‘People’s victory’ means pain ahead

NDP leader Adrian Dix couldn’t contain his glee at the result of the harmonized sales tax referendum. Bill Vander Zalm is thrilled too, still apparently unaware that he has taken money away from the poor and given it back to his fellow wealthy B.C. residents.

Bill Vander Zalm hops in his Mercedes S550 after his victory news conference in Vancouver Friday. He probably still believes he has helped the poor.

VICTORIA – NDP leader Adrian Dix couldn’t contain his glee at the result of the harmonized sales tax referendum.

He seemed positively giddy that the provincial budget will forgo $3 billion in revenue over the next few years, and clearly relishes the prospect of getting back to the legislature in October to resume his demands for more spending in every ministry of the B.C. government.

He can start soon, standing in passionate solidarity with B.C.’s 40,000 public school teachers as they strike to press their demands for huge increases in salary and benefits that already exceed what most private sector workers will ever see.

Bill Vander Zalm was thrilled too, beaming that famous smile as he climbed in his long black Mercedes to resume his comfortable retirement. He never expected to be able to leave the province in a mess one more time, but fate has been kind to him. He probably still believes he has helped the poor, as he claimed in his nonsensical rants against the HST.

This is the “people’s victory” that Dix crowed about. B.C. and the rest of the country are entering a perilous time where retired people outnumber the young and pension plans, private and public, grow increasingly fragile. And in classic baby-boomer style, our political response is self-centred and unrealistic.

An efficient tax system that ends the advantage given to services over goods, while raising revenue to lift up the poorest people, is now a dirty word. Any kind of meaningful tax reform will be politically radioactive for years to come.

Resource industries, the movie business and other private sector job generators can now plan for a significant B.C. disadvantage in 2013. Ontario can celebrate. Meanwhile, demand for government services to take care of the great grey blob that is my generation can only soar.

It’s not just old people outnumbering the young. I mentioned a while back that Canada has already passed another significant milestone. Statistics Canada reported in May on the people fortunate enough to have employer-supported pension plans in addition to government pension. And it turns out that 2010 was the first year in the country’s history where more public sector workers enjoyed this benefit than private sector workers.

Author Mark Steyn talks about this problem in relation to the troubles in Europe. He refers to the “Government Party,” which is the ever-growing public sector, and the “Dependency Party,” which is everyone on pensions and welfare. When those two “parties” constitute a majority, they can force the government to satisfy their demands without regard to economic reality.

This is what has happened in Greece. It is very close to happening in other European countries, and today B.C. is a step closer to it.

When the verdict came in on the HST referendum, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon talked about going around to consult the public on how to reinstate the provincial sales tax. He vowed that B.C. will somehow still balance its budget in two years, and seemed to leave the door open to some minor modifications of the sales tax system.

Premier Christy Clark quickly shut that door. It would be “disrespectful” to do anything other than bring back the post-war PST in all its rustic beauty, with the little boutique exemptions like bicycles and Toyota Priuses that have been attached by politicians over the years.

Self-employed business people can now look forward to collecting and remitting two separate taxes again.

There will be a cost to this “people’s victory.” It will involve reducing public services, raising taxes or both.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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