Kevin Falcon held his nose and introduced the B.C. Liberal government’s plan to re-introduce the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) this week, saying he thinks it’s “stupid” to do so but that the government had no choice but to honour the will of British Columbia voters in last summer’s referendum on the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
It’s truly a no-win situation for he and his party, which is dropping like a rock in the polls a year before the next provincial election.
Yes, Falcon and Premier Christy Clark are honouring their pledge, following up on the 55 per cent anti-HST vote with a plan that would see them re-implement the old, 7 per cent PST on April 1, 2013 — just as the campaign for the May 14 election gets underway. And yes, they’re bringing the tax back more or less intact — with the previous exemptions on such items as bicycles, restaurant meals, bicycles, gym memberships and haircuts, for example — as before. They say they’re even making the PST easier for businesses to administer than it was before they brought in the HST on July 1, 2010.
Unless something changes drastically between now and then, though, we think the PST’s re-introduction at that strategic moment will only serve to remind voters of the biggest gaffe of the Liberals’ 12-year reign — announcing the HST only a month after a 2009 election in which it was not even a whispered campaign issue. That, much more than any real or perceived pros or cons of the tax itself, is why a majority voted against it.
Any reminder of that boo-boo — even if it takes the form of approaching voters, hats in hand and saying, “Sorry, we goofed” — only plays into the opposition’s hands.
Last May, when the Liberals pledged to “fix” the HST by reducing the tax by two cents, providing “transition cheques” to families and seniors and raising corporate taxes by two per cent, if voters chose to retain it, they may well have dug their own grave. Why? Well, as this writer opined back then, “In announcing the ‘fix’… Falcon is essentially acknowledging that earlier government promises about the HST’s effects were inaccurate — but not to worry, because we’re going to fix it. Again, the government’s credibility suffers. They’ll say anything to win our support… um, won’t they?”
Sure, other factors will come into play when the 2013 election rolls around. But to this writer’s way of thinking, the Clark government’s seemingly irreversible decline in opinion polls that our unelected premier has lost the trust of the electorate — and that the HST was, and is still, the watershed issue. The only questions are: How far will they fall and which opposition party will reap the greatest benefits at the polls?
— David Burke