It appears that the anti-HST signatures may approach 1,000,000 before the final count is presented on July 5. It’s interesting to note that the Liberal party only got 750,000 votes in the 2009 General Election. Because it’s certain that the anti-HST committee will reach its statutory requirements, two interesting questions arise: first what the government will do; and second, if they don’t call a referendum, what will the “anti’s” do then?
The long and the short of it is that the government doesn’t have to do a damned thing. For the record, the petition is referred to a select standing committee of the legislature which has 4 months to sit on it and if they recommend that the draft bill proceeded the government need only introduce the bill in the Legislature where it can languish forever.
For all practical purposes we can assume that the referendum will never be called. This notwithstanding the solemn promise of Gordon Campbell to make the process easier. Since we all know what his word is worth we had to expect he would lie about this too.
What position does this put the Campbell government in politically?
Rotten. To be candid, compared to stonewalling, he would be better to let the referendum go ahead, take the position that because he loves democracy so much, he will abide the wishes of the public blah, blah, blah. This is a terrible option but the others are worse. He will have this bag of political stones to carry right into the next election as an issue and that he doesn’t need.
I don’t expect Campbell will do this and probably he’ll advise the select committee to move quickly to send the bill back to the legislature where he can table it, never call it for a vote and hope that the public will not see it as a big deal in May of 2013.
What then do the anti HST folks do then?
Their obvious weapon is recall and here the requirements are even tougher than the referendum rules.
Here is what the Act says:
Requirements for recall petition
23 (1) A recall petition must comply with the following requirements:
(a) the petition must be submitted to the chief electoral officer within 60 days after the date on which the petition was issued under section 20;
(b) the petition must be signed by more than 40% of the total number of individuals who are entitled to sign the recall petition under section 21.
The last subsection means 40% of the voters’ list as of May 2009, a formidable obstacle.
There is one thing I must make clear. No one in this province would like to see the back of this Campbell lot more than me but the fact is recall wasn’t intended to be used to bring down a government or a cabinet minister but to recall a MLA for not doing his job of representing his constituents properly. I agree that one can stretch that to say “Premier Campbell is not doing a proper job of representing his constituents because he won’t oppose the HST” but it is a stretch and will form a major part of any government opposition to recall.
The opponents have no choice in the matter because that is the logical next step unless they want to holler “uncle” and fade away. Having chosen to go the recall route they will have to take on the Premier – and remember they must get 40% of the 2009 voters list to sign the petition before a by-election must be held in a riding the Premier carried comfortably in ’09.
Here’s what they’ll do if they’re smart. They will form that famous “new third party” and combine recall efforts with a membership drive. That won’t hurt their Recall efforts and may enhance them but even if they fail in the recall they’ll walk away with a hell of a lot of support for the new party.
The new party idea is not an easy one to make happen. I’ll get more into that in a later column but let me close with this point: the very last thing a new party needs is to be led by Bill Vander Zalm, Chris Delaney, Gordon Wilson or Wilf Hanni. These are the ghosts of failures past.
It will be difficult to find a way to build a party from scratch but, in my judgment, attracting the public requires one thing – a solemn commitment to the public right to be heard. People understand that no government can do all things for all people but government can and must get public involvement, in a real way, in the decision making process when basic change is proposed.
I’ve seen the phony baloney Environmental Assessment hearings of the past couple of years where the people weren’t allowed to deal with the merits of the proposal in question. The anger at the sham was white hot.
We’ve all seen the energy policy of this government which gives away our rivers, our environment, our power and, yes, our money to foreign companies take place in secret without any public involvement permitted.
British Columbians, in the main, are neither right wing nor left wing but ordinary, decent people who want fair play with the government as well as the private sector playing a role. They liked owning BC Ferries and BC Rail before the Campbell government got rid of them and want to keep BC Hydro. That doesn’t make them socialists any more than their support for a healthy, vibrant private sector makes them right wingers. They see matters issue by issue, not in terms of dogma.
A party that can offer people the right to be heard has a great future if it can find a way to overcome inertia and the pangs of birth.
As always, the devil is in the details.