HST and the Big Picture
by Peter Ewart & Dawn Hemingway
The people of British Columbia have good reason to be proud of their campaign against the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Over 700,000 people have enthusiastically signed the petition calling for a repeal of the tax, and the campaign has successfully met the legislative requirements to move the initiative to the next stage.
Such an achievement is unprecedented in BC, and, indeed, in Canadian history.
That being said, the provincial government and its big business supporters, are persisting in their efforts to sabotage the people's movement against the HST, whether it be delaying the initiative process, launching court challenges, and so on. With all of this in mind, it is useful to put the struggle of British Columbians against the HST in its larger context, in "the big picture" if you will.
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The current economic and financial crisis that has gripped the world began back in 2007. From the beginning, the central issue in this crisis, which was sparked by the recklessness and greed of the big banks and financial institutions, has always been "Who is going to pay?"
Despite being the very ones who inflicted this terrible crisis on countries around the world, these financial institutions, like giant football players, were the first to pile onto government demanding massive bailouts amounting to literally trillions of dollars of taxpayer money.
Next came the huge "stimulus plans" in which governments in most countries handed out even more trillions to "stimulate the economy" much of which ended up in the hands of the big monopolies and multinationals.
Since then, we have watched as one section of big business after another has jumped onto the dog pile demanding its "pound of flesh", and threatening dire consequences unless even more taxpayer money is handed over.
At the bottom of this heap, billions of ordinary people in the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere have been crushed by the looting of their pension funds, wage cuts, withdrawal of government services, tax increases and a myriad of other indignities. Their livelihoods and futures are being ripped away from them right before their very eyes.
And yet, governments around the world, in the pockets of big business and the big banks, have been willing accomplices in these crimes, which amount to the largest transfer of wealth from the people to the financial elite in human history. But this greedy financial elite is still not satisfied. It wants more. Every concession to it simply increases its ravenous hunger.
It is in this context that we have the imposition of the HST in British Columbia. This hated tax has been expressly designed to shift the sales tax burden from certain sections of big business onto the shoulders of workers, professionals, small and medium businesses, and even some less powerful sectors of big business in the province.
But something has gone wrong in this backroom scheme of government and the big moneybags. The people of British Columbia are refusing to cooperate. They are not going along with this theft, and have shown this by providing 700,000 signatures in 90 days to launch the initiative to repeal the tax.
This is worrisome for the elite, both nationally and internationally. And believe it, they are watching this struggle closely. So far, this elite has been able to successfully rob the public treasury to pay for all the bailouts and stimulus packages. Despite opposition, it has been able to loot many pension plans, cut wages, slash services, raise taxes and impose concessions all over North America and Europe. But it has hit a brick wall in British Columbia with the HST.
Which brings us to the issue of the "big picture" for the initiative and recall mechanisms that the people of BC are using in their campaign against the HST. These mechanisms have come about because of popular demand, and are part of the world wide struggle to put more power into the hands of voters.
It is not enough to simply repeat that power should flow from the people. We need mechanisms to make sure that it does. That is one of the crucial features of our time. Democracy is much more than just casting a vote one day every four years and then being subject to an elected dictatorship the rest of the time. Such an arrangement favours the financiers and billionaires who can bribe and influence government to carry out their wishes on the other 1456 days.
When the Initiative and Recall legislation was brought in 20 years ago, the governments and opposition parties of that time made sure, to their shame, that the mechanisms were weakened substantially, as well as made unwieldy and extremely difficult for people to use successfully. Indeed, it was only through extraordinary effort and sacrifice that the current anti-HST campaign was able to garner the necessary signatures.
Thus it is a legitimate demand for the Initiative and Recall mechanisms to be strengthened and improved. But we have entered a new period of history. We need even more mechanisms for people's control over government, big business and the big banks, one's that have not even been invented yet.
Who will prevail - the people or the elites? What is clear is that we must first win the struggle against the HST. But we, as citizens, also need to put on our thinking caps and look for more ways, means and mechanisms to advance this important struggle further.
That, indeed, is a key lesson of the "big picture".