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September 2, 2010

Hansen Strains Credibility

Jordan Bateman, the president of Rich Coleman's Liberal riding association, must be nursing a sore arm after it was twisted until he apologized for comments on his blog Thursday that the government's handling of the HST has been one blunder after another and the Minister of Finance Colin Hansen should resign. Bateman's critical comments were no different than those of hundreds of thousands of other British Columbians, some of them probably highly placed Liberals. Like those other British Columbians, Bateman woke up Thursday to devastating newspaper headlines, devastating that is for the BC Liberals: "HST Brief Predates Election" (Vancouver Province), "Liberals were warned HST would hurt economy" (Sun) and "HST discussed before election. e-mails reveal" (Times Colonist).

Hansen had a busy day working radio shows in an attempt to convince voters to ignore the plain truth revealed through 130 pages of documents obtained through freedom of information by a coalition of media. Those documents include a March 12th HST briefing note prepared for Hansen but which he claims received little more than a glance from him - unbelievable.

Hansen has two main arguments. First, he contends that the documents are consistent with his previous position that the bureaucrats were merely doing what they had done since the introduction of the GST in 1991, staying informed. If Hansen had read Jonathan Fowlie's column in the Sun, he would have known that argument was already shot full of holes. Fowlie wrote that on November 23rd, NDP Finance critic Bruce Ralston asked Hansen whether there was any discussion of the HST between his officials at any level and Hansen confirmed for the legislature that there were none. The documents show that his officials discussed the HST with their federal counterparts on March 26, the day Ontario announced its adoption of the HST and less than two weeks after Hansen received his briefing note. Hansen would have you believe that he didn't know that communications took place. He has a credibility problem.

Hansen's second argument is that the CD Howe study which said the economy would suffer if the HST were introduced was "outdated". Jack Mintz was one of the authors of that report he says that Minz now supports the HST. Not so fast, Mr. Minister. Mintz's current position, posted on the government's HST website, is founded on benefits he claims will flow from the tax in 10 years, by 2020; that is not a denial that the economy will suffer harm for the next several years. He wrote "The reduction in taxes on business capital inputs ultimately will benefit employees ..."; he might have added that we are ultimately all dead, the question is how long is his "ultimately".

The negative consequences from the HST are obvious and measured monthly, we may never see benefits that are unambiguously attributable to the HST. Hansen must know that if he read his briefing notes.

Hansen's concerns over Bateman's blog are probably nothing compared to his worries over what backbench Liberal MLAs who face recall might say. They know that his arguments are digging them into a deeper hole. When caught with the smoking gun, it doesn't work to claim that it was firing blanks.