With an ongoing recall campaign and a proposed referendum in September of this year, the HST has the potential to be one of the top stories of 2011 as well as 2010. The tax shift led to the premier’s resignation in 2010, and will be one of the most important issues in the upcoming BC Liberal leadership convention. The HST was an issue that rallied together working class British Columbians against pro-business tax policy and almost a decade of cuts to social programs.
The Fight HST movement engaged people across the province, upset by the fact that the BC Liberals campaigned against the tax in April 2009 only to go-ahead with it a week after the election.
The Liberals first claimed that the people just didn’t see the benefits. But the more Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen talked, the more clear it became that their lie was deliberate, and that the the HST shifted burden from large corporations to working people.
The campaign against the tax began with over 1500 volunteers collecting signatures in April of 2010. Volunteers waived signs, canvassed, and collected signatures for five months in order to meet the strict BC Elections requirements for petitions. In total, more than 700,000 voters signed the petition. The moment will go down in the books as the first successful attempt at forcing a referendum in B.C. history.
For their part, the BC Liberals worked with their friends at the BC Chamber of Commerce and large extractive corporations to unsuccessfully challenge the Fight HST referendum in court. Hoping to wait out the crisis, the Liberals announced that the forced referendum wouldn’t be held until fall 2011. But polls showed that people didn’t forget the betrayal, with Campbell’s approval rating falling below 10% by the time he was forced to resign on Nov 3rd 2010.
The tax has been haunting the BC Liberal leadership race. The primary strategy for candidates over the past month has been to distance themselves from the HST. Because the entire Liberal party (except one, who quit) supported the HST resolution, it will be hard for its new leader to pass the blame for the HST onto Gordon Campbell. Political parties in the past have tried, unsuccessfully, to distance themselves from their record by placing blame on an unpopular party leader.
Despite their efforts at apologies and appeasement of the electorate on the HST, many of the BC Liberal leadership candidates are already making compromises. Kevin Falcon is proposing a cut to the HST, claiming he still believes it’s the “right policy” for BC. Christy Clark has proposed a free vote on the issue in the Legislative Assembly. The HST has already been passed through three free votes. Her campaign has already been marred by her not-forgotten political history and she will likely have as hard a time distancing herself from Campbell as any candidate. Her last four years in politics were spent as his Deputy-Premier.
A binding referendum on the HST is to be held on September 24th, 2011. Currently, a citizens’ initiative to recall Liberal MLAs who were most supportive of the tax is underway, and will likely keep the HST in the news and on people’s minds for months to come.
Image by flickr user burgundavia.