By MEL ROTHENBURGER/ The Armchair Mayor
Who would have thought Premier Christy Clark would become the new best friend of the HST-referendum Yes side in Kamloops?
During a brief visit to town, she couldn’t resist trying to use much-needed improvements to Royal Inland Hospital as a bargaining chip in the upcoming provincewide vote on the controversial tax.
She didn’t say, “If you don’t vote for the HST, RIH isn’t going to get any money.”
No, Clark was more circumspect than that, talking on the one hand in an optimistic vein about finding the money for the new RIH master site plan, and on the other about the kicking the provincial budget will take if the HST is defeated. But the linkage was clear.
The average voter doesn’t like that kind of talk. Some take it as a veiled threat, or political bribery, and it has the opposite effect of what the premier wanted.
Healthcare costs are a challenge under any taxation system. Gordon Campbell understood that challenge, and sought ways — at least early in his tenure — of preventing it from swallowing an ever bigger chunk of the provincial budget.
In the jargon of the day, he wanted a healthcare budget that was “sustainable.”
Clark’s attempt to tie RIH and the HST together is par for the course in a campaign that has done little to add clarity to the impact of the tax.
The biggest source of confusion is the actual tax rate itself. Though Clark’s promised cut to 10 per cent won’t come into effect until 2014, the business-led Smart Tax Alliance is waging a campaign urging people to “vote no to higher taxes.”
Meanwhile, the premier and her cabinet ministers are assuring everyone the reduction is etched in stone.
“We want people to know if they vote to keep the HST that the reduction will take place by law,” Clark said last month in a government press release.
In the same press release, Attorney General Barry Penner stated, “It is now a requirement under federal legislation that B.C.’s combined federal and provincial HST rate drops to 10 per cent on July 1, 2014, but this will only happen if British Columbians vote ‘No’ in the HST referendum to going back to an overlapping 12 per cent GST and PST.”
(Well, of course the HST will only drop to 10 per cent if we vote to keep it, because otherwise there will be no HST to drop.)
But Fight HST has another version of the 10-per cent “law.”
Vancouver columnist Bill Tieleman, a Fight HST supporter, wrote a couple of weeks ago that the law really isn’t a law at all.
“. . . The ‘law’ is simply a federal Order-in-Council approved by the federal Conservative cabinet, not a vote by Parliament. And it could be just as easily rescinded with only a signature.”
He pointed out that there’s also a “law” that sets the date of May 14, 2013, for the provincial election, but that Clark has talked about changing it. And that the Liberals repealed their own “balanced budget” law in order to go back into debt.
So, while there’s a lot of noise about the impact of the referendum, finding some light is another story. And Clark doesn’t help when she ties the referendum into hospital upgrades.