Dangerous precedent, salutary check on power, or something in between?
In the summer of 2009, the Liberal government of British Columbia announced that it had reached agreement with Ottawa to replace its provincial sales tax and the federal Goods and Services Tax with a new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). The announcement triggered a political storm that led to the resignation of Premier Gordon Campbell and culminated in a 2011 referendum in which voters rejected the HST.
In the Winter/Spring 2013 issue of Inroads, co-publisher John Richards analyzed the HST controversy and the referendum campaign. He was critical of the arguments put forward by the anti-HST side, and maintained that referendums are not an effective way of determining tax policy. “Parliamentary democracy in which a cabinet can exercise broad discretion with respect to spending and taxation,” he wrote, “is probably the best form of government in high-income countries with elaborate social programs requiring a correspondingly elaborate taxing effort.”
Others disagree with his interpretation of the events surrounding the HST. In the following pages, two knowledgeable and engaged British Columbians – Doug McArthur, who teaches in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University, and Tom Syer, who served as former Premier Campbell’s deputy chief of staff – continue the HST debate.
— Bob Chodos
B.C. HST protest photo courtesy Guilhem Vellut/Flickr