The Zalm and Campbell escape wrath

The post-HST economic chill factor and the residual fury amongst voters will be defining factors whenever Premier Clark steels herself to pull the election pin

I don’t know what it is about former premiers. How do they get to have so much fun at our expense?

In the post-HST era, two spring to mind: Bill Vander Zalm hounded out of office in disgrace in 1991; and Gordon Campbell who fled voter wrath by emigrating out of reach on the leading edge of a tax revolt.

The first is gleefully stirring the post-referendum pot and wistfully musing about the legions of followers who, he claims, are begging him to launch an anti-smart meter campaign against BC Hydro.

Saints preserve us.

The second is settling into his new job as Canada’s new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in London where the biggest challenge is not dribbling at high tea with the twinkie-waving posers that populate Britain’s privileged classes.

Man, this makes me cranky.

Have we forgotten our history? Vander Zalm tried to cut public funding for abortions and was forced to resign over his Fantasy Gardens shenanigans. This is the premier who promoted “initiative” and “recall” to thwart the rise of the Reform Party, not because he gave a hoot about citizen empowerment. Had he managed to stay in office any longer, both would have been used against him.

Now — reborn, but not rehabilitated — he poses as a champion of the little guy. Gag me with a golden shovel.

As embarrassing as The Zalm was, he was not as politically sociopathic as Campbell.

During the 2009 provincial election, Campbell ruled out the HST. Two months later, without as much as a by-your-leave, he introduced it as the “single biggest thing we can do to improve B.C.’s economy.”

This betrayal fuelled Vander Zalm’s second coming and charged voters with such fury that they convincingly punished the post-Campbell Liberals by voting to embark on a billion dollar 18-month retreat to an antiquated GST/PST regime.

There is no question that the conversion back to the GST/PST is going to be economically spooky. Regardless of Premier Christy Clark’s upbeat — “we have a plan” — rhetoric, it is hard to imagine Ottawa cutting us any slack on repayment of its $1.6-billion carrot that Campbell swallowed whole.

Already there is pressure on government to consider re-inventing tax opportunities that dried up with the HST. B.C. Chamber of Commerce President John Winter is calling for the “Son-of-HST,” a consumption tax that takes the pressure off business.

“Exemptions to the PST before the HST really had no rhyme or reason,” Winter says. “They were arbitrary. Why there was no PST on a haircut is beyond me. Why there was no PST on a restaurant meal, I’m at a loss to understand it.”

Perfect, John. So Campbellesque.

The post-HST economic chill factor and the residual fury amongst voters will almost certainly be defining factors whenever Premier Clark steels herself to pull the election pin.

Indeed, NDP leader and premier-in-waiting Adrian Dix, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Vander Zalm in this fight, was beside himself with glee last Friday when the vote result was announced.

“A return to the PST will be good for communities, good for families and good for small business. It will make life a little bit more affordable for working families,” he said.

Sorry, Adrian. Not true. And, the longer Premier Clark delays an election call the more your utopian prediction will come back to haunt you. M

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