Cleaning Up Gordon Campbell’s Mess

Christy ClarkAccording to every poll and every projection by every firm and every commentator, Christy Clark and her Liberal Party are about to be handed an unbalanced ass-whooping of the sort we British Columbians seem to enjoy dishing out to governing parties once every decade or so. Naturally, when this happens, I will be singing and dancing as much as the next person. But allow me to qualify my unencumbered joy thusly:

The impending Liberal defeat is not Christy Clark’s fault.

Well, not primarily. She certainly hasn’t helped. “Ethnicgate” does not reflect well on the Clark government, but this present ordeal is not particularly different from the “very ethnic” mini-scandal that failed to put a dent in the Harper Conservatives during the last federal election. People are outraged at the BC Liberals now because we were already predisposed to feel outraged. “Ethnicgate” provided a focus for what was always there.

So why don’t we like the Liberals? All arrows point to Gordon Campbell, that ghostly spectre whose past misdeeds will no doubt haunt the upcoming campaign. Clark is simply paying for her predecessor’s mistakes, and while she has committed her own fair share of blunders along the way, not even the charismatic lovechild of Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama could have prevented the SS Gordo from sinking. The Liberal Party’s fate was permanently sealed one summer day in 2009 — only two months after the last election — when the Campbell government announced its plan to introduce the dreaded HST.

Let me qualify my point once more. The Harmonized Sales Tax, which will finally meet its end next week, is not all bad. Nor is the old Provincial Sales Tax, which will replace it, all good. As far as consumption taxes go, value added taxes like the HST are undoubtedly more efficient than cascading taxes like the PST. And it may even be the case that businesses would have passed on all their HST savings to consumers through lower prices — eventually. (But then why was the business community so in love with the HST? Never mind.)

So what is wrong with the HST? I can’t speak for all British Columbians. Surely, the sneaky, underhanded way in which the government introduced the tax plays a big part in explaining why people don’t like it, and understandably so.

As for me personally, the main reason I signed the anti-HST initiative and voted against the new tax in the subsequent referendum is that I am not a fan of broad-based consumption taxes in general — be they HST, PST, or GST. Such taxes are notorious for taking a bigger bite out of the incomes of the poor than the rich. And while I realize that it is unrealistic to eliminate both the HST and the PST all at once, I came to the conclusion during the HST debate that the only proposal I could support would be a conscious effort to shift taxes incrementally away from consumption and towards more sensible tax bases. In other words, lower the sales tax — whatever form it takes — and recoup lost revenue by raising income taxes, corporate taxes, or carbon taxes (a more targeted consumption tax).

Of course, neither the Campbell nor the Clark Liberals gave any indication that they were willing to engage in a profound conversation of this nature. All I can do is hope that the incoming NDP government will be more open to such an exercise. In the meantime, I happily count down to election day and await the long overdue demise of the Campbell era — more than two years after he stepped down as Premier.

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