EDITORIAL: Remember the HST

The Harmonized Sales Tax may be gone in BC, but the lessons learned from its fumbled implementation should remain for future governments.

The HST is gone, finally.

And while Premier Christy Clark didn’t miss the opportunity to remind voters that the harmonized sales tax had been beneficial to the film industry, manufacturers and other businesses that received input tax credits, the politicking rang a little hollow.

The fact is that the HST – good or bad – became more than a tax. Historically, it will be seen as a symbol of everything that went wrong with the BC Liberal government since being granted its last mandate in 2009 – a symbol of everything B.C. governments, no matter the political stripe, should avoid in future.

It’s fact that former Premier Gordon Campbell went to the polls last election stating he was not considering adopting a harmonized sales tax. It’s also fact that within weeks of being elected, the BC Liberals were rolling out plans for the HST.

It was such a good thing for the province, voters were told (among the pluses, huge cash payments for provincial coffers from the federal government), that the government had had a sudden change of heart.

A significantly large segment of the electorate evidently didn’t believe the message – or the timeline. They concluded they had been deceived. And while BC Liberal loyals have muttered darkly ever since about “misinformation” spread by Bill Vander Zalm and the Stop HST movement, the latter clearly had their fingers closer to the pulse of public feeling.

Even some of the staunchest Liberals were forced to admit they had done a horrible job of selling the HST, especially after opponents gathered sufficient votes to call for a referendum.

By the time then-finance minister Kevin Falcon, launched a ‘stick figure’ campaign to explain the common-sense virtues of the HST to the public, the majority of voters were having none of it.

There may have been many good reasons for an HST, but mishandling killed it, virtues, faults and all. And the writing is on the wall for whichever party forms the next government, should they choose to read it.

A mandate to govern is not a signal for hubris, or over-confidence bordering on contempt for public opinion. It is not a blanket approval for anything a government decides to introduce. It is not an indication that democratic process is suspended, that questions won’t be asked,  or that a docile public has gone to sleep for the next four years.

Let’s hope future governments learn the lesson.

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