Read our lips: 'no new taxes' -

Read our lips: ‘no new taxes’

A swelling grassroots revolt against the province’s HST has Gordon Campbell fighting for his political life



It should have been Gordon Campbell’s victory lap. In nine years, the three-term premier has led B.C. from “have-not” federal laughingstock to top of the national class. His province, humming along in the Olympic afterglow, added some 13,000 jobs in April and, last week, declared the recession over. The mining sector is reporting near-record profits, and the province is leading the country in housing starts—up 37 per cent so far this year. Even sawmills are opening again after prolonged shutdowns.

The fate of B.C.’s premier has not, however, gone the way of those band saws. Campbell is facing the fight of his political life: a grassroots revolt over the harmonized sales tax, which takes effect July 1. At last count, opposition in B.C. topped a staggering 85 per cent. Far from enjoying a post-Olympics polling bounce, Campbell has snatched the worst disapproval rating among premiers: 61 per cent, higher than any of B.C.’s nine previous premiers. And these aren’t even the numbers keeping provincial Liberals up at night. A petition to repeal the 12 per cent tax—led by a curious alliance of small-business, small-government and low-income groups—has hit the minimum 10 per cent threshold in all but two of B.C.’s 85 ridings. With six weeks to go in a 13-week campaign, success, which could trigger a referendum over the HST, seems likely. A half-million British Columbians have already signed up—a third as many who voted last May.

By and large, Liberal wounds are self-inflicted, says University of British Columbia political scientist Allan Tupper. The HST wasn’t up for consideration, the government had always said. Days after the last election, however, it announced the blended tax, and later shut down legislative debate. Campbell’s surprise reversal erased any hope of justifying a $2-billion tax shift from business to recession-weary consumers, unleashing public backlash and a blast from B.C.’s political past: former Socred premier Bill Vander Zalm—who held the provincial reins for a single, disastrous term. Nelson Wiseman, who teaches politics at the University of Toronto, pins the rest on B.C.’s “dramatic, often surrealistic and frankly loopy” political culture. Beyond its populist strain and disdain for elites, B.C. is also the only province with workable recall and referendum laws on the books, adds Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the Mowat Centre, a Toronto think tank.

So what next? For the Liberals, the time for easy outs has passed. Wherever the chips may fall, the petition will go down as the biggest direct action in B.C. history, says polling expert Richard Johnston, who teaches at UBC. Government, he adds, ignores the people’s will at its peril. Campbell could stall the question in committee or the courts but if he doesn’t reverse course, Vander Zalm’s anti-HST movement is planning a recall initiative targeting the premier and his most vulnerable deputies—MLAs like Richard Lee, who won Burnaby North by a mere 500 votes. Turfing a sitting MLA is a lot harder than succeeding in a petition initiative. Canvassers would need to collect 40 per cent of the names on the voters roll and would only have two months in which to do it. They will, however, have a head start: 6,000 battle-tested petition canvassers. And right now, another lightning rod for Liberal resentment is the last thing Campbell can balance.

“In all my time in public life,” Campbell, who was also a three-term Vancouver mayor, recently admitted, “I’ve never had as difficult a year as this.” Adding to his woes, solicitor general Kash Heed resigned amid scandal and his chief of staff and top political adviser spent last week being hammered on the witness stand in the B.C. Rail corruption trial, involving allegations of fraud and breach of trust against three former Liberal staffers. The grim spectacle will continue for at least six weeks.

For the premier, the accumulated baggage of nine years in power may prove too much, says pollster Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Strategies. Polling data puts the NDP at 47 per cent, and Campbell’s Liberals at 29 per cent, a 17 per cent slide since the last election. And a core of voters will never vote for Campbell again, adds Simon Fraser University political scientist Marjorie Cohen. To Canseco, new leadership may be the only way for Liberals to escape their plunging fortunes. It wouldn’t be the ending anyone would have ever imagined for Campbell, one of the province’s most successful premiers. Then again, as Wiseman might say, this is B.C.

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Read our lips: ‘no new taxes’

  1. Odd that BC residents are hyperventilating about the HST. Campbell has drastically lowered taxes in BC, and this, on its own, constitutes a small increase. Ontarians are grumbling, but I expect they'll be over it fairly quickly.

    • Campbell wasn't selling the BC Rail either. The BC Liberal Government are a litany of lies, deceit, broken promises, arrogance, DUI's, and every vile name in the book, suits them. Perhaps, he shouldn't have been such an asshole, he could have kept the citizens supporting him. But as a dictator, he's lost us. The one and only good thing he's done is, the Liberal Party will have a hell of a time, trying to get back into BC. We are not going to forget, nor forgive his treachery, ever.

  2. We are not hyperventilating about the HST here in BC. We don't like being out and out lied to by our politicians. Campbell and Co said there was no time to consult with us before instituting the HST after assuring us for 7 years that it was a bad tax and they weren't contemplating it. Even the previous Finance Minister said that. Three days after the election they are in dicussion with the Feds to finalize it. C'mon. How stupid do you think voters are? And, Mr. Harper, you are not off the hook either. You bribed a government desperate for money due to mismanagement with our own tax dollars. We won't forget that.

  3. Andrew – that's the point isn't it? Tax reductions have led to bigger deficits. Now the government wants to fund another tax break for corporations through increased taxes on individuals. Plus as Cheryl points out, it was done without consultation and after years of saying the HST does not make sense.

  4. Odd that a small percentage of people are ok with handing over provincial taxes to the federal government for them to give back to us at their discretion, losing hundreds of millions in provincial money each year. It's also odd that people are supporting a tax that will punish 78 percent of business in BC, and reward companies that are already recording record profits. It's also odd to say that 100,000 new jobs will be created by 2020, yet we stand to lose much more than that in the service industry (which makes up the 78 percent of bc business). Odd once again, is wanting to financially punish customers with the most basic necessities (Heat, electricity, used clothes, used cars, etc.)

  5. Perhaps if the national media started reporting on the runaway cronyism and corruption within the BC government and its current liberal masters we wouldn't be so far down that road and everybody could prosper from regardless of who is in power favouralble commodity prices. As much as Campbell and his supporters would like to take credit for positive economic growth they are not responsible for global commodity prices, or were they responsible for the meltdown that resulted from think tank economists and their weird ideas? His low ratings are his own fault and perhaps by listening to voters and his MLAs he might have held onto some respect, but when we see how incestuous the relationships are between liberal supporters and campaign mystery men, his ratings will only get worse. And we haven't even touched on natural gas subsidies yet.

  6. Campbell jumped into this HST for the $1.6 Billion bribe from Harper…simple as that.He wanted to cover the big deficit he failed to tell us about at election time and saw the bribe as an easy way out. He was not hinking of the people of BC, only of saving his own face.
    The right thing for Campbell to do now is reverse course, appologize to the people of BC and then resign.

  7. HST in itself is NOT the issue here— The scandals, crony-ism, misplaced priorities, and most importantly-blatant dishonesty prior to and during the last election campaign are the driving force behind the petitions….
    The premier assumed all would be forgiven before the next election in 3 years—but the accumulated weight of distrust has become too great ..
    BTW. We also resent comments by Toronto centered pundits describing our politics as "loopy" etc…
    "Loopy" is when the electorate accepts dishonesty (as well as the expected ego maniacal incompetence) from its elected representatives in bovine manner. What sort of non "loopy" political participation does Mr. Wiseman recommend to his classes at U of T?

  8. "Nelson Wiseman, who teaches politics at the University of Toronto, pins the rest on B.C.'s “dramatic, often surrealistic and frankly loopy” political culture. " – I agree we dont need Toronto (centre of the universe ) pundits, who dont live here, pronouncing on our politics as if they know the situation better than ourselves -the people who live here.
    and as guest above says it is the lying scandals crony-ism and misplaces priorities that have really hit the mark . But sadly I dont think it has become "too great" – People here have VERY SHORT memories. gordo, has won every election handily and each one has been followed immediatelyafterwards by scandal and nasty authoritairan dictator-type decisions of one kind or another. Yet he is still re-elected. . This is not a democracy in BC, hasn't been since his first election. Its a one man dictator ship, and yet he is re-elected time and again. Its incredibly sad- and scary. I predict he will be re-elected in 2013, he has already said he will run again – and tragicallypeople will forget. -He's counting on that.
    as for recall-not much chance they will manage to recall him from his tony point grey riding. that's a waste of time. they 'd be better off to go for smaller fish where the margins are closer.

  9. The HST, was specifically designed for big business. Banks, huge corporations, gas and oil company's, are given millions of our tax dollars. They get huge tax reductions and, now the HST to boot. The HST has been forced onto the very people who can't afford to pay. Campbell is a dictator, one who lied, deceived, broke promises, convicted of a DUI, stealing our assets and selling them to his business buddies, destroyed this province financially, has outrageous expenses, his security bill is the highest in Canada, allowing children to live in poverty, cheated to win his false election. He should never be addressed as premier, his dirty tactics prove that. He was in a position of trust, and abused that trust. Campbell is the one who fraudulently sold the BC Rail, however, the 3 patsies, will go to prison and, Campbell will walk away with his $2 million a year pension. After all, he said the BC Rail wasn't for sale, just like the HST wasn't on his radar either. The BC Rail, was a money maker, my brother worked for that rail road. Now, if you or I committed the crimes that Campbell has, we would be doing time. It is said, Campbell controls the Judicial System, a lot of the media, and the RCMP. The fact that justice will be done to Campbell, is remote. He isn't known as, Scampbell for nothing, nor the Lieberals either. How many Liberal Ministers, have been under investigation now? I have lost count. BC is a cesspool of corruption. Campbell, has further plans to destroy the rest of the province, by polluting, our rivers, lakes, land, sea and air. The people of Prince George, were knowingly left to breathe, poisoned air. Campbell and Hansen, have to scurry around like rats, to plug all the holes, where the truth may leak out. Those two, are worse than Hitler and his propaganda minister.