Friday, July 22, 2011

2011.07.22 — To HST or to Not HST? Is that the democratic question...

We here in the peculiar province of Canada officially advertised as 'beautiful' and known as British Columbia, are participating in an odd democratic process.

We have been given the choice of voting 'Yes' to say 'No' to keeping the latest version of our provincial & federal governments' value added taxing (VAT) system. This backward option is being touted by our political elites and their media lackeys as a sign of living in a healthy democracy.

But I wonder if it is really democracy or a kind of anti-democratic sleight-of-hand masking a deep seated condescension and manipulation of we, the demos.

Quick recap: our previous premier, Gordon Campbell with his house majority, went behind closed doors to sign an agreement with the federal government — which right now pretty much means Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his pro-America, pro-corporatist and largely anti-social and anti-democratic and anti-Canadian policies — to combine the provincial and federal VATs. The lack of media discussion about his progressing with this strikes me as suspiciously like collusion, but perhaps Campbell kept his plans from leaking. (For sure, the media has been hard on selling its supposed business benefits, and soft selling the opposite.)

When Campbell announced the HST with bells, whistles, and promises of economic manna from heaven for business, there was a huge public back lash. And with the co-ordinating efforts of a previous premier, Bill Vander Zalm, the media's defense of the HST could not quell the anger before it lead Campbell to resign for his having broken the public's trust in him. (Of course, since then he has been appointed by Harper's government to the cushiest political post Canada has to offer a non-elected citizen: ambassador to Britain, with large remuneration and big perks, on top of his already substantial government pension.)

The newly elected premier, one Christy Clark, as part of her campaign promised to give us, the citizens, the opportunity to expunge the HST in a referendum to be held shortly after her election.

This is that referendum.

Of course, leading up to it the government has been spending significant sums of money buying from the media the space and time to tell us with propagandized jubilation how wonderful it is — or is going to be. The business coalitions have mostly, albeit not unanimously, been spending money telling us how good it is. And who is spending money for those of us grunty workers, who are relatively atomized and unfunded, to publicly argue its demerits?

Thus it strikes me that referenda, which by a kind of unspoken necessity 'need' to be run via the media, are of extremely questionable democratic value: those with the money purchase their message. And when they are the ones who own the media, the opportunity is slight that contrary opinions will be expressed through mainstream media. No wonder the business world would like to see governance by referenda: they have the means and access to sell it as democratic, and reap its rewards!

In talking with some of my co-workers, they are mostly resigned to accepting the argument that reversing the HST would be hugely expensive, and that the governments will still be taking from us VATs. So it would be prudent to not cut of our noses to spite our faces.

And I cannot argue against that rationale, expect to say that that is undoubtedly why Campbell and Harper signed it into existence without a democratic process: condescendingly shove it down our throats for our own good, instead of trusting our intelligence to make that decision after a reasoned, democratic argument. This is an MBA style of governance, in that it bypasses democratic input from the rabble for the better good of the shareholders. Unfortunately, government has ceased attending to governance of the many as it kowtows to its corporate owners.

So, I will be voting "Yes" to say "No" to the HST in defence of democracy. I have chosen not to be bullied by my government acting as an agent for corporate interests, regardless the financial cost. When all that has value in a choice is the monetary cost, then that is when the society has devolved truly to mere oligarchic tyranny.