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.


  1. Great post but I'd like to offer a rebuttal on one of your points. You mentioned "that reversing the HST would be hugely expensive, and that the governments will still be taking from us VATs."

    Let's just do some simple math here. The HST is admittedly taking an additional $2.8 B (billion) dollars out of consumers pockets EVERY year. The government has admitted this fact, it is freely available knowledge. EVERY year the HST is raking $2,800,000,000 from consumers wallets in BC.

    The federal government bribed the Campbell administration a one-time $1.6B payout for implementing the HST back in 2009. The province has spent approximately half of this money (as far as we have been told).

    Now, the provincial government has been warning us with a wagging finger that if we extinguish the HST and go back to the GST/PST scenario, we will have to pay back the $1.6 B to the federal government. They are trying to make this sound impossible and crazy, telling us that it's going to cost more than if we simply keep the HST. It doesn't take someone with higher than Grade 5 Math to understand this this is a lie.

    Let's say we reverse the HST. Sorry Ottawa, we don't like having your two hands and two feet and dirty little tail in all our pockets, get out. Here's your money back, we've got approx. $800,000,000 for you right now and we'll pay back the remaining $800 M over the next 3 years at 0% interest. Done deal, we go back to paying 5% GST on everything and an additional 7% PST on some things.

    Scenario B: We decide to keep the HST. Yay, we've got $800 M left in the cookie jar to pay for the new BC Place Roof and continue paying interest on the mortgage payments for the failed Olympic Village in Vancouver. I mean really, it's only fair that the rest of the province pony up for the monumental mistakes of Vancouver City. Oh and the cost of the HST, well let's just calculate it for the next 10 years (even though it will continue indefinitely unless someone grows a pair). Okay, so it's costing consumers an additional $2.8B per year, times 10 years will mean that in 2020 the HST will have cost BC an ADDITIONAL $28,000,000,000 (28B) in taxes, that will go directly to Ottawa.

    So tell me, how can anyone say that getting rid of the HST will cost us more than if we keep it? It's a lie!

    Here's another math equation, real simple:

    We used to pay 5% on everything (GST) and 7% on some things. So yes, for a few items we'd pay 12% tax anyways. Now we pay 12% on virtually everything, and from the research done by market analysts that works out to an additional 20% goods and services.

    BUT WAIT! Didn't you hear the news that they are going to drop the HST to 10%??? Sure, I'll believe that when I see it. The government also promised that the HST was not even on the table during the 2009 election, that promise didn't last very long after they took another majority. But first, back to my point.

    Spend $1000 on kids clothes, health supplements, vitamins, and a round of golf. HST at 10% costs you $100. Total cost, $1100.

    Spend $1000 on kids clothes, health supplements, vitamins and a round of golf. GST at 5% costs you $50. Total cost, $1050.

    Don't believe the lies, this tax will cost us more than we can ever imagine, for the rest of our lives.

  2. Anonymous, thank you for your excellent response! A perfectly argued rebuttal. I was lazily following the official party line, a line I didn't particularly believe but hadn't taken the time to research its fallacy. Again, thank you for your cogent and valid argument.