HST vote a rarity

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s vote to repeal the harmonized sales tax in September 2011 is new to Canadian politics, but it’s old hat in California where voters have been practising direct democracy since 1911.

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s vote to repeal the harmonized sales tax in September 2011 is new to Canadian politics, but it’s old hat in California where voters have been practising direct democracy since 1911.

This fall, Californians will vote on legalizing pot, halting pollution regulations and having more say on raising taxes, just three of at least eight so-called proposition votes on their Nov. 2 ballot.

British Columbians recently used their unique 16-year-old recall and initiative law to propel former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s anti-HST petition to a province-wide repeal vote after venting over the tax for more than a year.

But most political experts are quick to reject suggestions that British Columbians could develop a taste for California-style initiative votes after forcing Premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government to accept a citizens vote on the hated HST.

“This is an unusual situation,” said Doug McArthur, a public policy expert at Simon Fraser University and an architect of B.C.’s recall and initiative law during the New Democratic Party governments of the 1990s.

“Mr. Campbell cornered himself and the government into no other way out, no other end game,” he said. “This is alien to our parliamentary system where the legislature has paramount power, always will.”

A never-before-assembled all-party legislative committee deciding whether to send Vander Zalm’s HST repeal petition to the legislature for a political vote or to a province-wide initiative vote decided to let the people decide.

Campbell upped the political stakes minutes after the committee’s vote by announcing he will accept a simple majority vote decision to set the fate of the HST.

He said he will dump the complex and difficult-to-achieve political margins of victory contained in the recall and initiative law and accept the will of the majority on voting day.

McArthur said Campbell’s decision to put the referendum to a majority vote will likely buy him some favour with voters, but the initiative law was purposely written to keep the referenda options as a last resort.

“All of the discussion was to make it very hard to succeed with a referendum,” said McArthur. “The referendum was the last, last option.”

He said the lawmakers believed that if an issue made it to the petition stage – signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding – the thought was that the politicians would realize people were opposed and reverse the decision.

But that didn’t happen with the HST.

McArthur said he doesn’t support California’s initiative-style politics.

“I think it makes for bad policy,” he said.

“The problem with referenda, any referenda, is it’s a yes-or-no proposition and doesn’t take into account that these policy questions are often much more complicated than a simple yes or no.

“If our politicians use good judgment our system works a lot better.”

University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon said British Columbia could add more grit to its initiative law, but ultimately California’s direct democracy laws are too open to outside influence.

“The problem in California is that rich voters, corporations, they can use the initiative referendum law to veto the public good,” he said.

“It’s a question of whose got the money. I don’t think that the California model is the one we want.”

In California, the oil industry is behind a November initiative vote to put the State’s aggressive plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions on hold until California’s jobless rate hits 5.5 per cent.

California’s unemployment rate is currently at 12.4 per cent.

John Yap, B.C.’s minister of state for climate action, said the province is aware of California’s anti-environment initiative vote, but that isn’t stopping British Columbia from pursuing its own aggressive agenda to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

British Columbia plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020.

“We understand the debate that is going on there,” said Yap.

“But whatever happens with that initiative, we here in B.C. will continue to work to achieve our climate action plan.”

University of Victoria American history expert Jason Colby said initiative politics in California caught on in a huge way in the 1970s when voters decided they should have more control over the distribution of tax dollars.

Ultimately, citizen tax control and the collapsing economy contributed to the financial crises that continues to grip California, the ninth largest economy in the world, he said.

“You understand on one level the frustration people have (in British Columbia) because it’s an extraordinarily expensive place to live with really high taxes.

“But at the same time you don’t want to go through what Washington State, what California, what Oregon to a lesser extent, has gone through, which is having to gut your services, your parks, your teachers, your police because there’s a shortfall.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The QEII was closed Sunday morning due to a pole fire. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
UPDATE: QEII near Red Deer reopens

The QEII has been reopened after being closed due to a pole… Continue reading

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Bashaw RCMP investigate fatal collision in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP are investigating after a fatal collision Saturday afternoon. Police were… Continue reading

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It's not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he'd been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

DELIA, Alta. — It’s not often police can report that a unicorn… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Federal government to send health-care workers to Ontario, Trudeau says

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says federal departments and some Canadian… Continue reading

People cross a busy street in the shopping district of Flushing on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in the Queens borough of New York. Access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is growing by the day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kathy Willens
Despite COVID-19 vaccines, Americans in D.C. not feeling celebratory — or charitable

WASHINGTON — This might make Canadians jealous of their American cousins for… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Half of U.S. adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot

WASHINGTON — Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at… Continue reading

A man pays his respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2021. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Memorial service in Nova Scotia marks one year since mass shooting started

TRURO, N.S. — A memorial service is planned for today in central… Continue reading

In this April 23, 2016, photo, David Goethel sorts cod and haddock while fishing off the coast of New Hampshire. To Goethel, cod represents his identity, his ticket to middle class life, and his link to one the country's most historic industries, a fisherman who has caught New England's most recognized fish for more than 30 years. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
‘It’s more than just a fish:’ Scientists worry cod will never come back in N.L.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The latest assessment of Atlantic cod stocks, whose… Continue reading

FILE - In this Friday Aug. 21, 2020 file photo, Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, addresses the media in Berlin, Germany. Activists for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are calling for massive protests in the heart of Moscow and St. Petersburg as Navalny's health reportedly is deteriorating severely while on hunger strike. Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Navalny, said the demonstrations are called on short notice for Wednesday April 21, 2021, because "his life hangs in the balance. ... We don't know how long he can hold on." (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
Navalny’s team calls protests amid reports of failing health

MOSCOW — Associates of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called Sunday… Continue reading

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. DeSantis has received a single-dose coronavirus vaccine. His office confirmed Wednesday, April 7, 2021 that the Republican governor got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only a single dose. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, file)
GOP White House hopefuls move forward as Trump considers run

WASHINGTON — Less than three months after former President Donald Trump left… Continue reading

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read