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HST controversy to die a quiet death

Remember the HST? You do. You’re paying it, everyday, on everything aside from what the provincial government (technically speaking, the federal government) deems not to be essential goods and services. You remember it, but you’re still paying for it, albeit grudgingly, like most if not all British Columbians. People are soldiering on with a little less.

While there remains simmering resentment at the daily pinch of a new and very apparent tax, there is not the mass protesting and resentment. Only a modest sector of Anti-HST activists and politicians remain committed to bringing down the tax - a task which, if you ask a constitutional lawyer, will inevitably require several agonizing rounds of litigation. The cases will wind their way through BC’s superior and appellate courts, and, some day, just might make it to the Supreme Court of Canada. By then, years will have passed and people will care even less. The HST, by then, could quite possibly achieve a level of untouchable political and fiscal necessity.

For now, while there court challenges and counter-challenges remain on the books, the public, political debate has ostensibly moved on. Local and national news cycles have jettisoned the story. Even the B.C. Liberals, once mortified at their pre-election faux pas and the subsequent tsunami of public anger leading up to the July 1st implementation, are now cancelling plans for a crash public relations campaign extolling the virtues of the HST. (This was after (!) the literature was ordered and printed). The Liberals made what will probably be an apt judgement: the fury at the HST burnt itself out. Anti-HST momentum has waned from the furor it was in July. Apathy, the subterranean villain of all grassroots causes, has crept into deeper into B.C. politics.

One can only speculate why exactly. Perhaps it is simple as the fact that summer finally arrived, allowing people to get their minds off it. But more likely was the inherent timeline of the controversy seems to have lent itself to fading away. Bill Zander-Valm’s petition was filed with triumphant finality. Then the tax came on July 1st. Then what? Nothing. Two headline grabbing news stories, complete with follow-ups and reactions, melted into where we are now: two court challenges and a nascent political challenge in the B.C. legislature from the petition (which is being held back by one of the challenges). Since one can only write so much about how much people hate paying taxes, the only stories out there are the incepient legislative and judicial bureaucratic battles  - both non-starters without some results.

So the HST remains hated, but since it is now installed without a quick or painless remedy, the hate digs in on to the origins of the controversy: the B.C. Liberals. The Liberals are teetering on political cardiac arrest. They trail the three-time political losers, the NDP, by 23 points according to a recent Angus-Ried poll. Three years is a long time in politics, but with the same cabinet and with Gordon Campbell still holding on like Captain Ahab, it will take a lot to turn things around. Barring a new cabinet, a new premier (perhaps the resurrection of the cool-as-a-cucumber Carol Taylor?), and a slate of new policies to turn British Columbians around, the BC Liberals will be in opposition in three years time.

While the Liberals probably won’t be around in government in three years, the HST will quite likely still be alive and kicking. The NDP ran a lacklustre anti-HST campaign, deferring to the grassroots leaders. They will ride the wave of ‘least worst option’ to Victoria. Once there however, they will find it tragically inconvenient to reverse three years of rather efficient and business friendly taxation. Like the Liberals in the 1993 general election, who railed against Brian Mulroney’s GST but let sleeping dogs lie thereafter, the BC NDP will find it financially expedient to, in effect, take the HST money and run. At most then, the political recriminations of the HST will die with the Liberals next election hopes.

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