Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who wants to run the HST Yes campaign?

I'm on the record as believing the HST is the right policy for British Columbia (and Ontario and elsewhere), despite the flawed implementation on the left coast. However, with the tide of anger against the HST in B.C. seeming to make its defeat in a referendum next fall almost inevitable, I support Christy Clark's proposal to put the HST to another vote in the legislature in the spring, which could see the HST killed sooner. My feeling is if the public will is clear, government should listen instead of prolonging the issue unnecessarily.

Just how clear the public mood is on the HST is becoming increasingly, well, unclear. New polling from Angus Reid indicates the HST's defeat in a referendum may no longer be the slam-dunk fait accompli it once seemed.
As the weeks progress, support for abolishing the harmonized sales tax (HST) continues to erode. More than half of British Columbians (54%) would still vote to extinguish the HST, but support is down 10 points since early December. One third of BC residents (35%, +5) would cast a ballot to keep the HST, while 11 per cent are undecided.
While women continue to support abandoning the HST by an almost 2-to-1 margin, the race has tightened considerably among men (48% would extinguish it, 42% would keep it).
The one key change from early December is the erosion of support for the abolition of the HST. Men and respondents in affluent households are slowly coming on board with the idea that the tax should be kept, so the final decision on whether to proceed with a free vote in the Legislative Assembly—or hold the referendum at an earlier date—will be particularly important for whoever becomes British Columbia’s 35th Premier.
There was another recent poll that showed a strong desire from a lot of BCers for more information on the HST ahead of the referendum, which would seem to indicate both that people are becoming more engaged, and that they're not satisfied with the information they've gotten on sales tax harmonization from either the government, the media, or the anti-HST campaigners.

While the polling shows an erosion of anti-HST sentiment and appears to show a referendum could be winnable, and certain members of the punditry and academia are shaming the political class for backing down from the fight, I would strike one major note of caution to those who think the HST could survive a referendum.

I was talking to a politically astute friend from the left coast last week, and he raised a very good point I haven't heard discussed elsewhere: even if the polling is close, get out the vote would be a nightmare for the HST yes campaign.

Let's remember that we're not talking about a referendum in conjunction with a general election here. We're talking about a standalone referendum on the HST. Voter turnout is going to be a challenge for each side, as they try to motivate people to take time out of their lives to vote in a referendum. It will all be about get out the vote (GOTV).

While it may be getting close to 50-50 in polling, answering the vote or a web panel is one thing, and physically going to cast a ballot is quite another. When it comes to motivation to go out and vote, it's fair to conclude though that the anti-HST crowd has an advantage. If you think the HST is an evil tax increase that costs you money, you're motivated to go vote. If you think harmonization is sound fiscal policy, the impetus to vote is a little lower.

The problem is that the HST's impact on the street creates a more natural anti-HST constituency. You see it at the till, it hits you when you buy a house. The negatives are visible. The positives are less visible and more abstract. The most immediate benefit is for business owners in reduction of bookeeping and other expenses; business owners are fewer in number than the public at large. And the benefit for the public, more competitive businesses creating more jobs, is less visible and hard to link directly to sales tax haronization.

There's also the question of who will step up and run the HST Yes campaign. The No side is clearly defined. The government's role is limited by legislation, leaving it to business to step up, or not.

Point being, despite agreeing with the policy, and even with the tightening polling, I wouldn't envy the task facing the Yes to HST campaign team. It may be a fight worth fighting in the abstract, but on the ground, with the GOTV challenge it seems more than a little hopeless.

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Kim said...

Did you just say you support Christy Clark? All I can say is I'm glad you are in Toronto! The reason the HST is so hard to sell to the public is the inconvenient truth that there is no benefit to the people of BC. And don't start with your trickle down economic rhetoric.

Oh, and Merry Holiday or whatever...

Kim said...

Gawd, I sound like a bitch. I really mean it when I said, Happy Holidays. Thank you for your contribution to my reading list Jeff. Peace to you and your special people this winter.

Please be aware that the Liberal Party in BC has been co-opted by the forces of evil and the HST is a taxgrab to make the middle class engineer it's own destruction.

WesternGrit said...

Kim... I think you need a wee bit of an economics lesson... "Trickle down" is the bastion of conservative economics. It is about free enterprise capitalism running wild, and letting the "spin-offs" slowly trickle down to the "commoners".

The HST has no option BUT to help BCers. Oh, I hear the rhetoric from the really loud anti-tax lobby... so vehement that they've terrorized anyone who thinks the tax is a good idea.

Seriously though, the HST puts lost revenue back in the governments coffers for things like schools, hospitals, roads, ferries, etc. Stuff that most of us can't afford "on our own"... (although I think some taxophobes feel they can build their own hospitals and highways.. maybe we just rope off an area of the province for them?).

Trickle-down simply DOES NOT WORK. Publicly administered funds ensure funding gets to the public, and doesn't just line the pockets of the rich 5% who control 95% of the economy.

If taxes are really so bad, why don't just stop paying ALL TAXES in one jurisdiction for a while and see how they perform?

Cities, nations, and societies developed when social groups (clans, large families) decided to come together to barter, and realized that they could pool their creativity, and pool their funds to build something permanent and sustainable, that ensured the whole clan benefited. The Adam Smith philosophy goes against the very heart of human civilization...

marie said...

Kim, I am a BC resident for the past 45 years and I simply do not agree with you. This campaign on the HST is an NDP campaign to have Carole James elected premier of BC and there’s no doubt about that whatsoever but it seems it hasn't worked quite the way she had expected. How Van Zam ever got caught up on this is beyond me. The very person who scammed BC for his Fantasy Garden was not elected again because of that.

The NDP have never said what they would do to reverse the HST nor would they know how. We all know by now that the HST pay back to the Federal government will cost the tax payers a lot more than having the HST reversed if it is even possible which will eventually rid the provincial tax so what’s wrong with that. I have to agree that BC'ers were not given enough information on this tax and also that the FED Cons were the ones who dreamt that tax up and paid the two provinces who were running a deficit a way out of increasing taxes to make up for the short fall. Tell me Kim, the past two years have seen BC burning and that has contributed a great deal to the deficit and regardless who was the governing premier in BC, the results would have been the same or worse had the NDP been the government.. This tax from the start was called the Harper tax for very good reason. If you want to lay the blame on anyone, look too his regime government.

And a very Merry Christmas to you all too.

marie said...

Great response to Kim, Western Grit. I could not have said it any better.

The best to you on this holiday season and it is so refreshing to read such a reasonable and well thought post for a change


Jeff said...

Have a great Christmas, everyone. And remember, boxing day sales help take the sting out of the HST. :)

rockfish said...

You're crazy to support Clark's hair-brained idea... you've already given the public reason to engage, those who hate the hst are looking to get their say; others who support it are hoping to hear a clear debate and get their chance. To throw it back into the house where it will pass or be voted down as an exercise on political survival is just lame. As a fed liberal who supports the ndp, i too think the overall rationale behind the hst is sound -- but there is that distinct purpose of being able to punish our politicians that is at play here. Hopefully we'll be able to exercise that federally first, but here in BC don't take it away from us...

Jeff said...

I'm honestly having a hard time understanding your criticism, rockfish. I believe (and correct me if I'm wrong. You want it to go to a referendum so people have a chance to vote it down?

My feeling is this. If it goes to a free vote and is defeated, the HST is dead and a referendum unnecessary, and those who wanted it dead should be happy. If it survives the free vote, there would still be a referendum.

If someone supports the HST, then maybe they want the chance to fight for it. While I can respect that, as I've outlined, I think it's a losing fight. Still, power to them.

But if someone wants the HST killed, they should be happy seeing it killed sooner. If they insist on dragging it out to a referendum by passing up the chance to kill it sooner, I would have to ask about their motivations: is it about overturning a policy, or is it about political grandstanding?

I'll support policy-based disagreements. I have problem though with those that exploit the issue with other motives.

Tim said...

A couple of thoughts.

If you look closely at the polling women tend to be much more against the tax than men which seems to go against the stereotype of the angry white male anti tax reform alliance voter. While there are no party affiliation numbers I suspect opposition is much more centered among left leaning NDP voters than Conservatives. It's hard to say how this would effect turnout but I would assume women are somewhat less likely to turnout.

The other thing that no one has discussed are the mechanics of actually getting rid of the HST which are quite complex. Technically only by passing legislation in Ottawa can the HST be eliminated and don't assume that Harper will make this easy especially if he won't pay a price among his own voters. Don't underestimate the potential for a full blown national unity battle if somehow this gets tied with Quebec's demands for HST compensation.(Most people in BC don't want to give back the provinces compensation money something I don't flying in the rest of the country even for the Federal NDP) Even if Ottawa wants to cooperate and help get rid of the HST the logistics of doing so probably will take over a year.

Personally I think this is a case of BC voters not looking or caring about what happens east of the Rocky Mountains. Almost 70% of Canada either has the HST or HST like tax(i.e. Quebec) or no provincial comsumption tax at all i.e. Alberta and the territories.

rockfish said...

You've implied that I support the referendum for the purpose of public rejection of the hst. My support is for the legislated right for the public to participate in a referendum, as laid out by the premier. He's the one who decided it should be put to a referendum, after a groundswell of support from the public demanded it. I'd be just as satisfied if the hst, after a rationale debate between two sides, was to stand as defeated. However, in a time where political involvement is deemed to be just a cynical exercise of powerbrokers playing chess, and where the public's ability to affect change is undermined by such, taking away the promised right to a vote would be tantamount to putting out a raging inferno by pouring dried out bric shares on a roaring fire.