Anti-HST crowd ready to punish the Liberals

No one talks taxes at a summer BBQ... right? Wrong.

No one talks taxes at a summer BBQ… right? Wrong. When the pounding rain drives the burgermeisters indoors to huddle around the kitchen table for July warmth, the subject isn’t so easily avoided.

And so it was this week that an eclectic group of friends — career civil servant, laid off mill worker, human resources consultant, grocery store clerk, electronics technician, retired couple, and more — launched into the issue of the HST while passing the mustard and relish.

It was a serious eye opener. I have been labouring under the silly notion that much of the public fury over Gordon Campbell’s 2009 post-election HST double cross had dissipated. Wrong!

The folks at Angus Reid will slap my wrist for extrapolating from a crowded steamy kitchen to the broader voter landscape. However, from listening to the kitchen table banter it became apparent to me that the dark, vengeful mood that fuelled Bill Vander Zalm’s wildly successful anti-HST initiative is still burning in the hearts of many.

Amongst the “Vote Yes” crowd, it was apparent that “punishing the Liberals” was a much stronger motivation for axing the tax than weighing the merits of the HST vis-a-vis a return to the PST/GST.

For my burger buds, at least, the disgrace of Campbell, the robust Liberal leadership race, the crowning of Christy Clark, the subsequent acceleration of the HST referendum and the promised two per cent tax cut have not been enough to purge their anger.

While the Liberals are loath to discuss their internal polling, my sources suggest the news has not been good lately. Clearly, Premier Clark’s charisma has been dulled recently by her blunders and the HST mess. We have seen the result of this on open line radio shows that have reflected increasing hostility on the part of callers.

The Liberals have invested millions in a “stickman” TV campaign to encourage us to burrow down into the “facts” of the matter, rather than linger on the tempestuous politics of broken promises.

The Liberals have turned their caucus “BCLTV” into a propaganda network pumping out “news” of Lourdes-like HST miracles … including the decision this week by three Liberal MLAs to vote “No.” Stop the presses.

Perhaps signalling the rising panic, the premier has started indulging in scary speculation. Just a few days ago she warned: “If the HST fails, we are going to be really struggling to try and find the money to prop up the services that we already have, much less be thinking about improving services like hospitals, many of which desperately need improvements.”

Of course, the NDP, using its own caucus resources to turn every Liberal utterance into an act of treason, accused Clark of a “reckless threat … just the latest in a long string of desperate attempts to save the HST.”

If the public mood is as charged as my BBQ sample suggests, the Liberals are in for a rude awakening when the HST ballots are tallied.

If the anti-HST forces prevail, and I believe they will, the re-election planning of the governing Liberals will almost certainly be in a tail spin. Many poli-wags have speculated that the election could be as early as this fall, but I am convinced an HST defeat will slam that window shut.

And, the negative and costly fallout from an HST reversal will almost certainly poison the Liberal well for many months to come. M

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