Friday, September 24, 2010

Spending hike? No way.

The B.C. deficit still higher than promised.

Back in 2001, the Campbell government promised a 'real' balanced budget law to make deficit budgets illegal. This 'real' law flew out the window at the first sign of trouble. Although the budget deficit for 2009-10 is lower than forecast, it is still a deficit, and that was not the deal. To fulfill its promise, the government must bring the budget back into balance and to do that, it must make real spending reductions.

Deficit spending helped stimulate the province into have-not status during the 1990s and it was spending restraint that helped create a budget surplus in 2004, B.C.'s first since 1990. The economy grew and citizens prospered, but that fiscal responsibility didn't last.

B.C. government spending started to ramp up in 2005 as that dreaded second-term spending disease infected politicians looking to buy their way to re-election. Spending hovered at about $30 billion between 2001 and 2004 then soared to $39.3 billion in 2009, a 31 per cent increase. True, a few tax dollars have shifted lately out of some entitlement programs, but they've just added to the growing number of tax dollars still flowing into other programs. If we care about the well-being of our children and grandchildren and want to leave them with something other than a legacy of debt and higher taxes, we need to turn the direction of government spending around.

When Premier Gordon Campbell said, "I hate budget deficits, I think they take away from future generations," he was right. The government must regain the fiscal prudence it preached in 2001 – the one that helped them sweep into office with 77 seats. Unless the government gets a handle on spending, the deficit, debt and taxes will inevitably rise – and that, Mr. Premier, is fiscal child abuse.

Monday, September 20, 2010

No-HST group ups the stakes in response to referendum decision

On September 13, 2010, Premier Gordon Campbell announced the question of whether the HST would stay or go would be put to a referendum, and not just any kind of referendum, one that would require a only simple majority.   This decision, just like the HST decision itself, took everyone by surprise.

Under the Recall and Initiative Act, a referendum  (called an initiative vote) is successful if more than 50 per cent of registered voters in the province, and more than 50 per cent of registered voters in at least 2/3's of the electoral districts, vote in favour of the referendum question. This is a very high hurdle to jump, especially in ridings with big population turnovers. 

However, Gordon Campbell said, “If 50 per cent of the people who show up at the polling booths next September say they want to get rid of an HST then certainly, as a government, I would want to get rid of the HST.”

Quite likely, the main reason Premier Campbell decided to go for a referendum a year from now was to take the steam out of any recall campaign. Liberal MLAs facing recall could explain to their constituents that the voice of the people will be heard in a referendum, so there is no point in recalling them. This would help Liberal MLAs keep their seats because it not easy to recall an MLA. To get recalled, people collecting recall signatures need to get 40 per cent of citizens registered to vote in the previous election. In ridings with a lot of turnover, like Gordon Campbell's riding, it would be virtually impossible to find enough people who were registered to vote in May 2009 to successfully recall him.

In fact, the No-HST group announced which MLAs would face recall campaigns today. They include Colin Hansen, Bill Bennett and Ben Stewart, but not Gordon Campbell. This is apparently because the premier is expected to step down sometime before the next election. The No-HST campaign is upping the stakes by targeting these MLAs.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

HST snoozefest - what are the options?

The Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives met for the first time on September 6, 2010 to start talking about the next step for the No-HST petition -- should it be voted on in the legislature or should it go to a province-wide referendum. Talk during the tedious meeting, and some comments by Premier Gordon Campbell, hint at where the committee may be heading.

The meeting, a snoozefest otherwise loaded with procedural stumbling and bumbling, saw NDP MLA Jenny Kwan make a motion to send the bill to the legislative assembly for a vote as soon as possible. She said that would be the quickest way for MLAs to be responsive to their constituents.

Eric Foster, a Liberal MLA, countered with a motion to adjourn debate on the NDP motion. He said the committee should be fully informed on the mechanics of the two options. The Liberals have a majority on the committee so they passed Foster's motion.

Eventually, the committee's big decision of the day was to meet next Monday when the Chief Electoral Officer, or someone from Elections BC, will tell them what they need to know about a referendum vote.

What are the tea leaves saying about what may happen? The Liberal committee members showed a lot of interest in the possibility of a referendum and wanted to know more about the cost. Then, on Sunday September 12, Premier Gordon Campbell said in a radio interview he was hearing from his constituents that they wanted to have their voices heard. So at the moment, the leaf pattern says 'referendum.'

A referendum is a good idea. Not only can people vote on an HST question, more questions could be added to a referendum ballot. 

Question could include: if the HST is gone, should the PST be brought back?  If not, where will the $6 billion dollars now left in the pockets of the people who earned it be cut out of government spending? Also, provincial taxpayers will have to pay back the $1.6 billion in bribe money from the federal government -- where will government cut spending? Or, should the government just add the $7.6 billion to the deficit? A bigger deficit or lower spending - a very valid question that citizens should have a say in.

A referendum also provides an excellent opportunity for citizens to vote on other issues. For example, who from B.C. will fill the next Senate seat. A sitting senator from B.C., Gerry St. Germain, retires in 2012. Here's a chance for people to have their say on who represents us in the Senate. 

It also provides an opportunity for citizens to vote on other issues. Why not put B.C.'s top issues to a referendum vote. How to decide which are B.C.'s top issues? One way is for groups to collect petition signatures and the three, say, that collect the most signatures get their issue put to the people. Possible issues include proportional representation, tax cuts, treaty settlements, or more subsidies for high-cost energy options like windpower.

We are at a crossroads in our democratic process. Without a doubt, people in B.C. are demanding more direct say in the decisions of government. The committee has the opportunity to start the process.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Intolerable intolerance

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
John F. Kennedy

Many have opinions about how other people should behave. Although it might be irritating, trying to convince people to change their ways it isn't a problem. It is a problem, though, when one person uses the government to stop other people from engaging in peaceful, cooperative behavior.

Couldn't happen in Canada, you say? Yes it could. A complaint from just one person is enough to ban kite flying in parks, close down lemonade stands and force dogs out of bookshops. Intolerance is on the rise and is supported by government.

For instance, the phrase "go fly a kite" has taken on a literal meaning in Ontario -- no kite flying in a park. In a truly mind-boggling example of littering law enforcement, a bylaw officer shut down kite flying in a Toronto park because a city worker complained about the kite string getting caught in trees and city equipment. However, if kite flyers are told to get lost, who's next? Quite frankly, this type of heavy-handedness is intolerable in a free society and should be condemned.

Instead of shutting down what any reasonable person would consider normal behavior in a park, the city government should have curbed the intolerant city worker. The government could have quoted the Rolling Stones song and said, in a free society, "You can't always get what you want." So far, however, in the battle between kite flyers and one city worker, the city worker has the upper hand.

This intolerable overkill isn't restricted to Ontario. We have similar narrow-mindedness right here in B.C.

In Port Coquitlam, a bylaw officer shut down the lemonade stand of two 12-year-old boys because the boys didn't have a business license. According to Port Coquitlam Councillor Glenn Pollock, the city would probably have “looked the other way,” except one person complained. Public parks are for all members of the public, not just those who seem to have some pre-defined view of who belongs in a public park. However, in the struggle between one intolerant park user and little kids in Coquitlam, it seems intolerance, with the help of government, gets the upper hand.

Even dogs get shafted by the intolerant. In Victoria, a petty tyrant took her toll at the Herald Street Books and Coffee shop. Bubba, a Jack Russell terrier, delighted customers for three years before one person complained. After that, poor Bubba was left to languish at home alone. In this case, the more tolerant among us should have pointed out not everyone has the same opinion about dogs in cafes. However, here as well, the tyrant got the upper hand.

Should people tolerate everything? No, it is OK to criticize someone's behavior and open up a discussion about it. However, it is not OK for one person to use the power of government to force other people to behave according to their definition of the good and the right.

So what behavior should be condemned? Selling lemonade, flying a kites, and sipping lattes with dogs, or using the power of government to shut those peaceful activities down? The answer to the question seems clear.  Using the power of government to force other people to bow down to prejudices is unacceptable in a free and democratic society. If you don't want to clean kite wire out of trees, find another job; if you don't like lemonade, don't buy it; and if you don't like dogs in cafes, don't go to caf├ęs with dogs.

Many people seem to be losing their ability to 'live and let live' and are using the government to impose their dictates on others. If this continues, it will pit neighbor against neighbor and eventually no one's freedom of action will be safe. So if you trip over some kite wire in a park, pick it up and put it into the trash then write a letter to the editor or call in to a local radio show to let people know that littering is wrong. Tolerance of other peoples' behaviors, attitudes and dreams shows a respect for each person's autonomy over their own life. We must all re-discover the virtue of tolerance.