid.

      The solution to fostering some faith in the system and getting people involved is actually giving them an opportunity to be involved. I mean for real. Like allowing people to have a say in some of the decisions to be made. Or stop calling it a Democracy (Pericles is rolling over in his tomb.)

      I’m not talking about going down to the Wal-Mart and asking folks if we should bomb Iran. But, there really are some decisions that The People are capable of making, given the information.

      Here’s an easy one that would get people paying attention and cure low voter turn out overnight: have constituents (the employers) decide if their “representatives” deserve pay raises, based on what they said they would do versus what they’ve done.

      Simple, effective, and realistic. All the things that our beloved system currently ain’t.

      • Slam This

        Pay raises are a red herring. There are millions of more important issues and (more literally) millions of dollars worth of expenditures/decisions that people should be questioning but hey, pay raises are easy to understand and get pissed off about… they distract us from the real issues and ripoffs.

        Should MLA’s get 98,000 or 68,000? (OK, let’s just pretend for a second that you don’t seriously believe it should be even less than this…) The dif for 81 MLAs is about $2.5 million. BC’s budget is, uh (I can’t find the figure), many BILLIONS.

        Regarding accountability, I have to call you on claiming that the Liberal platform said no HST. The Liberal platform said no…thing. And so we gave them a blank cheque. Now they’re spending it. What did we expect? What in their previous record really led you to believe they are trustworthy? What you see is what you get. They’re living up to expectations!

        I’m not angry at them because their behaviour is well-established and predictable by now. Same would go for the other party. I’m also not angry at the people who voted for them (though damn, it’s hard not to be angry at those who voted for them and are now supposedly shocked…)

        And we do consent to it, by not demanding more. The cycle of crapping on “politicians” goes on and on and it’s pretty clear by now that it only amounts to the public abrogating responsibility for a system that belongs to us. We should be telling our representatives how to represent us, yet instead we grant and expect all the power to invisible political operatives and strategists who none of us even know (and certainly didn’t elect). I appreciate that “Bob” posted some articles representing intelligent debate about taxation. Why don’t we hear our politicians having this debate?

        Again, I think the key is having higher representative expectations, so going back to the red herring I actually think higher wages are in fact a bit of a subversive way (well we know it’s not widely popular!) of making elected office more accessible to a wider range of people — which opens up the possibility of more choices and a better talent pool.

        A bright spot in the 2009 election is there is now an indpendent MLA in the legislature who ran on a platform of representing her area/constituents only.

        Now all we need is 84 more of them…

        • Jason Scott

          Well Slam,
          Not to split hairs, but pay raises aren’t a “red herring”. I think you mean to say that there are more important issues, which might be true in a very narrow sense, but the main issue for me is the accountability of those that decide the big issues. There is no bigger issue if you look at the whole picture.

          Having the The People approve or disapprove pay raises would be a step towards real accountability, and would get people involved in a system that most have no faith in.

          It’s an achievable solution to the issue of declining voter turnout and the unwillingness of elected officials to represent their constituents.

          So, what’s your solution, Slam? Criticize any new ideas with a “that will never work” attitude that would make any porch curmudgeon proud? What’s your stake in the status quo?

          I am angry, but not cynical. I have hope and look for solutions. I know that our political systems will eventually become more democratic. But I don’t know when.

          You seem to blame the voters for the decisions of politicians, so tell us what we can do about it. How do we not consent and demand more? How is a system in which the leaders are under no obligation to listen to us “our system?”

          The Liberals lied about the HST, but would you bet the farm that it wouldn’t get implemented had another party been elected? I wouldn’t.

          I’ll have to write another post about your interesting theory positing that higher wages for politicians results in higher quality representation. How’s that working out so far?

          I completely agree that Vicki Huntington’s election is an exciting development. She has said some refreshing things, let’s see what she does.

          • Jason Scott

            Oh, and hopefully the casualties from the upcoming cuts to health care share your view regarding the insignificance of 2.5 million bucks!

  2. "Bob"

    This article, about municipal/local governments being stuck with having to increase taxes (while the higher governments make cuts or tax shifts away from corporations), crumbling infrastructure and increased demands for services—largely because they’ve been abandoned by provincial and federal governments—addresses my main concerns about taxation very well:

    But I see by the comments section that you’ve already read it.

  3. "Bob"

    Here’s a good short article on the actual ISSUE of HST:

    It doesn’t even get into the BC’s other ventures in Reagonomics, including the carbon tax, which replaced both corporate taxes and “progressive” income taxes with a tax that inequitably hits lower-income people (and SMALL business) in rural areas.

  4. Slam This

    Casualties of healthcare are absolutely a perfect example of the impact of $2.5 million. The Health budget is $15 BILLION. $2.5 million is not insignificant, but the point is that it’s not accurate to suggest that this $2.5 million is dragging the whole system down, and necessitating tax hikes and big cuts in other areas.

    This is exactly why I refer to it as a red herring. A truly significant problem today are that the Health Services budget is $15 billion and ballooning, and yet the health authorities are STILL having to make drastic cuts to address major shortfalls. “Casualties,” indeed!

    So MLAs making $68,000 or $98,000 — who cares? The province has some much more critical problems right now. If the alarming shortfalls in health and education (and local government, I would argue—just look at the McArthur piece “Bob” posted) are to be addressed somehow by nickel-and-diming on salaries, the real savings to be had are going to be through the big collective agreements with the public sector unions that come up after the Olympics. Now THIS is going to be a challenge!

    In regards to betting the farm, I wouldn’t either. I think I already said that somewhere: “Same would go for the other party,” I said.

    How’s the higher quality representation working out so far? Extremely well, but it takes time. We had an old-school throwback-type MLA here on the Sunshine Coast not too long ago. He had some well-known business interests in the area and although in this day and age public demand and expectations have certainly cut back on technical conflict of interest (so surely he avoided it, and wasn’t in a decision-making cabinet position anyway), it seems likely that his role as MLA complemented his business interests.

    Yet whenever people tried to contact him as MLA, he wasn’t around, and/or they’d never hear back from him. He had a nickname related to this… Word is that his attendance in the legislature wasn’t great, either, and he CERTAINLY made few contributions to the legislature. Invisible man. But who could blame him? Hey, the man had a business to run!! The MLA wage is merely a supplement to his main source of income…

    Evidently, people had issues with this “throwback” style still happening in the last decade. However going back a couple decades it was the norm and there was a particular party that specialized in it. It culminated, of course, with the party leader and Premier actually utilizing the Legislature as the perfect venue to host and pursue his private business interests! (but hey, now he’s roaring mad about the HST!! the best part about that article was it assured readers his opposition had nothing to do with his family’s businesses—apparently we need to ask this question with some people…)

    So to me the question is what we want out of the position, utimately. So do we want a “representative” kind of person who is going to work their butt off to answer calls, attend events, keep up on all the issues and try to represent 10s of thousands of people and presumably speak for us in Victoria? Yeah, that’s definitely what we want, right? Then they should get paid for it. I also think a “representative” kind of person means pursuing the job needs to be AFFORDABLE. For someone who is making an average wage, for example, why the hell would they want to turn their life upside down, be away from family and home A LOT, work all the time for 50,000 people in order to keep making an average wage? It’s just not viable. Otherwise this person would probably go bankrupt, just as many politicians from working/middle-class backgrounds have in the past.

    That’s why I think there should be fair compensation for our EXPECTATIONS of what we want from an individual representative, not punitive compensation based on what public-opinion-of-the-day thinks of overall government decisions.

    The other model, of course, that went on for most of the history of our government, is that MLAs get small honorariums for spending part of the year (only weeks quite a bit of the time) in the legislature and it was basically expected they’d spend most of the rest of the time making loads of money in other jobs. Sometimes, of course, a government position would greatly aid these private interests, so plenty of industrious people applied. Of course this was virtually an all-male club, too. I’m pretty happy that these days are behind us — so yeah, I’d say it’s going pretty well in the long run.

    Wage changes of course are generally recommended by independent commissions these days. The vote on whether to accept the recommendation NEEDS to be done by the elected representatives themselves or otherwise it simply isn’t democratic. It’s uncomfortable for everyone but that’s why the job is, and is supposed to be, difficult. Damn, if every single MLA (including the New Democrats who eventually opposed the wages after flipflopping all over the place and making sure the most recent poll numbers came in…) could’ve just said “Let’s just give the independent commission AUTHORITY to evaluate and set our wages,” I have no doubt they would’ve. But that’s not possible in democratic government. It’s an abrogation of elected responsibility to give an independent commission a blank cheque. It’s certainly not logically possible, probably not legally possible… The elected people would’ve at least needed to give them a budget to work within, and then there ya go again, you’re approving your own wage.

    Perhaps your idea is that wages should be set by referendum? That would be pretty unfair, as people running for office would have no assurance that on the very same ballot, people who are angry at the world aren’t going to cut their compensation down to $459.50/per year. They’d have to resign the day after being elected because the job isn’t economically feasible.

    Personally, I don’t think politician compensation is an important enough issue to me to warrant an involved (and no doubt expensive) public consultation and referendum process. There are much bigger issues that are more directly responsible for all the things that make you angry.

    My own ideas warrant another blog. I only post on this one to try to get some good ideas out of you. But unfortunately you’ve already announced your next post will be another rant about politicians’ wages (gee, ya don’t think you’ve covered the subject enough by now?).

    • Jason Scott

      So, politicians give themselves big, fat pay raises for THE GOOD OF THE PEOPLE! Such altruism!

      I’m beginning to think “Slam This” isn’t you’r real name. Is that you, Gordo?

      Well, it’s a bold argument to make and I appreciate the rhetoric–it sparks debate and debate is always a good thing. But you can’t just continue to make outrageous claims without any kind of support. As I’ve said before, saying something doesn’t make it true.

      So, before I wade into your latest theories, you need to answer the question I posed previously:

      You blame the voters for the decisions of politicians because they (voters) “consent” to it and don’t “demand more.”

      So, how do we do that?

  5. Pingback: HST: think, don’t speak « Politics and Foreign Affairs

    • Jason Scott

      Well, duh.

      No one does anything for no reason. That doesn’t mean they’re good reasons.

      Anyway, I guess you didn’t read or understand the post, but I stated I wasn’t weighing in on the long term value of the HST.

      I’m more interested in the big picture; namely our system of government that allows politicians to mislead voters repeatedly with no real accountability.

      The HST is just a recent example of politicians blatantly ignoring the platforms they spouted to get elected. But, there are hundreds or thousands of examples.

      I’m not particularly anti-Liberal, either. Again, in the big picture, all the parties have made similar moves.

      However, since you apparently think it’s a good idea, how come there isn’t a consensus among your fellow economists that this is the best decision at this time?

  6. What is wrong...

    …and totally contradictory and hypocritical, was illustrated clearly on CKNW yesterday.

    And I AM addressing this whole issue of public expectations and how people (maybe encouraged by the media, who know there is more money to be made this way) prefer spectacle and attacking individual politicians to good, sound government.

    The interviewer asks Carole James whether she would cancel the HST if elected *4 YEARS* from now. She talks around this question, saying that she wants to cancel it now so that BC doesn’t even end up with an HST in 4 years. This only prompts the question to be asked again, and then twice more by enraged callers who insist on a “yes or no answer” and imply she is being dishonest and sleazy, etc.

    And while overall she had a good interview (much better than usual), the way she didn’t answer this question made her seem weak. And of course it angered callers. It seemed like the kind of thing that may have angered the author of this blog.

    Which is EXACTLY why this approach of politician-hating-and-baiting is so hypocritical and detrimental.

    Why? Because obviously the correct answer, the popular answer, the answer that would’ve given her a nice bump in the polls, would’ve been “Yes, I will cancel the HST when I become premier in 2013!” [And meanwhile we all feel very satisfied with ourselves into forcing her into some commitment 4 years down the road.]

    So of course, this is the answer we want her to make, and she gets dragged over the coals for not answering the question.

    But although politically popular, the answer we want is totally irresponsible. For one, how can she answer a question on what she will do 4 years down the road when who knows what the economic or political circumstances will be then… Two, economically, it is totally nuts for a government to be revamping its tax system every few years—the negatives would surely outweigh positives. BC would suffer dearly from messing around with its taxation system so much but why would a radio commentator care? Three, she has no idea what the deal is with the federal government. BC accepts $1.6 billion in transition funds for the HST, only to get rid of it again 3 years after it’s implemented? Sounds pretty unlikely. If this scenario is even possible, it seems the best case would be the Feds holding back $1.6 billion in transfer payments in 2013, which would sink Ms. James’ hypothetical government before it finishes its first year of office. Four, kill the HST in 2013 to replace the needed revenue with what? Back to the PST? Is that what people would want in 2013? This question is just way too hypothetical.

    The question is unfair. But she didn’t answer it the way we wanted, so we crucify her. The hypocrisy is that if she DID give us the answer we wanted to hear, this is just the same as pre-election Campbell telling us the deficit would be only $495 million, or saying he wouldn’t implement an HST… Of course for “lying” (to quote this blog), he was rewarded by an election win.

    And so, we want and constantly encourage politicians to lie to us. When they won’t lie, like Ms. James, we get even angrier at them than when they do. When they don’t lie, they don’t win — the electorate always punishes them. When they do lie we reward them, then maybe go through the charade of being angry when to our supposed shock we realize they lied to us. But of course this can always be repaired in time with another set of well-timed lies, once everyone has forgotten about the last ones.

    So yes, the system sucks. But I think the biggest problem with it is that the people who seem to think they have the biggest beefs with the system are also the ones who are most responsible for perpetuating it.

  7. freemarker

    Star Wars – Luke and Obiwan discuss dark side of the HST

  8. The citizens of Gardner, KS are currently working to recall two members of their City Council. The recall is tied up in the courts at the moment, but it should go to a vote in March of 2010.

    • Jason Scott

      Good for you!

      I don’t know the specifics of your situation or the city councillors in question, but I love to see citizens utilizing the meager tools available in holding politicians accountable.

      I will check out your information and look forward to the results.

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